Wednesday, January 31, 2007

¡Es Otra Niña! ¡Te Esperamos a Ti, También, Cielo!

Long time readers will remember that title from a few years back....

Got my first good look at my second daughter today--God, what a thing!--I can't believe it's almost been two years since the last "ultrasound encounter." It's my pleasure to introduce all of you to Katherine Ruth Wooten, our secondborn (God willing) daughter. If ultrasound behavior is any indication of post-birth personality (and it was with Hope--very active and all over the place), this one seems more subdued, calmly letting the nurse probe around her soft, perfect parts and resting comfortably as she grows. Time will tell. Sepa Dios.

One of my favorite psalms is 131 (132 if you're reading it in a Protestant Bible); as I read it tonight in Evening Prayers, things so obvious and so elementary, so basic leapt out at me...
"Remember, O Lord, David and all his meekness. How he made an oath unto the Lord, and vowed unto the God of Jacob: I shall not go into the dwelling of my house, I shall not ascend upon the bed of my couch, I shall not give sleep to mine eyes, nor slumber to mine eyelids, nor rest to my temples, Until I find a place for the Lord, a habitation for the God of Jacob. Lo, we have heard of it in Ephratha, we have found it in the plains of the wood. Let us go forth into His tabernacles, let us worship at the place where His feet have stood."
Hope's godfather and I once noted that, in reflecting upon our respective upbringings, one of the key characteristics we could point to that our parents exemplified (at least in the area of faith) was consistency. Would that Hope and Katherine both see their father putting prayer even before sleep, putting the remembrance of God before all, preparing his own heart to be a place for the mighty One of Jacob, standing reverently and regularly before the altar to whence He has descended in invisible, solemn glory. It is this regularity and consistency regarding the things of God that does the most to impress the reality of faith upon a child.
"The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David, and He will not annul it: Of the fruit of thy loins will I set upon thy throne. If thy sons keep My covenant and these testimonies which I will teach them, Their sons also shall sit for ever on thy throne."
Indeed, Christ has come from the line of David's seed: Praise be to the Holy One of Israel. Yet tonight there was, I think, an understanding of the Incarnation that only the newly fused flesh and bone, soul and spirit of a new "you" can bring; the glory of the Lord is not to be kept in the ethereal realms of hidden knowledge or transcendental meditation, escaping from the world and whatnot. Rather, the glory of the Lord--the crowning achievement of His love for man--the glory and treasure of God dwelling with and in man, is to be carried in and delivered to humanity through the earthen vessels of human bodies. Tonight as we kiss the image of the Christ, we glory in the knowledge that His flesh communes us to eternal life, His blood satiates our thirst for the eternal--and by honoring the image of this fleshy Savior, we affirm that it is indeed His being as flesh--as opposed to merely a philosophy or series of doctrines He might propose or teach (though this is included)--that saves us. We kiss the images of the Theotokos and all the saints because they are truly bearers of God, full of the Holy Spirit by God's grace and, in kissing their images, we affirm that they are by God's grace what Christ was in His very nature: communicators of the presence of God (the definition of Grace for us Orthodox) specifically through and in their physical bodies (and not in spite of them). They labor and serve, love, work, sweat and pray for the salvation of mankind, and we kiss the hardworking flesh that has glory running through its veins. God is with us and in us. May my two daughters grow to sit with Him in glory--healed in spirit, soul and body--as the Psalm says.
"For the Lord hath elected Sion, He hath chosen her to be a habitation for Himself. This is My rest for ever and ever; here will I dwell, for I have chosen her...There will I make to spring forth a horn for David, I have prepared a lamp for My Christ."
May our home acknowledge Christ as King that He may abide here. Thanks be to God for His (second!) indescribeable gift.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Satisfaction of the Cross

An article of mine on a forum I frequent was published by the admins and can be read here.

UPDATE: I had submitted a second, longer article that "piggybacks" on "Satisfaction," and I just saw that it's been published, as well. It's here.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Ark

The Ark, the third venture of Orthodox Christians into online, 24-hour radio broadcasting, is set to be unveiled tomorrow. Look for the link to appear in what's now just a picture in my sidebar. Barnabas has blogged about it here--as well he should, seeing as how he's the development director for it--it will feature contemporary Orthodox musicians (!), something which I'm rather undecided on, for two reasons:

1) I have been, by and large, disillusioned by CCM during my days as an Evangelical. Either it's "Jesus is my boy/girlfriend" stuff or (musically speaking) cheap knockoffs of non-religious stuff with sub-par, canned lyrics. Blecchh.

2) I'm not sure what contemporary Orthodox music would be like. Yes, I've heard of Arvo Part, though I've not looked up any of his stuff. I've heard mixed reviews of him anyways...and St. Romanos Records has some audio clips of some of the artists, but, without naming names...well...perhaps they could have (I certainly hope they COULD, in fact, have) done a better job in choosing which songs they highlighted for certain artists. I hope my fears will be joyously proven wrong.

I certainly want to think that the Ark will provide us with quality, thoughtful, creatively-composed music with poetic lyrics that lift us up through (and thereby baptizing) the medium of our culture's contemporary musical expressions. May God grant this.

UPDATE: The link for Come Receive the Light is now OCN -- The Orthodox Christian Network, and that page now includes both CRtL and The Ark. Let me know what y'all think! I'm listening now...

World's Smallest Political Quiz

No clue how scientific and/or accurate it is. Put me right where I anticipated being though, so could be fun for y'all. Click here to take it. I am a...


CENTRISTS espouse a "middle ground" regarding government

control of the economy and personal behavior. Depending on

the issue, they sometimes favor government intervention

and sometimes support individual freedom of choice.

Centrists pride themselves on keeping an open mind,

tend to oppose "political extremes," and emphasize what

they describe as "practical" solutions to problems.

The RED DOT on the Chart shows where you fit on the political map.

Your PERSONAL issues Score is 80%.
Your ECONOMIC issues Score is 50%.
(Please note: Scores falling on the Centrist border are counted as Centrist.)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Unity in Diversity

In response to the "Forever and Now" post, a friend of mine asked a question in regard to Fr. Oliver's comment on women's ordination. Fr. Oliver's comment, cited in part, is as follows:
"David, it is an open question but I think only in the sense that we have not held a council on it. I do not at all think it open theologically. The answer is no. I am friends with at least one person who thinks otherwise, who is Orthodox, and I really respect some of her work on other areas of Orthodox patristics and theology, but on this issue we part."
My friend, a devout Evangelical, asked two questions regarding this--"How is that not the same thing as what I do among fellow Protestants? Thus, how is that unity not the same as I have w/ other Protestants?"--referring to the accusation often hurled at Protestants by Catholics and Orthodox of a pseudo-unity betrayed by a reality of doctrinal diversity. I thought it would be prudent to respond here, as my friend's objections are understandable, but only to a degree. I see a couple of differences in the comparison that might have escaped my friend.

First of all, there's merit in pointing out an apparent similarity of approach. It's similar to what one Baptist might encounter when disagreeing with another Baptist, since the two can disagree on a given, non-doctrinal point and still remain in good standing as Baptists, as there's no clear teaching on subject x within the Baptist convention. In like manner, there's quite a lot--much more than an Evangelical might suspect, actually--within the Orthodox Church that is not a non-negotiable matter of Church doctrine, and which can fall under the category of theologoumenon, or pious or theological opinion. So I can understand how an accusation like the one I framed above would ring hypocritical at first glance.

As to the issue of whether or not women could be priests, it's not immediately and automatically struck down as heresy because such questions have only now arisen in so conservative a communion and because they have been, until recently, unthinkable. Because of this, the Church has never fleshed out and universally declared--not even in or via the writings of St. Paul-- a couple of things:

1) exactly why a women can't teach or exercise authority over a man, and
2) in what context that applies to the Orthodox Church.

(As Frederica Mathewes-Green pointed out, "we have women saints who were missionary evangelists, church-planters, teachers, healers, preachers, apologists, spiritual mothers, counselors, miracle-workers, martyrs, iconographers, hymnographers, and theologians," and the Scriptures point out those women who were deaconesses and prophetesses. So exactly what constitutes a male-only role seems to be restricted, at least at this point in this dialogue, to the sacramental priesthood. Most Orthodox, myself included, are happy with this traditional stance. My thanks to EYTYXOC for the link.)

Back to the main point, however: I hold that the Orthodox position, which allows us on many issues to agree to disagree, is still fundamentally different from that of sola scriptura Protestant groups due both to the nature of the issues on which we as Orthodox agree and disagree, as well as the nature of that which binds us--the latter being, namely, communion with a recognized Orthodox bishop.

To the first point: I see the nature of unity of doctrine and teaching within the Orthodox Church as being fundamentally different from the supposed unity of the many Evangelical, sola-scriptura confessions because of the nature of the specific doctrines upon which the respective groups agree and disagree. While the Orthodox Church has always--I repeat, always--had to deal with differing schools of thought on many issues (Calendar, reception of converts, etc), "the difference"--and here I quote from an old post of mine--"between the more ancient confessions and the more recent Protestant groups lies in Hebrews 6:1-2:
"'Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.'
"In our view, the conflicts that Protestant groups have with each other stem from those things we would define as 'elementary principles'--the nature of faith and works, the nature of baptism, the nature of the laying on of hands, of the end times, as the passage indicates--while those that the Catholics and the Orthodox have each within their respective communions are much more recent...I would rather have merely the problems of today and know that the problems of the apostolic age are settled, so we don't have to go back and re-search the Scriptures in every generation to see if we've got something as basic as baptism right."

To the second point: For Orthodox Christians, our point of unity is not only a common reverence for and submission to the Holy Scriptures, but also a union with a recognized Orthodox bishop. The former has its difficulties, since people can profess the same loyalty to the Scriptures in an abstraction and come up with (as is often the case) diametrically opposed views of some of the most basic of Christian beliefs. Recognition of bishops, of course, can also be problematic, as there have been times when the idea of "who's in and who's out" hasn't always been cut and dry. Nevertheless, the fact that I can walk into almost any Eastern Orthodox Church in the world, mention Archbishop +DMITRI, and be admitted to the chalice is a pretty good indicator that mine is one such recognized bishop. Orthodox bishops have authoritatively recognized one another (as well as the faithful under each respective bishop) as holding to the Orthodox dogmas, so all included in this recognition are invited to the Eucharistic banquet.
Thus, the fact that many sola scriptura groups still remain separate bodies and close off communion from one another is telling, being the most glaring example, in our eyes, of real separation and disunity.

In Orthodoxy, the bishop is the recipient of the sacramental grace given to the Apostles by Christ Himself and, as such, is the one who unifies those he receives into the Church via that grace. This point of union, far from being an abstract, immaterial one of thought, is something that transcends the confines of both our rational capabilities and our individualistic tendencies and unites us in a tangible, corporate, and, yeah, even mystical union through the Chalice, which is ever guarded by the bishop, surrounded by the presbyters and communed by the faithful.


Jan. 19 -- Texas Confederate Heroes Day
Why We Remember

EDIT: Since the writing of this post, I have since come to hold a different opinion than the one expressed in this post. While it is still true that the Civil War was about many different issues, none of these issues would have been issues sufficient to start a war in the first place had chattel slavery not been in place.

Yes, it concerned the right to secede. Yes, it concerned the issue of states' sovereignty vs. federal centralization. But, in 1860, what it meant to be concerned about those issues was that you desired to secede and exercise states' rights in order to keep other human beings in bondage. Thus, while the issues of states' rights and secession continue to be viable political issues in some (small) corners of the country today, one should not and must not cite the CSA as some sort of heroic precedent regarding these issues; such a citation would and does only lead to an implicit, if not explicit, excusing of chattel slavery, which is now exclusively a moral issue in today's society, not a primarily economic one, as it was in that of the 1860s. Such a position is inexcusable in today's world.

Nevertheless, I am keeping the words up for posterity; I do hope that those who find resonance with what I wrote below would stop, reflect, and reconsider what waving the Stars and Bars, however culturally one might feel about it, says today.

I continue to recognize that those who fought for the South (my paternal great-great-grandfathers included) did so mostly in a short-sighted attempt to defend their parcel of land and their immediate families, which they were told were being threatened by "Damn Yankees." Hence, the desire to honor their service to protect those dear to them first and foremost.

Though many of them did not own slaves (mine did at some point, I believe), and many willingly manumitted they once they saw that they could fight like the men that they were and are, such is nevertheless a context wholly different from our own. Let us draw from it those lessons we can and should, without the unfortunate wholesale adoption of its truly lost cause, as many misguidedly do today. May God truly bless and save the South, and the North, and all mankind. ~ Fr. David Wooten, Sept. 7, 2012.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"After the Chrism Dries: Some Pitfalls Awaiting Converts to the Orthodox Church"

Published by AGAIN, May 4, 2003

By David Tillman
Reprinted from AGAIN MAGAZINE, Volume 21, Number 1 - Winter 1999

May 4, 2003 (AGAIN) -- "Our merciful Lord says, Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matthew 7:13, 14)

Coming into Orthodoxy may look like the end of a long journey home, but on another plane it is just the beginning of another journey - the journey into the Kingdom of heaven. This pilgrimage is the hard way, the way of the Cross, and it is fraught with dangers and pitfalls.

There is a steady stream of souls coming into the Orthodox Church, but, alas, there is also a persistent trickle of those going out. Some are scandalized, disillusioned, and heartbroken; some are rebellious, defiant, and - may God rescue them and us - perhaps lost forever. Joy comes only through the Cross, and all are tempted to flee from it. Let us take refuge in the divinely inspired promise of the Holy Apostle John that as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name (John 1:12).

Let's get some basic doctrine down before we have a sober look at the journey after the chrism dries and the baptismal garment is folded and put away. I believe in One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and the Orthodox Church is it. What the Orthodox Church has received from the Lord (the prayers, the liturgies, the Bible, the Mysteries, the Councils, the Fathers, the icons, the canons - in sum, the entire Tradition) is absolutely trustworthy. To reject these things in their proper place and order in the Church is to reject Christ as Head of the Church. To gain these things through Jesus in the communion of the Orthodox Church is worth every sacrifice.

The Pitfall of Expecting Sinless People

What we have received is absolutely trustworthy. The way we incarnate it in this world as individuals, parishes, dioceses, and the like can be an affront to God. If one flees to the Orthodox Church never expecting to encounter sinners again, one is deluded. Sinners are to be found in abundance not only among the laity, but among the clergy as well. St. John Chrysostom taught that the roads of hell are paved with the skulls of erring Orthodox priests, and erring Orthodox bishops are the lampposts!

In fact, even whole churches can fall into sin. The current Bishop of Corinth is reputed to say often that his church has not improved that much since the Apostle Paul left. And we must never forget that the seven churches described in St. John's Apocalypse (the Book of Revelation) were Orthodox churches! They're gone now. Their lampstands may well have been removed forever. Whether this is due to the vicissitudes of Greco-Turkish politics or to a deeper cause, we know that God preserves the Orthodox Church where she is faithful.

There are real live sinners in the Orthodox Church, and anyone that enters thinking to escape them will be terribly disappointed. He might have better luck entering a hospital in order to avoid sick folks.

One escapes nothing by coming into the Orthodox Church. What happens is that everything is intensified, but with a new clarity. The late Flannery O'Connor (a Roman Catholic writer of the first rank and native of the Deep South) was once asked why her stories, and those of so many Southerners, were peopled by such freaks. She replied to the effect that perhaps the Southerner's advantage is that he can still recognize a freak. The Orthodox Christian's advantage is that he can still recognize sin when most of the world would like to deny its existence. There are sinners pedestrian and venal in the Orthodox Church. There are sinners who have damaged and torn lives and consciences. There are sinners intellectual and simple. One healthy sign amidst so much that is unhealthy, even dangerous, is that there is an unchangeable vocabulary of sin, repentance, accountability, and God's coming judgment in Orthodoxy. One can hide from it, but one cannot escape it. The Orthodox Church still recognizes sin and celebrates virtue, even to the judgment and condemnation of some who would count themselves members in good standing, with medals and citations to prove it.

The Pitfall of Magical Thinking

Many come to the Orthodox Church with impossibly high expectations of her. Some of these expectations are quasi-magical. One can be baptized, chrismated, and communed with utmost care in Orthodoxy and still go to hell. The Holy Mysteries grant us an encounter with the Most Holy Trinity; they are not magic. They cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. A sinner who will not cooperate with this grace will be condemned by it.

Many a recovering drunk will say of his recovery program, It works if you work it! The Mysteries of the Church (which is itself the Great Mystery) work if you work them. One can be baptized in the deepest font made and be held under a good long time in each immersion and still end up in hell, for the lack of daily trying to die to self so that one can truly die with Christ and rise with Him. So many fixate on the outer form to the exclusion of the very presence of God in the Mysteries. The Lord is present to empower us to be faithful, not to magically transform us into lovers of Himself and our neighbors without struggle on our part. We must make the effort to lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us (Hebrews 12:1).

An excessive fixation on the ultra-correct celebration of the services of the Church can be the result of this magical thinking. Some seem to be thinking that if the services are just done right (and there are wildly divergent definitions of done right) then the struggles will be over. Magic lusts after mere power. Alas, many prefer magic to grace and are disappointed that Simon the Magician was never canonized in the Orthodox Church! So they leave, or worse, stay and drive off the weaker brethren. It is heartbreaking to see people scandalized by the sins of others and/or their own sins and struggles. The antidote to this in faith is the foundational virtue of humility. When all is said and done, all that is wrong with the Church in her earthly pilgrimage (remember, there's nothing wrong with her Head) can be discovered by looking in a mirror.

Every Orthodox Christian from the Apostolic Age until today must say at every Divine Liturgy that he himself is the chief of sinners. After many years of saying it, many come to believe it. Of those who believe it, many begin to do something about it. It is at this point that one begins to see and experience the Messianic miracles in abundance. At least on the moral plane one begins to witness, if not personally experience, the disfigured lepers being clean sed, the lame walking, the blind seeing, the dumb speaking, the demons being banished, and the dead being raised.

Yet some persist in wanting - may we say lusting for - a guaranteed magic rather than grace. Those healed by the Lord had to get up, get to work, and get home. Who are we to demand more? Jesus gives us His grace, the presence of the Holy Spirit, to walk the narrow way. He doesn't send a taxi to get us!

The Pitfall of Losing Our Balance

Being faithful is a struggle on both the individual and the corporate levels. Some give up the battle and settle for a worldly comfort. This is true for individual souls, parishes, dioceses, and patriarchates. None of us is immune to the desire to take the rest appointed for the Last Day right now. North Americans and Western Europeans have a great struggle with the devil's most subtle weapon: prosperity. Again on every level, there are those of us so seduced by prosperity that we create a huge stumbling block to many souls. Worldly prosperity and numerical growth are not always signs of spiritual growth. After all, cancer cells grow much faster than normal cells.

The antidote to the comfy poison of prosperity is ascetic effort. Ascetic effort is the directed and controlled violence of war against the passions. Ascetic effort can be derailed by pride, publicity, and legalism. There are times we Orthodox, again on both the individual and corporate levels, can simultaneously make the Pharisee blush and the publican despair. There are some who deny the centrality of ascetic effort, especially fasting. There are others who can keep a Lenten kitchen more fastidiously than any scribe or lawyer of old could ever have hoped to keep Kosher. Where humility and mercy are lacking, God is banished in the name of Orthodoxy, and souls are led astray.

The Lord grants us grace step by step so that we can walk a balanced walk. When we are confronted with fellow sinners, we need not
despair and begin looking for a Church more Orthodox than God. This is a temptation. Neither do we need to say, "Well, no one else is fighting sin in his life, so I am off the hook." In balance we can be grateful to God that He brought us to the Orthodox Church, but we need not have any illusions that the Church would be diminished without us or is enriched by us. With sobriety we can do what grace makes possible and bless the Lord.

Unbalanced enthusiasm is another pitfall.

One of the finest teachers in the North American Church tells the story of his enthusiasm in his first assignment as a parish priest. At one point his bishop reminded him, Father, the Church saves you. You don't save the Church. This is a saving balance and sobriety in the Christian walk. There is nothing extreme in it. Passionate and intemperate enthusiasm can be purified and tamed to become patient and long-suffering zeal. Being on fire with love for the Lord is absolutely necessary, but it must be a controlled burn.

The Pitfall of Ingratitude

One of the signs that we are getting off the narrow way of the Cross is ingratitude toward or condemnation of our origins. For those of us who came to Orthodoxy from the Western denominations, this is a major and serious temptation. One must enter Orthodoxy walking forward singing, not retreating backward shouting. It is the height of ingratitude to be without at least a prayer for the folks that taught one to call on the name of Jesus.

In the entryways of many an ancient church building (called the exonarthex) one could see pictures of Plato and Aristotle. The Church knew that the philosophies of the pagan Greeks were inadequate to the mystery of faith in Christ. The Church knew that too many had attempted to subordinate the Tradition to pagan categories and had been lost because of it. Despite all of this she allowed a beautiful expression of gratitude to Plato and Aristotle as seekers of Truth, sometimes even referring to them as the Moseses of the [pagan] Greeks. In this we see sober, open-eyed, and Christ-enlightened gratitude.

Truth is truth wherever it is found, and it always has some relationship to Jesus, who is, of course, the Truth Incarnate. Ingratitude for whatever glimmer of truth came to us from even the most doubtful of sources is a singularly evil symptom of profound spiritual malaise. From the denominational perspective, there are few bodies more inadequate than the snake-handling sects, but their call for total commitment and focus is laudatory. On Judgment Day one can speculate that a rattlesnake-handling sect may fare better because of its hundred-percent commitment, albeit in ignorance, than an Orthodox parish that has it all, at least on paper, but is only thirty percent committed. Where ingratitude is found, judgments abound, and presumption cannot be far behind.

Having said these things, we must be careful not to teeter off the other side of the narrow way by saying, It does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere and committed. Although God is everywhere present and fills all things (as we say in our opening invocation to the Holy Spirit before nearly every private or public prayer of the Orthodox Church), He condescended to be objective - describable, touchable, knowable - in the Incarnation. The Faith has an objective content.

The Lord did not come to give us mere propositions. He came to restore our relationship to Him by freeing us from the tyranny of sin, decay, and death. Nevertheless, this relationship can be described accurately in ways He chose. There is right theology with attendant right practice. The Lord entrusts us with the Faith to equip us to walk the narrow way He pioneered. When we treat the Faith in presumption as our right, we distort it and disfigure it. The light in us becomes darkness, and we cause scandal and harm even though we may be members in good standing of the Orthodox Church.

A Bridge over Pitfalls - the Cross

What should be said in conclusion? Simply this: The Lord came to save us from the reality of rebellion, sin, death, and decay in every facet of our being. The only way to be saved is to take up our cross and follow Him in obedient death to self and sin. If, in reality, our following Him is a charade, then all the tools and arsenal the Lord has provided for our salvation and sanctification will condemn us. Coming into the Orthodox Church does not take away the necessity of genuine repentance. It s a matter of grace, not magic.

In reality, if we have not died with Christ and risen with Him, we will find the Marriage Supper of the Lamb intolerable. The real God makes real repentance possible so that people can enter into the real Kingdom of heaven. It requires a genuine walk in faith with the power of our God, who cannot be fooled. The journey is not over yet.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Forever and Now, Culture and Incarnation

(Warning: The following is quite long and, most likely, will be somewhat incoherent at times. Forgive me.)

Tonight, an unexpected Vespers service--unexpected for me, that is, as my wife and child both felt like staying in on what would have been "her night" to attend services--and what would amount to the longest (and best) theological discussion I'd had in months following said service.

Being the "Church geek" that I am--insert comment about being "Geek Orthodox" here--it is difficult to describe the sheer joy it brings me when I am with those of like mind and temperment (in this case, a seminarian; a well-read and newly-converted--as in, still literally oily behind the ears--young man; and our thoughtful, gracious parish priest) and can spend two hours going over everything from biblical text comparison to the identity of "the Jews" in light of the Church to intertestamental liturgical continuity to incarnational anthropology/ecclesiology to convert baggage (both conservative and liberal, both Protestant and Catholic). We could have easily gone 'till two in the morning; the enthusiasm was wonderful.

Regarding the last two topics--the effects of the Incarnation on our beliefs of man and the Church, and the nature of different types of converts...

The "still-oily brother" asked me, the only other former-Protestant in the group, whether or not I thought we converts from Evangelicalism had "so much more" to get over to come into Orthodoxy. I mentioned that we more than likely had no more and no less to get over upon coming to the Church; our baggage, though a matching set, is not so much greater is it is simply different from that of a convert from Roman Catholicism or paganism or secularism or whatever. I mentioned that many books written by converts are geared towards the Evangelical and, thus, have little if anything to say to the inquiring Roman Catholic. A dear friend whose sponsor I was honored to be came in from Catholicism and, mentioning this book in particular, first voiced this sentiment to me and said that books written by former Catholics for Catholic inquirers could "get in the kitchen" of those inquirers in a way that Carlton, Schaeffer, and Gallatin perhaps never could.

That being said, what did seem particular to us Evangelicals was the complete upheaval of our approach to all things Christian when the Incarnation was allowed to fully blossom, all of its implications pervading every aspect of how we saw ourselves as human beings, and how the Church connected us to Christ. Events in the life of Christ which, as far as we could tell, had no practical application to us here and now--as opposed to the "sweet by and by"--were brought dizzyingly to vibrant, tangible, tasty life, the Eternal Now of the Banquet Feast of the Lamb made present for us in the Assembly of the New Jerusalem, the entire Advent of Christ made for the believer "everywhere present and filling all things," with His flesh--which is the flesh of His mother, which is ultimately our shared flesh--being taken from the Theotokos and brought into the world through Nativity; washed and joined with the world and cosmos in the murky waters of the Jordan; emblazoned with piercing, uncreated glory on Mount Tabor; split, torn, impaled and suffocated on a Roman cross; raised in immortal glory in the Resurrection on the third day and seated--this is my favorite part!--seated at the right Hand of God the Father Himself at the Ascension...and our real, physical participation in baptism, chrismation, Eucharist, confession, prayer, fasting, et al, allows the Flesh that is, forever and now, seated at the right hand of Power to join with our feeble bodies, the Blood that is laid before the Almighty to flow--actually and physically flow!--through our fragile veins...such a flesh-to-flesh, blood-to-blood encounter is well beyond the scope of the camps from whence we came, yet familiar territory to those who walked with the Twelve...

Also discussed were the fears that some--namely, theological conservatives who, at least in part, were fleeing from confessions more liberal than they instead of entirely to a Church that transcends and rejects all these labels categorically--bring to their conversion processes and, in the midst of said process, latch on to a seemingly conservative stance on an issue and posit it as the Orthodox stance, usually doing so through a knee-jerk reaction in order to avoid at all costs even the appearance of the chaos and controversies in their former confessions. Father stated that, really, said converts can and must learn to relax, for it's a reality that the chaos arose from the simple fact that those places from whence they came were not the Church and, having now come to the Church, where Truth reigns as a Person, dialogue and inquiry need not be feared, and walls need not be built up prematurely (or, ideally, at all).

Piggybacking on this premise, the "hot topic" of women's ordination to the priesthood--coupled as it always is with the issue of the condoning and/or ordination of practicing homosexuals--was brought forth. Father pointed out that, in many mainline denominations, straight women and gays are often dealt with as one issue largely because they are both classified (tragically) by these confessions as historically oppressed political minorities. Recognized though women and gays may have been by our contemporary secular societies, the confessions which nonetheless allow themselves to use said recognition as their touchstone of "relevance" and interaction with the world inevitably must include the latter in their candidates for the priesthood if they are to be consistent after having included the former. On the other end of the spectrum, conservative Evangelicals are bound (and happily and, to a degree, admirably so) by the New-Testament era prohibition against both women ministers and practicing their consistency is easy to maintain, if a bit blind to cultural norms throughout the ages...

...and it is this phrase--cultural norms--which terrifies those converts coming from groups such as the Methodists, the ELCA, PCUSA, ECUSA et al, which gratefully has no effect whatsoever on the Orthodox Church...or, at least, it shouldn't, so long as we keep to our incarnational moorings... For, after all, reason these reactionary, conservative converts, if we allow for "changing cultural norms" to be our benchmark for allowing women to be priests, what is to stop us from citing those same norms for changing the Church's stance towards practicing, unrepentant homosexuals? Two things surface as an answer.

Firstly: "Changing cultural norms" is not a "benchmark" for any decision we would make. The Church's understanding of christology and what it means to the human race has undergone an astounding process of development that spans several hundred years and, while preserving the core intact, has expanded and articulated it in a way that has shown all the facets of its glory that its primitive, seed version did not reveal. While I am not going to advocate for women's ordination--and I think it incredibly unlikely that this debate will happen among the bishops of this Church within my lifetime--if said ordination were to be allowed, it would only be because the Church was now ready to apply St. Paul's "neither male nor female" clause to the priesthood, and not only to the believer's admission to and participation in the Body of Christ. It would not be because the surrounding culture demanded that we be "fair," "equal," or "same."

Secondly: Were the above to happen, the door to acceptance of the practicing homosexual lifestyle--much less ordination--would still be closed, for the touchstone of the Church regarding the identity of humankind--male and female included--is not the world's culture of minority oppression and victimhood, but Christ, the theanthropos, or God-Man. God's incarnation in Christ results in a human nature shared by men and women, so there is nothing sinful or fallen merely in being female. This revealed nature of humanity, however--male and female, created to be fruitful and multiply--precludes the pseudo-union of those in homosexual relationships: the issue of gender has been assumed and healed by Christ; the issue of sexual orientation remains a cross in this fallen world. As a conclusion, we all reasoned that the christic anthropology of gender inclusion in the Kingdom of God did not necessarily, in and of itself, pave the way for equal access to ordination. We took comfort, however, in the fact that, as with our Eternal Rest seated at the right hand of Glory, the secure foundation of our lives was the Mystery of the divine made visible--the Church made real in flesh and spirit through Her Bridegroom made manifest in Creation--holding, protecting, nourishing and raising us to perfection in all things through He who Was and Is incarnate for our sakes.

More Theophany Stuff

Flinging around memory can be read here.

An all-sensory description of the revelation of God in the Jordan can be read--and simultaneously listened to--here and here, respectively.

Kudos to those mentioned both in this post and the former whose gifts surpass my own in conveying the one thing needful.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Feastday Reading

Our resident Ochlophobe has treated us to another apologia post here. Particularly pertinent to this day in the Church is this passage:
"In the opening lines of Genesis God moves above the waters, in Matthew chapter 3 God is below the waters. For there to be the new creation that is humanity healed, God must enter the water. When God is seen above the waters the veil remains intact. When God is seen below the waters the Trinity is revealed...In Genesis the waters which the spirit of God moves above are chaos and death, tohu-wabohu (תוֹהוּ־וַבוֹהוּ). After dividing light and dark God divides the waters, thereby dividing the heavens from the earth. But, of course, with God's creative divisions there is order and unity and compatibility. Our sin will disrupt that cosmic order. In Matthew 3 the God who goes under the waters reunites heaven and earth which was falsely (re)divided by man in his sinful rebellion. Theophany is not just soteriologically important for man, it is soteriologically important for the cosmos. At Theophany the God of Genesis does not simply hover above tohu-wabohu. Jesus at Jordan does not divide the waters. He plunges into them. And as he rises, chaos ends."
Happy Theophany, y'all.


I'm not sure why I'm drawn to it. Every morning, when I'm milling around the bedroom and half-bath, a certain icon of the Theotokos and Child on the wall between the two rooms (see right) catches my eye. It was given to me after an outdoor Paschal Vespers--I believe right after my chrismation--yet the attachment isn't due to any person associated with the icon. I think what always strikes me is how very still she looks.

Icons, being pictures, are of course going to be stationary. But there's more to it than that. She, being the one whose pure womb, as we sing, became more spacious than the heavens, whose "yes" to the angel loosed the knot that Eve's "no" had tied around us, from whose body came everything our Maker was, humanly speaking--she seems to be the ultimate victor, the blessed and most glorious white martyr, giving her life not in a gory spectacle to the jaws of lions but in a bloodless battle over the temptations and passions that beset her throughout her life, ...
How can this be? For I am a virgin...

...My Son, they have run out of wine...

...Yea, and a sword shall pierce thine own soul, also...

...Woman, behold, thy son...

...Who am I, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?...
The anxieties of her life, the sidelong glances of those who suspected she'd been nothing more than a whore whose one-night fling with some Roman soldier had put the horns on her aged fool of a husband, the murmurs and sneers directed at her Boy, the news of whose arrival she'd held precious in her heart ever since that day her messenger came...all of these lay conquered, resolved, dead at the feet of this Lady who, having forfeited all she had (even down to the dignity she might have held in the eyes of men) now holds the Pearl of Great Price in her hands--a pearl she once held in her womb. And this is enough; she rests, satisfied, tranquil, the cry of the victor not being a bloodsoaked shriek of vengeance over ones foes, but rather, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced..."

My soul doth magnify...

She is what man must be: one who is so enamored with the "one thing needful" that no earthly care can move her. Our minds, on the other hand, roll out of our dreams and right into the tune that's been stuck in our heads since yesterday, and from said tune to the forehead-smacking faux pas at the restaurant last night, and from said blunder to the sexy young thing at the water cooler, and from all the unmentionable things that she brings up to the stiffening, sickening rememberance of the rumor that the company will be downsizing soon, to that bill that got ignored, that phone number that got misplaced, that deadline...all of these thoughts bombard our minds and, unable to stop the juggernaut, we can just feel our soul already tightening miserly around whatever resources, whatever savvy, whatever coping mechanisms might lie within that turnip of a heart that's looking drier with each care that occupies it. The Theotokos, on the other hand, is calm and still.

...and my spirit hath rejoiced...

She is calm not because she is so devoid of worries and cares--a perusal of the gospels and a read-through of the Holy Week lamentations will assure you to the contrary--but because she has discovered that holding all things with an open hand has led her into the reality where Christ reigns, where the Kingdom principle of death leading to resurrection is true, even down to the marrow of our insecurities. She has come to live out that great truth which says that the pulls of passions which our souls and minds feel--the pulls which tell us, as did C.S. Lewis' lizard in The Great Divorce, that we cannot, in fact live without fearing and submitting to that pull--are no match, in the end, for that serene magnifying and rejoicing that makes us human, that giving of glory and thanks that unites us to the divine.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Prayers by the Lake

Check the (recently streamlined) sidebar for St. Nikolai Velimirovic's collection of 100 almost always desperate prayers.

This man is a saint for a reason.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Life

Congratulations to my dear friend Alan on the birth of his daughter, Nadia Elauren.

May God grant them many years.

Happy New Year...

...and feast(s) day...


St. Basil the Great the Archbishop of Caesarea, in Cappadocia

Baby Veneration

My daughter is one enthusiastic pray-er. At the end of each pre-communion prayer (and going well into the next one), she yells "Ahhhhhhh-men! Ahhhhhhh-men! Ahhhhhhh-men!"

Tonight, after evening prayers, instead of merely kissing the icons as per her normal custom, both the Lord Jesus and the Mother of God Mary got several enthusiastic "YAAAAAAAY!!"s.

Like a child, indeed...