Thursday, May 31, 2007

Li'l Sweetie Tastes Immortality

We were blessed to be present at St. Sava's first liturgy on their new property -- outdoors, tent over our heads, hay under our feet -- and much BBQ-ed sausage and Shiner Bock in our bellies afterwards.

But this right here to the right is what it's all about (hint). That li'l one that looks an awful lot like my beautiful wife is such a big girl now, taking communion by herself... Thanks to Mary Bethany for the heads up. You can see the rest of the slideshow here.

Forgotten Sons of the South

This article--written by an African-American professor, as the page states at the bottom--details the ranks of black soldiers--slave and free--who took up arms and fought valiantly against the North.

Forwarded to me also was this article, also on black Confederates, with many documented instances of blacks fighting, not out of obligation or conscription, but out of love for their homeland--and many doing so as already-freed men.

UPDATE: While doing a search on the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma (my native American ancestry comes from one of these, though we're not sure which), this incredibly thorough article jumped out at me from the search results. Deo Vindice.

I Don't Believe in Organized Religion--I'm Orthodox!

(The following is my response to a private email regarding this post at the Triablogue blog. Parts pertaining to the other party's private questions and comments have been removed.)

Evangelicals who interact with Orthodox--particularly converts TO Orthodoxy from Evangelicalism--have to put up with a lot. Specifically, they hear a refrain from us that "sola scriptura leads to doctrinal chaos!" and "Scripture plus tradition leads to wonderful doctrinal unity!" Now, while I personally agree with what we as Orthodox mean by all this, that's just sloppy apologetics on our needs to be unpacked in more than just a sound byte, since Evangelicals reckon themselves to have just as much "unity in essentials" as the Orthodox claim to have.

For me, the difference lies in this: ecclesiology mattered desperately to the early Church, so much so that they put an article in the Creed that the Church was One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic...that "One" part meaning that only one, visible communion would comprise it. Granted, it was never cut and dry which group it was when controversy came up, but the understanding was there--even among heretical groups of the first 300 years or so!--that groups which held to contradictory teachings on certain issues could not share the same chalice, and therefore could not both comprise the One Church.

So much is made of the fact that the Orthodox, being (as we see it) that One Church established by Christ, is doctrinally consistent. This is why the "Churches in Resistance" like the Athonite monasteries and Russian splinter groups that have broken communion with so-called "World Orthodoxy" ( i.e., the four historical patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem and all those in communion with them) are either now themselves the One Church, or have separated themselves from the One Church. It's hard to tell until 20/20 hindsight clears things up (thanks being given to the Holy Spirit), but this sort of excommunication/reestablishment of communion is what has plagued/blessed the Church for 2,000 years. It's a "plague," for it's never pleasant--often, really, it's downright ugly and folks have lost it, calling folks all kinds of names they shouldn't have--but it's a blessing, overall, because these guys erred on the side of caution: they absolutely refused to believe that the Church could be divided on something that was seen as a major christological dogma and still be seen as "One."

Enter Evangelicalism, specifically (bear with me, those of you who read this blog who adhere to sola scriptura) those declaring sola scriptura to be their bond of unity. Well, all right, Christ is ultimately the bond of unity they claim, but you get me. Here we have groups that believe all kinds of different things re: baptism, the Eucharist, the nature of the Church, the nature of salvation, the means of acquiring said salvation, the operation of the Holy Spirit--even what it means to adhere to sola scriptura. Much could be made of the fact that the Early Church Fathers (hereafter ECFs) were absolutely unified on the nature of these issues--they were even more unified on these than they were regarding the canon of Scripture--but unity or disunity on this or that doctrine will only get an Orthodox and an Evangelical so far in a debate, in my experience.

It has been suggested that we Orthodox compare apples to apples and acknowledge that Southern Baptists (for example) have just as much unity amongst themselves as the Orthodox do amongst themselves (if not more, thanks to detailed systematic theology on the part of the Evangelical). Granted, readily. But this is not my problem with comparing the doctrinal cohesiveness of these two confessions. My problem is the fundamental difference between said confessions' respective beliefs regarding who or what constitutes the One Church of Christ. Whereas the Orthodox see the One Church of Christ as being necessarily doctrinally consistent on all declared matters of faith ("declared" being the key word here), and thus have no problem with Orthodoxy alone comprising the One Church, sola scriptura Evangelicals (it is my opinion--corrections are welcome) are satisfied with saying that groups can be diametrically opposed to each other regarding all the things I listed one paragraph above this one and still, as a group of contradicting confessions, comprise the One Church of Christ. If there's one thing that was made clear through my extensive readings of the ECFs (almost all Ante-Nicene authors), it was that, without exception, no one who did not hold to the Real Presence, Baptismal Regeneration, Infant Baptism, or Apostolic Succession (to name the most prominent four teachings that stand in opposition to most sola scriptura adherents' beliefs) could be said to be in the One Church of Christ, as these were seen to directly oppose the christology of the early Church.

In other words, for the statement that "Baptists have as much unity as Orthodox" to hold any water with an Orthodox Christian whatsoever, the one making said statement would also have to say that "Baptists alone constitute the One Church; they alone are the Body of Christ on Earth." The fact that (some) Lutherans, Church-of-Christers, Presbyterians, and Five-Pointers are included as members of the One Church along with Baptists is what drains the efficacy out of the whole argument. The One Church has more than One Faith in this latter version, it seems.

Still, many an Evangelical remains faithful to sola scriptura because he sees the controversies in Roman Catholicism and/or Orthodoxy as "the proof in the pudding" of their comparable fallibility--in a word, said Evangelical thought he was no worse off in Protestantism than he'd be in the Roman Catholic Church or Eastern Orthodox Church regarding doctrinal confusion, and, hey, at least he could unambiguously point to where his concrete, written-down (and leather-bound), rule of faith opposed to trusting in a sometimes more nebulous "tradition"...

Whence, then, the Orthodox distinction betwen the disunity among the various groups identifying themselves with Orthodoxy and that sola scriptura adherents? In a nutshell, the issues sola scriptura folks disagree on are not only major doctrines in the Early Church, but also major doctrines that enjoyed universal accord among these ECFs. In contrast, the issues of Calendar and Reception of Converts in their current contexts were not directly dealt with by the ECFs, yet are seen by the "Synods in Resistance" in this day and age as major christological affronts, and thus threats to the doctrinal unity of the One Church. In their minds, separation is the only choice if doctrine is different.

God has seen fit to reconcile the Russian Church over the last couple of weeks. May the others who are taking these stands against what they see as false union enter into true (re)union with the rest of the world calling itself Orthodox, and--just as we have experienced for 2,000 years, let God be true; let His truth conquer all men's lies, regardless of what side of the conflict they came down on.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Vote for the Cover!

Go here to vote for the cover of the Orthodox Study Bible that you most like. Be sure to tell me which one you chose! (I voted for number one!)

(I'm hoping this means a soon-coming release date...?)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Apple iRack

And, on a lighter (yet sardonic) note...

What kind of beloved is your beloved?

The Canticle of Solomon records the maidens of the Shulamite woman asking her this question (Song 5:9), and it is surely a question solely asked to prompt praise for the Beloved. The Greek Septuagint differs only slightly, as the maidens ask, "What is your kinsman more than another kinsman?" This idea of a kinsman redeemer, a kinsman lover, which is brought out so vividly in Boaz's saving of his near relatives Ruth and Naomi, sheds a stronger, more christic light on the Canticle's question -- for we as Christians immediately identify our kinsman redeemer as Christ Himself. For us, then, the question would be thus: how is Christ Jesus--our kinsman who shares in our nature while remaining God, our lover who consummates His relentless love for mankind in a way that proves stronger than Death itself--how is this Christ Jesus more than any other kinsman? How is He more than any other God, more than any other man?

I pose this question for a specific reason, yet mine is slightly different than the ones that are usually seen in print. I have seen many a book, podcast, blog, website--you name it--devoted to an apologetically-based answer for others regarding this question--"How do the Old Testament prophecies establish Him as our kinsman redeemer?" "How is Christ different from and superior to other deities?" "How does the atoning sacrifice of Christ establish His payment as kinsman redeemer?"--yet my question, I think, is somewhat more fundamental, as it seeks not to justify an already established image of our Kinsman Lover within our own lives, our own hearts, but rather asks how we ought to discover our Beloved fully, how we ought to seek to develop said image in the first place.

In other words, how do we know what kind of beloved our Beloved is? And, secondly, how can extremes on either side of, well, my particular religious experience (as an example) rob one of this discovery?

The first extreme I often see reminds me (you'll have to bear with me on these admittedly unusual metaphors, along with all the inherent limitations therein) of an online dating service. To set up the example, imagine the following: A person signs up for a dating service and, after a while, finds a profile that appeals to--we'll say--her. She emails this young man, who emails back quickly with an interest that impresses the young woman. She and her new contact exchange daily emails, and it's quickly obvious that there is an intense, mutual attraction between these two that goes far beyond physical (having never actually seen or met each other in person, physical attraction can't really enter into the situation) -- shared interests, goals in life, his life seeming to complete hers -- all this leads to increased intimacy, increased disclosure, more of the emotional trust flowing back and forth along the modems...yet, for all of the love that is undoubtedly there, these two people never meet, never touch, never fulfill all the longing they most certainly feel with an actual marriage and consummation thereof. I know that this will more than likely offend many who may read this--and, for that, forgive me; I've tried to be as charitable as possible here--but I see non-sacramental approaches to Christianity as a spiritual version of this scenario; so much is learned about Christ through diligent (and admirable!) study of the Scriptures that it is obvious that a vision for who Christ is, gratitude for what He's done, longing to be in His presence--all these things are very often present in the lives of such Christians. Yet, for one to say that this is enough--for one to claim that all that is needed is the re-reading of Scriptures (God's "email correspondence" with us, if you will) and the subsequent, "long distance" relationship that is fostered through that reading, apart from any sacramental contact--is to claim that the woman should be completely satisfied that, in this life, all that she can expect is a constant longing with absolutely no fulfillment, no resolution of tension, no consummation of desire. Such a relationship can hardly be called complete; truly, after a while, it can hardly be considered healthy.

To turn the extreme to the other side, however, is the ancient idea (which nonetheless has most likely been the source of much marital grief in times past, at least by our standards) of arranged marriages, done completely apart from the desire or preference of those (or at least one of those) involved in said arrangement. Here exists a couple who, though united through the sacrament of marriage, have lived their entire lives in close proximity to one another--even to the extent of sharing the same bed and bearing children together--but have not had an experience--or, better yet, a continuous lifetime of experiences--speaking with each other, communing with one another, sharing the marriage bed as a means of union, of blessedness. The bride, in this case, may be able to tell you how the household runs--down to the daily schedule of how the husband likes dinner, how she, the wife, has her nightly talk on the phone with friends--in other words, much familiarity with the household is established, but little is actually known or appreciated about the Spouse Himself. Were the wife and husband so inclined, a conversation could be started which would shed new light on all kinds of things that were done (for reasons heretofore unknown) for years within the household, would usher in new levels of appreciation for Who the Spouse is and why He does what He does within His Household. This, as you may have already guessed, is my take on those who, having grown up in Orthodoxy, are intimately familiar with the rites, the sacraments, the sounds, the hymns, the icons, the prayer cycles, the motions of worship, yet who are almost wholly unaware of the Scriptural significance of all of these gifts. These are they who, though they devoutly show up for the lengthy Canon of St. Andrew of Crete at the beginning of Lent (and for this they are to be commended!), they are unaware of the history of salvation leading up to St. Andrew's preaching: the Covenant with Abraham and his shameful lies concerning his wife Sarah; the passing of the covenant to Isaac instead of Ishmael; the deceitful Jacob and impulsive Esau; the romance of Jacob with Leah and Rachel, the drama of Joseph and the other sons of Jacob, the line of David, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, short, a systematic, intentional study of the Scriptures as a whole, is lacking. And, while I will add quickly that Scripture is not sufficient by itself to provide the ideal, holistic experience of Christ intended for the Church, it is, in and of itself, an indispensable part of having said experience. Father Patrick Henry Reardon has recently said as much, and I believe this to be a truth that bears repeating, ad nauseam (and it may nauseate some unaccustomed to the idea), until it takes hold within the grass-roots life of Orthodox parishes...until, basically, it is no longer a rare, refreshing exception to find regular, well-attended Bible studies thriving within Orthodox parishes. As my friend Alan is fond of mentioning, Scripture is θεοπνευστος -- literally "God breath" -- so, in the words of Rich Mullins, "let's breathe this as deeply as possible."

Matter of fact, let's hear the quote in context (taken from here):
"I don't think you read the Bible to know truth. I think you read the Bible to find God, that we encounter Him there. Paul says that the scriptures are God's breath and I kind of go, wow, so let's breathe this as deeply as possible. And this is what liturgy offers that all the razzmatazz of our modern worship can't touch. You don't go home from church going, "Oh I am just moved to tears." You go home from church going, "Wow, I just took communion and you know what? If Augustine were alive today, he would have had it with me and maybe he is and maybe he did."
While writing this, the only part of the quote that came to me initially was the "deep breathing" part; it was interesting to go back and see that Rich, in saying this, puts the context of "breathing in Scripture" squarely in the context of liturgical, sacramental worship of the καθολικη εκκλησια --the "catholic" (universal, complete) Church. Let us know not only the New Testament through the daily lectionary readings, but let us also revel in the types and shadows of the Old Testament, so rich with foreshadowing of our Bridegroom. Let us pore over the epistles of St. Paul by the light of the apostolic worship, let us hear the apostles James, Peter, and John--let us read the very words of our Lord, over and over, so that when we commune in that most intimate manner--with His Body and Blood fusing and becoming one with ours, so that we may be bearers of Christ in the world and multiply His presence as His Body throughout the nations--we will thus have both the knowledge that comes from intellectual study of a thing and the experiential knowledge that comes from living in the presence of a person--γνοσις in its most complete sense.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Congrats to Wifey!

My lovely wife is now a proud alumn of Texas Women's U, having just finished her Masters of Library Science. She's pictured here with the little stinker, who was just about as happy to see Momma again (after her long time of sitting down on the ground level with the other graduates) as she was to wear Momma's big, flat, funny hat.

So proud of her. Congrats, baby.

Church School - Fasting

Another great session - in preparation for the upcoming (and, this year, long!) Apostle's Fast, we went over this article in depth (unfortunate spelling errors included).

Lots of good things in there to think about.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

New Article of Mine

...titled "The Unbiblical Doctrine of Sola Scriptura" has been published on There's a link in the sidebar, or you can just click here, if you like.

Should be a follow-up to this one sometime soon (summer's comin'!).


So John tags me for this "Thinking Blogger" thing that's been going around (his tag's here). Pot and kettle, sir. Pot. And. Kettle. Thanks all the same, however.

Rules for this:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think;
2. Link to this post [already done above -- Me.] so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme;
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog). [Mine's at the bottom of the sidebar.]

My five (I tried to go with folks I haven't seen tagged elsewhere):
  1. Sober Joy
  2. La joie de Dieu est folie
  3. Now and Ever
  4. Pithless Thoughts
  5. Unmitigated Nonsense

Friday, May 04, 2007

Four Saints Meme

The Faith and Works post has kept me busy as of late -- read with pleasant surprise that I'd been tagged here by Owen to answer a meme regarding a favorite blessed saint, four favorite saints, and someone I'd like to see glorified as a saint.

1) My favorite blessed saint would be the blessed Augustine of Hippo. This, I know, will scandalize some, but I see in Bl. Augustine a true grasp of divine Justice and Mercy, a love of God's sovereignty and an understanding of the divine humility. In the words of Patrick Barnes, "There is unfortunately within the Orthodox Church a minority of teachers who, in their zeal to guard the Faithful from some of the errors in St. Augustine's teachings, have gone to the extreme of maligning him and impious heresy-hunting. In their often legitimate criticism of the writings of this blessed Church Father from Hippo, they irreverently seek to prove that he was never, nor should be, considered a Saint of the Orthodox Church. They admonish the Faithful to disavow him as a Father. Moreover, they often wrongly attribute heretical teachings of later "Augustinians" to St. Augustine himself. In this way a few of these people even try to show that he was a heretic. This is shocking and absolutely incorrect..."

2a) I must ditto Own here and offer first place among the four saints to the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin, Mary. Not only do I honor her as the new Eve whose "yes" loosed the knot that the first Eve's "no" tied around our race (Saint Irenaeus), but I thank God that she was there--a bit of a shock for me, admittedly--to greet me in the icon you see to your left. The first Divine Liturgy I ever attended was on Sunday, November 21st, 1999 -- a date many will recognize as the Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos in the Temple. She greeted me on my entrance into one temple on the day she entered another. Her virtue of keeping and cherishing within her heart the amazing story of the angel stands to convict this loquacious rambler, as does her absolute fidelity to Christ when few others remained. May I remain at the foot of the Cross--may I remain on the Cross her Son and our God has given me--even when the sky is dark, the earth quakes, and all seems abandoned. Most holy Theotokos, save us.

2b) Again following Owen's example, my next favorite saint goes to my patron saint, the Prophet David, the holy one for whom I was named by my God-fearing mother and whose name I (re)took upon being tonsured a reader. My birth was two and a half months premature, and happened to be very close to the day David is commemorated in the Church (Sunday after Nativity). I am honored beyond words to read his God-breathed psalms in the Assembly of the faithful. He was called a man after God's own heart -- I'm not sure what else would need to be said about him after that. The man was subject to his passions at times, but knew how to repent, and repent gloriously. The psalm that lauds him most, imo, is Ps. 131 (LXX), and speaks much of the call that we as parents, as those who have been blessed with fruitful marriages, have: The LORD has sworn in truth to David; He will not turn from it: “I will set upon your throne the fruit of your body. If your sons will keep My covenant And My testimony which I shall teach them, their sons also shall sit upon your throne forevermore." Indeed, we are called to pass on the faith to our progeny, so that the humanity we've given them will continue on its path of redemption through incarnation and purification. This is only possible, of course, through the One that came from David's loins: "There I will make the horn of David grow; I will prepare a lamp for My Anointed. His enemies I will clothe with shame, But upon Himself His crown shall flourish." Holy Prophet, pray for me, a sinner.

2c) Long-time readers of my blog will find the icon to your left very familiar. Said readers will also most likely remember that the name of this blog was not always "Oh Taste and See," but was originally "Stumble on Water," dedicated to my original heavenly patron, the chief of the Apostles, Simon Peter. I find it ironic that this post comes on the heels of a lengthy and much discussed post on faith and works, for, like many Evangelicals looking into Orthodoxy, this was the issue I had so much trouble with in coming to grips with the faith. I still remember the night in the ORU tower dorms when, while walking down the hallway to the elevators that would take me to my room and contemplating the whole faith-and-works issue, I stopped dead in my tracks. I still distinctly remember my mouth falling wide open as something dawned on me: as we seek to exit this sinking world and journey out to where Christ is, we are called to do what is impossible for man to do. For those sharing in a fallen human nature to attempt to undergo self-deification is as futile as said fallen humans attempting to walk on water. We must exit the boat, and yes, we must walk towards Christ, but St. Peter is not known for being someone walking on water under his own power, stumble or no. His cooperation with grace, perfect or not, has served as a literal icon of theosis for me and was an immense help in my embracing of this doctrine he preached.

2d) Finally, there is a saint who exemplifies, in my opinion, all that is good about missionary endeavors. St. Herman, the Wonderworker of Alaska, labored for years in the Kodiak islands, cultivating prayer out of a joyous heart, living a life of radical self-denial, and defending the poor and needy amongst the indigenous Alaskan Aleuts against the indifference of the Russian traders. My favorite story, which is partially quoted on the scroll held by St. Herman on the right, is as follows: "Father Herman gave [all the Russian officers] one general question: 'Gentlemen, What do you love above all, and what will each of you wish for your happiness?' Various answers were offered ... Some desired wealth, others glory, some a beautiful wife, and still others a beautiful ship he would captain; and so forth in the same vein. 'Is it not true,' Father Herman said to them concerning this, 'that all your various wishes can bring us to one conclusion - that each of you desires that which in his own understanding he considers the best, and which is most worthy of his love?' They all answered, 'Yes, that is so!' He then continued, 'Would you not say, Is not that which is best, above all, and surpassing all, and that which by preference is most worthy of love, the Very Lord, our Jesus Christ, who created us, adorned us with such ideals, gave life to all, sustains everything, nurtures and loves all, who is Himself Love and most beautiful of all men? Should we not then love God above every thing, desire Him more than anything, and search Him out?' "

All said, "Why, yes! That's self-evident!" Then the Elder asked, "But do you love God?" They all answered, "Certainly, we love God. How can we not love God?" "And I a sinner have been trying for more than forty years to love God, I cannot say that I love Him completely," Father Herman protested to them. He then began to demonstrate to them the way in which we should love God. "if we love someone," he said, "we always remember them; we try to please them. Day and night our heart is concerned with the subject. Is that the way you gentlemen love God? Do you turn to Him often? Do you always remember Him? Do you always pray to Him and fulfill His holy commandments?" They had to admit that they had not! "For our own good, and for our own fortune," concluded the Elder, "let us at least promise ourselves that from this very minute we will try to love God more than anything and to fulfill His Holy Will!"

3) Finally, there's this man. Fr. Alexander Schmemann, of blessed memory, has done more for Orthodoxy in America and the world, in my opinion, than just about anyone else in recent years (Although honorable mention should go to Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, also of blessed memory, who came in a close second for this spot in my meme). Fr. Alexander's absolute devotion to Christ revealed in sacrament and Eucharist above all else has proven to help make the Body and Blood we're given every Sunday the very center of my life. His adamant belief in frequent communion and confession--indeed, in active and vibrant participation in the whole life of the Church!--is something that was absolutely needed in our day and age...still is in places, sadly...

I've quoted several journal entries from the man -- most notably here w/regard to the "one thing needful," and here regarding Christ as the center of our Faith. A quote from the latter post:
"In our world, any religion without Christ (even Christianity and Orthodoxy) is a negative phenomenon, even frightening. Any contact with such a religion is dangerous. One can study it to better understand Christianity, or Christ. But by itself, it cannot be salvation, however one understands this word.

"For the early Christians, the Body of Christ is on the altar because He is among them. For the contemporary Christians, Christ is here because His Body is on the altar. It seems to be analogous, but in fact, there is an essential difference between the early Christians and us. For them, everything is in knowing Christ, loving Him. For us, everything is in the desire to be enlightened. The early Christians came to Communion to follow Christ, whereas now Christ is not the unique reason for partaking of Communion."
May his memory be eternal.

Whom to tag, whom to tag...Oh, heck, let's just go for broke...Fr. Joseph, Fr. Stephen, Sky, Barnabas, Dixie, Joshua, Mimi, John, Eric, Stacy, and Steven.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Troparion - Tone 3

You were a pillar of Orthodoxy, Hierarch Athanasius,
supporting the Church with divine doctrines;
you proclaimed the Son to be of one Essence with the Father,
putting Arius to shame.
Righteous father, entreat Christ God to grant us His great mercy.

Kontakion - Tone 2

You planted the dogmas of Orthodoxy
and eradicated the thorns of false doctrine;
you propagated the seeds of the Faith watered with the rain of the Spirit.
Therefore, we praise you, Righteous Athanasius.

Holy St. Athanasius, pray to God for us!

Life of St. Athanasius