Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Crazy Days...

Fort Worth ISD has closed until (most likely) May 11th due to a confirmed case of Swine Flu in one of the students. Prayers are appreciated.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.

If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.

If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.

If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.

Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free.

He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into hades and took hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, "Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions." It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!

It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!

"O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?"

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen, and life reigns!

Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!

For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.

To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Those Melodies

Michael from Texas, who keeps up the staggeringly frequently-updated blog To and Through St. Vlad's (staggering due to his being in seminary and still being able to blog about it regularly) recently posted HERE about Bridegroom Matins hymns in the byzantine tradition, as well as how they always made him think of Holy Week. I thought I'd return in kind. When I think of Holy Week, the following are the melodies this russophile hears:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Two Quotes

An old elder (Porphyrios, I believe) was near his death. His disciples asked him what he should say to the Lord when asked if he should go the heaven or hell, and the old man replied, "I shall say, wherever Thy love places me O Lord, wherever Thy love places me, only do not separate me from your love."

From St. Justin Popovich of Serbia:

"All the universes, all the existing worlds and beings, hold on just a moment! Down all the hearts, all the minds, all the lives, all the immortalities, all the eternities because of all these, without Christ are hell for me, one hell after another; all are innumerable and endless hells and to the height and to the length and to the width. Life without Christ, death without Christ, truth without Christ, the sun without Christ, and universes without Him are all horrible foolishness, unbearable martyrdom, Sisyphian torment, hell! I want neither life nor death without Thee, O Most Sweet Lord! I want neither truth, justice, paradise, nor eternity. NO, no! I want only Thee, Thou only art everything, in and above all! The truth, if there is no Christ, is not needed by me, it is only a hell. Justice, love, good, and happiness, they are all the same hell without Christ; even God Himself is a hell if there is not Christ. I want neither the truth without Christ, nor justice without Christ, nor love without Christ, nor God without Christ. I do not want any of them, in any possible way! I will accept any kind of death, let you kill me in any way you want, because without Christ I want nothing. Neither myself, nor even God Himself, wants anything else between these two; I do not want it, I do not want it, I do not want it!"

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mortified, Dead, Anointed, Filled

From the Blessed Theophylact on today's gospel (John 12:1-18):
But while Martha was serving everyone, Mary focused her attention on honoring Christ. By pouring myrrh on His feet and wiping them with her hair, she served Him not as a mere man, as did the others, but as her Lord, Master, and God. The Jewish name Mariam means "ruler" [κυρια]. Therefore the person of Mary may be understood in a spiritual sense [τροποις αναγωγης] to represent the divinity of the Father, the Lord [κυριος] of all, Who has anointed Jesus' feet -- signifying the flesh of the Lord in the latter times -- with the myrrh of the Spirit. As David foretold: Wherefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness [Ps. 44:6]. And the great Peter declares, Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, Whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ [i.e. the Anointed One; Acts 2:36]. The flesh, assumed by the Word and anointed by the divine Spirit Which entered the Virgin's womb, became what the Word is -- God. It filled the world with fragrance just as Mary's myrrh filled the whole house with fragrance. As for the hairs used to wipe Christ's feet, they represent the saints who adorn the head of God -- His supreme authority. Existing as they do for the glory of God, the saints have become participants in the anointing of Christ's flesh. hence David says, More than Thy fellows [Ps. 44:6]. And Paul tells the Corinthians, Now He Who establisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God [II Cor. 1:21]. Those who live according to Christ are called "Christs," that is, anointed ones; therefore the hairs that wiped Jesus; feet represent Christians, who participate in the divine anointing. Hair is "dead" by comparison to flesh and those who belong to Christ are also dead. They have crucified the flesh, mortified their members that are on the earth, and died to the world [see Gal. 5:24; Col. 3:5]. Hair is also the adornment and glory of the head. The saints are the glory of God: their light shines before men and through them the Father is glorified [see Mt. 5:16]. Even their eating and drinking is to the glory of God. Whom the saints glorify in their members [see I Cor. 10:21]. As for you, O reader, Jesus has also raised your fallen mind like another Lazarus. Having been raised from the dead, you have received Him into the house of your soul and feast together with Him. Therefore, anoint the feet of the Lord six days before the Pascha -- before the dawning of the Pascha of the age to come. Anoint Him while you still live in this world fashioned in six days. The feet of Christ represent the Apostle Book and the Gospel -- in sum, the commandments by which Christ walks in us. To these commandments you should apply myrrh -- a spiritual disposition blended of many virtues, the finest of which is faith, warm and pungent as precious spikenard. If you do not cling fervently and zealously to Christ's commandments and anoint them with your mortified members as with hair, the house of your soul will not be filled with divine fragrance. The Lord's feet are also our impoverished brethren, who go begging door to door. It is Christ who comes to us in their person. Anoint these "feet" with the myrrh of almsgiving. Many give alms, but make a show of doing so. Thus they gain nothing, for they have their reward in this world [Mt. 6:2]. With the hair of your head wipe the feet of the poor brethren and benefit your soul; gather the reward of almsgiving into that principal and governing part of man. If anything in you is dead and lifeless like hair, anoint it with this good chrism. For it is written, "Blot out your sins with almsgiving [see Dan. 4:24*]."
*The reference is found in Daniel 4:27 in Protestant Bibles.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Metropolitan's Speech

The "Purple Demons" are out in force.

Firstly, the much-embedded video:

I was there. My little one is the one you hear at the very beginning saying things like, "Wan blow out candulsh" and, looking at a priest, "¡Es Padre!" Needless to say, this talk has made quite a splash in online Orthodox circles. Andrea Elizabeth calls the speech "Revolutionary," and Father Gregory states he is "unimaginably proud" of Metropolitan JONAH.

Truth be told, I am rather disappointed in His Beatitude.

What could have been a helpful, passionless appeal came across as something akin to an American political stump speech, something I've already heard described as similar to what you might have heard in Boston circa 1770 or Charleston or Richmond circa 1860. This, I think, is the last thing we need, as the "debate" (if we want to call it that) is already wrought with misstatements; His Beatitude did not need to make any more.

Not helping matters is Rod Dreher's "Cruchy Con" piece in the Dallas Morning News, wherein he pretty much takes the stance of the kid in the playground who, upon seeing two angry boys starting to face off, throws his hands up and yells, "Fight! FIGHT!"

Well, thanks for that, Rod.

What is evident here is that the situation with regard to how to unify the Church jurisdictionally -- something I'm convinced must be done, as arguments for keeping jurisdictions separate still seem to run only on fear and suspicion of sheep-stealing via a more attractive archdiocese or what have you for this or that niche Orthodox group...a "healthy competition" that is anything but (I'm not making any friends with this post, am I?) -- is one without canonical precedent, with multiple patriarchates "setting up shop" separately without consulting one another. Consequently, we have multiple bishops in a single city, something that is truly ridiculous and a horrid witness.

Our first option would be to "go Balkan," wherein we declare our own autocephaly and union independently of the Mother Patriarchate(s), and said autocephaly is then reluctantly approved hundreds of years down the road as a tacit, de jure nod to a living, de facto Orthodox body.

Another option would be to "take two steps back, one step forward," at least for the time being, and form a synod of bishops with a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch as the "president" of said Metropolitan synod. The former idea was put forth by Metropolitan JONAH in his speech on Sunday, the other by the Very Reverend Archimandrite Dr. Elpidophoros Lambriniadis. What is ironic is that, in this document which Metropolitan JONAH wrote while still an abbot, he himself puts the latter idea forward as "the only way an ecumenical primacy could [actually] work." Food for thought.

Metropolitan JONAH, in my opinion, is absolutely correct in saying that there is, in fact, a living, Orthodox presence on this continent, and that it was planted here over 200 years ago through the prayers, the blood, and the perseverance of saints like Ss. Herman, Juvenaly, Tikhon, Peter the Aleut, John of San Francisco, Alexis Toth, and many others. If the EP tries to make a move to incorporate the bishops of North America, these saints and their work had best be recognized if he wants the "Amen" of the laity.

Metropolitan JONAH is also absolutely correct in saying that the local bishop, in his local diocese, with his local presbyters and local faithful, constitutes the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and that allegiance or submission to this or that Patriarch is not the sine qua non of Orthdoxy. He is absolutely correct in saying that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not the "sole criterion" of Orthodoxy, and that we do not need to be directly under his omophorion in order to be legitimately Orthodox.

But, as usual, it's not what you say, it's how you say it. Check that: in this case, what my Metropolitan (and current diocesan locum tenens) said is, in some cases, incorrect, in my opinion.

One of the most inflammatory lines in His Beatitude's speech was in response to the EP's model of unity here: "I would submit that if we wanted a pope we would be under the real one." This, to me, is so unfair that I am at a loss as to where to begin. The EP is not proclaiming himself to be infallible. He is not proclaiming that all other, universally-recognized-as-autocephalous Patriarchs are merely deriving their legitimacy from him. Were the Ecumenical Patriarch to slip into preaching clear, christological heresy, he would no longer be worthy of commemoration, and all other Orthodox would have as their duty the task of rejecting him as Patriarch.

Yet, just as St. Peter was the rock due to his person and to his confession, so the EP is the "first among equals" in a college of Patriarchs so long as he is not confessing heresy. He, along with the other Patriarchs, are the ones who together will decide what happens to the Church, and it is not unreasonable to think that having the EP at the helm of all the metropolitans within this country as a quick way to unify us jurisdictionally with the end result being "turning us loose" down the road (no doubt much too slowly for most Americans), as is his custom.

Metropolitan JONAH speaks much about self-determination and how we must be allowed to do this. I would question how Orthodox the idea of a Metropolitan (or Metropolitans) telling their Patriarchs what we must do is realistic. Metropolitan JONAH puts our being Orthodox and our being American on equal footing, and thus speaks in very similar terms to American talk of separation from the British throne and Confederate separation from Washington D.C. To talk of self-determiation via an enlightenment-era document written by deists is one thing, and a natural one, at that. To talk of self-determination as if it were a "right" within the Orthodox Church is quite another, and a dangerous one, at that. Talk of the "right" to govern ourselves turns Fr. Alexander Schmemman's talk against "having rights" around against us; I am not sure how someone who, for all his God-given, wonderful insight as a monastic and pastor, would only attend a pan-Orthodox great Synod as the leader of a metropolia of the Russian Orthodox Church (as many still see Metr. JONAH) could actually hope to effect said self-determination short of schism...something I'm not sure I'd follow him into and which I'm VERY sure he would not, in fact, go through with if push came to shove. Nevertheless, are we justified in extending the language of the myth of American exceptionalism even to the Church?

If our bishops would still be here locally, if they would still be the local bishops of thus and such a city, if they would still be (by and large) "homegrown," and if the situation of the EP's involvement is primarily that of administrative unity (as opposed to some dream of automatically bestowing legitimacy via his very presence in said synod), then local churches would still be preserved. When Archbishop DMITRI was my local diocesan bishop, having a Metropolitan over the synod of OCA bishops in no way diminished Vladyka's role as my local bishop. I fail to see how a synodal president from the Phanar must needs be a "foreign despot" as Metr. JONAH claims unnecessarily.

Indeed, people in this country from ACROD, from the GOA, from the Ukrainians under the EP, with whom I have spoken have all told me that their being under the omophorion of the EP has not resulted in their losing their ethnic customs in the slightest. They have not been thoroughly hellenized, they have not been made to speak Greek (the secretary of the EP stated in his talk that he himself did not consider this necessary, though the option should be open, he thought). Local languages -- Arabic, Ukrainian, Russain, etc -- have been preserved under the EP, not obliterated. Do we really believe Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW so obtuse as to automatically assume that he will do this with English, especially given his track record elsewhere? Does the fact that Holy Cross Seminary -- the very place the EP's archdiocese trains its clergy -- conducts services in at least 50% English (according to my contacts there) serve to show us that he is not obsessed with "All Greek, all the time"?

Given what I've written so far, it does seem as though I'm thoroughly on the side of the EP here. I'm not, though I wanted to lead off with the above due to all of the unadulterated praise heaped on our Metropolitan by my fellow members of the OCA (and others). As it stands, given the secretary's speech, it is obvious to many that the EP's take on Orthodoxy in America is unacceptable to many Americans. While an EP head to a US Metropolitan synod is indeed a feasible, non-lethal model for Orthodox jurisdictional unity and not to be dismissed out of hand, it needs to be said that this must not be the only model allowed for, as such comes dangerously close to the papal model wherein the EP is, in effect, the only one allowed to engage in planting foreign mission churches, or else, at a minimum, must give his blessings for other, apostolic sees to do so.

The Ochlophobist makes some good points (about half way down, in a bulleted list) regarding captiulation to western dress and liturgical style, moral ideals and church praxis as seen in many jurisdictions in the USA. It is interesting that the Secretary of the EP makes so much of the Greek Archdiocese when so many of the western innovations (pews, choir robes, horrible iconongraphy, shaved and collared priests, truncated liturgy and distrust of Ephramite monasteries in particular and monasticism in general) has not been avoided by being under the EP and would probably not be solved by a synod's being under the EP. Some would question at this point, "Well, what's wrong with SCOBA"? As an idea, nothing that I can see. But who to chair it, and why...I defer to the Ochlophobist's thoughts on this, linked to above.

As Andrea Elizabeth has said, "I also think it boils down to how autocephalous are the Churches that Moscow, and Antioch for that matter, granted that title to?...I do not know why Moscow would hand us over, if that is the case. To me it undermines their own authority." This is the main reason why I do not believe that such a reactionary speech was called for or even justifiable. To further Andrea's thoughts re:Patriarch KYRILL, do we really think for one moment that, come this June, Patriarch IGNATIUS IV of Antioch is just going to hand over an archdiocese that is every bit as profitable for him (God, it hurts to talk about the Church like this!) as the GOA is for the EP? That the Serbian patriarch will just acquiesce to giving up direct oversight of his flock? The Romanian his Romanians? The Bulgarian his Bulgarians? There is more than enough suspicion on the part of several of these Patriarchs who will be meeting -- some of whom, like the Georgian Patriarch, do commemorate Metr. JONAH -- that the EP comes close to a papal role at times. I personally think there's enough of a safeguard there to keep unwarranted and unjustified fears at bay, at least for now.

Regardless, whether we are jurisdictionally united under the EP or persist in our present jurisdictional madness, neither outcome makes us any less Christ's Church, and I, for one, intend to look forward to the soon-coming bells of Pascha, wherein the "purple demons" are sent back where they came from.

Just in time for them to come back for the Apostle's Fast in June. Lord, have mercy.