Sunday, August 30, 2009

Getting Settled

We're two weeks into life at St. Vlad's -- I say this, and "real life" hasn't even begun -- and the house is beginning to resemble less what you see to the right (wherein merely traveling from one end of the apartment to another involved sliding four boxes around so one could pass) and more of an actual living space. A couple with only one child generously offered to look into trading our smaller apartment with their larger one, but the prospect of another move, albeit a small one, was both unappealing and, really, unnecessary. We have what we need, even if we don't have all we want. As Stacy quoted from St. Antony a couple of days ago, "Let none among us have even the yearning to possess. For what benefit is there in possessing these things that we do not take with us? Why not rather own those things we are able to take with us -- such things as prudence, justice, temperance, courage, understanding, love, concern for the poor, faith in Christ, freedom from anger, hospitality?" Sounds romantic, right? It's different when you ask for those things and God gives you four hundred square feet to do it in...together...knowing how to push all each other's buttons...

I swear...Westchester County's streets are the most insane thing I've ever encountered. The picture to your left is not one I took, but it's something that wouldn't surprise me if I saw it here. I want to know what the guy who drew up the streets here was drinking when he did it and, once I find out, I want a pint of it. Streets that curve around only to dead end and emerge, unannounced, three blocks later, only to become a one-way street (again with no warning) against you and under a completely different name...Google Maps probably just tried their best and said "Ah, the heck with the rest. Let 'em circle the block a couple more times." Seriously: if you are going to the Big Apple, ask someone who's been there to verify your travel instructions. A matushka here emailed me directions from the Tappen Zee Bridge to St. Vlad's on the day I arrived, and they were wonderfully clear (meaning I could ignore all the other flotsam and jetsam around me as I looked for my street sign).

Orientation was long, but informative. Much appreciated was the "glass half full" mentality regarding seminary. I don't think any punches were pulled regarding how hard, how draining, how long a process seminary was, but they weren't trying to scare any of us newbies off (though I have heard that in previous classes the glass during orientation was not only half- but mostly-empty). Metropolitan Jonah spoke for two nights, and other staff members have reminded us that this is the way of the Cross, of ridicule, of crushing one's ego for the sake of service to one's God.

Tomorrow is OT Lit. Prayers are appreciated. May it be blessed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Happy Namesday

This evening my dear wife opened her namesday gift before prayers: a booklet which contained the lives of Saint Adrian and his wife, Natalia (click on the image in the sidebar to read from the OCA website).

I can remember standing in St. Antony's with her on August 25, 2001 at Vespers. I had been Orthodox for a few months and she, perhaps just barely a catechumen, was listening to the entry from the Prologue of Ochrid for the evening, which was read after the service. She read of Natalia's uncompromising attitude towards her Savior, even if it meant losing her beloved husband to apostasy, as well as her steadfast support of her husband while he, confessing Christ as a Roman guard, was stripped of his station, imprisoned, and martyred. Her care for him and for the other martyrs -- from anointing their maggot-infested wounds to gathering up their precious relics -- prompted Audra to think, "I want to be that kind of wife."

While life has not dealt us circumstances as dramatic as these, she has certainly been a rock of support, a source of prayer, and an example of fidelity and work. She accepted a martyrdom of sorts when she married a man whom she knew had not only entered a Faith she found strange and difficult, but who had also seriously considered pursuing a call to ministry therein. While it is not my decision in the slightest whether or not I will, in fact, be ordained anything at all in the Church, my wife has been an image of love for our God and for man, a gentle direction against my periodic tendency towards listlessness, and an ever-willing woman of faith; if I am ordained, she will make a fantastic matushka.

May God grant my dear Audra, though the prayers of her holy matron Natalia of Nicomedia, many, many blessed years.


(H/T to s-p) -- My time at St. Antony's Orthodox Church, the Antiochian parish in Tulsa, OK, in addition to providing for several "it's a small world" moments at St. Vlad's already, made me appreciate this hilarious video all the more.

St. Titus

Today churches on the Revised Julian ("New") Calendar commemorate both Ss. Bartholomew and Titus. I commend reading St. Paul's epistle to the latter, especially on the day the recipient is remembered. It is an exhortation to all of us; this is how the churches of God should be.

Also of worthy mention are the recent posts of Fr. Jonathan Tobias over at Second Terrace. Some of the most recent are meditations on the lectionary gospel readings. Well worth your time.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On The Road, Arrival, and Unpacking

Sorry about the delay in keeping folks updated. In short, I arrived at St. Vlad's on Monday and have spent the past day and half (with the help of the seminary community, who've extended me such a warm welcome and many, many helping hands) trying to make a dent in the way-too-many boxes that now need unpacking and storing...somewhere...

After leaving Arkansas, we went through Tennessee and into Kentucky. The girls, being in a minivan, went ahead of me, and right as I was about to enter my in-laws' little town, a guy pulled up beside me on the highway and did that little wave-and-point bit that is the universal signal for, "Something's wrong with your tire." Upon pulling over, I saw, with a bit of gratitude, that the tires on the truck were not flat, but rather a (smaller) tire on the trailer was. A quick call to Penske brought William, a man off-duty and not on call at the moment, but who was closest to me, and who dutifully and professionally changed the tire. God bless William.

The wait for the tire change, however, saw me in well past dark, so we didn't get to move the trailer and truck until Sunday morning. Consequently, we were too late to go up to St. Michael's in Louisville. We went to my mother-in-law's Vineyard church instead and, really, thought the sermon was quite sound. It was familiar to me, yet it took me aback, however, to walk into a darkened room, illumined only by a screen with the words from the songs, which blared loudly from speakers. It reminded me of the youth conferences and mission trips I'd been on with Teen Mania. It's also very hard to pray the Jesus Prayer in such a venue, but I was grateful, not for some "Orthodox vestige in a heterodox gathering," or some such, but for the reminder that I am, really, the sinner, as the prayer goes in Greek.

I saw a smattering of people that Sunday -- really about the same size as our parish in Ft. Worth -- and I looked at the fervency of the people who worshipped. While I don't want to go back to such a style of worship, it serves to remind me that there is a bedrock idea that somehow, youth must be introduced to a culture wherein those who worship do so out of a heartfelt desire to do so. I'm not advocating emotionalism during the Divine Liturgy, but anyone who's been present in a liturgy where the priest is focused and deliberate, and the people are determined, doggedly focused on what they are there to do -- namely, to offer themselves to God so that He would accept them, change them and the gifts into a Body, a single Loaf to be broken and given to the World -- knows that such a culture speaks the right words to those present, though some may not like what they hear. I know that many youth in the Vineyard congregation have grown up to be youth who, on their own, read their Bibles and sing to God. This is undoubtedly due to the adults in their lives who consistently live out their own, similar desire. Are there those in the congregation who have grown up to go a different way? Yes, for there is no "silver bullet" in raising children, and no amount of youth ministry, children's church, retreats or camps can force the Spirit's hand to keep one's children "in the fold." This is not to say one shouldn't have these -- they can be excellent events wherein kids can encounter God -- but simply that they are ultimately dispensable means to an end.

I'm rambling on about my thoughts in the service. Things I admired about the sermon:

The "debt of sin" was not something owed to God the Father.
The "law of sin and death" was acknowledged to have been replaced by another law (Love). Too many antinomian charismatics out there; this was a breath of fresh air.
The Kingdom of God was acknowledged not only to be "coming" (though that was the main stress of the sermon) but also "within you," now.

Definitely not things you hear normally in many Protestant sermons.

After church, I left everyone in KY and hit the road, sans trailer, for West Virginia.

Oh, my. The hills are alive. One who is used to seeing the curvature of the earth in all four directions when he goes home to meet his family is NOT prepared for the hills of Wes' Virginny. Especially when he is driving a loaded-down Penske truck. My trip took much longer than expected -- as did the portion spent in Maryland on Monday -- due to the truck's only going about 55 mph while going up a hill and my riding the brake at 60 going down (A 70 mph speed limit? In a truck like this?? In the dark??? Shoot....). Most wonderous, however, was the service known as Google Maps. For, in looking solely at my next step, I was waiting for exit 67. Nevermind that I had seen the name of the town with my hotel back at exit 62; I was getting off at 67, for I had time only to focus on one step while riding the WV roller coaster. Having exited, I saw instructions to promptly turn around and return -- on the highway -- to exit 62.

Sometimes you just gotta laugh.

The rest of the trip was, thankfully, flatter and uneventful, due to long stretches of easily mappable highway and excellent directions from seminarians regarding what to do when you get into New York State. I have already met other seminarian families who have made the same mistake we did -- namely, moving a house into an apartment. Consequently I am presently chest-deep in boxes (but, thankfully, there are now rooms in the house where such is no longer the case) and wondering where it all will go. My money's on Craigslist.

I have supped the previous two nights with generous seminarian families; one is a returning family, the other got here at the very beginning of August. Both extremely warm and helpful in my unpacking. Prayed this morning -- for the first time in several days, really! -- and set up our small table with a couple of icons on it (still haven't figured out where to hang it all). It was so good to stop and pray. Prayer, I know, is no longer a way to feel good or excited, but it does seem that a day without prayer has me feeling haggard at the end, even if the day went without incident, while a day filled with activity is usually undergirded with some sort of well-oiled Presence if begun with prayer. Doesn't take away the circumstances, mind you, but rememberance of God tends to make them bearable.

And now, back to unpacking. Thanks to all who prayed. Please continue to do so, as the girls are set to arrive sometime this afternoon. We've still a lot yet to unpack, not to mention the preparation for the upcoming school year. Emmanuel....

Friday, August 14, 2009

Packing, Closing, and "On the Road" -- Day 1

This past Sunday was our final Divine Liturgy before the move to New York. St. Herman of Alaska, pictured to the right, was the saint commemorated on that day (for revised Julian churches), and I felt it a fitting day for our "farewell." St. Herman has always been an inspiration to me; as someone who sought and seeks to serve the Church in a missionary capacity (foreign or domestic), St. Herman was a pivotal saint in my entry into the Church, for in him I saw a man wholly devoted to living an authentic, Christian life in an area where such a life was unknown and, thus, witnessing to and spreading the saving life of Christ. This story concerning his life comes back to me often:
"Father Herman was once invited aboard a ship that had docked in Kodiak and during a conversation with those on board he asked them what it was that would bring them the most happiness. Some wanted wealth, others wanted a top ranking job in the Navy another wanted a beautiful wife etc. 'What could be better, higher, more worthy of love and more splendid than Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who created the world, adorns, gives life, sustains, nourishes and loves everything - Who is Himself love. Should we not love God above all things, and wish for and seek Him?' The reply was, 'Why that's obvious, how can we not love God?' And Father Herman responded 'I, a poor sinner, have been trying to learn how to love God for more than 40 years, and I cannot say that I yet love Him properly. If we love someone, we always remember them, we try to please them continually. Day and night we are concerned about them. Our mind and our heart is concerned with the object of our love. How do you love God? Do you turn to Him often? Do you always remember Him? Do you always pray to Him and keep His commandments?' The crew admitted that they did not. 'Then, for our good and for our happiness, let us all make a vow: at least from this day, this hour, this very minute, we should strive to love God above all else and do His will!'" (H/T to St. Herman's Orthodox Church, Fairbanks AL).
We rented the Penske truck on Monday and began loading it up. This was the first time we had ever done something like this, so we followed the advice of a knowledgeable man from our parish: Pack all the way up to the top in the very front of the bed. When that's done, start a new "level," packing all the way to the top. Pack it so tight that you can't fit a piece of paper in between any of the boxes." Between that and some ratchet straps to hold some random items that don't fit properly anywhere, I'm thankful to say that not a thing looks like it's moved from where a half dozen of us put things after a full day of driving, thanks be to God. And MANY thanks to the Rovny boys, John, Brad and Charles for their help in packing the truck. Also, ever ready to help, was my mother, whose boundless energy amazes me; this is a woman who works with 2-4 year olds all day, every day, and has energy to spare afterwards to come help us box up things in the evenings, sweep up a garage, etc. Let me be clear in saying that we would not have been packed up and ready to go in time for our deadline had she not been helping us. She is also accompanying the girls in the van while I drive the Penske truck.

Ah, the Penske truck. Twenty-six feet of driving pleasure, plus the added bonus of a trailer for towing my pickup. There's definitely a learning curve involved with driving one of these things, but all in all, it's not qualitatively different from driving, say, a large van. You have to take into account that it doesn't accelerate as quickly nor stop as quickly, but mostly the same rules apply regarding how to position yourself in your lane, how to change lanes, etc. Our normal travel pattern is to drive most of the way (or, sometimes, all the way) to Kentucky in one day, which kills pretty much everyone involved. Today we drove around six or seven hours, which will be what we do for the next few days. This, to me, is an excellent budget of driving time per day, as we're not exhausted at the end of the day.

Closing on the house went off without a hitch (moving truck pun not intended). We are so very thankful to God for this blessing, as we are not in the least bit entitled to His making it this much easier for us to "make a clean break" and head up to New York. It is a strange thing, being "homeless." You can read my wife's newly resurrected blog post HERE for her thoughts on this and other things, as well.

Please keep us all in your prayers as we travel and make adjustments to our new life as a seminarian family in New York. Our insurance scare (see wife's blog for details) has been resolved satisfactorily for now; again, God is "doubly good" to us where He does not have to be "singly good" in the first place. Thanks be to Him.

A blessed feast to all. An excellent festal meditation is HERE. Please pray for incoming and current Antiochian seminarians.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Eastern Errancy Answered

My friend Rhology has cross-posted an inquiry about Orthodox views on inerrancy both at his blog HERE and at a corporate blog to which he contributes, Beggars All, HERE. I chose to respond on the latter blog but am posting my response here as well. I've altered the original post so that it will not look like a response to an inquiry but simply to stand alone and present the content of said response.


In debates with conservative or fundamentalist Protestants (the two terms are not synonymous), Orthodox are charged with "acting like liberal Protestants." What is ironic here is that liberal Protestants accuse us of being fundamentalists. What was that Chesterton said about orthodoxy again...?

I understand that certain camps within Protestantism label themselves as "conservative" and others as "liberal," while other camps label themselves as "liberal," while still others resent the label of "liberal" given them by the self-appointed "conservative" wing of Protenstantism. Certain hot-button issues seem to be the litmus test for this (inerrancy of Scripture, satisfaction atonement, authority of Scripture, for example), and said issues come complete with lexical definitions for each issue, provided as well by the self-appointed "conservative Protestants" themselves, thus framing the debate before it even gets started.

I would state at the outset that I view their rather arbitrary claim to be the, well, arbiters of "conservative orthodoxy" (little "o") to be rather unfounded and, therefore, not pertinent to this debate. The more I read of the way the Church Fathers (most particularly Chrysostom, Irenaeus, and Basil) interpreted and read the Scriptures, the more I'm convinced that the labels "conservative" and "liberal" -- and, in particular, the way they are arbitrarily used within some Protestant circles -- means very, very little to an Orthodox Christian. I do not mean to cast aspersions on the desire of so-called "conservative" or fundamentalist Protestants to be faithful to the Scriptures or to the saving events to which they attest. Rather, I would state that the degree to which they are forced to stretch in order to do so sufficiently (at least, to their own satisfaction) is misguided and unnecessary.

We are accused, when stating that minor factual or historical errors may exist in the biblical text, of confusing the roles of God and man, or as Rhology put it, making "a strong distinction between God and man," This dichotomy, however, often drawn by fundamentalist or "conservative" Protestants between God and men is not based on a sound Christology. A sound Christology demands just such a distinction between divine and human natures, as the human and divine natures of Christ were, in fact, sharply distinct one from another, though they were never separate. As a man, Christ needed to sleep. As a divine One, however, He "neither slumbers nor sleeps." As a man, Christ thirsted. As a divine One, He has no need of any sustenance.

Likewise, as a document written by humans, the Scriptures contain minor, inconsequential inconsistencies, such as exactly what was written above the cross.A commenter in Rhology's combox (Seth, whose comment can be found HERE) looked to harmonize the four accounts by distinguishing between a τιτλος (a title, as in, Christ's name and town of origin) and a επιγραφη της αιτιας (an accusation made of Him), but such a resort misses the point of a biblical account entirely.

From the Orthodox point of view, it makes no difference whatsoever if the precise words on the sign are reported incorrectly. What is important here is that there was a Cross onto which said sign was nailed, and that a divine Savior hung on said Cross for our salvation. This major event was reported by all four evangelists with σταυρωσαντες δε αυτον (Matt.) and εσταυρωσαν αυτον (Mk., Lk., Jn.), and all four are translated to mean "He was crucified" and "They crucified Him." It is clear to us that we may never know what the sign said, as the gospel writers, being men, reported different things. Yet this (ultimately inconsequential) detail does not get in the way of the Scriptures providing a faithful witness, consistently, to the fact of the Crucifixion. One may also refer to the details of the sign as inconsequential since the discrepancies in question are not ones of contradiction but rather mere addition or subtraction of details; the former would be a much more severe charge than the latter.

Just as we do not see every minor detail in Scripture as needing to be airtight, neither do we see every detail in icons as needing to be historical; Mary is depicted in the Ascension icon. St. Paul (and, sometimes, even Mary!) is present at Pentecost. These are included to make theological points. While, granted, the differing inscriptions (and/or "accusations," if one prefers) make no other theological point than the fact that He was accused of being the "King of the Jews" (which He was, of course, the Church Fathers nevertheless later preferring to place the title "The King of Glory" over icons of the Crucifixion), the fact that minor discrepancies were present in no way invalidates the divinely inspired proclamation of our Lord's suffering on the Cross. Any skeptic who would dismiss the unanimously attested-to latter proclamation based on the former inconsistencies is so insincere a searcher and so blindly dismissive of Christianity at the outset that it would be fruitless, in my opinion, to engage such a person in the first place.

Just as both Christ -- who experienced weakness and humiliation as man yet was ever omnipotent God -- and Scripture -- which contains minor, inconsequential inconsistencies yet remains god-breathed and inspired -- simultaneously show forth divine and human natures, so the Church manifests itself as theanthropic, both vulnerable to horrible abuses within it, yet still guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth. Bishops engaged in power struggles, they anathematized whole swathes of Christendom out of sheer ego…yet the council of Nicaea declared Christ to be ομοουσιους with the Father and with us.

The idea of an incarnate Lord, susceptible to weakness and death, Who is yet the unchanging Source and Ground of all Being…is scandalous.

The idea of a Bible written by men who got some details wrong yet preserved a Holy Tome breathed by God…is scandalous.

The idea of a Church whose very shepherds have beaten and neglected the sheep in shameful ways and to shameful degrees yet which has yet been led into all truth and continues to be the Pillar and Ground of said Truth…is scandalous.

Yet there it is: Divine. Human. Incarnate. Salvific.