Friday, April 23, 2010

A Beautiful Newborn, An Apology, Moving Things from Ft. Worth to New York (Help?)

A blessed feast of St. George to all. As a needed side note, we are celebrating as of yesterday the birth of little Jonathan to our good friends (and Hope's godparents) the Wingerds, who lost their baby boy Jamie in a tragic accident last year. Mother and son are well, thank God. Many years, and may the little saint pray for his new little brother, his mother, and all of us, especially during this joyous occasion.

My apologies for the lack of posts; seminary life is busy! I do plan on picking up the pace once another paper or two gets finished. Also am planning on posting some of the papers/exams from last semester and this to give an idea about what I'm doing here. Also am long overdue (how many months? years now?) on the Psalms of David.

There is, however, something I want to ask of any and all who (still) read the blog or have it on RSS update, follow it, etc:

If any of you are moving or know someone who is moving to St. Vlad's or the New York area this summer/fall and are starting out in or passing through the Oklahoma/Texas region, I would like to discuss using any leftover moving van space with you, as we need to move some things we've kept in storage in Ft. Worth up here for our growing, pre-born little one. As we don't have much there in storage, it would be much more efficient for us to share a little bit of someone else's moving truck instead of renting our own and making the trip once again. We have a few boxes of baby gear, a crib, a changing table, and a bookshelf.

We, of course, would help defray some of the expenses of moving; we remember how much it cost to do so and would be glad to help out. We would be willing to pay you for the extra length of moving truck/van you might have to rent, the inconvenience of arranging to pick up our load, and our share of the gas money. We're willing to take the stuff from Fort Worth to someplace nearby, like Tulsa, Shreveport, Little Rock, Amarillo, etc. if that's more convenient to where you are or to your travel route.

That we are even granted the opportunity to move to a place where these things will fit is a tremendous blessing for us. We found out about a week ago that we should be getting a 3-bedroom apartment sometime this summer, which is over twice the size of our current, 450 ft2 underground shoebox apartment for which we are grateful. Yes, dear reader, we shall be able to walk from the kitchen into the hallway without having to turn sideways (those of you who know me in person will no doubt gawk at the fact that I have to do this). We will find out, Lord willing, if the little one is a Gregory Lawrence or a Laura Louise come the end of next month, so it is nice to know that he or she will have a place to sleep that is not our room until he or she is almost two.

My email is in my profile. If anyone is able to accommodate us, please let us know as soon as you can. Many thanks.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Keep Your Green

Earth Day can have its "green."

I miss my blue.

(This is currently the wallpaper on my desktop. It relaxes me just to look at it.)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Bright Week

Classes at SVS are cancelled during this festal week, so Audra, the girls and I have been enjoying the time off. We went to Wave Hill yesterday--a public garden and cultural center--following a Paschal Divine Liturgy, and got to run around on the lawns playing tag and hide-and-go-seek. The girls loved walking around, and what flowers were in bloom at the time made for great conversation.

We had a picnic first thing, and what was immediately apparent (and had been since we had entered the neighborhood in our van) was that a Conservative or Orthodox synagogue was apparently letting out the final Passover service at that time; we had some great conversations with several young, very friendly Jewish families. It always touches me to see people--and usually they are young, very open, friendly types--wearing a yarmulke and a tallit with the knotted tzitzit hanging down. In an age where plastic religion-as-commodity reigns near-supreme as a category of one's life one otherwise ignores (along with the people and practices it entails), these folks were carrying on the very earthy traditions of their forebears, not merely content to eat near one another (coffee hour, anyone?), but to walk dishes over from one table to another (one woman asked "Why did we pack food for ourselves, again?) and to eat off one another's plates.

One of the men heard me speaking with the girls in Spanish and began to speak with me in Spanish as well. He'd been a bilingual elementary school teacher. When he found out what I do at the moment, we got to talking about festal periods. He was quite pleasantly surprised to hear that Orthodox Christians do not normally refer to Easter as "Easter," but rather as Πάσχα, the Greek transliteration of "Passover." Like them, as well, the main festal day is followed by an afterfeast, in our case a week-long lifting of fasting of any sort. He seemed to be unaware that any Christian sect existed that still maintained so much of a Jewish ethos, at least "on the books." Even more surprising, now that I think about it, must have been that the Russian Orthodox Church, of all things, did this. What really floored him was that, after inquiring about the period of Lent (what it was, what it entailed, etc), I showed him how, just as Lent is 50 days prior to Pascha*, the celebration of Pascha extends 50 days forward to Shavuot (שבועות‎), or Pentecost.

A friend of his at the picnic, Avi, a Rabbinical student at JTS, shook my hand and asked about how our Church runs. All over the place, I wanted to say. He was referring to the central bishop of Rome presiding over the Roman Catholics, however, and when I said that each Orthodox congregation is under its local bishop, and that all the bishops meet in council, he was impressed, as this is much like how the rabbis govern synagogues. He asked if all the bishops meet every year. Thoughts of how hard its been even to get Chambesy going flashed through my mind, but I said, no, not unless there's a really major crisis do they get together in council. We paused for a beat, then both got these wry smirks on our faces. "And as you probably know," I said, "oftentimes it's probably just better that they leave each other be." Indeed.

The conversation reminded me of my days looking into Messianic Judaism. There was a time when I was very much interested in all things Hebrewish; I can say that my openness to this sort of thing left me open to Eastern Christianity, though it also alerted me to a very curious thing. When one thinks they have an idea about what they want--"The New Testament Church," "The Pure Community of the Messiah," etc--and they encounter the community which is itself everything which one's idea was attempting to be, the cognitive dissonance which results can be substantial. When I was actually confronted with real Semitic music--Syrio-Byzantine chant--as opposed to charismatic worship choruses in a minor key with a splash of badly-pronounced Hebrew thrown in, I discovered that I truly did not have a taste for it (then, at least). When I saw a Gospel book procession and saw a sacrifice held up on behalf of all and for all at the hands of robed priests done "again and again" instead of wild, ecstatic dancers with ribbons and leotards, well, I knew I was in for more than I'd bargained for. Nevertheless, the rhythm of fast and feast, of authority and liturgy, has rooted me in a place where I can connect more authentically with people of a truly Ancient Faith.

The four of us will be heading out tomorrow morning early to go to the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, PA for a long weekend away. It is always a blessing to "recharge" at a place devoted to rootedness and ascetic prayer, but this will come special to us, firstly because it will be a return visit for Audra--she came with a few women from our parish back in Ft. Worth several years back and experienced an inspiring presence there that has helped her continue to deepen her walk in the faith since then--and it will be an opportunity for this seminarian to enjoy quiet and prayer without having to preoccupy myself with a blessed thing with regard to the services. Your prayers during our journey would be appreciated.

Christ is risen!

*(The Orthodox do not consider Holy Week, the week before Pascha, to be a part of Lent proper, which is a straight-through, 40-day period (including Sundays) prior to the weekend before Holy Week. When the weekend prior to Holy Week and Holy Week itself are added to the period of Lent, it makes for a 50-day fasting period prior to Pascha.)

Continuing w/Rhology

Former comments here have led to my long response. Rather than break it up in a combox, I brought it back here.

Christ is risen!

Re: 1 Jn 5.13: I quoted, somewhere in previous comments, St. Paul's psg of not having attained it, but pressing on towards it, its being sthg that Christ has already apprehended (our salvation) and which we might eventually thus co-apprehend (though it's already apprehended). So I would say that we never actually possess eternal life through any works, but the movement/orientation of our lives twd XC through our works is what prepares us for our own, final apprehension by Him. "He perfects the partially-unwilling human at death," as you said.

” I bet [Adam and Eve] didn't want to leave [the garden]…I bet adulterers preferred not to be stoned… Man dies when he doesn't want to.”

Right, but those are consequences for choices freely made, not an interference with the actual choice itself. Big difference. But you and I both see God’s will being accomplished with man’s full, unimpeded free will intact and operational (or so I understand you to be saying), so this is not a big surprise. So when you ask:

“Then why say ‘Suffice it to say that eternal life is contingent on whether or not my faith is made perfect by my works which I am under no compulsion to do’?”

I would say this: Without our works orienting us towards Christ, we are not moving towards a willingness which will be perfected. Would God take someone, kicking and screaming, into heaven completely contrarily to his express, consistent will as borne out by his own life? Rather, someone who has begun to live the gospel, however imperfectly, is on the path of theosis and, if he endures to the end “in peace and repentance,” as we pray to do in the liturgy, he’ll receive “a good defense before the fearful, dread judgment seat of Christ” (sthg else we pray for).

“God has a law. You've broken it, many times. So do you need forgiveness for that or don't you?”

Yes indeed, but what’s the nature of that law? What are its consequences, and how are they meted out? Strictly morally? Ontologically? The law is that that which sins, dissolves into the grave and towards ever-greater enmity with (and thus, torment from the face of) the One who is life itself. We begin the process of the reversal of that condemnation by being united to Him in a death like His (baptism, Rom 6.3) so that we might share in Christ’s resurrected life.

”I have to say I'm pretty confused at this point, as it seems your left hand is taking back what your right is giving [about whether or not the sovereignty of God matters].”

Sorry for being unclear. God’s sovereignty is an established dogma of (little and big “o”-orthodox) Christianity. So, of course, it matters that this be taught and believed by the faithful. What I’m wondering about here is whether or not the Reformed view of sovereignty means much without a way to objectively apply it to actual people who are now the elect, and actual people who are now damned. Otherwise--as far as we’re concerned, at least--such a teaching seems to be little more than a hypothetical system--a necessary one, I suppose--that establishes sthg w/out being able to live out the actual consequences in time and space.

“You want a nice little bow on everythg, maybe - where the backslidden is definitely out of the family, and where the Visible Church IS the Invisible Church.”

Actually, we believe that the Invisible Church is triumphant, in heaven, and the visible church is militant, on earth. We also believe that the chaff is very much with the wheat in the Church militant, so really not all who are in the Church militant are actually in the Church militant.

”This is not the first time I've been justified in accusing EOdox of humanistic reasoning.”

I’m sorry; I don’t follow.

”So you get to question God if you're part of the One True Church? Where's that in Sacred Apostolic Tradition?”

You misunderstand me. But first--this “One True Church” polemic is rather tired (I understand that you get it from zealous web apologists more often than you’d like, but we can leave it alone for our purposes, as such a label is horribly ill-defined and nuances would need to be unpacked were one to use the phrase)--suffice it to say that, regardless of ecclesial affiliation (or complete lack thereof), one of the things that folks most wish to know is why they’re suffering the way they’re suffering. What’s the point? If God’s really there, why does my mother suffer like this? Why is my life so hard and his isn’t, if God really loves us all the same? Why do I have to endure all this sorrow and others live a charmed life? And on and on. This has no answer, and man cannot really call God into account because of it. Man can only endure and trust in the One who, though He screamed the greatest “Why?!” of human history on behalf of all mankind, He still ended on the note of commending His spirit into the One who’d abandoned Him.

“If it's any consolation, the spiritually dead are just that - dead. They don't really stop to ask themselves that question.”

That is one phrase used, yes, in Ephesians 2 and Colossians. Romans 5.6 calls them “weak,” though, so the picture is more nuanced than you make it, I would say.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Three-Day Pascha

We have read the Passion narratives from all four gospels. Christ, the eternal, immutable Word, eternally begotten of the Beginningless Father, has ascended of His own will onto the wood of the Cross and, in His humanity, that immutable Word has suffered. The word, in its patristic sense, is much deeper, as it does not refer simply to physical pain. Rather, this word refers to any change that a body can undergo; for those in late antiquity, the idea of an immutable, ethereal deity suffering in any way was antithetical. The gods could no more experience change than humans could experience the flight that birds enjoy; it was contrary to their nature.

Yet here He is: the eternal Word, the Voice of the Father which always accomplishes that which He desires (in this case, an abysmal failure in the eyes of the world). He is the One Who, unassailable, was the agent of our creation by the will of the Father, a Father Who has always spoken nothing else but Him. He has, in flesh He made intrinsic to Himself, thirsted, screamed, twisted, and drowned on the Wood.

Should God so desire, I will see the beauty of the Lord's resurrection, I will know the festal shout. I will not be checking back in until that time. I wish all who will celebrate the Lord's resurrection this coming Sunday a joyous feast, and all those who will move through His three-day Pascha of Cross, Grave, and Resurrection a brightly sorrowful time of mourning as we wait for our Comfort.