Sunday, May 29, 2011


The final few days of school, followed by the last week or two serving here and there, the final days of hospital over the past few days.

Ordination was, all at once, glorious and ordinary. Never have I been in a service which required less brain power. Deacons in the altar led me here, pointed there, told me to bow here, kiss this, kneel like this, go here, etc. In the end, I was a deacon intoning the litany of thanksgiving for the Holy Eucharist. Fine. Glory to God. Since then I've served a vigil and a liturgy, both as third deacon (so very, very little fell to me there, which was fine by me) a couple of daily vespers service, and, then, today's liturgy. More on that below.

Notable to me on ordination day, though, was the large icon above the north deacon door (on the side facing the altar). It was a large icon of St. Herman of Alaska, our family's heavenly patron. I heard Kate jabbering; I heard Laura squealing. I knew that the thing I dreaded most about ordination--not being in the nave with my family (and leaving Audra to deal with all three of them, though thankfully there's always been folks more than willing to help, as my children are cute)--had happened. In addition to fast and furious Jesus Prayers behind my lips, I glanced up at the Kodiak acetic and asked him, "Watch out for us. Please."

What it'll take is more than a pious prayer thrown up once. It'll take a crucified mind, able to respond with grace under pressure and avoid unnecessary distractions that keep daily work from 1) being a "grind," and 2) from getting in the way of family. The tightrope one SVS alum told me about (he's currently a priest in E. TX) is one I'd do well to heed: Know what to cut and when to do it. If y'all are so inclined, keep the Dcn. David, the Matushka Natalia, and Elizabeth, Katherine, and Laura in your prayers.

I was surprised, a day before commencement, to be named the middler class salutatorian. SVS has an odd tradition of having the (ahem, sorry) highest GPA in the middle year "Salute" the outgoing graduates. I now know I can put together a speech in 24 hours that 1) is short, 2) has enough jokes that get good laughs in it to be interesting, and 3) is delivered well enough to come across as sincere and heartfelt, which is what I meant it to be. I wish the seniors well.

I was able to finish the final hours of Clinical Pastoral Education just before leaving for our road trip to Kentucky, Texas, and all points in between. My initial desire to go on with further CPE has been tempered by the potential reality of having to be a full-time rector in a parish somewhere following seminary (such would preclude full-time CPE internship), but there’s also the issue—it’s short-term, admittedly—of just being worn down by the sadness of it all. Watching long-term patients deteriorate, seeing them go from sweet and jovial to emaciated and moaning that they don’t want to die while drifting in and out of consciousness; watching hard-nosed, streetwise people break down and cry in my arms, rejoicing in people’s seemingly miraculous recoveries only to see them back in the hospital a week later…it has been difficult. I have had to rely much more consciously on the Jesus Prayer in order to keep emotions and thoughts in check. Recent reading of Vlachos has brought this to mind as a means of emotional and physical stability, almost as an engine and a steering column for my energies. “I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken” (Ps. 16.8). Such is the prayer of the chaplain, the father, the Father, the Christian.

We have gone through West Virginia and have stayed the night there, following which we have spent about four days in Kentucky w/Audra's family. We will head out tomorrow to see our eldest's godparents and, the morning after, leave for a week in TX. The return trip will see a few more days in Kentucky and Pentecost spent in Ellwood City, PA (Lord willing). I will be blessed to serve as deacon for Ascension and the Sunday of the Nicean Fathers in Ft. Worth. If the nuns will have me, perhaps I'll serve in Ellwood City on Pentecost.

Now, lest you think me the overeager, newly-ordained young deacon...well, you'd be partly right, but this will all come on the heels of today's quite humbling experience. My family and I make a point of going to St. Michael the Archangel's Church in Louisville when we're with her folks, and today, when I asked about coming in to commune as a deacon, they wondered why didn't I just go ahead and vest to serve.

As, um, second deacon. Sunday of the "Blind Man," indeed. There were moments where SVS' and Englewood's differences were quite apparent, even without my nerves. Most glaringly, however, was when the second priest brought over the chalices for communion in that very large parish.

There were four. I was clergy number four in the altar. Which meant I would be distributing communion.

I pretty much consider it a miracle the Vatican has overlooked that I did not drop the chalice, I did not spill the all the relatively minor, "Now what exactly is that kid doi--oh, he doesn't have any idea how we do it here, does he?"-type errors were secondary to that very nerve-wracking part of the service. My hat is off to Frs. Alexis and George and especially to Dcn. Andrew for making the newbie feel like he wasn't a total moron.

So, yeah. The next few services should prove interesting.

I will say this, though, about my wife. She misses me in the nave, yes; she's told me so in the days following ordination. But she won't lay on the guilt. She's not up for my second guessing myself about this (that would annoy here more than my being in the altar makes her miss me now). Ultimately, we both knew this would be a sacrifice put upon us, and that it's not the last or the smallest one we'll have to make. I am well aware that I've got a one-in-a-million woman here who's willing to grab a hold of this life I've led her to with both hands. That God is in it remains, ultimately, for time to tell, but that I need to always keep sight of her, of her sacrifice, of her generosity, is a given. God help me do so. Never have I been so aware of someone in my life for my salvation.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


God willing, this Saturday, May 14, 2011, I will be ordained by Metropolitan JONAH to the Holy Diaconate at St. Sergius of Radonezh Chapel in Syosset, NY.

Please keep us in your prayers.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Raised for Judgment - A Homily

The following is the gist of the homily I delivered this morning in chapel; this is a speech-to-text version from last night.The gospel reading can be found HERE.

in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Christ is risen!

We've worked our way through about a week and ½ of Paschal celebration. We’ve heard beautiful hymns like "The Angel Cried," wherein words such as "Christ has raised all the dead" have been sung, our church is decked out in white, we’ve censed everything imaginable, we’ve shouted and sung "Christ is risen" in every conceivable language and--maybe most noticeably--we’ve put the paschal icon of the Harrowing of Hell in the center of the church and see that Christ has trampled down death and given life to those in the tombs.

But brothers and sisters, he has not just raised the dead. The dead will be raised, we hear in our reading today, in order that one day the Son of God would judge all mankind. We hear that "all those in the tombs will hear his voice: those who have done good will be raised to life, and those who’ve done evil we’ll be raised to condemnation."

What we're called to do today is to unlock our gaze from just looking at the Paschal icon, and to look up here [points to the icon to the right of the royal doors] to the icon of Jesus Christ as the one who will judge us. We all know about the parts of scripture that talk about our judgment--Matthew 25, the sheep and the goats--we talk about doing the things to the least of these--feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison--and after all of this, along with today's reading, we know that it is not just about evil that we’ve avoided doing--I know I hear arguments of "I'm a good person, I haven't killed anyone, I don't cheat on my taxes, I don't cheat on my girl" all the time when I'm in the hospital--but it’s also about good that we actually do or have failed to do.

But what this means, of course, is that if God, as we pray in Vespers, would be strict in marking iniquities with any of us, none of us could stand. God has as all dead to rights.

But the beautiful thing about the reading today is that we’re not just of dealing with a judge who is the Son of God; we’re also to look at the One who is the Son of Man. So we don’t just look at the icon of Christ as judge, but we also look at this icon [points to the left of the royal doors] of Christ as the Son of Man. We read in the Hebrews that we don’t just have a Judge who is the Son of God, but we have a High Priest Who is sympathetic with our weaknesses, Who’s been tempted in every aspect of our lives--yet without sin--so that we can come confidently before the throne of grace and have mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. So there's hope as we strive to fulfill the commandments of Christ, for we come to the One who has suffered with us to help us in our failings.

So brothers and sisters--as we continue on in our Paschal celebration, let us remember that the Paschal icon is still the focus in the Church; Christ is still risen, but let’s remember why he’s become a man: He has become a man to die, to trample down death by that death, to rise from the dead, so that you and I can be made to bear fruit, to be made into to those who will be judged as good and faithful servants, and thus pass from death unto fullness of life. Amen. Christ is risen.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Wonder and Truth, Fair and Balanced?

The following is the second written contribution for my Systematic Theology class. It is almost double the maximum word count; I apologize in advance to my professor. However, as with the first entry, comments have been turned off until the entry can be graded.
Much in Orthoblogdom has been devoted to two often-competing blogs, OCANews and OCATruth, regarding current conflicts in the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). Rather than engage in more of the personality issues, I want to discuss something hitting closer to home.

Recently OCATruth took issue with the most recent issue of OCA Wonder, which dealt with Christianity and partisan politics, and published a review of it. The editor of OCA Wonder is a friend of mine and classmate here at St. Vladimir's, where discussions have gone on recently--in class and in school fora--regarding how or if Orthodox Christians should engage American politics. The emphases of both the OCA Wonder issue and its review on OCA Truth provide interesting insights into how different parts of the national church engage hot-button political issues of the day.

The first article in the Wonder issue, a piece by Abp. Lazar Puhalo, takes issue with those who would "manipulate the civil government in order to have it legislate their doctrines and moral concepts into civil law"; the well-known adage of "You can't legislate morality would apply here. He equates man manipulating man via legislation to man using and abusing his environment and decries both actions as a person sinfully taking his passions and directing them outwardly against the Other, rather than inwardly for the salvation of his own soul. Given the example of ecology, however, I find it interesting that he would most likely have no qualms about legislation designed to regulate Big Business through higher environmental standards. Is this legislated morality? Assuredly so--I would personally agree with such legislation--though one could say that Orthodox were engaging American politics to impose their morality on hard-working, industrious entrepreneurs and, as such, were not "loving" them.

Yet all legislation is morality; it cannot help but be so. Anything a body puts into practice, it does so out of a conviction that what it states is correct, and that which it opposes is incorrect. Our own Archbishop Iakovos marched with Dr. King out of a conviction that Jim Crow laws were immoral and unjust; overturning them through an official act of American legislation was not only not "sinful egoism, self-centredness and self-love," as Abp. Puhalo would have it, but a sense of seeing justice and right prevail, which are necessary aspects of any type of genuine love.

The OCA Truth review, regarding Abp. Puhalo's article, claims that the article "doesn’t identify which doctrines and moral concepts [Abp. Lazar is] talking about, but he can only mean abortion and gay marriage." Now, this inflammatory remark is obviously wrong, as 1) Abp. Puhalo clearly mentioned the environment and 2) it is disengenous in the extreme to insert into silence what one's opponent "can only mean." However, the fact that abortion and gay marriage (which are mentioned together eight times in the entire OCA Truth article and begins to sound like a mantra after a while) are such important issues for the reviewer is telling and should, at least, be acknowledged, as they are, in fact, direct affronts to Orthodox Christian moral and anthropological dogma.

The OCA Truth reviewer's (hereafter, "The Reviewer," as it is anonymously posted) insistence on dealing with his two obviously pet issues does allow him some fair criticism. In his review of Scott Alan Miller's article, "Orthodoxy and Political Conservatism," he wonders "what the author means when he identifies 'social conservatism' as being conformity to Anglo-American norms," since "he barely defines what that means." Furthermore, I would say, to reduce American conservative thought to nothing more than Anglo-American norms is tantamount to saying that Orthodox thought is nothing more than Greco-Slavic cultural norms; there does exist a real, moral influence in both political conservatism and Eastern Orthodoxy that has its base in the Christian Scriptures, which transcend mere human cultural trappings. Indeed, Miller's almost dismissive attitude about the politically conservative arena is a disservice to the point of view he is ostensibly called upon to support. While he is right that many areas of conservativism--and, I would say, in particular, the arena of neo-conservatism--are at odds with much of Orthodox teaching (and, again, this is odd for an article purporting to give a "conservative" view--the OCA Truth reviewer is correct in asking how "you have anything important or helpful to say to young people about Orthodoxy and conservatism when you won’t address the two biggest issues" on which political conservative and traditional Orthodox thought actually agree.

The article on "Orthodoxy and the Political Left," written by Fr. John Culbreath-Frazier, says what I've mentioned here already: "all of Christian ethics in the political sphere are largely simplified to such charged issues as abortion and gay marriage, and placing little, if any, emphasis on how our faith may also approach such topics as the environment, poverty, and human rights; issues that have equal religious significance." The Reviewer's treatment (or lack thereof) of this article is where said Reviewer ought to be the most ashamed of himself. Not only has he only devoted a mere paragraph--and a flippant, vulgar one at that, unworthy of the task at hand--to an eloquent, thoughtful contribution to OCA Wonder, but he has misrepresented Fr. John's position, which does not in any way assert that Orthodox are "natural liberals," as the reviewer "bullet points" later on. Again, while The Reviewer grasps at a possible fingerhold for legitimate criticism when he states that the Democrats ought to be taken more to task for "fail[ing] to live up to the moral standards of Orthodoxy" with regard to the Reviewer's two main issues (for, as a comment that follows the article rightly states, "Both have been condemned by the Apostles and Fathers"), he loses all credibility when he glibly states that Fr. John is alleging that both secular Democrats and Orthodox "ought to wake up and realize that Orthodox Christians are really liberals too." Perhaps if The Reviewer could see past "his two issues," he might see that 1) the article rightly states that there are plenty of other issues championed by the Left with which the Orthodox can and do sympathize and 2) that acknowledgment of this common ground in no way compromises political action in anti-abortion nor defense of marriage arenas.

Perhaps a legitimate criticism of Fr. John's article--and it is a small one--would be to extend his criticism of the Left's "refusal to engage the 'right' on the religious playing field regarding policy." Not only has this "given the 'right' a monopoly on making any stance a religious issue," but it is a betrayal by those who espouse religious beliefs privately regarding these issues of their own responsibility as public figures to allow their faith to be a part--and an integral one, at that--of the whole person who casts a vote in Congress, writes up legislation, etc. That the moral and religious aspect of enacting legislation as a priestly offering to God is so absent from the political Left is a deficiency that can--and has--only hurt them politically.

Finally, The Reviewer takes issue with "The Problem of Partisanship" by Dr. David Wagschal, a professor at St. Vladimir's, though, again, the "taking issue" comprises all of a paragraph-long screed that, in essence, dismisses Dr. Wagschal's article because it was written by a Canadian (One wonders, or at least, I do, if The Reviewer simply got tired or pressed for time in reviewing these last two articles, given the non-engagement one sees therein). As The Review has devoted no more than a paragraph to this last article, I will devote no more than that to him here.

What I would like to address are certain ideas put forth in Dr. Wagschal's article. Dr. Wagschal mentions that the Orthodox, in Byzantine days, had "been very focused on promoting a maximal vision of a specifically Christian monoculture, with a very defined and carefully regulated set of beliefs, behaviors and values. The imposition of an ideal uniformity has been a much higher priority than a pragmatic management of diversity." It is interesting that this Byzantine uniformity was imposed on enslaved and subjugated sub-cultures through the official fiat of an emperor rather than suggested through the simple "good example" of individual faithful. It seems to me that this is a necessary and admirable admission when one is dealing with the issue of whether or not one is justified in "imposing one's morality" legislatively in our 21st-Century context. It would seem that, given our own past and the above-mentioned precedent of hierarchical Orthodox participation in the American Civil Rights Movement, our role is more complicated than Dr. Wagschal's dichotomy of "mov[ing] the political and moral agenda in a Christian direction from within" as opposed to "simply [being] content to throw stones at it from without" would have it.

While I agree that 1) "partisan sectarianism or extremism is too likely to reduce the Gospel to a set of narrow and human political “positions” which deprive it of its universal power and applicability," 2) "the Gospel could be identified with a human 'party'," and 3) "the scandal of the Gospel become the scandal of the Church’s political positions, not the scandal of the cross," none of these ideas inherently preclude participation or engagement with the legislative process of this country--"voting one's conscience," in other words. I do not necessarily think that Dr. Wagschal makes the assertion that his premises preclude such engagement (though he could hold this opinion, I suppose), but that he is so reticent to engage political activism based on a dichotomy of Church/State where involvement in the latter obscures irretrievably the message of the former is evident in his assertion that the Orthodox hierarchy ought "to keep the respectable distance from politics that our system demands, speaking out only occasionally on critical moral issues, but [to be] generally very careful to allow Orthodox citizens the freedom necessary to participate credibly in the political arena." I do not see a hierarch's involvement in political issues at odds with his responsibility to the Gospel; I would question whether any issue--be it poverty, the environment, the unborn, or the nature of human sexual union--is so (pun fully intended) sacred as to preclude "intrusion" from religious influence. While our government is designed so as to keep one, state religion from denying other churches' existence or dictating public policy as a whole, it does not follow that individuals can not engage public politics with a purposeful intent to bring their religious convictions into play, nor that religious leaders cannot speak to the faithful of their own confessions regarding pertinent issues of the day and teachings that can--and should!--influence how those individuals involve themselves in the political process.

It seems to me that, as one classmate of mine said, the image to the right is the only admissible image we as Orthodox have for guiding our participation in our nation's political arena; as the Israelites found out concerning the golden calf, so we must acknowledge that neither the image of elephant nor donkey can serve as a suitable replacement for the only image our God has given us of Himself. All Orthodox who are politically engaged understand that certain ideas in American politics are affronts to what they see as those things consonant with the image of God in Christ; the questions are, then, 1) which issue or issues comprise the greatest affront to said Image, and 2) how (not "if") those Orthodox Christians involved will engage the political process so as to bring it more into conformity with the image of God and Man in symphony.