Saturday, December 31, 2011

It was a good year

Before I get into the egregious planning of resolutions and changes for the New Year (most of which I assume will probably fail), I thought i best to reflect on the year I had. In a few words, it was a good year. Here were the major highlights:

1) I married my lovely wife, Carla on July 23. In the presence of our families and very close friends, I was married according to the practices of the Holy Orthodox Church. I could not have asked for a better manner to enter into this most holy mystery and to do so with the encouragement of my priest, my family and my friends. The service was wonderfully chanted by Rdr. Moses and Holly and I knew that God blessed this union. And I couldn't have asked for a more lovely, charming, beautiful and smart bride!

2) I found out I would be a father. Barely three months into our marriage, my wife tells me I'm going to be a dad. I admit that I'm very nervous and concerned but the only way to look upon this is as a blessing and gift from God. The second I start looking upon this in any manner is to cheapen what He gives.

3) I have a job. Granted, it's not the job I really want. I want to be back in the classroom teaching Latin and Greek. Unfortunately, those jobs are scarce and hard to find and many of them are part time. But this job kept me in Omaha allowing me to develop my relationship with Carla and thus marry her. It allows me to pay my bills and to develop new skills for any future occupation.

4) I love my church. Of course, it's not perfect. The lack of Greek is bad enough, but I'm very grateful to have a priest who helps keep me on track, who is very sincere and prayerful and insists that the church foremost is a place of prayer. My parish family is very kind and I appreciate the opportunities to chant the services of Vespers and Orthros.

5) My family is a very generous group. This includes my biological family and the assumed family of my wife. So many great individuals and all of them have a very strong commitment to what family means and desire to preserve it. I cannot thank them enough for all the great things they have done for me this past year.

6) I have two great cats. I think Araby and Leo were a little unsure of me when I first came here, but they've warmed up to me. They both like attention and love to cuddle early in the morning or when we're just watching TV on the couch.

7) I have a nice home. It's Carla's home technically; I am allowed to "squat" here. Togther we made improvements to the upper level bathroom and are planning some other improvements (mainly for the baby). The house is in unincorporated Sarpy County and so we're not too far from the city proper though we're far away from it that we don't have to worry about the hustle and bustle of traffic. Just a mile to the south of us are cornfields and farms and it is so nice just to take a walk around those areas.

8) Did I mention I have a beautiful wife? Just checking...

9) I'm still in relatively good health. Don't get me wrong; there's much to improve upon, but I hope to keep my body weight at a good level and to get stronger. I want to be fit when my kid arrives so I can play with him/her and not worry about getting tired. I don't have any major conditions, but I need to be vigilant as diabetes and heart disease are in my family history.

10) My brain still works...kind of.

But with all the blessings come also grief. The one negative thing that sticks out in my mind from this past year is the passing of our dog, Jasmine. We had to put her down in early June when she suffered kidney failure. She was a very faithful companion and we miss her terribly. Sunt bona mixta malis.

All in all, it was a good year, a very good year. I don't know if I can top it in 2012, but if I intentionally try to top it, I think I'm only asking for failure. So, I'm going to basque in 2011 for a few more hours and then I'll contemplate about what I will do differently in 2012.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Commemoration of St. Stephen, the 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia and the 10,000 Holy Innocents

Following the Nativity of our Lord, the Church honors His Holy Mother, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary on the 26th. For three days following the Synaxis of the Theotokos, the Church commemorates the martyrdoms of St. Stephen, the martyrs of Nicomedia and the 10,000 Holy Innocents. All events happened at disparate times, but the commemoration of these particular saints fits in perfectly with the season of the Nativity.

Christ's coming in the flesh was to rescue His creation from the usurpation of Death and Hades. Of course, the devil and his demons did everything possible to not only prevent Christ's birth (the commemoration of 10,000 Holy Innocents who perished at Herod's hands), but to prevent the faith confirmed in the Resurrection from spreading to the Jews (commemoration of St. Stephen) and also to prevent its spread into the oikoumene of the Roman Emperor during the reigns of the tyrants Diocletian and Maximian (commemoration of the 20,000 martyrs at Nicomedia). So, what have these events to do with Nativity?

The Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Incarnate Logos, then a new born babe. Following Christ's triumph over death and His gift of Resurrection to us, we lowly mortals still give gifts to Him. As He suffered and died as a gift to us, so the martyrs suffered and died to give back what Christ has given us. Martyrdom is a calling reserved for very few and they are rewarded with special crowns in the Kingdom of Heaven. Like the Lord who is both the offerer and the offered, so the martyrs. They were offered by God and offered themselves to the persecutors of Christ for the sake of the Gospel.

Such is why we honor the martyrs throughout the year and even in this Nativity season. Fr. Thomas Hopko explains:

More than all others, the martyrs are the friends of Christ [cf. John 15: 14]. In their sufferings, according to the daring words of St. Paul they "complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His body, that is the Church" (Col. 1:24).--The Winter Pascha, p. 132

Through their prayers, may we be brought to the perfection of the faith.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A solution to a problem (which is probably a pipe dream)

Nativity has come and gone. It is bittersweet. On the one hand, the hustle and bustle and delusions of Christmas with parties, gifts and family get togethers are finished. But, on the other hand, the solemn feast and the preparing fast only seemed worthy to merit an asterisk.

Though the Nativity Fast is a relaxed one and most Orthodox parishes do not have the rigorous cycle of services that are commonplace in Great Lent or even the Dormition fast, it was very difficult to pray and to stay focused on the coming of our Lord in the flesh. Even when the fast becomes more strict beginning on the 20th, that same day seems to be when every other thing associated with the Christmas season (e.g. parties, shopping, etc.) comes into full swing. Rather than given time for sufficient time to contemplate and meditate on why the Lord is coming in the flesh, I am given to other pursuits.

So, what is the solution? It's not that I didn't make an effort. I attended the weekday services at my parish; I prayed as much as I was able; I observed the fast pretty stringently. But there was always something to take me away from it. Here's my solution--and it's one that I've put forth before and I know will probably be disappointed: Return to the celebration of the Feast of the Nativity on January 7 (December 25, Julian Calendar). That's right, return to the Old Calendar.

Now, one might say: just go to a Russian or a Serbian church since they're on the Old Calendar. No. I'm a Greek Christian. I follow the Typicon of the Great Church of Christ. I read and speak the language and I comprehend the Orthodox faith through that language, the jewel of all philosophical languages. I chant according to the Byzantine method and find the Russian typewriter chant to be both silly and a bore (my opinion only). I have no desire to be a Russian or a Serb. There is no reason that I cannot be a Greek Christian and NOT celebrate the Great Feast of Nativity on January 7. After all, the Greek churches on Mount Athos still celebrate it that way. Why can't the rest of us.

This will solve a lot of issues. The bustle of the "secular" Christmas season will be gone and we can turn our thoughts more purposefully to prayer and worship. Also, and forgive me for being such an anti-ecumenist, but it will also help to destroy the illusion that Orthodox and the heterodox celebrate the same thing on December 25. Besides, why is it so important for us to celebrate our Lord's Pascha with all our Orthodox brethren, but every other movable feast not considered important? I'm sure it has to do with the ecumenical mindset of many of our hierarchs who always seem to beg for scraps from the ecumenical table in return for political and monetary favors.

I'm hopeful that there will be a Great Council convened sometime within the next decade or two. One of the issues that must, absolutely must, be discussed is that of the calendar. We cannot be one Orthodox communion on two calendars. It's schizophrenic. And Orthodox hierarchs should do everything possible to resist the ecumencist pleadings of prelates from the Roman Catholic communion who desire nothing more than us to be subservient to their papacy. Returning to the Old Calendar will help to divorce us from the heresies and schisms propagated by the Western Churches.

It's also been proven, many times over, that the more churches return to their tradition, they bring more people into the fold. For example, when the Pope Benedict XVI allowed for greater freedom of the use of the extraordinary Rite, many former catholics returned home. The development of the Novus Ordo (which is essentially a Protestant service; it was designed by 6 Protestants from Germany) pushed many people away. The evangelical churches are losing people in droves because that awful praise-band, anthropocentric, egocentric "worship" is driving people away and they are slowly recognizing that. Even my former church, the LCMS, Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod, has begun to purge itself of this same thing and people are coming back.

So, if returning to our roots and traditional praxis is good for the sake of the growth and stability of the Church, let's do it. Return to the Old Calendar! And keep us on it. Resist any attempts to find "common dates" of Pascha with the heterodox confessions! Dare to be Orthodox! Orthodoxia i thanatos!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy feast of the Nativity

From the Great Vespers of the Feast at Psalm 140 in tone 2:

Come, let us rejoice in the Lord as we declare this present mystery.
The middle wall of partition is broken asunder; the flaming
sword is turned back, the Cherubim withdraw from the Tree of Life, and
I partake of the Paradise of Delight, whence I was cast out before
through disobedience. For the identical Likeness of the Father, the Express
Image of His eternity, taketh the form of a servant, and without
undergoing change He cometh forth from a Mother that knew not wedlock.
For that which He was, He hath remained, even true God; and that
which He was not, He hath taken upon Himself, becoming man out of
love for man. Unto Him let us cry: O God, Who art born of a Virgin,
have mercy on us.

From a sermon on the Nativity by our father among the saints, St. Peter Chrysologus:

Even if you did not enjoy free access to knowledge of all these marvels, would you think that God was unable at that time to assume from flesh what in the beginning he took from mud? Indeed, since everything is possible to God, and it is impossible for you fully to understand even the least of His works, do not pry too much into this virgin’s conceiving, but believe it. Be reverently aware of the fact that God wishes to be born, because you offer an insult if you examine it too much. Grasp by faith that great mystery of the Lord’s birth, because without faith you cannot comprehend even the least of God’s works. “All his works,” says the Scripture, “are by faith”. But here is a matter which depends completely upon faith, and you want it to stand by reason. It is not, indeed, without reason that this matter holds true; it holds true by the reasoning of God, O man, not yours. What is so much according to reason as the fact that God can do whatever He has willed? He who cannot do what he wills is not God.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Forefeast of the Nativity

Today, December 20, is the Forefeast of the Nativity of Christ. I can never tire of the apolytikon that accompanies this day. If you want to hear it sung, in English unfortunately, you can go to my post from two years ago complete with a youtube video.

Make ready, O Bethlehem! For Eden has been opened for all.
Prepare, O Ephratha, for the tree of life has blossomed forth in the cave from the Virgin.
For her womb did appear as a super-sensual paradise.
In which is planted, that holy vine.
Whereof eating, we shall live and not die as Adam of old.
Christ shall be born raising the image that fell of old.

This is the message of Christmas. There is a new Adam. There is a restored image of God. It is the restored image of the Image Himself, God's Son and Word, Jesus Christ. In Him humankind has found its fulfillment and perfection. In Him human beings can live. In Him all people can compete themselves as creatures made to be by God's grace that God Himself is by nature. In Him all people can be human.--Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha, p. 84

Man ate the forbidden fruit. The fruit of that one tree, whatever else it may signify, was unlike any other fruit in the Garden: it was not offered as a gift to man. Not given, not blessed by God, it was food whose eating was condemned to be communion with itself alone, and not with God. it s the image of the world loved for itself, and eating it is the image of life understood as an end in itself.--Fr. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, p.16 (qtd in Hopko's Winter Pascha, p. 87)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Patristic Quote of the Day

As we have already noted, it was unthinkable that God, the Father of Truth, should go back up on His word regarding death in order to ensure our continued existence. He could not falsify Himself; what, then, was God to do? Was He to demand repentance from men for their transgression? You might say that was worthy of God, and argue further that, as through the Transgression they became subject to corruption, so through repentance they might return to incorruption again. But repentance would not guard the Divine consistency, for, i f death did not hold dominion over men, God would still remain untrue. Nor does repentance recall men from what is according to their nature; all that it does is to make them cease from sinning. Had it been a case of a trespass only, and not of a subsequent corruption, repentance would have been well enough; but when once transgression had begun men came under the power of the corruption proper to their nature were bereft of the grace which belonged to them as creatures in the Image of God.--St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 1.2.7

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Happy Birthday, Beethoven

Yesterday, December 16 is the date ascribed to the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven in 1770. The son of a musician at the court of Bonn, Beethoven early in life was marked out for musical greatness. In many ways, a prodigy like Beethoven, though lacking the resources that were available to Mozart in addition to having a father more in exploiting his son for profit, Beethoven nevertheless bloomed and was at the age of 13 given musical composition instruction by the court organist, Christian Gottlieb Neefe.

The rest of Beethoven's life can be read online, if you should choose to go further. Unlike Mozart and Haydn, the two giants who preceded him, Beethoven wrote comparatively little for the church. Mozart and Haydn both had powerful patrons in the church throughout their lives and demanded the composition of sacred music for their courts or name days of their employers. Beethoven wrote two masses, one in C major and the Missa Solemnis in D.

The Missa Solemnis follows in the tradition of Bach's B Minor Mass or Mozart's Great Mass in C minor in that is on a grandiose scale, though not in the "cantata" form. This work was written for his pupil and friend, Archduke Rudolf who later was appointed Prince-Archbishop of Olomouc which is in Moravia. The earlier Mass in C major was written for the name day of the wife of Prince Nicholas of Esterhazy. Haydn was formerly in the employ of the Esterhazy family, but Haydn was now touring the world and Haydn, being a former teacher of Beethoven, had probably secured for him this commission.

The Mass in C major was a huge disappointment. The performance was horrible mainly because the musicians resented to having to take directions from a deaf composer. The court composer, Hummel, was publicly reprimanded by Prince Nicholas for failing to keep the musicians in line for rehearsals.

The failure of the performance probably kept Beethoven from writing other sacred pieces and probably also contributed to its scarce performance today. His only other attempt in the "middle period" was his Oratorio, Christus am Olberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives). Unlike the Oratorios of Handel, Beethoven set a theme from the New Testament. This work,too, has suffered a lack of performance. It has many great gems, but they are not widely known. The Missa Solemnis, despite its greater recognition, is still not performed with any frequency today simply because of the scale of the work and its massive orchestration (the orchestration from the 9th symphony is even smaller).

It is lamentable and sad that the music written for the Western Rite churches have fallen into obscurity. Most churches today lack the necessary musical forces to perform classical works. And today, the only time one may hear a mass of Beethoven or Haydn or Mozart or even Schubert is in a concert hall and not in a church. Of course, many would argue that such music is distracting and does not center on prayer. Of course, such people who make the charge favor the "praise band" style; now THAT IS DISTRACTING!

I would encourage you to listen to the Kyrie from the Mass in C. It starts out slowly and subdued with a plea for mercy. But, as it grows in intensity and dynamics, it never becomes arrogant or haughty. It begins softly; it ends softly. The music never overpowers the plea for mercy, but it serves the text.

I can only wonder at what great works Beethoven may have written for the church had he lived longer and some circumstances in life were different. But what he did leave are gems and should not be cast aside. Though he will continue to be known and praised for his symphonies and his sonatas, his contributions to the sacred should receive due attention as well. Happy birthday, Beethoven, greatest of composers!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Suffering and the Christian

Has today's modern Christian forgot (or perhaps never learned in the first place) about how to suffer? Every day we are plagued with reports about suffering and yet we do everything we can to insulate ourselves from the very real possibility of suffering ourselves. And then when we do suffer, we cannot lift ourselves from it, but instead entrap ourselves in a never ending cycle of "woe is me!" and self-pity that only exacerbates it and allows the suffering to persist.

As Christians, we should expect to suffer. Christ Himself said that to follow Him was to take up the cross. He also called those who suffer for His sake blessed in the Sermon on the Mount. St. Paul, perhaps the architect of what it means to suffer in the Christian tradition, says in his epistle to the Romans (8:17) that to be heirs of Christ is to be a co-heir in His sufferings. Fortunately, St. Paul doesn't end there but continues, saying that the result of such sufferings is ultimately that we be co-glorified with Him. Suffering leads to salvation and, as such, requires us to have joy in it. But, modern man and particularly, the modern Christian say, "I'll take the joy, but hold the suffering." But when the inevitable suffering comes, the modern Christian has no idea what to do or how to cope.

The assault on suffering comes from both within the Christian community and without. Liberals and statists, in their good intentions to make the world into one that is free of pain, are the first set of culprits. Today's liberals and statists, following precepts like this one uttered by President Kennedy--"man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty"--are only treating the symptoms. For today's liberal, there is no sin, which is the cause of suffering, but there is only an anomaly which can be wiped out by reason and scientific inquiry and social legislation. I've yet to see any social legislation that has eradicated the poverty of the intellect, i.e. stupidity. Like most of the agenda of liberals, the cure is not the concern, only the managing of outbreaks of symptoms. It is like giving aspirin to relieve the pressure in the head caused by a tumor. They will not strike at the tumor, but only the pain.

A second assault on suffering comes from within the Christian churches, who, like today's secular liberals and statists, insist that sin is not the problem, going out of their way to deny it. This group is represented by mainline Protestants who have swapped the Gospel for the leftist agenda while insisting that Christ would approve. Sin never enters the equation. And if there is no sin, there is no need for repentance, a complete change of self. So, for those who subscribe to this "christian" belief system, suffering is also an anomaly, but the solution is to treat the symptoms in the same manner as the statist.

A third assault on suffering comes again from within the Christian churches who teach that suffering is given to you because you don't have enough faith in Jesus Christ. Once you do have faith in Christ, your suffering will end and you will have joy in the form of riches. This is the message of the Prosperity Gospel, peddled by Joel Osteen and Rick Warren. For them, suffering and joy are not complementary but outright opposed and hostile to one another. One moment, you suffer; the next, you rejoice. Never is it both at the same time. But riches are not true happiness and joy. In effect, people who buy into this belief, do not attend to the soul.

(Side note: The acquisition of riches was never a promise to make men happier and to end suffering. True classical liberalism, represented by laissez-faire economist, Adam Smith, would never go that far. Material wealth is good in that it allows some physical miseries like disease and hunger to be dispensed with, but the debilitating psychological and spiritual miseries remain with which to do battle).

To want to do away completely with suffering is egoism at its finest. Misery cannot be abolished by reason or social legislation. Nor can it be blotted out by simply ignoring the root cause of sin. Nor can it be removed by simply acquiring riches since other miseries will still remain. Suffering must remain part of modern man's raison d'etre or sine qua non.

"What earthly joy remains untouched by grief? What glory stands forever on the earth?" writes the church father, St. John Damascene. It is not coincidental that these words are sung at Orthodox funerals. Our sufferings have to go hand in hand with our existence. But, there is the hope of salvation through sufferings in the person of Jesus Christ. It does not necessarily require actually being physically tortured as Christ was, though many martyrs have gone that route. But, for Christians, if our goal in life is to join ourselves to Christ, then we must start imitating Him. Wanting to cast aside sufferings or only treat the symptoms or deny the root cause is nothing more than conceit and arrogance. If we do that, then why celebrate at all the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Conception of the Theotokos

On December 9, the Holy Orthodox Church, commemorates the conception of the Theotokos by her parents, Sts. Joachim and Anna. The Roman Catholic Church uses this feast to affirm the "Immaculate Conception" of Mary which, in 1854, was officially promulgated as a dogma of the Church, which means that assent to it is a prerequisite to salvation. Needless to say, the Orthodox Church remains opposed to such a dogma, simply because the Roman Church and her progeny from the Reformation erroneously, following St. Augustine, believe that conception of children and, by extension, sexual intercourse is a transmission of the "stain" or guilt of original sin.

Fr. Thomas Hopko replies to this belief and expounds the Orthodox position thus:

The Orthodox Church affirms original sin. Orthodox theology teaches that all human beings, including the Virgin Mary, who is a "mere human" like the rest of us--unlike her Son Jesus who is a "real human" but not a "mere human" because He is the incarnate Son and Word of God-are born into a fallen, death-bound, demon-riddled world whose "form is passing away" (1 Cor 7:31). We are all born mortal and tending toward sin. But we are not born guilty of any personal sin, certainly not one allegedly committed "in Adam." Nor are we born stained because of the manner in which we are conceived by the sexual union of our parents. If sexual union in marriage is any sense sinful, or the cause in itself of any sinfulness or stain, even in the conditions of the "fallen world," then, as even the rigorous Saint John Chrysostom (see On Titus, homily) has taught, God, is the sinner because He made us this way, male and female, from the very beginning.

--The Winter Pascha, pp. 42-3.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Where did Advent (i.e. Nativity Lent) go?

Ah, the holidays. Everywhere you go, there are Santas and presents and lights and bell ringers and carolers and concerts and parties and food as far as the eye can see. And there's even some more church services, but those are just preludes to more parties. There are even Christmas programs, reenactments of the Nativity (historically inaccurate as they may be). As nice and as these things are, for the Christian, especially liturgical Christians, why is that we celebrate the feast during Advent? Yes, we should be joyful in the feast to come, but you can't just party; you first must prepare.

It would be unthinkable and even repugnant for Christians to have Easter (Pascha) parties or programs during the Great Lent season. Why? Because we are preparing to celebrate the Holy Day of Holy Days. The Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ cannot be fully comprehended and experienced unless there is preparation through increased prayer and fasting. If such is demanded of us at Pascha, why is it not demanded or even expected of us during Nativity Lent?

Of course, a great reason for this is because of the secularization of the season, but even if that were not considered, the churches are contributing to the damage. How many Advent hymns are sung as opposed to Christmas hymns? There is a difference between the two. In the Western Rite, the Advent Latin Hymn "Veni Redemptor Gentium" (Come, Saviour of the Nations) would be considered inappropriate for Nativity Day, just as "Von Himmel Hoch" would be considered inappropriate for the Advent Sundays leading up to Nativity. Even in the Western Rite, the Gloria in Excelsis is to be omitted because this is a fasting/penitential season and the Alleluia is replaced by the Tract. But that even seems seldom done. Even in the churches, Advent and preparation are removed in favor of Nativity and celebration.

Of course, even churches of the Eastern Rite are not exempt from these fads. In churches where there are many converts, it may be commonplace for the choir to sing Christmas (not Advent) songs after the Liturgy is completed. Again, the focus on preparation for the Lord coming in the flesh is substituted as if the liturgical reality has already happened!

The Church calendar has great and noble uses and I cannot believe was put haphazardly together or so that some old guys back thousands of years ago could get their kicks by telling posterity what to do. The Church calendar exists to put the feasts into perspective. That is why a time of fasting and preparation of various durations is prescribed prior to major feasts. Nativity has a 40 day fast; Pascha has a 40+ day fast; Dormition has a 2 week fast; Transfiguration, which occurs during Dormition has a fast; the Forefeast of Theophany is a fast; the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross is itself a fast.

Of course, fast does not mean simply not eating certain foods, but can encompass any number of different acts of preparation with prayer being the most obvious. And fasts should not and should never be periods of looking disfigured and being depressed and sad. As Fr. Alexander Schmemann said of the Great Fast, it is a time of "bright sadness." The Christian vocation is one of joyous living, but nowhere near the point of Epicurean celebration.

It is hard to maintain a stricter rule of prayer and fasting when the world around us gives no heed to what Nativity is--The Lord Himself becoming incarnate, uniting His essence with our own so that everything we possess, hampered as it is by sin, may be healed so that we may grow in Him. But, it is even harder for us to do so when our churches make Advent into pre-Christmas.

This article gave me the inspiration for these thoughts. Enjoy.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Commemoration of our Righteous Father, St. John Damascene

Today, the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates our Righteous Father, John of Damascus. He shares this feast day with the Great Martyr Barbara. Both saints are children of the See of Antioch. Of course, I have greater affinity towards St. John simply because he is my patron saint and what a wonderful saint and intercessor he is to have on my behalf before the dread judgment seat of Christ, not that I don't believe Barbara or any other saint would do less.

Chanting the services last night and this morning for him, the Orthodox Church owes a huge debt to him. Though there were specific hymns directed towards him, a great many of the hymns for Vespers and Orthros from the Octoechos were his creation. Though we commemorate in the dismissal St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil the Great or St. Gregory, Pope of Rome because we celebrated their liturgies, perhaps we should commemorate St. John Damascene at the end of Vespers and Orthros. Probably not going to happen.

Of all his hymns, probably the ones I enjoy the most are his canons used at Orthros. The scope of both poetry and theological acuity in his hymns are almost unmatched in the Byzantine tradition. As we approach the celebration of the Winter Pascha, we will use his canon as the Second canon for Orthros. The first canon of Nativity was written by his brother, St. Cosmas. I'd like to take some time to examine a few of his hymns and comment on the theological depth contained therein.

Ode 1 (Irmos): Of old the Master that works wonders saved His people,
Making the watery wave of the sea into dry land;
And now of His own will has He been born from a Maiden,
And so He establishes a path for us whereby we may mount to heaven.
We glorify Him Who in essence is equal to the Father and to mortal men.

St. John, of course, composed his canons following the nine Biblical Odes. The irmos of ode 1 hearkens back to the Canticle of Moses from Exodus.

I love how the final verse stresses the consubstantiality of Christ with both the Father and man. If there is one thing that I find lacking in our Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (and Fr. Reardon has pointed this out from time to time) is that the Liturgy is pre-Chalcedonian. It is heavily Trinitarian and we speak much of the consubstantiliaty of the Three Hypostases of the Trinity. We don't spend much time on the consubstantiality of Christ with us, His creation. But St. John Damascene does articulate that very well (and especially in his Pascal Canon) here and that is why Orthodox Christians can never hope to really understand the depths of our faith by simply going to Liturgy, as important as that its.

Ode 5: The Master, by His coming in the flesh, has cut clean through
The harsh enmity of the flesh against Him,
And has destroyed the might of the murderer of our souls,
Uniting the world to the immaterial essences,
He has made the Father merciful to the creation.

The Orthodox doctrine of Theosis, man becoming God-like, is articulated here. God became man that man may become God. These words (erroneously attributed to St. Athanasius, though he probably would not have objected to them) repudiate that our salvation cannot be strictly defined in terms of forensic justification. If the point of the crucifixion was to pronounce a "not guilty" verdict, then why the need for the incarnation? The incarnation was so heaven and earth, God and man, may be united to accomplish what Christ prayed in the garden before His death, namely, that "they may all be one As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us" (John 17:21). Though we are still created beings and less than God, because of His incarnation, the flesh he assumed, which he took up to Heaven after His Resurrection and Ascension has also been deified. Our flesh is no longer a hindrance, but will become the instrument for our salvation.

Ode 8:Thou hast come, O Resurrection of the nations,
To bring back the nature of man from its wanderings,

Leading it from the hills of the wilderness to a pasture rich in flowers.
Do Thou destroy the violent strength of the murderer of man,
O Thou who in Thy providence hast appeared as man and God.

Even at Nativity, our minds are called to our Lord's Pascha, His triumph and our triumph over death. The theme throughout this canon is not juridical nuances, but rebirth, resurrection, renewal, change. Our Lord came to change us, not just give good teachings, but so that He may effect in us an actual, ontological change so that we may do what He taught.

At the end of the stanza, we again are reminded that Christ is consubstantial with both the Father and us. A great and mighty wonder! (BTW, that is a title of a hymn found in the Western Rite).

I could spend many hours on the theological legacy of St. John Damascene. It is unfortunate that his feast day falls on a Sunday once every six years, because most Orthodox would not realize the contributions he has made to the faith. O Guide of Orthodoxy, pray that our souls be saved!

Acting stupidly before the throne of God

These comments are not my own but from Fr. Peters whose blog I frequent pretty much every day. Just reading these comments, he could have been commenting on what happens at my church on Sundays. Some of these are items I have addressed with my priest but to no avail. I'm glad he said these things and I'm just wondering how common these "distractions" are in churches across the USA regardless of denomination or confession.

* Why do altar servers wear flip flops when they serve at the altar? Why do their parents let them leave the house with flip flops on when they know they are scheduled to serve? For that matter, why wear flip flops to Church at all? Casual shoes are worn because we act casually about the place where we are going. Worship is not casual. Our encounter with God at the font, table, and pulpit is not a casual moment but the same kind of holy ground experience we read about in Exodus 3:5. We are here because God has bidden us but that does not change the fact that we are standing on holy ground when we stand before Him.
* Why do dress so casually when we come to Church? No, there is NO dress code and if that is the best you have, fine and dandy. But why would we choose to wear something so casual when we do have better clothing in the closet or in the dresser? This is not really about the clothing. This is merely an extension of the first point. If you dress to make a statement, what statement are we making when we dress down for God? And again, what does this teach our children?
* Why do we act so surprised when our cell phones go off in Church? It should not be a shock since we did not turn them off (we never do). We do have options. If our accessibility is so important, put the phone on vibrate, when you feel it vibrate, get up and leave BEFORE answering it. But, come on now, are we really that important that we have to have the phone on in Church? Do I really need to talk about texting during the service? Yeah, right, the texts we send are the salient points of the sermon. You betcha!
* Why do we need to be so loud just before the service begins? We have wide hallways, a generous entryway and narthex, and a fellowship hall -- why do we shout half way across the nave to get somebody's attention on Sunday morning? It makes it almost impossible to pray before the start of the service. If we must talk, can we talk quietly? Can we be a bit more discrete?
* Why do we need to talk throughout the whole service? What is so important that it cannot wait until after the service is over? Or do we think that we need to get equal time with Scripture and the sermon? I know of people who move around in the service to get away from the constant talkers. And what does that teach to the children we are trying so hard to quiet down?
* Why do we look so surprised when we go to the altar rail for the Sacrament? If we belong there, we should not have that deer in the headlights look. If we are visitors, we need to talk to somebody (like the Pastor -- or at least read the clear communion statement in the bulletin). If we have guests with us, we need to talk to them beforehand about communing. Even members sometimes look and act if they were not sure what was going on at the rail.
* Why do we seem to be always late for everything at Church? If we cannot avoid being late, could we at least be discrete? Enter and leave only during a hymn or sung part of the liturgy - NEVER during prayers or the reading of Scripture. It is rude to the people who got there on time and it is offensive to be fashionably late and make our entrance into the Church.

* Why do Pastors sometimes act as if they are oblivious to what is going on in the service? What are we doing? Writing the sermon? Making a shopping or to do list? If the Pastor is not paying attention to what is going on, singing the hymns, praying, etc., why should he expect the folks in the pew to be doing these things?
* Why do Pastors act so casual about the chancel area? It is not the clergy family room. Don't use the altar as a side table to put your notes or hymnal or glass of water. Don't lean on the lectern or the pulpit or altar like its job is to hold you up when you are tired of standing?
* Why do Pastors have to comment or direct every part of the service? Do we constantly need to hear the page numbers called out? Do we need to have everything introduced (now let us pray the Lord's Prayer... now the choir will sing... now we will take an offering... now receive the benediction, etc.)? Put it in a well crafted bulletin if it is so difficult to keep up with things. Pastor does not mean MC and the liturgy is not your monologue.
* Why do Pastors act surprised at what is happening in the liturgy? Did the Pastor not plan it out in the first place? This is not like an audition for a part where you get to see the script for the first time. The Pastor knows what is unfolding on Sunday morning. Get with the program.
* Why would a Pastor apologize for his sermon before hand? So you have a dozen funerals, several dozen hospital calls, a wedding, and a thousand other things happen last week. It is Sunday morning and you better be ready. If you are not all that ready, don't warm people ahead of time that you did not have time to prepare adequately -- it is like saying "pay no more attention.... starting NOW."
* If you mess up a reading, don't say "Excuse me" or make a joke about how hard those Hebrew names are to pronounce. Just correct the mistake and keep on reading. It is not your word, it is God's (and it might not hurt to read it before hand just to prepare).

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Evangelicals Sign Document Affirming Belief in the Trinity

There has been some debate, outside of the Evangelical world, which asks whether Evangelicals actually affirm and defend the Christian Dogma of the Trinity in Unity, the Unity in Trinity. A lot of my own personal experience in this debate comes from former Evangelicals who were received into the Orthodox Church. A big reason for a lot of their "swimming the Bosphorus" was because the various Evangelical Churches they left did not teach the Trinity, deeming it heresy, or giving it only lip service.

Now, I don't doubt the sincerity of what these former Evangelicals said but I wouldn't characterize their statements as representative of all Evangelical churches. Evangelical churches are not a monolithic bloc either in doctrine or praxis. They are extremely diverse. However, when I read this article today about prominent Evangelicals signing a document that affirms belief in the Trinity as One God, but in three aspects (their wording, not mine). Seeing that such a document had to be created and signed indicates that perhaps the individual stories I heard from former Evangelicals IS representative of what is going on in Evangelical churches around the United States.

I do have some concerns with words such as "aspects" or "manifestations" to describe the individual persons of the Trinity. The Greek word is hypostasis which is often translated to person (via Latin) but that hardly does the Greek word justice. Hypostasis, like many other Greek words, is just too complex an idea to give a satisfactory one word translation for. But, for our purposes, person will do just fine.

I am happy though that the signers of this document were concerned with possible subordination within the Trinity. The signers of this document might not be aware of this but the Church fought against this doctrine, known as Sabellianism, or modalism in the third and fourth centuries. And they are correct that the doctrine of the Trinity is a Biblical doctrine.

However, many people will shrug their shoulders, within the Evangelical community and without, and wonder what's the big deal. The big deal is that the dogma of the Trinity was one that was fought over and split the Church from a very early age. Such is why the Council of Nicaea had to be called to firmly establish the orthodox belief of who God is and how He has revealed Himself. The Orthodox Church has steadily maintained that the Trinity is a big deal because all of our prayers are directed towards the Trinity. Trinitarian invocations are ever recurring in the Orthodox prayer life.

If there is ever to be healing and a restoration of the fallen to the Great Church of Christ (i.e. the Orthodox Church) then acceptance of the Trinity as a supreme article of a faith is a sine qua non. The fact that the Evangelicals are having problems with this indicates that any rapprochement is a long ways away.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Commemoration of St. Andrew the FIrst Called Apostle

In the [G]ospel according to St. John, Philip calls his friend Nathanael to "come and see" Jesus, but it is Jesus Himself who invites Andrew to "come and see" where He dwells and to spend the day with Him, together with another disciple of St. John the Baptist, who is probably the evangelist himself.

Come and see! This is the abiding invitation of the Church in her liturgical services. Come with faith and you will be numbered with those to whom "it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 13:11).

The feast of Saint Andrew, with the chanting of the first of the prefeast hymns of the Nativity, marks the beginning of this paschal journey in a special way.

When He who was proclaimed by the voice of John the Forerunner,
"The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,"
Came bringing life and salvation to all the earth
You, O Holy Andrew, were the first to follow Him.
You were offered as the first-fruits of the human race.
You proclaimed to Peter your brother,
"We have found the Messiah!"
Pray that He may enlighten and save our souls!--Vespers of the Feast of St. Andrew

--Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha pp.29, 30, 31.

Friday, November 25, 2011

. . . And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown

One of my all time favorite cartoons, A Charlie Brown Christmas, was given a new four year lease on ABC. Despite the 51 second scene of Linus reading from the Gospel according to St. Luke and the perceived "hostility" it brings to those who want an "all-inclusive" Christmas, the show has continually kept the public rushing to their TVs to watch it. But, like anything else which has a Christian message, the show almost never aired. You can read the history of it here.

Abbot Tryphon on fasting

From Abbot Tryphon's Morning Offering. Again, I invite anyone to point out any hint of legalism here. NOTE: Italics are mine.

The Nativity Fast is already in progress for those on the Gregorian (New) Calendar, and starts on Monday for those who follow the Julian (Church) Calendar. During this period of prescribed fasting we are to abstain from all meats, dairy, eggs, cheeses, and all animal products. The Church does allow for fish on the weekends during the Nativity Fast.

Fasting is so important for the Orthodox Christian that many of the Fathers tell us we can not consider ourselves to be Orthodox unless we keep the fasts. The spiritual discipline of keeping the fast is invaluable to the Christian life, for it helps make us lighter, and more open to spiritual growth. We enter fasting periods because we want to go deeper into our life in Christ, and gain strength in fighting the passions.

It is important to remember that fasting is not just about foods that we are to abstain from, but also about the quantity of food we eat. It is hardly a true fast if we eat the same amount of food that we would normally eat during a non-fast period. Furthermore, if we hunt for foods that are legally eaten, avoiding simple foods such as vegetables, breads and vegan soups, and eat rich foods that are just as satisfying as non-fasting foods, we miss the point of the fast. It is hardly fasting if we consume a great variety of food and in large amounts.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

It's got to be said

Taking a break from my normal posts, I'd just like to say three things:

1) Happy Thanksgiving. I hope everyone had a great one and that you had not only good company and good eats but also gave honor and thanks to God from Whom all blessings flow!

2) If you are one of those people who condemn the various businesses who have chosen to open on Thanksgiving day (whether all day or at 5:00 pm) because they are denying their employees time to spend with their families and yet, you still choose to go out shopping, you are doing nothing more than enabling those businesses. You can't have it both ways. That is called hypocrisy.

3) As we are now past Thanksgiving Day, it is now acceptable to put up your various obscene and tasteless Christmas decorations for all the neighborhood to see.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fr. George Papandeas has reposed

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Fr. George Papadeas. He was 93. You can read about him here.

I had never met the man myself and my only knowledge of him comes from his translation of the Greek (the Greek is on the left page; the English, the right) of the services for Holy Week which I possess and love breaking out for Holy Week. In many ways, Fr. George did much to help Greek Orthodoxy to be less concentrated on the Greek language and more focused on Orthodoxy. I think, without his translation which mainly benefited the young who did not learn the language of their expatriate parents, the Greek Orthodox church would be a mere cultural remnant in the United States than a vibrant church. Granted, much still has to be done, but I think Fr. George left a good blueprint for others to follow, God willing.

Memory eternal, Fr. George.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

New Orthodox Passage of the Day

Jesus Christ, the Son, Word and Image of God, is physically and spiritually formed in the body of Mary so that He might be formed in us as well (see Gal 4:19). This is the meaning of Christmas, which is the meaning of life itself: Christ in us and we in Christ, God with us and we with God.--Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha, p. 22

Patristic Quote of the Day

It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word and tat man, having transgressed, should not die; but it was equally monstrous that beings which had once shared the nature of the Word should perish and turn back once again into non-existence through corruption. I twas unworthy of the goodness of God that creatures made by Him should be brought to nothing through the deceit wrought upon man by the devil; and it was supremely unfitting that the work of God in mankind should disappear, either through their own negligence or through the deceit of evil spirits...It was impossible, therefore, that God should leave man to be carried off by corruption, because it would be unfitting and unworthy of Himself.--St. Athanasius the Great, On the Incarnation, 1.2.7

Refuting the Prosperity Gospel

Mega-church preachers like Joel Osteen and Rick Warren are flat-out wrong about most everything they proclaim from their pulpits. There, I said it. As much as I am proud and grateful to be born and live in America, I find their "civil religion" and "prosperity gospel" to be antithetical to the Christian life. Unfortunately, many millions of evangelical Christians in this country and out of it buy into this on a daily basis.

I've seen Joel Osteen's "church" on TV. It's an auditorium. It is no more a christian building than a city hall. Behind Joel Osteen is the world. I think that is quite significant because Joel Osteen's way is not centered on the way of the cross, but the way of the world. Osteen says, "If you have faith, not only in Jesus but also in the greatness of America, then the riches of this world can be yours." I think he has forgotten Christ's words when He said that "His Kingdom is not of this world."

A friend of mine posted this link on her page. It refutes the Prosperity of Gospel of Joel Osteen very very well, much better than I ever could. I encourage you to read it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pastristic Quote of the Day

We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for teh first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-name Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.--St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 1.1

New Orthodox Passage of the Day

The first step on the way of the Winter Pascha is the encounter with the man Jesus. We are invited with Philip and the disciples to "come and see." If we want to come and see, we will. Like the first disciples, we will see "greater things" than we ever expected...But first we must come. For if we do not come, we will never see.--Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha, p. 14

Monday, November 14, 2011

The beginning of the Nativity Fast

On November 15, the Holy Orthodox Churches on the Revised Julian (i.e. New) Calendar begin the Nativity Fast in preparation for the Incarnation of our Lord and God and Saviour. During this time, for those who have the strength, Orthodox Christians abstain not only from certain foods and other worldly pleasures, but also "add" to their diet increased prayer and giving to the poor.

For those who see fasting as some legalistic thing of the past whose only purpose is to "score points with God," I reprint the following from the website of the Self-Ruled Antiochian Church of North America. If you can find anything "legalistic" about what is here, please let me know, but I can't find it (and it's not because I'm biased towards this discipline).

The Purpose of Fasting

The purpose of fasting is to focus on the things that are above, the Kingdom of God. It is a means of putting on virtue in reality, here and now. Through it we are freed from dependence on worldly things. We fast faithfully and in secret, not judging others, and not holding ourselves up as an example.

Fasting in itself is not a means of pleasing God. Fasting is not a punishment for our sins. Nor is fasting a means of suffering and pain to be undertaken as some kind of atonement. Christ already redeemed us on His Cross. Salvation is a gift from God that is not bought by our hunger or thirst.
We fast to be delivered from carnal passions so that God’s gift of Salvation may bear fruit in us.
We fast and turn our eyes toward God in His Holy Church. Fasting and prayer go together.
Fasting is not irrelevant. Fasting is not obsolete, and it is not something for someone else. Fasting is from God, for us, right here and right now.
Most of all, we should not devour each other. We ask God to “set a watch and keep the door of our lips.”

Do Not Fast

between December 25 and January 5 (even on Wednesdays and Fridays);
if you are pregnant or nursing a newborn;
during serious illness;
without prayer;
without alms-giving;
according to your own will without guidance from your spiritual father.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Jesus' version of a lawyer joke

Today's Gospel reading was from that of St. Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the good Samaritan. Though I hear this parable every year at this time in church, I'm always happy to learn something new about it that I didn't know before. My priest, when he brought up this point, even admitted that he had never thought about this until he was reading it to the congregation.

The text says a lawyer wanted to test Jesus about how to inherit eternal life. Christ responds to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read?" Jesus asks him two questions, not one. The first question asks to state a fact, the second question then asks for interpretation. I never noticed this before, no matter how many times I've read it. Jesus doesn't ask the lawyer the same question twice. If He had, the second question would be "What does it say?" "How do you read?" implies that another lawyer could understand it very differently.

Maybe the lawyers in Jesus' day weren't so different from today's legal community. How many times do we hear of lawyers knowing what the law says and then argue that what it means is far different than what is in the text? Jesus probably also heard this from the lawyers in his own day. The law was clear on a certain point, but the Pharisees and scribes and other "learned" people would argue that the text meant exactly the opposite of what it said. What ensued was a legalism that reeked of self-righteousness and self-glorification. No wonder Jesus had to clarify his initial question! Maybe He thought one question wouldn't do? Who says our Lord doesn't have a sense of humor?

Commemoration of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople

I love it when the feasts of the great saints (not that there's anything wrong with all those other saints) occur on a Sunday. Old Testament lessons are prescribed, there is (usually) a dhoxastichon at BOTH Psalm 140 and the Aposticha, the saint's own dismissal hymn, the chanting of the Great Polyeleos (Psalms 134 and 135), a third poetic Kathisma (Sessional Hymn) and the dhoxastichon at the Ainoi is for this saint. It's regrettable too because most parish churches with the exception who take the saints for their parish protectors do not offer the services of these exemplary men and women who took up their own crosses for the sake of Christ when their commemoration falls on a weekday. These men and women are great examples of what it means to lead the Christ-like life. And St. John Chrysostom was one of the best.

It's easy to catalogue Chrysostom's contributions to the eastern churches. His Liturgy is used most every Sunday and feast day, his sermons, especially his Paschal Sermon, are staples of Church homiletics, his homilies on all the books of the New Testament are seminal reads and his relentless pursuit of "holiness" not only for himself but for his fellow Christians made him popular but also hated and envied. But even if we had no printed record of any of those things, even if his Liturgy were lost, he would still be a great saint and still considered one of the Great Hierarchs along with Sts. Basil and Gregory. Why? Because his life, more than his words, was a witness to God's dispensation to man in the person of Jesus Christ. And this can be seen by how he met his end on this earth.

Though he was not in the strictest sense a martyr, he was condemned to exile by the Empress Eudoxia who hated and envied John because he dared to oppose her self-aggrandizing schemes (like constructing a silver statue of herself in front of the Church of the Holy Wisdom)and hoarding great wealth to herself. St. John was popular with the people not only because of his great sermons, but because of his charity which built hospitals. Such reproaches from St. John, not only in private but also from the pulpit of the Church with the Empress in attendance, only stirred the wrath of Eudoxia. She ordered him deposed with the help of other church hierarchs also jealous of Chrysostom's gifts and popularity with the people. St. John was then ordered to the regions by the Black Sea where modern day Armenia is. Weak from the asceticism and self denial he subjected himself to all his life and unable to go one step further despite the soldiers' pressing him, he uttered his last breath and said "Glory to God for all things!" He died on September 14.

He could have cursed his enemies one last time, he could have made one more theological insight, he could have asked for food or water, but instead, despite the greatness of his suffering, he glorified God for everything. Chrysostom knew, like Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, that God's will, not his, be done.

Hieromartyr St. John Chrysostom, intercede with the Lord in our behalf!

With golden sayings and divinely spoken doctrines, thou hast adorned the Church of God and hast treasured up therein the spiritual riches of thy God-given oracles; wherefore, with songs she plaiteth a laurel of unwithering flowers, and offereth it on thy sacred memory, O divinely-wise John, wholly golden of soul and tongue; and since thou hast boldness, O righteous Father, intercede in behalf of our souls.--Dhoxastichon at the Ainoi of Orthros

Friday, November 11, 2011

Hip hoppin out of bed on Sundays to go to church? Fo shizzle

I've written several times about the modern worship wars many churches, particularly mainline Protestant but also Roman Catholics, find themselves in. I've also lamented that for the purpose of becoming "culturally relevant" and "pro-growth" many western confessions have abandoned the various western rites in favor of a new paradigm which is hip and fresh and designed to appeal to people's entertainment than the proper worship due to God. The continued insistence by many clergy and leaders of such churches that the only way to reach people is by embracing the pop culture of the world has done nothing to explain why a great many people, who may have been reared in the Christian faith, still prefer to stay home on Sunday.

Reading this article was really no surprise to me. It rehashes the tired old arguments that the church needs to "spice up" its message and make it "relevant" to young people. The article begins:

It's hard enough to get young people out of bed and into the pews on a Sunday morning, but two leading black seminaries think they have found a way to grab the next generation: hip-hop.

"If we're going to take young people seriously, we have no choice," said Alton B. Pollard III, dean of the Howard University School of Divinity.

"When we talk about what's happening in the lives of young people, that's a subterranean culture that some of us just don't know how to get with."

Fo shizzle.

"We have no choice?" Yes, you do. Saying you have no choice is to make yourselves comfortable with the choice you have already made. It's self-justification at its worst.

The article goes on with testimony about how young black people are so connected to hip hop and how traditional religion is so rigid. Hip hop, in its very essence, is not a rigid "art form" but has numerous expressions under its umbrella. Nonetheless, the woman who is quoted says that the hip hop angle is necessary because she doesn't worship the tradition.

And maybe that is part of the problem that those of us who are liturgical traditionalists fail to see in our own objections to those who wish for change. For those of us who want the traditional liturgy, it may come off that we are worshiping the tradition, worshiping the creature rather than the Creator.

I am not saying that one cannot have communion with God through hip hop as opposed to Byzantine chant. It may very well be possible, though I haven't, and will never, try it. But I would challenge anyone who knows the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great, the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, etc. where the Liturgy is not centered around the Theanthropos, the God-Man, Jesus Christ. But, for this one woman, is she not also guilty of worshiping the tradition which is, for her, hip hop?

The problem surrounding the worship wars is not so much about style as it is about direction. Do we worship so that the church becomes more like the earth or more like the heavens? The delegates St. Vladimir sent to Constantinople in the 11th century reported that the worship was such that they knew no longer whether they were in heaven or on earth. They had been translated, mystically, to the heights. But hip hop is of this earth. A church using that as its standard is more likely to separate itself from the heavens to become one with the earth.

Our Lord says that His Reign is not of this earth. Our worship towards Him should not be either. Throwing more of the earth into a church will not help to elevate one towards the heights but constantly keep faces downcast towards what is here. And that should be depressing.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rehabilitating Pelagius, Part 2

In the post below, I commented on the Atlanta Diocese of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church USA trying to restore Pelagius from a condemned heretic to perhaps a theologian of the church, if not an outright saint. I just learned that the resolution was defeated even in its amended form. I don't know how close the vote was, but you can see the amended form of the resolution and the fact that it was defeated here.

Frankly, I'm astonished. Considering that the Episcopal Church (ECUSA), both in local synods and as a national body, has done nearly everything else to subvert traditional Christianity in praxis (retaining an old western rite without good doctrine is not retaining praxis), doctrine and dogma, I would have expected this resolution to have carried the day overwhelmingly. I don't know if more conservative elements within Atlanta Synod-ECUSA supported this or most people frankly didn't care, but at least, in this one instance, the ECUSA actually did something right. Good for them.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Rehabilitating Pelagius

Apparently, the Episcopal (Anglican) Diocese of Atlanta wants to rehabilitate the standing of 5th century arch-heretic, Pelagius. Here's a synopsis of what the Diocesan Convention will be asked to do:

The Diocese of Atlanta has been asked to rehabilitate Pelagius.

Delegates to the diocesan convention will be asked to reverse the condemnation of the Council of Carthage upon Pelagius, and to explore whether the Fifth century heretic may inform the theology of the Episcopal Church.

Resolution R11-7 before the convention states in part:

"Whereas the historical record of Pelagius's contribution to our theological tradition is shrouded in the political ambition of his theological antagonists who sought to discredit what they felt was a threat to the empire, and their ecclesiastical dominance, and whereas an understanding of his life and writings might bring more to bear on his good standing in our tradition;"

"And whereas his restitution as a viable theological voice within our tradition might encourage a deeper understanding of sin, grace, free will, and the goodness of God's creation, and whereas in as much as the history of Pelagius represents to some the struggle for theological exploration that is our birthright as Anglicans, Be it resolved, that this 105th Annual Council of the Diocese of Atlanta appoint a committee of discernment overseen by our Bishop, to consider these matters as a means to honor the contributions of Pelagius and reclaim his voice in our tradition."

Now, the Episcopalians have had a great track record in recent years of abandoning basic church teaching and substituting it for what they want, yet still claiming it's all guided by the Holy Spirit. So this should come as no surprise. A couple of years ago, I saw a satirical add promoting the Episcopal Church which claims: "Don't believe in that crap (i.e. traditional Christianity)? Neither do we."

I read about this happening here and I decided to add my own two cents. Here is my reply:

There is a great tendency in modern theological circles to elevate the arch-heretics of the ancient church to the status of Fathers of the Church, though their views were repudiated by the Fathers of the Church. So, if the Episcopal Diocese of Atalanta has their way, not only Pelagius, but Origen, Severus of Antioch, Theodore of Mopsuetia, Arius, Apollinarius, Sabellius, etc. will now be added to the list of church fathers and maybe venerated as saints.

There is no doubt that many of these heretics were pious men. But before the church could effectively speak on the objective matters of the faith, they first had to turn to the subject matters of faith (e.g. grace vs. works, nature of the Godhead, how many natures Christ had) which required no wiggle room.

Dennis asks if God wants empty vessels returning to God? That’s not what Augustine had in mind. First of all, we must remember that Christ (from st. Paul’s letter to the Philippians) emptied himself of His divinity in his assumption of humanity. But in His humanity, Christ revealed His Divinity at various points in his ministry, notably Theophany and the Transfiguration. For the Christian, he must empty himself of the passions that Christ may live in him. Such cannot be attained rigid asceticism; it must be cooperative. Such synergy is what typifies the orthodox understanding of grace vs. free works. Pelagius said God’s grace was wholly unnecessary; Augustine took a 180 degree turn and insisted it was entirely grace (a thought he later clarified and retracted in this Retractations written at the end of his life in 430 A.D.). Both Pelagius and Augustine (at the time) were monoergistic. Neither system was synergistic. It is only in cooperation with God that we empty ourselves and thus become filled with the Spirit. It’s paradox, like many orthodox Christian teachings.

The Blessed Augustine erred in his insistence on grace and denying of free will. But that does not prove that Pelagius and his followers, like Julianus, were right. It is also important to note that though the eastern churches couldn’t figure out what the problem with Pelagius was, Pelagius and Julianus were still condemned by the Synod of Jerusalem in 416 (if memory serves). Pelagius was not a saint and should not be elevated to that rank nor should he be ranked as a church father. He was just as wrong (if not more so) than Augustine.

One more thing. Augustine should not condemned just because the radical reformers and Lutherans appealed to him alone as their church father, par excellence. Augustine would have been astonished to learn of what they took from his writings to be the basis for their teachings.

Now, I may be wrong with a few dates and spellings of a few names, but I'm pretty sure this is the Orthodox and orthodox view of Pelagius. Augustine, as many know, is a bogeyman for a lot of Orthodox Christians, especially those influenced by the late Fr. John Romanides and Rev. Dr. Michael Azkoul, both of whom were vehemently anti-Augustinian though, as I have said before, I don't think they ever have read Augustine. Augustine is particularly beloved of many Greek Old Calendarists.

I'm going to keep tabs on this story and see what the result is. Of course, no matter how it turns out, I sincerely doubt that any of the Orthodox churches, Oriental Orthodox churches or even the Roman Catholic Church will follow suit. The Episcopalians revel so much in making waves so let them.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Reformation Day 2011

On October 31, 1517 (old calendar) a young priest by the name of Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the cathedral door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg in the duchy of Saxony. All over the world, Lutheran churches are paying homage to their founder and many other reformed churches which owe their own existence to this act of defiance.

I was raised Lutheran and I admit that I was not spiritually happy in the Lutheran tradition or what has become Lutheran tradition. So I left and I have no regrets about doing so. The only thing that I do regret is that in my own zealousness and desire for self-justification and self-vindication I have been less than charitable many times towards continued adherents and even converts to the various reformed churches. This does not mean that I cannot engage in debates of substantive concern with regards to Christianity.

Reading some articles today about the Reformation and how churches are celebrating, I came upon an article by Paul McCain, who is a Lutheran pastor and has his own blog, Cyberbrethren. I will admit that I have had several confrontations with him and I will further admit that I do not much care for him personally. His destructive rants against anyone who has left the Lutheran church have damaged the reputations of many good people. I also have some qualms with him on academic integrity, but those are not the issues. On his blog, today, McCain writes what it means to be Lutheran. He writes, "To be Lutheran is to be a person who says, 'This [i.e. Lutheranism] is what God’s Word, the Bible, teaches. This and nothing else is true and correct.'"

His description highlights one of the main reasons why I left Lutheranism. As a Lutheran in catechism class I was taught the three solas: sola fide, sola gratia, sola scriptura. As I studied and read more I found that the last, sola scriptura, was not only historically untenable, it is theologically untenable. Sola Scriptura is also the wrong answer to the wrong question. Lutherans ask "what is the Word of God?" They should ask, instead, "Who is the Word of God?"

The Word of God is NOT the Scriptures. The Word of God is Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity who became man. The Scriptures, or Bible, if you prefer, are the witness to Christ. The Scriptures are an icon, an image, of God, but no one would say that they are God. Such a position would be rightly denounced as ridiculous. But the reformed tradition's insistence on sola scriptura replaces Christ as the head of the Church with a book. Catholics go in the other direction and replace Christ as head with their pope. The Lutherans, and other Protestants, did a 180 but are still in error.

This issue was not the driving force behind my leaving, but it is important. I wanted to engage in a practice that fed my soul. I read my histories carefully about the importance of asceticism, fasting, starving the passions, vigilant prayer, worshiping with the Liturgy and offices in the early church, all things which were considered unnecessary by my Lutheran teachers, even condemned because they were not "prescribed in the Bible." Sola Scriptura threw out such good practices and disciplines which I only found and have applied (though poorly) since I became Greek Orthodox. I think that if Lutherans would examine their own history, they would find that the practices I mentioned above were still retained by the Lutheran churches until Pietism in the eighteenth century reared its ugly head.

Luther made some very necessary demands on the church of the west at the time. They were largely ignored and schism ensued, but I think Luther would even have a hard time identifying the Lutheran Church of today (in its thousands of manifestations)as the heir to what he taught. But I know that I could only have become Orthodox if I was Lutheran first. For that, I am very thankful.

Quote of the day

There are only two kinds of men: the righteous who think they are sinners and the sinners who think they are righteous.--Blaise Pascal, French mathematician and Catholic philosopher

I think this adequately sums up Christ's parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What does it mean to be religious?

I've never cared for the word "religious." Frankly, I think that as the term is applied specifically to Christians, it really does a disservice. The root of the word religion, lig comes from the Latin ligare which means to bind or fasten to a set of rules or conditions. (As a side note some etymologists have suggested that the root word lig is a corruption of the Latin word lex, legis which means the law). Whatever its proper derivation, the term means almost nothing today. The term is applied to the person who attends services and prays unceasingly and tries to live a holy life as well as to the boastful sinner who still goes to church on occasion, does charitable works, but does almost nothing to live a Christlike life.

Take, for example, Ms. Sara Leal. For whatever reason, Ms. Leal felt it necessary to give a very explicit narrative to the New York Post regarding her night of passion with not-yet-divorced actor Ashton Kutcher (i.e. Kelso from "That 70s Show"). If you do link to the article, you've been warned! In between sex sessions, the conversation with Kelso, I mean, Kutcher, the subject turned to politics and religion. According to Leal, she told Kelso that she was a religious Lutheran from Texas. Following that, they returned to their entertainment. So, to Leal, what does religious mean?

We are all sinners in this fallen world and have fallen waaaaaaaaaay short of the glory and mercy of our Lord, but should any of us be trumpeting ourselves as religious especially in the midst of any kind of debauchery? I'm in the middle of reading Uncle Tom's Cabin and I see the same type of characters who view themselves as good religious men while at the same time perpetuating the cruel and demeaning institution of slavery. For those of you who have seen the Godfather, you remember the scene that as Michael Corleone is sponsoring his nephew's baptism and renouncing the ways of Satan, his men are carrying out his orders to murder his competition. It's hypocrisy at its finest.

Only God can judge but we should still know what sin is when it's readily visible before our very eyes. And yet, despite that, even when we are in the midst of our own sin, we take comfort that we are still "religious." Perhaps the late Fr. Romanides was right when he once remarked that religion is a neurological disease. Religion seems to be the expression of our cognitive dissonance from what we know is right and God-pleasing to our actions otherwise.

Maybe we should just jettison the term "religious" for something else. Or, better yet, we should reclaim it and make sure it has one certain definition: Living as Christ would want us to, getting up once we have fallen, repenting and hating our sins rather than indulging in them. Easier said than done? Of course, but that's why there is always the grace of God.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mitt Romney's Christianity

Courtesy of a friend of mine. Thanks, Bill.

Concerning the issue of Mitt Romney's Christianity: there was a time in my life, when I followed Christ in an unorthodox manner, that I would have quickly explained how he couldn't possibly be "a Christian". However, since I have been following Christ in an orthodox fashion, I have had to realize that every moment I spend considering someone else's "Christianity" is a moment I should have spent attending to my own faults!

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner......

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Patristic Quote of the Day

We can know what God is not, but we cannot know what God is.--St. Augustine

I challenge any Orthodox person, lay or clergy, to substantiate that Augustine is not an ardent defender of the apophatic theology of the Eastern Churches. Granted, one quote is not enough to prove anything, but I believe that those among the Orthodox who have labeled him as an extreme Western cataphatic theologian (like Fr. Romanides) have never really read Augustine.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Stop passing the offering plate

Another blog I frquently read has a tongue-in-cheek diatribe about maybe getting rid of the time honored practice of passing the collection plate during church services. The blogger remarked that doing this every Sunday robs it of how offering our own gifts, meager as they are, like the woman who offered only two mites compared to the lofty sums of gold paid by the wealthy, is a reflection of our love for God. Now, he went on further to say that other "every Sunday" acts like the recitation of the Lord's prayer, a sermon, reading the Scriptures, etc. should also go because if those acts are present every Sunday, they will become "less special." Needless to say, the person who wrote this is NOT an Orthodox.

But, why not stop the practice of passing around the plate? In my parish, only on Sunday Divine Liturgies are the collection plates passed. This is never done at Vespers or on weekday Liturgies or services. And that may be due to the fact that there are few people there in the first place. Still, why not stop this entirely? The collection plate is always passed at my church during the singing of "Axion os estin" (It is truly right). Granted that this hymn is well known and is sung at more than the Divine Liturgy, but how many people are distracted by opening their wallets or purses to find some money to put in there? And how many more people are distracted by wondering when the plate will get to their location? They are not focusing on the words of the hymn, which invariably sums up our Incarnational Theology that God is With Us, but focusing on the money we give to the church.

My question: If this practice were to stop altogether, would people then forget to contribute their pledges and tithes? If it wouldn't, then why continue with it? It's a needless distraction.

I'm probably going to be in the minority on this one and I'm not trying to disparage giving back to our Lord, but why must it be done in a way which not only takes away our attention from the Divine Liturgy, but also could encourage people to judge others (look at that person; he didn't put money in the tray. Sinner!). I'm going to bring this up at the next voters meeting and see how much traction this will gain. I'm sure it will be laughed at or just dismissed, but I've always believed in lost causes!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Just Divorced

Sorry for the confusing title, but I am not just divorced; it has more to do with the picture I posted which a friend of mine took. Heck, I am still in that zone of "just married."

It is still one of those "traditional" things that married couples, having immediately taken their nuptial vows, immediately speed away in a car with the motto "Just married." People are supposed to see that and honk with approval or give the newly weds a thumbs up or something. I'm grateful that my wife and I decided not to go for that tradition. However, the people who opt to do such a thing probably only do so because they are happy and want everyone to share in their happiness. There is nothing wrong with that but that wasn't for me.

The picture, which a friend of mine posted on her facebook page, shows a car with a "just divorced" slogan painted with various decorations. Now, I do not know the person who put this up on the car (it may well not have been one of the divorcees, but maybe a friend who thought it funny), but why would one exult in something which is not a good thing? Divorce may be necessary, but necessary does not always equal good. I'm thankful the Orthodox Church has not gone the way of the legalistic Roman Catholic Church and prohibited divorce for any reason. But, even in the Orthodox Church, a divorced man or woman is excommunicated for a brief time and repents because even if one party was not really "at fault" for what happened, marriage is a two way street and, hence, both are responsible.

This form of exultation in divorce may be novel but the fact is many celebrate divorce with "divorce showers" and parties. Many consider it to be the "best thing that ever happened to them." I remember when I was a pawn broker for a brief time. If a woman or a man wanted to sell engagement rings and/or wedding bands, I would always ask why. The point of the question wasn't to be nosy or get into their personal business, but if I was taking stolen merchandise, both the store and I could be in big trouble. My probing questions would almost always ascertain the reason for selling was due to divorce and they didn't need the rings anymore. As a form of habit, I would always say "I'm sorry." And they would almost always reply the same way that it was "the best thing that happened to them." After hearing that so many times, I asked myself if they also thought of their marriages as "the best thing that ever happened to them."

We live in a society that is increasingly celebrating bad things. We have contests to see who can eat the much and reward them. We have records for how long your fingernails are. This is not news, but promoting and celebrating divorce in the same way we promote marriage is a far cry from celebrating who can eat the most pies in 10 minutes! Everyone has their own scheme for hitting the snooze button on their 15 minutes of fame.

I have no brilliant insights as to how to curb these trends. And I don't think that if other confessions of Christianity start to regard and treat marriage as a a sacrament will the epidemic of divorce cease. I don't know the statistics but I don't believe that the rate of divorce among Orthodox Christians is any higher or lower than that of Evangelicals, mainline Protestants or Roman Catholics or even among Americans as a whole, regardless of religious conviction or confession.

I do know this though. Marriage is sacrifice of a spouse to the other for the sake of Christ. It is a martyrdom of sorts, which is why the Orthodox sing hymns of the martyrs and why St. Stephen the Protomartyr is invoked at the dismissal. Though divorce may be necessary for abuse, infidelity, and other breaches of trust, divorce is turning inward towards oneself. I-thou is replaced with I, me, mine (apologies to George Harrison). Love is replaced with indifference. But, of course, there is remedy for such inward turning--repentance through Christ our Lord.

Let us rejoice in only what is good. Marriage is right and honorable and blessed and good. Christ Himself was a celebrant of marriage during his earthly travails. It was at the Marriage of Simon the Zealot at Cana where Christ performed His first sign or miracle, the changing of the water into wine. Divorce may be necessary, but never good and never worthy to be praised as such.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Cross above all shows God's love for His creation

Today, September 14 (Revised Julian), the Holy Orthodox Church celebrates the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross. We began to celebrate this feast starting this past Sunday with the very familiar Gospel reading of John 3:16 and continues for the next week. In all the hymns sung at the Vesperal Liturgy last night (which I grant I am not a fan of), one theme permeated everything: God's Love for His Creation. Yes, there are other themes there such as the Cross being the weapon which deceived the great deceiver, i.e. Satan and how that Cross trampled down death and how it lifts us from the curse and the wages of our sins. But those lessons are only given weight from the foundation of God's love.

When Orthodox Christians make the sign of the Cross is not the same as why Orthodox Christians make the sign of the Cross? Yes, we do it when the Holy Trinity is invoked but it also confesses St. Cyril's very famous Theopaschite formula, that "God died on the Cross." The actions on the cross were not just completed by Christ but was an act of love within the Trinity and given to the cosmos, the Trinity's creation. The Trinity is unified as an act of love and actions that spring from the Trinity are realities of that love which binds. We make the sign of the cross because we know and confess that God loves us. We also wear crosses around our necks to proclaim that very same message.

Also, look at the iconography of the crucifixion. Notice how Christ is not hanging as if he lacks the strength as is common in Roman Catholic and Protestant art. In Eastern iconography, it appears that Christ is holding up the Cross, that it can only stand because he allows it to stand. Also notice how Christ's arms are stretched across the beam as if he is trying to embrace us or that He loves us this much.

But when the cross is reduced to a mere weapon of torture or the cross is only examined through the lens of penal satisfaction and atonement, then the focus ceases to be on God's love for man, but on man's guilt over his own sins. Yes, each man needs to be repentant of his own sins but not to the point where man fails to see any worth in himself. God certainly found worth in us or else he would not have saved us through Crucifixion and death, let alone even created us! I wonder sometimes that those who are in the various Western traditions only wear the cross around their neck for the same reason the mariner from Coleridge's poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" wore the dead albatross around his neck: to remind them of their crimes and guilt? Such an anthropocentric mindset has no room for the compassion and mercy of God.

There are those who say, mainly Lutherans, that the Orthodox do not follow the Way of the Cross. I'm not going to get into how utterly nonsensical that charge is, but if the Way of the Cross or the Theology of the Cross is to be forever focused on ourselves, our shortcomings, our guilt and not as what God has done for us, then that's the Way of Man.

So, let us cast off our despondency and rejoice in the Cross and rejoice in our God's mercy and compassion for His Creation. For He did not will that His Creation should perish and is not pleased in the perdition of men but that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth. Will all be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth? Sadly, no, but our Lord still desires it and did so with the very sacrifice of Himself on that hill in Jerusalem in 33 A.D.

O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance, granting to Thy rulers (people) victory against the barbarians (enemies) and by the power of Thy Cross, preserving Thine estate.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Never forget

May their memories be eternal! May their souls dwell with the righteous in a place of refreshment where there is no longer any sorrow, evil or pain.

Worship of God is not just with your mind.

Worship requires your very whole self. Read further here from Abbot Tryphon.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Interfaith Worship on the Rise since 9/11

Ever since 9/11, whose tenth anniversary is coming up in but a few short days, the number and frequency of interfaith worship has increased significantly. You can read the article from ENI here. What I express here is only my personal opinion and may be construed as most uncharitable. My apologies if you feel this way.

Let me start with a supposition: Interfaith worship can be dangerous. First, let me be very clear about what I mean by interfaith. I am not talking about Chrisians of one confession praying with another (though I will admit and expound upon, at a later time, that such is fraught with a number of traps) but I am talking about christians praying with Buddhists or Moslems with Hindus or animists with Shintos, etc. Now, whatever Shintos, Buddhists, Moslems, Hindus, Jews, Taoists, animists, etc. pray and with whom is their own business and I'm more than content to let them do as they please. But for christians, especially Orthodox Christians, to pray with members of other religious faiths is dangerous.

The reason not so much is because these different religions have a different theism but also their anthropology is significantly different as well. For instance, orthodox christianity (notice, small-o orthodoxy here) contends that man is in a corrupt state because of sin whose humanity can only be realized, recovered and saved through faith in the person and salvaic actions of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Triune God (now there are some variations on a theme with that and differences of emphasis within Christianity as a whole). But, contrast this with various other religious beliefs which do not even have a name or concept for sin but also no mediator between God and man and man is left to his own devices and morality to achieve its "salvation" however that is defined. Where and what is the common ground? How can there be interfaith worship of God when both the starting line and finishing line are not the same. They may converge at one point or some points along the way, but that convergence is infrequent and often inconsequential and all religions do not converge at the same point. Several may, but not all.

Interfaith services seek to impose the idea that all religions are the same, just different expressions. Now, again, whatever faith works for another person is fine by me but I know the truth as it has been revealed. What these services promote is the idea of union. Now how can anyone be against union? Isn't that a good thing? Yes, when union or unity occurs on all levels. Unity cannot be accomplished on a surface agreement of a few tenets. Many confuse unity with toleration; they are not one and the same.

But, isn't tolerance a good thing? Of course it is, but why should the avenue for tolerance of others' religions and religious beliefs be only done in the context of an interfaith worship service? There are plenty of other ways of encouraging interfaith dialogue and understanding and tolerance without having to incorporate worship into it.

For an Orthodox Christian, reading the canons about interfaith prayer and worship indicate a very clear answer. Both are forbidden. For example, you may read If any clergymen, or laymen, enter a synagogue of Jews, or of heretics, to pray, let him be both deposed and excommunicated (Canon LXV of the Holy Apostles) or One must not join in prayer with heretics or schismatics (Canon XXXIII of Laodicia). But those canons are not legal sanctions but are principles. They SHOULD NOT be used as an excuse to justify an isolationism or hatred of those who are not Orthodox Christians nor should they be used as a metaphorical 2x4 against anyone who may participate in an interfaith service. The Church is catholic (notice, small "c" catholic), that is, it is meant for everyone, though everyone may not want or desire to be joined to it. There is no black and white answer to this issue, but we should be very cautious, especially in this ecumenical age of ours which holds that every belief and idea is of equal value, not one superior to another, to believe that interfaith services are not potentially harmful.

Prayer is worship and it is communion with God. Christ Himself prayed much during His earthly sojourn. Prayer is an act of love which binds the lover and beloved. Such is why the Trinity is described as a communion of love between its three hypostases or persons. Prayer seeks not only to unite us with the divine but seeks to unite the community. An Orthodox Christian praying the same prayer as a Hindu or Jew or Moslem or Buddhist or Taoist or whomever elevates that heterodox prayer. Though we should be tolerant and forgiving, we should not be engaged in actions which elevate heterodoxy or heresy to the same level as orthodoxy (again, small "o" orthodoxy).

As a corollary, a person of another Christian confession, asked me for some Orthodox prayers he could use in his personal prayer life. I asked him if he wished to become Orthodox. He said no but he just liked to incorporate other confessions' prayers into his own life. I asked him what confession he professed and he said that he was Baptist. Why would you want to pray as an Orthodox if you don't want to be Orthodox, I asked. He had no answer. This is the pitfall. Whatever confession works for you, then you should worship God or Allah or whomever with all your might and your body and your soul. But if you seek to combine prayers, rituals, traditions, dogmas of different confessions, then you are nothing but hopelessly adrift upon a sea of endless theological (and anthropological) possibilities with no anchor or sight of land. This is the danger. The Orthodox Church is a praying church. The prayers which have been handed down from the Scriptures, the Liturgies,the offices, the writings of the Fathers are without measure of theological depth and profound truths. Why do those prayers require supplementation from the Buddhist or the Jew?

Orthodox Christians should err on the side of caution and not be active participants in these interfaith services. We should not pray with them, but absolutely and constantly pray for them.