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.