Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Evangelical Guidebook for Witnessing (i.e. converting) Orthodox Christians

One of the most unfair accusations Orthodox Christians face on the various internet discussion boards is that we are engaged in "sheep-stealing."  In other words, our purpose on being on the internet is to lure people away from the church they were raised in or to which they converted later in life to embrace Holy Orthodoxy.  LCMS blogger, Pr. McCain, frequently accuses the Orthodox of this.  I will certainly grant that there are some who do engage in this, but it is hardly a one way street.  LCMS Lutherans do it to, not only to ELCA Lutherans, but also to Roman Catholics, Baptists and, you guessed it, Orthodox.  (Don't try to deny it; again, it's not everyone, but it does happen).  Evangelical Christians even engage in this and there is a manual which specifically is designed for Evangelicals to convert Orthodox. This guide is many things--funny, ludicrous, misinformed, vague, etc.  

Guidelines for Witnessing to Your Orthodox Friends
1. Remember that salvation does not depend on works or on your association with a church. It depends on a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. This relationship comes through faith (see Eph. 2:8-9).
2. Pray and trust the Holy Spirit to reach the hearts and minds of those who are lost with the gospel message.
3. Share your testimony. Many Orthodox have never experienced a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Your testimony of what Jesus has accomplished in your life could have a great impact on them. Keep your testimony short. Avoid using terms that are unfamiliar to Orthodox, such as: "walked the aisle," "got saved," and "born again."
4. Explain that you are certain of your salvation because of God's grace. Make sure that you communicate that your assurance is derived from God's grace and not from good works or your ability to remain faithful (see 1 John 5:13).
5. Give them a copy of the New Testament. Lead them to texts that explain salvation.
6. Avoid issues that are not central to salvation.
7. Keep the gospel presentation Christ-centered.
Of these, my favorite is number three which says that many Orthodox have never had a personal relationship with Jesus.  That may be true, but the author here mistakes "personal" for "individual" or "individualistic."  Evangelicals do not seek a personal relationship with Christ, but an individual one rooted in their own ideas, visions, hopes, dreams, conclusions, etc.

Every Orthodox who receives the mysteries is engaged in a personal relationship with our Lord and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Christ Himself comes mystically to us in the Eucharist, in Penance, in Baptism, in Chrismation, in Marriage, in Ordination, in Holy Orders.  Those mysteries give us direct, unfettered contact with Christ to fulfill the prayer in the Garden of Gethsamane before His Willing Crucifixion and Death, namely, that they be One in Us.  Through those mysteries and through Christ's incarnation in the flesh, Christ can be in communion with us on a personal level, not some transcendent abstraction rooted in ideas.  Orthodox theology is rooted in the person, man and the God-man (Θεαντυθροπος) Jesus Christ.  Communion, the joining of the two, creature and created, centered in Christ--nothing is more personal than that.

The author here then obviously confuses the personal with evangelical.  Considering that Evangelicals have no or have very little of  a sacramental heritage, I can see why there may be confusion.  Evangelicalism is fragmented and splintered into any number of sub denominations which are all founded based on someone's individual interpretation of Holy Tradition and Scripture, which flies in the face of 2000 years of unbroken Christian belief as represented by the Holy Orthodox Church.

What is more is that the individualism aspect of Evangelicalism is rooted largely in American civil religion. They use their Christianity to promote truth, justice and the American way. I remember a story a Greek friend once told me about a few American Evangelical teens who came to his home in Salonica, wanting to preach the Gospel.  He stopped them from their rehearsed script and asked them why they had come to Greece a country where  95% of its population is baptized Greek Orthodox Christian (whether they're practicing or not is a debate for another time, but the point is Greece is not like Iran).  They stopped, not knowing how to respond, but eventually, after several minutes of pushing, it finally came out--the problem with the Greek Orthodox is not that they're Greek Orthodox but they're not American.  The teens were using their Evangelicalism as the door to introduce Americanism to the Greeks so that they become like us.  Don't get me wrong--I love being an American, but other places in the world simply are not America and that's fine.

To my Evangelical friends, don't proselytize.  There's no need for it and will probably only end up causing major friction with people you hold to be friends and family. The same goes for Orthodox, especially zealous converts.  It is fine to debate the finer points of Christian doctrine, but when it is done in an interventionist style, then there are only going to be problems.

As far as the other six points go, I think I will refute those in the future.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Commemoration of St. Peter and St. Paul, the Foremost of the Apostles

Οἱ τῶν Ἀποστόλων πρωτόθρονοι, καὶ τῆς Οἰκουμένης διδάσκαλοι, τῷ Δεσπότῃ τῶν ὅλων πρεσβεύσατε, εἰρήνην τῇ οἰκουμένῃ δωρήσασθαι, καὶ ταῖς ψυχαῖς ἡμῶν τὸ μέγα ἔλεος.

O foremost of the Apostles and teachers of the world, intercede unto the Master of all that peace be granted to the world and the Great Mercy to our souls.--Apolytikion of the Feast, Tone 4

Have a blessed feast, at least those of you on the New Calendar.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A political post: Obamacare, the Silver Linings

Yes, I'm disappointed.  But, as there is no point in whining and complaining about this decision or getting into debates with Facebook friends or unknown persons on other online fora (as wrong as they are), I'm going to focus on what good things can be garnered from it.  Here they are in no particular order.

1)  The Commerce Clause does have limitations.  Even though Roberts conceded that the mandate can still be  mandated by Congress' taxing power (yes, I know that it was never defended as a tax and yes, this screams of judicial activism since the court invented a way for it to be implemented rather than rely on how the law was written), Roberts concurred with the dissenters that the commerce clause cannot be used as the justification for any government intrusion into the private sector.  Of course, all this does is give Congress the hint that if they do want to regulate anything, just make it a tax instead.  But considering that taxes now, especially in this state of the economy, are a non-starter, I don't think I will see Congress in the future mandating a broccoli tax on people who don't purchase and eat broccoli.

2)  The base is energized.  Republicans were always lukewarm on Romney.  Now, they're all in behind him.  Forget the divisive Republican primary--it's history.  Romney has promised repeal.  Every single Congressional and Senate candidate who wants to save his job come November had better come out in favor of repeal or at least consider it.  People do not like this bill.  Most people couldn't care less if the mandate is enforced via the commerce clause or the taxation authority of Congress. They don't want to purchase something they may not need.

3)  There is a revival of interest in the Constitution and what it actually says.  Can anyone remember the last time the Constitution was talked about by non politicians and non constitutional lawyers at any time prior to an election?  I can't.  Who has ever recalled the commerce clause or the general welfare clause or the elasticity clause being talked about at dinner conversations or by people sharing a beer at a baseball game?  Obamacare has been an impetus for learning about what it is in the Constitution.  Granted, many people are being duped by liberals who actually think the Constitution only means what it says in certain parts when it agrees with their utopian vision, but at least that's a base to work from. 

4)  Roberts is not quite the boogeyman in all of this.  It's easy (and fun) to hate Roberts for his role in all of this, but consider these:  First, he essentially told the Republicans what to run on and gave them a winning issue.  He said that it isn't for the court to decide what's good policy and what's not.  We've made our decision. Grow a pair and get out to repeal it yourselves instead of trusting us with that job.  Poll after poll reveals that Obamacare is unpopular and that 2/3 want it repealed in full or in part.

Secondly, Roberts did trumpet originalism.  Though his ruling seems to be a far cry from originalism, notice how he dresses down Ginsburg who is one of those justices who feels the Constitution means only what she wants it to mean at any given time.  In this case (footnote 4), Roberts is addressing Ginsburg's ridiculous contention that regulation pertains to activity and inactivity.  Here's more:

JUSTICE GINSBURG suggests that “at the time the Constitution was framed, to ‘regulate’ meant, among other things, to require action.” But to reach this conclusion, the case cited by JUSTICE GINSBURG relied on a dictionary in which “[t]o order; to command” was the fifth-alternative definition of “to direct,” which was itself the second-alternative definition of “to regulate.” It is unlikely that the Framers had such an obscure meaning in mind when they used the word “regulate.”  Far more commonly, “[t]o regulate” meant “[t]o adjust by rule or method,” which presupposes something to adjust. [Citations omitted.]
I think that's a triumph (a small one, granted) for originalism.

5)  Though not explicitly stated, the 10th amendment was upheld.  States cannot be forced, i.e. blackmailed or extorted, into expanding Medicaid at the risk of the funding that currently exists.  It was interesting to hear Sen. Ben Nelson claim credit for that (remember the famous Cornhusker kickback?) although his kickback was not in the final bill.  Nelson must think that SCOTUS was looking to him and his opposition as the source for their ruling.  What a tool!

6)  Obamacare is an economic disaster.  The math speaks for itself.  Once it goes into full effect, we will see the results immediately.  We are currently in the throes of the spending debate in Washington.  The American people do not want more spending, especially since there is no supply to fund it.  Even on its most generous scoring, the CBO says that Obamacare will add billions, if not trillions to the already out of control debt.

On the private side of things, medical device companies are going to be hard hit with new taxes.  Guess who ultimately pays that price? The people who purchase them.  Whenever  the government increases the cost of doing business, the business has to recoup the costs from somewhere.  And when those businesses can't, they go out of business.  Fewer businesses, fewer jobs, less of a tax base.  Of course, liberals can't see that in their warped view.

There you go:  My six silver linings.  Let Obamacare go into effect.  Maybe, just maybe, it will serve as the impetus to return us to some sense of fiscal sanity.

A vindication for Calvinism?

I'm going to make a departure and do something I don't really want to do, at least not for this blog.  I'm going to write something that has to do with...wait for it...politics!  I hate politics; it's a waste of energy and is an exercise in compromising integrity for popularity.  But, my plan is (we'll see how successful I am) to tie it in some way back to Christianity in general and Orthodoxy in particular.

Let me start out with my thesis:  Today's Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of Obamacare is a vindication for Calvinist thought which is the center of modern liberal (i.e. progressive) political thought.  Let me also state very plainly that I was in no way happy with the decision this morning.  As much as this idea makes me want to throw up and to disfigure my face while saying "unclean, unclean", I am seriously going to throw all my support, whether financial (very little to give), my pen (by which I mean my keyboard) and everything else I can to support Mr.  Romney for President as well as any Congressional and Senatorial candidate who will insist on Obamacare's repeal.  Again, it sickens me. (Full disclosure:  I once was registered as a Republican but after finding out that they are nothing more than Democrat-lite, I found my home as a neo-anarchist monarchist libertarian).  Let's now get to my thesis.

Calvinism is alive and well.  Its basic doctrine can be summed up in its five points.  They are:
1)  Total depravity
2)  Unconditioned election
3)  Perseverance of the saints (once saved always saved)
4)  Limited atonement (Christ died for one person but not for another)
5)  Irresistible grace

All of these will be addressed in some way (except for perseverance) in this essay.  The concept of total depravity says that nothing about man is good.  Because of the original sin of Adam and Eve, everything about man is now crooked (the literal meaning of depravity) and twisted from its original beauty. As such, man has nothing left in him to desire God.  God must do all the action; man is passive.  Since man cannot choose the good, it must be chosen for him.

I find it ironic that a system that is so dependent upon someone else to do right for him could have built the bedrock of this nation.  Hard work and initiative and personal responsibility were cornerstones of how the Puritans and Pilgrims (though separated from the English Church, they did so under the influence of Calvinism which gained a strong foothold in Scotland) were able to transform their colonies into blossoming metropolises with commerce that became wealthy.  But in Calvinist theology, those things would be suspect if not outright condemned. 

Calvinism pictures God the same way as Jonathan Edwards does in his famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."  For Calvinists, God is vindictive, angry, arbitrary.  Nowhere in that sermon is any hint, any trace of the compassions or mercy of God.  Why should there be?  God's own sense of justice precludes any forgiveness or mercy, hence why Jesus only died for person A and not for person B.  You cannot do anything to cooperate with God's grace, let alone do it yourself.  God must do everything for you, whether that is to save you or condemn you.

So, what does this have to do with the ruling?  As much as progressives (I really hate the term liberal because I'm more of a liberal than they are) hate Christianity and Calvinism in particular, they are operating from the same mindset.  Progressives may not like or believe or worship God, but they certainly like to play the angry, vengeful God.  Since man is shackled by his depravity, not to sin (progressives don't believe in that), but to freedom, that freedom must be curtailed to the point of not having any (I grant that I am assuming that Obamacare is, by its nature, tyrannical).  God, or in the case of progressives, the state, must then dictate who is saved and who is condemned in a limited way.

This limited atonement has already played out by waivers being granted to companies with large unions while other companies were denied.  The irrestible grace is being doled out by eventually forcing employers to drop coverage from their benefits so that people will then be forced into a government-run health plan.  Unconditioned election will be handled by the IBAP, the board of 15 unelected governors who will decide who gets treatment and who doesn't. 

For Calvinist progressives, the only thing that has changed is God. It is no longer the Triune God, it is now the state.  And man needs the state to dictate to him since he can do nothing on his own or at least do nothing right and good.

I may not have well proved my thesis. I would think, at the very least, that I demonstrated some of the similarities behind the progressive mindset and the Calvinist one.  I believe that they are one in the same save for who God is.

As Nixon once declared, "We are Keynesians now."   When it comes to politics, maybe we are all Calvinists now.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Reading does not equal expert...especially in the spiritual life

In our democratic society, everyone can claim to be an expert simply because they read something once on the subject.  I have no objection people to reading and becoming informed but to claim expert status in debate because of something they once read is laughable.  A humorous instance of this same phenomenon occurred fairly recently when Barack Obama said he knew more about Judaism than any other President because he has read about it.  If you  missed this story, you can read about it here.

Now, I'm a fairly well read person.  What am I an expert on?  Well, I teach Greek and Latin so I can say those areas with confidence.  I'm also an expert in Late Antiquity as that was the area of my post-graduate work, concentrating on the Latin West, though recently my emphases have shifted to the Greek East and the Eastern Roman Empire up to its fall.  But, I am no expert on the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire.  I wouldn't claim to be.  I can hold a rational discussion on the subject.  I have also read a lot about economics, even took a few classes in my college years and I probably know more about it than most journalists who write about the "debt crisis" in Europe and here, but I will not claim expert status.

Where am I going with this?  When I was received and chrismated into the Orthodox Church, I went through the catechism classes with my priest.  During that time I read a lot.  I'm a natural reader anyway so it wasn't a big deal.  I'm pretty sure that I also read more than most other catechumens do, but that's just the kind of person I am.  My priest was always recommending books to the people in the class.  Even when I attended a few of the catechism classes years later just to get a "refresher" my priest was still always recommending books to read and directing me, as bookstore manager, to make sure that we had these books available for purchase.  Rarely, if ever, did I ever hear my priest encourage catechumens to come and pray at Vespers or Orthros.  They came for Liturgy, which is important, but as my priest has told me in private conversation, people would know their faith so much better and practice it so much better if they would also come to Vespers and Orthros. Why he rarely brought this up I do not know.  Maybe he was afraid that it would appear as if he was "forcing them to go."  Again, I don't know.

When I'm invited to gatherings of parishioners, most of whom are about my age and are converts, we inevitably talk about the Orthodox Faith.  I suppose that's the zealousness which still lurks in us when we were catechumens and remains even after we were chrismated. That discussion usually centers around what books have been recently read or what podcasts have been listened to.  My thoughts are, "OK, you have this knowledge. Now what are you going to do with it?"  I can only imagine what would be the response if I actually posed that question?  "What are you going to do with this knowledge that you have acquired from this book?"

Such a question leads me back to something I have asked before on this blog: Is it more important to understand the Liturgy or to live the Liturgy?  I think most people would agree with me that it is the latter--to live the liturgy.  But, of course, detractors would say "How can you live the liturgy when you understand" which is new rendition of the old medieval contention:  Do I believe to understand (credo ut intellegam) which represents the Augustinian view or do I understand to believe (intellego ut creadam) which represents the Abelard view? 

I know people who can dissect the entire Liturgy and get into the Scriptural basis for each of the prayers or the historicity of them, but then they confess that they can never truly pray or they have difficulty doing so.  Many of these same people have been coming to Liturgy for a great while and still need the pew books to help them through the sequence.  They've got the Liturgy in their head, but it seems to be making a slow journey to the heart.

Don't get me wrong: I have no objections to people reading about the Orthodox faith.  But you can only truly know the Orthodox faith by experiencing it and living it and that starts by praying it.  I think we do a great disservice, especially for our catechumens, by systematizing the theology of the Orthodox church into book form and hoping that the prayer aspect will naturally take care of itself.  They may be great readers of Orthodoxy, but you hardly see them at Liturgy let alone the offices of Vespers or Orthros. I honestly have no idea how other priests do catechesis so my observations may be an anomaly.  What is the goal of catechesis then?  Is it to produce Orthodox experts or Orthodox faithful?  Should we know the whys and whens of the pronouncement, "Let us commend ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God" or should we actually do that?  I know that Orthodoxy is supposed to be a both/and phenomenon, but I think in this case an either/or approach may be better.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ordinary time resumes

For the first time since late January, the church hours, particularly Orthros and Vespers have returned to exclusive use of Octoechos, the book of 8 tones.  No longer do priests, chanters and the congregations derive part or all of their hymnography from the Triodion or the Pentecostarion.  For 5 months, the church has been thoroughly invested in Lent, the Passion, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Ascension of our Lord, Jesus Christ and the sending of the Paraclete and the commemoration of all saints.  Now, we go back to the humdrum of "ordinary time."

I have said before that there is nothing ordinary about ordinary time.  This is a great time to develop our relationships with Christ but also His saints as God is glorified in them.  The services are, in general, shorter.  For instance, this morning was a 4th class feast on a Sunday which means there was no special hymns save for the Apolytikion of the Martyrs.   Not only were my fellow chanter and I able to chant the entire service without skipping anything, but we were allowed to chant each of the Kathismata hymns according to the melody Τον Ταφον, Σωτηρ, read the Kontakion and Oikos of the Resurrection and the Synaxarion of the saints of the day, but chant the entirety of the αινοι (Praises) which includes all of Psalms 148, 149 and 150.  I can't remember the last time we were able to do it.  In short, it was glorious.

What came across as a very ordinary day was a day of enhanced prayer using the church's sources of the psalter and Octoechos.  No great feast day is in our midst (save for that of Sts. Peter and Paul in two weeks time) and no huge saint is on the calendar, but this is the great time to get back to basics, to really strengthen the framework of prayer, both at church and at home so that we are prepared for the great feasts to come.

So, enjoy ordinary time and get to know the saints.  They pray ceaselessly for us and know us; we should also know them as God is glorified in them.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Quote of the day

One thing I find funny about the "sola"s [i.e. referring to the Lutheran solas of sola fide, sola, Scriptura, sola gratia, solo Christo] is that if they are all "alone", why is there four of them?--Anonymous

It's Thursday--How about a little Orthodorx Humour

Sunday, June 3, 2012

New Orthodox Quotes

The Holy Spirit is the present tense of God.--Unknown

Friday, June 1, 2012

Ignorance of Basic Church History and the Fathers

The Orthodox Church is rightly called the Church of the Fathers. Why?  Because the Church Fathers are a living reality in the church with their writings, the hymns and melodies they composed, their prayers and their lives as models for how we are to live the life in Christ.  It is thus imperative that we study them and get to know them, both East and West (with certain caveats and a cutoff date).  Other christian schools of thought have otherwise erased the fathers, quoted them only when those church fathers agree with them (more accurately, whenever the words of a church father are mangled or twisted to fit what the person wants--nowhere is this more apparent than with St. Augustine) or bring them up to help create the fiction that their respective church bodies were not born in 1517 or 1534 or in 18th century United States, but are continuations of the apostles (which cannot be supported, at all). 

In such churches, ignorance of the fathers can be excused, but this just takes the cake.  This is an interview on Issues, Etc. a very confessional radio program sponsored (I think) by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  The topic is on the 9th century fathers, Sts. Cyril and Methodius.  I don't know why this person was invited to speak about these great saints.  There is nothing to indicate that he specializes in history of the Eastern Churches.  But, he never brings up the Eastern Church.  Listen to the interview.  This guy doesn't know what he's talking about.  Some examples:

1) Never does he mention the (Eastern) Roman Empire.  He does mention the recently fabricated Holy Roman Empire of the West (which, as Voltaire said, was neither holy nor Roman nor an Empire).  This (the Eastern Empire is the milieu in which Sts. Cyril and Methodius were born, raised, educated and prayed.  He brings up Islam a lot, but Cyril and Methodius NEVER had interactions with the Arab caliphates.

2)  He mentions that Greek Christian thought was preserved almost exclusively by the Arabs.  True, but the incomplete picture.  The Eastern Roman Empire had been doing that for much longer and much better than the Arabs. 

3)  Cyril and Methodius did not invent the Cyrillic alphabet.  They invented the Glagolithic alphabet which later gave way to Cyrillic which is more simple. But the creation of that writing system was NOT so that the Slavic speaking people of these regions could have the Scriptures and Liturgy translated into their language, but was invented as a means to help them learn the Greek prayers and liturgy. 

4)  Never is there any mention of the fact that the Slavs were converted to Orthodox Christianity.

5)  This pastor can only speak about the western church whose liturgy and practice were radically different from the east yet he assumes that there is a monolithic Christianity.

I could go on, but this should suffice.  Ignorance of the church fathers is a problem that stretches across the Christian world.  We Orthodox need to do a better job of studying, reading and knowing the fathers.  Their words are not historical documents.  As I wrote the other day, the fathers' writings are every bit part of the word "Scripture" as the New and Old Testaments along with the prayers, the liturgies, the icons, the decrees of the councils, etc.  Nor am I trying to pick on any one denomination in general (i.e. Lutheran) for their ignorance of the church fathers.  Though, as I wrote above, the Lutheran preoccupation with the fathers is to twist their words so that it meets their current school of thought. 

The Church fathers are above all to be revered.  They are saints standing at Christ's right hand interceding for us and our salvation.  We are correct to ask for their protection and aid.  We cannot be ignorant of the cloud of witnesses and what they do and have given us for our salvation in Christ.