Friday, August 31, 2012

Need Proof that Lutherans are Iconoclasts?

Give this a listen. 

Now, I don't know how mainstream or accepted Pr. Curtis' viewpoint is on the subject of the depiction of images and their use in the liturgical life of the church, but considering that this program aired on a station that is aligned with the LCMS, I'm sure it has some official imprimatur.  Essentially, Pr. Curtis disagrees with the way that iconoclasm arose and was implemented throughout mainly the confines of the Eastern Roman Empire (i.e. Byzantine Empire), but agrees with their overall intent.  Images can be worshipped and since they can be abused and misused, they must, therefore, be removed or only used as pictures of art for strictly education purposes, but never used as devotional objects for a deeper spiritual relationship with the Lord.  This is really quite fascinating since the Lutheran Confessions subscribe to the canons of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, because (quia) they agree with the Scriptures not insofar (quatenus) as they agree with the Scriptures.

This is nothing more than gnostic dualism, a total disregard for the material world as something evil and that the body, the flesh have no role in repentance or in our salvation.  Of the five senses, Lutherans only will allow one in worship:  that of hearing which comes from an overreaching interpretation of the passages in the Gospels that faith comes from hearing.  Given the propensity of Lutherans to define everything in strict categories, I'm sure that some Lutheran theologians have wanted to insert the German word allein after those passages as Luther did with Romans 3:28.

This just proves that as much as the LCMS is trying to reassert some degree of its confessionalism, it is picking and choosing from its tradition.  Quite unfortunate.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Joyous News

Courtesy of a proud papa, my son, Simon Eleftherios, was received into the Holy Orthodox Church through the mystery of Baptism.  He was also chrismated, tonsured and received his First Communion. He made very little fuss and was very good about being dunked three times by some stranger (i.e. my priest) and being held for the majority of the time by his godfather (who is, incidentally, my godson), someone he also didn't really know.

The chanters chanted marvelously and it was a joy to have friends and family to share in this great moment.  After being so elated seeing him come into this world from my wife, I was equally elated to see him come into the Kingdom (with some Greek helping him along the way)!

Εις ετι πολλα!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Who celebrates the Liturgy?

What you may see:

What you SHOULD see:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Apolytikion of the Feast of Dormition

A Lutheran friend of mine decided to give me guff this morning about the Feast of the Dormition, particularly focusing on the Apolytikion (Dismissal Hymn).  I got the usual "talking points"--it's not Scriptural, Mary's no different than the rest of us, invoking saints is bad, etc.  I don't think he actually read the hymn's text which I posted in Greek (if he knows any Greek, I'd be surprised; Lutherans are particularly weak on language).  I'm going to go through the hymn line by line and I would encourage anyone (especially my Lutheran friends) to find anything objectionable:

Ἐν τῇ Γεννήσει τὴν παρθενίαν ἐφύλαξας.  Translation:  In birth-giving, you guarded your virginity.  Was Mary not a Virgin when she gave birth to Christ?  Did not the Prophets prophesy that it was a virgin who would be the Mother of God?  See Isaiah 7:4 and then the fulfillment in Matthew 1:22-23 which quotes Isaiah (Septuagint version) directly.  

This does not address the issue of the semper virgo, whether Mary was ever-virgin.  Of course, we Orthodox do believe that Mary was ever-virgin as did the Luther. In the Lutheran confessions, she is always referred to as semper virgo.  I don't understand how something from the confessions which demands a quia subscription by Lutheran pastors AND laity is now reduced to a "pious opinion."  But, I digress...

ἐν τῇ Κοιμήσει τὸν κόσμον οὐ κατέλιπες Θεοτόκε.  Translation:  And in your Dormition, you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos (God-bearer).  The unnecessary categorical distinction between the church militant and the church triumphant only causes confusion.  Does not St. Paul say that in Christ shall be made alive? (1 Cor 15:22).  Doesn't that even extend to those who are no longer in the world (ο κοσμος)?  If not, why not?  The saints make intercession for this world though they are no longer of this world, having been changed.  If it is considered good and worthy to ask for your friends and family to pray to God on your behalf, why not for those saints to do so?  

Now, with regards to the term Theotokos, most appropriately translated as God-bearer, but sometimes erroneously translated as Mother of God, this term has been applied to Mary for as long as there has been a Church catholic.  The term is not found in Scripture, but there can be no doubt (especially from the long introduction of the Gospel of St. John that the Jesus is BOTH man and God, Thenanthropos) that whom Mary gave birth to was God, born in the flesh.  The term Theotokos came under assault by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, who, desiring to protect the honour and integrity of the God-head, favored the term Christotokos--Christ-bearer.  But such a description would divide Christ into two persons and we know (from Scripture) that the members of the Trinity are individual persons.  Nestorius was rebuked at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. though he still has followers in the Middle East. (I believe the Jacobites in India are Nestorian as are the Assyrian Church--I'll have to check that).  Lutherans accept the 7 ecuemnical councils because, according to them, they agree with Scripture.  Calling Mary only Mother of Jesus is Nestorian and too many Lutherans have unfortunately accepted this as correct and that is heretical.

Μετέστης πρὸς τὴν ζωήν,  translation:  Thou wast translated to life.  A note first about translation.  The verb is active, but rendered here passively.  It's not intended to be reflexive for that would imply she went into the heavens by her own power, which is not held in Orthodox theology.  This was simply the best way to render it into English.  

The Greek prefix μετα implies material change.  And doesn't St. Paul say that we shall all be changed when we enter into our Lord's glory.  Mary is glorified because of the glory that her Son gives to her.  

μήτηρ ὑπάρχουσα τῆς ζωῆς, Translation:  Being the mother of life.  This is pretty self explanatory.  Mary is not only the mother of God, but God is the author of our life.  There are a myriad of Scriptural references on that.

καὶ ταῖς πρεσβείαις ταῖς σαῖς λυτρουμένη, ἐκ θανάτου τὰς ψυχὰς ἡμῶν.  Translation:  delivering by thine intercessions our souls from death.  In many churches, the participle λυτρουμενη is rendered as an imperative verb.  You will hear "Deliver our souls from death" which is not correct.  So instead of merely describing what Mary is doing, it looks like an invocation which rubs Lutherans and other Protestants the wrong way.  Of course, we Orthodox do not shy away from invoking the saints and asking for their prayers (see above), but, there is none of this here.  

Lutherans will say that there is no doubt that the saints intercede for us.  See Revelation 8:3-4 for example.  So, why then the objection to this hymn?  The hymn restates the  fact that the saints (all of them, both in the world and in the heavens) pray for us and probably pray for any number of things for us.  And why shouldn't those prayers include deliverance from death (i.e. the Devil and his ways)? 

There should be nothing objectionable to this hymn from Lutherans, none at all.  It fulfills  your artificial criterion of Scriptural support, even though there is much more to Mary and the saints in our theology than just this hymn which may or may not find direct Scriptural support.  But, what is more significant is that many Scriptural "proofs" do exist for other doctrines and beliefs that Lutherans find objectionable, but those Scriptures were removed by Luther. These are the so-called Apocrypha which include books like Sirach, Tobit, III Maccabees, etc.  Luther excised those because he didn't like that they actually supported doctrines that he himself didn't like.  Luther wasn't only trying to correct abuses that had snuck into the Medieval Catholic church and return the church to the doctrinal purity of the apostles or those following, but wanted to purge doctrines that he himself hated because Luther thought that he was above the church despite the Scripture that it is the Church which is the guardian and bulwark of Truth, not the Bible.  

I again challenge how this hymn could be objectionable.  Of course, debate over doctrine is generally fruitless and futile so I'm sure that if I do receive anything, it will be more in the form of polemic and invective.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Lamentations for the Feast of the Dormition

In many churches, especially Greek churches dedicated to the Theotokos, it has been custom to sing the  Lamentations of the Theotokos on the feast commemorating her Dormition on August 15.  These hymns are modeled after and are sung to the same melodies as the Lamentations we chant on Great Friday during Orthros.  Studies suggest that the Lamentations for the Dormition came out of Jerusalem but were never really codified in Greece until maybe the 16th century.  In the past 25 years, these Lamentations have become increasingly popular, though it should be noted that neither Mt. Athos nor the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople have added these hymns in their celebrations of this feast.

It is important to note that on this day, we commemorate the reality that "one of our own" died and has experienced the Death's Destruction through the death and Resurrection of her Son and our Lord.  We do not commemorate the embellishments of Byzantine Hymnographers so going over these hymns literally will avail you nothing.  The following are from the first stasis.  There are there stases total; the first two chanted in plagal tone 1 and the last chanted in tone 3.

1. In a grave they laid you
yet, O Christ, you are life
and they now have laid the Mother of Life as well:
both to angels and to men a sight most strange!

2. We exalt you greatly,
Theotokos most pure,
and we glorify your holy dormition now,
as we bow before your honored precious tomb.

3. In your womb you held him
who cannot be contained;
you are life to all the faithful: how can you die,
and your body be contained within a tomb?

4. You brought forth, Pure Maiden,
God the heavenly King,
and today in manner royal are carried forth
to the Kingdom of the Heavens as a Queen.

5. Holy Theotokos,
You have passed from this world,
in departing not forsaking those left on earth,
but delivering this world from every ill.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Video on Orthodox Monasticism

If a monastery were only for those who were holy in this world, then there would be very few or no monasteries.  The monastery is a refuge for those who desire to become saints.

The following video has gotten some play on Youtube and has also been recommended by many friends of mine both in the blogosphere and also on facebook. I commend it to you.  The monastery is the Hermitage of the Holy Cross located in Wayne, West Virginia and is under the jurisdiction of ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia).

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Great Feast of our Lord's Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor

On August 6, the Holy Orthodox Church celebrates the Transfiguration of our Lord on Mt. Tabor in the presence of His apostles, Sts. Peter, James and John.  This feast is of particular importance in the Eastern Church, which informs much of her theology particularly with regards to how it distinguishes  between the essence and energies of God and the deification of Man (theosis).  Unfortunately, though celebrated by the Roman Church also on this day and nominally celebrated by the Lutheran churches before Lent begins (I don't recall it ever being celebrated while I was Lutheran), those churches' celebrations seem to mark  only the event than its overall importance in the Christian life. In short, the Transfiguration is an historical event that manifests Christ's glory, but it is also an end to strive for in our lives, a transfiguration of our very self.

This feast, primarily, should fill the Christian with not only awe before the Godhead, but humility.  We pray, in the Apolytikion for this feast that Christ revealed His glory to the disciples as much as they were able.  And they weren't able to endure his glory for very long.  In the icons of this event, the three disciples who were present could not look at the manifestation of glory for very long at all. They are all seen turning away from the uncreated light which proceeds internally from Christ.  That light is one of  His uncreated energies.  We should be mindful of how the glory of God, when it is manifested in the Old(er) Testament, is described.  In the Hebrew, the word  which describes God's glory is best translated as oppressive or burdensome.  It weighs one down because of its majesty.  Peter, James and John were not able to endure the light for very long at all, weighed down because of the brightness and its majesty.  The glory of God, in its truest form, is not something we can endure and it is not something that we can only casually observe.  The true glory of God takes time to become manifested towards us and, if we have the eyes to see and ears to hear, we should recoil in dread when it is manifested.  Entering into a church does not equate to entering into God's glory.  God's glory is there yes, but to truly experience it is to be brought to the ground because of it.  Since most of us can only experience God's glory mystically, such is why we make bows and prostration to the ground so routinely during Orthodox services.

Notice, too, that the Transfiguration only occurred after Jesus prayed.  We do not know how long he prayed, though we may assume it was for quite some time as the three disciples who accompanied Him fell asleep but awoke in time to see Christ transfigured.  How many of Jesus manifestations of glory occurred only after prayer?   I don't know, but this occasion, certainly and also before His willing Passion.  For us to enter into theosis or deification requires prayer and a lot of it.  I'm certain that such is the reason that Orthodox liturgies and offices are the lengths that they are.  I know a lot of Orthodox Christians who wish that the services be radically reduced in time, but the attainment of the Kingdom does not happen with only haphazard phrase with a timestamp on it.  (My wife has often joked about putting a dial on the icon of the Mystical Supper which stands over the Royal doors so people know how much longer the liturgy will last).

Finally, the Transfiguration of our very selves can only be accomplished by the possession of three virtues.  Have you ever wondered why our Lord chose only Sts. Peter, James and John (the two sons of  Zebedee) to accompany Him when He prayed alone?  I have.  I found out the answer today in the sermon.  According to many of the fathers, St. Peter is the icon of faith.  Contextually, the description of the Transfiguration is very short, but if you read around it (both before and after), you will find that its occurrence in the Gospels is well timed.  St. Peter had just made the confession to Christ that He is the Son of the Living God to which Christ responds that upon this confession, this rock, Christ's Church shall be built.  After that passage, Jesus prophesies His Death on the Cross and His glorious Resurrection, also at the heart of the faith.  St. James is the icon of hope.  He was the first of Christ's disciples to be martyred and did so in the hope of the Resurrection.  St. John is the icon of charity or love.  John's Gospel, unlike the synoptic Gospels, vividly portrays God's love for us throughout, but nowhere so poignantly than in the famous 3:16.  Faith, hope and charity, the virtues St. Paul describes as the greatest virtues, are all required before Transfiguration of the self.

I love this feast day.  With transfiguration comes renewal and rebirth.  Such is why we bless grapes on this day, a symbol of the fruits produced from the earth.  May fruit blossom forth in our celebration of this great feast so that one day we may be transfigured.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Modern day iconclasm

I frequently tire of the erroneous and hate driven charge that Orthodox worship icons of the Lord or His saints.  This charge was made against me (and still continues to be) my many friends of mine who are Lutheran or otherwise Protestant.  Trying to convince them using church history and the writings of the fathers is of absolutely no use since such people cannot be persuaded.  They say that it looks like worship though I know the difference between worship and honor.  Apparently, according to them, I don't know the difference.  But, despite their error,  I doubt that anyone of these friends of mine would actually come into my home and destroy my icons or would buy an icon and then take it into their own home or church and make a spectacle of it like this imbecile here:

I encourage any of my friends to justify what this person does.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Chick-Fil-A Controversy and How NOT to Approach It

To be honest, I'm tired of this Chick-Fil-A controversy.  What Chick-Fil-A's CEO said had NOTHING to do with gay marriage (if you doubt me, look up what he said.  There's not a word about gay marriage or homosexuality or anything like that.  Mr. Cathay did talk about "traditional marriage" but to imply that his words means he is anti-gay is argumentum ex silentio, which is no argument at all. He did, however, talk about being married to his first wife and that his staff were married to their first wives so if anyone should be calling for boycotts of Chick-Fil-A restaurants, the widowers, the widowed and the divorced should be screaming bloody murder about those remarks).  Unfortunately, like it or not, this has become the latest skirmish in the culture war about gay rights. And, naturally, Christian religion and beliefs come into this whole thing.

Throughout the debate, both sides, have claimed that the Bible is "on their side."  Opponents to gay marriage will routinely quote Leviticus and St. Paul while proponents say that since Jesus is silent on the issue of homosexuality, that's more important than what is actually said in Scripture (again, another example of argumentum ex silentio).  What's more is that proponents will say that Jesus' overall messages of tolerance and compassion suggest that any "sinfulness" of gay people should be off the table.

I won't get into the merits of the debate (though I will admit, by praeteritio, I already have).  But as both sides claim the Bible supports their respective stances, I am amazed that when Orthodox Christians are drawn into this debate, they will frequently argue using the same tools as the Evangelicals and the Mainline Protestants--i.e. appeal to the authority of the Bible.

Too many Orthodox Christians in this country have been coopted by the Protestant "appeals to Scripture."  Though we Orthodox Christians revere Holy Writ, hence is why we kiss the Evangelion (Gospel Book) at Orthros following the reading of the Resurrectional Eothinon of the week, Scripture is NOT our authority.  Our authority is Christ, which is what St. Peter confessed when Christ asked him who Peter thought He was.  And that truth is the exclusive guardianship of the Church (see 1 Tim 3:15). Before there was a canon of the Prophets and the Gospels and the Epistles, there was the Church.  I think most Orthodox Christians know this, but are frequently forced into religious arguments framed by Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants.

The problem with appeal to Scriptures is that, without the church, one's interpretation becomes the guide by which everyone else should read passages.  Proof texts are fired back and forth in the hopes that one sentence can cancel out another sentence.  Scripture, for us, is not simply what is referred to as the Bible;  it is the collection of the canons, liturgies, prayers, offices, icons, symbols of the Orthodox Church.  When asked why Orthodox Christians do not condone gay marriage or gay actions, we shouldn't respond with the knee jerk "Because Scripture says so."  We should respond, more accurately, that the Church has never, ever, taught such a thing.  St. Vincent of Lerins said that the definition of Catholic is that which has always been believed at all places and at all times, never altered, never subtracted from, never added to.

Of course, many won't like that appeal either because we're just substituting Scriptural authority for Church authority.  But, at least we're being honest.  Those who appeal to Scripture justifying a pro homosexual interpretation are then put on the spot to defend that if Scripture agrees with them, why has the church never taught similarly?  The usual response will be that the Church is bigoted, but that's an ad hominem which simply cannot be substantiated honestly.  It puts them on the spot to justify how an interpretation only 20 minutes old can successfully stand up to more than 2000 years of unbroken tradition and teaching.

Another common response is that the Church was a slave to the cultural norms of the time.  And are you not also a slave to the cultural norms of this time?  Why is one to be condemned and the other praised?  Then that brings up an argument about superiority of cultures, which is very interesting as progressives advocate for multiculturalism which states that no one culture is superior to another (with certain exceptions--i.e. Christians).

The Church has not altered her teachings. The Church is the bulwark of the Truth.  The Bible can be twisted and turned to support any reading.  Every major heresy in the church appealed to the Biblical writers, though the fathers said they were wrong.  They combatted those heresies not by applying Biblical proof texts (such is a modern innovation), but by defending what the church has always believed from the Scriptures, from the canons, from the writings of the fathers, from the icons, from the liturgies, from the prayers, etc.

This post is not about gay marriage.  This is a post about how and why Orthodox are different about how they (should) argue about theological matters.  Frankly, I don't care what two adults do between themselves.  I have to worry about my own numerous sins first and repent of those.   I will admit that I fear that if gay marriage is enshrined as a civil liberty in the USA, how long will it be before the state comes knocking on the doors of my parish and compel them to marry same sex individuals against its will?  Proponents say that will never happen and I hope they are right, but, if we look at what has happened in this country lately with regards to religious freedom, I don't think I'm far off.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dormition Fast and the HHS Mandate

Today, August 1, the celebration of the Procession of the Cross, begins our two week fast to celebrate the falling asleep of the Temple of God:  Mary, the Theotokos and ever-virgin.  In these two weeks, Orthodox Christians are expected to increase their prayers, their tithes while removing meat and dairy from their diets so that when the feast comes, we may embrace it with joy and the fulness may replace our imposed emptiness.

Today is also a very dark day for religious freedom in this country.  Today is the day the HHS Mandate that all employers who provide health insurance, including religious institutions, must provide birth control, sterilization drugs and services as well as abortifacients to its women employees free of charge, regardless of whether the women want/need such services and regardless of whether that violates the religious institution's conscience.  Churches will be exempted, but hospitals and other charities, specifically those affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church will be expected and forced to comply.

I could go into a long post and rehash what most of us already know about how this does trample religious liberty, that nothing like this can be found ANYWHERE in the history of jurisprudence in this country and that the progressives show their true colors where they believe the state is the supreme arbiter of everything and that religion, particularly traditional religion, is a threat to that supremacy.  But I won't.

And the reason that I won't is because, as Christians, we have failed to really make our faith important both in our family life and in our public life.  Yes, this mandate is still wrong and the people who favor it are wrong to impose it on those who disagree (these are the same people who want to impose their beliefs on Chik-Fil-A because its owner won't endorse same-sex marriage, but that's OK to do).  I am not suggesting that we trot around time trumpeting our fasting and alms giving.  I seem to remember Jesus rallying against those very things back in His day.  But, it seems, many of us only take our faith and its practice seriously only when something like this assault comes around.

Dormition fast has been around for a long time and it has been practiced in this country ever since Russian missions established the first Orthodox churches here in the late 18th century.  Orthodox Christians continue to make up a very very small fraction of the Christian population of the United States, but in efforts to not make ourselves too different from the Protestants and Catholics around us, our praxis has been pushed aside.  Yes, we may believe all of what our faith teaches, but as St. James says, a faith without works is a dead faith.

I know I have very few readers, but I would like to issue this challenge for this Dormition Fast to any Orthodox Chrisitan:  Show that your faith matters to you!  Go to one of the Paraklesis services during these two weeks, go to the Liturgy on Transfiguration, go to Dormition Liturgy. If your parish doesn't offer those services, make the extra effort to pray at home and with your family.  If you are able, fast.  If you can't do it for two weeks, then do it for what time you can.  If you have some leftover change, give it to a charity.  At the same time, don't trumpet it about.  Don't post on facebook that you gave $10 to the local homeless shelter!  Pray in silence.  And don't just do it for this Dormition Fast.  Do it for the Nativity Fast, do it for Great Lent. Do this ALL YEAR ROUND!  And, be joyful in it.

My point is that perhaps if we actually showed that our faith mattered in the practice of it, perhaps such things like this HHS Mandate might never have come into being.  We have become schismatics in our faith--acknowledging and believing on the one hand, but failing to practice it on the other.  If we hold such a cavalier and unserious attitude towards something that was enshrined into the first amendment of the Bill of Rights, namely the free exercise of religion, then perhaps we deserve to allow the state to dictate to us in these matters.

As disheartened as we may be, let us cry out with joy, this our Orthodox Battle Hymn:

Σῶσον Κύριε τὸν λαόν σου καὶ εὐλόγησον τὴν κληρονομίαν σου, νίκας τοῖς Βασιλεῦσι κατὰ βαρβάρων δωρούμενος καὶ τὸ σὸν φυλάττων διὰ τοῦ Σταυροῦ σου πολίτευμα.

Oh Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance, granting to Thy Sovereigns victory over the barbarians and by Thy Cross preserving Thine Estate.--Apolytikion for August 1, The Processiono f the Cross, Tone 1