Sunday, December 14, 2014

Uniform for Church?

I teach at a private school where the students are required to wear uniforms.  On Monday and Wednesday through Friday, young men may wear khaki pants (or shorts, weather providing) and a green polo shirt or anything else as long as it has the name of the school.  Young women may wear khakis, but are more encouraged to wear plaid skirts with a polo shirt or anything else with the name of the school. On Tuesdays, all students wear their formal uniforms which, for guys, are gray pants, button down white shirt and tie with a navy blazer.  Ladies are required to wear skirts, a white shirt with a navy blazer, and knee high socks.   Most of our school population observe these rules consistently. 

However, on certain days of the year, there are out-of-uniform days.  This may extend to only the kids in one particular grade as a reward or to the entire school prior to the winter holiday during their final exams or during homecoming week.  Every time there is an out-of-uniform day, there is an obvious decline in learning and in discipline in general.

My wife teaches at a public school; I did so as well.  We have both pondered the effects if a uniform policy were instituted at a public school like at the one she teaches.  I suggest that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.  The two in particular "pros" are 1) teachers would not have to be forced into awkward positions to reprimand students for not dressing according to the established guidelines (I can attest that as a guy teacher trying to tell a young lady that the spaghetti strap strings are inappropriate or that her shirt is cut too low that too much of her cleavage is exposed or that her shorts are too short, such is really awkward and some women will even go so far as to suggest that you're some sort of pervert for even noticing) and 2) students will not be able to "bully" anyone who doesn't wear the "right" clothes.  Will that also lead to increased student learning?  I don't know, but I think that it should be tried before it is written off as ineffective.

Let's apply this standard to church and what we should wear.  Does God care?  I would like to think that our coming to church and worshiping and praying are more important to him than our choice of attire, but we have to remember that what goes on at church is a communal activity.  Throughout St. Paul's epistles, he exhorts his readers to not be stumbling blocks (Greek skandalon) to others  by keeping the  fasts or not, for example.  Should a uniform policy be adopted by any church as a way to prevent others from stumbling during church?

In a sense the church already has such a policy.  Priests are vested particularly to reflect their office before God as are deacons as are the taper bearers as are the chanters and readers.  Why for them and not for the laity?  The uniforms are signs of the work that the persons wearing them are doing.  What is the job of the laity?  Like everyone else, it is to pray.  Should they not be marked out in a way to indicate that?   I know that an Orthodox Christian would balk if he saw his priest during the Divine Liturgy in anything besides his vestments. 

There are many arguments which I will not rehash here as to why more formal attire should  not necessarily be expected of parishioners.  I would just say that if we take such care to choose our clothing for concerts, parties, receptions, business meetings, lounging around the house, working in the yard, etc., why would we not put the same thought into what we wear in the House of the Lord?  Would more praying be accomplished if all men wore at least khakis and a polo shirt and women wore dresses?  Would there be more reverence and less talking from the parishioners if men wore suits and women wore nice hats?  I don't believe there is any way to measure this.  Anything that may change may well have to be measured against the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

As Orthodox Christians we are taught that everything in the Church is more than a mental activity. Our prayer life is more than a mental activity.  That's why we kiss icons, we cense the Church, we taste of the Body and Blood of Christ, we bow, we prostrate, we make the sign of the Cross.  Our Church's praxis is not one of Gnostic dualism, but where the body and soul come together in worship of God.  Shouldn't that also include the manner of our dress that is humble, not gaudy, and shows respect rather than receive attention?  And if we chose our clothes in such a manner would that not also translate to how we approach God in prayer while in His holy place?

I only have questions, no answers.  I seriously doubt my parish or any other parish for that matter would willingly let me do a study on that, as they should.  But if we emphasize comfort too much, how long before people start showing up in sweatpants or bathrobes with slippers on?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Giving them the funeral they want

In our modern culture, weddings are tailor made for every couple, for every time of year, for every destination, for every kind of circumstance, etc.  Weddings can be big or small; fancy or informal; catered or pot-lock; private or public; for love or for show, etc.  In fact, pretty much everything exists in this way.  Our way of life has become living Burger King's mantra:  Have it your way.  Except for maybe your funeral.

I came across this article the other day from America:  The National Catholic Review.  The article is written, as you might expect, from a Catholic perspective. The author is a nun who laments that fewer and fewer Catholic funeral masses (i.e. Requiems) are being given for funerals.  Some of this has to do with the fact that the Catholic Church in America is losing members.  Some of this has to do with the fact that the services provided for by Funeral Homes are more convenient, less restrictive and more inviting of giving eulogies than what is currently allowed for in Masses for the Dead.  Some of this also has to do with a sense of shame.  Why have a funeral in a church when only a few people will show up?  But, another reason, and one that is really quite disturbing is that the children, who are often left to plan these sort of things, often plan the funerals as if they were the ones who were deceased and more for their benefit.

Anyone who has been to a traditional Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead or Requiem knows that it is not centered around the person's life.  The homily given by the priest might touch on that, but it is not a personal affair.  The Mass is celebrated to reaffirm that the great mercy of God has triumphed over the evil of the Devil and made powerless death.  All will rise to receive judgment and many will enter into the abodes of the blessed.  But the Mass also stresses why all of this needed to happen, namely the sin of humanity.  Quite frankly, in our culture, sin has been replaced by a hierarchy of choices, some of which are better than others, but, ultimately, to be evaluated by the person himself.  For a lot of younger people burying their parents, this is precisely what they do not want to hear so they plan something more palatable for themselves and give themselves a sneak preview of what kind of funeral they want when their time comes.

I think that a dead person's wishes should be honored and respected.  If they want a traditional Catholic mass, they should get it and the children should not override those desires.  If the deceased wants his ashes scattered with a small ceremony, fine.  I agree with the author that the Requiem Mass is the way to go and that it is absolutely imperative that the funeral should be planned along with making any will or testament.  To force any kind of ceremony because the child has a problem with what the parents believed is disrespectful and does not honor the parent.  Here's an example.

The current head of the Episcopal Church in the USA is Katherine Jefferts-Schori.  To  call her a liberal is the understatement of the year.  She has undermined the Episcopal teaching on about every subject so much that numerous Episcopalians have either split off and formed their own dioceses or left the Episcopal Church altogether.  Jefferts-Schori has also decided that the limited resources of the Episcopal Church are best spent by suing breakaway dioceses, defrocking clergy who uphold traditional orthodoxy within the Episcopal Church, and confiscating property. 

Her mother converted to Orthodoxy later in life and died in the Church.  Jefferts-Schori planned an Episcopal memorial service with her even though her mother had made it clear to her priest that she wanted an Orthodox funeral.  Not only was this desire not granted by Ms. Jefferts-Schori, but the priest of her mother was also barred from attending and not even allowed to offer Orthodox prayers at the ceremony. This is nothing but pettiness, but since it is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church here in America, it's par for the course.

The daughter should be ashamed.  But it's not just children of dead parents who have behaved poorly in this matter, but also parents when they unfortunately must prepare funerals for deceased children.  This example strikes very close to home.

Ten years ago, my best friend and a young woman whom I cared for dearly, tragically died by killing herself.  It was very hard for me to go to the visitation and to the funeral, too.  My friend was an agnostic if not an atheist (I don't think she knew for sure).  Her parents were very committed evangelical Christians.  It was no secret that the parents and she were at odds over the religious issue.  The funeral that was planned for her was one that would normally be given to an Evangelical Christian with Christian praise hymns and readings that I know she wouldn't have approved of.  I talked about this afterwards with other friends of hers and we agreed that the service we saw was not what she would have wanted.  I don't intend to be rude in saying this, but, in a way, I wondered if that was the parents getting in the last word in the religion argument.  I believe the parents should have honored her wishes, whatever they were.

I know that when I die, I want to depart from this earth according to the Byzantine Rite. I want the whole thing chanted in Greek, no women chanters in the most glorious Byzantine melodies.  That's what I want. I've been to enough Orthodox funerals to know that when we sing this Rite, we are praying reverently that the person's soul be saved by our merciful God. I don't want it any other way.

Should we force Orthodox funerals on those who have fallen away simply because that's what the living want?  Should we force small chapel services at the funeral home with lots of eulogies because that, again, is what the living want?  I say no.  Give them the funeral they want and respect their wishes.  If no wishes are left behind, then those who are planning the funeral shouldn't interpret that as a sign to do whatever they want because they want it.  To the living, plan your funeral now so it can be honored.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankfulness is faithfulness

It is Thanksgiving Day. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I know that it is customary for many families who share a meal together on this day to go around the table and say what they are thankful for.  It is a good custom, to be sure, but if we were really honest with ourselves, the sheer number of thanks for all the blessings, good fortunes, etc. that we each enjoy would fill up quite a lot of time to the point that the meal would never be eaten at least not before it's cold.

I was thinking about making a list of all of the things I am thankful for.  I took a walk this cold evening, just going over in my head the number of things I have that I should be thankful, but take for granted.  It was a long list and I don't have the time to write it. Instead, I was thinking of this story from the Gospel of Luke.  We all know the story about how ten lepers were cleansed by Jesus.  In case you don't here's the text:

Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12 Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. 13 And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
14 So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.
15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
17 So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? 18 Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”
I admit that I don't know the text of the miracle by heart so when I read it in preparation for this post, I was struck by a few things.  First, the lepers are not close to Jesus, but afar off.   This just shows how scorned lepers were.  People who were infected with leprosy were told to keep far off from them lest they be infected, too.  Add to that a belief among many ancient peoples who thought that being struck by disease was in direct correlation to your worth or value as a person.  The text doesn't indicate whether Jesus saw AND approached them, but merely saw them. 

And he didn't heal them right away, but said instead for them to show themselves to the priests.  And they went.  To be given a clean bill of health by the priests so that you could reenter the temple worship and society itself required the priests to go over the entire body of the leper to ensure there was no trace of the disease anymore.  To ensure you were cured was as humiliating as having the disease itself.  Nonetheless, all ten of them go.  But it is only AS they go, that they are healed from their infirmity.  And we know the rest of the story: only one returns to give thanks.

Christ says to the one leper who comes back and gives thanks as saying that his faith made him well.   We have no indication that the other nine lepers who were cured as they went to the priests were reinfected because they did not give thanks and I doubt they would have been.  But the faithfulness of the one also reflected thankfulness.  We can argue ad nauseam as to whether faith precedes thankfulness just as the old Mediaeval philosophers debated whether faith preceded understanding or understanding preceded faith.  Here, in this story, it is apparent that thankfulness and faithfulness are two sides of the same coin.  It is not simply enough to have faith, but to demonstrate that faith in thanksgiving to God. 

I'm sure many would argue that one can still be thankful and have no faith in God.  I would agree, but for the Christian, the two simply must accompany one another.  If we are thankful, we must have faith; if we are faithful, we must give thanks.  And not only should we be thankful, but we should do so joyfully.  A Christian should always be joyful even if it seems that joy is the farthest thing from us. 

So, rather than make a list to share with those who would wish to read it of all the things I am thankful for, I would simply implore that all who are thankful on this do so faithfully and do so consistently. It's easy and natural to turn to God in times of distress and unhappines. It's easy and natural as well to simply go about our daily lives without being thankful.  But if we are not being thankful, then we are being faithful?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back up and running

I was unable to log into my account about three weeks ago and so I just assumed that it had been compromised.  In fact, I read that same night that a Russian mob had stolen over 1 billion (that's right, billion) passwords from websites all over the world.  I just assumed that I was one of these statistics but wasn't concerned because it's an old email address.  Well, lo and behold, I was able to get back in this evening and immediately changed my password.  So, for the time being, I'm back on line. 

Several comments have not been published and I apologize for that; I will get to those in due time.  School is starting up again so I'm going to write probably even less than I am now, but if the spirit moves me, I'm sure I can come up with something. 

Thanks for continuing to read my nonsense!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Marriage and death: Reflections on three years

In our popular culture, we tend to joke about how marriage and funerals are one and the same thing.  Ha, ha, ha. Very funny.  But, as is the case with most humor, there is a truth that these two seemingly disparate milestones in life may be connected after all in a way that is not so much funny, but ironic.

This weekend I found an article in my inbox from the Omaha World Herald about a couple who decided to celebrate their wedding in the chapel of Omaha's largest cemetery.    I'm happy that I read the article in full because just reading the headline I seriously thought something was very wrong.  Anyway, the couple decided to marry in this cemetery's chapel for a variety of reason. The bride is from Krygyzstan and in her culture, according to the article, there is a strong attachment between the living and the spirits of the deceased.  For the groom, some of his ancestors are buried there and he wanted them to be counted as witnesses to his nuptials.  OK, suum cuique

When I read the article, I thought about my own wedding as the anniversary approaches tomorrow.  Three years ago I was joined to my wife.  No vows were recited.  No cheesy pop songs proclaiming endless love were played.  No loud, thunderous applause.  When we were joined together through the crowning ceremony, the chanters chanted the hymns to the martyrs, not just one or two martyrs, but calling to mind all of them.  These martyrs, or witnesses, gave their entire life to Christ for Christ.  Rather than live without Christ, they chose death.  And they have been crowned with glory because of this.

In the Orthodox wedding ceremony, the hymns of the martyrs are sung because marriage is supposed to be a death:  death to one's own desires, one's own passions, one's own self.  As the Martyrs died for Christ for His sake, so the husband is to die for the sake of his wife and vice-versa.  This death, just like the death of Christ, is a paradox.  Christ's death brought about life through His Resurrection.  Similarly, the death of each spouse in a marriage is to bring about a greater life in Christ for both partners. 

Three years in, I realize I have a lot of dying to do.  I have not given up my own individual self entirely for my wife who has blessed me further by giving me a happy, healthy little boy.  I have not loved her as Christ loved the Church. I have not sacrificed myself for her.  The list goes on.   Marriage is part of the spiritual life just as worship, receiving the sacraments, praying, etc.  I know that it will take a long time, if I ever accomplish it at all, to love my wife to the point so selflessly to the point that I have died to myself.  

Saying to my wife, "I love you" is not and should not be just some platitude to say before I kiss her good night or when I see her after a long day at work.   It should be spoken as a prayer to Christ that I am hers for the sake of our Lord.  Maybe tomorrow, on our anniversary, we should go to the cemetery for a few minutes to more vividly remind myself about what marriage is, but I think we'll just go out to dinner instead.

Happy anniversary, my dear wife.  I love you.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Denied Communion Because You're Gay? How About a Different Angle of Examination

There is no shortage, either in the news media or in blogosphere, of stories of someone (mainly a Roman Catholic) who is denied communion for certain reasons, mainly by holding or supporting politically contrary views to established Roman Catholic dogma with regards to e.g. gay marriage and gay rights, abortion.  Generally, this information comes out in the form of an editorial of some supposedly "devout, super-Catholic who has gone to mass an overwhelming 8 times" [/sarcasm] who openly disagrees with his/her Church's teachings but feels that because he/she is a "good person" the Eucharist should not be denied him. Well, this same phenomenon has now happened to the Orthodox Communion.

In an editorial printed by the Washington Post, Gregory Pappas, writes that he was denied communion because he was gay.  This, of course, naturally set off a whirlwind of comments, both on the WaPo site and also in the Orthodox blogosphere in general.  A rebuttal was posted by famed Orthodox columnist Rod Dreher which also inspired a whirlwind of comments, both in support of Mr. Pappas and in support of Mr. Dreher.

Enough has been said about whether homosexuality per se is sinful and whether that constitutes being barred from the Holy Mysteries or whether only the acting upon homosexual impulses is the criterion for barring someone.  Even more has been said about how the Church is supposedly hypocritical because it has changed on other issues, so why not this one?  (Small digression:  Mr. Pappas says that the Church never allowed divorce.  That is patently false.  Divorce and remarriage have been consistently allowed by the Church, but one can never marry more than three times in the Church and divorce is always, ALWAYS accompanied by a period of exclusion from the mysteries for repentance.  Don't believe me?  Read about the Moechian controversy in the eighth century[that's right, 1100 years ago] when the Eastern Roman Emperor, Constantine VI, demanded a fourth marriage!)

The issue that has not been examined or, rather, the person who has not been asked for his position is the priest of the church where Mr. Pappas was supposedly denied his communion.  Probably, he's not been asked because of his position and that would undermine the relationship between priest and pentient/layman.  Just as likely is that his priest has been asked because he would not want to do anything even hinting of a betrayal of the trust and confidentiality between priest and penitent. (Small digression #2:  Interesting how penitnet/layman side of that agreement is always greeted with praise when he breaks the seal, but if a priest does it, he's hounded [and should be, but really this standard needs to go both ways).

What many fail to understand is that it is the priest's job to faithfully distribute the Eucharist to the faithful.  That is an immense responsibility.  At a priest's ordination, the bishop, who celebrates the Liturgy, gives to the priest-to-be in his hand the entire lamb (i.e. that section of the prosphoron bread which is consecrated specifically for the Body of Christ) and he is told, in no uncertain terms, that he will be held responsible at the Last Judgment before Christ's Dread Throne for the faithful distribution of His Body and Blood.  My godfather, who is now a priest, told me about this.  He was shaking, literally just remembering that.  I'm made of weaker stuff and I know that once the bishop did that same thing for me, I'd give him back the Lamb and say "See ya!"  Whoever Mr. Pappas' priest may be and whatever church he serves is irrelevant.  Any priest of the Orthodox Church is entrusted with this awesome responsibility.  To give to anyone the Eucharist, where there is the slightest bit of doubt that it is given to an unrepentant person, is to blaspheme Christ.  Another thing that people who are unfamiliar with the Sacramental Nature of the Church is that the priest does not serve the Eucharist, but serves, in loco Christi, in the place of Christ.  Even though we may see a fellow human being in front of the altar, mystically, he becomes Christ, as we mystically become like the Cherubim (as we sing in the Cherubimic Hymn at every Divine Liturgy).  It is Christ who feeds us, not a human.

Why is no one talking about this angle?  The priest, and by extension, the whole Orthodox Church is made out to be the bad guy and  the bad guy cannot be allowed to have his say.  We cannot and should not ask the priest about this because that would break the priest and penitent bond of trust.  The problem is that many, both Catholics and Orthodox, view the Holy Mysteries (or Sacraments) as something you're entitled to because you're "in" just like you're "in" a country club or other organization.  We forget that this is Christ's Body and Blood, not yours, not the priests' and not the Church's (though the latter two are both responsible for safeguarding it undefiled).  Is there the possibility that this priest is abusing his responsibility?  Absolutely.  But, if this were the case, I'm sure there would be other reports.  Is there a possibility that the priest is not applying the canons equally?  Maybe.

One other thing that troubles me about this whole episode is that Mr. Pappas and his priest must have been in communication before this particular situation happened. It is rare, from my standpoint, that a priest does not give the Eucharist to someone who approaches, but there have been times where I was told by my priest (usually after a confession) to not receive the Eucharist for a period of time.  So, when the distribution to the faithful came, I did not even come forth.  I must ask whether Mr. Pappas knew about his not being able to receive in advance.  If he did, it was WRONG of him to present himself.  Of course, to the media and to nominal Christians, such an act would be applauded and encouraged, because there's no way Mr. Pappas could be in the wrong.

I will end by going off on one quote from his editorial:
I’m no activist. I don’t want to have a “big, fat, Greek gay wedding” in my church. I’m not going to march outside the Archdiocese headquarters. I love it the way it has always been—a place of love and compassion, a community of good, hard working people and an institution that realizes that we’re all broken in one way or another, and the church’s sacraments should be celebrated to heal us and make us whole. Because, while I may not be a biblical scholar, I believe I’m a good person; my Church taught me how to treat my fellow human, how to be compassionate and, more importantly, the difference between right and wrong.
So, he's not an activist and is not going to protest, but he's going to make sure everyone outside of the Church hears about it via the Washington Post?   Yeah, that's not activism at all.  I also love how he determines himself to be a "good person" and so therefore he should get whatever he thinks he deserves.  There's the crux of the issue.  His protest, his editorial, his anger is all rooted in himself, in what he thinks.  Even in the Orthodox Church, the rampant individualism courtesy of the Protestant Reformation, has crept in.  Everything should be in accordance to what I believe.  I am the final arbiter.  I get to decide.  No, you don't.  Christ through His Church does. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Another Front in the Worship Wars Opens

For those of us who grew up in a "mainstream" Protestant Christian denomination, there was considerable tension between those of us who favored the "traditional" liturgy vs. those who favored more "contemporary" style of worship with a "come-as-you-are" feel.  We call these the worship wars and every Protestant denomination and even the Roman Catholics have fought in many battles.  Both sides have been bloodied and bruised, but the banners of each still go forward. 

Traditionalists have balked at hearing of services dubbed "U2charist" or "Polka liturgy" or a "Beatles Liturgy" or any service using the music of today's or a few yesterday's popular music.  Traditionalists facepalm all the more when they hear of "Clown Masses."  Take your pick.  Rock n' roll, once public enemy #1 of the churches, has now been co-opted by churches for its own repackaging and branding.  What more could happen?

Well, apparently the community of beat boxers, R&B soloists, and thuggish rappers thought they were getting the short end of the stick by the churches so now a North Carolina church is giving in to (wait for it):  Hip-Hop liturgy.  I suppose it was only a matter of time. 

The same arguments which are used to justify any contemporary music in worship from the Beatles to U2 are also used to justify the existence of a Hip-Hop liturgy:  appeal to younger people, appeal to the non-churched, appeal to what people want, etc., etc.  I'm not going to refute these arguments, though I can and easily.  But here is what will inevitably happen:  There will be no growth.  Oh sure, you'll get a little spike at first, but it's going to be short lived and ephemeral.  If you strictly appeal to what people like and then try to give them an emotional attachment, a "musical high" if you will, what will happen when that "high" wears off?  People will leave to find their wants and desires elsewhere. A church which operates this way may get new visitors every week, but how many of them will actually stay and become involved with the community?  Not very many, I reckon. 

Churches which operate on the mechanism on giving people what the people want are essentially functioning as drug dealers.  They give out something which immediately gratifies, but just like the drug user who realizes that more and more of the drug is needed to achieve the same high, the itinerant church-goer whose primary concern is what satisfies him will go to another church that can achieve the same thing with little or no effort on his part. 

This is not a solution for the problems churches face with today's youth who are not as religiously devout as their parents.  It's only a band aid for a leaky dam.  If a church offers the same as the world, why does it expect a mass exodus from the world to inside its doors? Why would someone in love with the world want to do the same thing but in a location which maybe has some pews, some religious art and a pastor?  Why?

The Church is eternal and Christ says that the Gates of Hell will never prevail against Her.  So why do so many churches continue to try and evangelize using only the most ephemeral of methods?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Jesus Wept

The Raising of Lazarus
The Holy Orthodox Church commemorates on the Saturday before Palm Sunday Lazarus who was four days dead.  It is an interesting and paradoxical service, not least because it is a miniature Resurrection service (at both Orthros and Liturgy) on a day normally reserved to commemorate the dead.  The Evlogetaria of the Resurrection is sung instead of the Evlogetaria of the reposed; the second antiphon and the eisodikon both refer to Christ rising from the dead, rather than being glorified in the saints, etc. 

The Gospel according to St. John is read at Divine Liturgy (there is no Orthros Gospel on this day) and the words that most poignantly stand out as if they were out of place and shouldn't even be mentioned are "Jesus wept."  The canons for this day used at Great Compline the evening before and at Orthros the day of, refer to Jesus' weeping as a sign that He truly became Man in contrast to His raising Lazrus which is a sign of His divinity.  Nonetheless, the words "Jesus wept" get our attention more than even Christ commanding Lazarus to come out.  Why?  Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes about this:

At the grave of Lazarus Jesus encounters Death — the power of sin and destruction, of hatred and despair. He meets the enemy of God. And we who follow Him are now introduced into the very heart of this hour of Jesus, the hour, which He so often mentioned. The forthcoming darkness of the Cross, its necessity, its universal meaning, all this is given in the shortest verse of the Gospel — "and Jesus wept."
We understand now that it is because He wept, i.e., loved His friend Lazarus and had pity on him, that He had the power of restoring life to him. The power of Resurrection is not a Divine "power in itself’," but the power of love, or rather, love as power. God is Love, and it is love that creates life; it is love that weeps at the grave and it is, therefore, love that restores life... This is the meaning of these Divine tears. They are tears of love and, therefore, in them is the power of life. Love, which is the foundation of life and its source, is at work again recreating, redeeming, restoring the darkened life of man: "Lazarus, come forth!" And this is why Lazarus Saturday is the real beginning of both: the Cross, as the supreme sacrifice of love, and the Common Resurrection, as the ultimate triumph of love.--The Christian Way, 1961
Lent is now ever.  Our repentance must continue, but we focus less on our own efforts and concentrate fully on what Christ has done for us in this week of salvation.  Today is but a taste of the glory to come at the Passion and Resurrection next week.   Happy feast!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Memory eternal--Magdalena Ziegler (Rothenbacher)

My Oma and her Urinkel, Simon.
Though it has been nearly two weeks, I am still very grieved at  the passing of my beloved grandmother (we called her Oma)  at the age of 94.  She had suffered a stroke over a month ago. Unlike past strokes which she had bounced back from as if they were just little bumps in the road, such was not the case this time.  In many ways, I am comforted that she has been taken back to her Lord and God.  Ever since my Opa died five years ago, my Oma was not the same and her quality of life was such that she needed to live in an assisted living facility.  She was frequently confused and I'm pretty sure that even in the few times I was able to see her or talk with her, she had no idea who I was.  Thank God for my Uncle Emil and my Aunt Joyce who were able to check up on her. I'm also thankful to the staff of the home where she lived who went beyond their capabilities to care for her.  Also, thanks to Minka, her cat and faithful companion.

What can I write about such a woman with whom I spent so much time growing up?  There's no shortage of stories I can relate as our summer vacations usually revolved around going up to see her and Opa.  I feel that any retelling of those stories would not even begin to scratch the surface of just how much she meant to me and my family.  Even now, I struggle with what to write. I'm grateful that I was not asked or coerced into giving a eulogy at her funeral (my father did a wonderful job of that). I think I would have been standing up there with a blank expression on my faith, struggling and grasping at anything that would have sounded appropriate.  Fortunately, everyone managed to avoid that.

With two weeks having gone by, the visitation and the funeral now done, I think I'm finally in a place to say a few words about what Oma's death means to me.  I admit that I'm being selfish, but what grandson isn't selfish of his Oma?  So here's what I've come up with.  The death of my Oma was the final chapter in the book of my childhood.  Maybe it's odd to speak of one's childhood ending at 37, but I can't see it any other way.  I had spent so many summers with my Oma and Opa as a kid.  I can't remember a summer when I didn't see them.  That doesn't count of course the many times they came to visit me.  Over the years, my chances to visit with them were fewer and fewer.  The last time I saw my Oma was nearly a year ago for a family reunion.  Before then, I believe I saw her in the summer of 2009 after I was in the area after visiting my monastery.  But, nothing since.

I was saddened, but understood that my Oma could not come to my wedding and as she was in Ohio, it was a long way to go.  Then, new wife, new job, new kid; everything piled up.  I'm happy beyond belief I was able to see her a year ago so she could meet her great-grandson (her urinkel) for the first (and only) time.  I am certain that she thoroughly enjoyed his visit.

I don't recall ever being very good to my Oma. I have always been pretty bad about remembering to send cards and/or presents for friends' and family's birthdays.  I think my giving her an urinkel was probably the nicest thing I did for her.  It's unfortunate that it took me 36 years for me to do that.  At last week's visitation, my son and his second cousin, Chrisitan (who is 2 years older than Simon) were playing together.  As I saw them playing and laughing, I knew my Oma would have loved every second of that.

That's the kind of woman my Oma was.  She was totally invested in her kids, her grandkids and, if she had more of  an opportunity, her greatgrandkids.  She was selfless. I remember that whenever Oma visited us, I knew I would never have to make a bed or clean up; she always did that for us. She would cook, she would do laundry, she would do everything as if that house were her very own.  Such selflessness and love one seldom sees and I believe that only with her passing do I see that very clearly for the first time, thus finally ending my childhood. 

She will be a hard woman to emulate.  I suppose the best way for me to honor her is to love my wife and my son as she loved her family, to be selfless and humble and always giving.  It's time for me to do some growing up.

I love you, Oma.  Memory eternal!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

May Metropolitan PHILIP'S Memory Be Eternal

Metropolitan PHILIP, Antiochian Archbishop of North America (1931-2014)
Yesterday evening, the faithful of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America were saddened to hear of the death of their spiritual father, Metropolitan PHILIP, Archbishop of North America and Canada, Metropolitan of New York and Northeast U.S.A.  More than a week earlier, His Eminence experienced a mild heart attack after which he went down to Florida for some tests and rest and recovery.  What seemed to be another hurdle that His Eminence would overcome as he has so many was not to be. He reposed yesterday evening after many parishes in the Antiochian Archdiocese here in America were celebrating or concluding the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified.

This is a huge loss, not only for the Antiochian jurisdiction but for Orthodoxy in America.  I never met the man, but I know plenty of people who knew the man from a variety of encounters.  There was never one characterization of him; indeed, he was a man of different temperaments.  He could be gracious and fun loving one moment and then the opposite the next.  This change in his approach to people also made him a controversial figure at times.  Those moments of controversy though should in no way diminish all the good work he did for the Antiochians in America and for all the Orthodox in America.  I've also been told that if you ever got to meet and speak with him, if only for a few moments, you were always made to feel like the most important person in the world to him.

I don't know a lot of specifics, but from what I have read and what I have been told is that the organization of Christians from the Middle East in this country, before his arrival, was a mess.  There were competing hierarchies of bishops; there was a shortage of priests and thus many people drifted away (many becoming Episcopalian); there was a mess.  He straightened all that out.  He healed the rift between competing Arab churches and brought discipline.  He organized the current Antiochian jurisdiction here in North America and made it not only strong for the cradle Arab Orthodox but also a beacon for seekers and inquirers to be received into the one true faith.  No other Orthodox jurisdiction in America has been friendlier to converts than the Antiochian and that is largely because of him.  In fact, the other jurisdictions have had to play catchup.  Though an Arab, he demanded the use of English in parishes, either for the entirety or for the substantial majority of services.  This was at a time when many jurisdictions used very little English, if any.  This, too, helped with the influx of converts.  His reception of several thousand members of the EOC (Evangelical Orthodox Church) still has major implications today.  He expanded the publishing arm of the church to provide service texts for many who simply had no access beforehand. He developed the Antiochian Village to serve as a convention center for retreats.  He has created the first Antiochian monastery, a woman's monastery dedicated to St. Thecla, the Martyr.  So many other accomplishments could be listed which I simply don't know about.

He made jurisdictional unity here in America a priority although he often said some controversial statements that were not well received by bishops of other mother churches like the Ecumenical Patriarchate.    In those statements, he was probably right.  History will probably vindicate him in that regard.

But he also did some things that to many laity, including myself, smacked of power grabs and favoritism:  His demotion of his bishops in the Dioceses in North America to mere auxiliary rank which would not even allow them to be recognized during the Ektenias at Divine Liturgies; his persuading of the Patriarch, IGNATIOS IV (eternal memory!) to cement this change in the form of a Synodal decree; his removal of Bishop MARK from the Diocese of the Midwest;  his unequivocal support for the priests (mainly Arab priests) in Bishop MARK's diocese when they were clearly acting disobediently; His handling of the whole Bishop DMITRI affair; His disciplining of priests who wore the cassock outside of the church.  His Eminence was also no big fan of monasteries and it was only a few years ago that he created a woman's monastery with an abbess that was attached to the Antiochian Village.  We should be honest about the character of the whole man, but I believe that the good he did for the sake of Orthodoxy cannot be impugned even with knowledge of these actions.

The Antiochian jurisdiction is more than any one man.  It will go on, but there is no question that Metropolitan PHILIP, while he lived, was the glue and heart.  A new Archbishop will have to be appointed. It will be interesting to see whom is selected, but now is not  the time for that.  We are in the season of Great Lent and as we (should) cling to God more in this holy season through fasting and prayer, we need to do so even more right now.  Pray that our sins be forgiven and that the faithful of North America be given a chief shepherd to guide them to even better days.

Christ is Risen!  Memory eternal!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

From the Spritual Psalter of St. Ephraim the Syrian

If He [i.e. Christ] is not God and man then, indeed, our salvation is false, and false are the pronouncements of the prophets.--A Spiritual Psalter, Third Kathisma, Third stasis # 23

These words conclude Ephraim's long set of rhetorical questions about Christ being both God and Man.  They follow the pattern "If he were not flesh...then who [insert phrase reflecting his divinity]."  At this time of year, Orthodox are, unfairly, criticized for their hymnography which overwhelmingly tackles the theme of Christ's incarnation.  Why all the focus on His incarnation and not on his Crucifixion and Death and Resurrection?  Firstly, that's a stupid question because Orthodoxy hymnography, just like Orthodox theology is never just centered on one thing, but it is all-encompassing and holistic.  The Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection of Christ all have their place in the Lenten cycle of Divine Liturgy and the other offices, but without keeping the Incarnation on the forefront of our lips and minds and souls, then Christ's work on those three days becomes merely a legal matter.

On another note, if you have not read the Spiritual Psalter of St. Ephraim the Syrian, then I strongly suggest you get one and incorporate it into your Lenten reading/prayer life.  The words of this great Christian poet and psalmist (even when translated into such an unpoetic language as English) will condemn you for what you are, a sinner, and yet remind you fervently about the Hope we have in Christ. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Worship can (and probably should) hurt you (physically)

In today's world of commercial church shopping, would-be church goers and even people who have been at a church for a long time want a place where they will "get the most out of a service" which translates, usually, to "what feels good" or "how much I learned."  Either way, many (if not most) Christian worship services have become mainly mere mental exercises, whether for the emotions or for the reason center of the brain.  In of itself, that is not bad.  The brain/mind/soul/psyche/nous need to be active participants in the worship service, but what about the rest of the body?  Have Christians today become gnostic even in their worship of God?

The Gnostics were the original Christian dualists.  Everything was assigned in one category alongside a diametric opposite:  Good vs. evil, created vs. uncreated, light vs. dark, spirit vs. mind, body vs. soul, hunger vs. satiety, etc.  Now, this type of dualist thought even pervades the Johannine universe of Christianity (read his Gospel and his letters), but it doesn't come close to the extreme application of the Gnostics.  The Gnostics believed that anything created or of the world was evil.  Only things of the spirit of the mind were valuable and were of the true God.  The Gnostic Christians went so far as to say that the act of creation can only be the act of an evil god and thus there were two Gods--one of the Old Testament and one of the New Testament.  In order to draw closer to the true god, one needed to gain "gnosis" or knowledge and that could only be achieved by a severe detachment to the things of the world which lead to harsh asceticism and privation.  Now, the Church, in contrast, has always correctly understood that asceticism and privation are useful disciplines for the body to be a participant in the spiritual life.  Thus, the lenten discipline of fasting is to let the body in on repentance.

In Greek, the word μετανοια is translated as repentance.  It literally means "a change of the nous" which is another word that his hard to translate.  St. John Damascene says the nous is the eye or the heart of the soul, maybe even the power of the soul.  It is through the nous that we communicate with God from the depth of our very self.  But, again, we Christians, especially Orthodox Christians, are not gnostics.  Repentance and communion with God involve the totality of the person, flesh and spirit alike.  In fact, it is  only because we have flesh that we can repent.  The angels who rebelled against God in the beginning cannot repent and thus are forever outside the forgiveness that God offers.  So, if our bodies should be let in on repentance, shouldn't they also be let in for the worship of God?

The obvious answer to that question is yes, but, let's face it, most people don't.  Worship has become an almost exclusively mental activity. What about the rest of the body?  

This is the season of Great Lent.  During this time, Christians, especially Orthodox Christians, take more time out of their already busy lives to immerse themselves into the liturgical life of the Church.  During the first week of Lent, Orthodox Christians are treated to Great Compline (for some, this may be the only time their parish celebrates Great Compline).  It is a long evening prayer service, with many readings from the psalter, prayers and hymns of penance and repentance.  Most of these prayers and hymns are accompanied by not only the sign of the Cross, but also bows and/or full prostations to the ground sometimes one right after the other.  For those not used to it, even for those in good physical shape, it can be a rigorous workout (I sometimes call the experience "The Great Compline Workout').  And sometimes, you can hurt, especially your knees. 

Have many of us ever considered that worship should be physically engaging to the point of feeling stiffness or soreness in muscles and bones?  My back is not in the best shape but I was really feeling it last week.  I should add that I am not advocating that people who have bodily injuries should ignore their doctor's advice and throw themselves fully into the workout. 

Worship should leave us aching...aching for God.  The soul and mind are fed and are prepared for nourishment with the readings, the hymns and the prayers.  Then, the nourishment in the form of the Eucharist is given.  We also should prepare our bodies by bowing, making the sign of the Cross, kneeling, prostrations to the ground and even standing.  The body then is also nourished by the Eucharist which, we pray, is for the feeding of both body and soul.

In many Christian confessions, rubrics have changed so as to eliminate bodily participation in worship or severely limit it.  That will only make the body lethargic.  Pews have helped this along so much.  Worship is about comfort.  There are some churches which advertise themselves by promoting the comfort of their seats!  If the body is a non-participant in worship and repentance, then we do not truly worship nor repent.  For some this will be difficult, physically.  For others, there are physical obstacles in the way, notably pews.

There is an old hymn called "Stand up, stand up for Jesus."  The writer of that hymn, I guess, was not speaking metaphorically, but literally.  Stand up for Jesus, bow to Jesus, kneel to Jesus.  Love and worship  the Lord and repent in soul AND body.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Attention, Catholics! There are STILL Doctrinal Differences

The Roman Catholics ecumenists seem to conveniently never get the memo that there are still many and major points of doctrinal disagreement between them and the Orthodox Communion of Churches.  It's like a relationship that's been split up and one party still continues to insist they are boyfriend-girlfriend and the other party says no.  It is aggravating to hear Catholics on internet forums, in churches, at friendly get-togethers continuing to put forward the absolute myth that there are no major disagreements.  That's ridiculous.

I will direct you to my friend Anastasia's blog where she recalls an instance when a Roman Catholic, at an ecumenical meeting got up and made that blatantly false statement.  Her response to it is worth reading. (FYI:  I have a comment on that post)

She asks at the end How the Orthodox are supposed to have any real dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church who simply must know, must know that there are no doctrinal differences is blatantly false.  The simple answer is "We can't and we shouldn't."  If the Roman Catholics are not going to even be honest with the fact that divisions still do exist, then they are being disingenous, at best. 

The question then arises about why they do this?  They cannot plead ignorance because I believe that they are being actively taught this by their clergy and hierarchs.  I believe that the Roman Catholics do this because they know that their beliefs of being subject to the pope who has universal primacy over doctrine is completely anathema to us Orthodox.  They can't say it else the conversation is immediately ended.  So, they'll deny it to hopefully keep us talking and, when the moment is right and when the ink on the paper is still wet indicating full communion, some Cardinal will jump out of the cake and yell, "You're papists now!"

Dialogue only works when both sides approach it from absolute honesty.  Sadly, the Catholics are not being honest and when they are called on it, they cry foul.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Millennials Longing for Liturgy

In this era of pulling out all the stops to step up or just retain membership in a church congregation, the first thing to do is to understand your demographics.  How do we best retain x demographic, whether it's women, men, college-age, the elderly, generation X, generation Y aka millennials, baby-boomers, take your pick.  Rather than appeal to the whole (catholic), churches attune their message, their church programs, their activities to certain demographics.  There's no way you're going to get all of them.  In the world of business, people want products which are cheap, come fast and are of good quality.  You can't have all three so smart businesspeople say you can only have two. 

Drawing in the millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000), I would argue, has been the bullseye when it comes to church growth or church sustainability.  Those on the older end, some of them at least, are starting to get married and sometimes have children, while those on the younger end are college age, often a critical time when the likelihood of abandoning the religion (if any) they grew up with and maybe trying something different.   The standard thinking by many churches to retain or  gain this group has been to make church watered down, polite and, most importantly, "relevant" to their lives as if the exact thing that millennials do in the world should be replicated in the service of God.  Hence, many churches have gone to a church "Style" that appeals most to this group:  quasi-rock music "praise music" devoid of any theological meaning and concentrating on what the individual "feels" about God; sermons that speak seldom, if ever, about sin and focus more on cheap therapy for one's self-esteem;  abandonment of repentance or change since God loves you as you are; rejection of doctrine and favoring of believing whatever one wishes; services that are short to allow people to get back to the "real" world, etc.

The results of implementing this line of thinking have been disastrous, to say the least.  Now, 1 in 5 Americans considers himself to be a "none" in terms of a specific confession of faith.  There is a rise of "spiritual, but not religious" demographic.  And baby-boomers, wishing to be their kids' friends rather than parents, have abnegated their responsibility of raising their kids in the faith, because that would be mean.  Churches are losing, but continue to practice the proverbial doing the same crazy thing over and over and expecting different results.  

Is there an alternative?  Possibly.  Though this is not backed up by any statistical evidence and is a summary of anecdotes, perhaps the answer to seek out and retain millennials is not rooted in any "relevant" approach at all, but a return to the liturgy.  I encourage you to read this article here.  It gives the account of three people, all of whom grew up in an evangelical or liberal Protestant background and found a home in the Anglican (not Episcopal), Roman Catholic or Orthodox Churches.   Again, we need to stress that though this is occurring, there are no firm statistics to corroborate. 

I would argue that the Liturgy has been and always will be catholic (encompassing the whole) and is not just for one group or another, but for all.  The liturgy is the great uniter precisely because it does not cater to the whims and feelings of one group versus another.   The problem is that many of the evangelical churches and liberal Protestant churches are lead overwhelmingly by those who are still stuck in the mindset that you have to appeal to people's feelings above all. Once those leaders are gone, maybe there will be an upswing in the number of churches which seek to reclaim their now lost liturgical roots. 

Despite the lack  of statistics, the point of the article cannot simply be ignored.  There is a desire, a need for the liturgical worship that has been cast aside starting since the 1960s.  In an era where every whim and want can be instantly gratified thanks to the internet, fast food, smart phones, globalization, there needs to be a place where mystery and the unknown prevail.  And that should be in the churches.  The churches which worship according to the ancient liturgies do not give people immediately what they want, do not heal every wound at once, do not cater to their demands.  There must be periods of waiting, of expectation and then, at last, partaking.  And that takes time, though the Liturgy itself is timeless.  People DO long for mystery, do long for the unexpected, do long for uncertainty in the spiritual life.  Victory then, in the spiritual life, is so much sweeter.

Churches will probably continue to do as they did, but they should be honest about why they are losing people.  Adding new programs according to the old model may work for the time being.  But, it's like using a drug.  At first, you have a contact high and then you want more and more until using it fails to achieve that feeling like when it was first tried.   Churches which always seek to give the congregations the newest fads, the newest trends to keep them in their buildings, will hold onto them for a  little while.  But, like a drug, it wears off and people still don't have what they really need and desire.  Time for a change by embracing the changeless--the Divine Liturgy.

NB:  I use the term liturgy to refer to any particular church's traditional mode of worship.  For Orthodox, this is the Divine LIturgy of St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil the Great; for Catholics, the Tridentine Rite; for Anglicans, the Book of Common Prayer; for Lutherans, the common service.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Devil, Be Gone!

Several days ago, I wrote how the Anglican Communion, specifically the Church of England, is hastening its own destruction.  Its clergy and bishops have declared "Full speed ahead" with its abandonment of anything resembling Christian orthodoxy and these same bishops and clergy now are vying for the dubious honor for piloting the ship into the iceberg causing it to sink. 

Recently, the baptismal Liturgy of the Church of England has undergone some changes, rewriting certain passages and flat-out omitting others.    Here are some of the particular changes and their comparisons to the original:

Original:  "Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?’
Change:   "Do you reject evil, and all its many forms, and all its empty promises?"

Original:   "Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?’
Change:  Omittted completely.

Original:   Do you submit to Christ as Lord?"
Change:  "Do you turn to Christ?"

The change in verbiage is being spun by the Anglican Church, and in particular by its primate, the Archidiot  Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to conform with the "times."  For instance, the word "submit" has negative connotations, especially for women.  Women shouldn't be expected to submit to their husbands, hence why St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 6, is almost NEVER read in Western Wedding ceremonies because "submission" is, in their mind, to reduce someone to second class status and we can't have that in an era of equality by any means necessary.

The second change of omitting the devil and the striking of sin is also very telling.  I remember a line from the great movie, The Usual Suspects, when Kevin Spacey says that the "greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."  Now, I'm not saying that the clergy and the theologians of the Anglican Church are trying to say that the devil no longer exists, but the clergy is responsible for guarding the deposit of the faith.  Simply exorcising the devil from the church does not make him any less potent of a force.  In fact, it empowers the devil.  The devil is not some representation of evil; he is the bona fide sinner and rebel against God and has removed himself from any chance of salvation and always works to win others to his cause.  His heart is hardened against God and seeks out others to do the same.  In Hades, Satan and the other sinners are in torment because even the Love of God is ever present there, as well.  They cannot stand that God loves them even when they turned away and still turn away from Him. 

To rid the Baptismal Liturgy of submission to God and the references to sin and the devil just makes baptism a ceremony that people go through because it's traditional.  Being baptized into Christ, says St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians, is to put on Christ, to put on His very self, His incarnation, His Baptism, His teaching, His arrest, His derision, His Crucifixion, His Burial, His Descent into Hades and, ultimately His Resurrection.    Christ did all this because of sin and the work of the devil in God's creation. 

These changes are not entirely popular.  One bishop says that the changes amount to PR by soundbites.  Another says that this is a benediction from the Good Fairy rather than the Church.  Another says that any humanist non-Christian can say that he renounces evil.  That is true.  If a humanist and a Christian sacrament both say the same thing, then what is the point of having the church service?

Such is the problem with the Anglican Communion and the other Liberal Protestants.  They're too worried about "offending" people that they scrap the belief and praxis of the Church.  Why can't the church just be the church?  If people don't want to be part of it, that's their problem.  The Church exists  to draw people away from sin and the devil to Himself, not to make them more comfortable in the world where sin and the devil reign supreme.

It is rather fitting that I should write this on the day when the Eastern Churches who follow the Revised Calendar and those that have not separated Christmas from Theophany (e.g. the Armenians) celebrate today the Baptism of Christ, Theophany, the manifestation of the Trinity.  Christ, by His Baptism, redeems all of creation and draws it to Himself.  The Father says, "This is My Son in Whom am I glorified."  The Church calls people to Herself; rather the Church of England says that the World should call the Church to it.  It may get you more people in the churches, but they will only be fed with catchy soundbites of moral theology and only a tincture of theism.  That is not the Gospel.  Sin, devil, repentance are all, as a result, thrown out.

Now, this is a "pilot" program.  Hopefully, it will be rejected after Easter for continued use.  But, this is the Anglican Church, and they are very proud of destroying Christianity bit by bit.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Professor Writes to UMC Bishop

I came across this letter today on  I have long thought that such theology teachers and ministers in the UMC (United Methodist Church) were non-existent, but I guess a few still remain.  Though his letter is addressed to a nameless bishop of the UMC, his exhortations and his analysis could well apply to other liberal Protestant denominations who are doing everything possible to rid themselves of the traditionalists and confessionals in their respective denomination.  It is a good read.

HT:  Juicy Ecumenism.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year's Resolution for all Orthodox Churches in the USA: Bolt the NCC

I like to read the publications of other Christian confessions and writings of various Christian and non-Christian authors.  I often find gems but lots of crap (I'm sure the same thing can be said of my meager writings here), but I continue to do so simply because in today's world, it does no good for anyone in any faith, Christian or non, especially in a society as religiously pluralistic as ours, to remain ignorant of what others are doing or believing. 

One of the publications I read when it first hits the internet is the ELCA's (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a liberal Lutheran denomination) publication, The Lutheran.  From my reading, the issues in the publication are generally more human interest stories, e.g. stories of congregations or families.  There is much advocacy for certain social justice issues, e.g. the environment, social welfare projects and some, though not a great amount, of theology.  Oftentimes, the ELCA confuses theology with social justice.  There are some stories about what goes on in other denominations.  And there is always an article submitted by the presiding bishop, who is brand new.  In short, it's not an exhaustive read, but it does give you a pretty good idea of what is important to the ELCA and how it practices and lives its brand of Lutheranism.  It is free on their website and is usually available a few days before the start of the next month.

Kathryn Lohre of the ELCA.  Former NCC President.
While reading January's issue, I read an article by Kathryn Lohre who is a member of the ELCA, its director of inter-religious and ecumenical relations and also a former president of the NCC (National Council of Churches).  People who have read my rantings over these past few years know well my hostility to Orthodox participation in both the NCC and WCC (World Council of Churches). Member churches of the NCC are generally the liberal Protestant mainline churches.  They desperately need the Orthodox to remain involved in the NCC because the Protestant mainline churches are dieing and to give legitimacy to the positions that are blatantly contradictory to traditional Christianity.  It was the NCC's unfettered support for abortion-on-demand, among other things, which caused the Antiochian Orthodox jurisdiction in North America to sever ties with the NCC in 2005.  The Greek Archdiocese and the OCA (Orthodox Church in America) still remain members as well as the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church.  I'm not sure about other Orthodox groups.  Why they do is beyond me.

With regards to the article by Kathryn Lohre, which you can read here, the same rallying cries are repeated about how vital the NCC really is.  Any Orthodox Christian who reads this article and who is honest about the faith should come to the conclusion that continued participation in this group by any Orthodox Christian jurisdiction is self-defeating and does nothing to help those who have rejected traditional Christianity to return to their roots.  Here are a couple of tell-tale snippets from this article:

Lohre:  While evangelical, Pentecostal and ethnic churches report significant growth, many of the council’s member churches have been in steady decline over the past few decades.
Response:  At least she's honest, but she doesn't  say why the evangelical, Pentecostal and ethnic churches (i.e. Orthodox, I'm sure as well as other churches that still have some nationality component, e.g. Croatian/Italian/Irish churches) are growing and the mainline churches  are declining.  Of course, she can't come right out and say what the reasons are (liberal social advocacy issues, among others), but that's a big reason, if not the predominant reason.

Lohre:  Many churches, like other institutions, are turning away from top-down approaches and embracing their roles as that of convener.
Response:  This is typical.  When you have a problem, rather than identify it, simply give it another name.  For her, the church is not a place of salvation, a hospital for sinners, but a place to bring people together.  Now, there's nothing wrong with that, but when you make the church only responsible for bringing people together with no particular goal, then is it any wonder why you have 30,000 different interpretations of what God's revelation is to mankind?  Also, notice the slight towards hierarchy.  The ELCA still has bishops, but they don't function with the same kind of oversight that a bishop in the Orthodox Churches has.  The implication is that the church should not only bring people together but be democratic about what it should believe.

Lohre:  Without a doubt, seeking unity in Christ holds renewed purpose in today’s multireligious society where people of other faiths and no faith are our neighbors, co-workers, family and friends.
Response:   What does unity in Christ have to do with what our non-Christian or atheist friends believe and think?  Actually a lot.  There is a divided witness in the world. But she fails to lay out what unity in Christ is.  It is NOT unity of administration, but is Unity of the Faith.  The ELCA are no different than other mainstream liberal Protestants:  whatever you believe is fine. Doctrine is unimportant.  Just believe in god and liberal social advocacy issues and that's enough.    If you believe, though that marriage is between one man and one woman, then you are threatened with excommunication because Jesus would never have said the same thing (sarcasm alert).

Lohre:  A compelling Christian witness that promotes God’s justice, peace and the healing of the world is very much needed in an era of competing voices and visions.
 Response:  God's justice, peace and healing of the world?  Read liberal social values such as gay marriage, no fault divorce, abortion on demand, forced welfare, radical environmentalism, anti-capitalism, etc.    Nothing about Christ's incarnation, death and Resurrection to restore man to God; it's all about liberal advocacy.

Lohre:   But the age-old church-dividing issues, including eucharistic sharing, haven’t been resolved.
 Response:  Yes, it has been resolved.  It's been resolved that Unity of the faith and the unity of schismatics and heretics to the una sancta must happen first before any common reception of the eucharist.  The liberal Protestants just don't get this.  They see unity as merely some joint statement without the underlying unity of the faith.  It's a unity built upon sand.  But they keep insisting they need Eucharistic unity with the Orthodox and Roman Catholics because they know that their churches are dieing.  They know the Orthodox and Catholics have a high theology of the Eucharist.  To get them to break on this issue would be the first domino of many other issues to come.
Lohre:   The council’s future will be defined by how effectively it engages as convener and co-convener of people in local, regional and national settings — weaving a compelling narrative of the movement for Christian unity in all of its expressions and contexts “so that the world may believe” (John 17:21)
 Response:  Again, notice the use of "convener."  The churches are simply buildings to get people together, that's all.  Unity in all its expressions is code for unity of the diversity of opinions.  In other words, all beliefs are tolerated and accepted as Christian, that Christianity represents a widespread diversity of beliefs.  These same people probably view the early councils at Nicaea and Ephesus and Chalcedon as intolerant.  As the Orthodox Church is the Church of the Fathers the emphasis on diversity of belief as acceptable would be a total non starter in any discussion.

Now I will concede that Lohre does not have the time to go into the theology behind a lot of what she has said and I will admit that I am not 100% accurate of what I think are her justifications for writing such general statements.  However, I know Lutherans (I used to be one) and I know ELCA Lutherans and though they are not as monolithic as one might assume them to be, when it comes to ecumenism and the faith, they are not friends to traditional Christians and not to the Orthodox.  I know how they think.

Orthodox hierarchs, priests, monks and laity involved in any discussions with the ELCA or any other liberal Protestant confession who is a member of the NCC should be well aware of the heresy and schism that the NCC member churches openly declare for.  The NCC is nothing more than common statements affirming such heretical views.  The Orthodox Church, to them, is like the tribal elder that the young ones need approval from even though they despise that elder and speak ill of him when he's not around.  Continued dialogue with the NCC or its member churches is futile and should cease.  They're not interested in the Orthodox position on anything. They only want our name affixed to their organization to give them legitimacy.  Their fruits have betrayed them.  So, for this new year, I beg the other Orthodox Churches to end their relationship with the NCC once and for all.  Get out now.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Resolutions for the new year?

It is a great thing to be able to make a New Year's resolution AND to see it through towards the end.  I myself will admit to planning New Year's resolutions and doing a great job at it.  But, I'm absolutely terrible at seeing it through to the end.  Perhaps the problem is that I choose my own resolutions. If, maybe, someone were to choose my resolution for me, I may be more inclined to follow it through. 

So, if anyone would like to choose a resolution for me, I'd like to hear it.  But, there are some criteria:
1)  It must relate to the liturgical life in the Orthodox Church
2)  It must be doable
3)  It should be followed through the whole year

In case you're unsure where to start, here are  a few suggestions (You may suggest one of these, use one of these as the model for your own suggestion or suggest some combination):
1)  Read the 6 Psalms every day (at some point, usually the morning)
2)  Read the prescribed readings for every day
3)  Attend Great Vespers on Saturday at least once a month
4)  Say all the communion prayers before every Sunday Liturgy
5)  Set aside $1 every day for a charity or charities
6)  Keep every fast day and fasting season strictly
7)  Read one Orthodox Book every month

I look forward to hearing suggestions.  Thanks and Happy New Year!