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!