Sunday, March 27, 2016

Roman Catholic Priest Crucified by ISIS

A story found in a British news source from March 23 claimed that ISIS had kidnapped a Roman Catholic Priest named Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil during a raid in Yemen last month was going to be crucified on Western Good Friday (March 25).  As of today, Easter Sunday on the Western Christian Calendar, those reports have proven correct.  According to Cardinal Christopher Schoenborn, this heinous did in fact come to pass. 

Words are not enough to really express just how disgustingly abhorrent this is.  And regardless of your religious proclivities, any good and honest person should condemn this as a barbaric act and condemn the perpetrators of this act as inhuman savages.

I know today is Easter Sunday.  I know that when the Lord came to His disciples, He told them that whosoever's sins you forgive, they are forgiven and whoseover's sins you retain, they are retained.  I know that Easter is the triumph of God over death, the triumph of justice over injustice, the triumph of love over indifference, the triumph of the creator over the damage done to His creation.  When we hear news like this, so heinous and so savage that it can easily make one question even the existence of God.  Christ still came though to do redeem the world, even these subhuman savages.

Despite the forgiveness that Christ commands us to have for our enemies, it's also really easy to say that I hope those criminals get carpet-bombed into the stone age.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The beginning of the Triodion

Icon of the Publican and Pharisee. He who humbles himself
will be exalted.  He who exalts himself will be humbled.
For the next ten weeks to varying degrees, the Orthodox Church will use principally the service book of the Triodion, a collection of hymns for the services throughout the pre-Lenten, Lenten and Holy Week periods.  It is a magnificent collection of great hymns, the vast majority of which few Orthodox Christians will actually use and pray unless they are monastics.  That is a great loss.  I believe that every Orthdox Christian should own a copy of the Triodion and make use of it in his devotional life as much as he can.

Today is the first Sunday of the Triodion where we take special notice of the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.  The lessons contained in those four verses from St. Luke's Gospel are numerous, but the one thing that we should focus on is whether we, in our spiritual lives, are more like the publican or the pharisee?

Most of us, if we were honest, would answer that we are more like the pharisee.  Even more of us would answer that this parable, like so many other parables of the Lord and exhortations of the prophets, concern everyone BESIDES us.  Those were written down for other people, not for someone like me who is just trying to get through  life, make a living, love my wife and kids and not get into trouble.  But, even that train of thought puts one well into the pharisee camp.  Such an evaluation of life being rooted in just doing the right things is exactly where the pharisee stands when he is in the temple.  He does do all the right things and wants to be congratulated for it.

Most of us, if we were honest, would admit we do not enter the Temple of the Lord with downcast face and with a cry of mercy to forgive us our sin, whatever that may be, however little it may be.

Most of us, if we were honest, would admit that being pharisaical isn't really bad at all.

Most of us, if we were honest, would admit that humbling ourselves runs counter to our culture of self-satisfaction, self-validation, self-importance, ego-driven world we find ourselves and maybe seek to change that.

Most of us, if we were honest, would prefer material gifts over spiritual ones.

Most of us, simply, do not want to be the publican.

But that is the spiritual life.  Does God accept us as we are?  Sure.  But he also says that if we love Him to keep his commandments.  That requires humility which almost every single Church Father and Desert Father says is the beginning to becoming like God.  But we want God to do the work for us and yet we still demand credit. God does the work, but so must we.  God did not create a race of automatons to function only according to a certain program.  He created a race in His image and likeness to grow into mature human beings in communion with him.  But that can only happen if we first humble ourselves to the point that we are not equal with God and that we have sinned against our Creator.  That's not a bad thing.  Humility takes  a lot more courage and effort than exalting ourselves for managing to dress ourselves every morning.

The Lenten period is about fasting, prayer and repentance. In short, it's about work.  The work to drag ourselves out of the pit of our sins.  Yes, Christ did do that on the Cross and then in  Hades, made glorious in His Resurrection.  But He did that so that we could also work out our on salvation with fear and trembling.  St. Paul may as well have said humility.

So, let us embrace humility now for the Lenten season that will be upon us in a few very short weeks.  Happy Triodion, everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Joseph and the Nativity of Christ

Of all of the main characters in the Scripture, there is one from whom we never hear a word.  That, of course, is Joseph, Jesus' step-father and husband to Mary.  We see him, of course, in every Nativity scene and his importance cannot be understated especially since if he did not listen to to the angel and choose to take Mary as his bride, then the history of salvation may have well turned out differently. His reputation of being Jesus' protector can also not be underestimated as it is he who took Mary and the infant, Jesus, to Egypt to protect them from Herod.   He is honored for his actions and rightfully so, but I've always been curious as to what Joseph may have said.  Though none is recorded in Scriptures, at the hymns of the Royal Hours, Joseph is given some very intriguing things to say.

From the first Hour:  Joseph spoke thus to the Virgin:  "What is this doing, O Mary, that I see in thee?  I fail to understand and am amazed, and y mind is struck with dismay.  Go from my sight, therefore, with all speed.  What is this doing, O Mary, that I see in thee?  Instead of honor, thou has brought me shame; instead of gladness, sorrow; instead of praise, reproof.  No further shall I bear the reproach of men. I received thee from the priests of the temple, as one blameless before the Lord.  And what is this that I now see?"

From the third Hour:  "I have searched the prophets, " said he, "and have been warned by an angel:  and I am persuaded that Mary shall give birth to God, in ways surpassing all interpretation.  Magi from the east shall come to worship Him with precious gifts."

From the sixth Hour:  "What is this strange mystery in thee, O Virgin?  And how shalt though bring forth a child, Calf upon whom the yoke has never come?"

Then in the ninth Hour, Mary responds to Joseph's hesitations and doubts:  "Why are thou downcast and troubled, seeing me great with child?  Why are thou wholly ignorant of the fearful mystery that comes to pass in me?  Henceforth, case every fear aside and understand this strange marvel:  for in my womb, God now descends upon the earth for mercy's sake, and He has taken flesh.  Thou shalt see Him according to His good pleasure, when He is born; and filled with joy thou shalt worship Him as thy Creator.  Him the angels praise without ceasing in song and glorify with the Father and the Holy Spirit."

Joseph's doubt is met with the confidence of Mary who first said "yes" to the Lord when Gabriel announced she was pregnant.  Joseph's concern for this reputation is met with Mary's revelation that the mercy Jesus brings in the flesh will make such a concern trivial. Joseph's amazement that Mary is pregnant in the first place is compounded by who is contained within Mary. Sure the words are not Scriptural, but they don't have to be.  This dialogue illustrates not only the concerns we frail humans have, but also the real importance of this day and who has come in the flesh, truly in the flesh.

Christ is born to raise up the image that fell aforetime.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Wrong Way to Reach the Nones or the UnChurched

At the risk of sounding cliche, do you know what really grinds my gears?  When my church, which I love, decides that the way to reach out to the Millennials or the Nones or just the plain old-fashioned UnChurched is to use some byproduct that has been discredited by the Evangelical Community as a way of promoting Holy Orthodoxy.  This particular program is benignly labeled as Visitors Day.

Now, before I'm labeled as some insular, insecure and greedy fool, (which I'm sure has probably already happened), I am not opposed to growing the Church or individual parishes. I am not opposed to visitors. Hell, I was one myself at one time.  What I am opposed to is using the Liturgy specifically to evangelize.  That is wrong.

In the ancient church, people who wished to be joined to the Church were not able to stay for the entire liturgy.  They were permitted to attend the parts of the Liturgy where general hymns were sung, Scripture read and the homily given.  But, after that and the cries of "the doors, the doors", people who were not initiates (i.e. the  unbaptized) were not allowed to stay.  Instead, they left and received catechism instruction from a priest while the Liturgy proceeded with the Anaphora and the consecration and the reception of the Holy Eucharist by the faithful.  Now, this was NOT done to shun such people or to make them feel unworthy, but because the Church wisely knew that full participation in her actions and communion with God was specifically for those who had been called out of the world by God to the Holy Mysteries.  Those desiring to join themselves to the Holy Church would certainly be welcome to that, just not yet.  They needed both time and instruction.

Now, though we have retained the refrain of "the doors, the doors" very few Orthodox Churches, if any, insist that non-baptized persons in attendance leave.  Things are very different now in the 21st century than they were in the 3rd, 4th or 16th centuries.  But, one thing that the Church Fathers never did was use the Liturgy to evangelize.  We simply should and must remember that Liturgy first and foremost is for those who have been called out of the world.  In short, it's for us, because we need it.  It is a gift from God which is then offered back humbly to him.  As said by the priest during the singing of the Cherubimic Hymn, Christ is the "offerer and the offered."  It is offered to us so that we may be thankful for being called out of the sin of this world.

The Liturgy is not some tool to use to reach those groups mentioned above.  Yes, it is instructional. Yes, it is beautiful.  Yes, it is useful.  But there are many other instructional and beautiful and useful means to reach the unchurched.  Why must it be Liturgy or bust?

The fact is that  my parish receives many visitors every year.  I think very few of them come because they were asked by a friend or a coworker.  Most of them are seekers and found their way to my parish by any number of means.  And that's all good.  But, for every visitor that we had, we didn't stop the Liturgy to explain to them what is going on.  We didn't call out from the solea to make sure everyone was on the right page.   Now, I grant that I don't know exactly how this Visitor's Day is going to look on Sunday.   And it could be that I am way off in my perception, but my point remains is that the Liturgy should not be used and cannot be used as an evangelization tool because it is precisely not that.  It is not for the unchurched. It is for those called to God.  To use it in such a way cheapens it and risks making it into a spectacle to be observed rather than a prayer offered by the faithful to God.  Perhaps it is time to enforce "the doors, the doors" again, but I doubt that will happen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Death and the Justice of God

A friend and coworker recently lost his 19 year old daughter.  She was a very happy, energetic young woman with her whole life in front of her.  She had only three months before graduated from college, played for  a championship softball team at her college, was engaged to be married, procured a job right out of college with the potential for advancement, was about to buy a house where she and her future husband would live, etc.  Despite such a great future ahead of her, she was taken from this life.

At the visitation, the sheer number of people there was overwhelming.  This young woman had clearly made an impact on those around her.  There were friends from her high school and college, friends of friends, coworkers and friends of her parents and siblings.  It was inspiring though under tragic circumstances.  While waiting to see the deceased''s father, I overheard some people talking about how this young woman's death was tragic and unfair and how could God do this.  As a parent myself, I probably would ask those same questions should I find myself (God forbid!) in the same situation.

In the movie, Rudy, a disheartened Rudy Ruttiger, upon learning yet again that he was denied entrance to the University of Notre Dame, tries to get some comfort and counsel from the priest.  The priest says that in his life he is only certain of two things:  there is a God and he is not Him.  I know from the Scriptures that the Lord says "My thoughts are not your thoughts; My ways are not your ways." (Isaiah 55:8).  I don't know that would be much of a comfort to me if I were to find myself in this situation, but if I were to understand the reasons why certain things, especially bad things like the death of your own child happen, I know that then I would be God.  But I'm not.

When studying the mythology of the Ancient Greeks and Romans and examining just how petty and emotionally insecure the gods and goddesses appear to be, I ask my students if it is possible for the gods or God to be moral in our sight.  They most often respond with a unanimous "no."  When I ask why, they reply something along the lines about how we humans operate or try to operate on a system of fair play.  And we do.  Then I ask the question, do you want life to be fair?  At this point, the class is pretty silent not knowing how to answer, though after a few seconds of awkward silence a few chirp up and say, "Absolutely!"  I then challenge them to consider about how many things they have gotten away with in their life:   How many times they screwed up and no one noticed, how many times they broke a rule and didn't get caught, how many times they got away unscathed without any punishment.  If life were truly fair, you would get what you deserve for everything you do.  And I know what I would be punished far more than rewarded.  When I bring this up, most students then grudgingly approve of the system we currently have in place.  There is a God and I'm not Him.

God will never get a fair shake from us mortal men.  He will never play fair.  If God were fair, this sweet young woman would not have died.  Truth be told, God shouldn't give us a fair shake either. And he doesn't; he goes way, way, way beyond that.  While we deal and try to rationalize the world in terms of fair play, God does differently.  His ways are not our ways.   If the justice of God were paramount, then there would have been no incarnation, no Crucifixion, no death and surely no Resurrection. But those things did happen, not because it satisfied some notion of justice, but because it was done for God's love of His creation.

God will never be just in our sight.  God's ways our different than ours.  Nevertheless, as  humans we continue to want God to be human rather than us to be more like God.  A Christian life is not a guarantee to be free from suffering in this life.  That's one of the reasons that the "Prosperity Gospel" is a false gospel.  There will be suffering.  But that does not mean we should be morose.  If anything we should be joyful because God's justice, at least for the time being, has not come.  It will eventually, at the Last Judgment, but for the here and now, the Compassion and Mercy of God reign supreme.

Is this fair?  No and I would really be afraid if everything I see and do every day of my life is the result of fairness.

Monday, August 10, 2015

It's a political issue

For those of us who are Christians in the orthodox sense, we know full well that the culture around us is fast becoming post-Christian and even anti-Christian.  To be honest, I don't know what the end result will be.  The late Cardinal George had a famous remark (which I paraphrase) that he would die in his sleep, his predecessor will die in jail and his predecessor will be martyred.  I don't know if such things will come about or even that quickly, but we Christians must recognize that the culture around us is becoming more and more hostile to those of us who hold on to a traditional morality, often, but not exclusively, girded in the Church.  So, what are we to do? Ignore it and just keep on going as if nothing is happening?  A Benedict Option? 

I say absolutely not.  At the same time, I am hesitant and unconvinced that Christians should use the mechanism of the state to enforce our mores, just as our cultural opponents are doing right now.  I believe in liberty first and foremost and believe that freedom exists for the purpose of choosing the good, not having the good rammed down your throat or used as a means of coercion like what you have with "morality" police in Saudi Arabia or Iran or even the "vice" squads of numerous police departments here in the USA. 

Liberty does not mean surrender.  The Church should and does (even though it can do more) to speak out about the evils we see around us.  And I'm not  just talking about things like abortion, gay marriage or anything like that, but about promiscuity, gambling, drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, broken families, etc.  The problem is that the Church, again from within and without, is told to stay out of those issues, because they are "political" issues.  And since they have been politicized, the Church must watch from the sidelines and wait for the government OK before they speak.

I remember once my priest (the only time I remember him talking about a "social" issue) talked about abortion in his homily and one person got up and left (and let everyone know he was getting up and leaving, too) because the Church shouldn't be involved in political issues.  Now my priest only restated Church teaching that abortion was a grave sin and that a life was sacred, but at the same time reaffirming that the Church is a place for healing.  He wasn't telling people to go out and support a candidate or vote a certain way on a referendum.  But, for the person who got up and left, I suspect he did so not because he thought that the priest was out of line for bringing up a "political" issue, but because he does not support church teaching.  And these people are the really dangerous ones.

A brother of a friend of mine remarked the same thing once about how the Church should not  talk about these issues.  I then asked why?  He said that the Church was wrong.  I asked him if he would stay during a homily if the priest were to talk about the damaging effects of gambling or drinking. He said that would be fine.  But even gambling and drinking have been politicized, I replied.  Gambling is heavily regulated by the states as is drinking.  So, what's the difference?  I surmised he was completely honest when he said that because the Church was right about drinking and gambling but wrong about abortion.  In his mind, abortion was approved of by the government so the Church should, too.  I replied that gambling is also sanctioned by the government, so why doesn't the Church get on board and say it's no longer dangerous or immoral?  He didn't have an answer.  I suspect for issues like gay marriage and abortion, in particular, the ones who say the Church should refrain from preaching on "political" issues are the same who demand the Church's teachings should change.  However, they will never admit that up front.

There are some who say that a persecution of the Church would actually be a good thing because it will strengthen its core members and weed out those who were only lukewarm.  Maybe.  The Church is not going to win popularity contests with its stance on the "issues" of the day, but it's not supposed to.  Churches becoming "relevant" or bending with the times are the same ones that are dying.  Right now, I would settle for the Church actually doing what it was founded to do--bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone, without conditions, emendations or changes.

Friday, July 31, 2015


Saw this on another blog, but it sums up pretty much all the cliched, nonsense in modern "contemporary" or "praise" or "relevant" church services.

HT:  Pastoral Meanderings