Ontology and Sacraments

I’ve been continuing to ponder things sacramental, which is always likely to get me into trouble.  I realised recently that I have been teaching the Orthodox view of ordination all wrong, mixing it in with the Catholic view. In this discovery, I realised that opposition to the ordination of women has a different basis on either side of the Great Schism. From this I realised that there are significantly differing views on the ontology of (at least some of) the sacraments.

No doubt there will be theologians, professional and amateur, most of who would never bother to visit this blog, who would say (if they were to visit it), “Well, duh.” Those would of course be Valley Girl theologians, but there would be other theologians who would have a similar, if less blonde, response, incredulous that I have not already explored this in some depth and embarrassed for me that I even feel the need to write about it and demonstrate my ignorance.

I already knew that Orthodoxy did not subscribe to the Catholic idea of the indelible priestly character. However, I hadn’t thought about the implication of this being that in Orthodoxy a woman may not be a priest, whereas in Catholicism a woman cannot be a priest.

I suppose this is why the idea of deaconesses is considered seriously in some Orthodox circles. If it were demonstated (as some attempt to do) that deaconesses were the female equivalent of deacons at some time in the ancient past, then the precedent has been established in Holy Tradition that could eventually lead to such an equivalency being re-introduced. It seems to follow from this that the only thing preventing women priests in Orthodoxy is that it has never been done that way. Admittedly, this is a pretty high wall when it comes to Orthodoxy.  It does however, remove the ontological impossiblity. (While I have been writing and editing this, there has been a related discussion on Deacon Steve Hayes’ Khanya blog.)

One thing I don’t get is how the Catholic Church only sees three of the sacraments as unrepeatable, viz., Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. I seems to me that Marriage should fit in this category as well. After all, Catholic theology does not recognise remarriage after divorce. Does this not make the sacrament of marriage unrepeatable? It also seems like there should be an indelible married character, that there is an ontological (as opposed to a merely economic) aspect to becoming one flesh.

I don’t know if Orthodoxy considered ordination, not being indelible, to be unrepeatable. Can a laicised Orthodox cleric be re-clericised? I’m sure there is a textbook answer to such a question.

When is a Sacrament a Sacrament?

I was listening in on the conversation of a couple of Charismatic preachers a few weeks ago. There was some discussion about how certain ministers seem to be conduits of the power of God (they have “the anointing”, to use the common parlance) despite a significant lack of personal character.

Those with a sacramental theology will recognise this as similar to the view that the validity of the sacrament is not afffected by the holiness of the person administering it. The difference is that “the anointing” is a personal thing, bestowed upon an individual, whereas the sacraments are entrusted to the Church.

However, this did bring my thoughts to something that is no doubt considered a long-settled matter regarding the sacraments. What makes a valid or real sacrament? Or more particularly, what are the implications of partaking in sacraments that aren’t valid.

The Roman Church generally recognises the sacraments of the Orthodox Church as valid and grace-filled. Opinion in the Orthodox Church ranges from a similar view about Roman sacraments (as ennunciated by Archbishop Hilarion [Alfeev]) to a not surprisingly very uncharitable view.

For those who deny the grace of Roman mysteries, when did they lose their efficacy? Though 1054 is a symbolic date, as a practical matter there was a lot of concelebration and cross-pollination for centuries after, even as there was open rivalry before. It is easy to look with the eyes of the present, see a clear divide with battle lines drawn and trenches dug, and declare that we are the Orthodox Church and you’re not. We know where the grace is. It seems to me, if we start parsing out the history very carefully, it becomes very difficult to declare when the other side became the other side and lost their grace.

I also find it interesting that for both sides, all that matters is what is decided at the highest hierarchical level. The epiclesis of a pederastic priest is unconditionally granted because his hierarch is on the right side of the Great Schism. On the other hand, God ignores the holy priest (ordained with the same intent and using an equally valid rite) who may be rather oblivious to the decision of medieval synods and not realise that his fate was decided somewhere between 500 and 1000 year ago (given the murkiness of the historical situation), thus leaving him to spend a lifetime in fruitless faux-sacerdotal prayer.

But setting aside the debate regarding Roman sacraments, I have been mulling over the matter of Protestant sacraments as they relate to Orthodox theology. After all, neither Rome nor Orthodoxy recognise the validity of Protestant sacraments. And futhermore, many Protestants don’t even recognise the validity of any sacraments.

So the first question is: if Protestants do not have real sacraments, can they participate in their act of Communion without fear of bringing judgement upon themselves for partaking unworthily? Or rather, are their fears unfounded even though they take it in faith? In other words, do the warnings of St Paul in I Corinthians not apply, even if the person receiving thinks they do? Is it all much ado about nothing?

Following on from this, if someone in Communion within the Orthodox Church receives an invalid communion, have they received communion outside the Church at all? It would seem that the Orthodox would have to recognise Roman sacraments as sacraments at least to the point of saying that someone is no longer in communion with the Orthodox Church because they have communed with Rome. However, if it be no sacrament whatsoever, not even putatively in the case of some Protestants, how is it possible to consider it communion for the purpose of excommunication from the real sacrament?

Anyhow, these are just a few thoughts I’ve been mulling around in my head.

The Heresies of Abortion and Same-Sex Marriage

Currently in Orthodoxy, we have churches divided over which hierarch has jurisdiction over which country. We have issues of whether a calendar devised or approved of by a Roman Pope could be acceptable or adjusted for calculating feasts and fasts. The issues which divide jurisdictions and arguments between so-called Traditionalists and so-called Modernists are matters of straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

The Orthodox Church as well as all Christians worldwide have been brought face-to-face with challenges to the fundamental concepts of life and the very nature of the family. I would suggest that these challenges are at least as significant and perhaps of farther reaching implications than the doctrinal challenges facing the Church of the first eight centuries.

Both of these go straight to the heart of who we are as humans. Both of these are at the foundation of the created order.

The Councils of the Church debated much finer details than these. That the matters facing the Church today even raise questions would have been unthinkable to the Church Fathers. Neither the Arians, nor the Monothelites, nor the Monophysites, nor the Nestorians, nor the Docetists, nor the Donatists, nor the Pelagians, et al., ad nauseum, would have considered, not to mention condoned, abortion or same-sex “marriage”.

This can be put into Christological terms. If we condone abortion because we say the unborn child is not human, we deny the humanity of Christ in the womb of Mary.  To condone abortion is to deny the Incarnation.  That is heresy.

If we say affirm the humanity of the unborn, but say it is permissible to wilfully take the life of an innocent human – neither a military combatant nor a criminal – we condone murder. To say that murder is not a sin is heresy.

Any Christian who says that either the unborn child is not human or that it is okay to willfully take the life of an unborn human is heretic. Any priest, bishop, archbishop, metropolitan, or patriarch who says that either the unborn child is not human or that it is okay to wilfully take the life of an unborn human is heretic.

So if a hierarch says that Orthodox church believes the soul enters the body at conception and, “generally speaking, respects human life and the continuation of pregnancy,”but that the church also “respects the liberty and freedom of all human persons and all Christian couples,” and further that “We are not allowed to enter the bedrooms of the Christian couples. We cannot generalize. There are many reasons for a couple to go toward abortion,” is this heresy?

Any layman or deacon or priest who is under the omophorion of a bishop and any bishop who is under obedience to a hierarch that is a heretic should take appropriate action. Any bishop who is in communion with a heretical bishop should take appropriate action. It could be argued that any heretical bishop is not in the Church. It could be argued that any priest who is obedience to any bishop not in the Church is also not in the Church.

I leave this for you to ponder and/or comment.

With regard to purported same-sex marriage, there is also a Christological issue. “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.” Marriage is based in the relationship of Christ to the Church. Just as the Church cannot have two heads, neither can the marriage. To allege that a marriage can have two husbands or two wives is to deny that Christ alone is the head of the Church. It is to deny the very nature of the Church. It is heresy.

It is also a denial of the image of God. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.  Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply…’ ” God’s blessing of His image is based in His command to be fruitful and multiply. It is not based in heterosexuality – rather is it impossible without heterosexuality. The sexual aspect is such a given that it need not even be mentioned. To deny it is to deny man as the image of God.

So if a bishop is asked if same-sex unions are a threat to the traditional family, and he says, “Absolutely not. I don’t see that at all…. I would say God bless you,” is this heresy?

I also leave this for you to ponder and/or comment.

My Letter to Metropolitan Gerasimos

I will be posting this letter along with the letter to Rep. Dina Titus:

His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco
245 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

Your Eminence

As an American member of the Greek Orthodox Church currently living abroad, I was appalled when I learned that a member of your diocese serving in the United State House of Representatives, Dina Titus, publicly declares that she supports ethics of which Orthodox Christians would be proud and uses her position in Congress to look out for Orthodox issues.

Rep. Titus’ ethics are in direct contradiction to the teaching of the Orthodox Church. Rep. Titus openly supports the federally sponsored killing of the unborn. By her words and actions she is declaring that support for abortion is compatible with Orthodoxy.

Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America boldly declared in Washington, D.C. in January of this year, “…the unqualified opposition to abortion that is at the heart of the Orthodox Christian Tradition and is unarguably the teaching and the dogma of the Orthodox Church.” As Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh has said, “It is our obligation as Orthodox to speak up and not remain silent on this issue.”

Rep. Titus has voted in favour of using tax dollars to fund abortion, in House Roll Call No. 571 (the District of Columbia funding bill, H.R. 3170), in House Roll Call No. 643 (the Pence amendment to H.R. 3293), and in House Roll Call No. 884 (the Stupak-Pitts Amendment to H.R. 3962). Such votes unarguably stand in opposition to the ethics of the Orthodox Church. She is openly an accomplice to what the Orthodox Church clearly and unequivocally regards as murder.

As a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, I urge you to fulfil the obligation to speak up and not remain silent. I ask you to call upon Rep. Titus to repent of publicly rejecting the teaching and dogma of the Orthodox Church and Holy Tradition in the Congress of the United States. I call upon you to fulfil your duty to Christ and His Church to guard the holy, life-giving sacraments and demand that Rep. Titus refrain from receiving the Most Precious Body and Blood of our Lord so long as she spends the public purse to rip the bodies of the innocent unborn from their mothers and pours out their blood upon the altar of convenience.

In Christ,

My Letter to Dina Titus

The Honorable Dina Titus
319 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Dr Titus,

As an American ex-pat member of the Greek Orthodox Church, I was appalled when I read Andrew Manatos’ article on the home page of your website entitled “Congresswoman Dina Titus Sworn-In on Grandfather’s Greek Bible.”

In this article, he claims “Orthodox Christians would be proud of the ethics Congresswoman Titus brings to politics.” Manatos, in an article clearly endorsed by you, equates this to a lack of negative campaigning in the 2008 elections. He also claims that you are looking out for Orthodox issues in Congress.

Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America boldly declared in Washington, D.C. in January of this year, “…the unqualified opposition to abortion that is at the heart of the Orthodox Christian Tradition and is unarguably the teaching and the dogma of the Orthodox Church.”

Inasmuch as you have voted in favour of using tax dollars to fund abortion, in House Roll Call No. 571 (the District of Columbia funding bill, H.R. 3170), in House Roll Call No. 643 (the Pence amendment to H.R. 3293), and in House Roll Call No. 884 (the Stupak-Pitts Amendment to H.R. 3962), you are not looking out for Orthodox issues in Congress. Such votes unarguably stand in opposition to the ethics of the Orthodox Church.

As a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, I am embarrassed that someone of such public prominence would claim to not only be a member of the Church, but claim to bring Orthodox ethics and look out for Orthodox issues, and yet make just as publicly and prominently a stand in absolute opposition to the same.

As a fellow Orthodox Christian, I am obligated to urge you to repentance in rejecting the teaching and dogma of the Orthodox Church and Holy Tradition. As by your votes in the House of Representatives you have publicly stood against the Church, I urge you to publicly repent and declare you intention to conform your ethics to teaching of the Church. Otherwise, do the honest and ethical thing and remove yourself from the membership and communion of the Church.

I would never suggest that you should not vote in accordance with your conscience. However, if your conscience is opposed to the unarguable teaching and dogma at the heart of the Orthodox Tradition, please do not claim to be Orthodox.

Respectfully yours,

How a Bishop Should Respond

In a previous post I mention the conflict between Bishop Tobin of Providence and Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island over the issue of abortion and Kennedy’s putative Catholic faith.

With thanks to Seraphim, who mentioned it in a comment and to Fr John Whiteford, from whose blog he got it, I refer you to Bishop Tobin’s direct response to Kennedy’s claim to Catholicism.

Our Orthodox bishop should take note. Won’t but should.

The Greatest Scandal in American Orthodoxy

After seeing an article about the clash over abortion between US Rep. Patrick Kennedy and his diocesan bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, RI, I decided to look into the voting records of the one senator and five representatives who are members of the Orthodox Church. The results are not surprising, but equally as shameful. I almost don’t know where to start.

The teaching of the Orthodox Church concerning abortion is just as clear and just the same as the teaching of the Catholic Church. It doesn’t matter that it is an issue the Ecumenical Patriarch skirts around, perhaps because it takes away from his main job of opening evironmentalist conferences and exhibitions. And just like the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church has members who have been elected to public office and act in direct opposition to the Orthodox Christian faith. It is not a matter of what they do in their private lives, for which they should go to confession and after which their priest should happily partake with them of the most precious body and blood.

Rather, it is a matter of what they lead their country to do. They have chosen to take a public stand against the teaching of the Church. They have appropriated the public purse for the killing of unborn children. They have otherwise refused to protect the unborn and directly facilitated those who would kill them.

It is the duty of the diocesan bishops of those members of the Orthodox Church who openly and knowingly pay for, or otherwise facilitate, the killing of the unborn to excommunicate those persons. Any bishop who knows what a Congressperson who claims to be under their spiritual authority is doing in this regard is failing in their responsibilities if they to otherwise.

Any Orthodox bishop, including the Ecumenical Patriarch, who praises or elevates such a person in the Church should be causing a scandal far worse than the misappropriation of funds in the OCA, or a drunk Antiochian touching up girl in a casino. Every clergy and every lay person of such a diocese who cares about the integrity of the Orthodox Church should be writing to their bishop.

I already knew the views of Olympia Snowe. She has been one of the most social liberal Republican members of Congress since she entered the US House in 1979. She has been in the Senate since 1995. She has consistently voted against the unborn. Has Metropolitan Methodius of Boston spoken out against her? No.

Pro-abortion senator and archon of the Orthodox Church, as conferred by Black Bart himself, Paul Sarbanes may be out of the upper chamber, but now his son John represents Maryland’s 3rd district. Equally as pro-abortion, this year Rep. Sarbanes has voted to fund the State Department under Hilary Clinton to promote abortion projects throughout the world, fund abortions in the District of Columbia, fund Planned Parenthood to provide abortions, and to provide federal subsidies to insurance companies to pay for abortions. Has Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey taken a stand against him? No.

Rep. Zach Space of 18th District in Ohio may be a Blue Dog Democrat, but he voted with Sarbanes on all but the last of the four legislative measures mentioned above. He also voted with Sarbanes for the DeGette clone-and-kill bill, and the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, among others. I’d like to hear something from Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit on this. If you hear anything, let me know.

Rep. Niki Tsongas is the widow pro-abortion Sen. Paul Tsongas and has been elected serve the 5th district of Massachusetts. She has also voted against unborn life 100% of the time. Still nothing from Metropolitan Methodius…

The Greek do not have a monopoly on Orthodox representation in Congress. The Serbs have Melissa Bean of Chicago in Illinois’ 8th district. Bean actually lives in the adjoining 10th district, but it’s all the same for our purposes. She has also voted against the unborn 100% of the time. Bishop Longin of the Diocese of New Gracanica – Midwestern America needs to say something and do something.

The one that stands out the most as a bad example of Orthodoxy on Capitol Hill has to be Alice Costandina “Dina” Titus, from the 3rd District of Nevada. Not only had she voted against the unborn 100% of the time like the others, she makes the strongest public claim to Orthodoxy. On the home page of her website, she boldly declares “Congresswoman Dina Titus Sworn-In on Grandfather’s Greek Bible” (if it has moved from the home page by the time you read this, try this direct link to the article).  The article, written by Andrew Manatos, notes “Congresswoman Dina Titus’ rise to national prominence is a story that will make all Hellenes and Orthodox Christians proud.” Clearly for Manatos, like so many Greeks, Hellenic culture and background and Orthodoxy are the same. And clearly for Manatos and for Congresswoman Titus, the important thing about being Orthodox is being Greek, not adhering to the unchanging teaching of the Church, particularly about the sanctity of life.

Let me make this clear: Dina Titus’ rise to national prominence is a story that should make all Orthodox Christians, Hellenic or not, ashamed. Has Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco denounced Congresswoman Titus’ votes to fund the killing of the unborn?

There is one Orthodox member of Congress who has not sacrificed the children of America to Moloch. Gus Bilirakis repesents the 9th district of Florida. He has a 100% pro-life voting record. Whether his votes have been guided by his Orthodoxy or by his adherence to the Republican Party and conservativism, I don’t know.

As for the others, I think every American Orthodox Christian who adheres to the teaching of the Orthodox Church has a responsibility to write to every Orthodox Congressperson who votes in opposition to Orthodoxy and call them to account. Likewise, they should write to every Orthodox hierarch who has refused to demand the protection of the unborn and refused to excommunicate those who lead the nation in opposition to the moral teaching of the Orthodox Church and call them to account.

If the Orthodox hierarchy will not stand up, the Orthodox laity must stand up. I’m not so naïve to imagine that either the Congresspersons or the hierarchs will actually listen. The Congresspeople have shown that their loyalty lies with their political party and the hierarchs have shown that their loyality lies with their ethnicity. No matter. Orthodoxy doesn’t change because of either. The unborn are being murdered in their thousands every day and the faithful need to declare to those who are complicit in these murders: You do not speak for me! You do not represent the Holy Orthodox Church, the Holy Tradition and it’s unchanging inerrant understanding of the Holy Scriptures.

I think every Congressperson should be free to vote their conscience. If that conscience says the teaching of the Orthodox Church through the Holy Scriptures is wrong, then they should leave the Orthodox Church. They should excommunicate themselves and go be Episcopalians or whatever semblance of Christian form suits them.