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.

It’s Nothing Personal

I am not mourning the death of Michael Jackson. It’s nothing personal. And by that, I mean that’s the reason I’m not mourning. I didn’t know Mr Jackson. I don’t even know anyone who did know him.

It’s like the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The world wailed and cried. I was sorry that she had left two young sons without a mother. Likewise, I am sorry that Michael Jackson’s young children will be without their father. I am also sorry for the thousands each day throughout the world who become orphans and feel the same loss as Prince, Paris, and Blanket (otherwise known by their real names: Michael, Paris, and Prince). But grief and mourning are based upon a personal loss.

He was a significant contributor to popular culture, though I can’t say that’s necessarily a particularly laudable thing, either. I don’t know that we are better off for the moonwalk, the crotch grab, or faux militaria and the single glove. Like I said, it’s nothing personal.

I am also sad for the thousands of people who appear to be beside themselves at his death. They seem lost for meaning or purpose and shocked that he is no longer “with us”. Why it should be remarkable that a 50-year-old man who constantly abused his body with surgery and drugs has died, I don’t know.  It speaks volumes about state of world.  Those volumes make up a very sad story (again, about the world, not about Jackson).

When it comes to people I know, with whom I have a relationship as family, friend, or even acquaintance, when they mourn, I mourn, for I participate in a small way in their loss. This is why as Orthodox Christians we have panikhida services in our parishes. We share each others’ love and temporary loss in hope of the Resurrection of the Dead and the life of the world to come. We light our own candle for a loved one now beyond the veil, but we light our candles from each other and they shine together. Together we sing, “Memory eternal!”

The wall-to-wall coverage of the death of Michael Jackson cheapens death itself. It shares something with the constant images of violence and death that are the substantance of so many films and video games. We no longer see it as our common end, a pointer to our own mortality. It is a spectator sport.

Let Michael Jackson’s family and friends grieve and mourn his loss. He has secured his place in history. Let it be for us to remember that as he has become, so shall we all one day be, awaiting the Final Judgement.

The Underrated Annunciation

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation.  In one sense, it is more important than Christmas. It is the real feast of Incarnation. It celebrates the moment Very God of Very God confines Himself to the womb of the most holy Mother of God.  It is the reason her veneration is so vital to Orthodoxy – using not just her womb, but her ovum, her chromosomes, her DNA, God became Man.Yet it is the most under-celebrated feast of the year.

If Pascha originally began a fast-free period until after Pentecost (since reduced to a week thanks to the ascendency of ascetism within the Church) and Christmas has a two-week feast, surely Annunciation should fall somewhere in between. Unfortunately, the hierarchs of the Church have been entirely unified in not consulting me about these matters.

I find it odd that one of the developments in the Eastern Church has been to turn the Wednesday and Friday fast given to us by the Holy Apostles into a year with more fasting than non-fasting days. This year there are 213 fasting days and 152 non-fasting days. Nearly 60% of the year is spent fasting. In case you are wondering, I’m not counting fish days or cheesefare days as non-fasting. If it doesn’t involve killing and eating something that walks and breathes air, it’s a fasting day.

Invariably this includes the Annunciation.

When compared to the feasts of the Church the constrast is even starker. Other than the twelve days of Christmas and the Bright Week of Pascha, the feast days are one-day affairs. Of these, the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-creating Cross, is also a fast day. So we fast even on feast days.

We need to be having Annunciation parties. We need to perkiest, most joyful music. Well, as perky as we get with eighth century tones. But that’s another matter altogether.

I Want to Go to Heaven, but I’m Not Going to Stay There

Last night I finished N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. When I was writing the blog entry Joe Klein, Rick Warren, and Heaven I came across a review of the book and it piqued my curiosity. Based on my reading of Wright, I realised that I had fallen into the same misconception as Joe Klein.

Both Klein and I were writing from the presumption that dying and going to heaven (or not) is for eternity. It’s not that the New Testament teaches this, but only that it has become presumed in much of Western Christianity, from which I built my theology and Klein has used as his straw man. Wright demonstrates that the New Testament is much more concerned with the Resurrection. He emphasises the centrality of Jesus’ Resurrection (having long been one of the most vocal scholars  in the battle against liberalism and the mythologising of Gospel)  and clarifies how death is simply the way station on the on the road to our own resurrections.

As an Orthodox Christian, I don’t entirely agree with Wright’s view of the saints in heaven, but it is closer than most Protestant perspectives. He is mostly concerned with distinguishing his view from the Roman Church. At times he refers to ideas that have been preserved in Orthodoxy and lost in the West.

In the last part of the book, Wright explains how he sees this theology of the Resurrection as it affects the role of the Church today. While Wright eschews the liberalism of the Social Gospel, as an American Christian, I have not had the same view as Wright regarding the role of the State, particularly in the welfare of the individual or in the intervention with business or the free market in effecting social justice. Unlike some Amazon (and other online retailer) reviewers, I don’t think that this makes Wright a neo-Marxist or neo-socialist. Rather, I think those reviews substantiate Wright’s view that conservative Christians in the US have tied conservative theology and conservative economics so closely together that to challenge any assumption of the latter is to lose any credentials as a proponent of the former.

I think it is good that Bishop of Durham and highest ranking evangelical in the Church of England has challenged some of the presumptions of evangelical American Christianity. Most Americans get very defensive about any challenge to anything American, especially by Europeans. This may be because most European challenges to most things American are based in nonsense rather than good theology. Tom Wright is not talking nonsense. This is not wishy-washy Emerging Church neo-liberal evangelicalism.

This is a book which focuses first on personal and cosmic eschatology. It is not a pop-theology revelation of The Revelation. It is a look at what the New Testament and the early Church viewed as the hope for the Christian, the essence of the Gospel. Wright’s view is that if we are hoping for life after death we are too short-sighted. We have to re-focus on life after life after death and this will change the way we look at ourselves and our place in the world.

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. Every chapter in it is almost worth the entire price. It is so good that I have ordered copies of it for a couple of friends. Even though I haven’t ordered a copy for you, you need to go out and get it anyway.

The Divorced Patriarch

How am I the last to find out that Patriarch Alexei was divorced?

I was reading his obituary in The Daily Telegraph and it says at the very end: “He married, in 1950, Vera Alekseeva, the daughter of a priest from Tallinn, but the marriage was dissolved within a year.” But somehow I missed this in the Wikipedia article about him and various other sources.

He got married on Tuesday, deaconed on Friday, and priested on Sunday, all in the same week.

Now I used to know a man who was an Orthodox priest (though admittedly not a Russian), whose wife ran off with someone else and divorced him and he was defrocked as a result. I understood this to be the more normative response to the divorce of clergy. Yet not only did this not prevent Alexei from continuing as a priest, but it was also not a bar to the episcopate and further elevation within that.

How does this work, exactly?

Orthodox Oxymoron

I just saw a new oxymoron: a Facebook group called “Orthodox Christians for Obama”. This might as well be a group called “Orthodox Christians for Abortion”. Or if put in the perspective of Obama’s economic policy, it could be called “Orthodox Christians for Theft”.

I could write for hours on this one, but nobody would read it anyway. However, I will happily refer readers to Anthony Esolen’s piece “Rooted in the Christian Tradition” on the Touchstone’s blog Mere Comments. Note that the quotation marks are a part of the title, because Dr Esolen destroys the idea that Obama’s views have any consonance with Christianity.

Platitudes that mimic the language of Jesus about caring for the poor and downtrodden do not make policies that are compatible with the Gospel.

Is John McCain perfect? No. Has his own life been any more a Christ-like example? No. Does he support and promise to promote policies that reflect biblical values? Not entirely, but far, far more so than Obama. McCain supports embyronic stem cell research. Obama supports leaving aborted babies born alive to die alone in closets.

Is this support by some Orthodox folks entirely surprising? No. After all, Black Bart, the Partriarch of Constantinople made the liberal pro-abortion former US Senator Paul Sarbanes an archon of the church.

Lord have mercy.

Prayer Warriors

Older Child: I’m doing “Our Father”.

Younger Child: It was your turn last night. I’m doing “Our Father”.

Me to Older Child: Younger Child is doing “Our Father”. It’s your turn to do “Most Holy Trinity. . .”

Older Child: Younger Child can do “Most Holy Trinity. . .”

Younger Child: I’m not doing “Most Holy Trinty. . .”!

Older Child: But I want to do “Our Father”.

Eventually everyone took their proper turn.

It’s not always easy being Orthodox.

Orthodoxy in the Midst of War

Some (or all) of my Orthodox readers may have seen this or something similar.  For those interested, the International Herald Tribune has an article today on response of the Russian and Georgian Orthodox churches to the current military conflict.

Patriarch Aleksy appealed for peace when the war broke out, though his statement wasn’t nearly as strong as the one sent to the Kremlin by Gerogian Patriarch Ilia. I was pleasantly surprised that the Moscow Patriarchate did not immediately assume jurisdiction over the churches in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russian Genocide Deniers

The Russians are angry with the Ukrainians. Nothing new there.

Seems the Ukrainians are insisting on bringing up the past. In particular they are bringing up the time the Russians murdered millions of Ukrainians during the Holodomor of 1932-33. Estimates of the number of unnatural deaths during this period range from a conservative three million to a frequently referenced seven or even ten million.

It all started earlier than that. The attack on Ukrainian nationalism began in 1928.  First the Russians eliminated the cultural elite – academics, writers, and significantly most of the Orthodox clergy who had separated from the Moscow Patriarchate. With the leadership out of the way, the Russians then starved the rest of the population.

How did they starve the breadbasket of Russia? The agriculural collectivism of communism meant that all grain was state property. The grain was shipped off to Russia or simply allowed to rot. Stealing any amount of grain was a capital offense. In Stalin’s Soviet Union, capital offenses were not subject to a lengthy process of judicial review. Whole villages were taken out to dig their own graves and then shot to fill them.

But Putin and his puppet president don’t want anyone to mention this and they most certainly don’t want anyone to blame the Russians. They have become genocide deniers. Perhaps this is offensive to Russian-ness like admitting the Armenian genocide is offensive to Turkishness.

I have written about the Holodomor in a previous blogging identity, but this was brought to mind again by a extensive article in today’s Dail Mail. Definitely worth a read.

I Believe in Time Travel

The Unnamed Woman and I just finished watching the entire six series of the British sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart that ran from 1993-99. It was being shown on ITV3 and the Woman decided she wanted the DVDs. We both enjoyed the show during its original run (though I had never seen the final series), as it was shown by the local PBS affiliate.

For those Stateside who may have never seen the show, it involves a Londoner from the 1990s who accidentally stumbles upon a time portal to the 1940s. It transports him back exactly 53 years. Thus on the 1940s side, the show starts with the Blitz and ends with VE-Day.  He travels back and forth and has a wife on either side of the portal. He’s also a nobody in the 90s and creates himself into a bit of a somebody in the 40s, pretending to be a member of the secret service and a songwriter (having composed various hits from the future).

Watching the show made me think about the nature of time. I believe that time travel is possible. Well, sort of. If Someone exists outside of time and space, then it is possible to exist anywhere in time and space. It would seem that it would even be possible to exist everywhere in time and space simutaneously, given that neither is a constraint.

I was thinking of this in terms of the Eucharist. Not only is there no problem with Christ being truly present in every Divine Liturgy being served at any one given time on Earth, nor with the Holy Spirit transforming the bread and the wine into the Body and Blood, but it need not be happening merely simultaneously in time or space. As far as the spiritual realm is concerned, when we are joining with the rest of the Church in prayer, we are with all of the Church throughout time at the same time.

Or at least it seems plausible in my fledgling study of theophysics.

It does give an interesting twist or amplification to the meaning of the words of Jesus at the end of the Great Commission, “…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Post-Apostolic Asceticism

I think the Peter and Paul fast starts tomorrow. I don’t know. I lose track. My menalogion software is on the computer that’s not working so well.

If there is one thing the Orthodox Church likes to do, it is fast. I’m not sure why there is so much fasting. Apparently following fasting rules suited to an ancient Mediterranean culture makes us more spiritual.

The only truly Apostolic fasting is the Wednesday/Friday fast days. Great Lent started as a recommended discipline for catechumens who would be baptised at Pascha, though the very early Church may have fasted for 40 hours in preparation. The Christmas fast could not have preceded the origins of the Christmas feast. The Dormition fast and the Apostles Fast are more recent.

The number of fasting days varies from year to year, depending on the date of Pascha. And early Pascha cuts short the normal time after Theophany and extends the Apostles’ Fast. In 2010, by my rough calculation, there are 195 fasting days. By fasting days, I mean days when meat is not allowed, so I’m including Cheesefare week. For a carnivore such as me, any day without meat is a day of severe asceticism.

This leaves 170 normal, regular, meat and potatoes days. Fasting seems to lose it value if it is actually more of the norm than normal eating. And when a fast and a feast conflict, the fast wins. The feast of the Annunciation is an example of this. This is the true feast of Incarnation, but it is trumped by Great Lent.

Observed more strictly than I am able, Orthodoxy seems like a vegetarian religion with occasional omnivorous moments. If our sacramental theology says that all of creation is sacramental and that everything we eat is sacramental, because we bless it and it is a gift from God, why do we spend so much time not eating it?

The Bible isn’t Biblical

A link from the WordPress dashboard took me to one of the many post-Christian, de-conversion blogs. I didn’t realise that’s where I was heading when I clicked on the link, but I find it interesting to understand better the loss of faith. Most of the people I deal with daily are of the never-had-faith type.

I think we all go through the dark night of the soul. Different people deal with it in different ways. Unlike well-meaning commenters on these blogs, I have no interest in Bible proof-texting them back to faith. In fact, I find most of these well-meaning attempts using an approach that has been directly rejected by the de-converting or de-converted.

I certainly haven’t seen lots of these blogs, so I don’t presume that the crisis of faith comes to each person in the same way. However, the ones I have seen seem to have a similar background. I have see ex-Catholics mostly describing their disaffection with things that’s aren’t actually Catholic dogma. However, most of the deconversion seems to be from Evangelicalism. The former evangelicals are sometimes pastors or other sorts of leaders. They are well-versed in the Scriptures.

Herein seems to lie the problem. They find internal inconsistencies – or have long been aware of what appear to be internal inconsistencies – in the Scriptures and finally admit that in their Protestant paradigm if the Bible fails everything fails. This exposes a weakness, not in Christianity, but in that Protestant paradigm.

The further a group eschews the Holy Tradition the more it has to adopt a sola scriptura approach. This means that the Word of God is exactly what the text says and the key to the Truth is in finding exactly what the text says. God specifically spoke certain words in Hebrew or Greek and we have to find out exactly which words He used.

Then He put them all together in One Big Book. Now it’s like a giant jigsaw and the work of the biblical scholar is to fit all of the pieces together so that there is a single internal consistency. That’s not to say that there is any consistency in the scholars – otherwise we wouldn’t have the vast discrepancies in commentaries, surveys, handbooks, and other reference materials that span the Protestant theological gamut.

The only problem is the the One Big Book view of the Bible isn’t biblical. The closest thing to a collective reference is Jesus’ reference to the Law and the Prophets. This does not refer to the whole Old Testament, as He makes no reference to the Writings (Ketuvim). References in different biblical sources to “the Word of God” do not somehow look ahead to 66 writings eventually recognised as canonical by Protestants, the 74 recognised by Rome, or even the 77 recognised by Orthodoxy.

Long before I was Orthodox, I realised that using verses like Proverbs 30:5-6 or Revelation 22:18-19 to refer to the unified Bible was completely non-contextual. That would somehow suppose that the Church did not have the full Truth before an agreement was reached over time about even the New Testament canon.

This does not mean that the Bible isn’t inspired by God. The Church, being led by the Holy Spirit, recognised those writings which have been specially inspired by the Holy Spirit. But this is why I don’t have a problem with Protestant Bibles. They may lack 11 writings used by Jesus and the early Church, but what they have is inspired.

As a quick aside. . . It’s not that the Protestant Bible has lacked these writings for a long time. Stories vary slightly as to when they were commonly removed – from just after the American Revolution to the 1820’s – but it seems to be universally agreed that the reason was to save printing costs. Because Protestants refer to them as the Apocrypha, put them in a separate group and sadly, as they were not read often, no one seemed to miss them. It is only post-Revolutionary homegrown American denominations and their progeny that completely rejected them.

But back to my point. . . Once you remove the One Big Book view, it doesn’t matter that there are different ways of saying things, or even times when the individual books say different things. Each book is a way of God telling us things, but God is bigger than all the writings.

Women in Pointy Hats

The principal beneficiary will be the Roman Catholic Church, but Orthodoxy in Britian may also benefit from the decision made by the Church of England House of Bishops. The bishops have decided that it is time for the purported consecration of women to join their number. At the same time, they have left opponents out in the cold.

Heretofore, those in the C of E who have faithfully received the sacraments from men of God were cared for under the shepherding guidance of “flying bishops” – officially known as episcopal visitors – authorised to cross diocesan boundaries to care for parishes objecting to women priests. If the General Synod approves the legislation, flying bishops will be no more and all of the Church of England will be ruled by women. For many Anglicans, any pretense of valid orders and valid sacraments will be gone.

As far as I’m concerned the C of E can do what it wants to do. I’m not opposed to women priestesses or bishopettes. As far as I’m concerned, just like any other Protestants they don’t have valid sacraments, so it doesn’t matter what they do. Since this new development will push more people out of the C of E, perhaps I should even view it as a positive development.

Being rather ecumenical as I am toward Rome, I’m not bothered that most of them will swim the Tiber. I know that most western Christians find Orthodoxy a difficult fit – something that I think is probably as much to do with the non-essential cultural and liturgical aspects of Orthodoxy as anything – but Rome has valid sacraments despite some theological deficiencies. Some, due in part to lingering anti-papal attitudes, will cross the Bosphorus instead.

The huge number of clergy threatening to defect to Rome will boost the declining numbers in vocations there. Perhaps this will enlighten the Holy Father to the possibility of extending the Eastern Catholic practice of married priests to the West as a normality rather than a concession to certain converted clergy. Thus, if played right, the knock-on effect of the Anglican decision could be quite significant. I’d still call it a long shot, though.

Even if they are only Protestant clergy, I still can’t get over the cringe factor of seeing a woman pose as a priest in a black shirt and white collar. No doubt I will double cringe at a woman in a cope and mitre.

The Heresy of Modern Marriage

As part of the RE curriculum, I teach about Christian views of marriage and family. Because the textbook – and the course, for that matter – is rooted in liberalism. It’s not called that, of course. It’s called modernity.

To balance out – or attempt to bump off – traditional views of marriage roles, they chuck the entire corpus of the New Testament aside in favour a non-contextual use of Galatians 3:28. Of course it is not within the purview of the syllabus to query how St Paul can intend to throw away everything he has said about the family with the use of one sentence in one of his letters in which he is not even discussing the subject.

But at the end of the day, that the best shot the “modern” view of the family has – a family with no head and no authority structure, no priorities and no defined roles. But even then, the theological ramifications are emmense. Modernist usually don’t have a lot of time for ramifications. Anything that stands in the way of fleeting selfish happiness is quickly pushed aside.

The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church. The former is a lesser reality which shadows the greater reality. After all, the marriage of husband and wife is temporary, bound only by this mortal realm. The headship of Christ over the Church is eternal, transcending this realm. To deny the shadow is to deny the greater reality. It is to reject the headship of Christ. It is to reject the Church.

Just as a priest in the church is an icon of Christ, so is the headship of the husband in the marriage. Honour paid to the icon is honour paid to the reality behind the icon. To desecrate the icon is to desecrate Christ.

That’s why the husband’s headship isn’t dependent upon whether he is good enough or worthy enough.  The sacrament of the Eucharist is not valid based upon the worthiness of the priest who prays the epiclesis. Neither is the sacrament of marriage valid based upon the worthiness of the husband as icon of Christ.

In the Orthodox Church we view marriage as salvific. Heresies don’t save. To have a heretical view of marriage is to challenge salvation itself. The Orthodox Church sees marriage as martyrdom. Modernist don’t have a lot of time for martyrdom.

Someone recently told me that I would be much happier if I would stop living in the past and embrace modernity. To embrace so-called modernity is to embrace heresy, to embrace death. It is to reject Christ.

Christ is Risen!

I may be one of the first in the Ortho-blogosphere to say it, being on the eastern side of the Atlantic and missing the Vigil. Everyone else will just be transitioning from Matins to Liturgy about now.

I wanted to go tonight, but I was afraid I would fall asleep at the wheel on the way, not to mention on the way back. With the Unnamed Woman needing to stay home with the Unnamed Children, I would be on my own. After pulling an all-nighter marking pupil folders on Thursday/Friday, I still have not fully recovered. I’m not sure and hour and a half starting at 3:00 am on a winding two-lane A-road already known for fatal accidents is a place to be.

But I’m sure if I wanted to go bad enough, I would have made it happen. I suppose I could have pulled off the road if necessary.

Lent has been a washout, really. My usual lack of fasting after the first week and spiritual uselessness. I had the chance to attend Liturgy twice locally and managed to oversleep both times. The only significant reading I’ve done, other than in my new Orthodox Study Bible, is a book on St Columba.

But Christ is Risen. Whether or not I’m a spiritual washout, Christ is Risen.

Christ is Risen, and life reigns.

Prayer Wars

The older unnamed child may be getting jealous of his sister doing the prayers at bedtime. There has been friction as to how the Trisagion prayers would be divvied up each night.

The older child has gotten one up on the younger. Except for singing “O Heavenly King” as the introduction to the prayers, they have otherwise heretofore been spoken. Well, the younger child may be able to do subtraction and multiplication at the age of three, but she’s never tried plain chant. The older child started chanting “Most Holy Trinity. . .” and didn’t stop until “O come let us worship and bow down. . .” He turfed his sister out.  She was not well pleased.

Teetoddler

The Younger Unnamed Child is learning all of the Trisagion prayers, which form the basis of the bedtime prayers. Having not yet arrived at four years of age, she is learning them mostly by rote and doesn’t really understand fully when I have explained them to her and the Older Unnamed Child.

Not surprisingly, this leads to some misunderstanding of the words. After all, they are not in our three-year-old’s usual six-year-old vocabulary. We all laughed when she was learning “Most Holy Trinity . . .” and prayed, “Mister, pardon our inninnities,” instead of “Master, pardon our iniquities”.

It wasn’t until last night that I realised that she’s had an interesting take on the Lord’s Prayer. After all, she never missed a syllable of “Forgive us our tresspassess as we forgive those who tresspass against us.” Perhaps because, “And lead us not into temptation” was enunciated with perfection, I never realised she was praying, “And deliver us from the Evil Wine”.

Miscalculation

Here’s something to file under “so crazy no one could make this up”.

Pyotr Kuznetsov is the leader of a “True Orthodox Church” in Russia. Just like any group that has to pull out their apostolic succession to prove their validity, any group that has to tell you they are the “True” whatever church are almost certainly not. The True Orthodox Church refuses to eat processed food, believes that bar codes are Satantic symbols, and is convinced the world will end soon. Very soon.

Pyotr convinced his followers that the world is going to end in May of this year. As a result they all went to live in a cave. Except, for some strange reason, Pyotr. The followers barricaded themselves in the cave and wouldn’t come out. But as one bad decision follows another, they didn’t pick a very good cave. The parts that aren’t flooding are collapsing. The authorities have been a bit concerned because some of the followers were children.

Pyotr wasn’t keen on them leaving just because a little thing like the roof falling in on them. He said God had collapsed the cave and to go against God is a great sin.

Fortunately the children have gotten out, as have most of the followers. They are now waiting for the End in Pyotr’s wooden cottage. It tooks months of negotiations to get them out. As part of the deal they have been supplied with a cow. After all, they can’t drink Satanic milk from a carton with a bar code on it.

Pytor isn’t with them. He’s in a psychiatric hospital.

He hasn’t been sent away because of his crazy ideas. Rather, he had a hard time dealing with his realisation that he miscalculated the date of the End of the World. He tried to commit suicide. Being crazy, he didn’t attempt any of the usual methods, like gunshot, hanging, overdose, jumping from a cliff, or slitting his wrists. He was much more inventive. He put his head on a tree stump and started hitting it with a log.

He didn’t hit it enough times, because he survived emergency surgery for this head wounds. Perhaps he knocked some sense into himself.

Getting Greater and Greater Forefathers and Foremothers

I’ve been gone all day today doing genealogical research in Devon. It was very fruitful.

I went to see what I could dig up about the only ancestors on my father’s side with whom I have made a connection from the US back to the UK. I still don’t know when my great-great-great-grandmother immigrated, but I know that she was born in 1807 in Arlington, Devon and died in 1874 in Owensburg, Indiana. I don’t even know when she got married, but she was having children in Ohio by 1831. I knew the name of her father and mother, and her paternal grandparents and great-grandparents and a few dates.

Thanks to some wonderfully indexed and transcribed parish registers, I was quickly able to dig down much further. I found one set of her great-great-great-great-grandparents. That’s my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents John and Agnes (in the baptismal record of their son, “Agnis” in the burial record) Moor. Don’t let the last name make you think they were Spanish Muslims. Spelling being rather non-standardised in the 17th century, they are buried as Moor but baptised their son as Moore. Likewise their grandaughter was baptised as Moore, but married as Moor (becoming a Taylor).

In terms of dates, the earliest I could reach was the baptism of their son, my great (x8) grandfather Francis in 1635. Most people who can get back much further than this have an ancestor with a long-established genealogy, usually a peer of the realm or some such.

People really like having famous ancestors. I remember when I broke the news to a recently met distant cousin that we were not descended in a particular line from the Earls of Northumberland (before that title was raise to a dukedom) – that the dates made it a chronological impossibility – and she was neither happy nor buying it.

The ancestors I found today seem to be rather common folk as far as I can tell. I couldn’t find any wills because the Luftwaffe took care of those in their very thorough bombing of Exeter. All the wills were keep in the ecclesiatical courts there at the time. My great-great-great-grandfather James Taylor was not a famous folk singer, but rather a shoemaker. Likewise his daughter is Elizabeth was not married eight times, but rather had eight children, the fifth of which was my great-great-grandmother Sarah Elizabeth McWhirter. She in turn had 13 children. I belief the ninth one was my great-grandmother, who died the year of my birth and whose voice I have recorded from 1948.

But back to my day. . . I drove out through the tiny winding country lanes of North Devon to the little church at Loxhore where the ancestors I found today were hatched, matched, and dispatched. The font cover in the church dates from the 16th century – very possibly the cover removed to baptise each of my ancestors. It is a very small church and the acoustics were fabulous. I know because I used the opportunity to sing the Trisagion Prayers before commending the souls of my long-departed ancestor to safe-keeping of the Heavenly Father. After all, they may have been dead for over 300 years, but once they enter eternity, there is no time. It is just as if it were yesterday. I kissed the font as I asked God to remember their baptisms.

I don’t know how long it has been since anyone has even thought of them – how long they have been lost to the passage of time. Probably many, many years. I have found them. Now may their memory be eternal.