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.