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.

Wisdom of the Two Jesuses (or, Adapting to the LXX)

I’m still getting used to using a Septuagint-based Old Testament.

It is one thing to deal with a different book order. It is another thing when the verses have been re-arranged. Of courser even saying “re-arranged” implies that it was one way and then changed to another. I have to remember to avoid an Masoretic-centric view.

Proverbs seems to be one book where there are quite a lot of arrangement differences. I was trying to see how Proverbs 16:18 in the Masoretic Text was translated from the Septuagint. However, clearly “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall,” is not the same as, “A man wise in his deeds is a discoverer of good things, but he who trusts in the Lord is most blessed.” Since I don’t have an concordance or electronic version of the OSB, I can’t find the verse for which I’m looking without reading the whole book.

It’s not that I’m opposed to reading Proverbs, but right now I’ve really enjoying Sirach. Speaking of which, this is an oddly named book. It contains the wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach as translated by his grandson. So really it should be called the Wisdom of Jesus, not the Wisdom of Sirach. Of course I could see where that might lead to some confusion.

Since it could be said that the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach is the wisdom of Jesus ben God, it could be called he Wisdom of the Two Jesuses. Admittedly, that would be even more confusing.

Anyhow. . . Before using the OSB to quote any Old Testament text, I will need to have my NKJV at hand (or Bible Gateway in a browser tab) so I don’t make a reference where all my faithful readers grab at Masoretic-based translation and collectively go, “Huh?”

Observing the Day

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.

Romans 14:5-6

Today is the Sunday of St Gregory Palamas, unless you are in the Western Church (or just culturally attached to a country historically a part of the Western Church), in which case it is Easter. Even though we are Orthodox, we have been celebrating Easter. This is not because I’m not particularly a big fan of St Gregory and his hesychasm. Rather it is because one unnamed child is in a Catholic school with Catholic (or at least Catholic-influenced) friends, plus Western cultural and Western Christian grandparents with chocolate and cards and presents, Easter fetes, Easter egg hunts – you get the picture. Explaining that we don’t actually celebrate Pascha for more than another month has pretty much fallen on deaf ears. I don’t want to deny that I put this down to bad Ortho-parenting as much as anything.

I’m sure that as we get closer to Pascha, the kids will get reasonably excited again, especially if we come up with more chocolate and gifts.

It seems to go entirely against the teaching of St Paul in Romans that the observance of days is one of the key issues separating parts of the Orthodox from each other (New Calendarists versus Old Calendarists) as well as a sticking point separating the Orthodox and Catholics (though there are a number of others of greater or lesser significance). I know there are much more theologically astute and devotionally pure adherants on both sides who could explain the deep importance of this and it congruence with the Epistle to the Romans. (I don’t think any of them visit this blog, so I doubt there will be any explaining in the comments – though they are welcome.) After all, as Orthodox, we interpret Scripture as a part of the Tradition of the Church. I also know that the dating of Pascha was one of the earliest and most divisive issues in the Church.

So Happy Easter to all of my Western friends, while we Orthodox do a little more omphaloskepsis in honour of St Gregory.

Catching Up and Starting Over

Today is my grandmother’s 114th birthday. It is also the anniversary (31st or 32nd – I can’t be sure) of the first time I began reading the Bible cover to cover. Today I’m going to start again.

I got my Orthodox Study Bible today on the way home from work. A friend picked it up at Church for me on Sunday and we made the exchange at the petrol garage in the town through which we both travel on our way to our respective schools. Despite having been briefed ahead of time as to it’s shortcomings (with thanks to Michael) I am looking forward to reading all of the Bible for the first time.

It will take some time to get used to the differences. It’s not just that I’ve not read all the books excised by Luther or the bits edited out of others. I didn’t realise until today that in the Septuagint, Job comes after the Psalms and the major prophets come after the minor ones. Not that it really matters . It’s not like Job is where it is in Protestant Bibles for a particular reason. The only thing that makes prophets “major” or “minor” in popular nomenclature is the length of their writings. There’s no reason they have to be in a particular order. Neither collection is based on chronology, nor do they need to be. The only important chronological fact is that they come before the Incarnation.

While I intend to do the Genesis to Revelation thing, I am also going to catch up on what I’ve missed in the meantime.

Eating Like Humans

You probably don’t have to worry about your children eating like animals. Mine sometimes get into role play as dogs or cats (when they aren’t superheroes or cartoon characters) and they have to be encouraged not to take this too far at the dinner table.

When we went out for my birthday dinner last weekend, the woman and I realised how well behaved our kids were. We sat near a family that trashed their dining area and at one point the woman got a splash of soup or some such on the face. When they left the restaurant, we were embarrassed seeing the cleaning crew come in and scrape everything away.

Many families eat like animals and don’t even realise it. Their children may be even better behaved than mine. Nonetheless, they lack the distinction that makes us different from all other creatures at mealtimes. They don’t bless their food. Fr Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory points this out in For the Life of the World. It is not just the essence of the sacramental life, it is the essence of human life. I don’t need to preach to the Orthodox choir that we are, after all, first homo adorans and only as a result homo sapiens.

I have sometimes been embarrassed around visiting unbelievers and not blessed the food. Either that, or I can have a tendency to rattle it off like an auctioneer. I didn’t want to impose my religion on them. Predictably, I had it all backwards. What I should be offering them is an opportunity to experience their own humanity. Religion is either a compartment of life that can be sealed off when inconvenient, or it is the very nature of who we are and to deny it is to make us not just less than who we are, but other than what we are.

By not blessing, we turn the food into an affirmation of materialism with the inherent value of cardboard. When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we no longer deny a heavenly gift to our guests. If we would deprive them of this, then we cannot say we love them, regardless of how closely we may be related to them.

Even in restaurants, sitting amongst strangers, if we bless our food, we bless them. This is not because we make a show openly. This would be the Protestant idea that value is only derived from knowledge. By blessing the food, we make Christ present in and at our meal. Who is not blessed by proximity to Christ? Even by these small actions, we fulfill our essential mission to bring Christ to a hungry world starved of the love of God.

The Rod of Correction

Thanks to the young fogey for this quote from Rod Dreher which reflects my own sentiments:

I can’t believe that I’m saying this, but more of this gaggy Dear Leader stuff from Obama worshipers I have to watch, the more I appreciate Hillary Clinton’s plain old milk-curdling nastiness.

Actually, thanks to the young fogey for the link to Rod generally. I like the Orthodoxy with attitude, even with commenters who suggest that his scathing analysis of society is somehow not compatible with his Lenten fast.

When You Pray

We have a bit of a competition in our house. I don’t mean the kind where there is an eventual winner. Rather, each night there is a dispute at bedtime prayers as to is going to pray the Lord’s Prayer. The younger unnamed child can almost say it without any prompts. The older child doesn’t like to be left to only Lord have mercy and Glory be. I need to work on him picking up “Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us / Lord be gracious unto our sins . . .” or the “Oh come let’s us worship and bow down . . .” triad.

This doesn’t mean that we always avoid a recalcitrance to pray. We all have that sometimes – it’s just that it’s more noticeable when someone actually whines vocally about it. We all need to be reminded that prayer is not an option. Jesus never said, “If you pray. . .”, He only ever said “When you pray. . . ” He also never said, “When you pray, do it your own way.” He said, “When you pray, say:”.

Does that mean there is no place for spontaneous praise or petitions? Of course not. But it is also a reminder that we worship God as He wants to be worshipped, not as we want to worship Him. We are not the centre of attention. Suggesting that we don’t need to pray, or even that we don’t need to pray the Our Father, is directly disobeying God.

As always, and like most Orthodox, I hope to pray more during Great Lent. Pray for me, that I might succeed in a small way.

How Much Do Have When You Hold A Grudge?

On Forgiveness Sunday, I thought it appropriate to relate something from a lesson this week. My Year 8s are learning about some of the parables of Jesus. This week we were looking at the parable of the unforgiving servant.

With my first couple of groups I decided to translate the 10,000 talents owed by the first servant with the 100 denarii owed to him by the second. I didn’t it on the fly without any regard for accuracy, so I just used a pound of gold for a talent and an ounce of silver for a denarius. I guessed the price of gold at about £600/ounce and silver at £10 an ounce.

Since that yields a result of £72,000,000 for the first debt and £1000 for the second, I thought that made the point well enough. The kids got the idea.

With my last group on Friday, I decided to be a bit more accurate. I found that gold was trading at £482 per ounce. That’s £5784 per troy pound. Only a talent is a lot more than a pound. I didn’t realise that estimations vary greatly, so I just went with the first conversion I found online. This is happening live in a classroom after all. By this conversion, a talent is equal to 91 troy pounds (rounding down the decimal places). That’s £526,344 per talent or a debt of £5,263,440,000. This is based on a talent being roughly equal to 34kg. Some estimates for the equivalent range as high as 60kg.

A denarius did not contain an ounce of silver. Because it was an actual coin of which there are existing examples, rather than a variable weight, it is much easier to calculate. A denarius contained 1/10 of a troy ounce of silver. The price of silver is current soaring at about $20 an ounce (my £10 an ounce guess was pretty good!), so a denarius contains about $2 or £1 of silver. Thus, 100 denarii is the equivalent of about £100.

Or if we calculate it based on the denarius as the daily wage of an unskilled labourer, we can compare it to the minimum wage. This is currently £5.52/hour in the UK. Multiply this by 8 hours and you get £44.16 a day. Multiply this by 100 and the second man’s debt is the equivalent of £4,416. The difference between £100 and £4,416 is insignificant when compared to £5.26 billion. (Or as much as £9.29 billion [$18.58 billion] for 60kg talents!)

How inconsequential and trivial are the offenses against us? Do we make them seem like they matter? Do we hold a grudge? If we do, we have not compared them to the forgiveness of God.

Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.

Is unforgiveness really worth it?

Multiple Celebrations

Today is the 172nd anniversary of Texas’ independence from Mexico.

It is also my parents’ 46th wedding anniversary.

So may God grant all Texans, and especially my parents, many years.

Here in the UK is also Mothering Sunday, as it is Laetare Sunday in the Western Church calendar. After the unnamed first child participated in a karate tournament (from which he did not received a trophy, to his continuing consternation), we looked for a place to go out and have dinner. Having not planned ahead, it was not easy to find anywhere with an available table on such short notice.

Having exhausted the possibilities in Hooterville, we tried to see if we could go to our favourite Chinese buffet in another cathedral city. They didn’t have a table until 6:00, so we tried their other location, also in a nearby cathedral city. They had one available at 3:00, so we went there.

It was heaving. There were a lot of English people eating Chinese food on Mother’s Day. The food was okay – not as good as our usual location – but all you can eat.

As this is Meatfare Sunday, I will now be giving up mentioning meat dishes on my blog until Pascha.

Nameday

Today is the feast of my name saint, David of Wales. It seredipitously works out that it falls on a Saturday so we get to have Liturgy here in our neck of the woods.

Even though St David is my name saint, I’ve always felt a stronger affinity to his predecessor as archbishop, Dyfrig. This is for various historical reasons as well as the fact that he is from just a few miles away and places associated with his can be visited at any time. That hasn’t prevented me from making two pilgrimages to St David’s or using water from St Non’s Well (located at David’s birthplace) in the baptism of our oldest child, who also has David as a middle name.

The disappointing thing for me is that both Dyfrig and David were known for their ascetical life. This is something I hardly aspire to, not to mention ever achieve.

St David of Wales, pray to God for us!

Final Instructions

Our puppies are leaving for new homes.

The older unnamed child asked when we were going to baptise them.  The unnamed woman had to explain that even though we think of them as members of the family, animals don’t get baptised.

The younger unnamed child is still intent on sending them on their way properly catechised. Teaching it the etiquette of veneration, she was sitting on the sofa with one of them over the weekend crossing it and telling it, “The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, bow”and pushing it’s nose down slightly. The puppy didn’t seem to mind, though if you ask me, it was really just going through the motions.

Sowing the Wind and Reaping the Whirlwind in Kosovo

I’ve debated within myself whether to step into the morass that is the matter of Kosovan independence. After my post on the Rest of the Bible blew away all my previous stats on this blog and overnight became the most read post in the history of this incarnation of my blog and my daily stats doubled my previous high, the return to normal numbers is a bit of a letdown. If I alienate all of my Ortho-blogger friends, the numbers are likely to dry up even further.

Let me say from the outset, that I don’t think the Unilateral Declaration of Independence was a good thing for a least three reasons. First of all, Kosovo is Serbia. It is just one of a number of regions. It happens that ethnic Albanians have migrated there. Second, UDIs create a mess in international law. Invariably some countries recognise it and others don’t. It’s made an even bigger mess when members of the UN Security Council are on opposite sides of the matter. They can (and are perfectly will to do so in this case) block the emerging country from joining the club. Third, as Steve notes, Kosovo UDI is a triumph for terrorism.

The Serb minority in Kosovo have been, and will continue to be, subject to persecution. I think this is a bad thing. Yes, it is a statement of the obvious. So why do I bother?

Because I think was goes around comes around. Or to use biblical language, what you sow, you reap. As Orthodox, ever-persecuted, or at least in the West having a sympathetic persecution complex, we want to see Serbia as the victim – the victim of the Croats, the victim of Bill Clinton, the victim of the Muslims (whether Bosnian or Albania or Turk). Neither am I denying that Serbia and the Serbs have suffered in the past, both distant and recent. But neither have they been keen to turn the other cheek. They have been just as willing to perpetrate genocide when it suited them.

So you say, yeah, sure, but that’s those evil politicians and generals like Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić. The Serbian Church has been pure as the driven snow over the mass graves in Bosnia.

Unfortunately, that’s not true either. The Serbian Church has behaved like the Russian Church when communism was overthrown there. It has immediately grabbed ahold of the leverage of the State to persecute other Christians. Like the Russian Church, it is nationalistic and ethnocentric. You can’t encourage violence and oppression against Protestant Hungarians in Vojvodina and then cry foul when Muslim Albanians start wrecking your churches and burning your icons in Kosovo.

Several bloggers have suggested that Russia will come to Serbia’s aid in this latest turn of the Kosovo crisis. Will that be in the form of fascist Putin Youth, fresh from the government-sponsored stadium rallies encouraging them to fornicate to make babies for Mother Russia? Are Orthodox in the West willing to decry American imperialism while supporting the resurgence of Russian imperialism, because it is the imperialism of an ostensibly Orthodox country?

Frankly, I think that rather than looking to them for spiritual guidance, Orthodox in the West need to start asking some hard questions about the “Orthodox homelands”. Let’s set aside the blatant Phyletism, if we can for a moment ignore the elephant in the room. Why is the abortion rate in Russia only exceeded in Europe by (you guessed it, another Orthodox country) Romania, that only legalised after the fall of Communism what the Church has always recognised as the intentional killing of an innocent human life, when the Church was once again free to proclaim and propagate the Tradition? Bulgaria, Belarus, Ukraine and Greece are not far behind.

I do not for a minute want a single person, Orthodox or otherwise, in Kosovo to suffer persecution in any form. I do not want to see the historic churches there to suffer even worse than the churches of this country did under Oliver Cromwell. But neither will I blindly support the Serbs just because they are Serbs or Orthodox, nor will I ignore the whole political and spiritual picture.

Reading the Rest of the Bible

I had almost given up hope of seeing the full Orthodox Study Bible. I had almost forgotten about it until I was over at Energetic Procession and it was mentioned in the comments of a post about Deacon Michael Hyatt, the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Reading Fr Pat Reardon’s article on Susannah on the Conciliar Press OSB site reminded me once again of how much of the Bible I haven’t read. When students ask me whether I’ve read the Bible all the way through (as if this is some sort of insurmountable challenge in the face of the ultimate boredom), I always tell them that I have. (The only time was from March 20 to November 29 of either 1976 or 1977.) I don’t tell them I’ve read a bad paraphrase (the Living Bible)  with an Old Testament eleven books short of the Scriptures used by Jesus and the Apostles.

I have so much catching up to do.

Lenten Guilt

All my Orthodox blogging friends are excited that Lent is almost here. We Orthodox really do Lent. None of that giving up chocolate or just going teetotal. That’s not to deny that chocolate is off the menu – thanks to dairy in the ingredients. Alcohol is reserved for weekends and all of the fifth week. We even give up meat for an extra week before Lent, before going totally vegan for the duration.

I say “we” in the sense of being a member of the Orthodox Church. I don’t do Lent very well. For most Orthodox it is a time of spiritual renewal and cleansing. For me it is mostly a time of guilt. I sometimes get through the first week without meat. Forget Cheesefare Week. I mean the first week starting on Clean Monday (the Orthodox version of Ash Wednesday). I am a carnivore. Not an omnivore. Okay, I eat the vegetables that take up a small area of my plate next to the meat. Left to my own devices – i.e., unless my wife cooks my meals – I’m perfectly happy to just eat meat.

The only mitigation is fruit. I do like fruit. But you can only eat so much of it. I don’t think I could be a fruitarian for six weeks. I’d eventually have to have it on top of a meringue, covered in cream. Neither are fasting foods.

I’m the second person St John Chrysostom was talking about in his Paschal Homily. “Ye sober and ye slothful, honor the day. Ye that have kept the fast and ye that have not, be glad today.” And I am very glad when Pascha arrives. I love singing “Christ is Risen”. And at least for Bright Week the rest of the Church is fast-free like me.

Jews Mad At the Pope, Because They Don’t Want To Be Saved (Unless It is on Their Own Terms)

The Pope has changed the Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews. Last year, when he re-authorised the Tridentine Mass, he included the 1962 prayer. Jewish organisations like the Anti-Defamation League got all upset. The ADL said it was “a theological setback in the religious life of Catholics and a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations, after 40 years of progress between the Church and the Jewish people.”

A theological setback? The Jewish ADL is pronouncing upon Catholic theology? Isn’t that just a little presumptuous? Not only is it a “theological setback”, but it apparently has some sort of affect on the religious life of Catholics. Do the ADL think that Catholic religious life takes one bit of notice of one liturgical prayer on one day of the year? It seems to me they are grasping for a reason to get offended.

The Pope has changed the prayer, but it isn’t good enough. The ADL says the changes are only “cosmetic revisions”.

The problem is that both prayers are essentially for God to have mercy upon the Jews and save them. Rabbi David Rosen, chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations sums it up:

It is a disappointment. While I appreciate that the text avoids any derogatory language towards the Jews, it is regrettable that the prayer explicitly aspires for Jews to accept the Christian faith, as opposed to the text in the current universal liturgy that prays for the salvation of the Jews in general terms.

All I can hope for is that, through further dialogue, the full implications of the Second Vatican Council’s affirmation of the eternity of the Divine Covenant with the Jewish people might lead to a deeper understanding of the value of Torah as the vehicle of salvation for the Jewish people.

The only problem is that if the Catholic Church recognises the value of the Torah “as a vehicle of salvation” it denies the Faith. Plain and simple. I’m sorry if that’s a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations. There is no salvation outside of Christ. “He came to His own and His own did not received Him.” I’d say a prayer for mercy is about the kindess thing the Catholic Church could do.

I’ve put both versions of the prayer below the fold.

It would seem the Jewish lobbying organisations aren’t worried about Orthodox Christian-Jewish relations. Or maybe they can’t be bothered to go through the pages of our Good Friday liturgy. If the ADL and Rabbi Rosen want some theology, perhaps they should look there. I’ve also put some of that below the fold.

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Happy Feast

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, or Candlemas – also known as Groundhog Day.

Matt is currently blogging an enjoyable and informative series of posts on this Great Feast of the Church.

A Real Original

At Liturgy today we picked up something for which we had been waiting two years. That’s how long it takes to get to the front of the queue for an Aidan Hart original. I can’t get our scanner to work, so I had to take a photo with the digital camera, so the gold is too bright and even washes out some of the blue. The resulting fuzziness does not do any justice to the strikingly sharp colours. I tried it without the flash, but the ambient lighting wasn’t good enough.

abigail-small.jpg
(click for larger image)

Having never owned a hand-painted icon, I didn’t know that it shouldn’t be directly kissed for a year. It needs to harden during this time, after which it can be sealed. Before this time any oils, including those acquired from kissing, may damage it. It should be kept in a glass-fronted frame for proper veneration in the meantime.

The Abigail icon is original in more than just being hand-painted. We looked high and low for an Abigail icon before we commissioned this one in 2005. Elizabeth found one on the web last year, but I don’t know the source. Ours is not sourced on any other version – it is writted solely on the inspiration given to the iconographer.

The words on the scroll are those of the Righteous Abigail from I Samuel 25:29 where she tells King David, “Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the LORD your God. But the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling.”

Not only is this an extraordinary blessing, but perhaps it is a family story her step-son Solomon had in mind when he wrote, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” It is difficult to be vengeful while you are being blessed.

Pope Beginning to Follow Church Tradition

When the Pope celebrated mass yesterday, he was the first leader of the Roman Church since Vatican II to turn away from the congregation and toward God. He used the ancient altar in the Sistine Chapel – the one set against the wall – and not a modern mobile altar that would allow him to face the people.

In the post-Vatican II era, the mass has been focused on communicating to the congregation, rather than in representing the congregation in the offering made to God. The priest faces away from the people because he is leading them to the presence of God. There are times when he turns around, but the focus is always to the altar. Orthodoxy has never lost this tradition in the Divine Liturgy.

Christ is baptised!

In the Jordan!

St Basil the Great

Born just after the First Council of Nicea in 325 and reposing two years before the First Council of Constantinople in 381 (otherwise known as the First and Second Ecumenical Councils), one man is more responsible than any other for the key changes to the Creed ratified at the latter. Our father among the saints Basil of Caesarea – Basil the Great – helped us understand the nature and work of the Holy Spirit.

Not one to use a few words when 206 will do (at least in an English translation), in a sentence he summarises the nature of the Holy Spirit:

We are compelled to advance in our conceptions to the highest, and to think of an intelligent essence, in power infinite, in magnitude unlimited, unmeasured by times or ages, generous of Its good gifts, to whom turn all things needing sanctification, after whom reach all things that live in virtue, as being watered by Its inspiration and helped on toward their natural and proper end; perfecting all other things, but Itself in nothing lacking; living not as needing restoration, but as Supplier of life; not growing by additions; but straightway full, self-established, omnipresent, origin of sanctification, light perceptible to the mind, supplying, as it were, through Itself, illumination to every faculty in the search for truth; by nature unapproachable, apprehended by reason of goodness, filling all things with Its power, but communicated only to the worthy; not shared in one measure, but distributing Its energy according to “the proportion of faith;” in essence simple, in powers various, wholly present in each and being wholly everywhere; impassively divided, shared without loss of ceasing to be entire, after the likeness of the sunbeam, whose kindly light falls on him who enjoys it as though it shone for him alone, yet illumines land and sea and mingles with the air.

What does this mean for us?

So, too, is the Spirit to every one who receives it, as though given to him alone, and yet It sends forth grace sufficient and full for all mankind, and is enjoyed by all who share It, according to the capacity, not of Its power, but of their nature.

In other words, we can have as much of the Holy Spirit as we can handle.

Why I Haven’t Warmed to Russian Spirituality

The United States is not the only nation when religion is intertwined with politics. If anything, it is much more innocuous mix than you will find in Russia, even if it is my own brand of Christianity that is the official Church in all but name. The State helps the Orthodox Church stamp out any other expressions of Christianity and the Church helps the State stamp out any opposition to the Putin regime. Both promote Russian nationalism above all else. This certainly isn’t surprising, as Putin and the Patriarch used to be colleagues in the same firm, well known by the initials KGB.

An Orthodox priest recently emailed me a copy of a Wall Street Journal article which reveals more about this unholy alliance. I have included it in full below the fold.

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Christ is born!

Glorify him!

The Other Saint Boniface

When most people think of St Boniface, they think of the Apostle to the Germans – the patron saint of Germany and the Netherlands who died in 754. Today, however, is the commemoration of another Boniface who was martyred in about 290 in St Paul’s hometown of Tarsus.

He was from Rome. After he and his rich lover (some say he was he was also her slave) repented of fornication, he went East where there was great persecution going on, to gather relics of martyrs to make sure they were cared for properly. When he got to Tarsus, he found Christians being martyred in the city centre. He rushed to them to ask for their prayers and declared to the authorities that he was a Christian.

They beat him and tortured him by methods that vary somewhat in the relating of the story, but all include that his tormenters poured molten tin or lead down his throat. He was unharmed by this, as well as by being thrown in boiling tar. They finally got him with sword parting his head from his shoulders.

St Boniface is a clear testimony to the adage that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. The miracles surrounding his death caused several hundred people to embrace Christ. His own relics were returned to Rome where his erstwhile lover built a church over his grave. As is the custom with martyrs, the miracles just kept happening.

So when you think you are being treated a bit badly by those around you, especially if it for your faith, remember Holy Boniface and you probably don’t have it so bad.

St Boniface of Rome, pray to God for us!

Memory Eternal

I’m a day late, but grateful to Deb for the reminder that yesterday was the anniversary of the repose of Fr Alexander Schmemann. As I’m sure is true for many, Fr. Alexander was my first exposure to Orthodoxy. His elucidation of the sacramental life changed my whole view of everything. I hardly live out my changed view, but then I hardly lived out my previous views, or anything else I should. At least I know the things I should be doing that I’m not.

May Fr Alexander’s memory be eternal!

East Meets West

Even though I have issues with the Moscow Patriarchate, I am glad to learn that there has been another step in improving relations between Moscow and Rome.

Metropolitan Kirill met with Pope Benedict at the Vatican last Friday, according to a report from the Ecumenical New Service. Kirill is head of the External Relations department of the Patriarchate. The two first met soon after Benedict’s enthronement. This further meeting and other developments show an ease in tensions and help pave the way for Patriarch Alexei and the Pope to get together for the first time, perhaps as early as 2009.

I don’t expect a straightforward path to the re-unification if the Church, but it is important for the Church to present a united front against sprit of the age.

At least Kirill is actually dealing with people outside of the Patriarchate. Not so long ago, Kirill was dealing with the matters of the Russian diocese in the UK because we were considered “external”. That’s one of the reasons we are no longer a part of the Russian diocese and patriarchate.