Saturday, January 07, 2006

Muslims Persecute Orthodox in Indonesia

Just in: this e-mail alert, reminding us to pray for the endangered Orthodox Christians in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world:

I just received a call from Fr. Gordon Walker (Antiochian/Franklin, TN). Fr. Gordon had just spoken to Fr. Daniel Byantoro, who is in Jakarta, Indonesia. It is Sunday morning there and Fr. Daniel was on his way to church.

Yesterday, a group of over 200 radical Muslims came to the compound where the church of St. Thomas is located. They surrounded the compound with the intent of burning the church down. (Fr. Daniel also lives within the compound walls.) The owners of the factory located in the compound think that they were able to persuade the radicals to leave the property alone. They had to agree not to worship in the compound.

Please pray for the safety of the Indonesian Orthodox Christians, for Fr. Daniel and the church of St. Thomas. Today, they are going to a private home to celebrate the Divine Liturgy.

Thank you for your prayers.

Fr. Daniel Byantoro is a convert from Islam, and some practitioners of the Religion of Peace believe such "apostasy" requires death. For more information on Fr. Daniel and the Church in Indonesia, click here.

St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us!


Metropolitan PHILIP's Christmas Meditation

A late Christmas post: Metropolitan PHILIP's beautiful Christmas Meditation. This can be found in his book, Feed My Sheep, and on the Antiochian Archdiocese website.


What shall I offer You on Your birthday in return for Your infinite love?

I have neither gold nor silver, neither myrrh nor frankincense.

My house is without a roof. I have no room for You; not even a manger.

My soul is even darker than the clouds of my passion.

My eyes are too dim to look beyond the horizon of myself.

Help me behold Your bright star; "For in thy light we shall see light."


You have been knocking on my door for thirty-nine years, but I never dared let You in, because my garment is not white as snow.

Forgive me if I do not invite You to my table, for my table is full of everything you despise. I have denied You more than Peter.

I have doubted You more than Thomas.

I have betrayed You more than Judas.

My hands are empty. My lips are not clean to sing Your praise.

And my heart is wrinkled with sorrow like a withered leaf under autumn's wind.


The only thing I can offer You on Your birthday is myself.

Drown me in the ocean of Your love.

Feed me with Your heavenly bread, for the bread of this world will never satisfy my hunger.

Quench my thirst with Your divine fountain, for the water of this earth will never satisfy my thirst.

Give me Your eyes to see what You see, Your ears to hear what You hear, and Your heart to love what You love.

Take me with You to Mount Tabor and let me bathe in Your eternal light.


"Create a clean heart in me. Cast me not away from Thy face. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and strengthen me with a perfect spirit."

Teach me how to pray in simple words, for only through prayers I may overcome my loneliness.

Help me to care for the needy, the oppressed, the orphans, the sinners and the despised whom You love.

As I kneel before Your manger with love and humility I beseech You to listen to my prayers.


...And Merry Christmas

A Merry Christmas to our friends who are under the Julian calendar ("Old Calendarists"), particularly our Western Rite friends: Fr. James Deschene of Christminster Monastery in Rhode Island and everyone associated with St. Petroc's Monastery and its attached missions in Tasmania.

How is today Christmas? Some Orthodox use the Julian calendar, which is now 13 days "behind" the Gregorian calendar. Hence, December 25 does not fall until our secular January 7. The Copts, too, maintain the old calendar for Christmas. Most Orthodox Churches in North America use the "Revised Julian" calendar, so they celebrate Christmas on our familiar December 25. (Here's an article on the topic by Holy Cross Orthodox School of Theology professor Dr. Lewis J. Patsavos.)

Whatever calendar you use, have a very Merry Christmas!

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Epiphany and the Western Rite

Every January, a question inevitably arises from my Byzantine friends about why Western "Epiphany" focuses on the Adoration of the Magi, while Eastern "Theophany" deals with Christ's Baptism. The word Epiphany means a "shining forth," or manifestation of God to the world. Originally, the feast commemorated many manifestations of Christ: His birth, the visit of the Wise Men, the Baptism in the Jordan, and His first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. (The East also remembered Christ's presentation in the Temple on Jan. 6th.) Gradually, Christ's Nativity came to be celebrated on December 25th, but Epiphany continued remained a polyglot holiday. Western hymnography still preserves this, as evidenced by the Magnificat antiphon for the second Vespers of Epiphany:

Now do we celebrate a holy day adorned by three miracles: today a star led the wise men to the manger; today water was made wine at the wedding feast; today Christ vouchsafed to be baptized of John in Jordan that He might save us, alleluia.
(For a more in depth examination of the feast's hymnography, click here.) Western Epiphany came to focus on the Magi, highlighting Christ's manifestation to the Gentiles. The Byzantines moved this to Christmas Day, which is why the Gospel reading for Christmas Liturgy is the Adoration of the Magi. This also explains the fusion of Christmas with the visit of the Wise Men in nearly all the Byzantine Nativity "propers," particularly its beautiful Troparion.

The Occidental Kalendar, by lengthening the period dedicated to Christ's infancy, underscores the awesome paradox that the Second Person of the Trinity became incarnate as a little child for our sake. In addition to prolonging the joy of Christmas, this allows the faithful to "grow up with Christ," to savor the life of Christ made mystically present again through the Church year. When we next encounter Christ, on the First Sunday after Epiphany, He is a 12-year-old boy -- the ancient age of manhood -- holding the priests and doctors of the Law spellbound in the midst of the Temple. The Baptism of Christ receives its own commemoration on the Octave of Epiphany, January 13th. The following Sunday celebrates Christ's first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. Subdeacon Benjamin Andersen has noted, "Many of the other Sundays after Epiphany center on other 'manifestations' of Christ...the healing of the leper in Matthew 8; our Lord's calming of the wind in Mark 4," and the parables revealing the Church acts contrary to human expectation and finally showing Christ as eschatalogical judge.

I dearly love the Byzantine Rite. But too often during Christmastime, I feel as though I'm watching one of those old sitcoms where the mother has a baby in February, and by the beginning of the next season, he's in school. On the Sunday after Theophany, Christ calls His Disciples and from there, the Byzantine Church depicts His ministry. Although both kalendars must "rubberneck" by the time they observe Candlemas, the commemoriation of the presentation of Christ in the Temple (Feb. 2), the Byzantine perspective seems further removed.

Which brings out a last, hidden significance found in Epiphany: in a sense, this holiday itself calls for a Western Rite. Christ called all nations to His banquet, and today all symbolically kneel by His creche. The liturgical differences found within Orthodoxy between Western and Eastern Rites developed because of the cultural differences existing in the lands where the Apostles planted the Gospel (and, in Rome, the chief Apostles died for it). The underlying structures of all traditional liturgies are quite similar, because they have a common Parent. These are merely the ancient, traditional ways the various tribes of man offer the Holy Trinity their sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Fr. Paul Schneirla, Vicar-General of the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate, addressed this in an April 1962 article in The Word magazine, "The Significance of the Western Rite," in which he discussed the reunion of Western liturgies with the Orthodox Church:
A primary result of this reunion is that the Church proclaims her catholicity.
She demonstrates that she is the Oecumenical Church, not a tribal
religion...Here is a greater empire than even Byzantium. All peoples may come
before the throne in their own garb, presenting their distinctive gifts.
That truth is most emphatically expressed today, when Christ calls universal nations to His dazzling light, to partake of the uncreated light, the light that came down from Heaven and lighteth every man that cometh into the world.


The Venerable Bede on the Wise Men's offerings

from Georges Trubert's Breviary in Provence, France, 1480.

The Adoration of the Magi has come to be given a range of interpretations, both in the Magi themselves and in the gifts they offered. In traditional iconography, and in most Western artwork of the era, the Three Wise Men are depicted as a beardless youth, a vibrant man with a medium-length beard, and an old man with a long beard. This symbolized the adoration offered to God by all ages and generations. As the world became more aware of its ethnic diversity, the Magi were rendered as representatives of the "three continents of the world," or the three branches of Noah's descendants: Africa (Hamites), Asia (Semites), and Europe (Japhethites).

Their gifts, too, had been seen as figurative of Christ. The gold represented Christ's status as a king. The franckincense represented His Divinity, since incense was offered to gods. (Many saints were martyred for withholding from Caesar their pinch of incense.) Myrrh was used in ancient burial practices, symbolizing that Christ had been born to die upon the Cross. In Byzantine iconography, this fact is represented by showing the Infant Christ wrapped, not in swaddling clothes, but in mummified bandages.

Apparently, in the days of the Venerable Bede (d. 735) , a proto-Jesus Seminar sought to "demythologize" the gifts of the Magi. Bede, one of the best-read exponents of the Western Fathers, was asked for their understanding of this episode. He wrote:

Some think that the men who came from the East to the Lord when He was born in the flesh and who adored Him by offering gifts did by no means understand in those same gifts the noblest mysteries which Holy Church now sublimely understands -- namely: in gold, a king; in incense, a God; in myrrh, a human being Who would in due course die and be buried -- but that they were bringing mysteries greater than they knew, and each simply offered as a gift to Him Whom they had come to adore as king the most valued product of His country. But if we diligently ponder their own words, we ascertain it to have been far otherwise; for this is what they said when they were coming into Jerusalem: "Where is He Who has been born King of the Jews? For we have observed His star in the East and have come to adore Him" (St. Matt. 2:2). Surely it is apparent that they understood Him to be a human being, for they say: "Where is He Who has been born?" And it is apparent that they also understood him also to be a human being, because they declare it in the same saying. And it is apparent that they also believed Him to be God, whence they add afterwards: "And we have come to adore Him." For such learned men would not have come so far to worship one whom they believed to be merely a human being and a king, and not God as well. They also had this lofty and noble perception about Him: namely, that although He was King of the Jews, He was also willing to save the Gentiles who were willing to believe in Him and to come to Him. They proved this especially by their own coming, and by their action.

from "On Eight Questions," Bede: A Biblical Miscellany. W. Trent Foley and Arthur G. Holder, trans. (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999), p. 149.

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Happy Epiphany!

from a Psalter illustration at Wurzburg, 1240 A.D.

O God, Who, by means of a star didst this day manifest to the Gentiles Thine only-begotten Son; grant that we who know Thee now by faith, may be brought at last to contemplate the beauty of Thy Majesty. Through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

With the first twinkling of the great star in the East, God broke forth from the narrow confines of Judea and burst into the hearts of the Gentiles. Although He had always opened His covenant to more than one ethnic group, for too long the light of the burning bush had been obscured under the bushel of a people grown dead to the things of the spirit through self-indulgence. However, His love could not be shut up within artificial boundaries -- indeed, within any boundardies, the very reason He created Adam, the common father of all the nations He calls to Himself today. On Epiphany, He would utter the words prophesied by Isaiah long before: "This place is too narrow for me: give place to me that I may dwell" (Isa. 49:20). On this day, He would stretch forth the heavenly light itself to lead the beginning of a new people to their Head, the second Adam, Who "didst wonderfully dignify" human nature "and didst still more wonderfully restore it."

However, the Wise Men were uniquely equipped to respond to the light. According to such Western Fathers as the Venerable Bede, they had pondered the ancient prophecies of a coming king in Judea (Num. 24:17; see also Byz. Christmas Matins). Like Abraham before them, they were unafraid to venture far from their homelands, following a divine pledge that was at once shining yet uncomfortably opaque. They rejected the evil counsels of wicked leaders to offer their gifts of devotion to the Holy Child. And they returned another way, because no one who genuinely adores Christ remains the same, inwardly or outwardly. By doing this, the Gentile kings showed themselves the true kinsmen of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

We are their kinsmen only to the extent that we show the same characteristics. Pope St. Gregory the Great stated that God had renewed human nature by His Incarnation, yet we only participate in this renewal through baptism. And after sin, we again debase our nature, which is why we must again renew it in a holy stream -- of our tears. We who have been led by the kindly light to Bethlehem must pray "that we show forth Thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to Thy service, and by walking before Thee in holiness and righteousness all our days." Then by purifying our consciences, our heartfelt praise shines forth as brightly as the beckoning light of the Epiphany star.