Saturday, January 14, 2006

Abuna Yesehaq, R.I.P.

One of the pivotal figures of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Abuna Yesehaq (Laike Mandefro) passed away in Newark, New Jersey, on December 29, 2005. He was 72. Ethiopian Emperor Haile-Selassie sent Abuna Yesehaq ("Fr. Isaac") to the West in 1962, after his royal majesty encountered a number of Jamaican Rastafarians who worshipped the emperor instead of God. By 1979, Abuna was given the title Archbishop of the Western Hemisphere and South Africa. He became best known for presiding over the funeral of reggae artist Bob Marley in 1981. Abuna established dozens of churches in the West and converted tens of thousands, especially former Rastis in the Caribbean. In the 1990s, Abuna claimed the church did not have the right to elect a new patriarch, Paulos (who is his cousin), while the former patriarch is still alive, and broke communion with Addis Ababa. Patriarch Paulos, in turn, carved the Western hemisphere into three dioceses and appointed Abuna Matthias of London, Ontario, as bishop for North America.

One of Abuna Yesehaq's last acts was to accept a number of Western Rite parishes under his patronage. What will happen to them after his passing is not yet known. Our prayer is that God will re-establish these parishes -- and all Oriental Orthodox -- in visible unity with the Byzantine Orthodox, ut unum sint.

On January 12, a Washington, D.C., parish Abuna founded celebrated a nearly 10-hour funeral liturgy for him. His body will be flown to Jamaica, where he will be buried. R.I.P.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Happy Octave of Epiphany: the Baptism of Christ

O awesome Majesty, Who willed to plunge beneath the floods to liberate from their sins all who are joined to Thee by baptism. By this sacrament, I humbly pray Thee to absolve me from my sins and to bestow on me all Thy Spirit's blessings, O Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (Prayer from the Nunnaminster Codex.)
The Octave of Epiphany, January 13, is the day the Orthodox West celebrates the baptism of Christ in the Jordan. Just as the Occidental Epiphany "lengthens" the Christmas season by keeping the focus on the Infant Christ, the celebration of Christ's baptism a week after Epiphany "lengthens" the period of the Church Year dedicated to Christ's manifestation. In the West, we begin with Epiphany, in which the light of a star leads three Gentiles to adore at the foot of His creche. The intervening Sunday focuses on the finding of Christ in the Temple, when He manifested His supernatural growth "in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (St. Luke 2:52). Slowly, the light of the Epiphany star widened its vista to shine on an ever-increasing family.

Today, the manifestation of His Godhead reaches a crescendo. With His baptism in the Jordan, "the worship of the Trinity was made manifest." The voice of God the Father removes all doubt that "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I AM well pleased." The Holy Spirit, too, descends upon Christ and causes Him to shine with the blinding light of His Divinity. However, these, the clearest revelations of Jesus' true status as the Second Person of the Trinity, begotten before all worlds, are manifest only to those "with eyes to see and ears to hear." Perhaps most of those witnessing the baptism saw nothing different about Christ after the baptism than before -- did not hear the voice of the Father nor see the graceful lighting of the Holy Ghost -- not because God withheld the vision from them, but because "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Cor. 2:14). They are tuned to another frequency, as it were, and cannot see what is right before them.

...Which is an apt description of the 21st century Christian. Most did not make it to a church to celebrate this holiday. We have fields to plow, and families to nurture, and a million other gadgets and diversions to acquire or pursue. We are in danger of losing, not a physical manifestation of Christ's glory, but the eternal vision of Christ in Heaven. "What have we done to deserve being put away from God's presence?" you may ask Perhaps nothing. But the road leading to Christ is narrow and arduous, and we will never reach our destination through indifference to the path that leads thither.

However, Christ's baptism also reveals the rich blessings to those who engage in the simplest act of obedience. Christ was baptized, not because of any sin of His, but "to fulfill all righteousness" (St. Matt. 3:15). After His baptism and acclamation by the voice of the Father comes the descent of the Holy Ghost. This is a foreshadowing of the great outpouring of the Holy Ghost in the form of fiery tongues at Pentecost. Both anointings follow acts of obedience: His baptism in the Jordan River, and His three-day sojourn in the tomb after His voluntary Passion. We, too, can experience and have experienced this anointing -- like the Apostles, like Christ.

"For as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27).

"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." (Rom. 6:3-6.)

The Fathers of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church say baptism is how believers become "born again." However, St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans calls it something else: death! Specifically, a participation in the death of Christ, which leads to our personal death to sin and to the kingdom of death itself. Here we find a paradox: only by dying to self can we be truly alive to God, partakers of the Lord's resurrection, and vessels and temples of the Holy Ghost. Whether we preserve that gift depends upon our ability to perceive Christ, to participate in the energies of Christ, to contemplate the light that once shone out over a cave in Bethlehem; which lighted upon Christ rising from the banks of the Jordan; and which led first a few women, then a near-dozen Apostles, then the whole world to an empty tomb on the first Easter.

St. John the Baptist was struck by the paradox of Christ's asking to be baptized, when He baptized with the Holy Ghost and fire. The Wise Men experienced the paradox of asking an earthly king the whereabouts of a true King. The Blessed Virgin and most chaste St. Joseph experienced the paradox of seeing a young carpenter's apprentice teach the finest scholars of the Law about God's Word. Our spiritual life, too, will depend upon our ability to navigate the paradox of the Christian life: , that mourning brings comfort, that the meek shall inherit the earth, that the poor in the world's eyes and the persecuted and reviled own the kingdom of Heaven, that the last shall be first and the first last, and that one finds his life only by through self-abandonment. Thus, we pray:
O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


More UCC Apostasy

Another Friday night, and that means another episode of "The Book of Daniel" America won't be watching. However, the president of the quasi-pagan United Church of Christ will. The reverend, whose name -- I kid you not -- is John Thomas, "The Book of Daniel" is just another sign of how plebian American culture "resists religion that is relevant":

Thomas, however, said it should not come as a shock, for example, that a pastor, either on "The Book of Daniel" or in real life, could accept and affirm his gay child, have a daughter with legal troubles, or be married to someone with depression or alcoholism...

"It's always surprising to discover how controversial grace can be," Thomas said. "But then, even in Jesus' time, unmerited, undeserved grace left many religious authorities furious."

Translation: Don't believe Jesus favors gay marriage? You probably would've crucified Him, anyway, infidel!

Reviling Americans (and Jesus) is an odd way to go about evangelizing. Which should be particularly important to him, since many of his parishoners won't leave a new generation of UCC'ers behind.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Planned Parenthood's Sacrilege, 2.0

First, Planned Parenthood released its blasphemous "Choice on Earth" Christmas cards (again and again). Now the nation's largest abortion provider is desecrating another aspect of our Christian heritage. Behold its newest keychain:

For those not up to speed, that is a part of Michaelangelo's portrait on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, in which God imparts the "breath of life" to the first man and creates him in imago Dei. In this case, God "imparts" condoms to His creation. Undoubtedly, this will be marketed to snickering college-aged feminists to justify their indiscriminate use of same (those who, err, still have a partner who requires one, that is).

Unfortunately, outright sacrilege is actually the least of Planned Parenthood's offenses.... (Get involved.)

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sarcasm Alert

Forgive me if I'm indelicate, but...

NBC has launched a new (undoubtedly short-lived) program called "The Book of Daniel." The star, Aidan Quinn, describes himself thus:
I'm an Episcopalian priest who struggles with a little self-medication problem,
and I have a 23-year-old son who's gay, and a 16-year-old daughter who's caught
dealing pot, and another son who's jumping on every high school girl he sees,
and a wife who's very loving but also likes her martinis.
But there's more. Oh, so much more:
His gay son, Peter (Christian Campbell), actually beds a bishop's niece, albeit
in the backseat of that church elder's luxury sedan. Not that the bishop herself
(Ellen Burstyn) can cast the first stone: she's the sideline lover of Daniel's
father, himself a bishop whose wife is lost in the drift of Alzheimer's disease.
The priest also has face-to-face talks with a New Age Jesus. According to David DiCerto of the Office for Film and Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Our Lord and Savior "dismissively shrugs off Rev. Webster's kids having casual sex in the back seats of cars."

1. I wonder how long before this show goes the way of "Nothing Sacred." (Remember that "groundbreaking," "iconoclastic" show?)

2. How long before one of the Big Three give us "The Book of Mohammed," about a "controversial" imam whose brother is in love with a Jewish man; his daughter is involved in internet porn; his wife is great but loves ham sandiwches; and he publicly questions the existence of Allah, the efficacy of suicide bombing, and why Muslim women can't go outside in hotpants?

3. So, the show presents a morally/spiritually confused Episcopal priest whose family is in shambles dealing with morally/spiritually confused bishops and bishopesses whose apostasy dates back at least a generation -- and who believes Jesus has no problem with premarital sex? Where on earth do they get this stuff?


Monday, January 09, 2006

The Ancient, Eastern Basis for the Four-Fold Interpretation of Scripture

Although evangelical converts to Orthodoxy often dismiss the four-fold interpretation of Scripture as a "medieval Roman Catholic idea," its pedigree actually goes back to the ancient, monastic heart of the East. St. John Cassian received this hermeneutical principle from Abba Nesteros, an anchorite living in coastal Thennesus, Egypt, with two others (Chaeremon and Joseph). The saint recorded these instructions in his famous book of Conferences, a detailed account of the spiritual wisdom he and a friend received from monks from Syria to Egypt. In Conference 14:8, he remembers the holy desert father's words:

[P]ractical knowledge is distributed among many subjects and interests, but theoretical is divided into two parts, i.e., the historical interpretation and the spiritual sense. Whence also Solomon when he had summed up the manifold grace of the Church, added: "for all who are with her are clothed with double garments."(Prov. 31:21, LXX) But of spiritual knowledge there are three kinds, tropological, allegorical, anagogical, of which we read as follows in Proverbs: "But do you describe these things to yourself in three ways according to the largeness of your heart"(Prov. 22:20, LXX). And so the history embraces the knowledge of things past and visible, as it is repeated in this way by the Apostle: "For it is written that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondwoman, the other by a free: but he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh, but he who was of the free was by promise." But to the allegory belongs what follows, for what actually happened is said to have prefigured the form of some mystery "For these," says he, "are the two covenants the one from Mount Sinai, which gendereth into bondage, which is Agar. For Sinai is a mountain in Arabia, which is compared to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children." But the anagogical sense rises from spiritual mysteries even to still more sublime and sacred secrets of heaven, and is subjoined by the Apostle in these words: "But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not, break forth and cry, thou that travailest not, for many are the children of the desolate more than of her that hath an husband."(Gal. 4:22-27.) The tropological sense is the moral explanation which has to do with improvement of life and practical teaching, as if we were to understand by these two covenants practical and theoretical instruction, or at any rate as if we were to want to take Jerusalem or Sion as the soul of man, according to this: "Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem: praise thy God, O Sion"(Ps. 147:12). And so these four previously mentioned figures coalesce, if we desire, in one subject, so that one and the same Jerusalem can be taken in four senses: historically as the city of the Jews; allegorically as Church of Christ, anagogically as the heavenly city of God "which is the mother of us all," tropologically, as the soul of man, which is frequently subject to praise or blame from the Lord under this title.

Of these four kinds of interpretation the blessed Apostle speaks as follows: "But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation or by knowledge or by prophecy or by doctrine?"(1 Cor. 14:6.) For "revelation" belongs to allegory whereby what is concealed under the historical narrative is revealed in its spiritual sense and interpretation, as for instance if we tried to expound how "all our fathers were under the cloud and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea," and how they "all ate the same spiritual meat and drank the same spiritual drink from the rock that followed them. But the rock was Christ."(1 Cor. 10:1-4) And this explanation where there is a comparison of the figure of the body and blood of Christ which we receive daily, contains the allegorical sense. But the knowledge, which is in the same way mentioned by the Apostle, is tropological, as by it we can by a careful study see of all things that have to do with practical discernment whether they are useful and good, as in this case, when we are told to judge of our own selves "whether it is fitting for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered"(1 Cor. 11:13). And this system, as has been said, contains the moral meaning. So "prophecy" which the Apostle puts in the third place, alludes to the anagogical sense by which the words are applied to things future and invisible, as here: "But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those that sleep: that ye be not sorry as others also who have no hope. For if we believe that Christ died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say to you by the word of God, that we which are alive at the coming of the Lord shall not prevent those that sleep in Christ, for the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first."(1 Thess. 4:12-15) In which kind of exhortation the figure of anagoge is brought forward. But "doctrine" unfolds the simple course of historical exposition, under which is contained no more secret sense, but what is declared by the very words: as in his passage: "For I delivered unto you first of all what I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day, and that he was seen of Cephas;"(1 Cor. 15:3-5) and: "God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law;" (Gal. 4:4, 5) or this: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord the God is one Lord." (Deut. 6:4).

St. Benedict listed both the Conferences and Institutes as recommended reading in his Holy Rule, and the Holy Rule exerted such influence over the history of Europe that this became its entrenched Biblical hermeneutic. In the East, though, "St. Cassian the Roman" received less attention, having only two small entries in the first volume of the Philokalia (both considerably shortened in translation), and Abba Nesteros' guidance became lost. Ironically, this demonstrates that the more hostile Orthodoxy becomes to the West, the more it loses touch with its own Eastern heritage.

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Fr. Patrick Reardon and the Interpretation of Scripture

Antiochian priest and Touchstone Magazine editor Fr. Patrick Reardon has written an excellent article on the traditional Orthodox biblical hermeneutic: the four-fold interpretation of Scripture:

I want to extend our consideration of a Christian study of the Chronicler by suggesting that there is more than one legitimate approach to the Sacred Text. Christian history itself testifies to this exegetical variety, in which the rich meaning of Holy Scripture is never reducible to just one framework nor to single formula. The Church has always insisted that the Bible is open to more than one approach, as long as each interpreter stays within, and takes his guidance from, the Rule of Faith (as explained, for example, by St. Augustine of Hippo, The City of God 15.26). We can start, for instance, by mentioning the standard four-fold outline formulated by Saint John Cassian in the early fifth century (Conferences 14.8).

This traditional outline speaks first of the literal or historical sense of the text, the meaning originally intended by the biblical writer himself. As applied to a Christian reading of Chronicles, the pursuit of this sense will endeavor to read the Sacred Text through the author's manifest theological and historical concerns and within the boundaries of the work's historical context. A great deal of the present commentary is devoted to this pursuit.

According to Cassian's outline, however, this literal sense of the Bible is transformed by its doctrinal significance discerned in the light of Christ. This is the deeper meaning of Holy Scripture indicated by the risen Lord, who "beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27).

Following the lead of St. Paul, Sacred Tradition calls this meaning the Bible's allegorical sense (allegoroumena--Galatians 4:24), the newer, more complete significance, the sensus plenior evoked from the Sacred Page through its fulfillment in the Mystery of Christ. Reading Chronicles according to this sense, the figure of David, for example, is perceived to be a type of Christ, who fulfills in a special, definitive way what that Old Testament prophet and king accomplished by way of allegory. Namely, Christ provides for God's People the true worship, the true priesthood, the true Temple--all the things that David, through shadows and figures, provided in his own time.

The third sense in Cassian's traditional outline is the Bible's tropological or moral sense, its existential, practical, and concrete application to the life of the believing reader. We perceive this sense of the Old Testament in St. Paul's applications of the Sacred Text to the Christian's moral life, as when he wrote of the ancient Israelites in the desert, "all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come" (1 Corinthians 10:11). In addition to negative examples, such as the one just cited by Paul, the New Testament offers many positive Old Testament models, such as Elijah (James 5:17) and Rahab (Hebrews 11:31).

The work of the Chronicler, approached in this tropological sense, is full of myriad moral examples, both positive and negative, applicable to the life of the Gospel. Thus, the Christian reader is inspired to emulate such models as the foresight of David, the integrity of Jotham, the loyalty of Jehoiada, the courage of Micaiah, and so on, while cautiously eschewing the folly of Rehoboam, the infidelity of Jehoram, the cruelty of Athaliah, the ingratitude of Joash, etcetera. The Christian reader, in his assessment of these moral examples, will be careful to interpret the text, not only according to ethical standards of the Old Testament, but also in the full light of the Gospel. That is to say, the Christian moral life is always life under the guidance the Holy Spirit, not according to the bondage of the Law.

Still following Cassian's interpretive outline, the fourth level of significance in Holy Scripture--its anagogical or eschatological sense--is the meaning that it has with respect to the Last Things, the definitive fulfillment of all history. Interpreted in this sense, the Books of Chronicles present us with a prophetic adumbration of man's eternal destiny, his worship before the Throne of God in glory. Everything that the Chronicler has to say with respect to priesthood, sacrifice, hymnography, and prayer is a preparation for the everlasting worship described in, say, the Epistle to the Hebrews (for example, 12:18-24) and the Book of Revelation (for example, 5:8-14).

Fr. Patrick Reardon is pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and a Senior Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity. He is also the author of Christ in the Psalms, and Christ in His Saints (both books are published by Conciliar Press).

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