Saturday, February 04, 2006

Lutheranism cum Platonism

Some thoughts from our friend Rev. William Weedon, pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod:

Thus, Lutherans AGREE that private confession and absolution is a good thing. But don't ask them to do it! That would be "legalistic" (i.e., it would require moving out of the realm of ideas)...

Thus, Lutherans AGREE that the Symbols are a "true exposition of the Word of God" but don't refer to Mary with any of the titles that they do ("Blessed, Ever-Virgin, Most-holy, Pure and Holy", etc), or you're imposing personal beliefs on people (and you'd be moving out of the realm of ideas).Thus, Lutherans AGREE that the Saints are to be honored, but do it without mentioning them, please! We don't want to be mistaken for Rome (in other words, keep it in the realm of ideas, not practice).

...the typical Lutheran response among many so-called "Confessionalists" is to squirm with discomfort and cry foul...

Can Lutheranism survive merely as an idea? Can the idea of Lutheranism be disconnected from the concrete forms in which she has lived her life? I am thinking of how it was reported to me that a professor at one of our seminaries can argue that both Fr. High Church and Pastor Billy-Bob Church Growther are both fine and upstanding Lutheran pastors. Why? Because they hold to the same ideas, they hold opinions that mark them as Lutheran. Lutheranism as an idea is not Lutheranism at all in my book.

This should be an important message for all High Church Lutherans (and there are many more than you know): the "Confessionalists" are happy to have you remain in their denomination, just don't try to put your faith into practice there. "Pastor Billy-Bob Church Growther" per omnia saecula saeculorum.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Candlemas - The Feast of the Presentation

Belarusian Icon of the Feast of the Presentation

Almighty and everliving God, we humbly beseech Thy Majesty that, as Thy Only-Begotten Son was presented this day in the temple in the substance of our flesh, so we may be presented unto Thee with purified souls, by the same, Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A homily of St. Ambrose of Milan (from Matins of the Feast):

And behold, there was man in Jerusalam, whose name was Simeon ; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel. The birth of the Lord is attested not only by Angels, Prophets and shepherds, but also by elders and just men. Every age, and both sexes, as well as the wonders of the events themselves, are here present to strengthen our faith. A virgin conceiveth, a barren woman beareth, a dumb man speaketh, Elisabeth prophesieth, the wise man worshippeth, the unborn child leapeth, the widow praiseth, and the just man waiteth.

Well is he called just, who looked not for favour for himself but for consolation for his people. He desired to be set free from the bondage of this frail body, but he waited to see the Promised One ; for he knew that blest are the eyes that see him. Then took he Him up in his arms, and blest God, and said: Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word. Behold a just man, confined in the weary prison of the body, desiring to depart, and to begin to be with Christ. For it is far better to depart and be with Christ.

Whosoever will depart and be with Christ, let him come into the temple. Yea, let him come, as to Jerusalem, and wait for the Lord's Christ. Let him take hold on the Word of God, let him embrace the same with good works, as it were with arms of faith. Then let him depart in peace, for he who hath seen Life, shall not see death. Behold how the Lord's birth doth overflow with abounding grace for all, and prophecy was not denied except to the unbelieving. Behold, Simeon prophesieth that the Lord Jesus Christ is come for the fall and rising of many. Yea, he shall separate the just from the unjust by their deserts. And according as our work shall be, so shall the true and righteous Judge command us to be punished or rewarded.

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples. To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of Thy people Israel.

(Don't forget to get your candles blessed today!)


Non-Orthodox Saints?

Also worthwhile on Huw's blog is this insightful post about -- gasp! -- change in Orthodoxy, particularly the veneration of saints who died outside of the Orthodox Church.

Non-Orthodox Saints, Of Course: Jan 28 is also the Feast of St Isaac the Syrian. Many people don't like to talk about it, but he was a member of - and a supporter of - a heresy: the Nestorians. Oddly enough this fact tends to be ignored on most Orthodox sites, but a google makes it clear.

The point NOT being that this should be a shock to the system. In fact, the point is that this SHOULD NOT be a shock to the system. Innovation and seeing Holiness in people of other faiths/churches is part of the Orthodox faith.

Huw's right: few dare mention St. Isaac the Syrian was a proud Nestorian -- and he's not the only saint venerated by the Orthodox who had an "Orthodoxy problem." All were Christian, but most would fare poorly according to the standards of the hyper-orthodox converts. Yet the same Baptodox who (rightly) consider St. Isaac one of the most advanced spiritual fathers excoriate St. Augustine of Hippo as an heretic.

For discussion: How should the Orthodox Church approach the saints of other traditions? Does the example of St. Isaac the Syrian demonstrate, in the words of Alexei Khomiakov, that the heterodox faithful are "united to [the Holy Church] by ties which God has not willed to reveal to Her"?

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The Presanctified Liturgy "of St. Gregory the Dialogist"?

Pope St. Gregory the Great and St. Peter the Deacon

Huw Raphael has posted some interesting comments about Fr. Hopko's papal reunion proposal. In a separate entry, he asks whether Pope St. Gregory the Great actually composed the (very) Byzantine Presanctified Liturgy of St. Gregory the Dialogist.

A few years ago, I noted this ascription was dubious.

The OCA website on the topic has jettisoned the popular Eastern assumption:

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is traditionally considered to be the work of the sixth-century pope, Saint Gregory of Rome. The present service, however, is obviously the inspired liturgical creation of Christian Byzantium. [1]
Fr. Edward Hughes, a member of the Antiochian WRV commission, has long pointed his students to Nicholas Uspensky's Evening Worship in the Orthodox Church (SVS Press, 1985), pp. 156-162, for the description of this this misattribution came about. In the comments to Huw's post, Subdn. Benjamin Andersen, my fellow pupil of Fr. Hughes, writes:

Essentially, Uspensky argues that it's based on a corrupted text of a postscript to a life of Saint Gregory written by Saint Photius. The original postscript read: "It is said that [Gregory] laid down the rule that the full liturgy be celebrated in the Roman Church on fasting days, a rule observed by them to this day."

Several centuries – and several battles with Latins – later, this text, as it had come to appear in the Greek Synaxarion for March 12, read: "It is said that [Gregory] is the one who laid down the rule that in the Roman Church on the fasting days of Great Lent the Liturgy of the Presanctified is to be celebrated, and it is celebrated to this day."

The idea is that Gregory, as a Western Saint venerated by both Latins and Greeks, might be a good guy to enlist in support of the Byzantine practice, in order to convince the Latins how wrong they are.

However, another Antiochian WRV priest friend has written me, "if you look at the heart of the Pre-sanctified Mass of Good Friday, and the heart of the Byzantine liturgy of the pre-sanctified, they are nearly identical: : 'Our Father, pre-communions prayers and Holy Communion.'"

That is a somewhat mixed bag. The liturgy's seemingly clear amalgamation of "solemn lenten Vespers with the administration of Holy Communion added to it" and its Byzantine mannerisms -- full prostrations in the Slavic practice -- do not seem terribly "Gregorian." The clincher to me is that, despite the fact that Pope St. Gregory the Great stayed at the court in Constantinople, he made it a point to never learn Greek [2] -- which would have made his career as a Byzantine liturgical innovator difficult, to say the least.


1. This page has was moved around during the the OCA's website overhaul; here it is through the wonders of the Internet Archive.
2. Not out of cultural chauvanism, but to preserve himself from the worldly atmosphere of the Byzantine court.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Our Obligation to Use Masterful Language

The Conciliar Press has a worthwhile blog on "Our Obligation to Use Masterful Language." The post drives home the fact that only the classical English language -- especially as contained in the King James Version of the Bible -- teaches "believers to think about abstractions or communicate in higher than 'everyday' language."

When will they call for the Orthodox Church to abandon the textually inferior RSV and return to the King James (or even Douay-Rheims)?


Don't Come Back 'Til Yer Byzantine

Last September, Fr. Thomas Hopko delivered remarks at the Woodstock Forum, in which he rendered his terms of reunion to Rome. The title of this entry should give you a good idea of his general conclusions.

However, of foremost interest to this blog is that Fr. Thomas -- of the OCA -- endorses the concept of a Western Rite, potentially even in Latin. He suggested an Orthodox Pope "would restore the practice of having the priestly celebrant in the Latin liturgy face the altar with the faithful during the prayers and eucharistic offerings." Accepting the Western Rite would be a good place for all Orthodoxy to begin any outreach to the West, and Fr. Hopko takes this for granted. Further, "the Latin liturgy" is understood in the West as referring to the traditional Liturgy of St. Gregory, the Latin Mass, "the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven." This is another nod that the Western Rite has gotten this right.* Acknowledging the right of the West to use either the vernacular or ecclesiastical Latin would give the reunited papacy the same rights every autonomous Orthodox Church enjoys. (Converts are told Orthodox only use the vernacular, but this has frequently not been the case: ask yourself how many Byzantines understand Church Slavonic.) He further recommends the public recitation of the hours in Church -- something more commonly found in the Western Rite than among many of our North American Byzantine brethren. (The OCA churches I've encountered seem to make it a rule never to recite Orthros on Sunday mornings.) The mere acceptance of the Western Rite would be a major step forward from some in his jurisdiction who utterly reject the concept.

So far, so good. Then his analysis begins to differ markedly from most other Orthodox theologians, particularly Bp. Kallistos Ware. Naturally, he assumes the Pope will embrace the Orthodox faith and renounce Papal infallibility and universal jurisdiction, and various other doctrines. Then come the oddities and exaggerations.

Fr. Hopko essentially demands the Pope accept Byzantinization of the minor issues but not the majors. For instance, he says an Orthodox Pope "would also consider enforcing the ancient ascetical and penitential practice of forbidding the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in Christian churches on weekdays of Great Lent. " This is an ancient custom -- of the East, not the West. The Western Rite and traditionalist Roman Catholics maintain the traditional missa praesanctificatorum of Good Friday, but every weekday in Lent?

He also instructs the ByzPope to "forbid private eucharistic celebrations for particular intentions, and for particular pietistic, political or ideological purposes."

He passes on to the differences between Eastern and Western Trinitarian approach. Orthodox teach one should begin by teaching about the Three Divine Persons (with Whom one can have a relationship), then declaring the Unity, rather than the unitary Substance/Essence -- and their arguments are persuasive (though not all Byzantines followed this method). But Fr. Hopko deems the Western Trinitarian approach "unacceptable 'modalism.'" Putting it mildly, this is unacceptable overstatement, and negative hyperbole is not known to help honest dialogue.

Interestingly, he allows "unleavened wafers may be used for pastoral reasons in the churches with this practice, but the pope would affirm leavened bread as normative for the Christian Eucharist." He also permits the use of the filioque, if properly explained (i.e., that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son). Whatever the merits of the proposal, his allowance is unusual for a man so concerned the Pope ban Lenten weekday Masses. The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation recommended in 2003:

that the Catholic Church, as a consequence of the normative and irrevocable dogmatic value of the Creed of 381, use the original Greek text alone in making translations of that Creed for catechetical and liturgical use.
Fr. Hopko moves on to the ratification of the Papacy by other patriarchs, essentially giving the rest of the Church a veto over the See of Rome. He states, "because of his church's unique position among the churches, and his position in the world, [the Pope] may have to be affirmed in some way by the patriarchs and the primates of autocephalous (i.e. self-governing) archbishoprics and metropolias."

Finally, I'm not sure what he meant by this: "On undecided doctrinal and moral issues the Pope of Rome would use his presidential authority to insure that everyone -- clergyman or layperson -- would be encouraged to freely present his or her arguments concerning Christian teaching and practice as witnessed in the Church's formal testimonies to Christian faith and life." So the pope will be going door-to-door in search of theological insights? Perhaps he could begin with the blogosphere! Watch this spot for tomorrow's papal encyclicals.

In all seriousness, other theologians have approached the concept of reunion and reached more practical conclusions on these issues. However, this blog is merely satisfied Fr. Thomas Hopko has endorsed the idea of an Orthodox Western Rite.

We hope he will pitch that at the next OCA convention; that kind of offer would produce some takers.

* The Liturgy of St. Tikhon doesn't fit into his remarks, as they are directed to the Pope. But I humbly think we did pretty well on that front, too.

A Relic of the Non-Jurors

Above is a medallion commemorating the Non-Jurors, an early movement in the Church of England that sought (but failed to attain) unity with the Orthodox Church. Had they followed through and been received, they would have become the first Western Rite in modern times.

Here's an explanation of the medal:

671. Archbishop Sancroft and the Bishops, 1688Bust of Archbishop Sancroft, right, wearing a cap and clerically robed.Seven cameo busts of bishops William Lloyd, Francis Turner, John Lake, Henry Compton, Thomas Ken, Thomas White and Sir John Trelawney; a field of stars. By George Bower.

Sorry, guys, the medal's sold.

(Hat tip: Fr. Michael on Ely Forum.)