Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Chair of St. Peter at Antioch

Nice quotations on today's feast on Occidentalis, as well as pictures of our beloved Patriarch IGNATIUS IV.

An Antiochian friend of mine, a former Irish Melkite Catholic, told me he hosted the former Melkite Patriarch of Antioch, Maximos V, at his home several years ago. To my friend's surprise, the patriarch proved to have a rich sense of humor. At one point, he burst out, "Just think: If Peter had died at Antioch, today, I'd be the Pope!"


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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Most Unique Orthodoxy EVER

In light of Erica's blog, I bumped up reproducing this important post. It is particularly significant for my Orthodox convert friends who insist on defining Orthodoxy in contradistinction to every other form of Christianity in history. (Cough, Frederica!, cough.)
One of the things I tend to notice Christians doing is trying to make Christianity "completely different" from everything else. I also seem to see some Orthodox Christians trying to do the same thing...Having something be "completely different" doesn't make it true. In fact, it may indeed lend credence to the idea that it is not true at all. There are many many ways that Christianity is very similar to other religions (and Orthodoxy to the rest of Christianity). You can't go around basing your faith in Christ on the ability to hang on to a 'difference' between Christianity and something else...

Here are some examples of how 'Completely Different' thinking works:
  • Some New Agers agree that the kingdom of God is within you. Some scholars, wanting Christianity to be 'completely different' from New Age thought, go to the Greek and decide that it says "among you' instead of 'in you.' Voila. Now we don't agree with the New Agers. However, we are now no longer in agreement with the Fathers.
  • Someone makes a convincing argument as to why religion is bad. We want to be 'completely different' from other religions, so we claim that Christianity is not a religion.

This type of thinking has to stop. First of all, it ends up distorting the faith, because we keep feeling that in order to combat culture, we have to make changes to the faith itself. Also, it causes us to be failures at evangelism because we end up developing a "view" of other religions and of Christianity that is distorted. (Emphasis added.)

This may explain why so many converts develop a foreign (to Orthodoxy) ethos of self-loathing, rejecting anything remotely akin to the experience of Western Christendom over the past 2,000 years. Rather than seeking to transform and sanctify the culture in which they were reared -- a culture with a venerable history at times sustaining Orthodoxy itself -- they demand Byzantinization in every respect, including personal habits. They are often among the first to adopt exotic cultural practices of Eastern ethnics in a misguided attempt to become "more Orthodox." One blogger has called them the "Orthodox Taliban"; I coined the term "Convert Fanaticism Syndrome"(TM). An interested Anglican, Lutheran, or Roman Catholic dare not try to engage in conversation with them. These converts virtually shout, "It's a Byzantine thang, ya'll wouldn't understand."

This is not the Faith of our Fathers; it is ethnic fetishism. Leave it to the '60s generation to give us Noble Savage Christianity.


Less Protestant Than Thou

A burgeoning soon-to-be-convert blogger has taken a shot at the Western Rite, saying we are "Protestants" trying in vain to "resurrect a figment of the past with no historical connection to the present."

I'm sure St. Tikhon, St. Raphael of Brooklyn, the Russian New Martyrs, Patriarch ALEXANDER III of Antioch, Met. ANTHONY Bashir, Pat. IGNATIUS IV of Antioch, Met. PHILIP, and the various Russian and ROCOR bishops who have approved and nurtured the Western Rite over the last century will be interested to hear that critique from this Protestant catechumen.
(Hat tip to Huw and Benjamin Andersen, who has an uproarious response himself.)


"Whatcha Gonna Do, Brother, When Jesus Runs Wild On YOU?"

The Punisher, a former Australian pro-wrestling champion, will now kick butt for Christ. The Punisher (whose real name is Wayne Pickford) "was commissioned as an evangelist by the Church Army last month at his home church, Dapto Anglican." Specifically, Rev. Punisher will perform "professional wrestling for evangelism."

Forget clown masses; that's a liturgical deformation I'd like to see!

"Churches have to realize it's becoming harder to attract people to church events," quoth the Missionary of Mayhem. In other words, the Aussie Anglican Church has given up on attracting people with worship and decided to replace it with low-brow entertainment -- err, sorry, evangelism.

One wonders how young children are going to react when they realize the same man who told them Jesus rose from the dead also told them he was a Russian Communist intent on crushing American wrestlers in a real, legit physical contact sport.
(Hat tip: Mark P. Shea.)

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A word from our friend Dom James Deschene

Below is an article by Dom James Deschene, hieromonk of Christminster Monastery, a traditional Benedictine monastery located in Rhode Island and under the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. It originally appeared in the ROCOR's newspaper, Orthodox America.

Light from the East

By Hieromonk James Deschene

As the long night of official atheism wanes in the former Soviet Union, we who live in the West cannot help but wonder what will stand revealed in the new dawn of freedom for the Orthodox Faith. Our hopes, great as they may be, will surely pale before the gracious reality God will work out, if the phoenix of the persecuted Church rises, renewed by grace and repentance. However interesting it may be to speculate about the future of the Church in the former Soviet Union, we in the West must also look at ourselves in this new light.

What stands revealed most clearly in this light is the West's own dark secret - its own brand of godlessness. The atheism of the West is less dramatic than the atheism of the Soviet state, but it is no less violent. We do not see - and this is our tragedy - a godlessness so insidious that, unlike that of the former Soviet Union, it needs no external force to spread its evil. The godlessness of the West has its source within the human heart - in its ancient yearning for autonomy, its passion to be a law unto itself, its refusal to serve God and obey His laws. In the heart of Western man the sanctuary is often as empty and ruined as any church razed by communist authorities. Where the image of the Holy Trinity should have its throne within us, sweetly and rightly ordering and directing our hearts and our lives, there stands more often the image of our preferred god, the god of our true idolatry - the monarchical self, autocratic, imperial, totalitarian in its demand for satisfaction, for having its own way, always and at any cost. Listen, for example, to the rallying cry for unbridled "rights", whether these be the "right" of a mother to abort an unwanted child, or the "right" to a sexual life free of moral or even social restraints, or the "right" to end one's life. The exercise of these "rights" - each of them directed against life and the Creator of life - is as militant and violent and godless as any Soviet purge.

And what of the media - television, books, movies - which support and encourage such autonomous behavior, such moral lawlessness? Is not such support of godlessness as effective as any Soviet censorship? There is a ready acceptance by the Western media for any ideology other than that of traditional Christian teaching. Only look at the extraordinary success of New Age teaching and the readiness of the media not merely to air such teachings but to glamorize them.

What need have we for an external authority to empty churches and close monasteries when Western man, on his own initiative, abandons the churches and spurns the monastic life as foolish or meaningless? The enormous exodus of priests, monks and nuns from the clerical and religious life within the Roman Catholic Church - an exodus curiously, perhaps studiously, ignored by its hierarchy - has occurred without any open persecution of the Church. What stands revealed in the West is the success of Kierkegaard's formula for undermining the moral life of mankind - to maintain the facade of religious institutions while emptying them of inner meaning. We can see some Western Churches, in their passion for relevance, adapting themselves to the spirit of the age as effectively as any churchman in the Soviet Union who may have sacrificed fidelity to the true Faith for the sake of easier relations with the atheistic state.

This is indeed a bleak picture, but it is, in God's good providence, not the whole picture. For what the West can now begin to see more clearly is the miracle of Orthodoxy - its divinely-given power to endure in the face of militant godlessness, and to endure without the aid of all those things in which the West puts its trust: money, power, bureaucracy, buildings, programs, and the like. In the great crucible of suffering, the Orthodox faith of the Russian people has endured without the material supports the West considers essential. In the West we need this vision of the Orthodox faith rising phoenix-like from the fires of atheism, so that we might turn to the one thing which endures in the violent winds of change - the unchanging Orthodox Catholic Faith of the Holy Fathers.

As the West declines, what can deliver us from the despair of discovering our empty heart? Only the light of the true Orthodox Faith - burning brighter than any persecutor's fire - can lead us out of the darkness of this way of life. By our faithfulness to the precious gift of Orthodoxy, by our obedience in joy to holy Tradition, our hearts must become what they were meant to be - living and visible temples of the Holy Trinity, living icons of God's loving and gracious rule over His creation.

In his Nativity Epistle, Metropolitan Vitaly wrote: "The heart of man is a throne, whereon the Lord desires to sit." If each Orthodox Christian humbly prepares his heart to be God's throne, the heart of Western man, grown weary of his self-idolatry, may begin to see the true light from the East. God, in His good providence, has sent holy Orthodoxy into the Western world in these last days not to be a curiosity, a museum-piece, a relic of the old world. He has sent the light of Orthodoxy throughout the world to be a light unto the nations in their time of greatest darkness. Like the sun, Orthodoxy may have its dawning in the East, but its destiny is to illumine the whole world, to scatter the shades of night and the darkness of death, and to reveal to a dark and weary world the living presence of the Risen Christ. Each of us, transfigured by grace and by joyful obedience to His rule, must become a living icon of this true Light that has come into the world.

It is the folly of the West to have believed in the transformation of the world by economics, politics and social agendas. It is the folly of the Soviet authorities to have believed that such forces could destroy the true Faith. War, revolution, social, political and economic upheaval are the tools the world trusts to bring about change. Against all of these, the Orthodox Christian must proclaim by his life the one power that can heal and change the world - transfiguration through love and grace. This happens in secret, in silence, in prayer - in the depths where man meets God in love. Only then and there is the wounded human heart filled with healing, joy and peace - our gifts to suffering humanity. And these gifts may be had only by a total surrender to Christ's love, by a death to all things that would separate one from His love. We must become obedient unto death by entering into the mystery of the suffering of Christ whereby the whole world is made a new creation.

We must be "signs" of the end, of the Kingdom - a kingdom that is the end of all our petty securities, selfishness, our false ideals and comfortable habits. Yet we must show that the end, though it will be an utter catastrophe for our old ways, will be finally a deep and gracious blessing, filling our emptiness with God, feeding our eternally hungry hearts with His unfathomable love. We must show the world, even as its ways and institutions crumble into dust, that Christ has already overcome the world: Christ is risen and the power of death has been vanquished. The world needs to see us - living icons of Christ - undaunted by the world's last days; we must be, as Saint Paul tells us, as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing all things (II Cor. 6:9-10).

In our quiet, obedient observance of the Holy Orthodox Faith, our life must radiate the light of Christ in the darkness of our days. The end draws near, but it will be the end not of life, but of darkness and death. And in that dawn made bright with the risen Christ - the true Light from the East, the unsetting Sun, that final, perfect dawn, we shall sing with the psalmist:

Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing:
Thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness;
O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto Thee for ever.

The author recently completed doctoral studies at the University of Rhode Island on the theology of sexuality and marriage in C.S. Lewis.


Monday, February 20, 2006

Praise the Charmolypi!

Kh. Frederica Mathewes-Green promotes The Most Unique Orthodoxy Ever in an interview at National Review. Hawking her new book on the Great Canon of St. Andrew -- which she says is "almost like a jazz riff"(!) -- she takes the usual swipes at the usual suspects. The Eastern view of sin and redemption is "more extreme," deeper, more poetic than the West, not to mention "piercingly beautiful." Silly Westerners obsess with juridical "legal fiction" salvation, but the East knows the nailprints are Christ's "battle scars."

The East does not believe the way da Vest does about sin, either. "Instead, St. Andrew speaks of sin as something that arises from deep inside, from a darkened and confused mind." My, that is different than the West.

On the other hand, she calls the story of St. Mary of Egypt "a corker," which few Westerners would do.

When asked if this book on the Great Canon of St. Andrew -- a Byzantine Orthodox Lenten practice read a handful of times a year -- isn't perhaps niche writing, FMG says once upon a time "this kind of writing made converts ."

She concludes, "the goal of all spiritual disciplines are to cultivate charmolypi." Repeat charmolypi a few dozen more times, and you'll be beating off the converts with an altar fan.

Read Kathryn Lopez's questions on their own, in succession, and see if you don't share my impression that K-Lo virtually begged for this interview to be over. (E.g., "What is 'the Great Canon of St. Andrew' and what's so great about it?"; "What got you interested enough to write this book?"; and "Can you 'read' a book like this?")

I nodded off reading this vapid interview.

When will the Orthodox Church be represented by a sensible, pro-Western spokesperson who does not feel compelled to regularly spout off obscure foreign words as part of his conversion efforts? Answer: When Fr. Matthew Thurman gets his act in gear.

The "Gesima" Sundays

Every year at some point roughly midway between Christmas and Easter, we find the Sundays...designated by those big "Gesima" words: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. Originally,there was also a Quadragesima Sunday, but that is now called the First Sunday in Lent.

Those designations are quite different in character from the names of most special Holy Days. Christmas, Good Friday, Ascension, Transfiguration -- all these have reference to some special religious event, but only in a calendar sort of way. What they mean is -- going forward from Septuagesima Sunday, the first one -- that they mark the Sundays which are seventy, sixty, fifty, and forty days before Easter; all the others are only approximations and actually a few days off by the secular calendar.

So, why are these days important? They are important because they remind us that Easter approaches and that the Lenten season of penitence, review of our lives and preparation for the Resurrection, the event that marks the gift of eternal life, are close upon us. The "Gesima" Sundays, in fact, mark a kind of pre-Lenten season, a kind of forward extension of Lent itself. These Sundays, in fact, mark a kind of divide between the joys and thankfulness of Christmas and Epiphany and the introspection of Lent, to be followed by the greatest joy of all at Easter.

Beginning with Septuagesima Sunday, we are reminded that the joy of our Lord's birth at Christmas and His being shown forth to the Gentiles at Epiphany is beginning to wind down, to be put behind us, as we contemplate the sorrows of our Lord's coming Passion and Crucifixion and try to prepare ourselves for the greatest gift and miracle of the Resurrection, the conquest of death. It is in this sense of subdued preparation for self-examination during Lent, that the "Gesima" Sundays are traditionally marked in Anglicanism by the omission of the glad phrases and strains of the Gloria in Excelsis.

A dual theme, however, runs through most of the "Gesima" Collects, as well as the Epistles or Gospels appointed. This dual theme is that on one hand there is danger, adversity, and repentance for our sins, which may be contributed to the adversity. It is error, mistake, wrong-doing. It requires of us self-examination, self-condemnation, penitence, and the desire for forgiveness and a new start. When there is no repentance, there can be only the continuance of error (sin) and ever-growing disastrous results, culminating in spiritual damnation. Sin and damnation are unpopular words in our times, but they are realities under any name.

But the other theme of the "Gesima" propers is consolation and salvation through God's mercy and loving-kindness. As someone has put it, part of the "Gesima" message is that "it is never too late to be damned (and) that it is never too late to be saved."

Self-examation, repentance, turning to God for forgiveness and salvation -- these are the meanings of the three Sundays immediately preceding Lent. Seventy, sixty, fifty, forty days until Man's Salvation bursts upon the winding sheet of death and rises into life everlasting.

-- From the writings of Perry Laukhuff

Sunday, February 19, 2006

B16 to Meet with Orthodox

Pope Benedict XVI will soon have two high-ranking Orthodox visitors at the Vatican. According to news reports, Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens accepted an invitation to meet with the Pope "sometime this year." This announcement comes the same day the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Filaret of Smolensk accepted an invitation to come to the Vatican Monday en route to venerate the relics of St. Nicholas of Myra, which are now in Bari.

Pro-WRV Blog Overhauls Its Look

Sending out props to Huw Raphael (who I know secretly appreciates ghetto slang) for updating the design of his blog. It's perhaps the best layout of any pro-Western Rite blog out there (with Sarisburium a close second).

I particularly appreciate his inclusion of St. Raphael of Brooklyn, whose contributions to the Western Rite never seem to make it into his hagiography.