Thursday, June 01, 2006

Happy Ascension Day

From Pope St. Leo the Great's second sermon on the Ascension:

As therefore at the Easter commemoration, the Lord's Resurrection was the cause of our rejoicing; so the subject of our present gladness is His Ascension, as we commemorate and duly venerate that day on which the Nature of our humility in Christ was raised above all the host of heaven, over all the ranks of angels, beyond the height of all powers, to sit with God the Father. On which Providential order of events we are founded and built up, that God's Grace might become more wondrous, when, notwithstanding the removal from men's sight of what was rightly felt to command their awe, faith did not fail, hope did not waver, love did not grow cold. For it is the strength of great minds and the light of firmly-faithful souls, unhesitatingly to believe what is not seen with the bodily sight, and there to fix one's affections whither you cannot direct your gaze. And whence should this Godliness spring up in our hearts, or how should a man be justified by faith, if our salvation rested on those things only which lie beneath our eyes? Hence our Lord said to him who seemed to doubt of Christ's Resurrection, until he had tested by sight and touch the traces of His Passion in His very Flesh, "because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are, they who have not seen and yet have believed."

In order, therefore, dearly-beloved, that we may be capable of this blessedness, when all things were fulfilled which concerned the Gospel preaching and the mysteries of the New Testament, our Lord Jesus Christ, on the fortieth day after the Resurrection in the presence of the disciples, was raised into heaven, and terminated His presence with us in the body, to abide on the Father's right hand until the times Divinely fore-ordained for multiplying the sons of the Church are accomplished, and He comes to judge the living and the dead in the same flesh in which He ascended. And so that which till then was visible of our Redeemer was changed into a sacramental presence, and that faith might be more excellent and stronger, sight gave way to doctrine, the authority of which was to be accepted by believing hearts enlightened with rays from above.

This Faith, increased by the Lord's Ascension and established by the gift of the Holy Ghost, was not terrified by bonds, imprisonments, banishments, hunger, fire, attacks by wild beasts, refined torments of cruel persecutors. For this Faith throughout the world not only men, but even women, not only beardless boys, but even tender maids, fought to the shedding of their blood. This Faith cast out spirits, drove off sicknesses, raised the dead: and through it the blessed Apostles themselves also, who after being confirmed by so many miracles and instructed by so many discourses, had yet been panic-stricken by the horrors of the Lord's Passion and had not accepted the truth of His resurrection without hesitation, made such progress after the Lord's Ascension that everything which had previously filled them with fear was turned into joy. For they had lifted the whole contemplation of their mind to the Godhead of Him that sat at the Father's right hand, and were no longer hindered by the barrier of corporeal sight from directing their minds' gaze to That Which had never quitted the Father's side in descending to earth, and had not forsaken the disciples in ascending to heaven.

The Son of Man and Son of God, therefore, dearly-beloved, then attained a more excellent and holier fame, when He betook Himself back to the glory of the Father's Majesty, and in an ineffable manner began to be nearer to the Father in respect of His Godhead, after having become farther away in respect of His manhood. A better instructed faith then began to draw closer to a conception of the Son's equality with the Father without the necessity of handling the corporeal substance in Christ, whereby He is less than the Father, since, while the Nature of the glorified Body still remained the faith of believers was called upon to touch not with the hand of flesh, but with the spiritual understanding the Only-begotten, Who was equal with the Father. Hence comes that which the Lord said after His Resurrection, when Mary Magdalene, representing the Church, hastened to approach and touch Him: "Touch Me not, for I have not yet ascended to My Father:" that is, I would not have you come to Me as to a human body, nor yet recognize Me by fleshly perceptions: I put thee off for higher things, I prepare greater things for thee: when I have ascended to My Father, then thou shall handle Me more perfectly and truly, for thou shall grasp what thou canst not touch and believe what thou canst not see. But when the disciples' eyes followed the ascending Lord to heaven with upward gaze of earnest wonder, two angels stood by them in raiment shining with wondrous brightness, who also said, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing into heaven? This Jesus Who was taken up from you into heaven shall so come as ye saw Him going into heaven." By which words all the sons of the Church were taught to believe that Jesus Christ will come visibly in the same Flesh wherewith He ascended, and not to doubt that all things are subjected to Him on Whom the ministry of angels had waited from the first beginning of His Birth. For, as an angel announced to the blessed Virgin that Christ should be conceived by the Holy Ghost, so the voice of heavenly beings sang of His being born of the Virgin also to the shepherds. As messengers from above were the first to attest His having risen from the dead, so the service of angels was employed to foretell His coming in very Flesh to judge the world, that we might understand what great powers will come with Him as Judge, when such great ones ministered to Him even in being judged.

And so, dearly-beloved, let us rejoice with spiritual joy, and let us with gladness pay God worthy thanks and raise our hearts' eyes unimpeded to those heights where Christ is. Minds that have heard the call to be uplifted must not be pressed down by earthly affections, they that are fore-ordained to things eternal must not be taken up with the things that perish; they that have entered on the way of Truth must not be entangled in treacherous snares, and the faithful must so take their course through these temporal things as to remember that they are sojourning in the vale of this world, in which, even though they meet with some attractions, they must not sinfully embrace them, but bravely pass through them. For to this devotion the blessed Apostle Peter arouses us, and entreating us with that loving eagerness which he conceived for feeding Christ's sheep by the threefold profession of love for the Lord, says, "dearly-beloved, I beseech you, as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul." But for whom do fleshly pleasures wage war, if not for the devil, whose delight it is to fetter souls that strive after things above, with the enticements of corruptible good things, and to draw them away from those abodes from which he himself has been banished? Against his plots every believer must keep careful watch that he may crush his foe on the side whence the attack is made. And there is no more powerful weapon, dearly-beloved, against the devil's wiles than kindly mercy and bounteous charity, by which every sin is either escaped or vanquished. But this lofty power is not attained until that which is opposed to it be overthrown. And what so hostile to mercy and works of charity as avarice from the root of which spring all evils? And unless it be destroyed by lack of nourishment, there must needs grow in the ground of that heart in which this evil weed has taken root, the thorns and briars of vices rather than any seed of true goodness. Let us then, dearly-beloved, resist this pestilential evil and "follow after charity," without which no virtue can flourish, that by this path of love whereby Christ came down to us, we too may mount up to Him, to Whom with God the Father and the Holy Spirit is honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

In this light, the following prayer seems most necessary and efficacious:

Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with Him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Happy Ascension Day. Spraznikom!


John Paul the Great Basilica, At Last!

Finally, more than whole one year after Pope John Paul II died, our dear friend Joseph Oliveri has designed a basilica dedicated to his memory -- embodying the full beauty and liturgical insights of the post-Vatican II church. OK, friends, this is satire -- at its absolute best. You owe it to yourself to read the full interview, but here are the highlights (in an article packed with them):

The labyrinth in the "All Nations, All Faiths" hall is recycled marble taken from old altar rails...The careful observer will note the lack of religious imagery in the "All Nations, All Faiths" hall. Of course this is by design. The idea was to have a multi-purpose space that could be used not only for ecumenical gatherings but for temporary booths and shops -- calling to mind the bazaar of ancient times, where diverse peoples from around the known world could mingle in harmony. Here too I envision acrobatic performances, trapese acts, dances and the like.

On the North wall is a mural depicting the risen Christ as a symbol of the Paschal mystery. (The crucifix, or cross with a corpus, was a Medieval development that would have offended the Early Christians, and therefore we had decided early-on that it would not be part of the basilica's design.)...A visitor to the basilica will not find any statues here. Although it is customary in some places to have statues in the narthex -- never in the worship space proper -- of Jesus, Mary, or Joseph, or of the parish's patron saint, we had decided from the beginning not to follow that less-informed custom, opting instead for ancient Christian iconography reinterpreted in mulit-media splashes of vivid color and geometric forms that will engage the modern viewer. Historically, statues often created confusion among the Christian people and fostered devotion of doubtful orthodoxy. Statues also have pagan connotations that many Christians find troubling. Accordingly, statuary was never included in my design

A tabernacle for the reservation of the consecrated bread [!!-BJ] is located in a small chapel set apart from the main worship space. Kneelers may be brought over from the parish center for use in the chapel; however, my predominant concern was that the People of God should always be reminded that the consecrated bread is only reserved so that it may be brought to the sick and homebound. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (or Eucharistic Adoration) was unknown in the Early Church, and unfortunately it gave rise to much superstition even among the clergy.

In fact, people have told me that this new design surpasses all of its predecessors. Recounting such praise is not really self-congratulatory if we consider that the Holy Spirit was no doubt guiding my thoughts and my hands each step of the way in the creation process.

Yeah, Joe, but when will church designers incorporate the latest advances in Lego architecture? :))

...Judging by real life trends, not long. From the "Stranger than Fiction" category, here's a picture of an actual, award-winning church (?) on the isle of Malta designed by "architect" Richard England.

In the first, I found myself laughing until I cried; in the latter article, tears came for another reason.

(Hat tip: York Forum)


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Late Congratulations for a New WR Priest

Fr. Matthew Thurman graduating from Holy Cross.
Although he made the announcement some time ago, I've been derelict in keeping tabs on my friend's progress: Fr. Matthew Thurman has recently graduated from Holy Cross and has been assigned to serve St. Columba's Orthodox Church in Denver. The parish serves the Western Rite Liturgy of St. Tikhon under the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate. I know from our previous discussions that serving the Western Rite was his heart's desire: Deo gratias that it was granted.

And now, to indulge my irrepressibly mischievious side, I give you -- this (because I can't resist). To be sung to the tune of the old Oreo commercial jingle:

Who's that priest with the Holy Cross diploma,
Looking more Hellenic than he did in Oklahoma?
It's hard to hide your Western side, Fr. Thurman,
At St. Columba's!
(Hanging my head in shame.)
Fr. Thurman, my deepest heartfelt congratulations.


A New Mission in Houston, Texas

Fr. Richard and Mat. Elaine Petranek
The Once-and-Future Fr. Richard Petranek, with wife, Elaine.

An exciting development we're pleased to announce: Houston, Texas, will soon be home to a new Western Rite mission headed by Fr. Richard Petranek. The former Episcopalian priest and approximately 40 souls pray St. Tikhon's Hours, and soon will also celebrate St. Tikhon's Liturgy, under the omophorion of Bp. BASIL of Wichita as part of the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate.
Glory to God that He continues to bless the Western Rite and Bp. BASIL's holy leadership. Read the full interview


Monday, May 29, 2006

Why Not an Orthodox Pope of Rome?

The Orthodox Church has appointed a bishop to fill an ancient patriarchate She considered vacant in Alexandria. Why not in Rome? Some fascinating discussion has broken out on Huw Raphael's blog on this very topic. A "Matt" wrote:
The thing I don't understand is why we don't declare the see of Rome vacant, and install a new Orthodox bishop of Rome.
"Bob Koch" wrote:
The sad thing is, that the Orthodox in Rome don't have the guts necessary to *be* Orthodox there. If there was actual courage, the faithful would have a *local* bishop. He would be Bishop of Rome. Yes, Pope. The Patriarch of Contantinople: instantly second fiddle. The Orthodox have simply taken for granted the lack of an Orthodox Pope. They dance around the hole in the Dyptichs, and the operating plan is for it to continue. If not Pope, what exactly *is* a bishop over the Orthodox in Rome?? No guts at all. The basis of Ecumenism.
Finally, our friend Jean-Michel wrote:
The fact being that Vatican is NOT in Rome. It's an independant State, with independant laws, police, secret service, banks, and so on. So there is not the least problem for Orthodoxy to have a bishop in Rome. Maybe yes, one, major: how to have a bishop celebrating in a foreign, alien rite, in the city of saint Gregory the Great?
A dashing, handsome chap posted the same question earlier on another forum.

The answer? Many will differ, but I believe it stemmed from practical, rather than theological, causes. Orthodoxy was in no position to appoint a new Patriarch of the West by the time the Great Schism was completely realized; it often had trouble replacing Eastern patriarchs martyred by the Religion of Peace. Most of the West willingly followed the Pope, leaving one to ponder for and by whom the See would be administered; until recent times, insufficient numbers of indigenous Orthodox existed to justify reconstituting a patriarchate. Orthodox feared a "proselytism battle" with the better-funded Roman Catholics. And finally, the (by then) more senior patriarchs may have bristled at the notion of seeing a newly reconstituted, "johnny-come-lately" patriarch becoming head of the Church, as well.

I'd be interested in hearing your answers -- but tell Huw first. If necessary, I'll listen in.

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A Contrast that Speaks Volumes

Here are a pair of developments worthy of comparison: Moscow's first gay rights parade and Anglicanism's latest santification of homosexuality.

Item one: Dateline Moscow. (N.B. how the Washington Post tries to associate religion with certain unsavory elements):
Riot police broke up an attempt by gays and lesbians to stage Moscow's first gay pride parade. Gay activists who attempted to lay flowers near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Kremlin wall and then assemble across from city hall were heckled and assaulted by skinheads, Orthodox Christians and radical nationalists.
This was not merely some mob action: the gay rally was illegal, because most of Moscow wanted it that way.
The city had banned the parade on the grounds that it was anathema to the values of most residents and therefore presented a threat of violence. A city court upheld the ban Friday. Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said in a radio interview Friday that a gay parade "may be acceptable for some kind of progressive, in some sense, countries in the West, but it is absolutely unacceptable for Moscow, for Russia." He added: "As long as I am mayor, we will not permit these parades to be conducted."
Item two: Dateline Ottawa, Canada. There, Anglican Church Bishop Peter Coffin had this to say about blessing same-sex unions:
I cannot see [homosexuality] as a sin...We have swept this under the carpet and made people live in fear and in silence. I may be called a liberal and unorthodox, but I firmly believe that people need to be treated with respect and dignity and that loving someone faithfully and in total commitment until death do them part is a blessing regardless of sexual orientation.
Draw your own conclusions.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

Lectio Divina for Western Rite Orthodox

Ari has posted Part One of a most edifying article by Dom James Deschene on the forgotten Orthodox art of lectio divina. A Benedictine monk with years of experience in canonical Orthodox monasticism, Dom James speaks as a master of prayer. (Of course, he'd immediately shun that appelation.) Reviving and promoting lectio within Orthodoxy, and specifically within the Western Rite, is something of an attachment of mine. Next to the four-fold interpretation of Scripture, there is perhaps no ancient Orthodox practice is as neglected as lectio; unlike hermeneutics, though, lectio is a direct communication with God -- and vice-versa. Dom James discusses the difficulties of unlearning previous methods of reading to experience the spiritual blessings St. Benedict envisioned for the followers of his Holy Rule.
The heart, in this sense, has the capacity to integrate the whole of us - body, sense, mind, soul, spirit - into a blessed wholeness, a harmony in which all our faculties bloom forth in truest spiritual health and we become a living hymn of praise - not by our words but in our very being. Monastic lectio - which is nothing more or less than reading with the heart - is one of the means to such healing of our wounded being. It is an art worthy of cultivation by all Orthodox Christians as part of a well-balanced and fruitful life of prayer.

Read the whole article here. We eagerly look forward to Part Two.