Friday, June 30, 2006

Official Episcopal Information Ministry Website

Baghdad Bob has a new gig.

In order to get the facts out, The Episcopal Church has established The Episcopal Information Ministry:

There is no departure of Fort Worth. Never! We control Fort Worth. I can assure you that those villains will recognize, will discover in appropriate time in future how stupid they are and how they are pretending things which have never taken place. We have deposed 2 bishops, 14 priests and their deacons - We have driven them back.

(Hat tip: Mark Shea)

Note to Episcopalians: Quit Whining

Our friend at Ad Orientem blog has decided to hold an online intervention for outraged Episcopalians:
I guess my point after the long rambling is this. If you’re an Episcopalian, and
if your sick of the heresy and other liberal weirdness going on… THEN LEAVE!
Stop whining! You know how to do this. The exits are clearly marked. If on the
other hand you choose to stay for whatever reason… same thing. Please hold the
whining. You know what the score is. You’re choosing to live in a heretical and
apostate church. It’s not reasonable to expect sympathy when you start smelling
the sulfur and feeling the heat from the fiery pit. And yes it’s true. I am not
an Episcopalian. And yes that probably makes it easier for me to tell those who
are to leave their spiritual home. But seriously. Someone needs to.
It should be clear by this point that no bishop, hearing the cries of his people, is going to swoop in from Canterbury or Nigeria and restore the Anglican Communion to a golden era (that probably never really existed in the first place). The best those in the communion can hope for is some form of recognition in the same communion with heretics...and in time, this new breed of heretics will inevitably become the head rather than the tail. This occurred with the Social Gospel. This occurred with Higher Criticism. This occurred with "Honest to God" and other modernist doubts. It occurred with women's ordination. And it will happen again and again. To make no effort to spare oneself and one's family members -- current and yet unborn -- these ravages deprives the victim of the right to whine. In that context, complaint -- a justified response to heresy -- becomes the ghetto mentality reaction anesthetizing traditional Christians from performing any needed seeking the exits from the "Bishop" Spongs and Schoris of the world.

Our friend's words may be a bit blunt, but the point remains: Fools me once, shame on you. Fool me twice....

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Concerning Women's Ordination - Letter to an Episcopal Friend

A letter written by Orthodox priest, Fr. Alexander Schmemann:

Dear Friend:

When you asked me to outline the Orthodox reaction to the idea of women's ordination to the priesthood, I thought at first that to do so would not be too difficult. It is not difficult, indeed, simply to state that the Orthodox Church is against women's priesthood and to enumerate as fully as possible the dogmatical, canonical, and spiritual reasons for that opposition.

On second thought, however, I became convinced that such an answer would be not only useless, but even harmful. Useless, because all such "formal reasons" - scriptural, traditional, canonical - are well known to the advocates of women's ordination, as is also well known our general ecclesiological stand which, depending on their mood and current priorities, our Western Brothers either hail as Orthodoxy's "main" ecumenical contribution or dismiss as archaic, narrow-minded, and irrelevant. Harmful, because true formally, this answer would still vitiate the real Orthodox position by reducing it to a theological context and perspective, alien to the Orthodox mind. For the Orthodox Church has never faced this question, it is for us totally extrinsic, a casus irrealis for which we find no basis, no terms of reference in our Tradition, in the very experience of the Church, and for the discussion of which we are therefore simply not prepared.

Such is then my difficulty. I cannot discuss the problem itself because to do so would necessitate the elucidation of our approach - not to women and to priesthood only - but, above all to God in his Triune Life, to Creation, Fall and Redemption, to the Church and the mystery of her life, to the deification of man and the consummation of all things in Christ. Short of all this it would remain incomprehensible, I am sure, why the ordination of women to priesthood is tantamount for us to a radical and irreparable mutilation of the entire faith, the rejection of the whole Scripture, and, needless to say, the end of all "dialogues." Short of all this my answer will sound like another "conservative" and "traditional" defense of the status quo, of precisely that which many Christians today, having heard it too many times, reject as hypocrisy, lack of openness to God's will, blindness to the world, etc. Obviously enough those who reject Tradition would not listen once more to an argument ex traditione....

But to what will they listen? Our amazement - and the Orthodox reaction is above all that of amazement - is precisely about the change and, to us, incomprehensible hastiness with which the question of women's ordination was, first, accepted as an issue, then quickly reduced to the level of a disciplinary "matter" and finally identified as an issue of policy to be dealt with by a vote! In this strange situation all I can do is to try to convey to you this amazement by briefly enumerating its main "components" as I see and understand them.

The first dimension of our amazement can be termed "ecumenical." The debate on women's ordination reveals something which we have suspected for a long time but which now is confirmed beyond any doubt: the total truly built-in indifference of the Christian West to anything beyond the sphere of its own problematics, of its own experience. I can only repeat here what I have said before: even the so-called "ecumenical movement," notwithstanding its claims to the contrary, has always been, and still is, a purely Western phenomenon, based on Western presuppositions and determined by a specifically Western agenda. This is not "pride" or "arrogance." On the contrary, the Christian West is almost obsessed with a guilt complex and enjoys nothing better than self-criticism and self condemnation. It is rather a total inability to transcend itself, to accept the simple idea that its own experience, problems, thought forms and priorities may not be universal, that they themselves may need to be evaluated and judged in the light of a truly universal, truly "Catholic" experience. Western Christians would almost enthusiastically judge and condemn themselves, but on their own terms, within their own hopelessly "Western" perspective. Thus when they decide -- on the basis of their own possibly limited and fragmented, specifically Western, "cultural situation" -- that they must "repair" injustices made to women, they plan to do it immediately without even asking what the "others" may think about it, and are sincerely amazed and even saddened by lack, on the part of these "others" of ecumenical spirit, sympathy and comprehension.

Personally, I have often enough criticized the historical limitations of the Orthodox mentality not to have the right to say in all sincerity that to me the debate on women's ordination seems to be provincial, deeply marked, and even determined by Western self-centeredness and self-sufficiency, by a naive, almost childish, conviction that every "trend" in the Western culture justifies a radical rethinking of the entire Christian tradition. How many such "trends" we have witnessed during the last decades of our troubled century! How many corresponding "theologies"! The difference this time, however, is that one deals in this particular debate not with a passing intellectual and academic "fad" like "death of God," "secular city," "celebration of life," etc.-- which, after it has produced a couple of ephemeral best-sellers, simply disappears, but with the threat of an irreversible and irreparable act which, if it becomes reality, will produce a new, and this time, I am convinced, final division among Christians, and will signify, at least for the Orthodox, the end of all dialogues.

It is well known that the advocates of women's ordination explain the Scriptural and the traditional exclusion of women from ministry by "cultural conditioning." If Christ did not include women into the Twelve, if the Church for centuries did not include them into priesthood, it is because of "culture" which would have made it impossible and unthinkable then. It is not my purpose to discuss here the theological and exegetical implications of this view as well as its purely historical basis, which incidentally seems to me extremely weak and shaky; what is truly amazing is that while absolutely convinced that they understand past "cultures," the advocates of women's ordination seem to be totally unaware of their own cultural "conditioning" of their own surrender to culture.

How else can one explain their readiness to accept what may prove to be a passing phenomenon and what, at any rate, is a phenomenon barely at its beginning (not to speak of the women's liberation movement, which at present is nothing but search and experimentation) as a sufficient justification for a radical change in the very structure of the Church?

How else, furthermore, are we to explain that this movement is accepted on its own terms, within the perspective of "rights", "justice," "equality," Etc. -- all categories whose ability adequately to express the Christian faith and to be applied as such within the Church is, to say the least, questionable?

The sad truth is that the very idea of women's ordination, as it is presented and discussed today, is the result of too many confusions and reductions. If its root is surrender to "culture", its pattern of development is shaped by a surrender to "clericalism." It is indeed almost entirely dominated by the old "clerical" view of the Church and the double "reduction" interest in it. The reduction on the one hand, of the Church to a "power structure," the reduction on the other hand, of that power structure to clergy. To the alleged "inferiority" of women within the secular power structure, corresponds their "inferiority," i.e., their exclusion from clergy, within the ecclesiastical power structure. To their "liberation" in the secular society must therefore correspond their "liberation," i.e., ordination, in the Church.

But the Church simply cannot be reduced to these categories. As long as we try to measure the ineffable mystery of her life by concepts and ideas a priori alien to her very essence, we entirely mutilate her, and her real power, her glory and beauty, and her transcendent truth simply escape us.

That is why in conclusion of this letter I can only confess, without explaining and justifying this confession by my "proofs." I can confess that the non-ordination of women to priesthood has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with whatever "inferiority" we can invent or imagine. In the essential reality which alone constitutes the content of our faith and shapes the entire life of the Church, in the reality of the Kingdom of God which is perfect communion, perfect knowledge, perfect love, and ultimately the "deification" of man, there is truly "neither male nor female." More than that, in this reality, of which we are made partakers here and now, we all, men and women, without any distinction, are "Kings and priests," for it is the essential priesthood of the human nature and vocation that Christ has restored to us.

It is of this priestly life, it is of this ultimate reality, that the Church is both gift and acceptance. And that she may be this, that she may always and everywhere be the gift of the Spirit without any measure or limitations, the Son of God offered himself in a unique sacrifice, and made this unique sacrifice and this unique priesthood the very foundation, indeed the very "form" of the Church.

This priesthood is Christ's, not ours. None of us, man or woman, has any "right" to it; it is emphatically not one of human vocations, analogous, even if superior, to all others. The priest in the Church is not "another" priest, and the sacrifice he offers is not "another" sacrifice. It is forever and only Christ's priesthood and Christ's sacrifice -- for, in the words of our Prayers of Offertory, it is "Thou who offerest and Thou who art offered, it is Thou who receivest and Thou who distributest...." And thus the "institutional" priest in the Church has no "ontology" of his own. It exists only to make Christ himself present, to make this unique Priesthood and this unique Sacrifice the source of the Church's life and the "acquisition" by men of the Holy Spirit. And if the bearer, the icon and the fulfiller of that unique priesthood, is man and not woman, it is because Christ is man and not woman...

Why? This of course is the only important, the only relevant question. The one precisely that no "culture," no "sociology," no "history," and even no "exegesis" can answer. For it can be answered only by theology in the primordial and essential meaning of that word in the Church; as the contemplation and vision of the Truth itself, as communion with the uncreated Divine Light. It is only here, in this purified and restored vision that we might begin to understand why the ineffable mystery of the relationship between God and His Creation, between God and His chosen people, between God and His Church, are "essentially" revealed to us as a nuptial mystery, as fulfillment of a mystical marriage. Why in other terms, Creation itself, the Church herself, man and the world themselves, when contemplated in their ultimate truth and destiny, are revealed to us as Bride, as Woman clothed in sun; why in the very depth of her love and knowledge, of her joy and communion, the Church identifies herself with one Woman, whom she exalts as "more honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim."

Is it this mystery that has to be "understood" by means of our broken and fallen world, which knows and experiences itself only in its brokenness and fragmentation, its tensions and dichotomies and which, as such, is incapable of the ultimate vision? Or is it this vision and this unique experience that must again become to us the "means" of our understanding of the world, the starting point and the very possibility of a truly Divine victory over all that in this world is but human, historical and cultural?

About the Author: The late Rt. Rev. Dr. Alexander Schmemann, S.T.D., LL.D, D.D., was Dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestweed, New York, where he also occupied the chair of Liturgical and Pastoral Theology.

Born in Estonia, he received his education in Paris. After completing his Baccalaureate in Philosophy, he graduated from the St. Sergius Theological Institute in 1945 and in the same year was appointed to the Institute's Faculty as Lecturer in Church History.

In 1951 he joined St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary as Professor of Liturgical Theology. In 1962 he was appointed Dean of the Seminary. In 1959 he was granted the degree of Doctor of Theology. Since 1958 he has been Adjunct Professor at the Graduate Faculty of Columbia University and was Lecturer in Eastern Orthodoxy at Union Theological Seminary.

He was a former member of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and attended the assemblies of Amsterdam, Lune, Evanston, Oberlin and Montreal. He was a member of the Study and Planning Committee of the Standing Conference of the Orthodox Bishops in America, of the Metropolitan Council of the Orthodox Church in America, and of the American Theological Society.

His publications in English included: The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy (1963), Sacraments and Orthodoxy (1965), The Ultimate Questions (1965), Introduction to Liturgical Theology (1966), and Great Lent (1969).

He was also a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies and Worship.

Because of his learning, wit, and personal warmth, he had been a very popular lecturer at the General Theological Seminary, which awarded him an honorary degree.

[To be absolutely clear, this was written by Fr. Schmemann, not me - BJ]

ECUSA (TEC) Now Sedevantist?

Given what traditionalists within The Episcopal Church (ECUSA/TEC) believe about the invalidity of female ordination, does this mean ECUSA/TEC is, from their point of view, without a Presiding Bishop? Are they Anglican sedevacantists? Logically, they should be. If invalid matter was used in the sacrament of ordination (a female rather than a male), there was no consecration. And if a non-bishop is elected Presiding Bishop and consecrates other bishops, they are ipso facto also non-bishops.

If memory serves, one (perhaps several) of the speakers at the 1977 Congress of Concerned Churchmen in St. Louis made this very argument: If one consents to ordain women priests, one can hardly withhold from them the episcopate. And in time, these invalid "bishops" will continue until there are no bishops left in (then-)PECUSA ordained by men, leaving the denomination without bishops.

Which just proves what traditionalists said 30 years ago: there can be no compromise of the church's ancient apostolic faith, order, or morals. Had traditionalists heeded this simple truth three decades ago, they would not now be faced with the choice of accepting a non-bishop as Presiding Bishop, searching for alternative oversight in a body that still regards this woman and others throughout the Anglican Communion are considered actual bishops, or investigating the claims of another Church.

Perhaps GenCon '06 was the beginning of the Episcopaless Church?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Schori: Traditionalists are "Donatists"!

The Episcopal Church's new Presiding "Bishop", Katharine Schori -- fresh from praising "Mother Jesus" and stating homosexuality is a "gift" -- exposed her grasp of doctrinal theology afresh by accusing traditional Christians of Donatism.

Traditional Episcopalians apparently asked the bishopess not to consecrate bishops, as they do not believe a woman can hold the office of bishop; hence, all her ordinations would be invalid. Kate said she would try to handle this "pastorally" -- then promised to educate the entire church about the “heresy of Donatism. The actor in a sacramental act, the validity of the sacramental act is not dependent on the holiness or qualities of the actor.”

Donatism is, of course, one of the heresies from which St. Augustine of Hippo delivered us. Donatists believed the validity of sacraments depended upon the holiness of the celebrant, a dangerous view to be sure. (Specifically, they denied the validity of sacraments celebrated by priests who had denied Christ during the Diocletian persecutions, then had been reconciled to the Church.)

These traditional Anglicans are not Donatists -- they are Christians.

As I wrote earlier, they are merely guided by the scholastic view that sacraments require valid "form, matter, and intention." The proper matter for ordination has never been a female Christian, even one sound in her theology...much less Ms. Jefferts Schori.

No less an Anglican theological heavyweight than C.S. Lewis wrote in his essay "Priestesses in the Church" that a church with female priests could scarcely be recognized as Christian. Female ordination, he wrote, "would make us [Anglicans] much more rational but not near so much like a Church." Further, any rationalization of women's ordination "is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses but against Christianity."

Now those who follow this inspiring writer's lead in his own communion are called heretics. Nor dare we consider this a new development. Recall, it was the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, who nearly 20 years ago called opposition to women's ordination "a most serious heresy." Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

What future could conservatives, or moderates, who respect the Church's history have in a denomination that would allow such a individuals -- regarded as "moderate" and "conservative," respectively -- any position, much less one of (arch)episcopal leadership? Why would a traditional Christian, who holds to the Christian paradosis on female ordination, remain in a Communion that recognizes this woman's authority, even in some unheard of "associate" membership?

"Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" -- Isaiah 5:20.

Other Problems With GenCon06

Looks like there were additional problems at The Episcopal Church's 2006 General Convention I failed to note:

"The Convention refused to undo the Executive Council's actions of affliating ECUSA with a pro-abortion group NARAL, and refused by a huge margin to take up legislation affirming the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Lord and the only name under heaven by which you can be saved."

There were a few of many, I'm sure. However, the first is particularly troubling -- and one not limited to TEC by any means. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) also funds abortion. I'd be surprised if the UCC did not consider it the eighth sacrament.

How can any church uphold something so universally condemned by all Church Fathers? (Also see this excellent article for more on the history of the Orthodox Church's view of abortion.)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Orthodox-Old Catholic Statement on Mary, the Mother of God

This text is taken from The Road to Unity: A collection of agreed statements of the joint Old Catholic-Orthodox Theological Commissions, which was accepted at the XX General Synod of the Polish National Catholic Church in 1990. The PNCC accepted the proceedings of the continental Old Catholics with its own reservations, which I cannot find right now:

The Church believes that the divine and human natures are hypostatically united in Jesus Christ. It accordingly believes also that the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth not to a human being merely but to the God-man Jesus Christ and that she is therefore truly Mother of God as the 3rd Ecumenical Council defined and the 5th Ecumenical Council confirmed. According to St. John of Damascus, the name “Mother of God” (Theotokos) “embraces the whole mystery of the divine plan of salvation.” (f.o. 56 - PG 94.1029).

In the Virgin Mary, the Son of God assumed human nature in its entirety, body and soul, in virtue of the divine omnipotence, for the power of the Most High overshadowed her and was made flesh (Jn 1:14). By the true and real motherhood of the Virgin Mary, the Redeemer was united with the human race.

There is an intrinsic connection between the truth of the one Christ and the truth of the divine motherhood of Mary. “…for a union of two natures took place; therefore we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord. According to this understanding of the unconfused union, we confess the Holy Virgin to be 'theotokos' because God the Word was made flesh and lived as a human being and from the very conception united to himself the temple taken from her.” (3rd Ecumenical Council, Formula of Union - Mansi 5.292) “…we teach with one voice that the Son (of God) and our Lord, Jesus Christ, is to be confessed as one and the same person … begotten of his Father before the world according to his Godhead but in these last days born for us and for our salvation of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to his humanity.” (4th Ecumenical Council, Definition of Faith - Mansi 7.116)

Venerating the Virgin Mary as Mother of God, whose child-bearing St. Ignatius of Antioch called “a mystery to be cried aloud” (Eph. 19:0 - PG 5.660), the Church also glorifies her perpetual virginity. The Mother of God is ever Virgin, since, while remaining a maiden, she bore Christ in an ineffable and inexplicable manner. In their address to the Emperor Marcian, the Fathers of the 4th Ecumenical Council declared: “…the fathers…have expounded the meaning of faith for all and proclaimed accurately the blessing of the incarnation: how the mystery of the plan of salvation was prepared from on high and from the maternal womb, how the Virgin was named Mother of God for the sake of Him who granted her virginity even after her pregnancy and kept her body sealed in a glorious manner, and how she is truly called Mother because of the flesh of the Lord of all things, which came from her and which she gave to Him.” (Mansi 7.461) And in its decision the 7th Ecumenical Council declared: “We confess that He who was incarnate of the immaculate Mother of God and ever Virgin Mary has two natures.” (Definitio -Mansi 13.377) As St. Augustine says: “He was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. And even the birth as human being is itself lowly and lofty. Why lowly? Because as human being He is born of a human being. Why lofty? Because He was born of a virgin. A virgin conceived, a virgin gave birth, and after the birth she remained a virgin.” (symb. 1.3/6 – PL 40.630)

Accordingly the Church venerates in a very special way the Virgin Mother of God, though “not as divine but as Mother of God according to the flesh.” (John of Damascus, imag. 2.5 – PG 94.1357) If, because of the redemption in Christ and its blessings, the Church glorifies God above all and offers Him the worship of true adoration due to the divine nature alone, at the same time it venerates the Mother of God as chosen vessel of the work of salvation, as she who accepted the word of God in faith, humility and obedience, as gateway through which God entered the world. It calls her the Blessed One, the first of the Saints and the pure handmaid of the Lord, and thereby ascribes to her a relative sinlessness by grace, from the time the Holy Spirit descended upon her, for our Savior Jesus Christ alone is sinless by nature and absolutely.

The Church does not recognize the recent dogmas of an immaculate conception and bodily assumption of the Mother of God. But it celebrates the entry of the Mother of God into eternal life and solemnly observes the festival of her dormition.

The Church venerates the Mother of God also in her role as intercessor for human beings before God, which is hers in particular because of her outstanding place in the work of salvation. But it distinguishes between the intercession of the Mother of God and the quite unique mediatorship of Jesus Christ: ‘For there is one mediator between God and men - the man Jesus Christ.” (1 Tim. 2:5) “O Merciful One, show Your love to mankind; accept the Mother of God who bore You, who intercedes for us, and save Your helpless people, O our Savior.” (Saturday Vespers, Tone 8, Theotokion) “O God…grant us all to share the life of Your Son in fellowship with the Virgin Mary, the Blessed Mother of our Lord and God…and of all Your saints. Look upon their life and death and answer their intercessions for Your Church on earth.” (Eucharistic Liturgy, Old Catholic Church of Switzerland)

Although the Mother of God is also called “mediatrix” (Mesitria) in the hymns of the Church, this is never anywhere in the sense of co-mediatrix or co-redemptrix but only in the sense of intercessor.

As beautiful as the text is, there are significant reasons for sorrow: less than ten years after accepting this statement (and so many other Orthodox theological pronouncements) in ecumenical dialogue, continental Old Catholics followed the Anglican communion in accepting female ordination, thus ending any fruit that could have come from the unprecedented common ground expressed in these proceedings.
The PNCC did not accept female ordination, isolating it from the Union of Utrecht (for all the right reasons). Its founder, Bishop Franciszek Hodur, expunged the PNCC's traditional liturgy of the filioque 100 years ago and adopted the Orthodox view of "original sin." For reasons that elude me, the PNCC has instead pursued (futile) ecumenical talks with the Roman Catholic Church, in the process authorizing a version of the Novus Ordo Mass for celebration alongside its traditional liturgies. (Shudder.) However, its ecclesiology and theology is undoubtedly closer to Western Rite Orthodoxy than Rome. It would be truer to its own heritage were it to become WRO.
(Hat tip: Deacon's Blog)

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From the Mailbag: Byzantine Missions "Proper"?

Q: I read a message posted on an online forum by a purported expert on Western Rite Orthodoxy stating there are "Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate folks who feel thatthe Byzantine rite is not an appropriate tool for mission to Westernlands, that to be proper this has to occur by means of the Western rite." Is this true?

A. I have never heard, seen, or read of a single AWRV priest, writer, or layman saying anything of the sort (much less several Antiochian "folks"). I've only read Western Rite Christians express profound gratitude at the Orthodoxy's concession and good sense in blessing a Western Rite (beginning in 1870 for the "Tridentine" Liturgy of St. Gregory, and in 1904 for the Liturgy of St. Tikhon).

What could be "improper" about Orthodox bishops doing what they have done since they first set foot in Alaska centuries ago? Not only is a Byzantine mission "proper," but there is clearly some segment of the population that is at home in the Byzantine Rite, and another at home with either rite. God has blessed many in the West to come into Orthodoxy through the Byzantine Rite, and may He continue to bless such work. But numerical acceptance has precious little to do with the "propriety" of those serving God in canonical Orthodox missions.

Certainly, the Western Rite is more culturally amenable and familiar -- after all, we are in the West -- and mission-minded people would be wise to expand Western Orthodoxy's scope and visibility.

Most people initially investigate the Orthodox Church for reasons other than liturgy: Her unwavering defense of the truths of the Nicene Creed, Her apostolic foundations, Her steadfast refusal to compromise the moral standards of Christianity or bend to modern secular whims, Her ancient and changeless faith, etc. Most are drawn by their (correct) belief that Orthodoxy is the true Church. Because of the present dearth of canonincal Western Rite churches -- a situation that desperately needs corrected -- some inquirers learn to love the Byzantine rite (as I do), some tolerate it out of necessity, some persist despite it, and some abandon Orthodoxy altogether. I have received many e-mails from crestfallen inquirers who tell me they would gladly attend a Western Rite parish, if there were one around, but feel they cannot convert to Orthodoxy because of liturgy.

Before one judges them too harshly, recall there is more to the "Byzantine Rite" than the text of a eucharistic liturgy. Whatever the merits of the rite in theory, they are incarnated within the realities of the local parish. Thus, its piety, language, culture, and ethos play a vital role in acceptance or rejection of the rite and of Orthodoxy. The horror stories one reads of (insert ethnicity) giving visitors the cold shoulder, etc., cause pilgrims to reject the Orthodox Catholic Church as a whole.

Thankfully, many of these problems are absent from the Western Rite. The parishes are reverent, dignified, welcoming, and worship-oriented. In my experience, they are completely free of ethnic exclusivity and overzealous convert fanaticism. On top of this, the approved liturgies and devotions of the Western Rite are familiar and fully Orthodox, allowing visitors to pray and give thanks to God. It does not require those who accept the fullness of Orthodoxy to needlessly reject the legitimate portions of their own heritage. They do not have to take foreign language night courses or regain their bearings in a different liturgical tradition. If one can provide all this in a way that is fully approved and regarded as Orthodox by the Church, in a time of Western ecclesiastical disintegration, it would seem wise to invest in this mission strategy. This should give new impetus and import to establishing Western Rite missions throughout the West.

There is also a related but wholly different question to that of whether Byzantine missions are "proper": whether Byzantine missions represent "Western Orthodoxy." Many, including Bp. Kallistos Ware in his book The Orthodox Church, state their goal is to "baptize" the West: accept those elements of Western culture that are compatible with Orthodoxy, cleanse it of those that are incompatible, and return the West to the communion she enjoyed as part of the undivided Church of the first millenium. If that is their goal, it seems to assume some appropriation of historically normative Western praxis will take place on some level, as opposed to demanding Westerners become subsumed into the host parish's dominant ethnicity. The late bishop of the French Orthodox Church, Jean of St. Denys, delineated the differences between the Western Church vs. the Church in the West in this article.

But again, this is wholly independent of whether Byzantine missions are "proper."

Thank you for asking this and allowing us to clear this up.

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Don't Miss Church Today

Given the approach of Sunday Mass and the dissatisfied rumblings of acquaintances within ECUSA/TEC over the shenanigans (and heresies) of the General Convention 2006, I wanted to post this essay by Dom James Deschene, an Orthodox Benedictine monk (yes, there are such things), on the importance of attending church. Disspirited Episcopalians often take the route of leaving church altogether; for one serious about his or her faith, of whatever denominational background, this is not a permissible answer. Fr. James explains why; a few more observations after his:

The fecundity of the Orthodox mind is nowhere more evident than in the rich variety of excuses and reasons it can invent for not attending Sunday Liturgy. After two decades of being Orthodox, I am still taken aback by those who find it seemingly easy to excuse their absence from Mass on Sundays or feasts, or from Saturday or feast-day Vespers.

Roman Catholicism in the last days of the pontificate of Pius XII - and this may come as a surprise to some "cradle" Orthodox or converts to Orthodoxy from a Protestant background -- was remarkably strict and observant about many things spiritual and religious. Quite apart from her heresies, the Roman Church in those days imposed - and enforced - strict regulations on such things as fasting, abstinence, and of course church attendance.

No Roman Catholic in those days took lightly the requirement - for it was seen as a divinely ordained rule - to attend Mass on Sunday and certain feast days (known then as holydays of "obligation"). Certainly some catastrophes - earthquake, flood, plague - could suspend the obligation. It was understood too that some medical conditions might legitimately excuse one from church attendance. Such things as measles or contagious disease, an appendectomy, the loss of a limb, or total paralysis might convince a Roman Catholic mother to keep her ailing child at home. Certainly no lesser ailment - a serious cold, a headache, a sprained muscle, a broken ankle - merited any consideration at all. And any complaints of tiredness or general lassitude would make on her no impression whatsoever. It was a simple and absolute rule: you went to Mass unless you were absolutely prevented from going.

Nor did travel away from home, or vacations, make a whit of difference. Wherever one happened to be - whether in an unfamiliar metropolis or the boondocks of Maine, one sought out, at whatever inconvenience of time or distance, the nearest Roman church and got to Mass. In those days, of course, you had to do all this on Sunday morning since Roman Catholics did not then have Saturday evening Masses.

Now it is easy to criticize this as the product of Western or Roman legalism, but the fact is it worked. No even moderately lukewarm Roman Catholic could stay home from Mass without a massive sense of guilt at committing a mortal sin that had to be expunged by confession as soon as possible. The bottom line was that nearly all Roman Catholics would attend Mass on a Sunday morning, except for those in open defiance of their church or those lying, if only temporarily, on their putative deathbeds. In all of this, the hope was that one would be impressed by the seriousness of the obligation into seeing something of the awesome importance and spiritual reality of the liturgical mysteries.

Now for Orthodox people today, at least in parts of the United States, there is sometimes the legitimate problem that there is no easily available church to attend. Certainly members of the Russian Church Abroad, wishing to attend a Synod church, sometimes have to travel a good distance to do so. Others will attend whatever Orthodox church is available. Still others, of various jurisdictions, refuse to attend any church but that of their own jurisdiction - part of the bane of American jurisdictionalism. For those seeking a Western Rite Orthodox liturgy, the difficulty can be even greater. The question must be asked: is it not better to attend an Orthodox liturgy in some church even outside one's juridsiction, than not to attend at all?

While I do not propose to answer that question (merely to raise it), I do think the corrective for any laxity in Sunday attendance is best countered not by the imposing of a harrowing legalism such as existed in pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism, but by holding a proper view of what Sunday Liturgy should mean for the Orthodox believer.

Not long ago I was on the scene when an Orthodox woman of my acquaintance (though not of my parish) described how she aggressively maintained Orthodox morality against some opinion of her neighbor of another denomination. Apparently, after settling her neighbor's hash, she ended with a resounding "We're Orthodox - we don't do those things!" This is perhaps in itself only mildly disedifying, though the smugness (to say nothing of the accuracy) of that last taunt is a mite questionable and a tad pharisaical. But the point of the story lies in the fact, known to me (and undoubtedly to the neighbor), that this woman rarely darkens the door of any Orthodox church.

To be Orthodox means more than holding "right doctrine" - it means engaging in "right praise" - i.e., right worship. And it means doing this at the right times, i.e., when the Orthodox Church realizes itself and becomes most itself and most visible - in its celebration of the Holy Eucharist, especially on Sundays, the day of Resurrection. To be absent from this occasion - this moment when the Orthodox Church becomes most embodied, most visible, most alive - is in a real sense a failure to be truly Orthodox. It is by being part of the occasion at that time and in that place that we truly are (and are seen to be) Orthodox in the fullest sense of that word.

What truly Orthodox believer would ever easily or readily excuse himself from joining in this living Mystery? And how paltry, in the light of the radiance and glory of the divine Mysteries, are our shoddy excuses. "The church is too far away." "I was tired from watching the late show." "We had company Saturday night and couldn't make it to Vespers." "I was invited out for Sunday dinner and would be late if I went to church." "We had to get an early start to get beach parking." Hopefully, we all have the good sense to be ashamed when we fall back on such excuses.

Moreover, we owe it to our brothers and sisters in the faith to support their presence in church by our own presence. Especially in smaller congregations is the absence of an individual or family obvious and keenly felt. We know that - however small the congregation, however few the worshippers - the fullness of the Church is manifested wherever the Liturgy is celebrated. At that moment and in that place Orthodoxy lacks nothing. But it is equally true that, from a purely human perspective, the absence of some members of a parish family or community is always felt and always tends to undermine the joy of the Orthodox parish family gathering in its Father's house to celebrate our Saviour's victory over sin and death.

It is the nature of Christian joy to wish to share itself with others -- to awaken others to God's welcoming home in his Church. So we seek to proclaim the joy and truth of holy Orthodoxy to others and to invite them in. How sad it is then, when we do this, when we bring newcomers into God's house, to find that those long a part of God's family are missing from that joyous homecoming.

Perhaps since GenCon '06 you have considered leaving ECUSA/TEC. Perhaps you have landed here searching for the latest news on ECUSA or accurate information on the Western Rite Orthodoxy. No website can give you a true picture; you must visit and worship, "taste and see." If you are tempted to stay home this Sunday morning, consider instead meeting God in one of our churches. I believe you will find the atmosphere dignified, reverent, uplifting, and Orthodox (in both senses of the word).

Here is a list of Western Rite Orthodox parishes in North America. (There is also a parish in Providence, RI, attached to Christminster Monastery. Down under? Go to St. Petroc Monastery.) Or, if you are interested in Byzantine Orthodoxy, here is a list of all North American Orthodox parishes. Deo volente, I'll see you there.


ECUSA's New Anthem

COLUMBUS, OHIO--Unreported since the close of the Episcopal Church's convention last week is this fact: ECUSA (TEC) adopted an official hymn in the wake of its momentous change of 2,000 years of historic Christian faith and practice (sung to the tune of "The Church's One Foundation"):

The Anglican Communion
Is mightily distressed
When bishops of ECUSA
Their heresies expressed,
And in convention chose not
Repentance nor regret,
But chose to walk their own path
Firm in their own ways set.

Our church has no foundation,
And Christ is not her Lord.
She is our new creation
By our own mighty word.
The Bible's too oppressive
And morals leave us bored.
So who is our salvation?
It's our own selves - adored.

Thanks to a very holy monk who sent me this amusing item.