Saturday, February 24, 2007

Two Lenten freebies

1. A Free Lenten Online Course: Ecclesiastical Latin, using A Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin by John F. Collins. Sign up, read the text, and take graded assignments for free.

2. Dogmatics Lecture Notes
, on lectures delivered by Met. John Zizioulas of Pergamus.

(Hat tips: Subdn. Benjamin Andersen and Ad-Orientem, respectively.)


More Western Rite Feasts

Our friend Fr. Matthew Thurman has followed up on his post about "The 12 Great Feasts of the Western Rite"with the next set: Doubles of the first class and Primary Doubles of the second class (a total of 22 feasts by my count).

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Hollywood and the Media vs. Christ, Round 1,403,391,756.207......

James Cameron, the director of the movie Titanic, claims he has found the tomb of Jesus Christ...and that Christ had a child with Mary Magadalene. The media manipulator who broke the story in Time magazine, Tim McGirk, implies Israeli archeologists and others went out of their way not to mention this...for fear of offending Christians. McGirk predicts an onslaught from Christians and likens them to senseless apes:
Ever the showman, (Why does this remind me of the impresario in another movie,"King Kong", whose hubris blinds him to the dangers of an angry and very large ape?) Cameron is holding a New York press conference on Monday at which he will reveal three coffins, supposedly those of Jesus of Nazareth, his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene.
My prediction: shortly, this goes the way of the fraudulent Ossuary of St. James. It never fails to amuse me how often the media and the secular Left portray Christians as backwoods imbeciles who believe anything, then fall for one discredited story after another (St. James Ossuary, Noble Savage mythology, astrology, phrenology, Bolshevism, etc.).

And that Time: fair and balanced, as always.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Another Good Reason Not to Visit the Monastery

Potentially fanatical behavior is the least of your worries around the wrong monk:

Orthodox Priest Jailed for Exorcism Death

Daniel Petru Corogeanu, a former hieromonk at Holy Trinity Monastery in Romania, killed a 23-year-old nun in the process of exorcism. The nun, Maricica Irina Cornici, believed she heard Satan speaking to her.
Cornici, 23, was tied up for several days without food or water and chained to a cross. She died of dehydration, exhaustion and suffocation.
At least Orthodox learn; some precautions will be set in place in the future:
Cornici's death stunned Romania and prompted the Orthodox Church to promise reforms, including psychological tests for those seeking to enter monasteries.

The church, which has benefited from a religious revival in recent years, condemned the ritual as "abominable" and banned Corogeanu from the priesthood and excommunicated the four nuns [who also performed exorcisms - BJ] from the church.
Not surprisingly:
Church officials noted he had dropped out halfway from the church's religion school. Despite leaving the program, he was anointed as a priest because of a shortage of priests to serve in new convents and monasteries.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

All the Joys of Lent

"Remember that thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return."

In a telephone call on Shrove Tuesday, a priest-friend closed our telephone conversation by wishing me "all the joys of Lent." The sentiment warmed my heart as much as communicating with him always does.

It occurred to me, hearing the phrase, how counterintuitive it sounds to most ears. "The joys of Lent"? Lent, the average believer might say, is when we are to fast, repent, mourn, "weep between the porch and the altar."

True, but how different are the prophets' commandments to fast with the inducements of the New Testament! The inherent joy in Lent is indicated, in a manner, by the lectionary. The "Epistle" reading on Ash Wednesday, in the Western tradition, is from the Prophet Joel 2, beginning at verse 12. In context, the call to "sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly" is in response to a foreign invasion. "A nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion." Moreover, God forecasts this persecution will worsen, becoming "a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness." Hearing this at the beginning of a 40-day fasting season reminds us of another prophet, Jonah, who bid the wicked people to fast, or else "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown" (3:4).

The fervency of fasting should be the same for us as it was for the Old Testament saints. But how different are our incentives! Forty days from Ash Wednesday the Church will experience, not destruction and obliteration, but the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The intention behind our fasting is not to stave off physical calamity or spare national pride the sting of imperial conquest, but to prepare the spiritual man for the blessedness that will be ours in His neverending kingdom, to stitch with the fabric of our souls a wedding garment worthy of eternal union with Christ. "For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection" (Romans 6:5).

The process of altering the material of our characters is a joy, removing the stains and imperfections of sin, but equally becoming new creations in His uncreated grace. The means are fasting, repentance, almsgiving, confession, prayer, and taking the sacraments. And these are our joys. Lent introduces the soul and body to their own nature, and for one season, they behave as they should all year long. We eat less, consuming only what nutritionists call "a healthy diet." The soul prays more...not as much as it should, but more. We honor the Person of Christ in one another through almsgiving, though we should see Christ in each other at every moment.

Lent gives us the joy of freeing our souls from the parasite of self-indulgence, the fulfillment of becoming the people God created us to be. As Thomas Merton [1] wrote in The Seeds of Contemplation:
Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. This is the person that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown to God is altogether too much privacy.
Lent is a holy fire, consuming the "thorns of our transgressions" while purifying the gold of our faith and the silver of our virtue. The end is bliss and glory; the means are a chrysalis of light and a crucible of blessing. Drawing nigh unto Christ is its own reward, and the road leading to Him is paved with inward joys. May the earthly shadow of that joy fill all of us until we are eternally united with its Source, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

Yes, I know his faults; I just like the quotation. So sue me.

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The Western Rite is SO Unlike the Eastern....

Some seem to believe the Western Rite is so unlike the Byzantine that it cannot possibly be Orthodox. Leaving aside the substance of that claim, there are many cases in which the praxis is identical. (Here's one example.) Ash Wednesday witnessed one of them.

The traditional Gospel for Ash Wednesday is taken from the the same text as that of the Byzantine Church on Forgiveness Sunday: St. Matthew chapter 6. The pericope's instructions about "when you fast" and instructions on almsgiving ties the Gospel to the start of Lent in either tradition. Both are saying:
O that I may have induced you, my brethren, to give away your earthly bread, and to knock for the heavenly! The Lord is that Bread. He says,"I am the Bread of life." But how shall He give to you, who givest not to him that is in need? One is in need before you, and you are in need before Another...Repentance for sins changes men, it is true, for the better; but it does not appear as if even it would profit ought, if it should be barren of works of mercy. St. Augustine of Hippo.
Once again, we find a commonality of Eastern and Western Rite Orthodoxy. In fact, there are innumerable overlaps, both of style and substance, between Eastern and Western practices that one need not artificially manufacture them. Let's join our hearts this Lent in seeking the one path that is truly profitable.

P.S.: Anyone have a better tag for this topic? A post on "Ash Wednesday" would be quite out of place on the chief topic where I present similar discussions: "Feast Days."

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Housecleaning Note for Subdn. Benjamin Andersen

Oops! I was approving/rejecting comments (Yes, at 5 a.m. -- shoulda had coffee this morning), and I think I have rejected your comment on the Sedevacantist post.

Losing any writing of Subdn. Benjamin Andersen is like losing gold, even when we disagree (as we do). You were felicitous and decent in the comment. I was impressed enough that I'm going to post what I remember of it (!) and would appreciate if you'd either repost it or tell me if I got the sense of it right.

A fitting way to begin Lent: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa....


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The All-Purpose Orthodox Excuse

In the comments section of a recent post, our friend (and a great blogger himself) Eric Jobe asked if our Orthodox outreach to others isn't largely dependent upon first creating Orthodox Church unity.

I appreciate what he is saying, and visible unity would enable us to speak with one voice at certain times.

However, I honestly question whether "disunity" hasn't become our all-purpose Orthodox excuse.

It seems lack of canonical unity is invoked whenever we've failed to do something, as in the case of our immense failure to reach out to Episcopalians shaking off the heretical trappings of their lifelong denomination. The Western Rite is not bound up by issues of "unity": some Western Rite Orthodox could have easily written a letter supporting this babystep and longing for the day of full communion between our churches. St. Tikhon would have known how to respond! For whatever reason, easy as this would have been to do, nothing of the sort occurred.

I am not naïve enough to believe a single letter would have resulted in a new Pentecost, with hundreds of parishes becoming Orthodox en masse. (Then again, maybe it would have. On Pentecost, the Apostle Peter converted thousands with only a sermon.) However, I am realistic enough to know that offers never extended are never accepted.

It's not just this, though. It seems any discussion of concrete action meets the equal-and-opposite reaction: "First, we really need Orthodox unity in this country." Want to promote knowledge of the Western Rite? "First, we need unity." Want to increase awareness among Christians of the Orthodox Church? "First, unity." Want to evangelize others (meaning non-Christians) into Orthodox Christianity? "It would really help if we had administrative unity."

Eric is, of course, right that unity would be a desirable goal. In the first place, it would be of tremendous benefit to eliminate the use of certain unhelpful modifiers currently in front of the word "Orthodox" in many of our jurisdictions, with these adjectives' connotations of ethnic exclusivity. That alone would make the inquirer's approach easier.

At the risk of being called heretical, let me ask: what if we don't achieve administrative unity in our lifetimes? Or, perish the thought, ever? If a nation as historically Orthodox as Ukraine does not have unity, what makes us think North America and the entire diaspora will?

And to voice another never-mentioned truth, one can imagine potentially negative effects of unity, as well. Without exploring these, several possibilities present themselves to those with fruitful and pessimistic imaginations (or long historical memories).

Even at its best, I'm not certain unity will result in people "beating down our door" for admission. Many are already beating down our gates, and we are not responding. Others are looking for our gates, and we are failing to direct them, mired in visions of our own inadequacy.

It is easier to blame the intransigent (fill-in-the-jurisdiction) than to confront our own inertia.

To forge any unity worth having, we must begin by caring for the talents God has already given us. If we are faithful in little, He may entrust us with much. We must begin to make of our own churches what we would desire in a unified church. We must make our own churches more hospitable, more welcoming, more joyful, more sacramental, more Christocentric, and more Christlike. We must make our churches less ethnocentric and less egocentric. Then we will have a number of component jurisdictions that recognize themselves in one another and wonder why we're reduplicating the other's efforts. Now, that is certainly not the case.

Until it is, we must not be afraid to invite others to the light that we can shine, administrative unity or no.


Speaking of Sedevacantists

Richard's perceptive comment, point two. (Here's point one.)

Although I know this will drive some of my readers crazy, as I often joke with traditionalist Roman Catholics: We Orthodox are sedevacantists, too; we just disagree on the time of the vacancy. :)

Yes, I recognize friends of mine have other ideas...and that's their right, as it is my right not to share their views. It's not a cause for ill-will or reaction. In my far-from-perfect reading of the Church, I simply do not at this time believe their concepts reflect the historical mainstream of Orthodoxy. I believe membership in the visible Church requires the three-fold unity of doctrine, faith, and communion. (And if my friends can demand that of the vagantes, they can demand it of Rome.) As such, Rome lacks a pontiff, and we ought to get about supplying the vacancy.


The Irresistible Force and the Immovable Anglicans

The comments on the last post have driven home that this blog is blessed with some of the most perceptive readers anywhere. Richard brought up one (actually two) of the points I've always meant to cover but have not had time. (Eric Jobe brought up another.)

We in the Western Rite are often asked why, given its current in-fighting and fragmentation, we don't have more converts from the Episcopal Church and the continuing Anglican communion. As Fr. Michael Keiser has written, the premise seems to be since we "have not converted the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church to Orthodox teaching, why bother to continue"?

Laying aside the fact that the Western Rite is a most fertile mission field, that is not its lone raison d'etre. As H.G. Bp. BASIL has said, "the worth and validity of the Western Rite do not depend on growth or numbers." However, let us be frank about why there aren't more Anglican converts (a point on which Richard hit on the head): many Anglicans are perfectly committed to being Anglicans.

For one thing, their ecclesiology, the Branch Theory, gives them no angst about their place in the Church. While Orthodoxy teaches the Church is One, constituting a theanthropic visible unity of Head and Body, Anglicans believe they are part of one of the three co-equal branches that parted ways, lo, in the misty fogs of the past. (They gloss over that this partition often came through harsh doctrinal disagreements, followed by mutual excommunications/anathemas, and occasion reprisals in which "leaves" of one "branch" had leaves of the other branches put to death.) Anglicans do not question the "validity" of Orthodoxy, but even if they come to believe Orthodoxy has preserved the apostolic fidei depositum sacrosanct from the patristic era, they do not feel they must leave their own communion or join the Orthodox Church to share in it. Since they believe they are already one "branch," they can simply bend the twigs of their doctrine eastward. Hence, the large number of well-meaning people (many of whom are friends) who consider themselves "Western Orthodox" in the Anglican communion.

Of greater consequence for the current TEC crack-up is this: not a few Anglicans are committed Protestants, even charismatics and evangelicals. Heading for alternate cover under the Global South, such groups as AMiA were never potential Orthodox Catholics. They would not be at home in Orthodoxy (and would not be ill-at-ease at Saddleback).

There is also, within the vestiges of the formal Anglican communion, an odd pathology bordering on spiritual masochism, in which some traditionalists believe they are actually triumphing by remaining under heretical bishops. These entrenched warriors have somehow managed to safeguard their own parish from the liturgical Revolution...and they're content with that. In fact, they believe they are showing valiant defiance in remaining in communion with Matriarch Kate Schori. "They can run the entire church," I have heard some Anglo-Orthodox say in this delusion, "but they can't force me to change!" They somehow believe by remaining in communion with, pledging obedience to, and financing heretical bishops, they are manning the forts in battle for TEC's soul. Little do they realize, they are...and that when their numbers sufficiently dwindle, their work, too, will be swept away like a grain of rice in an ocean of apostasy. Or, perhaps they will then attempt to jump ship...with their strength fruitlessly depleted.

Finally, as Fr. James Deschene has noted (and I've echoed), Anglicans always look to Rome. Fr. Michael of St. Petroc has added, this stems from the dirty word: orders. Some Anglicans point to individual statements of Orthodox bishops or churches that purport to recognize the "validity" of Anglicans orders. (Orthodoxy does not, and all the statements were at best tentative.) However, Rome maintains its position and hence, must be placated.

And many look Romeward because all they know of the Orthodox Church is the Byzantine liturgy. And as beautiful as it is, to us and even to many of them, they cannot bring themselves to jettison their western heritage, chant, and forms of piety (some of which, of course, are legitimately Orthodox, though Western). This is where the importance of the Western Rite comes in, and the its current obscurity discloses itself in its full tragedy.

What can Orthodox do to change this? For Anglo-Protestants, we must take the same tack as we would toward any other evangelical group, witnessing the ancient faith. For conservative Episcopalians rejecting TEC-cesses, we must applaud them where they are correct, offer our moral encouragement for their move outside TEC, and begin sharing with them our conception of the Church. For Continuing Anglicans and Anglo-Orthodox, we must continue to insist on our ecclesiology and bear witness to the inner life of grace that, we believe, makes our blessed communion distinct.

We must let all groups know the Orthodox communion has authorized Western forms of worship for use and not insist on a stumbling-block of one cultural expression of the faith.

When these groups, at various stages of growth, begin to explore Orthodoxy — because they at least know that we exist and present challenges to their epistemology they have not yet considered — we must encourage them in love, knowing that in their study will lie soul-searching, soul-deifying truths that, if accepted, will transform them and, though originally startling, will ultimately envelop them in the joy of Christ.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Another WR Missed Opportunity?

It's amazing what a little hierarchical sign of goodwill can accomplish. When conservative Anglicans noised about their will to break away from the left-wing Episcopal Church (TEC), then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) wrote a letter supporting their efforts. Now a major realignment may be underway, in which Anglicans may reunite with the Papacy.

Many of us wondered at the time why Orthodox made no similar attempt to establish closer relations with the more conservative Anglicans. Even a token of goodwill from a high enough source would have made an important statement, and Lord willing, it would have meant teaching them what we require for unity on our own terms. Whether the Anglicans accepted the terms or not is less important than that we had the opportunity to make it, as the Lord requires. None was made.

What if:
  1. WR Orthodox had a bishop; and
  2. He had forged similar ties; and
  3. He had the ability to absorb a national body of multiple dioceses en masse?
Could we be having similar talks today? We can't provide salaries or the professional security of a "Coming Home Network." We can offer merely the true faith, the healing and glorious life of the sacraments, and the appeal of a clean conscience.

Better than "what if?" perhaps, is "what next?" As we are currently unable to work in a hierarchical fashion, what do we need to do to evangelize those looking for the Ark of Salvation, which they now understand cannot dock in the harbors of the Canterbury communion?

Personal relationships? And how do we reach those we cannot meet?

And why did no one on this side of the Bosphorus understand that having a positive relationship with liturgical Christians with some moral values noisily seeking for another church home might be of some use?

The accord is far from a settled reality. But it's much closer than any similar, massive concordat with Orthodoxy, whether Eastern or Western.

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