Saturday, September 22, 2007

Prayer for the Blanco

I have gotten some questions about my post echoing Fr. James Deschene's plea that God have mercy on the deceased Samuel "Fr. Benedict" Greene of Christ of the Hills "Monastery" in Blanco, Texas. Greene was a shyster who exploited people's religious faith to bilk them of their money and molest children. Authorities now say he tried to commit suicide in the recent past, and according to an eyewitness, this week he succeeded.

Some have said they have understandable reservations about praying for him. The Apostle John wrote, in I John 5:16: " If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it." The Fathers tied this to Christ's warning against "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit," which is a continual turning against God at every moment. To all human indications, it's difficult to see hope for Greene, but "with God all things are possible." Being repulsed by Greene's behavior is only a sign of basic human decency; however, now that he's gone, I think we should to hope, for his sake, that he made it to Heaven through God's "great and rich mercy." But I understand why people have difficulty with this case.

Since it seems appropriate here, I'll also post the recent SCOBA "Pastoral Letter on Suicide."


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Blanco Monk Found Dead

I couldn't sleep tonight and couldn't figure out why I was still online in the middle of the night. Then a few minutes ago, Fr. James Deschene sent me a message saying that Samuel "Fr. Benedict" Greene of the infamous Christ of the Hills "Monastery" in Blanco, Texas, had been found dead in a double-wide trailer on the property Monday morning. On Friday, Greene was scheduled to face his day in court. The prosecutor was seeking to revoke Greene's probation, and he would likely have returned to jail, possibly serving 99 years-to-life. Blanco County Sheriff Bill Elsbury assumes it was suicide but is awaiting an autopsy and has not ruled anything out.

There is no need to review the specifics of the crimes Blanco's "monks," including Greene, committed through molestation, faking a "weeping icon," and bilking the devout out of nearly a million dollars a year (and raking in more cash by posing as Orthodox liturgical scholars and publishing books via New Sarov Press). This is also not the time for word games, blame-shifting, or calling Christ of the Hills a part of "the Texan Thebaid" (!) that would never be appropriate. At this point, Greene has escaped justice on earth, and Orthodox Christians are commanded to demonstrate enough charity for the image of God remaining within him, however obscured, that we must now pray Greene will escape justice in eternity, as well. Indeed, if we take St. Paul's words to heart, we must esteem Greene better than ourselves. And if one better than me goes to Hell, then truly my wretched soul has no hope.

I could do no better than to echo Fr. James' words: "May God have mercy on his poor soul!"

(After you pray, please scroll down; this disturbing news should be balanced by a meditation on the feast of the Holy Cross.)

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Holy Cross, East and West: One Example

One of this blog's interests is noting the similarities between Eastern and Western Rite Orthodoxy. Rather than give an exhaustive treatment of the Feast of the Holy Cross, I wanted to zero in on one area: the Byzantine troparion of the feast has numerous counterparts in our WRO Mass propers.

I'm tempted to recycle the old saw about florid Eastern liturgical language vs. Western reserve by citing one example and closing this article:

Western RiteByzantine Rite
Communion of the Feast:

By the sign of the Cross deliver us from our enemies, O our God.
Troparion of the Feast:

O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance. Grant victory to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries. And by virtue of Thy Cross, preserve Thy habitation.

There it is, someone will say - case closed. The same message in East and West, but the West summed it up in a single line. However, the comparison would be misleading, as is the stereotype. (Western worship can be given to poetic beauty. Note my blog from last year on a Western Rite hymn for Holy Cross.) The Western liturgical tradition has a great deal more variable material than its Byzantine counterpart, and the tropari message is found in several of the Mass propers:

Western RiteByzantine Rite

Protect, O Lord, Thy people by the sign of the Holy Cross, from all snares of every enemy: that we may render Thee acceptable service, and that our sacrifice may be well pleasing unto Thee, alleluia.

Communion Verse:

By the sign of the Cross deliver us from our enemies, O our God.


Assist us mercifully, O Lord our God: that we whom Thou dost suffer to rejoice in honoring the Holy Cross may be defended by the perpetual succour of the same. Through....
Troparion of the Feast:

O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance. Grant victory to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries. And by virtue of Thy Cross, preserve Thy habitation.

At the risk of getting off-track, I note the Introit of the Mass would be familiar to Byzantines, as well. The verse that is not repeated is: "God be merciful unto us and bless us: and shew us the light of His countenance, and have mercy on us." Comparing the Office propers and hymnography of the feast in both rites would underscore the common focus even more.

Again, the existing similarities between Eastern and Western Rite Orthodoxy should be a rejoinder, both to those say there is no common ground between Eastern and Western Rites at all (and therefore WR is not truly Orthodox) and to those who seize upon every Byzantine-sounding expression they can find in any local missal, no matter how idiosyncratic, and present it as "our lost Western heritage" (to synthesize as Byzantized a "Western" usage as is humanly possible). The Church knew what She was doing when She approved and compiled our existing Western Rite. Let us join together in proclaiming Christ and Him crucified, before Whom every knee shall bow.

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