Saturday, August 30, 2008


As a completely off-topic aside, please, in discussing historical events that occurred more than 2008.75 years ago, let's maintain the term "B.C.," not "B.C.E." B.C. means "Before Christ"; in recent times, this has been changed to "B.C.E.," meaning "Before the Common Era." But what do we hold "in common" with those who deny Christ's Birth? What exactly did the Incarnation of Christ establish in "common" with non-believers, except the possibility that we would all become believers? Somehow, I don't think that's what the term's popularizers meant. The requisite division driven into humanity by the great mystery of the Second Person of the Godhead taking Flesh, though lamentable, should not surprise us. It was Christ Who said:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. (St. Matthew 10:34-36).
But B.C. is not PC; the PC is BCE. So, throw out the PC "BCE" and go with B.C.

BJ, over-and-out.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Unearthing Orthodox Scotland

Archeologists are analyzing a dig of Portmahomack, a pre-Schism monastery in Scotland possibly founded by St. Columba. The British media has reported a number of their surprised findings, including the realization that the Picts were not exactly vicious savages:

A study of one the most important archaeological discoveries in Scotland for 30 years, a Pictish monastery at Portmahomack on the Tarbat peninsula in Easter Ross, has found that they were capable of great art, learning and the use of complex architectural principles.

The monastery – an enclosure centred on a church thought to have housed about 150 monks and workers – was similar to St Columba's religious centre at Iona and there is evidence they would have made gospel books similar to the Book of Kells and religious artefacts such as chalices to supply numerous "daughter monasteries".

And, in a discovery described as "astonishing, mind-blowing" by architectural historians, it appears that the people who built the monastery did so using the proportions of "the Golden Section", or "Divine Proportion" as it became known during the Renaissance hundreds of years later. This ratio of dimensions, 1.618 to one, appears in nature, such as in the spiral of seashells, and the faces of people considered beautiful, such as Marilyn Monroe. It can be seen in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the Alhambra palace of Granada in Spain, the Acropolis in Athens and the Egyptian Pyramids, but was thought to have been too advanced for the Picts.

Martin Carver, Archeology professor at York University, adds, "They were the most extraordinary artists....Even the Anglo-Saxons didn't do stone-carving as well as the Picts did...The most important piece had a Latin inscription. That's as common as muck in the Mediterranean, but extremely rare in Scotland."

The story continues:
The monastery at Portmahomack suffered a major fire in the ninth century and several stone sculptures were smashed, suggesting it was sacked by an invading force, likely to be Vikings intent on expanding their territories in northern Scotland. The site continued to be occupied but at this point evidence of a monastic settlement disappears.
So, sculptures were an Orthodox part of the Pictish Church and the pagan Viking iconoclasts did the work of Satan by smashing them.

Carver adds, "Portmahomack got burnt down pretty definitively round about 820. The idea is they were under new masters. It could be the Norse or the Men of Moray, MacBeth and his family. I think Portmahomack was captured by the Men of Moray. The Norse wanted it badly but they didn't get it. There is no Norse material there. There was no more vellum-making and sculpture and it stopped being a monastery. In the ninth to 11th centuries, they are making metal work, but that's the real Dark Age."

Portmahomack: Monastery of the Picts is published by Edinburgh University Press.

A highly interesting report.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pelosi's Patristics

Raise Your Hand if You're a Bad Catholic

(And before I get hate mail, Hitler was a nominal member of the Roman Catholic Church to his death, although he was a practicing pagan and Occultist.)

Forgive the "political" post, but a politician stepped into our territory. Our fearless Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, claimed on Meet the Press that Christianity has no clear teaching on when life begins, and hence on abortion, and St. Augustine denied life began until the end of the first trimester. Tom Brokaw asked her what she would tell Barack Obama if he asked her when human life has its genesis:
I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator--St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose...over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy.
She went on to say Christianity has believed life began at conception for "like maybe 50 years or something like that." You can see the disgusting display here.

If she has studied this issue "for a long time," she would have known the Church Fathers had an unbroken teaching on this subject for 2,000 years. Yes, it is true that St. Augustine of Hippo made a distinction between a child before its "quickening" (the time it began to move) and afterwards; so, too, did Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas, who is always cited in these arguments. However, none believed abortion before that time was blameless (!). More importantly, there was a long tradition in the Church that corrected these unrepresentative views, going back to the earliest days of Christianity:

The Didache

"The second commandment of the teaching: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child" (Didache 2:1–2 [A.D. 70]).

The Letter of Barnabas

"The way of light, then, is as follows. If anyone desires to travel to the appointed place, he must be zealous in his works. The knowledge, therefore, which is given to us for the purpose of walking in this way, is the following...Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born" (Letter of Barnabas 19 [A.D. 74]).

The Apocalypse of Peter

"And near that place I saw another strait place...and there sat women...And over against them many children who were born to them out of due time sat crying. And there came forth from them rays of fire and smote the women in the eyes. And these were the accursed who conceived and caused abortion" (The Apocalypse of Peter 25 [A.D. 137]).


"What man of sound mind, therefore, will affirm, while such is our character, that we are murderers?...[W]hen we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it" (A Plea for the Christians 35 [A.D. 177]).


"In our case, a murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from the other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed" (Apology 9:8 [A.D. 197]).

"Among surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs [of the child] within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery.

"There is also [another instrument in the shape of] a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: They give it, from its infanticide function, the name of embruosphaktes, [meaning] "the slayer of the infant," which of course was alive...

"[The doctors who performed abortions] all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and [they] pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive" (The Soul 25 [A.D. 210]).

"Now we allow that life begins with conception because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does" (ibid., 27).

"The law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause abortion [Ex. 21:22–24]" (ibid., 37).

Minucius Felix

"There are some [pagan] women who, by drinking medical preparations, extinguish the source of the future man in their very bowels and thus commit a parricide before they bring forth. And these things assuredly come down from the teaching of your [false] gods...To us [Christians] it is not lawful either to see or hear of homicide" (Octavius 30 [A.D. 226]).


"Women who were reputed to be believers began to take drugs to render themselves sterile, and to bind themselves tightly so as to expel what was being conceived, since they would not, on account of relatives and excess wealth, want to have a child by a slave or by any insignificant person. See, then, into what great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by teaching adultery and murder at the same time!" (Refutation of All Heresies [A.D. 228]).

Council of Ancyra

"Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them until the hour of death, and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, being desirous to use somewhat greater lenity, we have ordained that they fulfill ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees" (canon 21 [A.D. 314]).

Basil the Great

"Let her that procures abortion undergo ten years’ penance, whether the embryo were perfectly formed, or not" (First Canonical Letter, canon 2 [A.D. 374]).

"He that kills another with a sword, or hurls an axe at his own wife and kills her, is guilty of willful murder; not he who throws a stone at a dog, and unintentionally kills a man, or who corrects one with a rod, or scourge, in order to reform him, or who kills a man in his own defense, when he only designed to hurt him. But the man, or woman, is a murderer that gives a philtrum, if the man that takes it dies upon it; so are they who take medicines to procure abortion; and so are they who kill on the highway, and rapparees" (ibid., canon 8).

John Chrysostom

"Wherefore I beseech you, flee fornication...Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit?—where there are many efforts at abortion?—where there is murder before the birth? For even the harlot you do not let continue a mere harlot, but make her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to prostitution, prostitution to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevents its being born. Why then do thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with his laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter? For with a view to drawing more money by being agreeable and an object of longing to her lovers, even this she is not backward to do, so heaping upon thy head a great pile of fire. For even if the daring deed be hers, yet the causing of it is thine" (Homilies on Romans 24 [A.D. 391]).


"I cannot bring myself to speak of the many virgins who daily fall and are lost to the bosom of the Church, their mother...Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when, as often happens, they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder" (Letters 22:13 [A.D. 396]).

The Apostolic Constitutions

"Thou shalt not use magic. Thou shalt not use witchcraft; for he says, ‘You shall not suffer a witch to live’ [Ex. 22:18]. Thou shall not slay thy child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is begotten...[I]f it be slain, [it] shall be avenged, as being unjustly destroyed" (Apostolic Constitutions 7:3 [A.D. 400]).
We could add the testimony of St. Gregory of Nyssa, who denied the "quickening" theory: "There is no question about that which is bred in the uterus, both growing, and moving from place to place. It remains, therefore, that we must think that the point of commencement of existence is one and the same for body and soul." (On the Soul and the Resurrection [A.D. 379-80].) This last passage goes on quite a long while.

If Aristibule reads this, maybe he can add more specificity, but I know the Irish penitentials penanced the sin of abortion many, many times. If I remember right, at least one canon prescribed 12 years bread-and-water as a result of an abortion, though others varied merely 1-3 years.

The Church has consistently taught life begins at the moment of conception, and abortion is murder. That's why the question of abortion is not really a political issue at all but one of Orthodox doctrine and morality. One Nancy Pelosi failed miserably. I am not convinced she actually believes this assessment, much less that her screwed up theology has anything to do with her position on abortion. But she is complicit in the murder of millions, and has unconscionably used the saints of the Church for cover. The Catholic Epistle of St. James promises a heavy punishment will be forthcoming in eternity.

As I wrote earlier, this is one of the reasons we don't rely on merely one Church Father for an opinion but rely on the whole mind of the Church. In individual writings (including St. Gregory of Nyssa), mistakes sometimes occur. And sometimes, as in this case, those mistakes give people a convenient cover to believe and act as they wanted to all along.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mystery Worshipper: Oratory of Our Lady of Glastonbury/Christminster Monastery

For those who can't be at a Western Orthodox church this morning, here is a visitor's account of worshiping at the Oratory of Our Lady of Glastonbury on Holy Saturday. The oratory is the chapel of Christ the Savior Monastery ("Christminster") a Benedictine monastery under the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and headed by Dom James M. Deschene. It is located in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Oratory of Our Lady of Glastonbury, at Christ the Savior Monastery, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Mystery Worshipper: LQ.
The church: Oratory of Our Lady of Glastonbury, at Christ the Savior Monastery, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Denomination: Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.
The building: The monastery, of which the oratory is the monastic chapel, is also known as Christminster. It is a single plain brick building on a residential lot. It is extremely small, and there are no grounds around it to speak of. There are separate entrances for the oratory and the monastic residence itself. The left entrance leads into the bookroom and the chapel. The chapel is small, and looks like it could seat about 30 people in the pews. It features a small, traditionally-appointed chancel with an eastward facing altar and an ambo. The bookroom features publications of the Lancelot Andrewes Press, the publishing arm of the Fellowship of Saint Dunstan, a non-profit organisation for the advancement of historic Christian orthodoxy.
The church: The Oratory is a Benedictine Western Rite Orthodox chapel. The monastic community consists of two professed brothers and is primarily contemplative, but has an oblate programme for Orthodox Christians called to participate in the monastic life in a Western Rite context, but not called to religious profession as such. On the day of my visit, the small congregation appeared to be made up entirely of converts from Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism.
The neighbourhood: The monastery sits on Cannon Street East, a long, rather seedy thoroughfare comprised mainly of car dealerships, service stations, and sad-looking duplexes. I walked from number one to number 390 (the monastery) without passing a single Tim Hortons coffee franchise – surely this is wilderness according to the Canadian definition.
The cast: The Rt Revd Dom James M. Deschene, Abbot, was the celebrant.
The date & time: Saturday, 26 April 2008, 7.30pm.

What was the name of the service?
The Great Vigil and First Mass of Easter, with the Office of Lauds and the Sacrament of Confirmation.

How full was the building?
There were nine of us in the intimate nave. I had a pew to myself.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Everyone welcomed me personally, including a young married couple who were being received into the Orthodox Church that night.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was possibly the best pew I’ve ever experienced. However, there were great stretches where it was not used, which tested the strength of my legs.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was very friendly and there was a real sense of fellowship. We waited in the bookroom while Dom James finished hearing confessions. Everyone present took time to introduce themselves to me, solicit (kindly) information about me, and in a couple of cases, tell the stories of their journey to Orthodoxy. I made it clear that I was Anglican, not Orthodox, yet was not made to feel the liberal Anglican bogeyman. Then Dom James came in and I introduced myself to him. It turns out that we have a mutual friend! Dom James invited me, and everyone else, to read one or two lessons since the twelve Old Testament prophecies outnumbered the congregation. I inquired about receiving communion and was told that I was welcome to receive a blessing.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Let us pray."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A homemade leaflet entitled "Holy Saturday" contained almost everything I needed to know. At a couple of points, I needed to refer to the Orthodox Missal, which contains the Western Rite liturgy, of which there were copies in the pews.

What musical instruments were played?
None at all. The plainsong of the service and the two hymns were hauntingly sung
a cappella.

Did anything distract you?
The lectern from which the prophecies were read was at the rear of the chapel, and it was tempting to turn my head to hear the source of the voices (that is, when I wasn’t reading myself). There was a spate of sirens at one point which could very clearly be heard from outside. I made a mental note to take a cab back to the bus terminal that night.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Christminster’s website explains that their liturgy is similar to what one would have found in a Roman Catholic or Anglo-Catholic parish before the Second Vatican Council. That about sums it up. It was not a "spiky" experience, given the intimacy of the occasion, but it was certainly formal and reverent. The service began in the bookroom with the blessing of the new fire, and continued with a procession into the chapel, followed by the longest version of the Exsultet I have ever heard. The prophecies were read, the litany of the saints sung, and the sacrament of confirmation administered. We renewed our baptismal vows, were sprinkled, and then sang a psalm before the mass proper began. Parts of the liturgy were sung that I have never heard sung before: the prayer known as the Secret that precedes the eucharistic prayer; the "Lord, I am not worthy" prayer before communion; and so on. There was the occasional use of Latin, including a congregational Regina Caeli to plainsong. The service ended with lauds, which consisted of a single psalm with antiphon and the Benedictus.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
5 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Dom James spoke with a very comforting tone.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He welcomed the confirmands and assured us that our sins had been defeated by Christ.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The joy and trust of the two people being confirmed into the Orthodox faith.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The saddest manifestation of our Christian faith is the fact that we cannot all join as one around the altar of the Lord. I long for the day when that will be possible, as I imagine all Christians do. Meanwhile, I must say that my irregular status was handled with acute pastoral panache.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not a chance. We all began to "lighten it up" after the Lauds had concluded, but were reminded that the house custom was to "take it outside." And so we retired back to the bookroom for further conversation and the repast.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was a very respectable-looking spread of fruits, cheeses, cakes and cookies – but nothing to drink! As I was ready to leave, a discussion about whether to make coffee or tea was, erm, brewing. I thanked everyone and called my cab. I would have liked to stay and bask in the afterglow, but the liturgy had gone on for over three hours and I had to catch the last bus home or risk being stranded in a strange city. I handed a monk an envelope containing a donation and my Mystery Worship calling card, and promised to return. Settled in the back seat of my cab, I made a mental note to purchase a copy of Ritual Notes for myself.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – While I wouldn’t seek membership in the congregation, I would gladly attend vespers and benediction there every Sunday if I lived in Hamilton.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Ecstatic – and even, dare I say, a little envious of Orthodox Christians.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The solemnity and joy with which a gathering of two or three can proclaim the Lord’s death and resurrection until he comes.
All-in-all, this looks like a very positive impression. Nothing could be done about the only real complaint, that he could not receive the Eucharist, and this person yet left "ecstatic" with the sober joy of the Latin tradition. He did not immediately seek to join the Orthodox Church...but not all instantly do. This is a wonderful report about the leadership, and laity, of Our Lady of Glastonbury Oratory. Deo gratias et soli Deo gloria. Thanks to a Canadian reader for sending this our way!

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