Saturday, September 30, 2006

What is the secular term for Simony?

I did not think it was possible. But my disgust level has just reached new heights.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 — To move up the ladder in Congress, you must do more than win votes. You are, quite literally, expected to pay your dues.

If you are a rank-and-file member of the House, the amount is up to $100,000. If your ambitions are to preside over a powerful committee, the duty is $300,000. For a top party leader, the tally can climb beyond $600,000.

Make those checks payable to the Republican or Democratic Congressional campaign committees.
Read the rest here.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The end of Pontiifications... an alternative point of view

Owen, over at The Ochlophobist has posted his own obituary for Al Kimel's Pontifications which is closing down the comments section after many lively discussions and debates. Without going into detail, suffice to say that it appears not everyone is shedding tears at this event. You may read it here.

I am NOT... I repeat NOT... making this up

The world chess championship came to a halt today when a player who had been locked out of his private bathroom after insinuations that he was cheating refused to play and forfeited the fifth game of the match.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

THE TRUTH OF ORTHODOXY

-Nicholas A. Berdyaev

The Christian world doesn't know Orthodoxy too well. It only knows the external and for the most part, the negative features of the Orthodox Church and not the inner spiritual treasure. Orthodoxy was locked inside itself, it did not have the spirit of proselytism and did not reveal itself to the world. For the longest time, Orthodoxy did not have such world-wide significance as did Catholicism and Protestantism. It remained apart form passionate religious battles for hundreds of years, for centuries it lived under the protection of large empires (Byzantium and Russia), and preserved its eternal truth from the destructive processes of world history. It is characteristic of Orthodoxy's religious nature that it was not sufficiently actualized nor exposed externally, it was not militant, and precisely because of this the heavenly truth of Christian revelation was not distorted so much. Orthodoxy is that form of Christianity which suffered the least distortion in its substance as a result of human history. The Orthodox Church had its moments of historical sin, for the most part in connection with its external dependence on the State, but the Church's teaching, her inner spiritual path was not subject to distortion. The Orthodox Church is primarily the Church of tradition, in contrast to the Catholic Church, which is the Church of authority, and to the Protestant Churches which are essentially churches of individual faith. The Orthodox Church was never subject to a single externally authoritarian organization and it unshakenly was held together by the strength of internal tradition and not by any external authority. Out of all forms of Christianity it is the Orthodox Church which remained more closely tied to early Christianity. The strength of internal tradition in the Church is the strength of spiritual experience and the continuity of the spiritual path, the power of superpersonal spiritual life in which every generation shakes off a consciousness of self-satisfaction and exclusiveness and is united with the spiritual life of all preceding generations up to the Apostles. In that tradition I have the same experience and the same authority as the Apostle Paul, the martyrs, the saints and the whole Christian world. In tradition my knowledge is not only personal but superpersonal and I live not in isolation but within the Body of Christ, within a single spiritual organism with all my brothers in Christ.

Orthodoxy is first of all, an orthodoxy of life and not an orthodoxy of indoctrination. For it, heretics are not so much those who confess a false doctrine but those who have a false spiritual life and go along a false spiritual path. Orthodoxy is before all else, not a doctrine, not an external organization, not an external norm of behavior but a spiritual life, a spiritual experience and a spiritual path. It sees the substance of Christianity in internal spiritual activity. Orthodoxy is less the normative form of Christianity (in the sense of a normative-rational logic and moral law) but is rather its more spiritual form. And this spirituality and hiddenness of Orthodoxy were not infrequently the sources of its external weakness. The external weakness and the insufficient development, the insufficiency of external activity and realization affects everyone, but her spiritual life, her spiritual treasures remained hidden and invisible. This is characteristic for the spiritual nature of the East, in contrast to the spiritual world of the West, which is always active and always visible but then, it not infrequently spiritually exhausts itself because of all that activity. In the non-Christian world of the East, India's spiritual life is especially hidden from outside eyes and is not actualized in history. This analogy could be carried through, although the spiritual nature of the Christian East is far different from the spiritual nature of India. Holiness in the Orthodox world, in contrast to holiness in the Catholic world, did not leave written monuments after itself, it remained hidden. But this is not yet the reason why it is difficult to judge Orthodox spiritual life from the outside. Orthodoxy did not have its Scholastic age, it experienced only the age of Patristics. And the Orthodox Church to this day relies on the Eastern teachers of the Church. The West sees this as a sign of Orthodoxy's backwardness, a dying out of creative life. But this fact can be given another interpretation: in Orthodoxy, Christianity has not been so rationalized as it had been rationalized in the West, in Catholicism where, with the help of Aristotle it saw everything through the eyes of Greek intellectualism. [In Orthodoxy] doctrine has never attained such a sacred significance and dogmas have not been so attached to mandatory intellectual theological teachings but they were understood primarily as mystical truths. We were less confined by the theological and philosophical interpretations of dogmas. Nineteenth century Russia experienced a genesis of creative Orthodox ideas [thinking] and these expressed more freedom and spiritual talent than did Catholic and even Protestant thought.

To the spiritual nature of Orthodoxy belongs the primordial and inviolable ontologism which first presented itself as the manifestation of Orthodox life and only then, of Orthodox thought. The Christian West went by ways of critical thought in which the subject was opposed to the object, and thus the organic whole of thinking and the organic connection with life was violated. The West is more capable of a complex unfolding of its thinking, its reflection and criticism, its precise intellectualism. But here was a violation of the connection between the one who knows and thinks and the primordial and original existence. Cognition came out of life and thinking, came out of existence. Cognition and thinking did not pass through the spiritual wholeness of the person, in the organic unity of all his strengths. The West accomplished great feats on this foundation but this resulted in the falling apart of the primordial ontologism of thinking, the thinking did not enter into the depth of substance. This resulted in Scholastic intellectualism, rationalism, empiricism and the extreme idealism of Western thought. On the Orthodox ground, thinking remained ontological, joined to existence, and this is evident throughout the whole of Russian religio-philosophic and theological thought of the XIX and XX centuries. Rationalism, legalism and all normatism is alien to Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church is not defined in rational concepts, it is conceptualized only for those living within it, who are united to its spiritual experience.. The mystical types of Christianity are not subject to any kind of intellectual definitions, they do not have any juridical signs nor do they have rational signs. Genuine Orthodox theologizing is theologizing on the basis of spiritual experience. Orthodoxy almost completely lacks Scholastic manuals. Orthodoxy understands itself through Trinitarian religion; not with abstract monotheism but in concrete Trinitarianism. The life of the Holy Trinity is reflected in its spiritual life, its spiritual experience and its spiritual path. The Orthodox Liturgy begins with the words: "Blessed is the Kingdom, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Everything begins from above, from the Divine Triad, from the heights of the Essence, and not from the person and his soul. In Orthodox understanding it is the Divine Triad which descends and not the person who ascends. There is less of thisTrinitarian expression in Western Christianity, it is more Christocentric and anthropocentric. This difference is noted in Eastern and Western patristics where the first theologizes from the Divine Trinity and the second, from the human soul. Thus the East first of all proclaims the mysteries of Trinitarian dogmas and Christological dogmas. The West primarily teaches about Grace and free will and about the ecclesiastical organization. The West had greater wealth and a greater variety of ideas.

Orthodoxy - Faithfulness to the Holy Tradition

Orthodoxy is that Christianity wherein is a greater revelation of the Holy Spirit. Thus the Orthodox Church did not adopt the Filioque, which is seen as a subordination in the teaching about the Holy Spirit. The nature of the Holy Spirit is revealed not so much by dogmas and doctrines but by its action. The Holy Spirit is closer to us, it is more immanent in the world. The Holy Spirit acts directly upon the created world and transfigures creation. This teaching is revealed by the greatest of Russian saints, Seraphim of Sarov. Orthodoxy is not only Trinitarian in essence but it sees as the task of its earthly life, the transfiguration of the world in the image of the Trinity and have it become pneumatic [Grk. Spiritual] in essence.

I am speaking about the depths of mysteries in Orthodoxy and not of superficial trends in it. Pneumatologic [Grk. Spiritual] theology, the anticipation of a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the world arises easier on Orthodox soil. This is the remarkable particularity of Orthodoxy: on the one hand it is more conservative and traditional than Catholicism and Protestantism but, on the other hand, within the depth of Orthodoxy there is always a great expectation of a new religious manifestation in the world, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the coming of the New Jerusalem. Orthodoxy did not develop in history for nearly the whole millennium; evolution is a stranger to it but within it the possibility of religious creativity was concealed, which is held in reserve for a new, not yet achieved, historical epoch. This became evident in Russian religious trends of the XIX and XX centuries. Orthodoxy makes a more radical division between the Divine and the natural world, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar and does not accept those possible analogies which are frequently evident in Catholic theology. The Divine Energies act covertly in man and in the world. One cannot say about the created world that it is a god or is divine, nor can one say that it is outside the Divine. God and Divine life do not resemble the natural world or the natural life, one cannot make analogies here. God is eternal; natural life is limited and finite. But, Divine Energy is poured out upon the natural world, acts upon it and enlightens it. This is the Orthodox understanding of the Holy Spirit. Thomas Aquinas' teaching about the natural world, positing it in opposition to the supernatural world is, for the Orthodox, a form of secularizing the world. Orthodoxy is in principle pneumatological [Grk. Of the spirit] and in this is its distinction. Pneumatism is the final result of Trinitarianism. Grace is not the mediation between the supernatural and the natural; grace is the action of the Divine Energy on the created world, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the world. It is the Pneumatism of Orthodoxy which makes of it a more complete form of Christianity, revealing in it the predominance of New Testamental origins following those of the Old Testament. At its apex, Orthodoxy understands the purpose of life as the seeking and the attainment of the grace of the Holy Spirit, as a means of the spiritual transfiguration of creation. This understanding is essentially opposite of the legalistic understanding in which the Divine world and the supernatural world is the law and the norm for the created and natural world.

Liturgy is the center of Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy is primarily liturgical. It informs and enlightens the people not so much by sermons and the teaching of norms and laws but by liturgical services themselves which give a foreshadowing of transfigured life. It likewise teaches the people through the examples of saints and instills the cult of holiness. But the images of saints are not normative; to them is granted the graceful enlightenment and transfiguration of creation by the action of the Holy Spirit. This, not being the normative type for Orthodoxy, makes it more difficult for the ways of human life, for history; it makes it less attractive for any kind of organization and for cultural creativity. The hidden mystery of the Holy Spirit's activity upon creation has not been actually realized by the ways of historical life. Characteristic for Orthodoxy is FREEDOM. This internal freedom may not be noticed from the outside but it is everywhere present. The idea of freedom as the foundation of Orthodoxy was developed in Russian religious thinking of the XIX and XX centuries. The admission of the freedom of conscience radically distinguishes the Orthodox Church from the Catholic Church. But the understanding of freedom in Orthodoxy is different from the understanding of freedom in Protestantism. In Protestantism, as in all Western thought, freedom is understood individualistically, as a personal right, preserved from encroachment on the part of any other person, and declaring it to be autonomous. Individualism is foreign to Orthodoxy, to it belongs a particular collectivism. A religious person and a religious collective are not incompatible with each other, as external friend to friend. The religious person is found within the religious collective and the religious collective is found within the religious person. Thus the religious collective does not become an external authority for the religious person, burdening the person externally with teaching and the law of life. The Church is not outside of religious persons, opposed to her. The Church is within them and they are within her. Thus the Church is not an authority. The Church is a grace-filled unity of love and freedom. Authoritativeness is incompatible with Orthodoxy because this form engenders a fracture between the religious collective and the religious person, between the Church and her members. There is no spiritual life without the freedom of conscience, there is not even a concept of the Church, since the Church does not tolerate slaves within her, but God wants only the free. But the authentic freedom of religious conscience, freedom of the spirit, is made evident not in an isolated autonomous personality, self-asserted in individualism but in a personality conscious of being in a superpersonal spiritual unity, in a unity with a spiritual organism, within the Body of Christ, i.e. the Church. My personal conscience is not placed outside and is not placed in opposition to the superpersonal conscience of the Church, it is revealed only within the Church's conscience. But, without an active spiritual deepening of my personal conscience, of my personal spiritual freedom, the life of the Church is not realized, since this life cannot be external to, nor be imposed upon, the person. Participation in the Church demands spiritual freedom, not only from the first entry into the Church, which Catholicism also recognizes, but throughout one's whole life. The Church's freedom with respect to the State was always precarious, but Orthodoxy always enjoyed freedom within the Church. In Orthodoxy freedom is organically linked with Sobornost', i.e. with the activity of the Holy Spirit upon the religious collective which has been with the Church not only during the times of the Ecumenical Councils, but at all times. Sobornost' in Orthodoxy, which is the life of the Church's people, never had any external juridical signs. Not even the Ecumenical Councils enjoyed indisputable external authority. The infallibility of authority was enjoyed only by the whole Church throughout her whole history, and the bearers and custodians of this authority were the whole people of the Church. The Ecumenical Councils enjoyed their authority not because they conformed with external juridical legal requirements but because the people of the Church, the whole Church recognized them as Ecumenical and genuine. Only that Ecumenical Council is genuine in which there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit; the outpouring of the Holy Spirit has no external juridical criteria, it is discerned by the people of the Church in accordance with internal spiritual evidence. All this indicates a nonnormative nonjuridical character of the Orthodox Church. Along with this the Orthodox consciousness understands the Church more ontologically, i.e. it doesn't see the Church primarily as an organization and an establishment, not just a society of faithful, but as a spiritual, religious organism, the Mystical Body of Christ. Orthodoxy is more cosmic than Western Christianity. Neither Catholicism nor Protestantism sufficiently expresses the cosmic nature of the Church, as the Body of Christ. Western Christianity is primarily anthropological. But the Church is also the Christianized cosmos; within her, the whole created world is subject to the effect of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Christ's appearance has a cosmic, cosmogonic significance; it signifies somehow a new creation, a new day of the world's creation. The juridical understanding of redemption as a carrying out of a judicial process between God and man, is somewhat foreign to Orthodoxy. It is closer to an ontological and a cosmic understanding of the appearance of a new creation and a renewed mankind. The idea of Theosis was the central and correct idea, the Deification of man and of the whole created world. Salvation is that Deification. And the whole created world, the whole cosmos is subject to Deification. Salvation is the enlightenment and transfiguration of creation and not a juridical justification. Orthodoxy turns to the mystery of the RESURRECTION as the summit and the final aim of Christianity Thus the central feast in the life of the Orthodox Church is the feast of Pascha, Christ's Glorious Resurrection. The shining rays of the Resurrection permeates the Orthodox world. The feast of the Resurrection has an immeasurably greater significance in the Orthodox liturgy than in Catholicism where the apex is the feast of the Birth of Christ. In Catholicism we primarily meet the crucified Christ and in Orthodoxy - the Resurrected Christ. The way of the Cross is man's path but it leads man, along with the rest of the world, towards the Resurrection. The mystery of the Crucifixion may be hidden behind the mystery of the Resurrection. But the mystery of the Resurrection is the utmost mystery of Orthodoxy. The Resurrection mystery is not only for man, it is cosmic. The East is always more cosmic than the West. The West is anthropocentric; in this is its strength and meaning, but also its limitation. The spiritual basis of Orthodoxy engenders a desire for universal salvation. Salvation is understood not only as an individual one but a collective one, along with the whole world. Such words of Thomas Aquinas could not have emanated from Orthodoxy's bosom, who said that the righteous person in paradise will delight himself with the suffering of sinners in hell. Nor could Orthodoxy proclaim the teaching about predestination, not only in the extreme Calvinist form but in the form imagined by the Blessed Augustine. The greater part of Eastern teachers of the Church, from Clement of Alexandria to Maximus the Confessor, were supporters of Apokatastasis, of universal salvation and resurrection. And this is characteristic of (contemporary) Russian religious thought. Orthodox thought has never been suppressed by the idea of Divine justice and it never forgot the idea of Divine love. Chiefly - it did not define man from the point of view of Divine justice but from the idea of transfiguration and Deification of man and cosmos.

The mystery of Death and Resurrection

Finally, the final and most important feature of Orthodoxy is its eschatological consciousness. The early Christian eschatology, the anticipation of Christ's second appearance and the coming of the Resurrection, was to a greater extent, preserved in Orthodoxy. Orthodox eschatology means a lesser attachment to the world and earthly life and a greater turning towards heaven and eternity, i.e. to the Kingdom of God. In Western Christianity, the actualization of Christianity in the paths of history, the turning towards earthly efficiency and earthly organization resulted in the obscuring of the eschatological mystery, the mystery of Christ's second coming. In Orthodoxy, primarily as a result of its lesser historical activity, the great eschatological anticipation was preserved. The apocalyptic side of Christianity had less of an expression in the Western forms of Christianity. In the East, in Orthodoxy, especially in Russian Orthodoxy, there were apocalyptic tendencies, the anticipation of new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Orthodoxy, being a more traditional, a more conservative form of Christianity, while preserving the ancient truths, allowed for the possibility of a greater religious innovation, not innovations of human thought which is so prominent in the West, but innovations of the religious transfiguration of life.The primacy of the fulness of life over the differentialized culture was always especially characteristic for Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy did not see such a great culture which arose on the grounds of Catholicism and Protestantism. Perhaps this is so because Orthodoxy is turned towards the Kingdom of God which will come not as a consequence of historical evolution, but as a result of the mystical transfiguration of the world. It is not evolution but transfiguration which is characteristic for Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy cannot be known through surviving theological tracts; it is made known through the life of the Church and the Church's people, it is least of all expressed in understanding. But, Orthodoxy must come out from its condition of being shut up and isolated, it must actualize its hidden spiritual treasures. Only then will it attain worldwide meaning. The recognition of Orthodoxy's exclusive spiritual significance as a more pure form of Christianity must not engender self-satisfaction within it and lead to a rejection of the meaning of Western Christianity. On the contrary, we must aquaint ourselves with Western Christianity and learn many things from it. We must strive towards Christian unity. Orthodoxy is a good basis for Christian unity. But Orthodoxy suffered less from secularization and thus can contribute an immeasurable amount towards the Christianization of the world. The Christianization of the world must not mean a secularization of Christianity. Christianity can not be isolated from the world and it continues to move within it, without separation, and while remaining in the world it must be the conqueror of the world and not be conquered by it.

(In " Vestnik of the Russian West European Patriarchal Exarchate "- Paris 1952)

An Appeal to the Pontificator

Fr Al,
It is with pain that I read your announced planned changes to Pontifications. This web site is a truly special place on the internet where serious discussion about serious, and yes even controversial topics has been the norm and not the exception. It is a place where one can go and expect enlightenment from even those with whom one may passionately disagree. It is a place of spiritual and intellectual stimulation and yes, even occasionally entertainment. Never can I remember anyone behaving in an ungentlemanly manner, even when debating points that in another age might have ended in a duel or some other unfortunate event.

While I empathize with the time involved in running a blog, I prayerfully implore you to reconsider your decision. I believe that we are all called to do something important in life. Many of us are never blessed to know with certainty what that something is. In your case there is no doubt. This is at least one of the things you were put here to do. This is a part of your vocation. And it is no more a distraction from your priesthood than St. Paul’s travels were to his. Rather it as an inseparable part of your priestly vocation.

St Paul spread the Gospel by going from town to town and city to city in the then known world. Today the great commission can be advanced just as effectively in places like Pontifications. Whether or not you understand this, you and all those who have contributed to this truly wonderful oasis of Christian thought are missionaries to the modern world.

In Christ,
John

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I respectfully dissent...

Although I have been making a determined effort not to get too wrapped up in the current controversies within the Anglican Communion, I still find myself checking up on current events now and then. I fear it is rather akin to the morbid fascination that causes drivers to slow down and rubberneck at the scene of a fatal car crash. Last week I was intrigued by the statement issued by the Global South Bishops. After reading the reaction from my usual sources for information on all things Anglican I decided to take a peek at the reaction of the loyal opposition.

Thus I wandered over to Fr. Jake’s web site and read pretty much what I expected to. It was a highly indignant post which characterized the GSBs as attempting to impose their views on everyone else in the Anglican Communion. There were a number of colorful descriptive terms notable among them being “hubris.” The post had only just appeared (there were no comments yet) when I read it. I then did something I don’t do often on liberal / heterodox blogs. I posted a comment.

What I wrote was something very close to the following.

I think the word “hubris” might be more accurately applied to the unilateral overthrow of 2000 yrs of carved in stone Christian doctrine and telling the rest of the AC in effect that they will just have to lump it. I also find it mildly amusing that the left wing now running ECUSA takes such extreme exception to coercion in matters of the faith when they are actively and harshly attempting to coerce the few remaining orthodox (small “o”) Christians still wandering around the ruins.

I regret I am unable to provide the exact words I used. Which brings me to the point of this post. Within at most three minutes of posting my comment it vanished. Apparently Fr. Jake who once styled himself as an “eclectic and sometimes heretical priest,” only has tolerance for certain forms of heresy.

Now there are a lot of different kinds of blogs out there. Some are little more than diaries. Others deal with specific subjects and still others can be more eclectic. Mine is probably a cross between the last two types. It has a focus but I will post on anything that strikes me as interesting. Also many blogs deal with controversial subjects. And of course some blogs allow comments and some do not.

There is absolutely nothing unethical or wrong with not allowing comments, even if you’re posting on a controversial subject. And if you do choose to allow comments your not under any obligation to allow posts that are obviously abusive or off topic. As an example when I first started Ad Orientem I had open comments. After I got some unwelcome spam posts I eventually changed that to require my approving posted comments. Prior to making this change I only deleted comments from a single poster for reasons other than spam. The comments (repeated despite several warnings) were very personal Ad Hominum attacks on another poster by a radical Old Calendarist. It eventually reached the point where I had to ask the offending party not to post on AO in the future. Since I began reviewing posts before allowing them to appear I have only rejected one post. It was a response to one of my recent posts about Pope +Benedict’s speech and Islamic reaction. The post was little more than a rant against organized religion and contained links to two websites which were pagan and intensely hostile to monotheistic religion in general and Christianity in particular. They were full of the sorts of weird theories and historical distortions that would have made Dan Brown blush. Even then I was reluctant to reject the post, although I ultimately did so.

The reason is that (and this is only my opinion), I feel that if you are going to post opinions on controversial subjects, and you choose to allow comments, then its frankly a bit cheesy to only allow concurring opinions. The reader is invited to peruse AO and note that there are contrary opinions here and there. My posts have not gone unchallenged and sometimes the dissenting posts have made good points. While my post on Fr. Jake’s blog was certainly critical, even sharply so, it was no sharper than his own editorial against the communiqué of the GSBs. Of course it’s his blog and he can do with it what he likes. But to allow comments on controversial posts and then delete critical submissions invites ridicule. I would suggest you’re better off just posting your articles and turning off the comments if you don’t want to deal with contrary opinions or debates. To allow only concurring opinions seems to suggest a sort of society for sycophants.

Some of the best blogs on the internet have a lively give and take on hot topics. Just look at Al Kimel’s excellent blog over at Pontifications. The subjects are frequently controversial and the discussion can get pretty spirited. But I don’t ever recall any real lack of civility. Al might choke on this a little bit, but it was some of the posts on his blog from champions of Orthodoxy in debate that helped resolve any lingering doubts I had about my relationship to the Roman Catholic Church which I still hold in high regard, my very profound theological differences notwithstanding.

In closing I would like to note that I have never met Fr. Jake and have no reason to believe he is anything other than a fine and descent man. It’s entirely possible I may have just caught him on a bad night or in the wrong mood. We all have bad moments when we are not well disposed to criticism. I can say with a fair degree of safety that I don’t agree with him on religious matters, but he is as entitled to his opinions as I am to mine. My singling out his blog is not intended as a personal attack. There are unfortunately a lot of blogs and forums out there that seem to do the same thing.

Free Republic (which I have linked in the sidebar) is an excellent source of news and commentary from a conservative view point. But ONLY a conservative view point. And you had better be the right kind of conservative if you plan to jump in over there. I think that weakens Free Republic to its detriment. Just as I think that a lack of critical discussion anywhere on hot topics is injurious to dialogue and comprehension of opposing views. How can you dialogue with someone you won’t let talk? And if you’re unwilling to meet the challenge of dissenting opinions what does that say about the strength of your own position? Just some food for thought.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

ROCOR, The MP and the implications for American Orthodoxy...

For several years, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia [ROCOR] and the Russian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchcate] have been engaged in a dialogue with the goal of reconciliation. This dialogue follows more than 80 years of an estrangement that was born as a consequence of the cruel realities of the Communist revolution in Russia, the Russian Civil War, and the flight of millions of Russian Orthodox people – bishops, clergy, and laity – to the Balkans, Western Europe, North and South America, and Australia. The persecution of religion – and especially of the Orthodox Church of Russia – during the communist decades distorted ecclesial life. The time of persecution also witnessed millions of martyrs giving their lives in faithfulness to Christ.

During the past months, both the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia have affirmed the path towards reconciliation. At the same time, it seems some questions remain unresolved, and require further dialogue and consensus. The estrangement of more than 80 years is not easy to heal. There are voices within the ROCOR that oppose the reconciliation. Others see the reconciliation as a unification within the one house of the Russian Orthodox Church. Yet others regard the reconciliation as the establishment of eucharistic communion between two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church that, though vastly different in size and scale, are in principle equal parts of one whole.

Orthodox Christians can only welcome reconciliation and healing, rejoicing that estrangement and separation can be overcome. In a sense, the reconciliation of the ROCOR and the ROC [MP] represents the end of the Russian Civil War and the healing of the consequences of communist rule in Russia. Thus, the members of the Orthodox Church in America have accompanied the reconciliation process with sympathy and good will. Insofar as the estrangement has been within Russian Orthodoxy, it is clear that the estrangement must be overcome within the context of Russian Orthodoxy.

Nevertheless, there are other dimensions present – indeed quite obvious – in the real situation of ROCOR, ROC [MP], and Orthodoxy in America. While the ROCOR is present in many parts of the world, the core of its population is in North America. The Patriarchate of Moscow committed itself to the building up of Orthodoxy in North America as a self-governing Church by granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America in 1970. What are the ecclesial implications of a ROCOR that is reconciled with the Moscow Patriarchate co-existing in North America with the Orthodox Church in America, which carries within it the vision of an autocephalous and united Orthodox Church in North America, as articulated by the Moscow Patriarchate in the Tomos of Autocephaly?

This question should not be seen in purely theoretical terms, or in terms of purely canonical argumentation and logic. It should be seen also in terms of the real pastoral situation.

The North American dioceses, parishes, and faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia will certainly remain in the United States and Canada. They will not “return” to Russia. Reconciliation with the Moscow Patriarchate will not change this fundamental reality. Thus, the pastoral and missionary challenges of the ROCOR in America will be the same as the challenges faced by the Orthodox Church in America. In other words, the real pastoral and missionary situation is the same for the Orthodox Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (at least in America), and is very different for the Russian Orthodox Church [MP] in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and other independent states of the former Soviet Union.

No one knows how much time will be required for a common understanding and common mission to emerge between the Orthodox Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. One thing is certain: authentic Orthodox life includes a harmony between the pastoral and missionary challenges, on the one hand, and canonical structure, on the other hand. In fact, the terminology of “on the one hand” and “on the other hand” is deeply misleading. The pastoral and missionary task of the Orthodox Church must be at one with the canonical structure. This is why the question of canonical unity of all Orthodox in North America is a burning and urgent issue, even when the Churches and their members succeed in ignoring or marginalizing it.

Is it not the time for the Moscow Patriarchate, the Orthodox Church in America, and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, to affirm together the harmony and coherence of Orthodox canonical principles and Orthodox presence and mission in North America? Will the healing of the “schism” within Russian Orthodoxy be an end in itself? Or will it also lead in due course to the strengthening of the movement towards a united Orthodoxy in North America?

-Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky (OCA)

The above is from the web site of the Orthodox Church in America.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Empress Maria Fyodorovna’s Remains Begin Translation to Russia for Reburial


The interment of Empress Feodorovna in the Peter and Paul Fortress represents Russia's final atonement to its last tsar

WITH royal ceremony and imperial pomp, Denmark will say farewell tomorrow to one of the most tragic figures in its royal history.

Princess Dagmar, who became Empress of Russia and mother of the last tsar, died in exile in her native land 78 years ago. Now, following her last wishes, her remains are to be reinterred in a vault in St Petersburg beside her husband, Tsar Alexander III, who died in 1894. The ceremony in Roskilde Cathedral, 18 miles west of Copenhagen, will be attended by Queen Margarethe II of Denmark and her family, as well as officials from the Danish and Russian Governments and members of the Romanov family.

The remains of the dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna — as she is known in Russia — will then be taken by a Danish warship to St Petersburg where they will lie in state. A service will be held in St Isaac’s Cathedral on Thursday and she will be interred the next day in the vault of the Peter and Paul Fortress, where all the Romanov tsars are buried and where the bones of the murdered Nicholas II and his family were interred in 1998. It will be the culmination of Russia’s atonement to its last tsar.

Read the rest here.

The Official Website of the reburial of the Empress Maria Feodorovna has the schedule of events and additional information..

Friday, September 22, 2006

Some (Final) thoughts on the Papal / Islam controversy

Over the course of the last week or more since Pope +Benedict XVI made his controversial speech in Regensburg Germany the blogosphere has been buzzing with discussion of it. While that commentary has generally been positive, a few blogs from the political and theological left have been critical, as also have the vast majority from the Islamic world. In the latter case some have been reasonable critiques though often demonstrating a poor command of history. Others have been vitriolic and menacing.

We have all watched the results on the evening news as some Muslims have made a point of proving the quoted Byzantine Emperor to be wrong by murdering a nun (among others) and burning down numerous churches. I was surprised (shocked might be the better word) when I saw the pope riding in an open vehicle in St Peter’s Square for his weekly audience on Wednesday. Our presidents stopped doing that in 1963. You would think after the events of May 1981 and given the very real threats made recently that the Pope would be a bit more careful. But I digress.

My point is that the subject has been dissected in so many forums (some good analysis but a lot is just a waste of web space) that I think it’s time to put this topic to bed. I will leave this discussion by linking two good articles posted on the matter that I think are well worth a look.

The first is an essay by Michael Liccione over at his blog Sacramentum Vitae. Those who are regulars over at Al Kimel’s Pontifications will know Michael’s reputation as an erudite philosopher/theologian and an able champion of the Roman Catholic Church’s views in debate. The second is a look from a slightly different perspective by Owen (last name is a mystery to me) over at The Ochlophobist. This is an examination from the point of view of the impact on Orthodox/Catholic relations, and just who +Benedict was speaking to. The main thrust being that Benedict is not a knave and he chose his words very carefully and for specific reasons. I strongly recommend both articles. Barring some significant development or really insightful piece that somehow touches on this in a new way I don’t expect to post on the matter any further.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Sticks and Stones may break my bones...

On . . . June 29, 2006, a court in the Islamic Republic of Iran sentenced Malak Ghorbany, a 34-year-old mother of two, to a brutal death by stoning after finding her guilty of adultery. . . . Two men who were found guilty of murder in the same court were only given jail sentences of six years. . . . The size of the stones used during the execution are required to be . . . not so large that they would kill a woman too quickly, nor so small that they would fail to cause serious injury or pain .

— A letter, unanswered, to George W. Bush from John Whitehead, head of the Rutherford Institute, one of the nation's premier civil liberties organizations. The part about the stones is from Article 104 of the Iranian penal code.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Glimpse of Byzantium

For those of us who can not afford to travel to modern Turkey (or who have no desire to do so) there is a stunningly beautiful recreation of some of the great architectural wonders of the late Roman (Byzantine) Empire. It can be found at Byzantium 1200.

Faith & Reason

A Europe that cannot understand its own religion, except as a form of subjective irrationalism, cannot possibly engage another. A Christianity that voluntarily recuses itself from reason cannot sustain a belief in the goodness of its convictions, to say nothing of its truth. A West that abandons a critical dialogue between faith and rational inquiry ceases to be the West. It becomes, in a peculiar way, guilty of the same errors Benedict accuses Islam of making. This is the pope's teaching, and it requires no apology. Notice that he offers none.

Read the rest here.

Lord Carey on the Pope & Islam

Lord Carey defends pope:
THE former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey of Clifton has issued his own challenge to “violent” Islam in a lecture in which he defends the Pope’s “extraordinarily effective and lucid” speech.

“We are living in dangerous and potentially cataclysmic times,” he said. “There will be no significant material and economic progress [in Muslim communities] until the Muslim mind is allowed to challenge the status quo of Muslim conventions and even their most cherished shibboleths.”

Lord Carey’s address came as the man who shot and wounded the last Pope wrote to Pope Benedict XVI to warn him that he was in danger. Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who tried to murder John Paul II in 1981 and is now in prison in Turkey, urged the Pope not to visit the country in November.

“I write as one who knows about these matters very well,” Agca said. “Your life is in danger. Don’t come to Turkey — absolutely not!”

Since the Pope quoted a Byzantine emperor as saying that the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad were “evil and inhuman”, a nun has been shot dead, a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda has vowed to kill the Pope, churches in Palestinian areas have been attacked and security at churches and mosques in London and elsewhere has been stepped up.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Party!!!

New York is a city that is used to celebrating baseball championships. But that’s usually in the Bronx. Division pennants over there are so routine they usually are observed with a firm handshake and a polite nod. Not so in Queens. Last night the Mets and their fans showed people how to whoop it up. Below are a few shots of the party from Newsday.

Paul Loduca & Billy Wagner after clinching

Jose Reyes takes a champagne shower

A soaked David Wright greets the fans while enjoying a stogy

Jose & David enjoying a drink and cigar

GM Omar Minaya joins the party

Fred Wilpon greets pitching coach Rick Peterson

Paul Loduca thanking the fans

The fans stayed long after the game ended

Monday, September 18, 2006

National League East Champions!!!


The Religion of Peace responds to B16

The Greek Orthodox Church of Tulkarm burned by Islamic gunmen.

Since I originally posted my quote of Pope Benedict's remarks at Regensburg while expressing concern that they might provoke a response from people not known for starting a petition drive when they are aggrieved events have sadly gone from bad to ugly. Many churches have been attacked and vandalized; Christians have also been attacked including a nun who was murdered. Ugly threats coupled with ugly demonstrations seem to be the preferred means to prove that Benedict was wrong to make use of a medieval quote calling Islam violent. The irony of this seems to be lost on many though. The editors of the New York Times recently ran a prominent demand for the Pope to recant. No word was printed about the obvious propensity for violence which exists in at least a significant part of the Islamic world towards Christians and Jews. Where are the hierarchs of the Orthodox Church?
CAIRO, Egypt - Al-Qaida in Iraq warned Pope Benedict XVI on Monday that its war against Christianity and the West will go on until Islam takes over the world, and Iran’s supreme leader called for more protests over the pontiff’s remarks on Islam...

“You infidels and despots, we will continue our jihad (holy war) and never stop until God avails us to chop your necks and raise the fluttering banner of monotheism, when God’s rule is established governing all people and nations,” said the statement by the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of Sunni Arab extremist groups in Iraq...

Another Iraqi extremist group, Ansar al-Sunna, challenged “sleeping Muslims” to prove their manhood by doing something other than “issuing statements or holding demonstrations.

“If the stupid pig is prancing with his blasphemies in his house,” the group said in a Web statement, referring to the pope, “then let him wait for the day coming soon when the armies of the religion of right knock on the walls of Rome.”

Friday, September 15, 2006

Occidentalis is Resurected

It is with great joy that I note (somewhat belatedly) that the excellent blog Occidentalis (by Ben Anderson) has returned from the dead. I have always regarded this as one of the better and more thoughtful Western oriented Orthodox Blogs on the web. I know that I among many others was saddened by his decision in April to retire from blogging. Welcome Back!

B16 vs Islam: The lighter side

"Furthermore, the Pope infuriated Muslims, Jews, and PETA by delivering his entire speech in Pig Latin.
Fr. Joseph (Huneycutt)

Heard that whilst walking to the car in Regensburg after his sermon, he sang: "Yo I'm bu-bu-bu-bu-bad, bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-b-a-a-a-a-a-d to the bone." Then he got in the Benz and was whisked away. Vatican spokesmen on the scene were quick to quip, "...his Holiness was simply singin' with his I-pod. No more questions."
James the Thickheaded

Read the rest in Fr. Joseph's lighthearted take on the current controversy over at Orthodoxi. Also be sure to check out the comments.

Flash Bulletin: Homosexual ex Catholic joins Episopalians!

From the "and this is news because....?" files:

Rocco Palmo over at Whispers from the Loggia notes...
From the somewhat-local beat, if you live in the States, get ready to see Jim McGreevey everywhere you turn. The former governor of New Jersey -- who spun his scandal-induced fall from the nation's most powerful state office by declaring his (twice-married) self a "gay American" -- is prepping for the release of his tell-all memoir, The Confession, next Tuesday; the obligatory come-to-Oprah has already been taped, and word is that he'll also be appearing on Fox News. Expect some questions about his faith journey; in two gubernatorial runs, McGreevey made a lot of hay out of his up-from-the-bootstraps Irish Catholic ethic, being an NCR subscriber, etc. but was recently said to have "embraced" the Episcopal church.
Sigh

The Countdown

1
Tonight the NY Mets will clinch the National League East Division Pennant if either (or both) of the following occur.

1. The Mets win.
2. The Phillies loose.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Reaction Begins

As I noted in an earlier piece, the Pope's comments at Regensburg were likely to provoke a response. That has now begun. The Pope is predictably being condemned in many quarters of the Islamic world with more possibly coming tomorrow when observant Muslims go to Mosque for their prayers. Some have even speculated that this could endanger the pontiff's forthcoming trip to Turkey and his planned meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch. We should all pray first for this man's safety and secondly that he will continue to have the moral courage to give voice to politically incorrect truths. I would also hope that the hierarchs of the Orthodox Church would step up to his defense.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Exaltation of the Holy & Life Giving Cross (Fast Day)




Thursday September 14 is the feast of the Elevation of the Holy and Life Giving Cross. It is one of only two days that are identified by the Church as feasts but are observed by strict fasting.
St John Maximovitch on The Exaltation of the Precious Cross

Before the time of Christ, the cross was an instrument of punishment; it evoked fear and aversion. But after Christ's death on the Cross it became the instrument of our salvation. Through the Cross, Christ destroyed the devil; from the Cross He descended into hades and, having liberated those languishing there, led them into the Kingdom of Heaven. The sign of the Cross is terrifying to demons and, as the sign of Christ, it is honored by Christians.

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

The beginning of this prayer is taken from the twenty-seventh Psalm. In the Old Testament the word "people" designated only those who confessed the true faith, people faithful to God. "Inheritance" referred to everything which properly belonged to God, God's property, which in the New Testament is the Church of Christ. In praying for the salvation of God's people (the Christians), both from eternal torments and from earthly calamities, we beseech the Lord to bless, to send down grace, His good gifts upon the whole Church as well, and inwardly strengthen her.

The petition for granting "victory to kings" (Grant victory to Orthodox Christians over their adversaries) (ie: to the bearers of Supreme authority), has its basis in Psalm 143, verse 10, and recalls the victories of King David achieved by God's power, and likewise the victories granted Emperor Constantine through the Cross of the Lord.

This appearance of the Cross made emperors who had formerly persecuted Christians into defenders of the Church from her external enemies, into "external bishops," to use the expression of the holy Emperor Constantine. The Church, inwardly strong by God's grace and protected outwardly, is, for Orthodox Christians, "the city of God." Heavenly Jerusalem has its beginning. Various calamities have shaken the world, entire peoples have disappeared, cities and states have perished, but the Church, in spite of persecutions and even internal conflicts, stands invincible; for the gates of hell shall not prevail against her (Matt. 16:18).

Today, when world leaders try in vain to establish order on earth, the only dependable instrument of peace is that about which the Church sings:

"The Cross is the guardian of the whole world; the Cross is the beauty of the Church, the Cross is the might of kings; the Cross is the confirmation of the faithful, the Cross is the glory of angels and the wounding of demons." (Exapostilarion of the Exaltation of the Cross)

Whose Church Do I Belong To: My Church or the Orthodox Church of Christ?

Fr. George Morelli

In our day the predominant culture is secularist; a view that holds that religion and the moral precepts drawn from it should have no impact in public life. Secularism is closely tied to post-modernism which eschews the existence of moral universals or even a unifying narrative. Orthodox ethicist H. Tristam Englehardt wrote that postmodernism is "the absence as a matter of fact and in principle of a universal secular moral narrative." Postmodernism has replaced the Western European view of a "monotheistic, monocultural moral vision with strong commitment to faith ... " (Englehardt, 1996).

How is secularism evident in society? One example is the divorce of law from an underlying moral narrative and thus history. Language and concepts (fairness, justice, etc.) that were drawn from the moral tradition to grant civil laws their moral legitimacy are applied in ways that are highly pragmatic and utilitarian in nature.

For example, if abortion, birth control, cloning, sex education, stem cell research and other vexing moral issues produce a pragmatically desirable outcome they should be promoted. No reference to a larger body of moral teaching (and the psychological and spiritual consequences the moral prohibitions seek to avoid) needs to be made.

Read the rest here.

The Greek Orthodox Church, The NCC and Stem Cell Research: Just say NO

Often I refrain from specifically endorsing articles I post or link on here. However in this case I am going to make an exception. I strongly endorse this article and urge everyone to read it.

Greek Orthodox Church Should Say No to NCC Collaboration on Stem Cell Research
Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse

At first glance, the position paper on human biotechnology written by the Archdiocesan Advisory Committee on Science and Technology seems innocent enough. Titled "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: A Policy on Human Biotechnologies," the paper correctly warns against the potential abuse of emerging biological technologies.

The paper, written in collaboration with other members of the National Council of Churches (NCC), was distributed at last months' Clergy Laity Congress in Nashville. Work began three years ago and the completed version will be presented to the NCC at its national conference in November for final approval. The advisory committee is eager to have the Greek Orthodox Church endorse the document.

And there's the rub. Despite awareness of the ethical problems raised by the advances in biotechnological research, the paper says nothing about the moral status of the embryo. At the point where moral clarity is need the most, the paper is silent. It's a critical failure and officials of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese should refuse to sign it.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Quote of the Day

Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.
- Pope +Benedict XVI quoting Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus during his speech of Sept 12 2006 in Regensburg Germany

As we used to say in the navy when approaching bad weather... "Stand by for heavy rolls." I got a feeling this comment is going to provoke a response.

Hieromartyr Autonomus the Bishop in Italy

Hieromartyr Autonomus the Bishop in Italy
12 September

The Hieromartyr Autonomus was a bishop in Italy. During the time of the persecution against Christians under the emperor Diocletian (284-305), St Autonomus left his own country and resettled in Bithynia, in the locality of Soreus with a man named Cornelius. St Autonomus did his apostolic duty with zeal and converted to Christ so many pagans, that a large Church was formed, for which he consecrated a temple in the name of the Archangel Michael. For this church, the saint at first ordained Cornelius as deacon, and then presbyter. Preaching about Christ, St Autonomus visited also Lykaonia and Isauria.

The emperor Diocletian gave orders to arrest St Autonomus, but the saint withdrew to Claudiopolis on the Black Sea. In returning to Soreus, he had the priest Cornelius ordained bishop. St Autonomus then went to Asia, and when he had returned from there, he began to preach in the vicinity of Limna, near Soreus.

Once, the newly-converted destroyed a pagan temple. The pagans decided to take revenge on the Christians. Seizing their chance, the pagans rushed upon the church of the Archangel Michael when St Autonomus was serving Divine Liturgy there. After torturing St Autonomus they killed him, reddening the altar of the church with his martyr's blood. The deaconess Maria removed the body of the holy martyr from beneath a pile of stones and buried it.

During the reign of St Constantine the Great, a church was built over the tomb of the saint. In the year 430, a certain priest had the old church pulled down. Not realizing that the martyr's body had been buried beneath the church, he rebuilt the church in a new spot. But after another 60 years the relics of the saint were found incorrupt, and a church was then built in the name of the Hieromartyr Autonomus.

From the web site of the OCA.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Lest We Forget...

September 11 2001
May Their Memory Be Eternal!

What About….Freemasonery?

Most Americans, as often as they see a dollar bill, are unaware that the strange pyramid on the reverse side is a Masonic symbol and that George Washington, the "father of our country" was a Mason. What is Masonry? Few people could give more than a vague (and not very accurate) answer. It is, in fact, the largest secret society in the world, numbering nearly six million members, among whom are many men prominent in business, politics and the arts.

Until quite recently I had never known a Mason. In the first six years of my pastoral activity in the missions I had never met an Orthodox Christian who was a Mason, or catechized anyone who had ever been one. Evidently Freemasonry has rarely been attractive to the average American convert to Orthodoxy, who sees the Masonic Lodge as a silly collection of "mumbo-jumbo" and "high pooh-bahs." My own acquaintance with it was purely academic. Until this year, when my "book-knowledge" on the subject had cause to take on a definite form. Let me relate.

One day I received a call from an older man of Greek background who wished to join our parish. He made an appointment to come and talk to me. Although I noticed that he wore a distinctive ring, I failed to recognize the emblem until he casually mentioned that he belonged to the "Blue Lodge." When I asked what this was, he said, "It's a local Masonic Lodge." "Demetrios," I replied, "I can't admit you to the Sacraments if you area Freemason." "Why not?" he asked. "Because Masonry is anti-Christian and has been condemned by both the Greek and Russian Churches in this century." "That's funny," he said, "because I know many Orthodox who are my 'lodge brothers,' even a bishop!"

Read the rest here.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Saturday, September 09, 2006

How Britain is turning Christianity into a crime

How long will it be before Christianity becomes illegal in Britain? This is no longer the utterly absurd and offensive question that on first blush it would appear to be.

An evangelical Christian campaigner, Stephen Green was arrested and charged last weekend with using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour.

So what was this behaviour? Merely trying peacefully to hand out leaflets at a gay rally in Cardiff.

So what was printed on those leaflets that was so threatening, abusive or insulting that it attracted the full force of the law?

Why, none other than the majestic words of the 1611 King James Bible.

The problem was that they were those bits of the Bible which forbid homosexuality. The leaflets also urged homosexuals to "turn from your sins and you will be saved".

But to the secular priests of the human rights culture, the only sin is to say that homosexuality is a sin.

Admittedly, Mr Green is not everyone's cup of tea; other Christians regard him as extreme. But our society is now so upside-down that, by doing nothing more than upholding a fundamental tenet of Christianity, he was treated like a criminal.

And yet at the same time, the police are still studiously refusing to act against Islamic zealots abusing British freedom to preach hatred and incitement against the West.

Read the rest here.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Western Saints Icon Project

St. Dunstan Ab. of Canterburry

St. Hubert of Liege (Belgium)

St. Boniface Equal to the Apostles and Enlightener of Germany

The Western Saints Icon Project has an extraordinary number (432!) of icons of western (pre-schism) saints. Icons of most western saints are rare and often impossible to find. Enjoy this site.

Hat tip to Monk Aidan of All Merciful Savior Orthodox Mission (ROCOR)

The Nativity of our Most Holy Lady the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary

The Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary: The Most Holy Virgin Mary was born at a time when people had reached such a degree of moral decay that it seemed altogether impossible to restore them. People often said that God must come into the world to restore faith and not permit the ruin of mankind.

The Son of God chose to take on human nature for the salvation of mankind, and chose as His Mother the All-Pure Virgin Mary, who alone was worthy to give birth to the Source of purity and holiness.

The Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary is celebrated by the Church as a day of universal joy. Within the context of the Old and the New Testaments, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was born on this radiant day, having been chosen before the ages by Divine Providence to bring about the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God. She is revealed as the Mother of the Savior of the World, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Most Holy Virgin Mary was born in the small city of Galilee, Nazareth. Her parents were Righteous Joachim of the tribe of the Prophet-King David, and Anna from the tribe of the First Priest Aaron. The couple was without child, since St Anna was barren.

Having reached old age, Joachim and Anna did not lose hope in God's mercy. They had strong faith that for God everything is possible, and that He would be able to overcome the barrenness of Anna even in her old age, as He had once overcame the barrenness of Sarah, spouse of the Patriarch Abraham. Sts Joachim and Anna vowed to dedicate the child which the Lord might give them, to the service of God in the Temple.

Childlessness was considered among the Hebrew nation as a Divine punishment for sin, and therefore the righteous Sts Joachim and Anna had to endure abuse from their own countrymen. On one of the feastdays at the Temple in Jerusalem the elderly Joachim brought his sacrifice to offer to God, but the High Priest would not accept it, considering him to be unworthy since he was childless.

St Joachim in deep grief went into the wilderness, and there he prayed with tears to the Lord for a child. St Anna wept bitterly when she learned what had happened at the Jerusalem Temple. Never once did she complain against the Lord, but rather she prayed to ask God's mercy on her family.

The Lord fulfilled her petitions when the pious couple had attained to extreme old age and prepared themselves by virtuous life for a sublime calling: to be the parents of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the future Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Archangel Gabriel brought Joachim and Anna the joyous message that their prayers were heard by God, and of them would be born a most blessed daughter Mary, through Whom would come the Salvation of all the World.

The Most Holy Virgin Mary surpassed in purity and virtue not only all mankind, but also the angels. She was manifest as the living Temple of God, so the Church sings in its festal hymns: "the East Gate... bringing Christ into the world for the salvation of our souls" (2nd Stikhera on "Lord, I Have Cried", Tone 6).

The Nativity of the Theotokos marks the change of the times when the great and comforting promises of God for the salvation of the human race from slavery to the devil are about to be fulfilled. This event has brought to earth the grace of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of Truth, piety, virtue and everlasting life. The Theotokos is revealed to all of us by grace as a merciful Intercessor and Mother, to Whom we have recourse with filial devotion.

From the web site of the Orthodox Church in America.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Countdown


7

ROCOR Synod Approves Communion with Moscow

The Holy Synod of the Russian Church Abroad has approved the Act of Canonical Communion and issued a decree. It would appear that formal communion will be restored by the end of the year. The full text is below.

From the web site of The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia:

The Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, at its regular session on August 24/September 6, 2006, considered:

The report of the Secretary of the Commission on discussions with the Moscow Patriarchate, Protopriest Alexander Lebedeff, on the results of the seventh joint meeting of the Commissions held in late June of this year.

After an exhaustive discussion of the matter, decreed:

1. To take into consideration the report of Protopriest Alexander Lebedeff.
2. On the basis of the decision of the Council of Bishops of May 15-19, 2006, to confirm and approve the “Act on Canonical Communion” in its revised form as prepared by the church Commissions at the seventh joint meeting, along with other materials developed by the Commissions.
3. In accordance with the directions of the Council of Bishops of 2006, to instruct the Commission on discussions with the Moscow Patriarchate, jointly with the Commission on dialog with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, to work out the details of the ceremony of the signing of the “Act” and the Rite of establishment of canonical communion of both parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.
4. Also, in accordance with the decision of the Council of Bishops, to authorize Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany, Chairman of the Commission on discussions with the Moscow Patriarchate, to coordinate together with Archbishop Innokenty of Korsun the simultaneous publication of the “Act” which has been confirmed by both Holy Synods on the official websites of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.
5. To consider at the next expanded session of the Synod of Bishops, to be scheduled at the time of the feast day of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God this year, on the proposals prepared by the joint Commissions at their next meeting.
6. To inform the flock through a special Address on the present state of the negotiation process and the proposed plans for the future.

+ Metropolitan Laurus
President

+ Archbishop Mark

+ Archbishop Kyriil

+ Bishop Michael

+ Bishop Peter

Quote of the Day

Sometimes I find quotes that give me that sinking feeling they were directed towards me personally.

"He who busies himself with the sins of others, or judges his brother on suspicion, has not yet even begun to repent or to examine himself so as to discover his own sins..."

-St. Maximos the Confessor

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

ROCOR & Moscow ...

The Holy Synod of the Russian Church Abroad is meeting in NY and is expected to finish its business on Thursday. Its very possible they will give formal approval to the Act on Canonical Communion. Pray for all concerned and stay tuned.

A Saint's Confession

The Holy Royal Martyr and Passion Bearer Czar Emperor Nicholas II

Father Afanasy's testimony about the Emperor's confession is very moving: "Next to me stood one who had no peer among those living on earth. Up to this moment he was our God-sent Anointed one who, according to the Law of Succession, for 23 years reigned as the Russian Orthodox Czar. And now, the humble servant of God Nicholas, as a meek lamb, benevolent towards all his enemies, forgetting all abuses, is fervently praying for the well-being of Russia, deeply believing in its glorious future, kneeling and looking at the cross and the book of the Gospels, is confessing to the Heavenly Father, with me, an unworthy one, as a witness, the innermost secrets of his long-suffering life, reducing himself to dust before the greatness of the King of Heaven, tearfully asking to be forgiven for his voluntary and involuntary transgressions." The suffering of the Sovereign brings to mind the long-suffering Righteous Job, on whose feast day Nicholas II was born. The Emperor's life was comparable to the suffering of Job - he accepted his cross just as the Biblical righteous one accepted the misfortune which was sent to him - firmly, patiently, meekly, and without a shadow of grumbling.

-From the report of the Moscow Patriarchate commission investigating the possibility of canonizing the Russian Orthodox Emperor Nikolai II

The magic number is now 9

The Mets swept a daytime double header today against the Atlanta Braves. They now need to win nine games to clinch the NL East division pennant. If the Phillies loose tonight the number will become eight. For the last twenty years with a single exception the Mets have sucked. Since the day I formally entered the Church they have been in first place and have dominated the National League. What further evidence on behalf of Orthodoxy beyond this obvious miracle does one need? Lord have mercy!

Addendum: Make that EIGHT!!!!!

Do we need Rome?

Owen of The Ochlophobist posted the following reply to the thread over at Pontifications that I noted below. I am not in full agreement with every point he makes. For instance I do think we need a Church Council. But broadly speaking he makes a very powerful argument about the difficulties that lie between Orthodoxy and Rome. Please direct any comments or replies to the thread on Pontifications. Owen’s post #80:
Diane,
People who get offended by comments annoy me, so never worry about offending me. I did mean what Mr. Grano suggests. I think that most patristic scholars (Prot, Catholic, Orthodox) would agree that it is an anachronism to suggest that St. Maximus or any other Eastern father would have held something akin to universal jurisdiction or papal infallibility as defined by Vat. I. The fact that they held to papal primacy, that they had a very high regard for the papacy, that they believed that Rome had consistently and faithfully taught the Catholic faith, and that Rome was the place to go for final appeal when things went bad in the home region does not amount to the two points of Vat. I which RCs and Orthodox will never agree on. Whether or not these pro-papal beliefs of the Eastern fathers naturally develop into Vat. I is another matter RCs and Orthodox will never agree on.

My comments regarding why we Orthodox should not want and do not need the Pope (as part of some ecumenical agenda) is easily construed as lacking in my former irenic manner. Fair enough. I must confess that I recently had the opportunity to attend a Novus Ordo Mass for the first time in over 4 years. During those 4 years I have tried my darndest to immerse myself in the Byzantine liturgical tradition and spiritual discipline. After having seen a Novus Ordo in this context, I must argue that while I might not be irenic in a technical sense I am being loving when I state this: The Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches will never reunite. For them to reunite one of them will have to stop being who she is, and this simply is not going to happen. This is the reality that professional ecumenists and internet theo-pundits refuse to acknowledge. As many Catholics have noted in this thread, if the Roman Catholic Church were to agree to Fr. Hopko’s terms, it would not be the Roman Catholic Church that reunited with Orthodoxy, but some other new communion. Likewise, if Rome did not agree to something like Fr. Hopko’s terms, and Orthodoxy nonetheless united with her, the Orthodox Church at that point would cease to exist, despite the condescending analysis of Roman Catholic theologians and ecclesiocrats who assure us that we need do nothing more than say yes. To speak that yes would be to speak no to Orthodoxy. As an Orthodox, you might imagine how likely I think that scenario is. Time and time again in these debates, it seems to me that many RCs simply don’t believe us when we say that we are the fullness of the Church, that we are the Church which Christ founded, that we are and nobody else is. The general response from RCs carries with it a tone that communicates, “O, isn’t that cute, little Orthodoxy thinks she’s the Church!” But, alas, we really do believe what we say, and because we believe what we say, we believe that we don’t really need the Roman Church. If Rome returns to Orthodoxy, great, if not, Oh well.

This brings me to the ecumenical economic reality that is the elephant in this room. We Orthodox are chided for the fact that our terms for a reunite (via Fr. Hopko in this case) demand so much from Rome while Rome’s terms demand so little from us. Well, uh, yeah. When you get us you get our problems - some jurisdictional issues, a piety that is often enough totalizing (in a day in which the rest of Christianity, including American Catholicism, can barely muster any piety), and your usual amount of corruption and sin, etc. But when you get us you also get a large influx of churches which are liturgically and devotionally stable, and which hold on (in a relatively clear fashion) to Holy Tradition and venerable traditions. That would certainly help the good guys, whoever they are, in the trad-con-prog wars going on inside the RCC. It might even breathe some life into some of the old Western traditions which were once thought dead. But what do we Orthodox stand to gain if we accept Rome’s terms? Please keep in mind that we already understand ourselves to be the Church, so we do not gain that understanding. Many of our jurisdictional problems would not be solved - how many Patriarchs of Jerusalem are there right now who are in communion with Rome? Our discipline is not going to get any better, if anything it might get worse, following Rome. The Pope, from an Orthodox point of view, is not able to keep his own house in order, in terms of what Orthodox consider to be basic Church discipline. Furthermore, the Pope of Rome in this day and age is, as you admit, not able to play too strong of a hand in administrative affairs. He would be on pins and needles with the incoming Orthodox Churches in that regard. The only thing a Pope could offer us that we do not already have is a spokesperson, his ability to call a council, and his ability to declare dogma. As I have already stated, I don’t share Fr. Hopko’s enthusiasm for a central, formal, spokeperson for the Church. I don’t think that the Orthodox Church needs a council, because there are no new heresies under the sun, Christology and Trinitarian thought have been fully explained and defended by the Church, and there are no matters of discipline in the Orthodox Church at this time which I believe justify an Ecumenical Council. As for declaring something to be a dogma, why? We have the fullness of dogma now. We have more doctrinal and dogmatic unity now than the contemporary RCC could ever dream of. Thus, I don’t see any benefit for the Orthodox in agreeing to Rome’s easy terms (assuming that were even possible), other than an increase in prestige, and I am of the opinion that we should not be all that concerned with prestige. Should the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches reunite (something which is possible), that would put the nails into the coffin of Rome’s eastward ecumenical agenda. Then we would have a multi-rite Eastern Orthodox Church with the full weight of the Greek and Syriac traditions under one roof. And the Latins then, as now, can wander about as they see fit.

Perhaps I am less irenic in tone because after some years of being Orthodox and then visiting a Novus Ordo Mass (in a “conservative” RC mega-parish) I was struck by the fact that it may as well have been a mainline Presbyterian service or a happy clappy Pentecostal service, it was so far from what I recognize Christianity to be. We think it kind in these circles to talk about what we have in common, but what is not said (enough anyway) is that what we have in common is all abstract. In the real flesh and blood terms of authentic communion we have very little in common. You talk about Eucharist, but in the end your Eucharist is very, very different from ours. You talk about the veneration of Mary, but in the end your Marian veneration is very, very different from ours. You talk about the communion of the saints, but in the end your relationship to the saints is very, very different from ours. You talk about Sacraments, but in the end your Sacraments are very, very different from our Mysteries. You talk about prayer, almsgiving, and fasting but in the end your understanding of the spiritual disciplines is very, very different from ours. You talk about Church, but in the end your understanding of Church is very, very different from ours. I used to think that these differences were merely aesthetic and trivial. I no longer do. I have to agree with His All-Holiness Bartholomew that there is an ontological difference at the heart of what divides us. Yes, we are the poor little Orthodox Church, but we are the Church, and every time we are “mocked” by a thinly veiled condescension for thinking so it only serves to increase our resolve and identify all the more with the cross of Christ.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

An Orthodox Papacy?

Fr. Stephen Freeman (OCA) has posted an article on Pontifications by Fr. Thomas Hopko (also OCA). The subject is an Orthodox approach to the Papacy in the modern world. Jump over to Pontifications and join the disucussion.

Monday, September 04, 2006

(Saint?) Hieromonk Seraphim of Platina


Sept 2nd was the anniversary of the repose of Fr. Seraphim Rose of Platina (1934-1982). This extraordinary man is among the most famous American converts to Orthodoxy. Born Eugene Rose he was baptized as a Methodist and was raised in a normal middle class family. Early in life he abandoned all religious belief professing atheism and later practicing Buddhism. As a young man in college Eugene fell into a life of hedonism. In the 1950s he was introduced to Orthodox Christianity (ironically by his homosexual lover). As his attraction to Holy Orthodoxy grew so his love for the world and its pleasures waned and he gradually abandoned the ways of his dissipated youth. During this period he became close friends with and adopted as a spiritual mentor the great St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco (then archbishop of SF). In 1962 he was received into Orthodoxy via Holy Chrismation by his spiritual father St. John.

In the early 1960’s Eugene with another Orthodox Christian organized a community of Christian booksellers and publishing dedicated to St. Herman of Alaska (not yet canonized by the Church). By 1966 Eugene had reached the point where he and some of the others felt the need to withdraw from the world and pursue the angelic life. They departed the world and settled in the wilderness of Northern California near Platina. There they lived the monastic life under extremely ascetic conditions (no running water or electricity). In 1970 he was tonsured as a monk by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) where he took the name Seraphim after St. Seraphim of Sarov.

It was in his monastic life that he also began to write articles and books on Orthodox spirituality and other topics. His works include God's Revelation to the Human Heart, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, and The Soul After Death. He also founded the magazine The Orthodox Word which is still published at the monastery today. His fame soon spread for his spirituality and also for his sound teachings on many subjects though some of his eschatological writings were and remain highly controversial.

He defended the veneration of pre-schism western saints including Blessed Augustine at a time when some challenged the practice. He also strongly defended the grace of the Church in Russia when more radical elements were attempting to deny that the Russian Church retained grace. He became an outspoken critic of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery (Brookline Mass) as it began its slide towards eventual schism.

In 1982 Fr. Seraphim complained of stomach pains and after some procrastination and resistance allowed himself to be taken to the hospital in Redding California. There it was discovered that he was gravely ill. Prayers from all over the Orthodox world went up for his recovery but it was not to be. Within days he reposed.

His body was returned to St. Herman’s Monastery in Platina where it was said that a sweet odor emanated from it and it showed no signs of corruption. After several days he was buried and his grave remains a place of pilgrimage for pious Orthodox Christians. Many miracles have been attributed to his intercession and there is a movement to have him glorified as a saint. At present none of the various Orthodox synods have chosen to act on the matter though it is widely assumed that the ROCOR would be the most logical one to do so if the decision is ever made since he lived his monastic life under their jurisdiction. Informally he is widely referred to as Blessed Seraphim of Platina and some icons have been produced with his image depicting him as a saint (see above).

On a personal note I can relate that I had the pleasure of visiting St. Herman’s Monastery this last Cheesefare weekend in preparation for being received into the Orthodox Christian Faith. The monastery is today under the jurisdiction of the Serbian Church after a brief period where it had become extra-canonical. The monks are extremely welcoming of visitors though they ask that you write ahead or email them. They do have an email address that they check every day or two on a computer in the local town. The monastery remains very rustic with none of the amenities of the modern world. The bunk houses for guests have wood burning stoves for heating in the winter. The food was surprisingly good.

St. Herman’s is located in a remote area of Northern California a little less than an hour from Redding. It is not far from Trinity National Park and the scenery is breathtaking. Pilgrims and those seeking a retreat from the world are always welcome though they do not accommodate women overnight in the monastery. Ladies are encouraged to contact St. Xenia’s monastery for women which is close by. While staying in the monastery visitors abide by the monastic rule there to the extent possible. Spiritual reading material is given to visitors and when they tire of reading they often ask the abbot for some small task to perform with the monks. If you plan to visit, pack conservative attire as modesty is required while on the monastery’s grounds. Also wear comfortable shoes since in the church they follow the traditional Orthodox practice of standing through services. Benches are available for the infirm or those not accustomed to long standing. A flashlight and sanitary napkins are also good things to bring. There is still no running water or electricity. St Herman’s follows the Old Calendar and all services are in English.

For those interested the monks may be contacted by email at: stherman@stherman.com

Hat tip to the Young Fogey whose blog reminded me of the anniversary.

Addendum: When I originally wrote this essay I said that Fr. Seraphim had been raised Catholic. I was mistaken and have corrected the text above. He was baptised in the Methodist Church.