William (aka Bill the Godfather)

William (aka Bill the Godfather)

Sunday, December 31, 2006

HAPPY NEW YEAR!


Wishing all a joyous and healthy new year...

The Dissing of an ex-President

Gerald Ford arrived in Washington yesterday for the last time. Amid all of the pomp and pageantry (toned down a bit at Ford’s request) some things made an impression. It was moving to see the flag draped coffin carried by the military honor guard while cannons boomed in salute, and the band played Hail to the Chief. But other things stood out too. Like the mourners on hand. The Vice President was at Andrews Air Force Base to lead the delegation. The outgoing speaker of the House and Majority Leader of the Senate were on hand when the body arrived at the Capital Building to lie in state. But the gaps were shocking.

The incoming Speaker and Majority Leader were absent, as also most of the cabinet, the Supreme Court and almost 500 (of 535) members of Congress from both parties! But probably the most glaring absence was the current President of the United States, George W. Bush. Mr. Bush did not attend the arrival ceremonies for former President Reagan’s body either, although then he had an excuse. He was hosting the G-8 summit. This time it appears he just could not be bothered to interrupt his vacation. As a matter of protocol last night’s ceremony in the Capital Building was the actual “State Funeral.” The funeral on Tuesday morning is the religious service. There were so many absentees from the State Funeral in the capital rotunda that congressional staffers had to be rounded up to fill all the seats left vacant by their bosses. That this many important people would fail to show a modicum of respect for the passing of a head of state is a sad reflection on how bad things are in Washington.

Politics aside Gerald Ford was an incredibly descent man who had very few true enemies (if any). When he was told about Nixon’s famous “enemies list” Ford responded rather acidly that anyone who can not keep a list of his enemies in his head has too many. Other than his pardon of President Nixon for which history has almost unanimously vindicated him, he was as close to a non-controversial president as we have had since Eisenhower. He was a staunch Republican, but not a partisan one. He was conservative in finances, crime and foreign policy, while being moderate on social policy. He enjoyed remarkably cordial relations with just about everyone from both parties during his presidency. And he restored honor and trust to the office, after it was so badly tarnished by his predecessor. Yet, all of this seems to have counted for naught in today’s Washington. Jerry (and Betty) Ford deserved better than this.

(Side Note: I want to say a quick thank you to the people at St. Athanasius Church in Sacramento for their warm welcome to a visitor this morning. I hope to be able to attend again the next time I am in Sacramento over a weekend.)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Feast of the Holy Innocents

Today is the commemoration of the 14000 infants and small children massacred by King Herod's soldiers. They were killed in an effort to murder Jesus Christ whose birth the Holy Magi had announced to Herod. This is also a feast on which I feel a strong sense of empathy for those in our society who are the victims violence, abuse, or neglect and who are the most defenseless, namely children. I particularly would call to mind the victims of abortion and infanticide so common in our world. But children are also victims in so many other ways. Some are impressed into service as soldiers in bloody civil wars, others are kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery. How many go to bed hungry every night in all corners of the world? This is a day on which Christians should resolve to do all in our power to protect children from the horrors of the modern world.

Is the end near?

Two legal dramas appear to be winding their way towards a conclusion. The first is the trial of Iraqi dictator and tyrant Saddam Hussein. The genocidal monster who once kept a bust of Joseph Stalin on his desk and was said to be a student of his method of governance was convicted and sentenced to death in early November. His case has since been appealed to a special court with power to review all capitol sentences. A couple days go that court affirmed the death sentence and ordered it carried out within thirty days. Reports now coming out of Iraq strongly suggest that Hussein may be hanged before the new year.

For the record I am not a fan of capitol punishment. It's something which I think we as a country could live without. However we have never had to deal with anyone in Saddam's class of criminality before either. This is a man whose crimes put him in a league quite apart from even your more oppressive dictators. To say that he was an evil tyrant would be a gross understatement. In this case I think his execution may be necessary for the welfare of Iraqi society and also to once and for all crush any hopes on the part of Baathists for some sort of restoration. There can be no serious doubt except on the part of moral abolitionists that Saddam deserves the gallows. Though I will not celebrate any hanging, neither in this case will I shed tears. Rather I will commend his soul to the mercy of God.

The second drama is in Durham North Carolina. The ongoing railroading of three Duke University lacrosse players appears to be falling apart. Last week District Attorney Mike Nifong was forced to drop rape charges after the alleged victim changed her story yet again. However his evidence has not increased. The remaining charges are still based almost exclusively on the word of the alleged victim whose testimony is likely to be subject to a crushing cross examination if she ever takes the stand. Then there is the issue of a highly improper identification by photo lineup that violates all manner of police procedures and is likely to be suppressed. If that goes she will likely be barred from identifying any of the defendants in court. The next item is DA Nifong's attempt to withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense. This is such an egregious matter that the judge could impose sanctions on the DA and maybe even dismiss the case out of hand at a hearing scheduled for February.

However it might not make it to February. The North Carolina State Bar Association has now entered the fray by opening an investigation into Nifong for professional misconduct. My guess is that this is just the opening salvo of what could become a serious probe into his conduct of this case. There are serious hints that the Feds are looking at a civil rights investigation of the prosecution. Given these developments its very possible Nifong may be forced to recuse himself from the case due to an obvious conflict of interest. I can not imagine anyone else going forward with a case that is taking on water faster than the Titanic. My best guess is that this case will be dropped before the scheduled hearing in February.

However that is not likely to be the end of this matter. I suspect (and hope) that the three defendants will pursue whatever remedies they have in civil court for the injury they have suffered from this out of control DA.

Prayers requested

Dear all,

The mother of my brother in law, a very dear woman is gravely ill and believed to be near death. Mary Ann Young suffered a massive heart attack on Christmas eve while preparing dinner for the family. She nearly died then but the EMS people were able to revive her. Since then she has been in critical condition with virtually no sign of brain activity. The family has made the extremely difficult decision to end the extraordinary medical treatment which has been keeping her physically alive. The ventilator has been removed and a Do Not Resuscitate order has been signed. She received Holy Unction according to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church to which she belonged. Your prayers are coveted and deeply appreciated in this difficult time.

Under the mercy,

John

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christ is born!

Wishing each of you a joyous Feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ...
Merry Christmas to all !!!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Some pre-Christmas odds and ends

The rape charges against the three Duke lacrosse players were dropped yesterday after the alleged victim changed her story (again). You can read the details here. On a side note this article places a degree of emphasis on the criticism Mike Nifong is getting, that is unusual for the mainstream media. The New York Times was among the convict them first and try them later crowd when this story originally broke. This whole case is finally starting to die the death it should have experienced about six months ago.

(Late night update: The NY Times has posted another article with a devastating review of the DA's case. Read it here)

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There will be a two day Colloquium for Anglicans on Orthodoxy hosted by St. Andrews House in Detroit Michigan. The list of speakers is pretty impressive. Among the notables are two of my favorite Orthodox former Anglicans, Frederica Mathewes-Green and Fr. Stephen Freeman. The preceding link will take you to the article with all of the information.

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I am honored, deeply honored to have been named Time Magazine’s man of the year. However, at the risk of sounding ungrateful I think the honor would have meant more if it did not involve sharing it with several hundred million other people. Not only am obliged to share the distinction with others, but I am also required to share it with some people that I confess to no strong affinity for. The idea of sharing the acceptance speech with Fr. Jake was almost enough to make me send a polite note to Time’s editors declining their award. But then I was afraid that they would have chosen someone like Iranian strongman Ahmadinejad, or worse they would have just let Fr. Jake keep it for himself.

On which note, I will close with a rather revealing quote from a recent article over at Fr. Jakes site. When commenting on why the bishop elect of South Carolina (a conservative by Episcopalian standards) should not be given consent as opposed to V. Gene Robinson who was the author says…

We consider the consent question to be an ecclesiological, not a theological, question. Neither Father Lawrence’s nor Canon Robinson’s theology is relevant to the consent process.

Translation: Heresy should not be an impediment to being elected a bishop in TEC. Refusal to hang out with heretics should be.

Yes Virginia, there are nut cases...

(Anti)Pope Pius XIII

Michael Liccione has posted a good essay on those who subscribe to the hermeneutic of rupture regarding Vatican II. I strongly agree with Mike's position on this. I am also saying this as one who has been sharply critical of the fruits of Vatican II and who was briefly affiliated with the SSPX (mea culpa mea culpa...) a number of years ago on my journey to Orthodoxy. It seems like lately that the trads have been coming out of the woodwork. I suspect it has something to do with the much anticipated indult that is expected to grant very broad freedom for Roman Catholic clergy to use the pre-Vatican II rite of the mass. Traditionalists in the Roman Church probably can be divided into two or three groups.

Moderate Traditionalists: Those who have a pronounced preference for the classical Roman Rite (Tridentine) and who to varying degrees are not happy with the results of Vatican II, but who nonetheless remain in full communion with Rome and who accept as both valid and licit (if perhaps distasteful) the various post conciliar reforms. There's no law that says Roman Catholics have to agree with everything the Pope says or does in matters pertaining to church discipline.

Schismatic Traditionalists: These come in all kinds of flavors, the largest being the Society of St. Pius X. They are people who have to varying degrees set themselves up in judgment over the Pope and their bishops and concluded that they need to do their own thing until Rome realizes how wrong it has been, and restores the church to the way things were no later than the reign of Pius XII. They believe (and have a strong argument from a purely legalistic position) that the Rite of Pius V was never lawfully abrogated or suppressed. Unfortunately they therefor claim that their priests (they range from organized groups like the SSPX to individual vegantes) can licitly and validly offer mass and the other sacraments the old way independent of the local bishop or the Pope. The SSPX has advanced the argument of extraordinary necessity as a justification for their actions. These traditionalists are not in communion with or submission to the Pope or local bishops although most recognize the Pope as such and profess their loyalty to him, but only on matters where they believe the Pope remains orthodox (small "o"). These traditionalists also tend to buy into many of the conspiracy theories that right wing sects like to promote and are often moderately to extremely anti-semitic.

Radical Traditionalists: Or as I like to call them, the tin foil hat crowd. These are you certifiable nut cases. They are almost always sede vecantists and many adhere to one or another of the various anti-popes now floating around. They regard Vatican II as heretical and generally deny the validity of the sacraments including Holy Orders using the reformed rites. Thus they sneeringly refer to Pope Benedict XVI as Fr. Ratzinger. They are often rabid anti-semites and expound to anyone they can make listen to their dark fantasies that Vatican II was a masonic plot hatched by the secret Free Mason John XXIII who was never really elected Pope by the way. I could go on but I am sure you get the point.

Also many Schismatic and Radical Traditionalists are active supporters of far right political movements. This includes support or veneration of various right wing dictators (Franco and Pinochet come to mind). Archbishop Lefebvre (founder of the SSPX) was a staunch monarchist.

Lest anyone think I am beating up on the Catholics let me assure you that we Orthodox have our share of wing nuts as well. Radical Old Calendarists although small in numbers are extremely noisy. Just in the last few days monks from the Esphigmenou monastery on Mt. Athos were involved in a violent clash with another group of monks trying to drive them out of the historic monastery where they have been holed up. They reject the usual things that radical fringe groups get bent over... Ecumenism especially with Roman Catholics, the reformed calendar (a crypto papist / masonic conspiracy to destroy the Orthodox Church) and all the other clap trap. They have been refusing to commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch for some time and are now in open revolt against the authority of the church. Of course they are right and everyone else is wrong. Sigh. Most radical Old Calendarists share many of the characteristics of the more extreme Roman Catholic traditionalists in their bigotry and affinity for right wing politics and xenophobia.

One comment posted over at Free Republic summed them up rather nicely. He referred to them as Orthodoxy's equivalent to sede vecantists.
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P.S. Some Orthodox think there is a strong affinity among Roman Catholic Traditionalists for us. With the likely exception of the moderate trads they are mistaken. The more extreme ones admire Orthodoxy because our liturgy is so old and largely unchanged. But their respect stops there. They have no further use for Orthodoxy until we kneel and kiss the Pope's ring.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Speech to the electors of Bristol

I am sorry I cannot conclude without saying a word on a topic touched upon by my worthy colleague. I wish that topic had been passed by at a time when I have so little leisure to discuss it. But since he has thought proper to throw it out, I owe you a clear explanation of my poor sentiments on that subject.

He tells you that "the topic of instructions has occasioned much altercation and uneasiness in this city;" and he expresses himself (if I understand him rightly) in favour of the coercive authority of such instructions.

Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

My worthy colleague says, his will ought to be subservient to yours. If that be all, the thing is innocent. If government were a matter of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?

To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience,--these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament. If the local constituent should have an interest, or should form an hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community, the member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it effect. I beg pardon for saying so much on this subject. I have been unwillingly drawn into it; but I shall ever use a respectful frankness of communication with you. Your faithful friend, your devoted servant, I shall be to the end of my life: a flatterer you do not wish for.

- Edmund Burke November 3rd 1774

Five Favorite Philosophers

The pontificator has posted his list of favorite philosophers and invited others to contribute their own selection. I don't have a ranked list but I will put up the names of five whom I hold in pretty high regard.

1. St. Seraphim of Sarov

2. St. Maximos the Confessor

3. St. Gregory Palamas

4. St. Ephraim the Syrian (not sure if he qualifies for philosophy but I am listing him anyway)

5. Edmund Burke (father of modern conservatism)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Will it ever end?

The travesty of justice in Durham North Carolina continues to move along. Although most of the legal community appears long since to have concluded that the rape charges against three Duke University lacrosse players are unsustainable District Attorney Mike Nifong refuses to drop the indictment. This last week we got wind of the latest nail in already firmly sealed coffin. The defense discovered that Nifong's office deliberately withheld from the defense details of DNA tests done on the alleged victim and her clothes. The defense was originally told that there was no DNA match to any of the defendants. True enough as far as that goes. But what was withheld from them was that DNA from multiple other males WAS found! This is such an egregious violation of the basic rules of discovery that it should be considered prosecutorial misconduct.

However there is hope. The defense has filed motions to suppress the lineup ID that was made by the alleged victim. As I noted in an earlier post, she was only shown photos of members of the team. We now know that the entire process by which the ID took place was a travesty. If the lineup is suppressed she will most likely be barred from making any ID in court. And since at this point the only real evidence the DA has is the word of a highly impeachable witness, if her ID goes that should (in a sane world) put an end to this legal circus. Unfortunately we have already seen that sanity appears to be in short supply in the DA's office in Durham NC.

On a side note Fox News has posted an op-ed piece by Susan Estrich a professor of law at USC. I recommend it for anyone interested.

Previous posts on the Duke case...

A very ugly word

The man in the background

Its Over Already


Et Tu Times?

Latest From Duke University

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Showing a little respect...

File this under whine of the week.

While perusing CNN for news tonight I stumbled on the above photo of the prime minister and defense minister of Japan taken just this last October at some sort of Navy review and I was jarred. They are clearly wearing formal morning coats and holding TOP HATS! I remember in 1996 when then president Bill Clinton was taking the oath of office at his second inaugural ceremony and seeing someone sitting several rows back from him wearing jeans. Setting aside for the moment my visceral distaste for all things Clinton I thought that was the height of bad form. I don't care who you are or what you think of the sitting president. You DO NOT show up at a state ceremony dressed like you were on your way to the ballgame and stopped off as an afterthought.

Speaking of presidential inaugurations when was the last time anyone dressed formally for one? My memory may have faded a bit but I think Reagan wore a morning coat to his first swearing in. Jack Kennedy was famously the last president to wear that traditional symbol of high formality, the top hat. Toppers however are still de rigueur at many functions outside of this country (see the photo above).

Whatever happened to respect and etiquette in this country? How far have we sunk as a society? I go to weddings and see people dressed in jeans and flannel shirts. When was the last time many of us were bothered to put on a coat and tie when going to a nice restaurant? Not long ago I had to explain to a good friend of mine who was getting married in the morning (after his fiancé made it clear he was not going to be allowed to just wear a coat and tie) that you don’t wear a tuxedo before six.

Has anyone been to a shopping mall lately and not seen young men walking around wearing pajamas or with their jeans hanging down around their knees? Some years back when I was in traffic court a young man who could not have had his license for long gave the judge a particularly sharp look when he was told to take his baseball cap off in court. I waited in vain for the judge to fine him for contempt of court. This trend towards casual to the point of slovenly dress seems to have even made its way into some of our churches. And lest we say this is just a universal trend favoring the complete abandonment of any semblance of manners and polite behavior, I can assure the reader that people outside the United States do in fact know that you don’t wear evening dress for an 11 AM wedding!

Sorry, but this breakdown in social graces is I think a very distinctly American phenomena. I guess I am just wondering when we became too lazy or embarrassed in this country to show a little class in our dress.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Let the healing begin...

I have deliberately refrained from commenting (with one notable exception) on what Fr. Huneycutt once referred to as the elephant in the living room mostly because there has been very little real news. I am of course talking about L'affaire OCA, i.e. the financial scandal in the Orthodox Church in America. (In the interest of full disclosure, yes I am under the OCA.) In my last and only real comment on the situation I stated that I was cautiously optimistic about the outcome of the whole matter. It appeared at the time that the church was taking affirmative steps to come to grips with the problems and to address them in a constructive manner. There has of course been a lot of babble (and no small amount of malicious gossip) on this subject all over the Orthodox corner of the internet.

Today I can report that I remain cautiously optimistic. This is based on the first real news in a number of months. The OCA posted a statement regarding an extraordinary joint meeting of the Metropolitan Council and the Holy Synod. There preliminary reports were finally read to all concerned with the gist being posted in the above link.

So for those who don't like to follow links all over what does the report say in a nutshell? Essentially that yes, there are some serious problems. Money is missing. Money has been misused. Money was improperly transferred and records from the period in question are at best incomplete, in many cases missing and at least in some cases appear to have been falsified. And of course I am talking about the church's money. The report also indicated that most of these issues are apparently linked to a single person. The matter has been referred to the Holy Synod for possible disciplinary action against the alleged offender. That person was not identified however.

Yes I do have some strong suspicions on who this person may be but I am not going to speculate on that here. Frankly I think it would be inappropriate to do so absent hard evidence. I will however permit myself the following observation. If the alleged offender were not a hierarch there would be no need to refer the matter to the Holy Synod for disciplinary action since all other persons, both lay and clergy, are subject to the authority of a specific bishop. And any Orthodox bishop can impose any discipline he deems appropriate on those under his authority. My guess is that now that the OCA has come right out and posted in plain language what amounts to an itemized list of ethical lapses, this will be dealt with expeditiously. There will not be any desire to drag this out.

So where does this leave the church? In my opinion the church is left healthier (if somewhat poorer). We have been confronted by a serious scandal and the church seems to have taken what I regard at this point as the decisive decision to be totally honest and upfront in dealing with it. This was not the smoothest process and there were times when it was not clear that the church was going to deal with this in an open manner. But whatever bumps there may have been on the road, it seems to have worked thus far. I felt good when the church decided to bring in outside auditors and a highly reputable law firm to jointly conduct a totally independent investigation of the serious allegations that had been flying all over the place. The decision to post the blunt and ugly findings of this investigation on its website is the strongest evidence yet that the OCA's leadership has resolved to clean house and make sure this does not happen again. While I am hardly elated, I feel strongly that this is the best news to come out of the church's central administration in a long time.

Where do we go from here? For the most part it seems the OCA has got the basic lessons down. There needs to be much stricter accountability for money on the part of those who have their fingers on it. Comprehensive rules need to be put in place with independent verification of adherence to these rules by an outside source. Any person or persons directly involved in this scandal need to be removed from any position of trust or responsibility in the church. The Holy Synod can weigh any additional sanctions deemed appropriate with regards the principal offender.

The final step of course is going to be the hardest. And that is that we need to let go of it. We as a church need to step out of the scandal oriented mindset that to some extent we have been in for a while. We need to stop looking for new scandals, and to stop gossiping about hierarchs. We need to obey the commandment to forgive those who have sinned against us and our trust. And we need to get back to the really important business at hand which is working out our salvation "in trembling and fear" as St. Paul tells us.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

December 13 Feast of St. Herman of Alaska

Venerable Herman of Alaska, Wonderworker of All America. A spiritual mission was organized in 1793 with volunteers from the monks of the Valaam Monastery. They were sent to preach the Word of God to the native inhabitants of northwestern America, who had come under the sovereignty of Russia only ten years before. St Herman was one of the members of this mission.

St Herman came from a family of merchants of Serpukhov, a city of the Moscow diocese. His name before he was tonsured, and his family name are not known. There is a possibility, however, that his baptismal name was Gerasimus. He had a great zeal for piety from his youth, and he entered monastic life at sixteen. (This was in 1772, if we assume that Herman was born in 1756, although sometimes 1760 is given as the date of his birth.) First he entered the Trinity-Sergius Hermitage which was located near the Gulf of Finland on the Peterhof Road, about 15 versts (about 10 miles) from St Petersburg. He also spent time at at Sarov, where he first met Fr Nazarius, who became his Elder at Valaam. Later, St Herman followed him to Sanaxar where St Theodore (February 19) was their igumen.
Read the rest here.

ROCOR / MP communion update

The Russian news service TASS/ITAR reports that a formal signing ceremony will be held for the Act on Canonical Communion in Moscow probably in May 2007. They did not cite a specific source for this date although they made reference to the recent meeting of the Holy Synod of the Church Abroad in New York.

Will it be a Merry Christmas for Roman Catholic Traditionalists?

(Back at the keyboard after a very hectic week and largely recovered from a nasty cold/flue bug...)

An Italian news report posted over at NLM suggests that the publication of a long anticipated indult liberalizing the Rite of Pius V may be imminent. This would be good news for many Roman Catholics who are hoping that their principal Christmas present is coming from the Holy See. Unlike many reports which are often little more than anonymous gossip, this one has a pretty authoritative source cited.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The date that lives in infamy...

Before 9/11 there was another date Americans recalled for a treacherous surprise attack. Lest we forget...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Feast of St. Nicholas

Today is the feast of St. Nicholas . It is one of the most popular feast days on the Orthodox Church calendar and his name is among the most common in many Orthodox countries. There are many traditions associated with this saint which can be read about here . It is also a custom (imported from the west I believe) that on his feast day decorations for Christmas are usually put up. To all of the Nicks Nikkies Nikolaiis and Nicholes out there... many years!!
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Update: I just got an email which informs me that apparently a movie is now in the works about the real St. Nicholas. The link to the official web site of the film is here.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Feast of St Alexander Hotovitzky (New Martyr)

This saint was born in Russia and it was there that he would later be martyred by the Communists. But much of his priestly service was here in North America. Read his biography here.

There's diversity and then there's...

December 4, 2006 -- DiD you hear the one about the Marines that Columbia University invited to campus for Fleet Week?

Not any time in the last few decades, you didn't.

But you might have heard the one about the Marine who was told by a fellow Columbia student that he was stupid for joining the military because he's Hispanic and didn't realize he was being used for cannon fodder.

It's actually kind of funny - but when it happened to me during Columbia's Activities Day last year, I was fighting mad. Not because I was publicly humiliated in front of several hundred of my fellow classmates (any devil dog who has spent a summer on Parris Island gets used to insults), but because of what the incident showed about New York's most prestigious university.

On the surface, Columbia is all for diversity (good, very good) and completely opposed to intolerance (bad, really bad). On any given day, eager undergrads can speak out for Starbucks employees forced to make coffee with non-ergonomic espresso machines, or call for the school to install non-gender-specific bathrooms.

Read the rest here.

Some thoughts on the Pope,western phronema, & Orthodox Doctrinal Development

Ben of the Undercroft has posted an interesting essay on an often undiscussed aspect of the Rome Orthodox reunion debate. We Orthodox tend to spend a great deal of time discussing what changes the Latins will have to make for reunification to occur. But we frequently ignore the reality of the current situation in the West. And that reality is that the Roman Catholic Church has become to a certain degree dependent on a strong centralized administration for government. As I noted in a post on this subject a long time ago over in Free Republic; Rome having decided to ride the tiger may find it hard to dismount without injury.

The West largely lacks what we would call an Orthodox phronema. The Latin sensus fidei if you will has become severely eroded. The idea that Rome could just snap its fingers and become Orthodox in its ecclesiology is naive. The Roman Church has over the course of a thousand years become very dependent on the power of the papacy. Given the disciplinary and theological chaos now rampant in the Roman Catholic Church, a reasonable argument could be made that the Latin Church would suffer significant harm if it were not for a powerful papacy. Ben makes the point well in his essay.

I can think of several Roman bishops and at least one cardinal here in the United States who I strongly suspect would be ordaining women and marrying same gender couples the day after the Pope renounced his universal and absolute jurisdiction over the church. I can’t say that about any Orthodox hierarchs. Again this comes down to sensus fidei. When was the last time a Roman Catholic bishop called one of his brothers a heretic (excepting the schismatic Lefebvrists)? Has that happened in my lifetime? If so I am unaware of it. I think this is in part due to the subserveint role that Latin bishops have been relegated to in the Roman ecclesiology. This is alien to Orthodoxy. The faith in the Orthodox Church is not the property of just one supreme bishop. It is the property of The Church as a whole including even the laity. And in that context it has been jealously guarded for a thousand years.

I have occasionally asked Orthodoxy's critics for an explanation for its remarkable theological stability in various forums and discussions. Generally I don’t get much in the form of a response. Fr. Kimel (I am going to have get used to the new/old title) however gave a brief glimpse of his thinking on the subject in his comment on Ben’s article. He is rather dismissive of Orthodoxy’s lack of doctrinal development, attributing it to the historic conditions of the Orthodox Church under Ottoman and Communist oppression. This is in my opinion both an historically weak argument and also a double edged one that could cut the other way with equal force.

First the Orthodox world has never been completely under the heal of oppression. The (Eastern) Roman Empire lasted up until the XV century before its final collapse. And the Ottoman Empire had lost much of its grip on traditionally Orthodox lands by the end of the XIX century. It was not until 1918 that the Communists became a great power and threat to the Church. And while the injury done was great (we will never know the number of martyrs but certainly they are in the millions), the Communist yoke was from an historical point of view rather short lived. Other than that bloody space of roughly three quarters of a century the Russian Church was never directly repressed on a large scale.[1]

Depending on when you date Rome's departure an argument can be made that the Orthodox Church enjoyed at least moderate freedom for more than half of the period since the schism and in the case of Russia almost the entire post schism period less the heart of the XX century. Additionally, during this time there were some fairly long periods in certain locals where Ottoman rule was relatively tolerant of Christianity. Add to this the combination of a lack of central authority and the autonomous national churches and you have what should be a recipe for one schism after another.

And yet in the eight or so centuries since Rome’s departure there have been no significant schisms in the Orthodox Church over matters of faith. Nor has there been any major reinterpretation or “doctrinal development” of the faith. When one examines the totality of historical circumstances and also the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church (which at a casual glance bears a frightening similarity to Anglicanism) the above statement becomes truly astonishing.

The inverse of Fr. Kimel’s argument of course is that one could look at a great deal of the development of Latin doctrine especially in relation to the Petrine ministry and see powerful links to the historical and political circumstances then present in the West. I alluded to this in a previous discussion over at Sacramentum Vitae.[2] Fr. Kimel also appears to date ultramontanism from the First Vatican Council.[3] To say that Fr. Kimel’s dating shocked me would be putting it mildly. The language of the decrees of Vatican I is the epitome of moderation compared to some of the pretensions to papal power and prerogatives which preceded it. One need only glance at the wording of the Bull Unam Sanctam of Boniface VIII for evidence of this.[4] One may indeed look as far back as the remarkable claims of St. Leo the Great, pointed out to me in a gentle but well aimed rebuke to one of my earlier posts by Dr. William Tighe.[5]

On one point I am in strong agreement with Father Kimel. The East has suffered from its estrangement from the Christian West. This tragic truth is undeniable. But again this cuts both ways. In its isolation from her sister churches and the theological phronema of the East following the schism, Rome had virtually no restraints or temporizing influence on its ambitions and claims. And there was no effective counterbalance to the rise of the scholastics which wreaked so much havoc theologically in the Latin Church. Nor was the isolation of the East as complete as Fr. Kimel seems to imply. Russia, especially from the time of Czar Peter (the not so great), was heavily exposed to all things western. And yet the Russian Church seems to never have seriously considered reunion with Rome. This was certainly not for want of exposure. Exposure was everywhere as a result of Peter’s efforts to “modernize” Russia and also from the periodic invasions from Catholic Poland and other locals. Nor did Peter for all of his occidentophile tendencies attempt to force the Russian Church into any union with Rome. [6]

Fr. Kimel asserts that the Roman Catholic Church is more catholic as a result of its centralization. He correctly identifies the cafeteria style theology now prevalent in much of Europe and the United States as one of the major problems facing the Roman Catholic Church. However I would respectfully argue that the long term solution is not a papal monarchy but rather the restoration of an Orthodox phronema or sensus fidei to the faithful of the Western Church. A short term abandonment of the papal prerogatives is unrealistic given the present situation in the Western Church. However long term this would be the best course of action.

Despite the fairly chaotic jurisdictional soup that is the Orthodox Church today we share one faith. We may occasionally throw furniture at each other when someone mentions the word “calendar” but we still recite the same creed and no one is arguing for the ordination of women. Fr Kimel also comments on the centralized powers of the papacy… “This is the great advantage in possessing a divinely instituted center of unity: it keeps, as Stanley Hauerwas likes to quip, the Irish and Italians, the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits, in one Church.” Try keeping Greeks Russians Arabs and Serbs in one church without a central authority! There is no other way to explain that beyond the working of the Holy Spirit.



[1] Obviously there were exceptions on the fringes of the Russian state where territory traded hands as a result of wars and other occurrences.

[3] “I'm know that papalist positivism--whatever the Pope speaks is God's truth--characterized post-Vatican I Catholicism for a hundred years; but this certainly is no longer the case.” Fr. Al Kimel

[4] It is also worth noting that the aforementioned bull was issued at a time when the Holy See was involved in a highly political and nasty feud with Philip IV of France. Mere coincidence of course.

[6] In fairness this was as likely a political consideration as much as anything else.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Pontificator is Ordained


Al Kimel of Pontifications was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest today. This is the culmination of his long journey from the Episcopal Church. He will exercise his ministry under the pastoral provision for former Anglican clergy granted by HH +John Paul Magnus of blessed memory. I hope that pictures of this joyous event will soon be posted. May God grant Fr. Alvin Kimel many many years!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

San Joaquin Secedes

I am not sure if this is the equivalent of Ft. Sumter. But the diocese of San Joaquin in CA (I actually live within its geographic boundaries) has become the first diocese of The Episcopal Church (TEC) to take formal steps to end its affiliation with the radical liberal denomination whose actions are threatening to tear apart the World Wide Anglican Communion (WWAC). Undeterred by bullying and threats from the liberals now running TEC bishop Schofield has been firmly guiding his diocese (the only one in the US that does not ordain women) towards the exit ever since the General Convention last summer.

In his remarks he has consistently referred to TEC's broad church theology as heresy, and has been unwavering that neither he nor his diocese were prepared to remain in a denomination that had so blatantly abandoned the Apostolic Christian faith. The resolutions passed by the diocese overwhelmingly have replaced all references to TEC with the term Anglican and make it clear the diocese considers itself a part of the WWAC. Bp. Schofield is fairly certain that TEC's days in the WWAC are numbered and he has made it clear where he wants to be when the dust settles.

Now if only we could get him to look at Orthodoxy...

Energetic Procession is back!

It is with great pleasure that I can report that Dan Jones web site Energetic Procession has returned after a long absence. It's been once again restored to my "A" list in the sidebar of recommended web sites. Please note the new web address for your book marks. This is one of the best sites on the web for discussion of serious theological issues with an emphasis on Orthodox Triadology.

The Filioque (Again)

Michael Liccione has posted an essay on the perennial topic of the Filioque over at Sacramentum Vitae. In addition to this interesting article I would recommend the articles posted by Al Kimel on the subject. Finally there is a pretty descent overview of the issue from an Orthodox POV located here. It also has some links to excellent essays and articles on the subject. Caution some of these articles are not light reading.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Under the Turkish Guns, the Christians Roar

It is the peculiar genius of Byzantine history that its glory reached its apogee in the era known to the West as the Dark Ages. It has no great literary heritage – a half-millenium of Muslim domination ensured the annihilation from memory of its major works beyond the Alexiad of Anna Comnena, the anonymous epic of Digenes Akritis, and various religious texts. The latter survived because the Church survived, even as the Empire did not. Chief among them are the great liturgies, and chief among the great liturgies is the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. It is the queen of liturgies: a Greek epic of its own, also of the Western Dark Ages, emphatic and deliberate in its insistent worship of Christ. The liturgy has a heavenly glory in its song and prayer. It also has a mundane length to it. Properly done, it lasts hours. Yesterday, it lasted five hours, from 8am to 1pm. It’s a feat of endurance for the best Christian – particularly as the great majority of it has one standing. I am not among the best Christians. But yesterday, I did it.

Yesterday, I was in the Church of St George at the compound of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Fener district of Istanbul. Across from me sat the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, holder of the last office of the Eastern Empire, and spiritual leader of the Orthodox Christians of the world. Mere feet away, within arm’s reach, sat Pope Benedict XVI....

Read the rest here.
Hat tip to Fr. Huneycutt

DESECRATION OF A HOLY SITE, TURKEY, AND THE POPE

by

Theodoros Karakostas

The Church of Aghia Sophia has special meaning for Greek Orthodox Christians. Aside from its obvious religious and spiritual value, Aghia Sophia is a site of Hellenic
martyrdom and suffering. Following the Ottoman Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Ottomans soldiers interrupted the last liturgy held in the Great Church and
began dragging men, women, and children by the hair, tied them, and began sending them back to Adrianople to be sold into slavery. The Crucifix that stood on the altar was desecrated and mocked as the Janissaries rounded up the faithful while the Great Church was filled with the cries of family members being separated. Mehmet the conquering Sultan had previously told his soldiers and Janissaries that the people of the City would be theirs to enslave while the buildings such as Aghia Sophia would
belong to him.

On November 22, 2006 a pathetic and outrageous spectacle ensued. The notorious Grey Wolves entered the Great Church and defiled it once again. The bloodthirsty
killers who have killed Greek Cypriots in the past, and who are attempting to deprive the Ecumenical Patriarchate of its rights, proceeded to chant "Allahu Akhbar" in the
Church while proceeding to pray in the Muslim fashion. The members of the Grey Wolves shouted "Aghia Sophia is ours"....

This action was carried out less than a week before the visit of Pope Benedict to Constantinople. If there is any reason that should make it quite obvious as to why Turkey does not belong in the European Union, it is the very existence of this wicked racist organization.

The Grey Wolves obviously remember that when Pope Paul VI visited Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in 1967, he prayed inside the Great Church of Aghia Sophia. As such, Turkish extremists of all factions believe that a plot is under way to restore Aghia Sophia as a Church.

This of course is even less outrageous than the assertion of the Grey Wolves that the Ecumenical Patriarch is attempting to revive the Megali Idea on behalf of Greece. The violent demonstrations outside the Ecumenical Patriarchate have included the declaration by the Grey Wolves that their City is Turkish and will never be given up.

There has been a petition in Turkey circulated by the Turkish extreme right that is demanding the outright expulsion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

And what actions has the Turkish government taken to protect one of its minority populations? Ankara continues to insist that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has no right
to use the title "Ecumenical", and that the Ecumenical Patriarch is merely the local Bishop of the Greek minority. By undercutting the proper title of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Ankara is directly fueling the paranoia of the Grey Wolves and the violence against the
Ecumenical Patriarchate.

During the fall of 1993, Turkish extremists attempted to set fire to the Patriarchate. Between May 1994 and October 2004, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was bombed
on four occasions. In late 1997, the Greek caretaker of a Church was brutally murdered, and in October 1999, a nine year old Greek boy on the island of Imbros died in an arson attack. During the fall of 2004, the Greek orphanage at Prinkipos was seized, and during the Spring of 2006 the Monastery of Saint George was confiscated.

The continued seizure of Greek property and the refusal of Turkey to allow the reopening of Halki makes very clear that the Grey Wolves are not acting alone in their terror campaign against the few remaining Greeks. Both the civilian Islamic authorities in Turkey and the Kemalist Generals are contributing to the atmosphere of terror that is again resurfacing in Turkey against the Greek minority and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. News reports in September 2004 indicated that the notorious National Security Council ruled that Halki would not be allowed to reopen.

There is no greater evidence of the lack of remorse on the part of Turkish leaders for the past policies pursued against the Greeks than by the activities of the Grey Wolves. A responsible and democratic government worthy of joining the European Union would not be permitting reprehensible displays of hatred against a vulnerable minority.

It is beyond bizarre that demonstrations in which the Patriarch is burned in effigy are permitted outside the Ecumenical Patriarchate considering the four bomb attacks
at the Phanar!

Last January, the Grey Wolves gathered in Smyrna where a figure made up to look like the Patriarch was dismembered in a way that recalled the horrific murder and mutilation of Metropolitan Chrysostom in 1922. It is ironic because by touching on the murder of the last Bishop of Smyrna, the Grey Wolves were in effect conceding the reality of the Turkish Genocide against the Greeks.

The present Pope may be one that the Orthodox can work with. As former Cardinal Ratzinger, he openly opposed Turkey's bid to join the European Union. Considering
the reception that the Grey Wolves and others are planning for the Pope, it is unlikely he will reconsider his stance on Turkey. In all likelihood, the Papal visit is going to bring the attention of the world on Turkey, and the world is going to get a rare opportunity to actually see beyond the propaganda of Turkey's American, Israeli, and British partners. The Pope recently received President Papadopoulos of Cyprus in Rome where the latter presented him with a book on the destroyed Greek Churches in occupied Cyprus.

The Pope was widely condemned by the politically correct for quoting Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos back in September. The words of Emperor Manuel about Islam were expressed when Constantinople was surrounded by the Islamic armies of the Ottoman Empire. It is unlikely any of these critics know or care to know about the fate of Manuel's last descendants in Constantinople today.

There are those who will blame the quote of Emperor Manuel II for the hostile reception that the Pope will receive in Turkey. This is a completely false and inaccurate assumption. The Turkish government blocked the Papal visit which was supposed to take place last year. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has been harassed by Islamic
militants other than the Grey Wolves over the past decade, so a hostile reception to the Pope was inevitable under any circumstances.

The Pope is scheduled to visit Aghia Sophia and Turkish extremists are likely concerned that the Pope may actually pray inside the Great Church. I hope the
Pope does pray inside Aghia Sophia. Perhaps he will pray for the Christians who fell during the fall of Constantinople, or perhaps he will pray for the plight of Christianity in Turkey and the Islamic world?

The horrors and the evils that transpired in Asia Minor which resulted in the Genocides of the Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks have bee hidden from the Western world for too long. Hopefully, the Papal visit will begin the process of shedding much needed light on the political realities of Turkey today, and its past.

The Visit

As of this writing Pope +Benedict XVI has safely returned to Rome (Deo Gratias) after his trip to Turkey and the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Just a few quick thoughts on the trip.

First, as expected the real reason for the trip received negligible attention in the mainstream media. As far as they were concerned this was all about the Muslims. To some degree that was probably unavoidable given the Pope's comments at Regensburgh and the violent reaction from the Islamic world. Turkey is 99% Muslim and there were some cool feelings towards a Pope who had dared to sharply criticize their religion and also who was on record opposing their country's admission to the EU. But I must confess to my profound disappointment at the blinders that the MSM wore in covering this story. It really was all about how Muslims were offended by this Pope. In yesterday's NY Times article on the papal visit there was all of one sentence about the plight of the Orthodox Church in Turkey.
Turkey’s small population of Orthodox Christians complains of official harassment and bureaucratic obstacles that have prevented its members from operating freely.
This out of a two page story on their website. No mention or discussion of how this country became 99% Muslim nor of its treatment of religious and ethnic minorities. The above complaints aside the trip did go off more or less without major incident even if the MSM declined to spend any time discussing what it was really about.

Those of us who pay attention to what's going on however were gratified to witness only the third visit by a Roman Catholic Pope to the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Nothing really dramatic came of it. No announcement of restored communion or some major breakthrough in the theological discussions that have been ongoing. But the symbolism alone was very powerful. People in many parts of the world were able to witness live a Roman Pope being received at the Phanar with the ceremonial normally reserved for an Orthodox hierarch and seated in a place of honor during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy which was also broadcast live. That alone was worth the trip. (On a side note many comments on Roman Catholic blogs by those who watched the liturgy on EWTN made rather unfavorable comparisons between the current Roman liturgy and the Orthodox one. See comments by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf and also comments on Rorate Caeli)

What is important here are not the documents issued, but the mere presence of the Pope in Constantinople, a city where the bishop who preceded the future Pope John XXIII as the Catholic hierarch there had a sign nailed over the door to his residence that read "qui ex Patre Filoque procedit." There are some on Catholic blogs who have made snide comments about the Pope meeting with the EP. And I have read equally snarky comments on some Orthodox e-lists about "black Bart's meeting with the Roman heretic." These are people who have apparently never read the scriptural injunctions against schism. Yes these do occur. But they are to be deplored. And every effort must be made to heal wounds in the Church of Christ.

This did not heal those wounds. Still, it was a step in that direction. This division is unnatural and deeply offensive to God. And I firmly believe it is a positive duty for all Christians (at least those belonging to the apostolic churches), to do all that can be done to restore unity not just in photo ops but where it counts, in the recitation of the same creed and the sharing of the cup.

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Update: It would appear that there is at least one mainstream news publication which seems to have noted whats going on. Time Magazine has a brief but good article on the Pope's objectives in Turkey in relationship to the Orthodox Church.

Russian Archipelago renamed for Royal Passion Bearers


The archipelago "Severnaya Zemlya" has been renamed for Emperor Nicholas II

Moscow, Dec. 1, 2006:

The Duma of the Taimyr (Dolgano-Nenetz) autonomous region on Friday approved a resolution to return the names of the family members of Emperor Nicholas II to a series of islands in the Arctic Circle, according to Interfax.

In particular, as the document received by "Interfax" says, the archipelago "Severnaya Zemlya" has been renamed as "arkhipelag Zemlya Imperatora Nikolaia II".

The Deputies explained their initiative by the need "to restore what is historically right, and to perpetuate the memory of the rule of the Romanovs, who in their 305 years in power brought Russia to the level of a world power".

Besides that, the island "Maly Taimyr" is renamed as the island of the Tsarevich Alexy; the island "October Revolution" is renamed as the island of St. Alexandra; the island "Bolshevik" is renamed as the island of St. Olga; the island "Komsomoletz" is renamed as the island of St. Maria; the island "Pioneer" is renamed as the island of St. Tatiana; the island "Domashny" is renamed as the island of St. Anastasia.

The proposal to rename the islands has been sent to the government of the Russian Federation, and to the Federal service of Geodesia and Cartography, for the experts.

Hat tip to JRS