Monday, April 30, 2007

A Letter from Reade Seligmann

Reade Seligmann has posted a very classy letter online. Please read it here.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why I like A-Rod

For those who know me, and the sentiments I normally harbor for the New York Yankees this confession may come as a something of a surprise. Yes, I have a soft spot for Alex Rodriguez aka A-Rod (or as my sister affectionately refers to him "Pay-Rod"). This year as he has gotten off to a red hot start (he has already tied the major league record for home runs in April), I find myself rooting for him despite the uniform. Why?

I think I have basically three reasons.

1. Anyone who has been booed by Yankee fans with a consistency and enthusiasm usually reserved for the Boston Red Sox instantly gets at least some feeling from me.

2. He is the anti-Bonds. Please see this excellent article by Mark Starr for a more detailed explanation. But yea if I like A-Rod, I really don't like Barry Bonds.

3. He is a convert to Orthodoxy. :-)

Deleting a link

Since I started A/O I have only removed links to web sites that were abandoned or in one case requested it. However this evening I am removing the link to Free Republic. FR has for a long time been a bastion of conservative thought. And at times some of the thoughts expressed there have pushed the envelope a bit. However over the course of the last couple of years I have been watching as FR has become more and more radical.

Some of the opinions posted over there are just off the scale in terms of wacky. Some are malicious and call for violence. Even on the usually relatively safe religious forum I have seen increasingly nasty attacks by religious bigots (almost always fundamentalist Protestants) against Catholics and Orthodox Christians. The language of political debate (which was always strident) has given way of late to invective. Reluctantly I can no longer endorse FR as a place for conservatives to go and engage in reasoned discourse with one another. I guess I just got tired of seeing the word "treason" tossed around in reference to anyone the author does not agree with. Where there is no longer room for principled disagreement, extremism becomes the norm.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Scenes from the services for Boris Yeltsin

Boris N. Yeltsin the former President of Russia and first person ever democratically elected head of state in that country died this week. Before his State Funeral he lay in state in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow which was rebuilt under his presidency after being destroyed by Joseph Stalin. The below clip shows some scenes from the lying in state including some of the services of the Russian Orthodox Church.

A Pagan Rosary...

Roman Catholics and Orthodox are often accused by those not well versed in the faith of giving honor to the Virgin Mary that should rightly be reserved to God. Apparently however, a pagan group has decided to build on that.

Lutheran church in San Francisco has its own version of the Rosary

WOW -- coming from RC tradition I thought I’d never return to the Rosary. But here it is and here SHE IS. Blessed be, Mairly.”

The “here” in this message, found on herchurch.org, is Ebenezer Lutheran Church in San Francisco. But the SHE is not the Mother of God. SHE is “God/dess.”

On Wednesdays at 7 p.m., Ebenezer opens its sanctuary for the “Christian Goddess Rosary.” The church says it offers “Goddess Rosary Beads” and that “prayers and suggested meditations will be on hand as well as incense, candles and bells.”

“The Goddess rosary is grounded in traditions of the Christian Church and the proclamation of the gospel which is a vision of release from bondage for a new creation,” says the church’s web site.

The Goddess Rosary page on herchurch.org says that though “God as Father plays an important role” in Christian tradition, its “exclusive emphasis... contributes to a limited understanding of God, an understanding that supports a domination structure that oppresses and subordinates women.” Jesus used “Abba” as a “revolutionary deconstruction of domination structures of his day in both religious and social institutions.” The modern task is to do the same with “Goddess.”

Ebenezer, however, does not want to eradicate masculine images of God but to balance them with feminine images to “confront the biblical texts, products of their day and cultures, for the blatant patriarchal biases and misogynist attitudes.” And herchurch.org cites three Catholic theologians in support this confrontation: Harvard’s Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Fordham University’s Sister Elizabeth Johnson, and Rosemary Radford Ruether (who will lecture students in the course, “The History of God in Feminist Theological Discourse,” at LA’s Mount St. Mary’s College this spring.) Ruether calls the exclusive use of male imagery for God “idolatry.”

Herchurch.org offers a “Hail Goddess” prayer by feminist theologian Carol Christ, formerly of Harvard Divinity School but now director of the Ariadne Institute for Myth and Ritual in Greece. The prayer goes: “Hail Goddess full of grace. Blessed are you and blessed are all the fruits of your womb. For you are the MOTHER of us all. Hear us now and in all our needs. O blessed be, O blessed be. Amen.”

“I felt that I had stepped into a Presence, like a mother’s warm embrace,” wrote Dalyn Cook of Ebenezer’s Goddess Rosary. “The attendees were few in number, yet there was a sense of fullness in this welcoming space. I inhaled deeply the earthy scent of the incense, sending up delicate tendrils of smoke which curled around the altar in a nimbus visible against the warm rays of the evening sun filtering through the stained-glass windows....

“From the basket of rosaries, I took into my hand a strand of vibrantly-colored beads with a silver goddess icon in place of the traditional cross. The goddesses came in a variety of shapes and sizes, celebrating the beauty of the feminine form; I found reflections of my own figure in the full hips and Rubenesque curves of my goddess,” Cook wrote.

The source.

Monday, April 23, 2007

God's Editor

Those in favour of harmony will always be hamstrung if the sacred texts upon which they base their beliefs are not edited so that the less salubrious parts do not poison future generations. Why continually explain away difficult texts when it would be better to admit that they should not be there any more?

Of course, the idea of emending Scriptures, when so many people treat every word as the unalterable will of God, presents immense problems. But believers of all faiths need to ask themselves whether reverence for ancient verses should be allowed to override the need for better relationships between all of God’s creatures.

A guideline that might be helpful in judging any passage would be to ask: if such words were to be written today, would they fall foul of the Race Relations Act or religious discrimination legislation? If the answer is yes, how can they continue to have religious imprimatur?

Given the scale of the task, the first step might be to urge that copies of the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Koran and other sacred writings be printed with the parts capable of giving offence in brackets; it would be akin to a religious health warning, to the effect that: “These words have survived from the past but do not necessarily reflect our teachings today.”

Read the rest here (if you have the stomach).

Romano Amerio Rehabilitated

ROMA, April 23, 2007 – In “La Civiltà Cattolica,” the magazine of the Rome Jesuits printed with the prior scrutiny and authorization of the Vatican secretaiat of state, a review has been published that signals the end of a taboo.

The taboo is the one that has obliterated from public discussion, for decades, the thought of the most authoritative and erudite representative of criticism of the twentieth century Church in the name of the great Tradition: the Swiss philologist and philosopher Romano Amerio (in the photo), who died in Lugano in 1997, at the age of 92.

Amerio, although he was always extremely faithful to the Church, condensed his criticisms of it in two volumes: “Iota unum: Studio delle variazioni della Chiesa cattolica nel XX secolo [Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the Twentieth Century],” begun in 1935 and finalized and published in 1985, and, and “Stat Veritas. Séguito a Iota unum [Stat Veritas: Sequel to Iota Unum],” released posthumously in 1997, both issued by the publisher Riccardo Ricciardi, of Naples.

The Latin words in the title of the first volume, “Iota Unum,” are those of Jesus in the sermon on the mount: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter [iota] or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” (Matthew 5: 17-18). The iota is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet.

“Iota Unum,” 658 pages, was reprinted three times in Italy, for a total of seven thousand copies, and was then translated into French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Dutch. It thus reached many tens of thousands of readers all over the world.

But in spite of this, an almost complete blacklisting fell upon Amerio in the Church, both during and after his life.

The review in “La Civiltà Cattolica” thus signals a turning point. Both because of where and how it was published – with the authorization of the Holy See – and because of what it says.

Read the rest here

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Moral Vigilantism & Blood Money

TEHRAN, April 18 — The Iranian Supreme Court has overturned the murder convictions of six members of a prestigious state militia who killed five people they considered “morally corrupt.”

The reversal, in an infamous five-year-old case from Kerman, in central Iran, has produced anger and controversy, with lawyers calling it corrupt and newspapers giving it prominence.

“The psychological consequences of this case in the city have been great, and a lot of people have lost their confidence in the judicial system,” Nemat Ahmadi, a lawyer associated with the case, said in a telephone interview.

Three lower court rulings found all the men guilty of murder. Their cases had been appealed to the Supreme Court, which overturned the guilty verdicts. The latest decision, made public this week, reaffirms that reversal.

“The objection by the relatives of the victims is dismissed, and the ruling of this court is confirmed,” the court said in a one-page verdict.

Read the rest here.



Fr. David on Cho's chaos

“We’ll just have to wait and see what the shooter was about,” replied the radio talk show host to the unusually erudite caller. “We don’t know if the guy was just some nut, or rather was some sort of embodiment of the nihilistic philosophy that you rightly say afflicts our culture.” These were strangely sophisticated musings for the radio, I think to myself.

It was early on in the reporting of the tragic murders at Virginia Tech; little was really known about the man who perpetrated the greatest massacre in American history. It was all speculation; people giving wind to their struggles to make sense of the senseless. Caller after caller spoke; the host made comment upon comment. News flashes interrupted, adding little substance to the absurdity that had become reality.

Now we know more…or do we, really?

Read the rest here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Today's News

As anyone who has not been living in cave today knows, there has been a mass shooting at Virginia Tech. Details are sketchy but at least 32 innocent persons are known to have been killed. An unknown number of others have been injured. Many of those injuries are certainly very serious. Prayers are earnestly solicited for all of the victims and for their families.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Reflections on race and justice

...Donald Imus spews his hurtful and hateful words, using the airwaves as a verbal noose, and an army of people mobilize.

He played on pedantic and ancient stereotypes of blacks as unkempt and unattractive.

In the Duke case, there was stereotypical stereotyping as well. Many people, including myself -- and this is a hard admission to make -- quickly assumed the Duke kids were guilty.

Many of us, almost an entire country, played on stereotypes of white men as abusers of power, flaunting their wealth and credit cards and societal advantages, and stated: Yep, those bastards did it.

They were Duke kids, rich kids, befriending strippers and partying hard. They were punks to us. Yep, those bastards must have done it.

The Rutgers women are of high moral character; I don't see them hiring strippers for a party, so the Duke players are cads in that regard.

Still, when it was revealed the Duke men were innocent of such ugly charges, their freedom coming after months of slowly twisting in the racially charged winds, there should have been worldwide apologies, an entire America wiping the mud off of their bodies and legacies, the stories of their innocence sitting Shiva on the front page of every newspaper and leading the cover of every website.

In other words, the Duke men should have gotten the Imus and Rutgers treatment. They've gotten far from that. Far from it...

Read the rest here

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

INNOCENT!

Breaking News: All charges dropped against three Duke University lacrosse players. The North Carolina Attorney General declared former defendants to be "innocent" of all charges. He also declared the evidence completely contradicted the charges and that it was highly doubtful that any of the alleged crimes ever occurred. The AG was also sharply critical of Durham County DA Mike Nifong's conduct of the case. The AG speaking in an in progress press conference indicated that for various reasons, some of which he could not ethically discuss, he was not going to press charges against the accuser. However his answer hinted at possible mental health issues as a reason

Key words; "Innocent" "Rush to judgment" "Rogue Prosecutor"

A code of conduct for the blogosphere?

Tim O'Reilly has posted a proposed code of conduct for blogs in the wake of a couple of high profile incidents where things got a little ugly. His proposal has apparently struck a nerve with the "I can say anything I want, anywhere I want, and everyone just has to lump it" crowd. The story has been picked up by both the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. I am not wild about a uniform CofC for the simple reason that different blogs do different things, focus on different things and have different types of people who read and comment on them. For some blogs with high volume readership and commentary on really controversial subjects some of this makes sense. But for others it probably does not. For relatively small blogs with limited readership (mine among them) rules are often more a matter of common sense. I have only had a couple of posts that were over the line. And comment moderation has pretty much solved that.

It seems to me that it's a lot easier if we all just play nice.

Is the end at hand?

There are widespread reports in the media and press of an impending announcement from the North Carolina State Attorney's Office regarding the three Duke University lacrosse players. They have been in legal limbo since Durham DA Mike Nifong withdrew himself from the case following a series of allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. The case has been highly controversial from the start and most Americans (including this blogger) have come to view the case with grave suspicions that a politically motivated railroading has been at work. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Declining support for capital punishment

About once a week, a convicted murderer is put to death in a state penitentiary, most often in Texas, where all but one of this year's 12 executions have occurred.

But around the U.S., capital punishment is under siege. Since the first of the year, individual states have acted on long-festering questions about the equity of capital punishment and made bold moves aimed at repealing the death penalty, slowing the practice or temporarily halting it because of rising costs.

The Nebraska Legislature last month came within one vote of repealing its death penalty law. The new governor of Maryland called for the outright repeal of capital punishment. Most of Georgia's 72 capital cases have been stopped because the state's public defender system has run out of money. New Jersey lawmakers are drafting a bill to repeal that state's death penalty. And last month the governor of Virginia, a state whose 96 executions since 1976 are exceeded only by those in Texas, vetoed five bills that would have expanded the use of capital punishment.

"I do not believe that further expansion of the death penalty is necessary to protect human life or provide for public safety needs," said Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine, an opponent of capital punishment.

Skepticism toward and resistance to the death penalty have been building since the late 1990s, after investigations uncovered a troubling number of wrongful convictions. That and existing moral objections to capital punishment prompted some states, led in 2000 by Illinois and then-Gov. George Ryan, to place a moratorium on executions, which have dropped from a yearly high of 98 nationwide in 1999 to 53 in 2006.

Read the rest here

Hat tip to t19

Monday, April 09, 2007

Some thoughts on church discipline

Over at Energetic Procession there is a short article on a subject worthy of a few words, namely lax discipline, especially as relating to communion. In some places the article is rather sharply worded, but it does not say anything in substance that I disagree with. A few simple rules...
  • If you are late for liturgy don't approach the chalice.
  • If you have not been to confession recently you should not approach the chalice w/o your spiritual father's blessing.
  • If you have failed to commune for two or more consecutive Sundays for reasons other than illness or some other unavoidable circumstance you should not commune without first taking confession.
  • If your visiting a parish other than your own you should not commune w/o the blessing of the parish priest or whoever is celebrating liturgy. This means arriving early and talking to the priest before liturgy.
  • If you are immodestly attired (note this does not mean you need to wear a coat and tie or an ankle length skirt) you should not approach the chalice.
  • If you have reason to think someone who is not Orthodox might be about to commune either ask them quietly if they are Orthodox and draw their attention the rules of the Church or put a bug in the priest's ear. It is not the place for layman to enforce Church discipline. However if something potentially inappropriate is happening the priest should be made aware.
  • If you commune you don't leave before the dismissal. Ideally you should stay for the post communion prayers.
Holy Communion is not fast food. There are no golden arches over our church domes.

Pontiifcations hacked...

Word via Michael Liccione that Fr. Al Kimel's blog Pontifications has been the victim of some sort of cyber attack. No details yet but the site has been down pretty much all day. Prayers are solicited for Fr. Kimel as he works to recover his outstanding blog.

Christ is Risen!

The joy of the feast

The week following Pascha (Easter) is called Bright Week in the Orthodox Church. It is a period of intense joy and celebration. During this week there is no fasting or abstinence (even on Wednesday and Friday*). The Royal Doors (sometimes called Great Doors) are kept open all week even during liturgy. And there is no kneeling or full body prostrations permitted at all until Ascension. This includes at home as well as in the church. The traditional greeting up until then is "Christ is risen!" With the traditional reply being "Truly He has risen!"

*Orthodox Christians of the Western Rite continue to abstain from meat (beef & poultry) on Fridays and Wednesdays during this period although fasting, as opposed to abstinence is prohibited until Ascension.

O for the good old days... (the 1250's not the 1950's)

Such is the country’s obsession with the past that in a recent poll of 1,000 Belgians, ages 35 to 65, by the Flemish Heritage Foundation, a majority of respondents said that if they could go back to high school, they would study history, with 30 percent choosing the Middle Ages, compared with 11 percent for the 20th century. Medieval history faculties are no longer lacking students and report a surge in Ph.D. candidates.

The devotion to the medieval period — considered by many scholars to have begun in 476, with the fall of the Roman emperor Romulus Augustus, and ending in 1453, with the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire — is such that, in recent years, juvenile delinquents in Flanders have been allowed to atone for their misdeeds by making the Chaucerian pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, in northern Spain, 1,250 miles, on foot, carrying backpacks and accompanied by a guard.

Read the rest here

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Christ is Risen!

Albanian: Krishti Ungjall! Vertete Ungjall!
Arabic: Al Maseeh Qam! Haqqan Qam!
Armenian: Christos harjav i merelotz! Orhniale harutjun Christosi!
Byelorussian: Khristos Uvoskros! Zaprowdu Uvoskros!
Chinese: Helisituosi fuhuole! Queshi fuhuole!
Coptic: Pikhirstof aftonf! Khen o methni aftonf!
Czech: Kristus vstal zmrtvy'ch! Skutec ne vstal!
Danish: Kristus er opstanden! Ja, sandelig opstanden!
Dutch: Christus is opgestaan! Hij is waarlijk opgestaan!
English: Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!
Estonian: Kristus on surnuist ülestőusnud! Tőesti ülestőusnud!
Finnish: Kristus nousi Kuolleista! Totisesti Nousi!
French:
Le Christ est Resurrecté! En Verite, il est Resurrecté!
Gaelic: Erid Krist! G'deya! n erid she!
Irish Gaelic: Tá Críosd ar éirigh! Go deimhin, tá e ar éirigh!
Scots' Gaelic: Tha Crěosd air čiridh! Gu dearbh, tha e air čiridh!
Georgian: Kriste aghsdga! Cheshmaritad aghsdga!
Greek: Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!
Hebrew
: Ha Mashiyach qam! Ken hoo qam!
Hungarian:
Krisztus feltámadt! Valóban feltámadt!
Italian: Cristo č risorto! Č veramente risorto!
Japanese: Harisutosu Fukkatsu! Jitsu Ni Fukkatsu!
Latin: Christus resurrexit! Vere resurrexit!
Norwegian: Kristus er oppstanden! Han er sannelig opstanden!
Polish: Khristus Zmartvikstau! Zaiste Zmartvikstau!
Portugese: Christo Ressuscitou! Em Verdade Ressuscitou!
Rumanian: Hristos a Inviat! Adeverat a Inviat!
Russian: Khristos voskres! Voistinu voskres!
Serbian: Hristos Vaskrese! Vaistinu Vaskrese!
Slavonic: Christos Voskrese! Voistinu Voskrese!
Slovak: Kristus vstal zmr'tvych! Skutoc ne vstal!
Spanish: Cristo ha resucitado! Verdaderamente ha resucitado!
Sweedish: Kristus är upstĺnden! Ja, Han är sannerligen uppstĺnden!
Syriac: Meshiha qam! Bashrira qam!
Ukranian: Kristos Voskres! Voistinu voskres!
Welsh: Atgyfododd Crist! Atgyfododd in wir!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Bridegroom comes (and I depart)

Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching; and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. But rouse yourself crying: Holy, holy, holy, are Thou, O our God. Through the prayers of the Mother of God Have mercy on us!

The time has come for me to pull the plug on blogging for a little while and focus on some more important things in life. There will not be any further updates on Ad Orientem until after Pascha. Exceptions may be made for major events or developments (at least one is possible though I think unlikely this week). Comments will remain on (approval may be a bit slower than usual) and I will try to check email periodically.

As a parting note it is an added joy this year that Orthodox and Roman Catholics observe the Great Feast on the same date. This is not a common occurrence and we should celebrate this
shared moment. Next year the Latin Easter is on the 23rd of March while Orthodox Pascha falls on April 27th. I wish each of you a blessed Holy Week and a joyous Feast of the Resurrection.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Art of Dying Well

In all thy actions remember the end of thy days and thou shalt never sin. (Sirach 7:36)

It is not difficult, dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, to prove to a man that he has to die; this fact is demonstrated by life itself. But it is most difficult to impress a man with the need for a constant thought of death. Why?

The desire to live is perfectly natural to man, and because life is more precious to him than anything else, he is governed by the instinct to survive: all his thoughts and, one may say, all his actions, are directed by this thirst for life and he is driven to do everything possible to safeguard his existence. And just as someone in love cannot conceive of wanting to be apart from the object of his affection-the very thought of which is painful, so too it is difficult for anyone to abandon all concern for his life and think about death.

There is a saying that opposites begat opposing feelings. So it is here: the more passionately a man laves life, the more passionate his hatred for death, the very thought of which he finds abhorrent. It is, therefore, very difficult to draw a man away from this state, to inspire a tendency to think about death, and to persuade him to rise above the perfectly natural concern for life which is so pleasing to him while the thought of death is odious... One might add that people are so occupied by the everyday business of living that they simply have no strength to think about death.

The holy men of ancient times all practiced the remembrance of death; this led them to observe great spiritual strictness with themselves, and now they are enjoying the bliss of paradise. So the remembrance of death is very healthy, for according to the Christian faith, neither the beginning nor the middle of life will bring any benefit without a worthy conclusion. We must therefore concern ourselves to come to a GOOD end, for which reason we must always think of death, as the wise Sirach says in his book: "In all your actions remember the end of your day, and you will never sin." And so, we entreat God to grant us the grace to speak of death in such a way that its remembrance would be firmly sealed upon your minds and that you would harvest much fruit iron, this sermon.

Knowing that death awaits him, it seems quite unreasonable that man should have no desire to think about it; judging from his preoccupations, one would think he believed that this life was to last forever and that he would always be building lovely homes, acquiring possessions and growing rich. How foolish to think of nothing else but temporal things!

That man is wise who orders his life mindful of its ultimate goal. For example, the final goal of a builder is a completed dwelling, and he directs all the construction activity to this end. The goal of a military commander is victory, and he conducts the entire campaign consistent with this aim. And so it is with other matters. Philosophers say that those people who steer their affairs towards a particular goal may be called wise in their fields, but not 'wise' in the general or absolute sense of the word, But we can call that person absolutely wise who bears in mind the ultimate purpose of human existence · and the purpose of his life, and who conducts all his affairs and his whole life accordingly.

Man's ultimate goal is the perfect contemplation of God, and whoever concentrates on this goal is wise indeed...

You sometimes have doubts concerning matters of faith. If you would often think to yourself about death, these doubts would cease and your faith would be strengthened. Take this as a primary rule. Develop the habit, when alone, of sometimes reflecting upon death; say to yourself: 'One way or another I shall have to die.' Look at your body, your hands, and say: 'These hands, this body must turn to dust and ashes; soon everything will rot. Who is this corpse? that one was a grand maestro, that one was young, that one was rich, that one was handsome, that one was powerful. Not so long ago they were alive and now they are dead; all is decay and ashes. Perhaps I, too, shall soon die, and in a single breath everything pertaining to this life will change.'

Then try to bring yourself further into the thought of death and ask yourself: 'What awaits us after death? Where does a man go after he dies? He doesn't know. And what have we to say about his fate? After all, man is the most excellent creation on earth. And where lies his ultimate purpose?' 'In contemplating God,' say the philosophers. And so, continuing to reflect, say: If the contemplation of God is the ultimate goal, the final destination of man, then everything has as its final destination a state of utter satisfaction and utter repose. We see that in this world no man is entirely without cares; on the contrary, he is constantly beset by various passions and problems. We can thereby conclude that man's destination is not to be found in this life...

O man, throughout life the devil plays chess with you, waiting for Death to come and call out 'check-mate'. It is your responsibility to observe great vigilance in order to win this move, because if you win, you will have won everything, but if you lose, you will lose everything that you attained in this life.

I remember that once, in delivering a similar sermon, I advised you (desiring that you worthily prepare yourself for death) to commission three paintings. Depicted at the top of the first was paradise, and below it-hell. And I recommended that you hang this picture in a conspicuous place in your room, and that you accustom yourself not simply to look at it, but to feel its content. I suggested that you always keep in mind this picture and say: 'Perhaps I shall die today. ' You should be aware that death is always ready to meet you, to abduct you from this life. Where is it you want to go, up or down?

In having death constantly before you, you can cleanse yourself of sin, for there are two things which lead a man to the doing of good: love and fear, and these two prime movers are the teachers of all arts.

Look at a woman who is learning to care for her newborn; she is instructed by love and love calls to action. It follows that if you have love for eternal life, you will diligently apply yourself to attain it and you will not sin.

The second prime mover is fear. Observe a rabbit: when chased by a dog it zig-zags in its course to throw its enemy off track and escape being caught. This it learned by nothing other than its terror of dogs. In the same way, if you will think of hell as your enemy, you will not sin as you do now, but you will learn to flee from sin. And when you

are confronted by the temptation to sin, you will ask yourself: For the sake of a little pleasure, for the sake of some glory, some wealth-all of which is fleeting--do I want to lose paradise where joy is eternal and go to hell to experience unceasing torment? In this way he who has confirmed himself in the remembrance of death will think of paradise and of hell, and then love of God and fear will enter his heart and they will lead him to do good and to turn away from evil.

And so, my beloved son, when temptation comes, think well and say: 'If I succeed in doing good, I shall go to paradise with the saints, but if I act foolishly, I shall go to hell where all sinners are punished.' By thinking along these lines you will chase away all temptation. Ask God to enlighten you and pray that He plant His light in your mind in order that you firmly hold in remembrance the other world...

Without God's grace and without the light of faith it is impossible to save oneself from sin. Make it your first rule, therefore, to ask God each day to give you His Light and that He enlighten you to do His will and strengthen within you the remembrance of death and the life to come. Here you would do well to recite the Psalm: "How long, O Lord, wilt Thou utterly forget me?" (Psalm 12:1). For we say that God has forgotten us when His light is not in us. And so, in reading this psalm, conclude together with David: Enlighten mine eyes, lest at any time I sleep unto death,' lest at any time mine enemy say: I have prevailed against him (Ps. 12:4-5)

The second prescription is this: you yourself must have a strong desire to depart from sin. As an aid, make yourself an imaginary pair of spectacles, "spectacles of death," and through them look at everything. It is said: "Qualis unusquisque est, taliaet sibi videntur," i.e., "a man's perception corresponds to his disposition." Take, for example, someone who is irritated and full of anger and hatred; he is wearing red 'tinted spectacles through which everything appears to him to be full of anger and hatred, and he prepares himself for revenge. But if he took off these ugly spectacles he would no longer think of revenge.

Notice that the imagination, if sufficiently strengthened, can lead a person where it will; if a person's imagination is disposed towards good, it will guide him towards what is good; conversely, if the imagination is full of evil, it will draw a person towards evil.

If, then, you wish to act wisely and avoid sin, train your imagination to focus on the inevitability of death. Let this serve you as that pair of spectacles I mentioned just now in order that death may be constantly before your eyes. In the morning when you rise, the first thing you must do is to make the sign of the cross: and then put on your "spectacles of death", i.e., say to yourself: 'Remember, O man. that you are but dust and to dust you will return.' Then turn to the Lord and say: 'O Lord, I have grieved Thee in committing so many sins; forgive me. It may be that death is near; grant me grace to grieve Thee no more!' My dear one, put on these spectacles of death" and you will see what great benefit they will serve in your life.

You who sit on councils, take heed that your decisions are governed by justice; put on your "spectacles of death" and tell yourself: 'I must speak the truth because death will come and I shall have to account for my actions, and if, against my conscience, I have ruled unjustly, I shall have to suffer punishment for it.' You who dream of making lucrative 'deals' and amassing a fortune, remember death and say to yourself: 'In hell there'll be no counting of money, no possessions in the world will be able to help me there.' You who are chasing after glory and honors, remember that death awaits you: put on the "spectacles of death" and think well upon the fact that if you should go to hell all the honors in the world would be powerless to help you. Woman, if your thoughts become fixed on fancy clothes and all kinds of luxuries, put on the spectacles of death and do not risk eternal condemnation because of an attachment to worldly extravagances. And you, young man. when you are aroused to commit a sin, put on the spectacles of death; remember that you will die, and give yourself over entirely to the service of Christ with a clean heart and pure body. Priest and monk, when temptation comes your way, put on the spectacles of death, and you will find them to be very helpful in your battle with all manner of temptation.

To keep your spectacles from slipping you must use images or objects from the sensory world; make a rule to be present more often at the burial of the dead, go more often to cemeteries, visit more often the dying; my dear one, if you know that one of your relatives, or a friend, or someone else is near death, visit him today and then attend his funeral and think well: What is man? and judge for yourself how frail he is. And thereby you will guard yourself from sin.

You do not know the hour of your death. Therefore do not postpone the hour of repentance, but go quickly and confess your sins; say, 'I want to have confession today and not tomorrow, for tomorrow I may die.'

Take the example of one saint to whom there came the thought: 'You can do this good deed tomorrow,' or 'tomorrow you can begin·.;' and he answered: 'Let us do it today and not tomorrow, because tomorrow we may not find ourselves among the living.' Prepare your will, arrange your affairs and do everything as though tomorrow you were to die, so that whenever the Lord should call, you could say: 'Here I am, Lord! I am ready for death·"

Some people think they can lead a self pleasing life and come to repentance on their death-beds, but God does not call such people very many times· And this is entirely just, for if during his lifetime a person has time and again shown an unwillingness turn to God when called, it is unlikely that he will do so at the last hour. A corresponding thought is expressed in the first chapter of the Proverbs of Solomon:

Since I called, and ye did not hearken,' and I spoke at length, and ye gave no heed but ye set at nought my counsels, and disregarded my reproofs; therefore I also will laugh at your destruction, and I will rejoice against you when ruin comes upon you (24- 26)

In reaching the end of his life without having responded to God's appeals, a man earns God's withdrawal of grace--and under such circumstances it is very difficult to find salvation.

[The final section of Savonarola’s sermon recommends how a person who is ill unto death should prepare himself as he senses the approaching departure from this world. At this point it is crucial above all not to succumb to despair--no matter what kind of life one has led.]

First, run to Christ Crucified and behold His loving kindness: He willingly was crucified and died in order to save you. Trust that if you run to Him with a contrite heart, He will help you, even if you have committed a thousand sins. Just think how graciously He forgave the thief, and therefore do not fall into despair but firmly believe that He will also forgive you, if you run to Him in all humility; after all, it was for your sake that He shed His Blood.

Secondly, from the depths of your heart you must grieve for all your sins, and determine never to return to them; and if it should please the Lord to prolong your life, make a resolution to lead a virtuous life and no longer grieve your Lord. Thirdly, call a good confessor and take pains to confess your sins thoroughly and wholeheartedly, and receive the Holy Mysteries. Finally, take care that there should always be someone by your side who is continuously immersed in prayer, And those of you who are at the bedside of the dying, don't chatter, but rather pray for him, all of you, the whole time, because in this hour prayers are what he or she needs above all else.

St. Gregory the Great, in his Diclogues, relates that one of his monks had a brother, a most willful man by the name of Fyodor, tolerated at the monastery out of pity and love for his brother the monk. Many times the monks appealed to this willful man to amend his behavior, but he was obdurate in his failings, not having the least desire to improve. He reviled the monks and vowed that he would never be one of them.

There came at this time a pestilence which, by God's allowance, visited this man. When the affliction was at its worst and he was near death, the brethren surrounded his bed and all present prayed fervently to God for him. Suddenly he began shouting: "Get out! Get out! All of you!" And when they asked him why, he answered: "Don't you see this serpent which has devoured my body? Only one part remains which the beast cannot devour because your prayers prevent it, and that for me is an even greater torment, than if he were to devour me completely." Then they knew that it was the work of a demon , and said to the unfortunate man: "Cross yourself." And he said: "I cannot, for the serpent holds my arms as if bound." Seeing him in this state, the monks immediately fell to their knees and renewed their prayers with even greater intensity, begging God to release him from the demon's tyranny. And suddenly he began to speak: "Thanks be to God! Thanks be to God! By your prayers I am freed; now I wish to become a monk." He began to lead a good life and died soon thereafter. ,

And so, beloved, may each of you take care to live well if you wish to die well. May we always keep in remembrance the hour of death so that by our wise behavior we may in this life experience the grace of God, and in the world to come--the glory of our Saviour Jesus Christ Who was crucified and died for us, to Whom is due all honor and glory and power to the endless ages of ages. Amen·

- From a sermon delivered November 2, 1496

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The End


Lent has ended. However the Great Fast continues. It is now entering its last week. As we journey into Holy Week Orthodox Christians are preparing for the joy of Holy Pascha (Easter). It is a period of intense spirituality which is reflected in the large number of services held during the week.

The first part of Holy Week presents us with an array of themes based chiefly on the last day's of Jesus' earthly life. "The story of the Passion, as told and recorded by the Evangelists, is preceded by a series of incidents located in Jerusalem and a collection of parables, sayings and discourses centered on Jesus' divine sonship, the Kingdom of God, the Parousia, and Jesus' castigation of the hypocrisy and dark motives of the religious leaders."

The Matins Services (Orthros in Greek Churches) of Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday is called the Service of the Bridegroom, and gets its name from the central figure in the well-known parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25.1-13). "The title Bridegroom suggests the intimacy of love. It is not without significance that the Kingdom of God is compared to a bridal feast and a bridal chamber. The Christ of the Passion is the Divine Bridegroom of the Church. The imagery connotes the final union of the Lover and the beloved. The title Bridegroom also suggest the Parousia.

Each day of Holy Week has its own particular theme. The theme of Monday is that of the barren fig tree (Matthew 21: 18-20) which yields no fruit and is condemned. On Tuesday the theme is on the vigilance of the wise virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13) who, unlike their foolish sisters, were ready when the Lord came to them. On Wednesday the focus is on the sinful woman (Matthew 26: 6-13) who repents. Great emphasis is made in the liturgical services to compare the woman, a sinful harlot who is saved, to Judas, a chosen apostle who is lost. The one gives her wealth to Christ and kisses his feet; the other betrays Christ for money with a kiss.

Also on Holy Wednesday there is in many parishes a service of Holy Unction.

The Sacrament of Holy Unction is a sacrament of faith (James 5:14-15). It is meant for any sick person and is always celebrated in the hope that it will bring healing. While this certainly is the desired effect, it is not the indispensable condition of the Sacrament. The essential purpose of the sacrament is to allow the person to share in the victory of Christ and to raise him into the realm of God's Kingdom. It communicates spiritual power so that the trials of sickness may be borne with courage, hope and fortitude.

The solemn celebration of the Holy Unction on Great Wednesday serves to remind us of Christ's power to forgive and liberate the conscience of personal and collective sin. Thus, it helps emphasize the glorious expectation of Pascha: the resurrection, redemption and sanctification of all life. In addition, it helps us to realize how fragile human life really is and how dependent we are on God; if our life is to have any true meaning.

Great and Holy Thursday morning.

The service of Holy Thursday morning is dedicated exclusively to the Passover Supper which Christ celebrated with his twelve apostles. The main theme of the day is the meal itself at which Christ commanded that the Passover of the New Covenant is to be eaten in remembrance of himself, of his body broken and his blood shed for the remission of sins. In addition, the betrayal of Judas and Christ's washing of the disciples' feet are also central to the liturgical commemoration of the day. In cathedral churches it is the custom for the bishop, to re-enact the footwashing in a special ceremony following the Divine Liturgy.

The liturgical celebration of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday is not merely the annual remembrance of the “institution” of the sacrament of Holy Communion. The very event of the Passover meal itself was not merely the last-minute action by the Lord to “institute” the central sacrament of the Christian Faith before his passion and death. On the contrary, the entire mission of Christ, and indeed the very purpose for the creation of the world in the first place, is so that God's beloved creature, made in his own divine image and likeness, could be in the most intimate communion with Him for eternity, sitting at the table with Him, eating and drinking in His unending kingdom.

In a real sense, therefore, it is true to say that the body broken and the blood spilled spoken of by Christ at his last supper with the disciples was not merely an anticipation and preview of what was yet to come. In fact it was that what was yet to come - the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven - came to pass precisely so that men could be blessed by God to be in holy communion with Him forever, eating and drinking at the mystical table of His kingdom of which there will be no end.

Great and Holy Thursday evening the Twelve Gospels.

The evening service of Great and Holy Thursday is that of the Passion of Christ and is composed of the reading of the Twelve Gospels. This is a profoundly moving service that reminds us of the terrible suffering that Christ endured for the salvation of the world. It is also a fairly long service even by Orthodox standards. the twelve readings are...

  1. John 13:31-38; 14-18:1
  2. John 18:1-28
  3. Matthew 26:57-75
  4. John 18:28-40; 19:1-16
  5. Matthew 27:3-32
  6. Mark 15:16-32
  7. Matthew 27:33-54
  8. Luke 23:32-49
  9. John 19:25-37
  10. Mark 15:43-47
  11. John 19:38-42
  12. Matthew 27:62-66

Great and Holy Friday morning Royal Hours (sometimes called Great Hours).

Each of the four Hours bears a numerical name, derived from one of the major daylight hours or intervals of the day as they were known in antiquity: the First (corresponding to sunrise); the Third (midmorning or 9 a.m.); the Sixth (noonday); and the Ninth (mid-afternoon or 3 p.m.).

Each Hour has a particular theme, and sometimes even a sub-theme, based upon some aspects of the Christ-event and salvation history. The general themes of the Hours are the coming of Christ, the true light (First); the descent of the Holy Spirit (Third); the passion and crucifixion of Christ (Sixth); the death and burial of Christ (Ninth).

The central prayer of each Hour is the Lord’s Prayer. In addition, each Hour has a set of three Psalms, hymns, a common prayer (Christ our God, worshiped and glorified . . .) and a distinctive prayer for the Hour.

Slight variations occur in the Service of the Hours on feast days as well as on fast days. For example, in the place of the regular troparia, the apolytikia of the feast days. For example, in the place of the regular troparia, the apolytikia of the feast are read; or in the case of the Great Fast, penitial prayers are added at the end.

A radical change in the Service of the Hours, however, occurs on Great Friday. The content is altered and expanded with a set of troparia and Scripture Readings (Prophecy, Epistle, and Gospel) for each Hour. In addition, two of the three Psalms in each of the Hours are replaced with Psalms that reflect themes of Great Friday. While the stable-fixed Psalm of the service reflects the theme of the particular Hour, the variable Psalms reflect the theme of the day. In their expanded version these Hours are called The Great Hours or the Royal Hours.

Afternoon of Great and Holy Friday, Great Vespers.

On the afternoon of Good Friday, we conduct the service of the Great Vespers with great solemnity. This Vesper service concludes the remembrance of the events of the Lord's passion, and leads us towards watchful expectation as we contemplate the mystery of the Lord's descent into Hades, the theme of Great Saturday.

In popular language the Vesper Service of Great Friday is often called the Apokathelosis, a name derived from the liturgical reenactment of the deposition of Christ from the Cross. The service is characterized by two dramatic liturgical actions: The Deposition or Apokathelosis (literally the Un-nailing); and the Procession of the Epitaphios (the icon depicting the burial of Christ encased within a large embroidered cloth.) The aforementioned terms are the Greek terms. If someone is familiar with the Slavic feel free to drop me a line or post a comment.

Great Friday Evening the Lamentations.

In an evening service, called the Lamentations at the Tomb, the priest carries the Epitaphios, the painted or embroidered cloth representation of Christ, from the altar around the church before placing it in the Sepulcher, a bier symbolizing the Tomb of Christ. This procession, with the faithful carrying lighted candles, represents Christ's descent into Hades.


Great and Holy Saturday morning.

Vespers and the Liturgy of St. Basil are served with the first real resurrectional themes starting to show. The specific commemoration is the descent in Hades and the loosing of the bonds that held the souls of the departed. Many of the hymns for the service focus on this.

Great Saturday is also one of the most traditional dates of the year for the reception of converts. The receptions usually take place after the morning services so that the newly illumined can make their First Holy Communion at the Pascha Liturgy.

Most Orthodox Christians tend to take Holy Week quite seriously. A significant effort is usually made to attend as many of the services as individual circumstances will permit with an emphasis on the last three days. Fasting remains very important during this period. Even those who have been lax in the fast or disregarded it altogether usually make a special effort to keep it during Holy Week. Those who are strict in their fasting will eat as little as possible from sunset on Great Thursday until they break the fast after Communing at Pascha. Pascha is also the one day out of the year where All Orthodox Christians (not under some form of suspension) are really expected to receive Holy Communion. In some cultures reception of communion has become uncommon or even very rare. But even those who commune only once a year will do so at Pascha. Confession, if not recently done, is also commonly taken during Holy Week in preparation for the Feast of Feasts.

Opening day...

Once again the New York Mets have the best record in the majors....

Of course it was the only game played today. But a win is a win.

Pope says "NO" to Tridentine Mass

Rome - In a move that will shock traditionalists within the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI is expected to announce in his annual Letter to Priests on Maundy Thursday that contrary to popular rumour, there will be no relaxation of the current restrictions on the celebration of the Tridentine Rite of the Mass. The decision comes after negotiations with the Bishops' Conference of France. Vatican sources have indicated that the French Bishops have had such an influence on Benedict that it is possible he may even cancel the 1989 Ecclesia Dei compromise which allowed priests may celebrate the Tridentine Mass with the permission of their Bishop. "We are exceedingly happy with the Holy Father," one French Bishop told Zenit, "he has listened to the truth and acted upon it, and the truth is that the old rite Mass no longer has relevance to Catholics. It belongs to an age that has passed. It was a fussy, incoherent liturgy that insulted rational minds. We are happy indeed."

Read the rest here...