Monday, December 29, 2008

Thoughts on schism & heresy

Via T-19 Rod Dreher has a very thoughtful piece up on the pain of schism and heresy with an eye to the Episcopal Church. Which is worse? For the record I tend to agree with his views. Be sure to check out the comments below his article. Many of them are well written and thoughtful in their own right.

Israel Reminding its Enemies "We Have Teeth"

A Palestinian Terrorist prepares to fire a rocket into Israel three days before Israel counter-attacked. Hamas has fired more than 1000 rockets and several hundred mortar rounds into Israel over the last year.

JERUSALEM — Israel’s military operation in Gaza is aimed primarily at forcing Hamas to end its rocket barrages and military buildup. But it has another goal as well: to expunge the ghost of its flawed 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon and re-establish Israeli deterrence.

On the second day of the offensive, which has already killed hundreds and is devastating Hamas’s resources, Israeli commanders on Sunday were lining up tanks and troops at the border. But they were also insisting that they did not intend to reoccupy the coastal strip of 1.5 million Palestinians or to overthrow the Hamas government there.

This is because whatever might replace Hamas — anarchy, for example — could in fact be worse for Israel’s security. So the goal, as stated by a senior military official, is “to stop the firing against our civilians in the south and shape a different and new security situation there.”

Read the whole story.

Dateline: San Francisco

Hundreds of thousands of cheering people crowded the streets and confetti floated down as the city by the bay rolled out an enthusiastic welcome for the Republican President of the United States on his way to the GOP convention being held in San Francisco...

OK... OK... so it was 1956
The GOP convention in the Cow Palace

Saturday, December 27, 2008

This Site Rated PG

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Andy Burnham says he believes that new standards of decency need to be applied to the web. He is planning to negotiate with Barack Obama’s incoming American administration to draw up new international rules for English language websites.

The Cabinet minister describes the internet as “quite a dangerous place” and says he wants internet-service providers (ISPs) to offer parents “child-safe” web services.

Giving film-style ratings to individual websites is one of the options being considered, he confirms. When asked directly whether age ratings could be introduced, Mr Burnham replies: “Yes, that would be an option. This is an area that is really now coming into full focus.”

ISPs, such as BT, Tiscali, AOL or Sky could also be forced to offer internet services where the only websites accessible are those deemed suitable for children.

Read the entire story.

Of course this is a concept in its early stages, and as the saying goes "the devil will be in the details." But based on first impressions I think this is a good idea as long as it does not actually restrict free access on the part of adults to any websites they wish to visit or give legal license to track their movements on the web (something the U. S. Government already does clandestinely). It seems a reasonable and balanced approach to a serious problem. I look forward to seeing what they actually wind up proposing.

P.S. When I wrote my initial post I had the title label this site as rated G. After some thought I concluded that occasionally subjects are addressed on A/O that might not be suitable for really young children. I felt kinda odd slapping a PG rating on my own blog.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Thought for the day...

Back home after a rather trying day at work and I must confess that I am not feeling warm and fuzzy right now about the season. Given that I am not Roman Catholic purgatory is not on my theological hit parade. But on the off chance that I am wrong, there are some people who frequent malls during the last few days before Christmas who I think might be candidates for spending a few thousand years working Christmas in retail.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The dangers of deflation

Hundreds of thousands of people are being laid off. The nation’s leading banks and carmakers need bailouts. The stock market has had an ugly 2008.

Well, here’s something else to worry about: deflation. This week, the government announced that prices fell in November for the second month in a row.

It might seem hard to understand what the problem is with falling prices. If all they mean is that we can buy our Christmas presents for less this month than we could have a month ago, maybe we can get the decked out Mac after all. What’s there to worry about?

A lot. If prices persist in their decline, they could be devastating to the economy — not primarily because of their impact on consumers’ spending habits but because of their impact on consumers’ ability to service their debts.

Think of it this way: Say you earn $50,000 a year, and have a $200,000 mortgage. If there is heavy deflation, prices and salaries fall. Your salary might go down to $40,000, but your mortgage would remain the same. Suddenly, making those mortgage payments has gotten a lot tougher.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

An eye for an eye...

TEHRAN -- Ameneh Bahrami once enjoyed photography and mountain vistas. Her work for a medical equipment company gave her financial independence. Several men had asked for her hand in marriage, but the hazel-eyed electrical technician had refused them all. "I wanted to get married, but only to the man I really loved," she said.

Four years ago, a spurned suitor poured a bucket of sulfuric acid over her head, leaving her blind and disfigured.

Late last month, an Iranian court ordered that five drops of the same chemical be placed in each of her attacker's eyes, acceding to Bahrami's demand that he be punished according to a principle in Islamic jurisprudence that allows a victim to seek retribution for a crime. The sentence has not yet been carried out.

The implementation of corporal punishments allowed under Islamic law, including lashing, amputation and stoning, has often provoked controversy in Iran, where many people have decried such sentences as barbaric. This case is different.

Read the entire article. WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

8 really, really scary predictions

Nouriel Roubini
Nouriel Roubini
Known as Dr. Doom, the NYU economics professor saw the mortgage-related meltdown coming.

We are in the middle of a very severe recession that's going to continue through all of 2009 - the worst U.S. recession in the past 50 years. It's the bursting of a huge leveraged-up credit bubble. There's no going back, and there is no bottom to it. It was excessive in everything from subprime to prime, from credit cards to student loans, from corporate bonds to muni bonds. You name it. And it's all reversing right now in a very, very massive way. At this point it's not just a U.S. recession. All of the advanced economies are at the beginning of a hard landing. And emerging markets, beginning with China, are in a severe slowdown. So we're having a global recession and it's becoming worse.

Things are going to be awful for everyday people. U.S. GDP growth is going to be negative through the end of 2009. And the recovery in 2010 and 2011, if there is one, is going to be so weak - with a growth rate of 1% to 1.5% - that it's going to feel like a recession. I see the unemployment rate peaking at around 9% by 2010. The value of homes has already fallen 25%. In my view, home prices are going to fall by another 15% before bottoming out in 2010.

For the next 12 months I would stay away from risky assets. I would stay away from the stock market. I would stay away from commodities. I would stay away from credit, both high-yield and high-grade. I would stay in cash or cashlike instruments such as short-term or longer-term government bonds. It's better to stay in things with low returns rather than to lose 50% of your wealth. You should preserve capital. It'll be hard and challenging enough. I wish I could be more cheerful, but I was right a year ago, and I think I'll be right this year too.

Read the other seven predictions here.

Nouriel Roubini is a man I respect. I am not going to say he is infallible. But like Peter Schiff (see here & here) he has some credibility on this subject that is not exactly widespread these days. Thus when he speaks I pay attention. And very frankly what he is saying scares the &%!! out of me.

I really really hope that he is (finally) wrong.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Scenes from the Funeral of Alexii II

Part 1

Part 2

Give rest, O Lord, to the soul of Thy servant who has fallen asleep…
Memory Eternal! Memory Eternal! Memory Eternal!

In the Vatican times are a changin...

The Former Prefect: Cardinal Francis Arinze

The New Prefect: Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera

The new Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has been named by Pope Benedict XVI. To no one's particular surprise he has appointed Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera of Toledo (Spain). The new Prefect has a reputation for conservatism that has earned him the nickname "little Ratzinger." This would seem to be very much in line with the Pope's much rumored agenda for a "reform of the reform" of the liturgy.

Benedict has been sharply critical of various aspects of the liturgical reform that occurred in the wake of Vatican II. Since acending to the See of Peter he has suported a return to more traditional Catholic liturgical practices such as Mass celebrated Ad Orientem, kneeling for communion and an increased use of Latin in parts of the Mass with a special emphasis on Gregorian chant. In July of 2007 he issued a Motu Proprio lifting most restrictions on the use of the Roman Missal of 1962 (often referred to as the Tridentine rite).

Monday, December 08, 2008

Tis the Season...

My schedule is becoming increasing hectic. As of about an hour ago my two days off this week have been canceled and I expect to be working pretty much every day for the next couple of weeks. Since I am likely going to have entirely too much free time after Christmas I am taking the hours I can get now without complaint. I still expect to blog, but posting may be somewhat erratic depending on schedules and what else needs to be done.

Wishing all a joyous Advent (or tolerable Nativity Fast)...


P.S. I have received a number of emails from readers, and I am getting worse than usual about replying in a timely manner. Please forgive me.

The Passing of a Blog

The blogger known as Eirenikon (see the link in the sidebar) has announced that he is closing up shop. This is not terribly surprising as the blog has been inactive for sometime, but it is still sad. It was an excellent blog with some very thoughtful discussions there on issues relating to the relationship (or lack thereof) between Orthodoxy and the Roman Catholic Church. I will be leaving the link in the side bar for those interested in perusing the archives.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Erasing the "G" Word

God Bless America

Normally, I'm for keeping church and state out of each other's business as much as humanly possible, mostly to protect religion from government intrusion and idolatry, but also to protect us from zealots who think Jesus wears an American flag lapel pin.

Inserting "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance and adding "In God We Trust" to our money diminishes religious faith, which recognizes no national borders or economic systems. And it disrespects America's pluralistic promise.

But lately, I'm beginning to think that evangelical Christians who are complaining about the "War on God in America" have a point.

"There's a terrible movement to rewrite our history and obscure our faith," J. Randy Forbes, a Republican congressman from Virginia, told the National Review this week.

I don't know about a movement, but things are getting a bit suspicious.

Take the new $621 million capitol Visitor Center, which opened this week to mixed reviews. Among the critics were Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican who several weeks ago noticed that something was missing from a center's replica of the House Speaker's rostrum. The words "In God We Trust" -- engraved over the actual rostrum in 1962 -- were not included in the replica.

The center identified "E. Pluribus Unum" (rather than "In God We Trust") as the official national motto. Displays deleted these words from Article 3 of the Northwest Ordinance; "Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind..."; and the words "in the Year of Our Lord" from Article 7 of the Constitution.

Read the rest here.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Some kind words from the Roman Bloggosphere

Rocco Palmo, a well known Catholic blogger, has posted the text of Pope Benedict XVI's unusually personal (and frankly moving) letter of condolence to the Holy Synod of the Russian Church on the death of Patriarch Alexei. He also has written a really nice article about the election of Metropolitan Jonah as the new Primate of the OCA. I reccomend both.

Memory Eternal: Alexii Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia

His Holiness has reposed at the age of 79. May his memory be eternal!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Is the Worst Over? "No" says Peter Schiff

The man who was laughed at over the last 2-3 yrs for predicting the current economic crisis (see the previous post) made an appearance on CSNBC on November 20th. When asked if the worst was over he gave a frankly grim prediction for the future. This man has been dead on in his predictions thus far and his prognostications for the next couple years sound pretty well reasoned to me. I really hope that he is wrong this time. But I would not put money on it. Not even a dollar that might not be worth the paper it's printed on.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Something is rotten in Finland

I am not going to belabor this excessively since it has been addressed by Owen the Ochlophobist. However it appears that some really serious problems are cropping up in the small Finnish Orthodox Church. The most serious is what appears to be an openly pro-homosexualist cadre of clergy, some of whom are very close to Archbishop Leo (the primate), that is pushing all kinds of liberal heresy. As Owen's post makes clear, the Russian Church is taking official note of this and does not appear disposed to ignore the efforts of some to create an Orthodox equivalent to the Epsicopal Church.

I hope that the world's other Orthodox churches will send messages of support to the Russian Synod and Patriarch Alexei in this matter while also urging Archbishop Leo to firmly address the very serious problems that appear to be threatening the church given to his care. It would be nice if the Ecumenical Patriarch (who seems always to be looking for reasons to intrude into the canonical territory of other Orthodox churches), would lend his support to this as well. For the canonical Primus Inter Pares this would seem to be the kind of situation that the Fathers had in mind for the exercise of a true Orthodox primacy.

I encourage all to read Owen's post linked above. Also check out the comments there for some links to other related reports.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Just a quick note to wish everyone a joyful and relaxing holiday. I will be taking a break from the Nativity Fast tomorrow and enjoying a rare down day. The rest of this week is looking kinda rough. So barring something urgent, I don't expect much time for posting again before Monday.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI on interfaith diaglogue

...In comments from the letter that appeared on Sunday in Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading daily, the pope said the book “explained with great clarity” that “an inter-religious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible.” In theological terms, he added, “a true dialogue is not possible without putting one’s faith in parentheses.”

But Benedict added that “intercultural dialogue which deepens the cultural consequences of basic religious ideas” was important. He called for confronting “in a public forum the cultural consequences of basic religious decisions.”

You just know he is gonna take all kinds of heat for this. Which brings to mind the old axiom that the most offensive word in the English language is "truth."

Read the entire article here.

A Depression coming? Kipplinger says not likely...

Expect to see a recession similar to those in the 1970s and early 1980s.

What are the odds that this economic slump will deepen into a genuine depression not seen since the 1930s? In my judgment, it's not likely. Instead, I foresee a moderately severe recession.

We're all hearing more and more comparisons being drawn to the Great Depression. Yes, we're in the worst financial crisis since that era, but by no means the worst economic crisis since then -- not comparable to, say, the mid-1970s.

Former Goldman Sachs chairman John C. Whitehead got a lot of attention last week with his statement that the federal government could face a downgrading of its credit rating, aggravating the recession. The result, he said, "would be worse than the Depression." Now, "would" is a squishy word in forecasting, but the headlines screamed, "Whitehead Sees Slump Worse Than Depression."

Whitehead, a distinguished American of 86 years, was an adolescent during the 1930s, so he should remember those horrible times well. I wasn't born until after World War II, so my knowledge of the Depression comes largely from books. Here are some things I've learned:

The Great Depression was a global economic collapse of unfathomable magnitude, and today's statistics of pain would have to be multiplied manyfold to match those of the 1930s.

And the Depression was preventable -- if governments worldwide had responded earlier and smarter after the stock market crash of 1929. The lessons learned since then greatly reduce the likelihood of a reprise of that decade of hardship.

Read the rest of this very interesting and detailed article here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Episcopacy, Primacy, and the Mother Churches: A Monastic Perspective

A Paper delivered at the Conference of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius,
St Vladimir’s Seminary, June 4–8, 2008

Abbot Jonah

A prominent orthodox theologian has remarked that he thinks bishops have become useless. And he is only echoing a widespread and long-standing sentiment in our tradition. This is clear evidence of a crisis of episcopal leadership and primacy in the Church, a crisis that cuts to the heart of the apostolic and catholic identity of the Church.

While most of the problems I will address in this paper are specific to the extraordinary situation of Orthodoxy in America, they have broader application because they reveal the crisis of primacy on the ecumenical level. (And I use “ecumenical” to refer to the oikumene – the whole Orthodox Catholic Church). They also reveal the challenge to the Church’s organization and ecclesiology posed by the new political and cultural realities of the third millennium.

A fascinating essay from our new Metropolitan. I still can't believe he used to be an Episcopalian! Would anyone care to compare this with any of the writings of Ms. Schori (the Presiding Bishopess of the Episcopal Church)?

The ecclesiological issues addressed here are weighty, and this essay written by one now elevated to the First See of the Orthodox Church in America should be read by any concerned with the jurisdictional chaos in the modern Orthodox Church.

Read the entire essay.

Hat tip to Bill (aka the Godfather).

Friday, November 14, 2008

The new job reality check...

CHICAGO — A couple of weeks ago, Barack Obama headed to the Hyde Park Hair Salon for a trim. He greeted the staff and other customers and plopped down in the same chair in front of the same barber who has cut his hair for the last 14 years.

But when he wanted a trim this week, the Secret Service took one look at the shop’s large plate-glass windows and the gawking tourists eager for a glimpse of the president-elect and the plan quickly changed. If Mr. Obama could no longer come to the barber, the barber would come to him and cut his hair at a friend’s apartment.

Life for the newly chosen president and his family has changed forever. Even the constraints and security of the campaign trail do not compare to the bubble that has enveloped him in the 10 days since his election. Renegade, as the Secret Service calls him, now lives within the strict limits that come with the most powerful office on the planet.
Read the rest here.

I did not vote for the guy. But I do feel for him and his family. I often think that anyone who actually wants that job has to be either incredibly patriotic or nuts. Maybe a little of both.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Must Listening...

The remarks of then bishop Jonah on the eve of his election as Metropolitan. As background he is responding to some tough questions dealing with the various problems and scandals that have plagued the OCA from delegates at the 15th All American Council in Pittsburgh. But the real themes are accountability, love and forgiveness. This is REALLY powerful stuff. I can not recommend it too highly. I don't care if your Orthodox. It works for anyone (though Roman Catholics especially might find much to ponder). Listen to it all and pass the recording to your friends.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rome: Recant or else...

More evidence that Pope Benedict XVI seems to be serious about cleaning up some of the mess left over from the late 1960’s and 70’s…

In a rather rare display of backbone, the Roman Catholic Church has warned a dissident priest to recant his open calls for the ordination of women or face excommunication. Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a longtime champion of leftist causes, has received a letter from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) warning of the extreme sanction should he continue his calls for women's ordination (wo). He has been given thirty days to respond. In an open letter to the CDF Fr. Bourgeois has rejected their demands and reiterated his position which is considered to be heretical by the Roman Catholic Church. In August he actively participated in the "ordination" of Janice Sevre-Duszynska by a religious sect claiming to be women with Roman Catholic Holy Orders. Needless to say their orders are not recognized by Rome (or the Orthodox Church).

I have a feeling that the Episcopalians may be about to get a new priest.


Many Years!!! (Breaking News)

To His Beatitude Archbishop Jonah of Washington and New York and Metropolitan of all North America and Canada. Met. + Jonah was elected (in a stunning upset) at today's session of the 15th All American Council of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). Until very recently His Beatitude was the abbot of St. John's Monastery in Northern California. He was elected Bishop of Ft. Worth (TX) and auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of the South in the spring of this year and was only consecrated a bishop twelve(!) days ago.

Read the whole story here.

Hat tip to Bill (aka The Godfather)

The audio from the council announcing his election and his first remarks as Metropolitan can be found here.

A second update:
Video of the election.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A brief reminder

In the nearly three years I have been blogging I have been continuously impressed by the very thoughtful and sometimes thought provoking comments posted on Ad Orientem. Some of those have expressed disagreement with my opinions, and that is fine too. However, there are some basic guidelines which I have posted (see the link in the sidebar) that I feel are reasonable and necessary.

To say that problematic comments have been rare would be seriously exaggerating their frequency. But in the last week I have had a couple that I felt were inappropriate and I was obliged to remove. If you have not read the guidelines, please take a minute to do so. As always questions, comments and suggestion are welcome either in the com box or by email (my address is also linked in the sidebar).

Under the mercy,

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Bp. Hilarion (Alfeeyev) Speaks

Bp. Hilarion (Alfeeyev) of Vienna

His Grace Bp. Hilarion of Vienna has of late been the subject of much talk in the OCA and indeed the broader Orthodox world. He has been widely touted as a potential successor to the recently retired Metropolitan Herman. However, in an open letter he has requested that his name be withdrawn from consideration for that post. The reasons he cites are in my opinion weighty, and should be respected.

Now in an October 30th interview posted on Orthodoxy Today (hat tip to the Young Fogey) +Hilarion addresses a wide range of subjects including Orthodoxy in America, the recent problems in the OCA and Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement. On the latter subject I think his comments are very interesting. One can not but take note of his fairly direct criticism of the more liberal Protestant sects and their constantly evolving standards and theology. Perhaps most telling is his view (which I have held for sometime) that serious ecumenical dialogue with anyone other than the Roman Catholics and Oriental Orthodox is pretty much a waste of time. (Roman Catholic readers may find his reference to their sacraments encouraging.) A few of the highlights are below. I encourage the reader to check out the entire interview.

...Within this situation, I believe that the uniqueness of the OCA consists in the fact that it is the first Orthodox Church on the American continent that has declared itself American. It is meant to be not one of the ethnic churches of the “diaspora,” but the national Orthodox church of the USA, Canada and Mexico. It is meant to be the living testimony to the universality of Orthodox Christianity. As Metropolitan Kallistos Ware said, “The Orthodox Church is not something exotic or oriental. It is mere Christianity.” So, we can say to whoever wants to join the Orthodox Church: “You don’t need to be or to become Russian, or Greek, or Antiochian in order to be Orthodox. You don’t need to become exotic or oriental. You can be Orthodox while retaining your national and cultural identity.”

…After more than thirteen years of intensive ecumenical involvement I can declare my profound disappointment with the existing forms of “official” ecumenism as represented by the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches and other similar organizations. My impression is that they have exhausted their initial potential. Theologically they lead us nowhere. They produce texts that, for the most part, are pale and uninspiring. The reason for this is that these organizations include representatives of a wide variety of churches, from the most “conservative” to the most “liberal.” And the diversity of views is so great that they cannot say much in common except for a polite and politically correct talk about “common call to unity,” “mutual commitment” and “shared responsibility.”

I see that there is now a deep-seated discrepancy between those churches which strive to preserve the Holy Tradition and those that constantly revise it to fit modern standards. This divergence is as evident at the level of religious teaching, including doctrine and ecclesiology, as it is at the level of church practice, such as worship and morality.

In my opinion, the recent liberalization of teaching and practice in many Protestant communities has greatly alienated them from both the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. It has also undermined the common Christian witness to the secularized world. The voice of Christendom is nowadays deeply disunited: we preach contradictory moral standards, our doctrinal positions are divergent, and our social perspectives vary a great deal. One wonders whether we can still speak at all of “Christianity” or whether it would be more accurate to refer to “Christianities,” that is to say, markedly diverse versions of the Christian faith.

Under these circumstances I am not optimistic about the dialogue with the Protestant communities. I am also far less optimistic about the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue than my beloved teacher Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. In my opinion, the only two promising ecumenical dialogues are between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics, and between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox families. While there are well-known theological differences between these three traditions, there is also very much in common: we all believe in Christ as fully human and fully divine, we all uphold the apostolic succession of hierarchy and de facto recognize each others’ sacraments.

But even with regard to relations between the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, both Eastern and Oriental, we need new forms of dialogue and cooperation. It is not sufficient to come once every two years for a theological discussion on a topic related to controversies that took place fifteen or ten centuries ago. We need to see whether we can form a common front for the defense of traditional Christianity without waiting until all our theological differences will disappear. I call this proposed common front a “strategic alliance” between the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox. I deliberately avoid calling it a “union” or a “council,” because I want to avoid any historical reminiscences and ecclesiastical connotations. Mine is not a call for yet another “union” on dogmatic and theological matters. I am rather proposing a new type of partnership based on the understanding that we are no longer enemies or competitors: we are allies and partners facing common challenges, such as militant secularism, aggressive Islam and many others. We can face these challenges together and unite our forces in order to protect traditional Christianity with its doctrinal and moral teaching.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

What Price Justice?

MIAMI — Public defenders’ offices in at least seven states are refusing to take on new cases or have sued to limit them, citing overwhelming workloads that they say undermine the constitutional right to counsel for the poor.

Public defenders are notoriously overworked, and their turnover is high and their pay low. But now, in the most open revolt by public defenders in memory, the government appointed lawyers say budget cuts and rising caseloads have pushed them to the breaking point.

In September, a Florida judge ruled that the public defenders’ office in Miami-Dade County could refuse to represent many of those arrested on lesser felony charges so its lawyers could provide a better defense for other clients. Over the last three years, the average number of felony cases handled by each lawyer in a year has climbed to close to 500, from 367, officials said, and caseloads for lawyers assigned to misdemeanor cases has risen to 2,225, from 1,380.

“Right now a lot of public defenders are starting to stand up and say, ‘No more. We can’t ethically handle this many cases,’ ” said David Carroll, director of research for the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Shed No Tears For The GOP

(With a few exceptions inserted into the text, the essay below closely reflects my sentiments. -John / Ad Orientem)

This election's stunning results are testament to Barack Obama's oratory, background, and skills as a politician. They also amount to a repudiation of today's Republican Party.

The rejection is richly deserved. Over the last eight years, Republican politicians increased the national debt by roughly 2.5 times, ran up what may be a multi-trillion dollar tab in an unnecessary war in Iraq, and spent hundreds of billions on a Wall Street bailout that seems to be doing little good. (I hate to say this but the so called bailout was probably a necessary evil. Things would be much worse if that had not passed.)

Then there was the debacle called Gitmo, a general disdain for basic principles of federalism, the warrantless wiretapping program and hostility to the rule of law, the ascent of so-called neoconservatives, and dizzying fiscal recklessness and government growth. In this decade alone, over 700,000 new pages of proposed or final federal regulations have appeared. (Can I have an AMEN please!)

President Bush can claim some successes, including his 2001 tax cuts (bad idea while we still were running a national debt), his sincere support for immigration reform, and his enthusiasm for free trade (with some protectionist lapses). He was on the right track with private accounts for Social Security and health savings too. (Another bad idea. If those accounts had been privatized they would have been murdered along with the rest of the stock market.)

But those stands can't make up for the rest of his party's policies, such as its enthusiasm for a war that has yielded infamous torture memos and caused the deaths of thousands of American troops and at least 88,000 Iraqi civilians.

If a Democrat had proposed many of the above ideas, Republicans would have yowled. Instead, they adopted them as part of the GOP platform.

No wonder we're not hearing about President-Elect John McCain today.

Perhaps this was an impossible election for any Republican to win. But it was McCain's position during the September debate over the bailout bill that seemed to doom his campaign.

In mid-September, both McCain and Obama enjoyed roughly even odds of winning. Then, after the Arizona senator signed onto the bailout, he slipped so far down he could never climb back. Republican pollster Frank Luntz says McCain could have been a "hero to tens of millions of hard-working middle-class voters who resent seeing their tax dollars handed over to fund the retirement packages of the Billionaire Boys Club." (I think it was less the bailout than the general collapse of the financial markets which precipitated the great awakening on the part of the American people to the realization that we are in serious trouble.)

From the Republicans' perspective, perhaps the best that can be said about their losses on Tuesday is that the GOP has been given a second chance to figure out what its principles are.

In a 1975 magazine interview, Ronald Reagan said: "I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism... The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is."

Unfortunately, that describes concepts that today's Republicans have either discarded or forgotten. Neither the act of creating the U.S. Department of Homeland Security nor the choice to push for the No Child Left Behind law, to take just two examples, would jibe with Reagan's ideas of "less government interference" and "less centralized authority."

Neglect of those principles has created a dangerous situation in the U.S. Congress, where Democrats have just gained five Senate seats and are close to becoming a political monopoly.

Neither party is especially prudent on fiscal matters, of course. But the ability of either to exercise monopoly power in Washington, or something close to it, should worry anyone concerned about limits on government and worried about new taxes and harmful restrictions on free trade.

Divided government has its benefits. One calculation says the best times for the U.S. stock market -- a 20.2 percent stock market return and a 4 percent GDP increase -- happened under a Democratic president and a Republican Congress. Then there's the remarkable stock market boom after the 1994 mid-term election.

If the GOP can do some honest soul-searching and kick its big government addiction, it might get somewhere in the 2010 elections. Otherwise, we may have just witnessed the dawn of a long-lasting Democratic majority.

Too many Republicans have gotten away with talking up free markets, limited government, and the power of the individual, while quietly doing the opposite once elected. This year, at least, voters seemed to have figured that out.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Please Pray For Our Country

On the eve of the great election...
For our country, the president, those in the armed forces and all those in public service as also those seeking elective office and the electorate, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord have mercy!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Maria Antonia Josefa Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen : Princess of Austria and Queen of France

Marie Antoinette
Born November 2nd 1755, the Feast of All Souls in the Western Church

It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she had just begun to move in, glittering like the morning star full of life and splendor and joy. 0h, what a revolution! and what a heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her, in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers! I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards, to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.

But the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom! The unbought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone. It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.

Edmund Burke - 1793

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Heresy's New Missionary

From the AP via T-19:
MANCHESTER -- Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson said he led a confidential retreat a few years ago for gay Roman Catholic priests...

...I had said to them, 'It's too dangerous for you to come out as gay to your superiors, but I believe that if you work for the ordination of women in your church, you will go a long way toward opening the door for the acceptance of gay priests," Robinson said.
Not content with the destruction he has wrought within his own denomination and the wider Anglican Communion it would appear that VGR has now decided to branch out to the Roman Catholics. This is so outrageous and offensive I really don't even know where to begin. It is one thing for a high ranking member of the clergy to stand up in the clear light of day and express deep disagreements with the theology and discipline of another religious confession. It is an altogether different thing to attend clandestine meetings with clergy from that confession and encourage them to work to subvert their church's doctrine and discipline. This is just way over the top. At the very least, I hope that a strongly worded letter is sent by Rome to Ms. Schori (the Presiding Bishopess of The Episcopal Church) protesting this intrusion by one of their "bishops" into the affairs of another church.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Propositions 8 and 4

(The below is posted at the request of Fr. David Thatcher, an occasional contributor to this blog. - John / Ad Orientem)

Recently, I was asked by a parish member about a couple of very important Propositions in our California election next week. Proposition 8 would re-establish heterosexual marriage — between a man and a woman — as California law; Proposition 4 would require parental notification, as well as a 48 hour waiting period, before a minor girl could obtain an abortion. She knew my position, in particular about Prop. 8, and she disagreed — adding that she also was not for Prop. 4. In response, I wrote the following. I do not attempt to be original in what I say. Rather, I write as an unworthy pastor in the historic Christian tradition and faith.

You ask me if I am interested in polling the faithful in our church, to see how they intend to vote with respect to Propositions 8 and 4 this election in California. Well, voting as a Christian citizen in this land of ours is a matter of conscious before God. I certainly do not see my calling as a priest to impose a particular point of view on these matters. My role is one of moral persuasion. Besides, the question is twofold, at least: there is Christian moral belief on the one hand, but then the law of our country on the other. In addition, while I am interested in what folks think, moral truth is not established (or changed) by taking a vote. If every one in our church parish voted against Prop 8, it would be a source of great grief for me, but it would not change moral truth.

First, taking a position for Proposition 8 is not an act of intolerance, or hate. If marriage is, by nature and meaning, essentially heterosexual, then any law seeking to re-define it is simply mistaken, and needs correction. I certainly disagree with your opinion on both counts, and believe that you are incorrect in your assessment. I have put down my response, worrying that you could, in the end, be offended. Please know that my goal is to speak the truth in love.

I believe that the concept of "civil rights" is confused in our day. Rights do not come from the State; our founding documents and language of inalienable rights are clear in this respect. Rights, as such, are rooted in the structure of nature and creation, believe it or not. Does that not frame the matter differently? If rights are an expression of nature, according to the intent and design of the Creator, and homosexuality is not the way that people are meant to be, viz a viz creation, then the State granting a "right" of marriage is something not at all rooted in reality, is it? After all, every cell of every part of our body has our sexuality imprinted in it, as male or female. Chromosomes! They are XX or XY, female or male (respectively), right? Our affections may get confused, but our nature is not. I suppose there are genetic mutations, but that is another matter.

Another red herring in all this is the framing of rights in terms of some amorphous vision of the evolution, or so-called "progress," of the human spirit. C. S. Lewis refers to this in its different forms: "scientism" (as opposed to science) or "evolutionism" (as opposed to evolution). These "-isms" take a fundamental form of human thought or life which is legitimate in and of itself, like science or evolution, and turns it into a paradigm of interpretation only dimly related to the original activity itself. This many, like Huxley or contemporary "faux" philosophers, see some sort of "onwards and upwards" concept of human "progress" and applies it inappropriately to all sorts of things. Behind it is often lurking an ideology, a kind of utopianism or vision of society, such as is the case with Marxism.

I believe that such concepts of human progress have been applied, inappropriately, to civil rights and freedoms. The thinking, which should seem familiar, goes like this: first is was liberation of the African American from slavery, then came the rights of women through suffrage and then, later, women's liberation; today it is all about the rights of our gay friends. A kind of grid or timeline is erected to frame the issue at kind, in this case an apparent human right. With such thinking, the issue — and now I am talking about same sex marriage, not toleration or the human rights of homosexuals — is not decided so much on the merits of the arguments. Rather, all depends on this model of movement and progress. Are you not on board with same sex marriage? Well, then! You are contrary to this great movement of the human spirit — a sort of political and moral throwback to medieval times, or the like!

This is all nonsense, and I can demonstrate that. If the "right" to marriage is indeed on the table, then what about my right to merry, say, my mother, or perhaps my daughter? I might say, if you object, that we love each other! How dare you interfere with my right to love somebody as I see fit! Or, perhaps I want to marry my pet dog? If you think that is an outrageous reductio ad absurdum, so be it — but beware! One of the leading philosophers today is Peter Singer, at Princeton University, who decries our anthropocentric worldview as "speciesism" and so advocates all sort of animal-stuff as "rights."

This illustrates an important principle, or corollary, if you will: cultural fads and utopian fancies are not the stuff of good law. The legal fabric of our society is not an appropriate forum for such social experimentation. As one Christian pastor once put it: "Marry the spirit of the age today, and you will be a widower in the next." This is one reason why, up until very recently, our nation's courts have been the most stable and conservative force in our government.

Marriage is a societal recognition of the fundamental reality of a man and woman, who then establish a family through procreation. It is rooted in creation, a reality given to us by our Creator. This is not contrary to our nation's concept of liberty and rights. It is the legal recognition of the fundamental equality of all human beings as a law of nature that is the sure foundation for rights.

To consider the so-called right to marriage as rooted in anything other than this is simply to pretend. We can play house with whomever, and I can cross my legal-ethical fingers behind my back and call it marriage, but it isn't. And if we do "baptize," as a culture and nation, homosexual marriage, then the norming of our social scientists/educators begins.

My dear, forgive me, but you're smarter than all this. The argument for same sex marriage is intellectually puerile, in my opinion. Advocacy against Prop 4 is the same, or worse. Good heavens! Do you know any 13 year old girls? If it is true that psychologists have established, now, that the developing human brain's moral reasoning and judgement is not even complete until age 25 (the true end of adolescence, apparently), then how in the world can you grant the power of life and death of an unborn child to someone completely unequipped, at this point in life, to make that decision. Perhaps we should hand out AK-47s to early adolescent boys, as well, because they are afraid of school bullies.

One cannot do ethics or morality from the extreme exception, as you apparently suggest. This is the old error of "situation ethics," popularized in the '70s by Joseph Fletcher. Ethical and moral norms are just that: normal. Rather than completely divorce a pregnant child from her parents by establishing such a hideous law as secret abortions (i.e. murder, if one gives any moral authority to the the teachings of the saints through the ages), we have laws protecting young pregnant girls who are afraid. There is just no excuse that I can see for being against Prop 4, unless you throw out the precepts and understandings of human rights informed by the great tradition of Christian humanism.

You cannot be unaware that Christianity itself tamed the most violent empire in human history by, in a few hundred years, overthrowing both human slavery and the death penalty. I speak of the Roman Empire. Later, it was Christian abolitionists that overthrew the unholy and untenable union of a semi-Christian culture in the American South with ethnic slavery. Christianity established hospitals. Rather, would you embrace a post-modern ethic based upon the autonomous reason and morality, without root and disembodied? The result is, in my opinion, moral anarchy. In the end, it is anything but humanizing, because in the end it isn't classic concepts of moral truth that are king, but demagoguery and fad. The ones with the most power will decide. They will re-define human nature, and play with the very stuff of life and human culture. It is happening. We should see this.

I do not like politics, and I do not like being an advocate of something that many mistakenly believe, mistakenly is just mean. They are deluded, and I cannot define my advocacy by such.

Begging forgiveness and hoping the dialogue will continue,
Rev. David Thatcher
Orthodox Christian Priest and Pastor
Merced, CA

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Libertarian Revolt

...McCain's working on the other realignment: The one where eight years of fiscal recklessness and cultural warfare alienates swing voters and withers the Republican Party until the very base of the conservative movement cracks in half—splitting a coalition that has endured since the Barry Goldwater campaign of 1964.

That coalition between social conservatives and economic libertarians (who tend to be socially moderate to liberal), served the GOP well from 1964 to 2006. It gave the party eight years of Ronald Reagan and 12 years of a Republican Congress. But the Bush years have proven to be one long pulling apart. And, in a matter of days, we may just see the final snap.

Hat tip to Brian

I have occasionally summarized my political philosophy as being a monarchist with strong libertarian tendencies. My politics are generally conservative in the classical sense of the term. I believe that we have a government that is FAR too intrusive into areas it has no business worrying about, even as it ignores things that need regulation. And for me it is getting harder and harder to vote in concience for the GOP these days.

I voted (mea culpa mea culpa...) for Bush in 2000. But I could not bring myself to pull the lever for him again in '04. I voted Libertarian that year. By 2006 my disgust with the Republican Party had reached such levels that I felt obliged to sit out the election. While I did vote for McCain this year and I endorse his candidacy, I do so with more than a few reservations.

This simple truth is that the last eight years have been an unmitigated disaster for our country. We have a president who has shown no respect for the constitutional limitations on the powers of his office and has become a virtual power unto himself. He ignores laws at will with so called signing statements and has unilaterally suspended the writ of habeus corpus. He has authorized various agencies of the government to spy on citizens without a warrant and he has invaded a country which did not attack the United States and in no way threatened us. He has spent our country into near bankruptcy while cutting taxes mostly for persons in the higher tax brackets. He has been vigorously pressing for government regulation of the bedroom while all but suspending regulation of Wall Street. And in all of this he was backed by a rubber stamp Republican Congress for the first six years.

I for one have had enough. I am tired of voting for people who do not share my values or concerns. If the GOP wants my vote in the future they are going to have to start making some changes. As I noted elsewhere the Democratic party's marriage to the abortion lobby is an absolute impediment to their getting my vote. But that does not mean the Republicans are entitled to my vote by default.

If the choice before me is to waste my vote by casting it for someone who might win but reflects almost nothing of my values and in many respects is antithetical to them, or waste it voting for someone whose positions I respect though he may have little chance of winning, I am more inclined to the latter. I voted for McCain because I frankly think some of his neo-con rhetoric in this election has been born more of political necessity than conviction. But I will not criticize anyone who can't go there and who pulls the lever for Bob Barr instead.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Address of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW to the XIIth Ordinary General Assembly of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church


Your Holiness,
Synodal Fathers,

It is at once humbling and inspiring to be graciously invited by Your Holiness to address the XIIth Ordinary General Assembly of this auspicious Synod of Bishops, an historical meeting of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church from throughout the world, gathered in one place to meditate on “the Word of God” and deliberate on the experience and expression of this Word “in the Life and Mission of the Church.”

This gracious invitation of Your Holiness to our Modesty is a gesture full of meaning and significance - we dare say an historic event in itself. For it is the first time in history that an Ecumenical Patriarch is offered the opportunity to address a Synod of the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, and thus be part of the life of this sister Church at such a high level. We regard this as a manifestation of the work of the Holy Spirit leading our Churches to a closer and deeper relationship with each other, an important step towards the restoration of our full communion.

It is well known that the Orthodox Church attaches to the Synodical system fundamental ecclesiological importance. Together with primacy synodality constitutes the backbone of the Church’s government and organisation. As our Joint International Commission on the Theological Dialogue between our Churches expressed it in the Ravenna document, this interdependence between synodality and primacy runs through all the levels of the Church’s life: local, regional and universal. Therefore, in having today the privilege to address Your Synod our hopes are raised that the day will come when our two Churches will fully converge on the role of primacy and synodality in the Church’s life, to which our common Theological Commission is devoting its study at the present time.

The theme to which this episcopal synod devotes its work is of crucial significance not only for the Roman Catholic Church but also for all those who are called to witness to Christ in our time. Mission and evangelization remain a permanent duty of the Church at all times and places; indeed they form part of the Church’s nature, since she is called “Apostolic” both in the sense of her faithfulness to the original teaching of the Apostles and in that of proclaiming the Word of God in every cultural context everytime. The Church needs, therefore, to rediscover the Word of God in every generation and make it heard with a renewed vigour and persuation also in our contemporary world, which deep in its heart thirsts for God’s message of peace, hope and charity.

This duty of evangelization would have been, of course, greatly enhanced and strengthened, if all Christians were in a position to perform it with one voice and as a fully united Church. In his prayer to the Father little before His passion our Lord has made it clear that the unity of the Church is unbreakably related with her mission “so that the world may believe” (John 17, 21). It is, therefore, most appropriate that this Synod has opened its doors to ecumenical fraternal delegates so that we may all become aware of our common duty of evangelization as well as of the difficulties and problems of its realization in today’s world.

This Synod has undoubtedly been studying the subject of the Word of God in depth and in all its aspects, theological as well as practical and pastoral. In our modest address to you we shall limit ourselves to sharing with you some thoughts on the theme of your meeting, drawing from the way the Orthodox tradition has approached it throughout the centuries and in the Greek patristic teaching, in particular. More concretely we should like to concentrate on three aspects of the subject, namely: on hearing and speaking the Word of God through the Holy Scriptures; on seeing God’s Word in nature and above all in the beauty of the icons; and finally on touching and sharing God’s Word in the communion of saints and the sacramental life of the Church. For all these are, we think, crucial in the life and mission of the Church.

In so doing, we seek to draw on a rich Patristic tradition, dating to the early third century and expounding a doctrine of five spiritual senses. For listening to God’s Word, beholding God’s Word, and touching God’s Word are all spiritual ways of perceiving the unique divine mystery. Based on Proverbs 2.5 about “the divine faculty of perception (αἴσθησις),” Origen of Alexandria claims:
This sense unfolds as sight for contemplation of immaterial forms, hearing for discernment of voices, taste for savoring the living bread, smell for sweet spiritual fragrance, and touch for handling the Word of God, which is grasped by every faculty of the soul.
The spiritual senses are variously described as “five senses of the soul,” as “divine” or “inner faculties,” and even as “faculties of the heart” or “mind.” This doctrine inspired the theology of the Cappadocians (especially Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa) as much as it did the theology of the Desert Fathers (especially Evagrius of Pontus and Macarius the Great).

1.Hearing and Speaking the Word through Scripture

At each celebration of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the presiding celebrant at the Eucharist entreats “that we may be made worthy to hear the Holy Gospel.” For “hearing, beholding and handling the Word of life” (1 Jn 1.1) are not first and foremost our entitlement or birthright as human beings; they are our privilege and gift as children of the living God. The Christian Church is, above all, a scriptural Church. Although methods of interpretation may have varied from Church Father to Church Father, from “school” to “school,” and from East to West, nevertheless, Scripture was always received as a living reality and not a dead book.

In the context of a living faith, then, Scripture is the living testimony of a lived history about the relationship of a living God with a living people. The Spirit, “who spoke through the prophets” (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed), spoke in order to be heard and take effect. It is primarily an oral and direct communication intended for human beneficiaries. The scriptural text is, therefore, derivative and secondary; the scriptural text always serves the spoken word. It is not conveyed mechanically, but communicated from generation to generation as a living word. Through the Prophet Isaiah, the Lord vows:
As rain and snow descend from heaven, watering the earth … so shall my word go from mouth to mouth, accomplishing that which I purpose. (55.10-11)

Moreover, as St. John Chrysostom explains, the divine Word demonstrates profound considerateness (συγκατάβασις) for the personal diversity and cultural contexts of those hearing and receiving. Adaptation of the divine Word to the specific personal readiness and the particular cultural context defines the missionary dimension of the Church, which is called to transform the world through the Word. In silence as in declaration, in prayer as in action, the divine Word addresses the whole world, “preaching to all nations” (Mt 28.19) without either privilege or prejudice to race, culture, gender and class. When we carry out that divine commission, we are assured: “Behold, I am with you always.” (Mt 28.20) We are called to speak the divine Word in all languages, “becoming all things to all people, that [we] might by all means save some.” (1 Cor. 9.22)

As disciples of God’s Word, then, it is today more imperative than ever that we provide a unique perspective – beyond the social, political, or economic – on the need to eradicate poverty, to provide balance in a global world, to combat fundamentalism or racism, and to develop religious tolerance in a world of conflict. In responding to the needs of the world’s poor, vulnerable and marginalized, the Church can prove a defining marker of the space and character of the global community. While the theological language of religion and spirituality differs from the technical vocabulary of economics and politics, the barriers that at first glance appear to separate religious concerns (such as sin, salvation, and spirituality) from pragmatic interests (such as commerce, trade, and politics) are not impenetrable, crumbling before the manifold challenges of social justice and globalization.

Whether dealing with environment or peace, poverty or hunger, education or healthcare, there is today a heightened sense of common concern and common responsibility, which is felt with particular acuteness by people of faith as well as by those whose outlook is expressly secular. Our engagement with such issues does not of course in any way undermine or abolish differences between various disciplines or disagreements with those who look at the world in different ways. Yet the growing signs of a common commitment for the well-being of humanity and the life of the world are encouraging. It is an encounter of individuals and institutions that bodes well for our world. And it is an involvement that highlights the supreme vocation and mission of the disciples and adherents of God’s Word to transcend political or religious differences in order to transform the entire visible world for the glory of the invisible God.

2.Seeing the Word of God – The Beauty of Icons and Nature

Nowhere is the invisible rendered more visible than in the beauty of iconography and the wonder of creation. In the words of the champion of sacred images, St. John of Damascus: “As maker of heaven and earth, God the Word was Himself the first to paint and portray icons.” Every stroke of an iconographer’s paintbrush – like every word of a theological definition, every musical note chanted in psalmody, and every carved stone of a tiny chapel or magnificent cathedral – articulates the divine Word in creation, which praises God in every living being and every living thing. (cf. Ps. 150.6)

In affirming sacred images, the Seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicaea was not concerned with religious art; it was the continuation and confirmation of earlier definitions about the fullness of the humanity of God’s Word. Icons are a visible reminder of our heavenly vocation; they are invitations to rise beyond our trivial concerns and menial reductions of the world. They encourage us to seek the extraordinary in the very ordinary, to be filled with the same wonder that characterized the divine marvel in Genesis: “God saw everything that He made; and, indeed, it was very good.” (Gn. 1.30-31) The Greek (Septuagint) word for “goodness” is ά, which implies – etymologically and symbolically – a sense of “calling.” Icons underline the Church’s fundamental mission to recognize that all people and all things are created and called to be “good” and “beautiful.”

Indeed, icons remind us of another way of seeing things, another way of experiencing realities, another way of resolving conflicts. We are asked to assume what the hymnology of Easter Sunday calls “another way of living.” For we have behaved arrogantly and dismissively toward the natural creation. We have refused to behold God’s Word in the oceans of our planet, in the trees of our continents, and in the animals of our earth. We have denied our very own nature, which calls us to stoop low enough to hear God’s Word in creation if we wish to “become participants of divine nature.” (2 Pet 1.4) How could we ignore the wider implications of the divine Word assuming flesh? Why do we fail to perceive created nature as the extended Body of Christ?

Eastern Christian theologians always emphasized the cosmic proportions of divine incarnation. The incarnate Word is intrinsic to creation, which came to be through divine utterance. St. Maximus the Confessor insists on the presence of God’s Word in all things (cf. Col. 3.11); the divine Logos stands at the center of the world, mysteriously revealing its original principle and ultimate purpose (cf. 1 Pet 1.20). This mystery is described by St. Athanasius of Alexandria:
As the Logos [he writes], he is not contained by anything and yet contains everything; He is in everything and yet outside of everything … the first-born of the whole world in its every aspect.
The entire world is a prologue to the Gospel of John. And when the Church fails to recognize the broader, cosmic dimensions of God’s Word, narrowing its concerns to purely spiritual matters, then it neglects its mission to implore God for the transformation – always and everywhere, “in all places of His dominion” – of the whole polluted cosmos. It is no wonder that on Easter Sunday, as the Paschal celebration reaches its climax, Orthodox Christians sing:
Now everything is filled with divine light: heaven and earth, and all things beneath the earth. So let all creation rejoice.
All genuine “deep ecology” is, therefore, inextricably linked with deep theology:
“Even a stone,” writes Basil the Great, “bears the mark of God’s Word. This is true of an ant, a bee and a mosquito, the smallest of creatures. For He spread the wide heavens and laid the immense seas; and He created the tiny hollow shaft of the bee’s sting.”
Recalling our minuteness in God’s wide and wonderful creation only underlines our central role in God’s plan for the salvation of the whole world.

3.Touching and Sharing the Word of God – The Communion of Saints and the Sacraments of Life

The Word of God persistently “moves outside of Himself in ecstasy” (Dionysius the Areopagite), passionately seeking to “dwell in us” (Jn 1.14), that the world may have life in abundance. (Jn 10.10) God’s compassionate mercy is poured and shared “so as to multiply the objects of His beneficence.” (Gregory the Theologian) God assumes all that is ours, “in every respect being tested as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4.15), in order to offer us all that is God’s and render us gods by grace. “Though rich, He becomes poor that we might become rich,” writes the great Apostle Paul (2 Cor. 8.9), to whom this year is so aptly dedicated. This is the Word of God; gratitude and glory are due to Him.

The word of God receives His full embodiment in creation, above all in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. It is there that the Word becomes flesh and allows us not simply to hear or see Him but to touch Him with our own hands, as St. John declares (I John 1,1) and make Him part of our own body and blood (σύσσωμοι καί σύναιμοι) in the words of St. John Chrysostom.

In the Holy Eucharist the Word heard is at the same time seen and shared (κοινωνία). It is not accidental that in the early eucharistic documents, such as the book of Revelation and the Didache, the Eucharist was associated with prophesy, and the presiding bishops were regarded as successors of the prophets (e.g. Martyrion Polycarpi). The Eucharist was already by St. Paul (I Cor. 11) described as “proclamation” of Christ’s death and Second Coming. As the purpose of Scripture is essentially the proclamation of the Kingdom and the announcement of eschatological realities, the Eucharist is a foretaste of the Kingdom, and in this sense the proclamation of the Word par excellence. In the Eucharist Word and Sacrament become one reality. The Word ceases to be “words” and becomes a Person, embodying in Himself all human beings and all creation.
Within the life of the Church, the unfathomable self-emptying (κένωσις) and generous sharing(κοινωνία) of the divine Logos is reflected in the lives of the saints as the tangible experience and human expression of God’s Word in our community. In this way, the Word of God becomes the Body of Christ, crucified and glorified at the same time. As a result, the saint has an organic relationship with heaven and earth, with God and all of creation. In ascetic struggle, the saint reconciles the Word and the world. Through repentance and purification, the saint is filled – as Abba Isaac the Syrian insists – with compassion for all creatures, which is the ultimate humility and perfection.

This is why the saint loves with warmth and spaciousness that are both unconditional and irresistible. In the saints, we know God’s very Word, since – as St. Gregory Palamas claims – “God and His saints share the same glory and splendor.” In the gentle presence of a saint, we learn how theology and action coincide. In the compassionate love of the saint, we experience God as “our father” and God’s mercy as “steadfastly enduring.” (Ps. 135, LXX) The saint is consumed with the fire of God’s love. This is why the saint imparts grace and cannot tolerate the slightest manipulation or exploitation in society or in nature. The saint simply does what is “proper and right” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom), always dignifying humanity and honoring creation. “His words have the force of actions and his silence the power of speech.” (St. Ignatius of Antioch)

And within the communion of saints, each of us is called to “become like fire” (Sayings of the Desert Fathers), to touch the world with the mystical force of God’s Word, so that – as the extended Body of Christ – the world, too, might say: “Someone touched me!” (cf. Mt 9.20) Evil is only eradicated by holiness, not by harshness. And holiness introduces into society a seed that heals and transforms. Imbued with the life of the sacraments and the purity of prayer, we are able to enter the innermost mystery of God’s Word. It is like the tectonic plates of the earth’s crust: the deepest layers need only shift a few millimeters to shatter the world’s surface. Yet for this spiritual revolution to occur, we must experience radical metanoia – a conversion of attitudes, habits and practices – for ways that we have misused or abused God’s Word, God’s gifts and God’s creation.

Such a conversion is, of course, impossible without divine grace; it is not achieved simply through greater effort or human willpower. “For mortals, it is impossible; but for God all things are possible.” (Mt 19.26) Spiritual change occurs when our bodies and souls are grafted onto the living Word of God, when our cells contain the life-giving blood-flow of the sacraments, when we are open to sharing all things with all people. As St. John Chrysostom reminds us, the sacrament of “our neighbor” cannot be isolated from the sacrament of “the altar.” Sadly, we have ignored the vocation and obligation to share. Social injustice and inequality, global poverty and war, ecological pollution and degradation result from our inability or unwillingness to share. If we claim to retain the sacrament of the altar, we cannot forgo or forget the sacrament of the neighbor – a fundamental condition for realizing God’s Word in the world within the life and mission of the Church.

Beloved Brothers in Christ,

We have explored the patristic teaching of the spiritual senses, discerning the power of hearing and speaking God’s Word in Scripture, of seeing God’s Word in icons and nature, as well as of touching and sharing God’s Word in the saints and sacraments. Yet, in order to remain true to the life and mission of the Church, we must personally be changed by this Word. The Church must resemble the mother, who is both sustained by and nourishes through the food she eats. Anything that does not feed and nourish everyone cannot sustain us either. When the world does not share the joy of Christ’s Resurrection, this is an indictment of our own integrity and commitment to the living Word of God. Prior to the celebration of each Divine Liturgy, Orthodox Christians pray that this Word will be “broken and consumed, distributed and shared” in communion. And “we know that we have passed from death to life when we love our brothers” and sisters (1 Jn 3.14).

The challenge before us is the discernment of God’s Word in the face of evil, the transfiguration of every last detail and speck of this world in the light of Resurrection. The victory is already present in the depths of the Church, whenever we experience the grace of reconciliation and communion. As we struggle – in ourselves and in our world – to recognize the power of the Cross, we begin to appreciate how every act of justice, every spark of beauty, every word of truth can gradually wear away the crust of evil. However, beyond our own frail efforts, we have the assurance of the Spirit, who “helps us in our weakness” (Rom. 8.26) and stands beside us as advocate and “comforter” (Jn 14-6), penetrating all things and “transforming us – as St. Symeon the New Theologian says – into everything that the Word of God says about the heavenly kingdom: pearl, grain of mustard seed, leaven, water, fire, bread, life and mystical wedding chamber.” Such is the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, whom we invoke as we conclude our address, extending to Your Holiness our gratitude and to each of you our blessings:
Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth
present everywhere and filling all things;
treasury of goodness and giver of life:
Come, and abide in us.
And cleanse us from every impurity;
and save our souls.
For you are good and love humankind.