Monday, December 31, 2007

For the sick and the suffering... Lord have Mercy!

Archbishop +Christodoulos of Athens is gravely ill and according to various reports may well be nearing his final repose. Please keep him in your prayers.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

An Historic Anniversary

This Tuesday (New Years day) marks the 200th anniversary of the first real step in the United States against slavery. On Jan 1, 1808 the foreign slave trade was outlawed. The Constitution of the United States when drafted contained a provision which forbade Congress from interfering with the slave trade before the year 1807. Congress passed the law ending the importation of slaves in the first year it was legally able to do so. It came into effect on the first day of the new year. Sadly it would be more than a half century from this date before slavery would finally be ended in the United States.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Wishing each of you a joyous Feast of the Nativity!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

History's Long Shadow

Today the Orthodox Church commemorates the genealogy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the Gospel reading. However it is also a day when many (especially in the Greek Church) commemorate the founding of the Church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) which in its day was the greatest church in Christendom. It is one of the great tragedies of history that what at one time might have qualified as one of the Wonders of the World was twice sacked and pillaged. First in 1204 by the Roman Catholic Fourth Crusade and two and one half centuries later (1453) by the religion of peace who, after massacring the clergy and worshipers, turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

The first atrocity was part of the premeditated sack of the capital of the Roman Empire, instigated by the Venetians for political and commercial motives, and willingly carried out by most of the Crusaders. The Latin bishops present granted absolution in advance to the soldier of the Crusade for any crimes they might commit and assured them of heaven should they die. The violence of the attack was on a scale truly shocking even for that bloody age. For days there was unrestricted pillaging, murder and rape (of both sexes). After control was restored the more organized looting began as the crusaders (especially the Venetians) began the carefully planned mass removal of the city's vast artistic and religious treasures to the west.

Although Pope Innocent III initially reacted with horror at what happened and excommunicated the perpetrators he quickly moved to take advantage of the situation. The excommunications were rapidly lifted and most of the plunder from the churches of New Rome found their way into the Vatican or other Roman Catholic Churches. Much of the prosperity of Venice over the next five centuries was owed to the incredible wealth that was carted into that city from Constantinople. Indeed Venice today remains one of the largest repositories (after the Vatican City) of stolen property anywhere in the world. But the massive migration of looted wealth, relics and holy objects was hardly limited to Venice and Rome. It would have been a rather poor western parish or monastery indeed that could not get at least a relic from the great feat of arms of the Crusaders. The Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame in Amiens was built to house the head of John the Baptist stolen from New Rome.

Following the capture of the city the Crusaders installed one of their own (Baldwin) as a puppet emperor and imposed a Latin patriarchate on the city which remained in place until 1261 when the Latins were expelled. All of this was carried out with the approval of the Holy See. Reunion of the Eastern and Western Churches was achieved. This crime which fatally weakened the Empire and hastened its eventual and final collapse in 1453 remains a point of deep bitterness to most Orthodox. A positively visceral hatred for Roman Catholicism became normative in many Orthodox countries symbolized by the famous expression "Better the turbin than the tiara."

To his credit Pope +John Paul II became the first Pope in history to apologize for the sack and the role the Roman Church had in it. He also made a symbolic gesture by returning to the Greek Church a few of the relics taken from Constantinople. However many Orthodox can not help but look at the churches and museums of Venice and Rome whenever talk of restoring communion comes up. History casts a long shadow.

Minding My Own Business

A recent comment left on my post about the secession of the diocese of San Joaquin from the Episcopal Church (TEC) I think is deserving of a front page reply.
simonmatt1100 said...

Mind your own business and get out of the affairs of The Episcopal Church.

The wonderful thing about blogs is that they are the perfect extension of the First Amendment. Your comment is duly noted. However, I have relatives who are still affiliated with TEC including my four year old Goddaughter for whom I hold a certain level of spiritual responsibility. Additionally my Godfather who was Episcopalian for decades before swimming the Bosporus represents a tie of sorts.

With the above in mind I respectfully note that it is my prerogative to blog on any subject which interests me, and the current crisis in TEC interests me. Not merely for the familial reasons mentioned but also because the roots of the heresy in TEC lie in the post modern theological relativism which I believe constitutes the greatest danger to Christianity in centuries.

If you disagree with me, my blog has an open comments policy. Anyone is permitted to comment (even critically) provided that their comments are on topic and civil (no Ad Hominum attacks etc. please). Feel free to defend the liturgical unitarianism now rampant in TEC if you so desire. If you wish to attack me or those who disagree with TEC and don't want to suffer the slings and arrows of open debate I suggest starting your own blog and restricting or banning comments as many of the so called reapraiser blogs do. However, the one approach which I think you will find unproductive is attempting to impose any form of censorship on other people's blogs.

Ad Orientem

Why are you not Orthodox?

This very intriguing question was posed by Fr. John Fenton of Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Church (Western Rite). I refer the reader to the post and the numerous comments it has attracted.

Comments Off

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Welcome Return and a Sad Loss

I am very pleased to recommend the excellent article posted by Fr. Al Kimel (aka The Pontificator) on the subject of predestination. This one is a home run.

I do not believe God to be the absolute predestinarian of Augustine, Calvin, Beza, and Bañez. I do not believe God to be a God who has eternally decreed, before prevision of irrevocable rejection of divine love and forgiveness, the eternal salvation of some and the eternal reprobation of the rest. I am convinced that for all of his greatness, St Augustine went tragically astray on this matter of predestination and that his theory has had pernicious repercussions on the spiritual lives of Western Christians. The theory of absolute predestination calls into question, at the most fundamental level, the identity and character of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

I know I am not alone in expressing my hope that this portends the return of Fr. Kimel from his self imposed blogging fast. Read the entire post here.

On a less sanguine note I am sorry to have to report that Sub Deacon Anderson's incredible blog Occidentalis is now accessible by invitation only. The blog has been dormant for some time but I maintained the link in the side bar due to the wealth of material on Western Orthodoxy in the archives. Should the blog become open to the public again I will happily restore the link.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Memory Eternal: Cardinal ++Alfons Maria Stickler

He was never a huge player in the Roman Curia. And I don't think his name was ever mentioned as a possible future Pope even in jest. But Cardinal Alfons Maria Stickler was in many ways an extraordinary figure in the Roman Church. A reserved intellectual from Austria he was named as the Vatican Librarian and Archivist in 1983. He received the red hat a couple of years later. After his retirement he spent much of the remainder of his long life becoming something of a joke amongst the trendy curia and liturgists of the Vatican during John Paul II's rock star reign. The shy and physically diminutive Cardinal began writing and lobbying for the liberation of the Missal of Pius V (really Gregory the Great but I digress....).

Virtually alone in the College of Cardinals he was a one man rally for the return of the West's ancient liturgy. He became the standard bearer for those in the Roman Church disaffected by the liturgical insanity which swept through its temples like a cyclone in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. He published essays sharply criticizing the manner in which the reform of the liturgy was carried out and advocating for the cause of what is now known as the Extraordinary Universal Rite of the Mass.

Card. ++Stickler lived just long enough to see the triumphant return of the Tridentine Mass. Many of us from New York will recall the day in 1996 when at the invitation of the late great Archbishop John Cardinal O'Connor of New York he celebrated the first Tridentine Mass (Solemn High Mass from the Throne) in a quarter century in St. Patrick's Cathedral to a standing room only crowd and the music of Mozart's Coronation Mass. I don't really recall seeing that many grown men in tears before or since.

His Eminence reposed a couple of days ago at the age 97, the eldest living Cardinal of the Roman Church. May his memory be eternal.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Speaking the Truth in Love": Message of His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman on the Crisis in the Orthodox Church in America

December 13, 2007
Repose of St. Herman of Alaska

"Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every
way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom
the whole body,... when each part is working properly,
makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love."

(Ephesians 4.15-16)

To my brother hierarchs, the clergy, monastics
and faithful of the Orthodox Church in America:

Glory to Jesus Christ!

For almost two years, the Orthodox Church in America has been wrestling with extremely difficult and challenging matters. The central issues are related to the finances of our Church, but they have grown into a crisis that has affected all dimensions of our ecclesiastical life, including the Holy Synod, the Metropolitan Council, Dioceses, parishes, clergy and lay people. There are spiritual, canonical, moral, administrative, disciplinary and personnel aspects to this crisis. For some it has become a source of great pain, for others a cause of bitterness, still others are confused and many of our faithful people have questioned the administrative practices of our Church. Many have been angered by what appeared to be reluctance on my part and on the part of the Central Church Administration to share information about the nature of the crisis. With this Pastoral Letter I would like to begin bringing these issues to light.

Attached is a Summary Report which contains the findings of the original Special Investigative Committee and excerpts of the proceedings of the Spiritual Court for the former Chancellor, Robert S. Kondratick. Most of this Report was momentarily released last October. It was not possible to officially release this information until now because of the investigation, the ecclesiastical trial and the appeal. The Summary Report represents the results of a long and complicated story. In the summer of 2005 revelations about financial malfeasance were made by Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, a former Treasurer of the Church. These were initially conveyed to the Holy Synod. In November, 2005 he wrote to members of the Metropolitan Council, at which time the allegations were made public. Although it was alleged that Robert Kondratick was largely responsible for the financial malfeasance, he resolutely maintained his innocence, refusing pastoral suggestions and to answer questions about this matter.

I have not been able, until now, to express how difficult this was. Robert Kondratick is a talented man. He was a close friend of mine, as he was to many people. He accomplished a great deal in his service to the Orthodox Church in America. He was the Chancellor of the OCA since 1989 and his early years in that capacity were marked by dynamic expansion in the life of the Church. At that time, the collapse of the Soviet Union made possible a new relationship with our ecclesiastical mother, the Russian Orthodox Church. Robert Kondratick was much involved in developing those new relations. It is true that he was responsible to the Metropolitan, the Holy Synod and to the Metropolitan Council, but as time went on he acquired a position of unusual authority. My predecessor, Metropolitan Theodosius allowed most of the administrative work to be conducted by Robert Kondratick. Members of the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council relied on his efficiency, recognizing his energy and managerial skills. On the other hand, his overbearing management style was becoming apparent as was a perceived habit of excessive spending. Some suggested that he should be dismissed. This was a difficult decision but by the spring of 2006, it was apparent that there was no alternative. I dismissed him from his role as Chancellor on March 16, 2006.

The immensity of the financial malfeasance made uncovering it a complicated task. As Primate of the Church, I was advised to retain the law firm of Proskauer Rose LLP. They began an internal investigation of the allegations relating to the finances of the Church. We also contacted the accounting firm of Lambrides, Lamos, Moulthrop, LLP to conduct an independent audit of all Church financial accounts for the years 2004 and 2005. In December, 2006, during the joint meeting of the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council, I appointed a Special Committee, headed by Archbishop Job, to look into these financial issues. The Committee's findings are in the Summary Report.

The Special Committee presented its preliminary report to the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council in March, 2007. After hearing and discussing their report the Metropolitan Council and Holy Synod of Bishops made several recommendations on how to proceed. The first recommendation was the "immediate suspension of Father Kondratick." In April, 2007 I temporarily suspended Robert Kondratick from priestly duties and selected a Spiritual Court to consider the allegations against him. Details about the Spiritual Court are in the Summary Report. After due deliberation, the Spiritual Court proceeded with the trial, which included over 18 hours of live testimony over two days (June 11, 2007 and July 6, 2007). On July 19, 2007 the Spiritual Court issued their judgment and recommended that Robert Kondratick be permanently deposed from the priesthood. On July 31, 2007 the Holy Synod of Bishops accepted that recommendation and confirmed the final deposition in conformance with the Statute of the Orthodox Church in America. On August 26, 2007 Robert Kondratick petitioned the Holy Synod to appeal its decision. At the Holy Synod meeting of October 16, 2007, Robert Kondratick presented the Holy Synod with a thick packet of documents containing his appeal. The Holy Synod was diligent and gave the appeal considerable and careful attention. Today, December 13, 2007, at its special meeting the Holy Synod came to the conclusion that there was nothing in the appeal which warrants the reversal of the decision to depose Robert Kondratick.

This decision on the appeal of the former Chancellor does not yet bring everything to an end. Several members of the original Special Investigation Committee regrettably resigned. I have asked Bishop Benjamin to chair and oversee the formation of a new, independent Special Committee. They have begun their work, which is proceeding unimpeded and unconstrained. We await a report on their findings early in 2008.

Important recommendations that have been proposed have been implemented and others are continuing to be pursued. At its July, 2007 special session, the Holy Synod of Bishops rescinded the July 30, 1999 resolution that stated that discretionary accounts cannot be subject to external audit. The Holy Synod has had several joint meetings with the Metropolitan Council during which a good deal of discussion has been devoted to resolution of the crisis. Major revisions have occurred in the entire financial sector of the Orthodox Church in America. Our new Treasurer, Priest Michael Tassos, who is also a Certified Public Accountant, has begun to overhaul our former system and bring it into conformance with professionally accepted accounting standards. Audits and financial statements which before were only partially complete will soon be available for the entire membership of the Church to review.

At present the Central Church Administration has gone through significant restructuring. Three key administrative positions have been filled. The OCA Chancery is presently staffed by only a handful of full time employees, all of whom are conscientious and hard-working. The Metropolitan Council has also taken a greater role in its fiduciary responsibilities. The upcoming All American Council, to be held in Pittsburgh next November 10 - 13, will bring us together to reflect on and reassess our vision as the Orthodox Church in America.

This crisis has had profound tragic consequences in the life of our Church. Clergy and faithful have expressed outrage, with passionate demands and calls for retribution. People who were long-time friends find themselves at odds with each other. Frustration has led individuals, parishes and dioceses to actions, withholdings and boycotts that were never dreamed of. All sections of the Central Church Administration are seen as lacking integrity and competence. The members of the Holy Synod have been subjected to condemnation. In particular, my own role as Primate of the Church came to be criticized and questioned. A good deal of this frustration was due to the perception that there was deliberate stonewalling by myself and the Central Church Administration. Actually legal counsel advised against the revelation of pertinent material and this made it impossible to answer questions in a timely manner. It may take some time for us to regain the trust of some people but at this time I would like to offer some personal reflections.

Most of my adult life has been spent in active service to the Orthodox Church in America. I thank God daily that I have been permitted to serve in the Church, as priest, hieromonk and bishop for over forty years. During that time there has never been a moment when I did not have only the most sincere desire to honor and defend the Church. In the Biblical spirit of Noah's sons I was taught that the right thing is to not expose the shame of elders, by which I understand my brother bishops and the other clergy. As a priest and later as bishop, I endeavored to preserve the stability and unity of the Church to the best of my abilities, even when doing so may have upset some individuals.

I have, on occasion, as a Christian and an Orthodox cleric, made errors in judgment. At times I trusted those that I should not have trusted. There were times I did not act when I should have acted, or when I did not speak when I should have spoken, and I have said things that I should not have said. To the measure that my sins and faults have caused harm to our Church, to my fellow hierarchs, to members of the Church Administration, to the clergy and faithful of the Orthodox Church in America, I ask God's mercy and your forgiveness.

When God blessed us with the reality of the Orthodox Church in America, we boldly embraced the challenge of discerning what it means to be both genuine Orthodox Christians and members of a modern, democratic society. It seemed then that with prayer and good will we would find a way to integrate Orthodox Church Tradition into the prevailing North American culture. That process of integration is still far from complete. There is much to be done as we grapple with fundamental principles of Church order in the context of our times. We see now that the course we must follow is truly the "narrow way which is hard," but it is the way that "leads to life" (Mt. 14.23).

The unfortunate events which we have recounted here constitute a very tragic chapter in the history of our Church. Yet we learn from mistakes and we have learned much from the experience of the past several years. It is time now to "strain forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3.15). There is work to be done: to build parishes, to train priests and workers for the Lord's service, to bring the lost and searching to the knowledge of God's truth, to contribute good things to our suffering world. Thus we remain confident in our common vocation. We have been called and placed here and now to worship and serve Our God, glorified in the Holy Trinity, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We know that God will not abandon us, as long as we keep our faith in Him, gratefully thanking Him for the abundance and opportunities that we have and preserving love and respect for each other.

As we come closer to celebrate the Feast of Our Lord's Nativity, I pray that the Prince of Peace, Our Lord Jesus Christ will bless our Orthodox Church in America with the spirit of peace, forgiveness and mutual understanding. I also hope that during this holy season God will bless you all with His grace, joy and love.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Signature of Metropolitan Herman

Archbishop of Washington and New York
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

The Summary Report may be read here.

Say it aint so Joe...

It's a dark day for Major League Baseball. The ugly truth about widespread (really rampant) cheating is now out. Names are being named and fingers pointed. This is certainly the most serious scandal since the widespread fixing of games by gamblers was exposed via the 1919 World Series debacle. Former Sen George Mitchell has done a great service against considerable odds and with (of course) the players union telling its members not to cooperate.

In his report he urges that Baseball not impose sanctions on most the players named in the report. I concur with this view for a variety of reasons including fairness, the lack of codified sanctions in place when the offenses took place and the time that has passed since most of these players could be proven to have used drugs. However, in the name of the integrity of the sport I think that any records held by the players in question should be marked in some way to indicate that they are suspect. And I would oppose the admission of most of these players to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown New York.

Read the entire report here.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

San Joaquin Secedes (Official)

Breaking News: The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin has voted to formally sever its ties with The Episcopal Church. Since this is the second reading of the amendments to its constitution, I believe the secession is effective immediately. Bravo and well done to its bishop and clergy for taking this heroic and historic stand.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Roma urbs aeterna; Latina lingua aeterna.

This from the New York Times.
...But what they gain is a glimpse into the past that provides a fuller, richer view of the present. Know Latin and you discern the Roman layer that lies beneath the skin of the Western world. And you open up 500 years of Western literature (plus an additional thousand years of Latin prose and poetry).

Why not just study all this in English? What do you get from reading the “Aeneid” in the original that you wouldn’t get from Robert Fagles’s fine translation, which came out just last year?

Well, no translation, however fine, can ever sound the way Latin was written to sound. To hear Latin poetry spoken smoothly and quickly is to hear a mellifluous, rat-a-tat-tat language, the rich, distilled, romantic, pure, heady blueprint of its close descendant, Italian.

But also, learning to translate Latin into English and vice versa is a tremendous way to train the mind. I think of translating concise, precise Latin into more expansive, discursive English as like opening up a concertina; you are allowed to inject all sorts of original thought and interpretation.

As much as opening the concertina enlarges your imagination, squeezing it shut — translating English into Latin — sharpens your prose. Because Latin is a dead language, not in a constant state of flux as living languages are, there’s no wriggle room in translating. If you haven’t understood exactly what a particular word means or how a grammatical rule works, you are likely to be, not off, but just plain wrong. There’s nothing like this challenge to teach you how to navigate the reefs and whirlpools of English prose.

With a little Roman history and Latin under your belt, you end up seeing more everywhere, not only in literature and language, but in the classical roots of Federal architecture; the spread of Christianity throughout Western Europe and, in turn, America; and in the American system of senatorial government. The novelist Alan Hollinghurst describes people who know history’s turning points as being able to look at the world as a sequence of rooms: Greece gives way to Rome, Rome to the Byzantine Empire, to the Renaissance, to the British Empire, to America.
Read the rest here.

I have always regarded it as one of the great misfortunes of my life that all of my undergraduate studies were conducted at schools where the classics were no longer taught. Time and circumstances permitting I hope one day to fill this unfortunate gap in my education.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Remember the Gospel according to Judas?

Well here is a correction of the record.
AMID much publicity last year, the National Geographic Society announced that a lost 3rd-century religious text had been found, the Gospel of Judas Iscariot. The shocker: Judas didn’t betray Jesus. Instead, Jesus asked Judas, his most trusted and beloved disciple, to hand him over to be killed. Judas’s reward? Ascent to heaven and exaltation above the other disciples.

It was a great story. Unfortunately, after re-translating the society’s transcription of the Coptic text, I have found that the actual meaning is vastly different. While National Geographic’s translation supported the provocative interpretation of Judas as a hero, a more careful reading makes clear that Judas is not only no hero, he is a demon.
Read the rest here.

Friday, November 30, 2007

God, Evangelicals & War

The below excerpt is from a very profound article in the Boston Globe which I recommend in its entirety. I definitely am not inclined to some of the liberal sub themes the author is presenting. However this article stands as a stark reminder that one overtly religious segment of our country's population was a major component in rallying support for a war that has proven disastrous on too many levels to itemize. It represents the extreme danger to the body politic that can result from the de facto melding of church and state. Over the last quarter century we have witnessed Protestant Evangelicalism (they used to be called Fundamentalists) become a virtual adjunct of one of the two political parties in our country. Such direct, massive and overt politicization of religion should be a source of grave alarm to any American who fears for our constitutional republic.

EARLY ONE SUNDAY morning in the spring of 2003, in the quiet hours before services would begin at the evangelical church where I worship in Charlottesville, Virginia, I opened files compiled by my research assistant and read the statements drafted by Christians around the world in opposition to the American invasion of Iraq.

The experience was profoundly moving and shaming: From Pentecostals in Brazil to the Christian Councils of Ghana, from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East to the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, from Pope John Paul II to the The Waldensian Reformed Church of Italy and the Christian Conference of Asia, the voices of our brothers and sisters in the global ecumenical church spoke in unison.

Why did American evangelicals not pause for a moment in the rush to war to consider the near-unanimous disapproval of the global Christian community? The worldwide Christian opposition seems to me the most neglected story related to the religious debate about Iraq: Despite approval for the president's decision to go to war by 87 percent of white evangelicals in April 2003, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts poll, almost every Christian leader in the world (and almost every nonevangelical leader in the United States) voiced opposition to the war.

Food for thought.

Hat tip to Jake. (Caution: The linked site is very liberal.)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

There is a new sheriff in town...

...and his name is Marini, not that Marini, the new one... Guido. And he seems to share his bosses distaste for the rock concert themed events that were the norm under the previous Pontificate. Evidence of which could be seen at the consistory for the newly named Cardinals of the Roman Church who received their traditional red birettas today from the Pope. +Benedict XVI was not wearing anything like the often plain or sometimes simply bizarre vestments foisted on his predecessor by the former Papal MC, Piero Marini (no relation to the new one).

Rather he was seen wearing both a ceremonial miter and stole dating to the reign of +Pius IX. And in a shift from the ubiquitous vanilla sede of the last several decades the Pope was seated on a gilded red throne that is believed to have been last extensively used by +Pius X. This also seems to be in keeping with a number of recent articles indicating the Pope is banishing the frequently banal and sometimes just dreadful music used in Vatican liturgical ceremonies in favor of a return to Gregorian Chant and the music of Mozart and Palestrina. Times are changing, and for once I can opine for the better.

The Right to Keep Arms

The United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has accepted the first case that will directly address the long controversial issues surrounding the Second Amendment (2nd amnd) in living memory. It is expected to decide specifically if a near absolute ban on private ownership and possession of handguns in the District of Columbia violates an individual right to keep and bear arms which is widely claimed to exist in the 2nd amnd of the Constitution. SCOTUS has not ruled even vaguely on the matter since the late 1930's. At issue is whether the wording of the 2nd amnd creates an individual right held by all law abiding Americans or merely a collective right on the part of the states to maintain their own militias.

Revisionist and liberal historians have been bending over backwards for years in an effort to shore up the latter interpretation. However such simply does not square with the actual history surrounding the document and its interpretation by the Founders. I believe that while reasonable people can debate the wisdom of retaining a broad individual right for citizens to be armed in the early 21st century when so much has obviously changed from the late 18th century, one can not reasonably argue that the framers intended anything other than to guarantee an individual right to be armed.

Those who believe that society would benefit from broad restrictions on the private ownership and possession of firearms should press their case more honestly and seek to repeal the 2nd amnd. That would indeed be a debate worth having. However the question of the meaning of the 2nd amnd is simply too weighted by the clear historical record demonstrating the intent of the Founders for the revisionist interpretation to be a legitimate basis for debate . I refer the reader to this excellent editorial from today's Wall Street Journal.*
...The amendment reads: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." If "the right of the people" to keep and bear arms was merely an incident of, or subordinate to, a governmental (i.e., a collective) purpose -- that of ensuring an efficient or "well regulated" militia -- it would be logical to conclude, as does the District of Columbia -- that government can outlaw the individual ownership of guns. But this collective interpretation is incorrect.

To analyze what "the right of the people" means, look elsewhere within the Bill of Rights for guidance. The First Amendment speaks of "the right of the people peaceably to assemble . . ." No one seriously argues that the right to assemble or associate with your fellow citizens is predicated on the number of citizens or the assent of a government. It is an individual right.

The Fourth Amendment says, "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . . " The "people" here does not refer to a collectivity, either.

The rights guaranteed in the Bill of Right are individual. The Third and Fifth Amendments protect individual property owners; the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments protect potential individual criminal defendants from unreasonable searches, involuntary incrimination, appearing in court without an attorney, excessive bail, and cruel and unusual punishments.

The Ninth Amendment protects individual rights not otherwise enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The 10th Amendment states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." Here, "the people" are separate from "the states"; thus, the Second Amendment must be about more than simply a "state" militia when it uses the term "the people."
I strongly recommend the entire editorial which can be read here.

* The WSJ does not generally allow free access to its articles for more than seven days from publication except to subscribers. It should be available through Friday November 30th though.

Hat tip to Brian.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks

I attended the Thanksgiving service tonight at my mission parish which I unfortunately missed last year. Thus it is the first time I have heard the chanting of the Akithist "Glory to God for All Things" and I was profoundly moved. The author was Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov who composed it while dying in a Soviet concentration camp in 1940. The title comes from the last words of St. John Chrysostom as he was dying in exile.

The Akathist Hymn: "Glory to God for All Things"

Kontakion 1

Everlasting King, Thy will for our salvation is full of power. Thy right arm controls the whole course of human life. We give Thee thanks for all Thy mercies, seen and unseen. For eternal life, for the heavenly joys of the Kingdom which is to be. Grant mercy to us who sing Thy praise, both now and in the time to come. Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age.

Ikos 1

I was born a weak, defenceless child, but Thine angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now Thy love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity; from birth until now the generous gifts of Thy providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give Thee thanks, with all who have come to know Thee, who call upon Thy name.

Glory to Thee for calling me into being
Glory to Thee, showing me the beauty of the universe
Glory to Thee, spreading out before me heaven and earth
Like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom
Glory to Thee for Thine eternity in this fleeting world
Glory to Thee for Thy mercies, seen and unseen
Glory to Thee through every sigh of my sorrow
Glory to Thee for every step of my life's journey
For every moment of glory
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 2

O Lord, how lovely it is to be Thy guest. Breeze full of scents; mountains reaching to the skies; waters like boundless mirrors, reflecting the sun's golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing the depth of tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Thy love. Blessed art thou, mother earth, in thy fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last for ever, in the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, the cry rings out: Alleluia!

Ikos 2

Thou hast brought me into life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavour and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on Thine earth. It is a pleasure to be Thy guest.

Glory to Thee for the Feast Day of life
Glory to Thee for the perfume of lilies and roses
Glory to Thee for each different taste of berry and fruit
Glory to Thee for the sparkling silver of early morning dew
Glory to Thee for the joy of dawn's awakening
Glory to Thee for the new life each day brings
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 3

It is the Holy Spirit who makes us find joy in each flower, the exquisite scent, the delicate colour, the beauty of the Most High in the tiniest of things. Glory and honour to the Spirit, the Giver of Life, who covers the fields with their carpet of flowers, crowns the harvest with gold, and gives to us the joy of gazing at it with our eyes. O be joyful and sing to Him: Alleluia!

Ikos 3

How glorious art Thou in the springtime, when every creature awakes to new life and joyfully sings Thy praises with a thousand tongues. Thou art the Source of Life, the Destroyer of Death. By the light of the moon, nightingales sing, and the valleys and hills lie like wedding garments, white as snow. All the earth is Thy promised bride awaiting her spotless husband. If the grass of the field is like this, how gloriously shall we be transfigured in the Second Coming after the Resurrection! How splendid our bodies, how spotless our souls!

Glory to Thee, bringing from the depth of the earth an endless variety of colours, tastes and scents
Glory to Thee for the warmth and tenderness of the world of nature
Glory to Thee for the numberless creatures around us
Glory to Thee for the depths of Thy wisdom, the whole world a living sign of it
Glory to Thee; on my knees, I kiss the traces of Thine unseen hand
Glory to Thee, enlightening us with the clearness of eternal life
Glory to Thee for the hope of the unutterable, imperishable beauty of immortality
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 4

How filled with sweetness are those whose thoughts dwell on Thee; how life-giving Thy holy Word. To speak with Thee is more soothing than anointing with oil; sweeter than the honeycomb. To pray to Thee lifts the spirit, refreshes the soul. Where Thou art not, there is only emptiness; hearts are smitten with sadness; nature, and life itself, become sorrowful; where Thou art, the soul is filled with abundance, and its song resounds like a torrent of life: Alleluia!

Ikos 4

When the sun is setting, when quietness falls like the peace of eternal sleep, and the silence of the spent day reigns, then in the splendour of its declining rays, filtering through the clouds, I see Thy dwelling-place: fiery and purple, gold and blue, they speak prophet-like of the ineffable beauty of Thy presence, and call to us in their majesty. We turn to the Father.

Glory to Thee at the hushed hour of nightfall
Glory to Thee, covering the earth with peace
Glory to Thee for the last ray of the sun as it sets
Glory to Thee for sleep's repose that restores us
Glory to Thee for Thy goodness even in the time of darkness
When all the world is hidden from our eyes
Glory to Thee for the prayers offered by a trembling soul
Glory to Thee for the pledge of our reawakening
On that glorious last day, that day which has no evening
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 5

The dark storm clouds of life bring no terror to those in whose hearts Thy fire is burning brightly. Outside is the darkness of the whirlwind, the terror and howling of the storm, but in the heart, in the presence of Christ, there is light and peace, silence: Alleluia!

Ikos 5

I see Thine heavens resplendent with stars. How glorious art Thou radiant with light! Eternity watches me by the rays of the distant stars. I am small, insignificant, but the Lord is at my side. Thy right arm guides me wherever I go.

Glory to Thee, ceaselessly watching over me
Glory to Thee for the encounters Thou dost arrange for me
Glory to Thee for the love of parents, for the faithfulness of friends
Glory to Thee for the humbleness of the animals which serve me
Glory to Thee for the unforgettable moments of life
Glory to Thee for the heart's innocent joy
Glory to Thee for the joy of living
Moving and being able to return Thy love
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 6

How great and how close art Thou in the powerful track of the storm! How mighty Thy right arm in the blinding flash of the lightning! How awesome Thy majesty! The voice of the Lord fills the fields, it speaks in the rustling of the trees. The voice of the Lord is in the thunder and the downpour. The voice of the Lord is heard above the waters. Praise be to Thee in the roar of mountains ablaze. Thou dost shake the earth like a garment; Thou dost pile up to the sky the waves of the sea. Praise be to Thee, bringing low the pride of man. Thou dost bring from his heart a cry of Penitence: Alleluia!

Ikos 6

When the lightning flash has lit up the camp dining hall, how feeble seems the light from the lamp. Thus dost Thou, like the lightning, unexpectedly light up my heart with flashes of intense joy. After Thy blinding light, how drab, how colourless, how illusory all else seems. My souls clings to Thee.

Glory to Thee, the highest peak of men's dreaming
Glory to Thee for our unquenchable thirst for communion with God
Glory to Thee, making us dissatisfied with earthly things
Glory to Thee, turning on us Thine healing rays
Glory to Thee, subduing the power of the spirits of darkness
And dooming to death every evil
Glory to Thee for the signs of Thy presence
For the joy of hearing Thy voice and living in Thy love
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 7

In the wondrous blending of sounds it is Thy call we hear; in the harmony of many voices, in the sublime beauty of music, in the glory of the works of great composers: Thou leadest us to the threshold of paradise to come, and to the choirs of angels. All true beauty has the power to draw the soul towards Thee, and to make it sing in ecstasy: Alleluia!

Ikos 7

The breath of Thine Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets and scientists. The power of Thy supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of Thy laws, who reveal the depths of Thy creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of Thee. How great art Thou in Thy creation! How great art Thou in man!

Glory to Thee, showing Thine unsurpassable power in the laws of the universe
Glory to Thee, for all nature is filled with Thy laws
Glory to Thee for what Thou hast revealed to us in Thy mercy
Glory to Thee for what Thou hast hidden from us in Thy wisdom
Glory to Thee for the inventiveness of the human mind
Glory to Thee for the dignity of man's labour
Glory to Thee for the tongues of fire that bring inspiration
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 8

How near Thou art in the day of sickness. Thou Thyself visitest the sick; Thou Thyself bendest over the sufferer's bed. His heart speaks to Thee. In the throes of sorrow and suffering Thou bringest peace and unexpected consolation. Thou art the comforter. Thou art the love which watches over and heals us. To Thee we sing the song: Alleluia!

Ikos 8

When in childhood I called upon Thee consciously for the first time, Thou didst hear my prayer, and Thou didst fill my heart with the blessing of peace. At that moment I knew Thy goodness and knew how blessed are those who turn to Thee. I started to call upon Thee night and day; and now even now I call upon Thy name.

Glory to Thee, satisfying my desires with good things
Glory to Thee, watching over me day and night
Glory to Thee, curing affliction and emptiness with the healing flow of time
Glory to Thee, no loss is irreparable in Thee, Giver of eternal life to all
Glory to Thee, making immortal all that is lofty and good
Glory to Thee, promising us the longed-for meeting with our loved ones who have died
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 9

Why is it that on a Feast Day the whole of nature mysteriously smiles? Why is it that then a heavenly gladness fills our hearts; a gladness far beyond that of earth and the very air in church and in the altar becomes luminous? It is the breath of Thy gracious love. It is the reflection of the glory of Mount Tabor. Then do heaven and earth sing Thy praise: Alleluia!

Ikos 9

When Thou didst call me to serve my brothers and filled my soul with humility, one of Thy deep, piercing rays shone into my heart; it became luminous, full of light like iron glowing in the furnace. I have seen Thy face, face of mystery and of unapproachable glory.

Glory to Thee, transfiguring our lives with deeds of love
Glory to Thee, making wonderfully Sweet the keeping of Thy commandments
Glory to Thee, making Thyself known where man shows mercy on his neighbour
Glory to Thee, sending us failure and misfortune that we may understand the sorrows of others
Glory to Thee, rewarding us so well for the good we do
Glory to Thee, welcoming the impulse of our heart's love
Glory to Thee, raising to the heights of heaven every act of love in earth and sky
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 10

No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but Thou canst restore a conscience turned to ashes. Thou canst restore to its former beauty a soul lost and without hope. With Thee, there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. Thou art love; Thou art Creator and Redeemer. We praise Thee, singing: Alleluia!

Ikos 10

Remember, my God, the fall of Lucifer full of pride, keep me safe with the power of Thy Grace; save me from falling away from Thee. Save me from doubt. Incline my heart to hear Thy mysterious voice every moment of my life. Incline my heart to call upon Thee, present in everything.

Glory to Thee for every happening
Every condition Thy providence has put me in
Glory to Thee for what Thou speakest to me in my heart
Glory to Thee for what Thou revealest to me, asleep or awake
Glory to Thee for scattering our vain imaginations
Glory to Thee for raising us from the slough of our passions through suffering
Glory to Thee for curing our pride of heart by humiliation
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 11

Across the cold chains of the centuries, I feel the warmth of Thy breath, I feel Thy blood pulsing in my veins. Part of time has already gone, but now Thou art the present. I stand by Thy Cross; I was the cause of it. I cast myself down in the dust before it. Here is the triumph of love, the victory of salvation. Here the centuries themselves cannot remain silent, singing Thy praises: Alleluia!

Ikos 11

Blessed are they that will share in the King's Banquet: but already on earth Thou givest me a foretaste of this blessedness. How many times with Thine own hand hast Thou held out to me Thy Body and Thy Blood, and I, though a miserable sinner, have received this Mystery, and have tasted Thy love, so ineffable, so heavenly.

Glory to Thee for the unquenchable fire of Thy Grace
Glory to Thee, building Thy Church, a haven of peace in a tortured world
Glory to Thee for the life-giving water of Baptism in which we find new birth
Glory to Thee, restoring to the penitent purity white as the lily
Glory to Thee for the cup of salvation and the bread of eternal joy
Glory to Thee for exalting us to the highest heaven
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 12

How often have I seen the reflection of Thy glory in the faces of the dead. How resplendent they were, with beauty and heavenly joy. How ethereal, how translucent their faces. How triumphant over suffering and death, their felicity and peace. Even in the silence they were calling upon Thee. In the hour of my death, enlighten my soul, too, that it may cry out to Thee: Alleluia!

Ikos 12

What sort of praise can I give Thee? I have never heard the song of the Cherubim, a joy reserved for the spirits above. But I know the praises that nature sings to Thee. In winter, I have beheld how silently in the moonlight the whole earth offers Thee prayer, clad in its white mantle of snow, sparkling like diamonds. I have seen how the rising sun rejoices in Thee, how the song of the birds is a chorus of praise to Thee. I have heard the mysterious mutterings of the forests about Thee, and the winds singing Thy praise as they stir the waters. I have understood how the choirs of stars proclaim Thy glory as they move forever in the depths of infinite space. What is my poor worship! All nature obeys Thee, I do not. Yet while I live, I see Thy love, I long to thank Thee, and call upon Thy name.

Glory to Thee, giving us light
Glory to Thee, loving us with love so deep, divine and infinite
Glory to Thee, blessing us with light, and with the host of angels and saints
Glory to Thee, Father all-holy, promising us a share in Thy Kingdom
Glory to Thee, Holy Spirit, life-giving Sun of the world to come
Glory to Thee for all things, Holy and most merciful Trinity
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 13

Life-giving and merciful Trinity, receive my thanksgiving for all Thy goodness. Make us worthy of Thy blessings, so that, when we have brought to fruit the talents Thou hast entrusted to us, we may enter into the joy of our Lord, forever exulting in the shout of victory: Alleluia!

(repeat Kontakion 13 and Alleluia three times)

Ikos 1

I was born a weak, defenceless child, but Thine angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now Thy love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity; from birth until now the generous gifts of Thy providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give Thee thanks, with all who have come to know Thee, who call upon Thy name.

Glory to Thee for calling me into being
Glory to Thee, showing me the beauty of the universe
Glory to Thee, spreading out before me heaven and earth
Like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom
Glory to Thee for Thine eternity in this fleeting world
Glory to Thee for Thy mercies, seen and unseen
Glory to Thee through every sigh of my sorrow
Glory to Thee for every step of my life's journey
For every moment of glory
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 1

Everlasting King, Thy will for our salvation is full of power. Thy right arm controls the whole course of human life. We give Thee thanks for all Thy mercies, seen and unseen. For eternal life, for the heavenly Joys of the Kingdom which is to be. Grant mercy to us who sing Thy praise, both now and in the time to come. Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Nativity Fast

We are now well into the first full week of the Nativity Fast (Advent). In keeping with my custom during the major fasting periods I will be posting less frequently until after the Feast of the Nativity. For those who are interested in the discussion of the issues I addressed in my three preceding posts please feel free to follow the links and join the conversation over at Cathedra Unitatis or Sacramentum Vitae. I wish all of you a blessed fast and the joy of the season...

Update: I would also add this recent (and long) post by Owen the Ochlopbist to the recommended reading on Catholic Orthodox Ecumenical discussions. As always Owen hits multiple nails on the head. While he might be a bit more frank than I am, I think we are reading from the same script.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ecumenical Councils III

For those not keeping track of the ongoing discussion, Mike Liccione has responded to my previous post over at his blog Sacramentum Vitae. His response was as always, both cordial and thought provoking. There are now over 100 comments between the thread at Cathedra Unitas and Mike’s thread over at SV. Thank you to everyone who has commented. Given the large number of comments many of the counterpoints which I had intended to make in reply to Mike’s post have inevitably already been addressed. Also in a couple of cases Mike appears to be repeating questions and concerns which I raised in my aforementioned post. However I do think it desirable to very briefly amplify some of my previous comments and respond to a few items he raised.

First, I want to correct what may be a misapprehension. My previous post was not intended as a declaration that I think we are on the verge of restoring communion with Rome. Nor was it intended to lay out a blue print for that process to occur. Rather it was an observation that there is some peculiar wording in the joint declaration from the most recent discussions between the various Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church on some of the theological issues dividing us. Specifically I was referring to a phrase which I thought rather inconsistent with the customary understanding of the Latin position vis a vis their take on the councils of the Roman Church post 1054. It appears to be a very slight hedging on their part. A half step if you will back from the usual line that those councils are true ecumenical councils whose declarations are binding upon the Church Universal. I noted there, and wish to reiterate, my skepticism that Rome sees the wording in that light. Mike’s own response has much strengthened that skepticism.

However on the off chance that I am wrong, I opined that this would be a significant move on the part of the Western Church that could open the door to a much more serious discussion. But to be honest I must join many of the Roman Catholic commenters over at SV as also Owen the Ochlophobist in expressing my profound pessimism at the prospect of restoration of communion. But if there is any chance of it happening this is probably how it would start. At present I tend to see the annual meetings between our churches as useful for building personal good will and better understanding. But beyond that I think they are of limited use. Unless the terrain on which we are all dancing shifts there is a limit to what these discussions can accomplish.

To whit in a recent discussion over at SV Mike and I had an interesting and almost amusing exchange. He had been arguing that Orthodoxy need not cease to be, and become Catholic (large ‘C’) in order for communion to be restored. This has been a recurring theme on his part and one that I (and Owen) have generally been skeptical of. Prompting the following…

For clarification, does your vision of restored communion between Orthodoxy and Rome include acceptance on the part of the Eastern Churches of the post schism doctrinal definitions of the Western Church?



I've often answered that question before. But before I resurrect that horse, I have a question for you: would healing the schism between the EOs and the OOs require the latter to accept the Christology of Chalcedon?







The premise of my previous post is based on Mike’s above answer becoming a “no.” A true Ecumenical Council aimed at reconciliation must in my opinion, begin from the idea that there has not been a true council whose definitions are binding on The Church since before the schism. (We shall for the moment ignore the question of the dating of the schism which Dr. Tighe has written about extensively.) This is what I meant when I asked if Rome was prepared to take the risk of walking into such a council. It would have to be one, whose outcome was not limited to two possible scenarios, acceptance of the western doctrinal developments or failure. In the current discussion over at SV, I noted that if the lack of a dogmatic anathema from Orthodoxy was the basis for the Western Church’s dreams of a restored communion then it is precisely the fact that Rome has dogmatized certain beliefs which must be reduced to theologumen in order for such a council to even have a chance of ever meeting that constitute the greatest barrier. If the purpose of such a council is for us to simply show up and rubber stamp the West’s dogmas they can save themselves the postage for the invitations.

Even beyond the monumentally improbable agreement of Rome to such a premise there are as I see it a whole series of other challenges to this scenario further adding to my profound skepticism. Mike raised the specter of a number of obstacles mostly relative to our side. Not only do I concede the existence of these obstacles, I actually wrote about many of them in my below post. Any serious attempt at a meeting with the Roman Catholic Church for the avowed purpose of restoring communion will absolutely spark schisms within Orthodoxy and it will lend weight to some that already exist. Being frank there is some occasional frustration in belonging to a church whose ecclesiology makes one despair of a great council being able to agree on a bathroom break without provoking another schism. But I think that if Rome announced it was backing off its dogmatic claims of authority for the Western Church councils it would be almost impossible for the Orthodox not to show up. (Yes, even the Russians.) This of course does not mean that we should expect Rome to show up and denounce the theogumen of their church as heretical before we finish the introductions. That would be just as unreasonable as the reverse scenario which I have already noted would be a nonstarter. But any council must begin with the premise that nothing is carved in stone for either church that has not been dogmatized by the decrees of the first seven councils. This might not only be challenging for the RCC but also for us since many (perhaps most) Orthodox recognize nine ecumenical councils the last two of which are most definitely NOT recognized by Rome.

In fairness I think many Roman Catholics enormously underestimate the deep opposition that would arise in their own church to such a move. Liberal Catholics would do almost anything to sabotage such a council and probably at least some would break off in schism over it. They would know with absolute clarity the danger posed to their ambitions by an Orthodox Catholic rapprochement. Personally I don’t see many orthodox Catholics shedding a lot of tears over that. But then you have to address the subject of the Traditionalists. These will oppose any concession to Orthodoxy beyond a willingness to let us kneel and kiss the Pope’s ring. Those who doubt this should take a look at some of the responses over at Rorate Caeli on the rare occasions I comment there. These people, who are already highly suspicious of Rome’s commitment to all manner of what they define as tradition ranging from the Tridentine Mass to ecumenism will bolt in large numbers if they think Rome is yielding even an inch. They are the Western equivalent to our Old Calendarists.

Yet another challenge posed to such an undertaking was noted by Owen, my favorite Ochlophobist. He points out in an extensive comment at SV that the absence of dogmatic anathemas are moot since many of the Western Church’s dogmatic developments are expressly repudiated in the words of our liturgy. This in itself opens a whole new can of worms. I refer the reader to his comment which should be read in its entirety.

And if all this is not enough, yet another interesting challenge that Mike throws out is the very definition of what is an ecumenical council.

In Orthodox terms, a given council counts as "ecumenical" only if the participating bishops represent the Church as a whole and its decrees are received by the Church as a whole. In that usage, the term "ecumenical" is primarily empirical rather than normative. It tells us what is, or would be, the case, and that is logically distinct from what ought to be the case, which is what Rome's usage ostensibly tells us. Now from Rome's standpoint a given council would count as ecumenical in the normative sense ('ecumenical-N') if, in fact, it counts as ecumenical in the empirical sense ('ecumenical-E'). For a council that would count as ecumenical-E, in both Catholic and Orthodox terms, would entail Rome's assent and ratification, which from Rome's standpoint would suffice to make it ecumenical-N. And even if the Orthodox faithful as a whole did not "receive" the decrees of such a council because of Rome's assent and ratification, such a council would in fact count as ecumenical in Orthodox terms, i.e. as ecumenical-E. By common consent, any council that is ecumenical-E would also be ecumenical-N.

As he notes in Roman Catholic ecclesiology a council is ecumenical if the Pope says it is. Ignoring the remarkable convenience of such a position and the questions this raises about the eighth council (879-880) and Rome’s assent (withdrawn in the eleventh century in favor of the Robber Council) it once again places the Orthodox in the position of being in a meeting for the sole purpose of rubber stamping the decrees of the Latin Church. Again such a proposition is a nonstarter. To borrow Mike’s terminology, in Orthodoxy a council that wishes to be Ecumenical N must also be Ecumenical E. The Latin approach negates the very concept of a council as understood in Orthodoxy.

If however the stars are all in alignment and thousands of saints are praying at once for a miracle, maybe something could actually happen. One very likely outcome of such a hypothetical council (presuming its success) would be a more developed ecclesiology on the part of the Orthodox Church. I have argued for a long time that Orthodoxy has greatly devalued the role of primacy over the last thousand plus years. This has been due to a number of factors including at least on some level a certain knee jerk reaction to the ultramontane decrees emanating from the West. I also think we might see a deeper appreciation for a less rigid ecclesiology on the part of the Roman Church. Exactly what the final form would take is purely speculative and I am content to leave that for others to dream about.

But in the end; this is all just some ruminations based on a weird choice of words stuck almost accidentally it seems, in an otherwise relatively bland document from the latest set of discussions that I tend to think of as the clerical equivalent to congressional junkets. A great excuse to travel and go to some nice cocktail parties. To move beyond that we will need some true miracles on both sides of this gulf.

[Note: This post has been slightly edited for grammar.]

Friday, November 16, 2007

Ecumenical Councils II

Continuing the discussion on the subject of the previous post I just posted this over at CU. In order to preserve a coherent discussion please make any replies there.

I am on record as being more than slightly skeptical about the chances for any form of restoration of communion between East and West. One of the things which I have always seen standing in the way of the reunification are the dogmatic definitions of the Latin Church post 1054 (most especially but certainly not limited to Vatican I). Many Roman Catholics have attempted to assert the possibility of reunion on the basis of the fact that Orthodoxy has never dogmatically anathematized the various doctrinal developments/innovations of the Latin Church.

Mike Liccione is one of the great champions of that line of reasoning. The counter which I always raised was that it boiled down to an acceptance that Rome is in fact THE CHURCH and that we are wrong. That is of course a nonstarter since both East and West independently affirm that they are the One True Church. From an Orthodox perspective therefore it is not possible for the Roman Catholic Church to make true dogmatic definitions.

However Mike is correct on an important point which does lend some small hope. Since Orthodoxy for whatever reasons (I would opine there are many) has not held an oecumenical council since 880 AD, and therefore has not formally condemned the Latin innovations, they could be treated as theologumen. Granted, I think there is far greater unanimity among the Orthodox hierarchs and the lay faithful that many Western doctrines are heretical, than there is support for some of them among the Roman Catholic faithful. But it still boils down to theologumen on our side. But if you remove Rome’s carved in stone claim that those doctrines are infallible truths binding on all of the faithful, then we may move back to square one.

This would not of course end the schism or restore communion. But it would have the effect of saying both sides have strongly held contrary OPINIONS of great import that need to be resolved. On that basis it might be possible to convene a Great Council of The Church to begin the process of sorting things out and resolving them one at time.

By no means is this any guarantee that we would succeed. Florence failed. But I think it is quite probably the only way true and lasting communion could ever be restored. Also I think this would not be something that could be resolved in a year or two. I am thinking decades on the conservative side, but more likely centuries. The mere act of sitting in the same room with the Pope at what might eventually claim to be an ecumenical council would spark schisms within Orthodoxy, and very probably among Roman Catholic traditionalists as also liberal Catholics who would understand the mortal threat to their dreams posed by the prospect of restored communion between Rome and Orthodoxy. And then there is the fact that Ecumenical Councils don’t just happen and get rubber stamped in Orthodoxy. They take years and sometimes centuries to gain acceptance.

Now if you think getting the Orthodox to agree to anything like this is going to be hard then just consider the idea of Rome entertaining, even for a millisecond, the idea that there has not been a true and binding ecumenical council in well over a thousand years. If you like those odds, I have some Enron Stock I would like to sell you at the bargain price of $100.00 per share. Saying that this would be messy and downright ugly would be the understatement of the year. The bottom line is that this is one of the most unlikely ideas ever floated. But I also think it might be the only way that will really work. I do not see communion ever being restored without a Great Council.

Rome claims two very key things. First that all of the Latin dogmas proclaimed post 1054 are correct, and secondly that the Orthodox Churches are true and particular churches that are a part of the One True Church, if imperfectly. In support of this they note (repeatedly) that we have never formally anathematized those doctrines. Assuming for the sake of discussion those two claims are correct then Rome should have nothing to fear from putting it all on the table. Let a true Great Council of The Church be convened and hammer it all out. The worst that happens is it fails and we are back to where we stand today (with a few dozen more schisms on the side). That might indeed be the result. I suspect it is quite likely. The odds against agreement are staggering. But maybe, just maybe, we would see a miracle. I think the possibility of living to see a concelebrated liturgy with all of the Orthodox Patriarchs and the Pope of Rome is worth the risk. But it really comes down to this; how confident is Rome of its position? Are they willing or even able to take such a leap? What say my Roman brothers and sisters, is restored communion worth such a risk?