Monday, February 26, 2007


Al Gore won an Oscar last night. That sound you heard in the background was Ronald Reagan spinning in his grave.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Homeless war vets

Kevin Felty came back from Iraq in 2003 with nowhere to stay, and not enough money to rent an apartment. He and his wife of four years moved in with his sister in Florida, but the couple quickly overstayed their welcome. Jobless and wrestling with what he later learned was posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Felty suddenly found himself scrambling to find a place for himself and his wife, who was six-months pregnant. They found their way to a shelter for homeless veterans, which supported his wife during her pregnancy and helped Felty get counseling and find a job. A year later, he's finally thinking his future. "I don't want to say this is exactly where I want to be—it's really not," he says. "But it's what I can get at the moment."

Read the rest here

Does Orthodoxy allow contraception or not?

Recently Owen the Ochlophobist has posted a series of articles on the twin subjects of pansexualism and contraception in Orthodoxy. These essays are extremely well written and I enthusiastically commend them to the reader’s attention. (contraception 1 contraception 2 pansexualism ) In response Dr. Micheal Liccione, one of my favorite Catholic Bloggers, wrote several posts responding to Owen’s essays. (Pansex 1 pansex2 contraception) I encourage the reader to read (time permitting) all of the above linked essays. However it is chiefly the last very short one I have chosen to address, I am sure inadequately. I am posting my response here instead of in the combox over at Mike’s blog due to the restrictions on the size of comments and the length of my reply. I apologize for any confusion resulting. Finally, I attach the caveat that I am neither a bishop, nor priest and my opinion is that of a layman which along with a dollar will get you a small cup of coffee.

I think the principal complaint you have is with our ecclesiology, more so than the issue of birth control. Today we are more or less where the Roman Church was in the 1960’s when the debate over BC heated up all over the Catholic world. This is to say that we are having a discussion in light of the sudden and very dramatic changes in modern science and medicine. That debate on your side of the Tiber resulted in the reaffirmation of the traditional Roman Catholic teachings and discipline regarding contraception. On our side of the Bosphorous that discussion is only just warming up.

Of course the RCC has an ecclesiology where from an Orthodox point of view you essentially have one bishop with a large number of mitered assistants whose job is basically to carry out the orders and policy decisions emanating from the Holy See. In the ecclesiology of the RCC the Pope has taken over the decision making responsibilities which in Orthodoxy reside with the local bishop. In terms of being able to make quick decisions this sort of ecclesiological framework obviously has some advantages over Orthodoxy’s.

In Orthodoxy our ecclesiology leaves (by Roman standards) an almost breathtaking degree of autonomy to the local bishop. This is in my experience often deeply frustrating to Roman Catholics (and sometimes we converts from Rome) who are used to asking a question and getting a rapid answer that will be the same from one jurisdiction to another. But that’s not the way things work here. On a lot of issues (not just BC) you will find variation and even disagreement between jurisdictions and in some cases even between dioceses within the same jurisdiction.

An example would be the sometimes heated debate over whether to receive converts from liturgical and Trinitarian confessions by Baptism & Holy Chrismation or to receive them through Holy Chrismation alone. In the OCA , the Greek Archdiocese and the Antiochian Archdiocese converts who were previously baptized using water, the Trinitarian formula, and with something resembling a sacramental intent are typically received by Chrismation. However in the Russian Church Abroad, the Serbian Church, and the parishes under the Jerusalem Patriarchate the general rule is to baptize all converts. Both methods are considered canonical and acceptable within Orthodoxy. Even within the respective jurisdictions just named you will find variation. I know of Catholics and Episcopalians (especially those baptized by ECUSA in recent years) who have been received in the OCA by baptism and I know that there have been rare cases in ROCOR where bishops have permitted reception of converts by Chrismation alone through oikonomia.

On subjects which are controversial it can in some cases take a long time for a consensus to form within the Church. If the subject is one which threatens the unity of the Church the traditional method of resolution is through a Great Council. However, the more normal method is to debate the issue until a consensus is reached. While this can be maddeningly slow it does have perhaps one advantage over the system employed in the RCC. Once accepted, a given understanding of Church Doctrine or Discipline in Orthodoxy rarely “developes.” Although I am aware that you are staunch defender of Doctrinal Development (a can of worms I do not want to reopen) most in Orthodoxy view that approach in the West with deep misgivings. We see it as among other things a cover for altering doctrine on important matters or simply correcting an earlier mistake without admitting that there was a mistake.

When you ask if Orthodoxy permits birth control and point (quite justifiably) to its historic opposition to the practice one could easily respond with “does the Roman Catholic Church permit capital punishment?” Until quite recently Rome’s position on the DP was more or less settled as official teaching and no RC priest or bishop prior to 1950 or so would have told you that the Catholic Church was opposed to capital punishment. Most in fact would have told you emphatically that the DP was not only permissible but in some cases even a moral imperative. A glance at any of the various catechisms then in use would confirm this. (I own several, all with the appropriate Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat .) The apparent change or development, (however one wants to call it) has effectively reversed Rome’s position on the DP even if some bishops are still careful to say that the DP is not “intrinsically” malo insea Even NFP is something of novelty that unless my memory has failed me was only authorized by +Pius XI. The only difference is that Roman ecclesiology ensures that when there is a shift in thinking on an issue that it often comes quickly and it is imposed on the entire church by fiat.

One downside is that there is little room for the kind of consensus populi that Orthodoxy typically requires for doctrine to be accepted as universally binding. That consensus along with the long drawn out process that takes us to it creates a remarkable degree of stability in doctrine once the issue in question is finally settled. Of course it would be disingenuous to say that no subject that appears to be settled is ever revisited. The very fact that BC is being talked about is a clear indication of that. However to open a discussion on an issue that has previously been non-controversial is extremely rare in Orthodoxy. Only the already alluded to dramatic advances in our understanding of medicine and science seem to have combined to open up a subject which has never really been debated in the past.

To end what has already become a much longer response than I originally intended I will return to the question “does Orthodoxy allow contraception or not.” The short answer is what does your bishop say? Broadly speaking a consensus does not presently exist in the Universal Church. This is somewhat aggravated here in North America as a result of the jurisdictional chaos that presently exists. (A situation that is universally acknowledged to be uncanonical and more than slightly scandalous.) Until such time as the Universal Church reaches a consensus on this issue the matter rests with the local bishop and the respective Holy Synod. In Orthodoxy each bishop and his diocese is The Church.

As for predictions on where a debate that has really only just begun will end, I am rather reluctant to go there. My personal opinions are very close to those expressed by Owen in his already referenced excellent posts. I think I might be seeing a very slight shift towards a consensus in the big three jurisdictions (OCA GOA AOCA) favoring the permissibility in extraordinary circumstances of non-abortifacient contraception, but I could easily be wrong. Also it needs to be mentioned that there is little movement in this direction among the more conservative jurisdictions who by and large remain strongly opposed to BC in any form (some also reject NFP). For now we will have to wait and see how things develop. I suggest checking back in a century or two.

Friday, February 23, 2007

John Allen Slams the British Press

John Allen a respected religion reporter and "vaticanisti" who also writes for the National Catholic Reporter* has posted a blistering attack on the way the British press covers religion, especially the Roman Catholic Church.

Over the years, I've found that the British press is the most likely to publish virtually any rumor about the Vatican floated in the Italian papers. Back in 2003, for example, when Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos celebrated Mass according to the pre-Vatican II rite in a Roman basilica, one Italian newspaper speculated that it would mark the end of a schism with the followers of late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The staggering improbability of such an outcome meant that virtually no one else picked up the report -- except The Times, so the English-language Catholic world was atwitter with rumors based on thin air.

In November 2005, again following the Italian lead, the same paper reported that the Vatican would shortly drop its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in favor of mainland China. While such a move has been rumored for decades, "shortly" came and went without the predicted development. In March 2002, British papers carried stories about a campaign within the College of Cardinals to force John Paul II to resign -- based, again, on a speculative piece in an Italian paper which turned out to be overblown.

To take another spectacular example, The Daily Mirror carried a banner headline in March 2006 proclaiming that Benedict XVI would visit England in 2007. Not only was the story false, but no one from the bishops' conference was even contacted prior to publication. Or, consider a Daily Telegraph piece from 2003 claiming that the Vatican was "suspending" talks with Anglicans due to the controversy over gay bishops, which was also false.

To top things off, this Monday, Feb. 19, The Financial Times carried a calendar item stating matter-of-factly that on Thursday, Feb. 22, Benedict XVI would issue a document approving the use of condoms under certain circumstances. Needless to say, no such document appeared.

All this without entering into complaints from some British Catholics about the way their media covered the sexual abuse crisis, though it's worth noting that a BBC official publicly acknowledged bias concerning one broadcast, and a tabloid story suggesting the church had offered a notorious pedophile priest a bribe of £50,000 to buy his silence turned out to be based on forged documents.

To be clear, this is not about "spin," or whether a news outlet has a "line" hostile to a church. It's about willful indifference to the facts, which in this business is akin to original sin. The pattern in the British press on religion too often seems to be "shoot first and check the facts later."

Read the rest here.

* The National Catholic Reporter is a notoriously leftist publication that has no official connection to the Roman Church. Its editorial stands routinely contradict the official and traditional teachings of the Latin Church (as also the Orthodox Church). That said John Allen has never shown any indication of subscribing to NCR's editorial nonsense. I must however confess to a wish that he would find employment elsewhere.

Visiting Monasteries & Appointing an Orthodox Pope

Ben of the Western Orthodox Blog has posted an interesting essay which links to an article by Fr. Jonah of the Monastery of St. John the Wonderworker. In the essay Fr. Jonah cautions the reader against the pitfalls that can result from making trips to monasteries a regular part of ones life, especially for those new to Orthodoxy. This is NOT saying one should not visit a monastery. But it is saying that one needs to be careful about where one goes and for what reasons. I strongly recommend both Ben's post and the linked article by Fr. Jonah.

Secondly, Ben posted a few days ago a short essay in which he opined that perhaps the time has come to appoint an Orthodox Bishop of Rome and thus take an important step towards restoring the West to Orthodoxy. I think this is the first time I can remember seriously disagreeing with anything I have seen posted over there. The other Ben (Anderson) also made some points in response to this idea. which can be read in the comments section of the original post. My own reply was much shorter and I thus copy it below.
The reason that we can not appoint a bishop of Rome is because we don't know if the See of Rome is in fact vacant. Until such time as a Great Council convenes and resolves this issue any and all opinions, however strongly held, about the nature or standing of the Roman Catholic Church in relationship to Orthodoxy (beyond their not being in communion which is fairly indisputable) are theologumen. And since the MP and the EP appear unable to agree on the time of day (or at least the correct date on the calendar) I am not holding my breath on that council.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Catholics commemorating Orthodox saints?

As this is an intensely interesting topic for me, just wanted to offer my two cents' worth.

It was Met. Andrew Sheptytsky who petitioned Rome to recognize all the Russian Orthodox Saints and this petition was granted in 1904. All the Saints of Orthodox Ukraine and Russia were recognized as such for veneration by the Russian Catholic Orthodox especially. Those who were taken out of the calendar at the time were St Athanasius of Brest (for his opposition to the Unia of Brest), St Photios and St Mark of Ephesus.

In actual fact, St Athanasius of Brest enjoyed a cult among Eastern Catholics, Ukrainians and Belarusyans (if that is an acceptable spelling of the latter) as they saw him not as an ardent anti-unionist, but, primarily, as a national hero who stood up to RC Poland. The Polish Jesuits, in fact, came up with the idea of honouring St Josaphat Kuncevyc on September 16th (and I have an old GC prayerbook that lists his feast on that day) to try and dissuade EC's from honouring St Athanasius on Sept. 18th. It was Met. Andrew Sheptytsky who restored the feast of St Josaphat on November 12/25, having understood the reasons behind the change to Sept. 16th.

Even Bl. Basil Velichkovsky, as we can see from his memoirs that the Redemptorists have published, insisted that all local Orthodox saints continued to be honoured when Orthodox parishes came into union with Rome.

In addition, in the 19th century, the Austro-Hungarian Imperial government laid down an edict that ordered the EC Metropolitan of Lviv to expunge a number of Saints and Miraculous icons of the Theotokos from the EC calendar that it considered "too Orthodox" including the Fathers of the Kyivan Caves Lavra (restored formally by Pat. Joseph Slipyj, along with St Gregory Palamas).

There was even a debate within the Ukrainian Catholic Church about why it itself had not canonized St Josaphat Kuncevyc but had left it to Rome to do so - and, in so doing, had given up what a number had said was the right of an EC Church to glorify its own saints without Rome's permission.

Alexander Roman
Read the rest here.

And the winner is...

From ENI:

Feature film about Orthodox monk sweeps Russian film awards

Sophia Kishkovsky
Moscow (ENI). A feature film about repentance - as embodied by a Russian Orthodox monk tormented by his wartime past - has swept top prizes at Russia's main film awards ceremony. "Ostrov," or "Island," took six Zolotoi Oryol, or Golden Eagle awards, including best film, director and actor at a ceremony on 27 January.

The film stars Pyotr Mamonov, a Soviet-era underground rock star who has become a devout Orthodox believer and now lives in an isolated village. It was directed by Pavel Lungin, previously most famous for "Taxi Blues", a perestroika-era film also starring Mamonov, and "Tycoon: A New Russian," a fictionalised take on the rise of Boris Berezovsky, a controversial magnate now living in British exile.

In his acceptance speech, compared by some Russian media to a sermon, Mamonov condemned his own popularity as idolatry and called on Russian women to stop having abortions.

Structured like a parable, "Ostrov" tells the tale of Father Anatoly, a fictional monk who for decades seeks God's forgiveness for shooting a fellow soldier at the Nazis' behest during the Second World War to save his own life. The film is set in the 1970s in a remote northern island monastery, a timeframe for which some have taken the film to task since the church was then still repressed by the State.

Patriarch Alexei II, and other senior clerics, praised "Ostrov" for its profound depiction of faith and monastic life. Addressing a church conference on 29 January, the Patriarch called "Ostrov" a "vivid example of an effort to take a Christian approach to culture".

"Ostrov", which was the closing film at the 2006 Venice Film Festival, was also a top box office draw in Russia's state-of-the-art new Dolby-outfitted multiplexes after its November release, playing alongside Hollywood blockbusters. Its television broadcast on 7 January, the Russian Christmas, drew ratings during the extended holiday season, second only to President Vladimir Putin's New Year's Eve address.

Lungin has said of his film: "We tried to convey in it, a sense that there is a God, that we are not alone on this earth."


Update: Four short clips from the movie with subtitles can be found here. This looks like a must see movie.

Hat tip to EYTYXOC

Some news from across the Tiber

The confessional is empty

It appears that the Pope's recent message on the need for Catholics to rediscover Confession has been heard loud and clear in the marble city (at least by its Archbishop). The archdiocese of Washington is launching a major campaign to bring people back into the confessional. Concern has been growing for years that the Roman Catholic Church is effectively becoming a church of six sacraments. The story can be read here.

Send in the clowns

Inside the Vatican (an outstanding publication) has posted a fascinating interview with Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, the Secretary for the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship. The archbishop demonstrates a serious concern for the way the post-conciliar liturgical reform was handled among many other things.

What I wished to insist on in those interviews was that the post-conciliar reform of the liturgy has not been able to achieve the expected goals of spiritual and missionary renewal in the Church so that today we could be truly happy about it.

Undoubtedly there have been positive results too; but the negative effects seem to have been greater, causing much disorientation in our ranks.

The churches have become empty, liturgical free-wheeling has become the order of the day, and the true meaning and significance of that which is celebrated has been obscured.

One has to, then, begin wondering if the reform process had in fact been handled correctly. Thus, we need to take a good look at what had happened, pray and reflect about its causes and with the help of the Lord move on to make the necessary corrections.
Obviously this sort of frank discussion should be encouraging to orthodox (small "o") Catholics. It also dovetails well with the article by Fr. Fartaglia mentioned here. The entire interview has been posted over at NLM for those interested.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ash Wednesday

It is now about a quarter to 8pm here on the west coast on Clean or Pure Tuesday. However to many Western Christians it is "Shrove" or "Fat" Tuesday, the day before Lent begins. In just a couple of hours it will be Ash Wednesday and even in New Orleans the parties will be shut down. Tomorrow Catholics and High Church Protestants will go to church and have their forehead signed with the cross in ashes with one of three admonitions...

"Remember, man, that you are dustAnd unto dust you shall return." (Latin: Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.) This wording comes from Genesis 3:19. or "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel." or "Repent, and hear the good news."

For Roman Catholics it is a day of abstinence from flesh meat. (Western Rite Orthodox treat it as a day of both fasting and abstinence.) May you all have a blessed Lent.


Praesta Domine fidelibus tuis: ut ieiuniorum veneranda solemnia, et congrua pietate suscipiant, et secura devotione percurrant. Per Dominum . . .
Grant, O Lord, to Thy faithful people, that they may undertake with fitting piety the venerable solemnities of fasting, and complete them with steadfast devotion. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost . . .

EPISTLE ¤ Joel 2. 12-19
Lesson from the Prophet Joel.
Lectio Ioelis Prophetae.
[Almighty God is rich in mercy and clemency to those who are converted to Him in fasting, in weeping and in mourning.]

Haec dicit Dominus: Convertimini ad me in toto corde vestro, in ieiunio, et in fletu, et in planctu. Et scindite corda vestra, et non vestimenta vestra, et convertimini ad Dominum Deum vestrum: quia benignus et misericors est, patiens, et multae misericordiae, et praestabilis super malitia. Quis scit, si convertatur, et ignoscat, et relinquat post se benedictionem, sacrificiam, et libamen Domino Deo vestro? Canite tuba in Sion, sanctificate ieiunium, vocate coetum, congregate populum, sanctificate Ecclesiam, coadunate senes, congregate parvulos, et sugentes ubera: egrediatur sponsus de cubili suo, et sponsa de thalamo suo. Inter vestibulum et altare plorabunt sacerdotes ministri Domini, et dicent: Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo: et ne des haereditatem tuam in opprobrium, ut dominentur eis nationes. Quare dicunt in populis: Ubi est Deus eorum? Zelatus est Dominus terram suam, et pepercit populo suo. Et respondit Dominus, et dixit populo suo: Ecce ego mittam vobis frumentum, et vinum, et oleum, et replebimini eis: et non dabo vos ultra opprobrium in gentibus: dicit Dominus omnipotens.
Thus saith the Lord: Be converted to Me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning. And rend your heats and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil. Who knoweth but He will return and forgive and leave a blessing behind Him, sacrifice and libation to the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Sion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather together the people, sanctify the Church, assemble the ancients, gather together the little ones and them that suck at the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth from his bed and the bride out of her bride chamber. Between the porch and the altar the priests, the Lord's ministers, shall weep and shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare Thy people; and give not Thine inheritance to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them. Why should they say among the nations: Where is their God? The Lord hath been zealous for His land, and hath spared His people. And the Lord answered and said to His people: behold I will send you corn and wine and oil, and you shall be filled with them: and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations: saith the Lord almighty.

GRADUAL ¤ Ps. 56. 2, 4

Miserere mei, Deus, miserere mei: quoniam in te confidit anima mea. V.: Misit de coelo, et liberavit me: dedit in opprobrium conculcantes me.
Have mercy on me, O Lord, have mercy on me: for my soul trusteth in Thee. V.: He hath sent from heaven and delivered me: He hath made them a reproach that trod upon me.

TRACT ¤ Ps. 102, 10

Domine, non secundum peccata nostra, quae fecimus nos: neque secundum iniquitates nostras retribuas nobis. V.: Domine, ne memineris iniquitatum nostrarum antiquarum, cito anticipent nos misericordiae tuae: quia pauperes facti sumus nimis.
O Lord, repay us not according to the sins we have committed, nor according to our iniquities. V.: (Ps. 78. 8, 9) O Lord, remember not our former iniquities, let Thy mercies speedily prevent us: for we are become exceeding poor.

V.: Adiuva nos, Deus salutaris noster: et propter gloriam nominis tui, Domine, libera nos: et propitius esto peccatis nostris, propter nomen tuum.
[Here kneel.]
V.: Help us, O God, our Savior: and for the glory of Thy Name, O Lord, deliver us: and forgive us our sins for Thy Name's sake1

GOSPEL ¤ Matth. 6. 16-21
† Continuation of the holy Gospel according to St. Matthew.
† Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Matthaeum.
[It is not our garments that we shuld rend as a sign of sorrow, as the Pharisees did, but rather our hearts, for it is not to men that we should appear to fast, but to our Father, who sees into the secret place of our souls, and who will repay us.]

In illo tempore: Dixit Iesus discipulis suis: Cum ieiunatis, nolite fieri sicut hypocritae, tristes. Exterminant enim facies suas, ut appareant hominibus ieiunantes. Amen dico vobis, quia receperunt mercedem suam. Tu autem, cum ieiunas, unge caput tuum, et faciem tuam lava, ne videaris hominibus ieiunans, sed Patri tuo, qui est in abscondito: et Pater tuus, qui videt in abscondito, reddet tibi. Nolite thesaurizare vobis thesauros in erra: ubi aerugo, et tinea demolitur: et ubi fures effodiunt, et furantur. Thesaurizate autem vobis thesauros in caelo: ubi neque aurugo, neque tinea demolitur; et ubi fures non effodiunt, nec furantur. Ubi enim est thesaurus tuus, ibi est et cor tuum.
At that time Jesus said to His disciples: When you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their face, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face, that thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay Thee. Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.

The 2nd job for clergy

Some clergy require a 2nd job to get by. This is rather unfortunate but true. However in the realm of the human interest story this minister has a rather unusual job for a member of the cloth. As a side note I am pretty sure this line of employment would not be open to an Orthodox priest since there is a canon which forbids anyone who has killed someone (even by accident) from ever being ordained. Obviously carrying a gun and being ready to use it would be a requirement for the position.

Zizioulas in English!

+John Zizioulas Metropolitan of Pergamus is a world renown Orthodox theologian (and close friend of the former Cardinal +Ratzinger from a ways back) whose writings have generally been hard or impossible to obtain in English. However a website has recently posted a large collection of notes from his days as a professor at the University of Thessaloniki. I have not yet had an opportunity to peruse this site fully, however I have been warned that some of his writings may not be light reading.

Hat tip to Fr. Stephen Freeman.
Update: After a quick glance at this website I feel the need to caution the reader that there are some things posted there that I am fairly uncomfortable with. I am not sure of the affiliation of the webmaster(s). However their approach to other religious confessions, especially the Roman Catholic Church employs some of the polemics I normally find among radical old calendarists. The reader is advised to approach with caution.

An Ultimatum from Tanzania

Memo From the Anglican Primates to the Episcopal Church: Get with the program or else...

Read the story here.

Predictably the liberals are apoplectic.

Monday, February 19, 2007

An Irishman walks into a bar in New York City...

... and sits down. He calls the barkeep over and asks for three beers. The barkeep thinks this is a bit odd but does as requested and sets three beers in front of the man and watches as he drinks them one at a time. After he finishes the third one the Irishman thanks the barkeep, pays for the beer and walks out. The next day he returns and does the same thing. In fact this goes on every day for a week. Finally the barkeep is overcome by curiosity and asks the Irishman why he orders three beers at once instead of ordering one at a time.

"Ah" says the Irishman, "It's like this you see. I and me two brothers have always been in the habit of taking a pint every day at noon together in the pub. But me brother Sean left for Australia and I went here to America while me brother Pat stayed home in Ireland. But before we went our ways we each promied one another that no matter where we were, every day at noon we would have three beers so we would be united despite the distance."

Impressed by this show of filial love the barkeep went on about his business and did not think further on the matter until one day when the Irishman walked in at noon and sat down just like every day. The barkeep set three beers in front of him without being asked as was his custom by now. But the Irishman shook his head sadly and held up two fingers.

"Whats this?" said the startled bartender. "Has anything happened to one of your brothers?" he asked with genuine concern.

"Oh no." replied the Irishman. "My wife made me give up drinking for Lent, so it will just be the two for a while."

Forgive me :-)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Fast Begins

Tonight (at sundown for monastics but most lay people go with midnight) marks the beginning of Great Lent for the vast majority of Orthodox Christians. The small number of Western Rite Orthodox do not begin Lent until Ash Wednesday. This is a period of spiritual retuning and retrenchment for Christians. It is an opportunity to get one's life back on track and re centered on Jesus Christ and our relationship with Him. It also is a period of repentance marked by a series of services that help us call to mind our many failings and sins, and of course six+ weeks(!) of fasting.

During Lent observant Orthodox Christians will adhere to a fasting regimen that is often quite intimidating to the newcomer or inquirer. This can be especially true for those coming from a Western Christian background where fasting has largely faded as a discipline. It should be noted however that many (probably most) people outside of monastics do not keep the fast according to the strict letter of the law. Fasting is not intended as an exercise in legalism and should not be approached in that vein. Rather it is intended as a spiritual exercise designed to strengthen the soul by depriving the body of the comforts it is used to and thereby better preparing us for the spiritual warfare we all must face. It is also intended as a means of aiding the poor since money saved through fasting is supposed to be given as alms. The bottom line is that everyone's fast is a private matter and in fact it's considered rather bad form in Orthodoxy to ask other people how they are keeping the fast or to discuss yours since we all have different situations and circumstances in our lives. Also scripture is very clear in warning against the false pride of those who wear their fasting on their sleeve so to speak.

The exception to the above rule is of course one's spiritual father / confessor who should be kept informed of how your doing and consulted if you think any major changes need to be made in your fast. This is NOT however the same thing as telling him you broke down and had a cheeseburger on the 3rd Tuesday in Lent. For most of us its a given that there will be moments of weakness and such details are usually gratuitous unless the weakness is habitual. If we fall, get back up. And again it bears repeating that fasting is spiritual medicine not an exercise to see how well you can follow a monastic discipline. As the Fathers were oft want to note, the devil and his demons do not eat or drink either. Again, there are some minor differences for those following the Western Rite. The discipline employed by the Antiochian Archdiocese for the WR can be found here (pdf). That said, the fasting guidelines for most Orthodox are below.

Week before Lent ("Cheesefare Week"): Meat and other animal products are prohibited, but eggs and dairy products are permitted, even on Wednesday and Friday.

First Week of Lent: Only two full meals are eaten during the first five days, on Wednesday and Friday after the Presanctified Liturgy. Nothing is eaten from Monday morning until Wednesday evening, the longest time without food in the Church year. (Few laymen keep these rules in their fullness). For the Wednesday and Friday meals, as for all weekdays in Lent, meat and animal products, fish, dairy products, wine and oil are avoided. On Saturday of the first week, the usual rule for Lenten Saturdays begins (see below).

Weekdays in the Second through Sixth Weeks: The strict fasting rule is kept every day: avoidance of meat, meat products, fish, eggs, dairy, wine and oil.

Saturdays and Sundays in the Second through Sixth Weeks: Wine and oil are permitted; otherwise the strict fasting rule is kept.

Holy Week: The Thursday evening meal is ideally the last meal taken until Pascha (again very few lay persons follow this strictly). At this meal, wine and oil are permitted. The Fast of Great and Holy Friday is the strictest fast day of the year: even those who have not kept a strict Lenten fast are strongly urged not to eat on this day. After St. Basil's Liturgy on Holy Saturday, a little wine and fruit may be taken for sustenance. The fast is sometimes broken on Saturday night after Resurrection Matins, but more typically after Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy on Pascha.

Wine and oil are permitted on several feast days if they fall on a weekday during Lent. Consult your parish calendar. On Annunciation and Palm Sunday, fish is also permitted. Fasting is relaxed or dispensed as the situation warrants for the very young, the very old and the sick as also for those who travel or whose work requires them to eat. Also it is a general rule that if one is a guest and the host serves food or drink that violates the fast one should not do anything which might cause embarrassment to the host or draw attention to your fasting. In short eat or drink what is offered to you. The above rules are the strict monastic rules which should be followed to the extent reasonably possible. However, as with so many things in life, your mileage will vary. The advice and council of one's confessor should be sought where there may be questions.

In closing I wish to ask pardon from anyone who I may have offended or hurt through any word, action or neglect on my part. Please forgive me.

Under the mercy,
John / Ad Orientem

Quote of the day...

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is an intellectual of international renown, a sage of our time. He is a great scholar and friend of Orthodoxy. We expect a great deal from him and we are sure that with his energies and his charisma he will leave his mark on relations among Christians. He has beside him a very learned, able, informed and serious man in the Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone. He is our true friend and we are certain that he will give his maximum contribution to relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches! We are willingly close to both with our incessant prayer to the Lord, giver of all good!

+Christodoulos Archbishop of Athens & Primate of the Orthodox Church of Greece in an interview with 30 Days

Sunday of Forgivness

Homily on Cheesefare Sunday

Today is called "Forgiveness Sunday." It received this name from the pious Orthodox Christian custom at Vespers of asking each other's forgiveness for discourtesy and disrespect. We do so, since in the forthcoming fast we will approach the sacrament of Penance and ask the Lord to forgive our sins, which forgiveness will be granted us only if we ourselves forgive each other. "If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."(Matt. 6. 14, 15)

Yet it is said to be extremely difficult to forgive discourtesy and to forget disrespect. Perhaps our selfish nature finds it truly difficult to forgive disrespect, even though in the words of the Holy Fathers it is easier to forgive than to seek revenge. (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk after St. John Chrysostom) Yet everything in us that is good is not accomplished easily, but with difficulty, compulsion and effort. "The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force."(Matt. 11. 12) For this reason we should not be discouraged at the difficulty of this pious act, but should rather seek the means to its fulfillment. The Holy Church offers many means towards this end, and of them we will dwell on the one which most corresponds to the forthcoming season of repentance.

"Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother." The source of forgiving our neighbors, of not judging them, is included in seeing (acknowledging) our sins. "Imagine," says a great pastor, who knows the heart of man, Father John of Kronstadt, "picture the multitude of your sins and imagine how tolerant of them is the Master of your life, while you are unwilling to forgive your neighbor even the smallest offense. Moan and bewail your foolishness, and that obstruction within you will vanish like smoke, you will think more clearly, your heart will grow calm, and through this you will learn goodness, as if not you yourself had heard the reproaches and indignities, but some other person entirely, or a shadow of yourself." (Lessons on a Life of Grace, p. 149) He who admits his sinfulness, who through experience knows the weakness of human nature and its inclination toward evil, will forgive his neighbor the more swiftly, dismissing transgressions and refraining from a haughty judgment of others' sins. Let us remember that even the scribes and Pharisees who brought the woman caught in adultery to Christ were forced to depart, when their conscience spoke out, accusing them of their own sins. (John 8. 9)

Unfortunately, brethren, we do not like to acknowledge our transgressions. It would seem natural and easy for a person to know his own self, his own soul and his shortcomings. This, however, is actually not so. We are ready to attend to anything but a deeper understanding of ourselves, an investigation of our sins. We examine various things with curiosity, we attentively study friends and strangers, but when faced with solitude without extraneous preoccupation even for a short while, we immediately become bored and attempt to seek amusement. For example, do we spend much time examining our own conscience even before confession? Perhaps a few minutes, and once a year at that. Casting a cursory glance at our soul, correcting some of its more glaring faults, we immediately cover it over with the veil of oblivion until next year, until our next uncomfortable exercise in boredom.

Yet we love to observe the sins of others. Not considering the beam in our own eye, we take notice of the mote in our brother's eye. (Matt. 7. 3) Speaking idly to our neighbor's detriment, mocking and criticizing him are not even often considered sins but rather an innocent and amusing pastime. As if our own sins were so few! As if we had been appointed to judge others! "There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy" ? God. (James 4. 12) "Who art thou to judge another's servant? It is before his own master that he stands or falls." (Rom. 14. 4) "Thou hast no excuse, O man, whoever thou art who judgest. For wherein thou judgest another, thou dost condemn thyself. For thou who judgest dost the same things thyself." (Rom. 2. 1) "Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith; put yourselves to the test." (2 Cor. 13. 5) The pious ascetics provide a good example of this. They turned their minds to themselves, meditated on their own sins and avoided judging their neighbors at all costs.

One pious starets, noticing that his brother had committed a sin, sighed and said, "Woe is me! As he sinned today, so will I tomorrow." And the following is a story about another ascetic, Abba Moisei. A monk committed a sin. The brethren, who had assembled to decide his case, sent for Abba Moisei, but the humble starets refused to attend the council. When the rector sent for him a second time, he appeared, but in quite a striking manner. He had taken an old basket, filled it with sand and was carrying it on his back. "What does this mean?" asked the monks, catching sight of him. "See how many sins I bear behind me?" answered Moisei, pointing to the heap of sand. "I don't see them, yet I have come to pass judgment upon another."

So therefore, brethren, following the example of the ascetics, upon observing others' sins, we should consider our own sins, regard our own transgressions and not judge our brother. And should we hold anything against him, let us pardon and forgive him, that our merciful Lord may forgive us also.

St. Tikhon (Bellavin)

Then Bishop of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands
Later - Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Internet Sniping

Internet debate can be both enlightening and sometimes even mildly amusing. To that extent I have no real issue with it. But sometimes it can take on an unfortunate tone, all the more so when those debating are Christians. Several well known bloggers whom I both like and respect, and whose blogs are linked to the right have been getting into a rather heated exchange over the last few days. In the latest round some of the posts and comments attached to the posts have taken on a sharp, even personal edge. I find this wholly regrettable and very saddening.

Catholics and Orthodox should have better things to do than take shots at one another online that do little to uplift the spirit or enlighten the wayward soul. Sometimes (IMO) it is better to let something pass even when we may deeply disagree with it... or even when we are offended by it rather than add fuel to the fire or cause scandal by our words. I can only hope that as we approach the Great Fast (now only a day away) that we might all take a step back and keep charity and agape uppermost in our minds when writing anything that might cause hurt.

Under the mercy,
Ad Orientem


to Fr. Al Kimel of Pontifications for his well deserved recognition for "Most Spiritual Blog" in the annual Catholic Blog Awards. He was also nominated in several other categories and was a runner up in the categories Best Blog by Clergy and Smartest Blog. Looking over the list of the awards and the other blogs that made a showing it looks like there was some stiff competition across the board.

So who is hosting the Orthodox Blog Awards??? I have some nominations I would like to make.

A Roman Catholic priest's take on the liturgy

There is an outstanding essay on the mess that the Roman Catholic Church is in with an emphasis on the liturgy over at Renew America. Fr. James Fartaglia pulls no punches and lays it out in clear and unambiguous language. Obviously this article will mainly be of interest to Roman Catholics, however I found it very positive despite its frank description of some of the insanity Catholics have had to put up with over the last 40 years. Maybe I am reading too much into it and similar essays I have stumbled on lately. But it seems there is something of an awakening on the other side of the Tiber that they have a problem. Fr. Fartaglia's dissection of the roots of the problem and his suggestions for dealing with it also strike me as being right on the money. I enthusiastically recommend the article.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Thinking about Tanzania

As some may be aware the world's Anglican Primates are now meeting in Tanzania with the crisis in the American branch of the Anglican Communion being at the top of their agenda. I started to write some comments on it all when about halfway into the third paragraph I realized I was repeating myself. Not repeating the previous sentence, but rather repeating numerous other posts. My views on the Episcopal Church (TEC) have not changed really. So I thought maybe it would not be a bad idea to just repost my last essay on the subject since it remains my advice. Nothing I have read or heard about Tanzania has in any way altered my views of the current situation. And so I respectfully refer the reader who may not have already seen it to my essay Some Thoughts on Loosing a War.

A sermon for Lent in six sentences...

A young monk complained to the great ascetic Abba Sisoes "Abba what should I do? I fell." The elder replied "Get up!" The monk then said "I got up and I fell again." The elder replied "Get up again!" The young monk asked "For how long should I get up when I fall?"

"Until your death." replied Abba Sisoes.

-As related by Archmandrite Seraphim Aleksiev (Bulgarian Orthodox Church) in his work "The Forgotten Medicine / The Mystery of Repentance."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The slandering of a bishop

There has been a great deal posted about archbishop +Akinola of Nigeria by his detractors. Some of it may be fair criticism or an honest disagreement with his views. But more than a little is outright falsehoods and libel. Alice Linsely, a recent convert to Orthodoxy, has posted an excellent article over at Drell's Descants that reviews and debunks many of the spurious accusations made against him. I have personally seen many of these accusations repeated on liberal forums, especially Episcopalian, such as Fr. Jake's site. I recommend this essay to the reader.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A quick note

I would like to express my apologies for the rather thin posting of late. I have been extremely consumed with a number of things in my life. Work has been busier than expected and I am out of town until next week on what was supposed to be a vacation. My internet will be quite limited during this period.

Vacation sadly this has not been much of. A serious family crisis has struck. My step father appears to be entering the later stages of senile dementia. We have long suspected Alzheimer’s disease although he has resisted testing until now. Obviously this is creating all kinds of stresses and problems. Anyone who has ever been through a loved one’s decline from this disease knows what a nightmare it is, especially in the later stages. Prayers for Harold and those who love him in this very difficult time are coveted and deeply appreciated.

Finally I want to apologize for the wave of spam comments posted in the last few days on AO. I have once again returned to moderating posts. I will not have the time to go through and delete all of the bogus comments until I get back next week sometime. If you post a comment it may not appear for a couple of days. So please bear with me. Thanking you all for your prayers, I remain

Yours in Christ,