Saturday, March 31, 2007


It is with great sadness that I report Ben Anderson of Occidentalis has decided to cease updating his excellent blog. I had meant to post this earlier but it slipped from my mind until I was reminded by the other Ben (Johnson) who also maintains a great blog dedicated to Western Rite Orthodoxy. Ben (Anderson) has concluded that the time required to maintain his blog was just too demanding on him and was becoming a distraction from other important things. I can totally appreciate this problem and wish him the very best in his journey.

I will be leaving the link to Occidentalis in the blog roll at the right at least for a while for those interested in perusing the gold mine that are its archives.

Lazarus Saturday

Lazarus Saturday

Visible triumphs are few in the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ. He preached a kingdom "not of this world." At His nativity in the flesh there was "no room at the inn." For nearly thirty years, while He grew "in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52), He lived in obscurity as "the son of Mary." When He appeared from Nazareth to begin His public ministry, one of the first to hear of Him asked: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John I :46). In the end He was crucified between two thieves and laid to rest in the tomb of another man.

Two brief days stand out as sharp exceptions to the above - days of clearly observable triumph. These days are known in the Church today as Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. Together they form a unified liturgical cycle which serves as the passage from the forty days of Great Lent to Holy Week. They are the unique and paradoxical days before the Lord's Passion. They are days of visible, earthly triumph, of resurrectional and messianic joy in which Christ Himself is a deliberate and active participant. At the same time they are days which point beyond themselves to an ultimate victory and final kingship which Christ will attain not by raising one dead man or entering a particular city, but by His own imminent suffering, death and resurrection.

By raising Lazarus from the dead before Thy Passion, Thou didst confirm the universal resurrection, 0 Christ God! Like the children with the palms of victory, we cry out to Thee, 0 Vanquisher of Death: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord! (Troparion of the Feast, sung on both Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday)

Lazarus Saturday

In a carefully detailed narrative the Gospel relates how Christ, six days before His own death, and with particular mindfulness of the people "standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me" (John I I :42), went to His dead friend Lazarus at Bethany outside of Jerusalem. He was aware of the approaching death of Lazarus but deliberately delayed His coming, saying to His disciples at the news of His friend's death: "For your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe" (John 11:14).

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus was already dead four days. This fact is repeatedly emphasized by the Gospel narrative and the liturgical hymns of the feast. The four-day burial underscores the horrible reality of death. Man, created by God in His own image and likeness, is a spiritual-material being, a unity of soul and body. Death is destruction; it is the separation of soul and body. The soul without the body is a ghost, as one Orthodox theologian puts it, and the body without the soul is a decaying corpse. "I weep and 1 wail, when I think upon death, and behold our beauty, fashioned after the image of God, lying in the tomb dishonored, disfigured, bereft of form." This is a hymn of St John of Damascus sung at the Church's burial services. This "mystery" of death is the inevitable fate of man fallen from God and blinded by his own prideful pursuits.

With epic simplicity the Gospel records that, on coming to the scene of the horrible end of His friend, "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). At this moment Lazarus, the friend of Christ, stands for all men, and Bethany is the mystical center of the world. Jesus wept as He saw the "very good" creation and its king, man, "made through Him" (John 1:3) to be filled with joy, life and light, now a burial ground in which man is sealed up in a tomb outside the city, removed from the fullness of life for which he was created, and decomposing in darkness, despair and death. Again as the Gospel says, the people were hesitant to open the tomb, for "by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days" (John 11:39).

When the stone was removed from the tomb, Jesus prayed to His Father and then cried with a loud voice: "Lazarus, come out." The icon of the feast shows the particular moment when Lazarus appears at the entrance to the tomb. He is still wrapped in his grave clothes and his friends, who are holding their noses because of the stench of his decaying body, must unwrap him. In everything stress is laid on the audible, the visible and the tangible. Christ presents the world with this observable fact: on the eve of His own suffering and death He raises a man dead four days! The people were astonished. Many immediately believed on Jesus and a great crowd began to assemble around Him as the news of the raising of Lazarus spread. The regal entry into Jerusalem followed.

Lazarus Saturday is a unique day: on a Saturday a Matins and Divine Liturgy bearing the basic marks of festal, resurrectional services, normally proper to Sundays, are celebrated. Even the baptismal hymn is sung at the Liturgy instead of Holy God: "As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ."


Tridentine News (not rumorr)

Cardinal +Bertone has confirmed in an interview the existence of the Motu Proprio that is expected to broaden access to the classical liturgical rite for Roman Catholics. Both Rorate Caeli and NLM have posted on this and have comments. It is worth reminding the reader that the news element here is not that the MP exists. This was already known from multiple sources. Rather it is who is now speaking about it.. Card +Bertone is the Vatican's Secretary of State. The tone of his comments suggest that he is preparing the Roman Catholic world for the MP's arrival. And it should be born in mind (again) that the details of the MP remain conjecture with the date of publication being simply unknown.

Finally for those interested in a glimpse of something that will almost certainly never be seen again in the Latin Church there is the more or less complete video of the coronation of Pope +John XXIII now online. It can be
viewed here. Hat tip to NLM

How many Ecumenical Councils have there been?

This from the official web site of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church Eparchy of Newton (in communion with Rome).

8 How many Ecumenical Councils were held?
a. Seven Ecumenical Councils

9 Was the Vatican council an ecumenical council? Why?, why not?
a. The Vatican council was not an ecumenical council – no participation from the Orthodox

The source

Hat tip to the

Friday, March 30, 2007

Echoes of Neville Chamberlain

Peace at any price...

Of all the myriad accusations and clichés in politics and world diplomacy the charge of appeasement and comparisons to Neville Chamberlain have to be very near the top of the overused to the point of being silly list. That said, Max Hasting's op-ed piece in Friday's New York Times demands that comparison. It literally screams appeasement. Seriously; this guy could have been Chamberlain's speech writer.
We must keep talking to the Iranians, offering carrots even when these are contemptuously tossed into the gutter, because there is no credible alternative. Even threats of economic sanctions must be considered cautiously. Their most likely consequence would be to feed Iranian paranoia, to strengthen the hand of Tehran’s extremists. A state of declared Western encirclement could suit President Ahmadinejad very well indeed....

...No matter how it ends, the seizure of the British sailors is likely to be viewed by most of the world as an Iranian victory. Thus it is unlikely to be Iran’s last affront to us. It is not the American way, but only patience, statesmanship and a refusal to respond in kind to outrageous behavior offer a chance of eventually persuading this dangerous nation to join a rational universe.
His assessment of options is remarkably narrow and seems almost completely confined to military ones. But a far more effective action would be to close off Iran's access to the international banking system. This would have immediate and devastating consequences for Iran's economy. Any number of economic sanctions if applied with determination would be a very serious threat. And even in the military sphere options are not restricted to bombing Iran or invading the country which are admittedly not realistic alternatives. One easy option would be a naval blockade of one or more of Iran's ports. Simply put the mullahs on notice that if the sailors are not released within 72 hrs we will close one of their ports. While I am not in favor of rash actions, and I strongly support a diplomatic effort to resolve this situation, it must not come at the expense of emboldening Iran's already lawless regime.

I usually don't have such a visceral reaction to an opinion I disagree with. But in this case I really must say that Mr. Hastings comes across as a spineless weasel.

Read the entire article here.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Episcopal Bishop Swims the Tiber

Daniel Herzog the just retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany NY has converted to the Roman Catholic Church. Obviously this was not an easy decision and is one that is likely to add to the tremors now shaking ECUSA. It is interesting that this occurred in one of the most liberal Catholic diocese in the United States. I wonder if the Catholics are planning on trading Bishop Hubbard in return. As someone who lived in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany for several years (back before my own Eastward move) I would say the Catholics would be getting the better half of that deal.

Read more including lots of comments over at T-19.

The Passion According to St. Matthew

EWTN is broadcasting live from Rome the performance of The Passion According to St. Matthew composed by Bishop +Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is being performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. For those who miss it, it will be rebroadcast tonight at 1030 PM EST and 730 PM PST. I strongly recommend it.
(channel 422 on Direct TV, cable users check your local channel listings)

The passing of the lost generation

And then there were five. Last February 22nd Howard V Ramsey died at the age of 109. With him passed the last living memories of American combat in the trenches of World War I. The few remaining American veterans of the First World War era saw no combat. Last Tuesday Charlotte Winters died, also at the age of 109. She was the last living American female veteran of World War I. In 1916 she personally met with Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to lobby for allowing women to serve in the military. There are now just five living Americans who wore the uniform in the War to End All Wars.

I recall speaking with only one veteran of the Great War. When I was a young man who had just enlisted in the Navy in 1985 I was asked by my recruiter to help out in the office one day while waiting to ship out. So I made some phone calls looking for people who had previously shown some interest in military service. One call I made was answered by a gentleman who identified himself as the individual whose name I had been given. I asked him if he still had any interest in serving his country. He enquired in what capacity, and I said by joining the Navy. He laughed and told me he was ready to go but wasn’t sure we would take him. I asked him why. He explained very patiently that he had already served in the military. I thought this was a bit odd since I thought I was calling people in their late teens but undeterred I explained that prior military service was not an obstacle to enlistment. I then asked him when he had served and in what branch.

He told me he had served in the cavalry from 1917-1919. Shocked I asked him to verify his name for me. Which he did and it matched the one on the list I had been given. After some questions I found out I was looking for his youngest grandson and namesake. However before getting off the phone I spent the better part of an hour listening to some of the most interesting (and funny) stories I have heard. Some could not be repeated on a Christian blog but I still vividly recall him explaining the joys of being sent to not one but four different embarkation ports for transportation to France and at each one his unit was turned around for one reason or another. Apparently at one there was an outbreak of the Influenza epidemic. At another one the ship they were supposed to go on was not designed to accommodate their horses! Another vessel had been commandeered by someone trying to move artillery. And each time his unit had to herd all their supplies and gear, not to mention their horses, and get them on another train for another port. His description of shuttling all over the country on the troop and horse trains left me in tears. After the third failure to embark there were no trains available and his commanding officer essentially hijacked a passenger train and ordered the rail workers to hook up some stock cars for their horses. By time he got over to Europe the war was winding down and he never saw battle. He spent six months in Germany as part of the Army of Occupation after the war was over though.

This guy sounded like a cross between Abbott & Costello on one hand and John Wayne on the other. When he said he was ready to join up (he was in his late 80’s) I think he was dead serious. I deeply regret that I did not write down his name which is now lost to my memory. Nor do I know when he passed over, but I hope God welcomed home this old horse soldier.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A small milestone

I am not about to make the top ten list for blogs, but somewhere in the last week or so (I am guessing since I don't check the numbers often) A/O went over 20,000 visitors. Thats not only surprising it's frankly a bit humbling. I thank all who visit for the compliment of paying any attention to what I think or write.

Attention CPAs

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A Dutch court has added a new item to the list of activities eligible for tax relief - drug running. Judges in the central city of Arnhem recently declared that a professional fisherman convicted of smuggling drugs could deduct the cost of buying and shipping hashish to the Netherlands from his income on his tax return, national daily De Telegraaf reported Tuesday. The court ruled that because he had only been convicted of drug running and not trading in drugs he could deduct the cost of buying and transporting the drugs on his tax form. That cut his tax bill to euro1.8 ($2.4 million) - a saving of euro1.5 million ($2 million).

Hat tip to T19

Quote of the day...

The Orthodox Churches are a different matter. ‘The Eucharist,’ the Pope writes, ‘objectively creates a powerful bond of unity between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, which have preserved the authentic and integral nature of the eucharistic mystery.’ There is a sense in which Sacramentum Caritatis can be read as an apology to the Orthodox for the liturgical excesses that followed Vatican II, and a promise that they will not recur.

From the Spectator's excellent article "The Pope's anti-liberal Revolution," an article well worth a read in its entirety.

Monday, March 26, 2007

An Anglican Declaration of Independance

Note: Obviously posting this does not constitute an endorsement of the Protestant theology proclaimed in the declaration. However this is certainly an affirmation of Christian Faith in the face of institutional apostasy.
- Ad Orientem


From the vestry and leaders of Grace Church

WHEREAS, four centuries ago our spiritual forbearers brought to this continent the Christian faith as expressed in the Anglican tradition, led by the Rev. Robert Hunt, the first Anglican mission in America celebrated Holy Communion on the Third Sunday after Trinity upon the banks of the James River shortly after the landing of the Virginia Colony in 1607 A.D. So began our unbroken religious heritage in the New World.

WHEREAS, the Church of England in America was our foundation, nurse, and protector for many generations, its greatest gifts to our faith were an unrivaled English translation of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. In the course of Divine Providence when our country became politically independent of Great Britain, the American Church became ecclesiastically independent of the Church of England. So began the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

WHEREAS, in continuity with the faith received from the Church of England, the Episcopal Church adopted the apostolic doctrines and disciplines of the Church of England as reflected in the Book of Common Prayer and incorporated the Articles of Religion into its Canons. In this shared faith and practice the Episcopal Church remained in communion with the Church of England as an independent province within what eventually became the worldwide Anglican Communion.

WHEREAS, tragically today the American Episcopal Church no longer believes the historic, orthodox Christian faith common not only to Anglicans, but to all believers, some Episcopal leaders expressly deny the central articles of the faith -- saying that traditional theism is "dead," the incarnation is "nonsense," the resurrection of Jesus is fiction, the understanding of the cross is "a barbarous idea," the Bible is "pure propaganda" and so on. Others simply say the creed as poetry subjecting it to fashions of deconstructionist literary criticism.

WHEREAS, revisionism has permeated and fatally contaminated the Episcopal Church, its leaders now openly deny what their faith once believed and celebrate the heresies that Christians in previous ages have gone to the stake to resist.

WHEREAS, Episcopal revisionism abandons the fidelity of faith, the Hebrew Scriptures link truth to a relationship with God. They speak of apostasy as adultery -- a form of betrayal as treacherous as a husband cheating on his wife.

WHEREAS, Episcopal revisionism negates the authority of faith, the "sola scriptura" doctrine of the Reformation church has been supplanted by the "sola cultura" heresy (by the culture alone) of post-modernism. No longer under biblical authority, the Episcopal Church today is either its own authority or finds its authority in the shifting winds of intellectual and social fashion of the day.

WHEREAS, Episcopal revisionism severs the continuity of faith; cutting itself off from the universal faith that spans the centuries and the continents, it becomes culturally captive to one culture and one time. While professing tolerance and inclusiveness, certain Episcopal attitudes toward fellow believers around the world, who make up a majority of the Anglican family, have been arrogant and even racist.

WHEREAS, Episcopal revisionism destroys the credibility of faith; there is so little that is distinctively Christian left in the theology of some Episcopal leaders. It is no accident that orthodox congregations like Grace Church and St. Stephen's Parish are growing and that in the last century great converts to the Christian faith have been attracted to biblical orthodoxy, not to revisionism. The prospect for the Episcopal Church, already plainly evident in the Diocese of Colorado with its recent closure of its churches in this city, is inevitable withering, decline, and death.

WHEREAS, Episcopal revisionism obliterates the very identity of faith; when the great truths of the Bible and the creeds are abandoned and there is no limit to what can be believed in their place, then the point is reached when there remains little that is identifiably Christian. Would that Episcopal leaders showed the same zeal for their faith that they do for their property. If the present decline continues, all that will remain of a once strong church will be museums - empty buildings kept going by the finances, though not the faith, of the fathers.

WHEREAS, recently the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops has spurned the Dar es Salaam Communique of the Anglican Communion's Primates by declining to accommodate a pastoral scheme for orthodox clergy, congregations, and dioceses in the Episcopal Church; we see no future for orthodox believers in the Episcopal Church. The Presiding Bishop's recent nullification of Fr. Mark Lawrence's election as Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina is further evidence that orthodox clergymen, congregations, and dioceses in the Episcopal Church have no hope of perpetuating their faith, witness, and ecclesial life in the Episcopal Church.

WHEREAS, these are the apostasies we protest and lament; these are the infidelities that drive us to depart from the Episcopal Church in order to remain faithful to Christ, the Bible, and our received Anglican tradition; these are the reasons why we seek to affiliate with an orthodox and mission-oriented community of congregations who remain in continuity with our great spiritual heritage.

WE, the vestry members and officers of the corporation, DO HEREBY RESOLVE on this 26th Day of March in the Year of our Lord 2007, that Grace Church and St. Stephen's Parish will leave the Episcopal Church but remain in the Anglican Communion.

We resolve to leave the Episcopal Church because it first left the biblical and historic faith and us. Here we stand, our consciences held captive by the Word of God. We cannot do otherwise. God help us. Amen.

Tridentine rumors (again)

Image from Rorate Caeli

Its been a while since I have posted on the subject of the much rumored and yet to be seen Motu Proprio (MP) that will allegedly liberalize the classical Roman Rite of the Mass. Some will recall the blizzard of rumors circulating in the final weeks before the western Easter last year. And one might also recall the keen disappointment felt by so many when those rumors, yet again failed to produce the MP. I said it then and once or twice since then; it's coming. The only question is when and in what form.

Well once again the rumor mill is in high gear. The Italian Press, always a reliable source of information (/sarcasm off), started things rolling with reports that it would be issued sometime between the 25th and Easter. I dismissed those reports as just more hot air in print for two reasons. First the 25th is a major Feast Day in the Latin Church (as also in the Orthodox). The Pope almost never issues documents on a major feast day that might overshadow it. Secondly the reports in the Italian Press named no sources and did not even really refer to sources. They just cryptically referred to "information." That told me that someone in the religion department had nothing else to write about and decided to throw darts at the calendar again for the latest prediction of a date of publication for the MP. Having said all this one day the Italian Press might actually get it right. But if they do I think there is a 50/50 chance that their prediction will be purely accidental. They have predicted the publication date for the MP inaccurately more times than the Jehovah Witnesses have predicted the end of the world.

We know beyond doubt that a document exists that will to some degree liberalize the classical Roman Rite. This has been confirmed by multiple sources and has been directly discussed in the press by members of the Roman Curia and various bishop's conferences. What the MP will actually say in detail is speculation. And thus far predictions about its date of publication are, as far as I can see, purely rumor. My gut feeling tells me that with the Apostolic Exhortation now out of the way the MP would be the next major item on the agenda. Thus I doubt we are talking about an extremely long wait. But as for the exact date, no authoritative source has yet divulged this. It will come when it comes. I know this is agony for some in the Roman Church. But relax and take a deep breath. The behavior of some of the people out there franticly digging for any scrap of a hint no matter what the source strikes me as almost weird. At the least it's like the person expecting an important call who sits staring at the phone all day as if by sheer will they could make it ring.

This document which will certainly rank among the more important papal documents of the last twenty years is coming. It might come tomorrow, or it might come six months from now. Until it arrives just relax and go see a movie or (if your not Orthodox) buy an ice cream cone and read a good book in the park. But really, try to relax a little. I'm as interested as the next person and yes I do check a couple of sources every day or two to see if there is anything new. But some of the reports being passed around that are being described as "news" or "information" relating to the MP are just silly.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Taunting the Lion

A maritime element of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (incorrectly referred to in the media as the Iranian Navy) entered Iraqi territorial waters a couple days ago and abducted at gun point 15 British sailors and Royal Marines who were engaged in routine maritime security operations. They have been shown on Iranian TV bound and blindfolded. The Iranians claim that the British were in their waters. Iran has long claimed certain waters generally recognized by the international community as being Iraqi. Presently the Iranians are threatening to put them on trial for any of a number of charges including espionage. The incident however is certainly about more than a dispute over where the boundary lies in territorial waters. (Britain has heatedly denied the group was anywhere near Iranian waters).

This is merely the latest in a long list of examples showing Iran flexing its perceived muscles as a regional power. Perhaps as the regional power. It also came on the eve of the UN Security Council voting to impose slightly more restrictive sanctions on Iran for its continued defiance of the international community vis a vis its nuclear power project. This project is widely suspected of being a cover for a clandestine nuclear weapons program in violation of international treaties. Iran has repeatedly been caught making incomplete or simply false statements to the IAEC and the UN. For its part Britain has been one of the countries leading the charge for a serious sanctions regime against Iran for its defiance of the world community.

The current regime in Iran has certainly been quite willing to push the envelope in terms of their actions. They are positively brazen in their support for various groups causing trouble in Iraq. They have been implicated in numerous terrorist attacks throughout the world including a highly lethal bombing of a Jewish club in Argentina some years ago. Recently international arrest warrants were issued for members of Iran's intelligence service and other high ranking government officials for that particular attack. But I would not suggest holding one's breath. Iran openly backs the Terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon with large quantities of money, arms and explosives as also training in military tactics. Such aid proved highly effective during Israel's recent incursion into Lebanon in an effort to push Hezbollah away from its borders from which they have been lobbing rockets into Israel for years. And Iran's hand has been seen in the efforts by Hezbollah to destabilize Lebanon's pro-western government. So far Iran has pretty much gotten away with all of these things.

There are a number of reasons for this. First there has been little appetite in most of the international community for dealing with Iran until its fire breathing president got elected and started making very public comments which could not be ignored by even the most imperturbable. His notorious comments about wiping Israel off the map and his virulent anti-Semitism manifested most recently by a state sponsored convention for Holocaust deniers and other kooks, were so over the top that even the normally ostrich like Europeans were forced to speak out against him. Another factor is the support which Iran has gotten from both Russia and China (and until recently France). These countries have very strong commercial ties with Iran and in the case of China there is a heavy dependence on Iran's oil for its economy. Both Russia and China have used their very considerable leverage (both have veto power) on the UN Security Council to make sure that any sanctions would be so heavily watered down as to be at most, only mildly inconvenient.

As for their choice of target for expressing their displeasure over the mild slap on the wrist they have received, this appears to be more of a case of opportunity. The Royal Navy is known to be responsible for conducting maritime security operations in that part of the Gulf near Iraq's coast. Iran knows very well that Britain's days of imperial glory are long past. The British public is deeply opposed to Britain's involvement in Iraq and Tony Blair is now one of the most unpopular incumbent Prime Ministers in living memory. If he were not already understood to be on his way out the door it is doubtful his government would have survived as long as it has. Britain is thus seen as being both politically disunited and militarily a shadow of its former self.

For its part, the United States although certainly not lacking in the will to confront Iran, is however very much lacking in the means. Diplomatically the United States rivals Iran in the eyes of world public opinion for being one of the most unpopular countries. America is distrusted and disliked by many countries who are her historic allies. The hubris of the Bush administration in its unilateral foreign policy has quite simply offended most of the world to the point of burning a lot of bridges. And however much the President would like to assert a military response the simple fact is that it's not an option. Our military has been stretched to the limit as a result of its commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are not enough combat effective divisions left to mount the kind of troop surge that is likely needed to effectively suppress the insurgency in Iraq much less a major operation against Iran. Any additional major military operation would probably push the military to the breaking point. It would also leave us utterly unable to respond to any other emergency. If North Korea decided to take advantage of a US military operation against Iran as the moment to reunify the Korean Peninsula there would be virtually nothing we could do to stop them.

Having said all of this it’s just possible that Iran may have miscalculated this time. Britain is a member of the European Union which has been showing some astonishing signs in recent months of growing a spine. The EU has been almost unanimous in its support for a more severe sanctions regimen than either Russia or China were willing to support. Even France (America’s most reliably contrary ally) has apparently decided that it is not in their national interests for Iran to get a nuclear bomb. Also, public opinion in Europe does not generally favor countries taking hostages as a form of diplomatic pressure. It’s considered bad form. And remarkably the United States and President Bush have been keeping a profile so low that people might justifiably wonder where we have gone off to. Aside from our relative inability to be of much use in dealing with Iran for the above mentioned reasons, it also keeps the pressure on Europe to deal with the situation.

If Iran attempts to put the sailors on trial or hold them for a long period of time expect the EU to step up to the plate with some serious sanctions. The UN is not required for sanctions. The EU can impose their own on Iran anytime they want to and extend them to other countries and businesses who traffic with Tehran. Military options are probably somewhere between few and none. The most serious response that might come would be a naval blockade of Iran. But the effect on the world’s economies from such an action would likely be devastating. However Europe has the ability to really put the screws on Iran through sanctions if they actually decide to act. How likely is this? That will probably depend on how Iran decides to proceed in this little crisis they have engineered. They clearly started this and the ball is now squarely in their court. Stay tuned.

Speaking of bumps in the road...

I did mention there would be some didn't I? Well we just hit a big one. Sigh. Two steps forward one step back.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A scandal meets daylight

Last Sunday night we had our annual parish meeting. Attending the meeting was Fr. Matthew Tate who is also one of our diocesan representatives to the Metropolitan Council (MC). He was there primarily to help us with some advice on how to deal with various financial difficulties we have had in our ongoing building project, a subject that he has some familiarity with. After the routine business of the meeting was over and the meeting was adjourned Fr. Matthew volunteered to stay and discuss the current situation with the central administration and the ongoing problems dealing with the financial mess in the OCA.

I actually began writing this on the day after (Monday) our meeting. But after reflection I decided to refrain from posting anything for two reasons. First it is Lent and some subjects don’t need to be raised during this time of the year. And secondly the Holy Synod was preparing to meet to address the resolutions passed by the Metropolitan Council. Thus any comments made might be jumping the gun. Mindful of the season and of more developments being likely in the near future I decided to wait and see what would transpire. The Holy Synod has now completed its meeting and issued one of the most astonishing statements I have ever read on the OCA website. But it would perhaps be best to begin with our discussion from last Sunday night and what we gleaned from it.

This was an extremely refreshing meeting and I left quite encouraged. Not because there was a lot of good news (although there was good news). But primarily because there was a frank (to the point of blunt) admission of just how bad things had gotten over the preceding years. Archbishop Job of the Mid West has been on record with a question for some time. That question is simply “Are the allegations true?” We can now state that the answer for the most part, is yes.

Most of the allegations made by Deacon Eric Wheeler have been substantiated by the investigations and reports conducted by an outside law firm and a special commission that delivered a report to the Metropolitan Council last week. Most of this will not be news to those who frequent a certain website. However for the benefit of those who don’t I will give just a brief overview absent gratuitous details.

  • Prior to 2006 there had not been an OCA budget verified by a certified audit in something close to fifteen years.
  • Financial records from this period are poor, incomplete, in some cases missing, and at least in a few cases appear to have been falsified.
  • High ranking members of the OCA’s central administration repeatedly failed in their moral responsibilities to the Church and also arguably their fiduciary (legal) responsibilities as officers of a not for profit organization.
  • With two exceptions this appears to have been more a case of widespread incompetence and dereliction of duty as opposed to deliberate malfeasance.
  • However there is very strong evidence that former OCA Chancellor Fr. Robert Kondratick and to an unknown degree former Metropolitan +Theodosius plundered the OCA’s coffers for their own use. There is evidence indicating…
    1. Mixing of restricted funds.
    2. Massive abuse of discretionary funds
    3. Deliberate destruction of financial records
    4. Deliberate falsification of records
    5. Widespread misappropriation of funds including restricted funds
    6. Large scale embezzlement of church funds for personal use
  • Fr. Robert Kondratick is known to be a person of interest in at least two criminal investigations connected with his tenure as OCA Chancellor, one being done by the FBI and one from the New York State Attorney General’s Office. Also it appears likely that at some point the Internal Revenue Service will become involved.
  • The exact amount of money missing is not known and due to the inaccurate and incomplete nature of records may never be known with certainty. However the figure is certainly in the millions of dollars.
  • Although there is evidence that former Met. +Theodosius was involved in this it is not clear to what extent. Due to his poor and declining health it is doubtful that much will be done regarding his activities in the scandal.

At the meeting of the MC many things were done to advance the reorganization of the central administration including the appointment of highly competent individuals of unimpeachable reputation to the main offices of the church. A complete reform of the bookkeeping system also progressed. However there was a serious clash over the way to proceed in addressing the scandal. After hearing the report from the special investigation committee some, including Met. +Herman, suggested that the time had come to dissolve the commission and suppress its report for the good of the church. The theory being that the OCA has had enough scandal and being open about the details would do more harm than good. This appears to have been also the advice (not surprisingly) of the lawyers hired to conduct the investigation who are for obvious reasons concerned with the OCA’s legal interests. This was vigorously resisted by a significant number on the MC. The tide turned decisively after an impassioned address by Archbishop +Job of Chicago who expressed dismay at the very idea of suppressing the truth and dropped what may have been a none too thinly veiled threat to resign and possibly even leave the OCA if the reports were suppressed.

This was the turning point and the MC overwhelmingly rejected the proposal to end the investigations and drop the matter. Instead it reauthorized the special commission to continue its work and sent a list of recommendations to the Holy Synod. Most prominent among them was a recommendation that Fr Kondratick be suspended pending his being summoned to appear before a church court to answer formal charges. This is where things were left until this morning when I discovered that the Holy Synod had issued the statement referenced at the beginning of this essay.

Today the Holy Synod issued a statement in effect admitting to what has been widely reported regarding the scandal. It also announced that Fr. Kondratick had been returned to the jurisdiction of Met. +Herman by his bishop. Although one can never be certain, this is likely a preliminary step to his suspension. The statement of the Holy Synod, although lacking in some of the details I have related, and even more that have been posted elsewhere, is nonetheless a frank admission of the scope of the scandal and the failure of the OCA’s central administration. This open and honest admission along with its mea culpa gives me renewed hope for the future.

For sometime I have been mildly optimistic that the OCA would do the right thing in its handling of this. In fairness that has not always been clear. The road has been bumpy but I now feel that the worst is over and after a long night the first hints of the dawning of a new day can be seen. Expect more disturbing details to emerge. And one may assume that this will be THE TOPIC at next year’s big meeting of the OCA. It is possible that there may still be some heads that will roll beyond Fr. Bob. Our primate was the Treasurer during at least some of the years this was going on and his role has not been discussed to my knowledge. But I feel very strongly that a corner has been turned. With these admissions the Holy Synod has made the irrevocable decision to be honest and open about what happened. And that is the best prescription for healing.

All of the news...

There has been a great deal of news breaking over the last few days. Some of the news seems important enough that I have decided to forgo my planned Lenten Friday off from blogging. I will be posting some reflections on disturbing developments in the Christian community. I do ask all to remember the season when making comments.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

More on the cultural suicide of Europe

FRANKFURT, March 22 — A German judge has stirred a storm of protest here by citing the Koran in turning down a German Muslim woman’s request for a fast-track divorce on the ground that her husband beat her.

In a remarkable ruling that underlines the tension between Muslim customs and European laws, the judge, Christa Datz-Winter, said that the couple came from a Moroccan cultural milieu, in which she said it was common for husbands to beat their wives. The Koran, she wrote, sanctions such physical abuse.

News of the ruling brought swift and sharp condemnation from politicians, legal experts, and Muslim leaders in Germany, many of whom said they were confounded that a German judge would put 7th-century Islamic religious teaching ahead of modern German law in deciding a case involving domestic violence.

Read the rest here

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

TEC to the Anglican Primates: Kiss Off (But we love you.)

This just in... After being given an ultimatum from the Primates of the World Wide Anglican Communion (WWAC) to essentially get with the program, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (TEC) responded late Tuesday night. Their answer was a polite (Episcopalians are always polite) but firm rejection of the Primates communique. Reading the text would suggest that there was not a major battle over this decision. My guess is the vote was pretty lopsided. This would appear to have set TEC on a direct collision course with the leaders of the more conservative churches in the WWAC. The fat lady would appear to warming up just off stage now , along with a large number of lawyers.

[Episcopal News Service] The following resolutions were passed by the House of Bishops March 20 during its annual Spring retreat meeting in Navasota, Texas.

Mind of the House of Bishops Resolution Addressed to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church

Resolved, the House of Bishops affirms its desire that The Episcopal Church remain a part of the councils of the Anglican Communion; and

Resolved, the meaning of the Preamble to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church is determined solely by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church; and

Resolved, the House of Bishops believes the proposed Pastoral Scheme of the Dar es Salaam Communiqué of February 19, 2007 would be injurious to The Episcopal Church and urges that the Executive Council decline to participate in it; and

Resolved, the House of Bishops pledges itself to continue to work to find ways of meeting the pastoral concerns of the Primates that are compatible with our own polity and canons.

Adopted March 20, 2007
The House of Bishops
The Episcopal Church
Spring Meeting 2007
Camp Allen Conference Center
Navasota, Texas

The full text of the resolution of the House of Bishops along with a statement addressed to the WWAC and a shorter one to the Archbishop of Canterbury may be found here.

The monk who never was...

For those inclined to mysteries I offer the following.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Barb Galbincea, Reporter

Cleveland Plain Dealer Do you know this man?

He grew up on Cleveland's East Side in the 1920s, had a mother named Essie, a succession of stepfathers and a little white dog called Skippy.

He went to Central High School, dropping out after 11th grade, loved strawberry ice cream, was a part-time dish washer at a res taurant that ca tered to truckers and played the harmonica. He saw Satchel Paige pitch and heard Count Ba sie at the Palace Theatre.

For a time, his home was a downtown park ing lot.

Today, he's an aging Orthodox monk, unable to get ongoing medical coverage because he can't prove his identity.

He is a man seemingly without a past, but with a squad of amateur sleuths searching for clues on his behalf.

Read the rest here

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Disturbing news from down under

This alarming report of goings on in Brasil via Zenit (Roman Catholic news service).

"Homophobia Law" to Impact Homilies, Seminaries

BRASILIA, Brazil, MARCH 18, 2007 ( Debate continues over so-called homophobia legislation, which seeks to criminalize anything considered a condemnation of homosexuality, including priests who speak against the practice in homilies.

Priests could face two to five years imprisonment for preaching against homosexuality. And a rector of a seminary who refuses admission to a homosexual student could face three to five years.

Thursday, Brazil's Senate declined to vote on the legislation. Instead, the senators decided to form a work group, which will organize public audiences to hear specialists on the subject.

According to ZENIT sources, a number of citizens voiced opposition to the law, motivating in part the senators to form the study group.

Specialists say the "homophobia law" would essentially imply a legal frame for religious persecution.

One source told ZENIT: "In addition to the rights established in the constitution for all people, the homosexual, by the simple fact of being homosexual, would gain privileges."

Maria das Dores Dolly Guimarães, lawyer and president of the Paulist Federation of Movements in Defense of Life, explained: "Whoever dared to criticize such behavior would be treated as a delinquent."

It's coming...

Yes, after a long boring winter baseball season is almost upon us. On which note some interesting thoughts from our friends over at Sports Illustrated on why almost anyone (but probably not the Yankees) has a shot at the title this year. I will note for the record that I think the idea of a Freeway (LA) series, given the anemic performance of the NL West is about as likely as George Steinbrenner handing out World Series rings to the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park while dancing in a pink tutu.

Here is a message for George Steinbrenner, Derek Jeter, Brian Cashman and everyone else who has bought in to the Yankees culture that the season is a failure if New York does not win the World Series: The '90s are so over. The baseball world has changed so much from when the Yankees won four titles in five years that the Yankees' world-championship-or-bust mentality has become awkwardly outdated.

Don't get me wrong. The aspiration to win it all should always remain paramount. But the Yankees continue to set themselves up for joyless seasons and their own definition of failure by thinking they should win the World Series every year. Last season they lost two-thirds of their starting outfield and they still won more games than any team in the league and blew the doors off the rest of their division -- and went home horribly unhappy, ready to fire the manager, run a Hall of Fame pitcher out of town and heap more abuse on an all-time great third baseman. Their fans have zero interest in Division Championship hats.

This just in: The Yankees probably won't win this year, either, even if they do have the best team on paper heading into Opening Day. The World Series? It'll be all SoCal -- the Angels over the Dodgers. Why? Because the best team doesn't win any more; teams with young legs do. These are five reasons why the game has changed to the point that the Yankees' philosophy is obsolete.

Read the rest here

Hat tip to Brian

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Quote of the day...

Barry Fitzgerald

A day late, but from my all time favorite character actor...

"No patty fingers if you please. The proprieties at all times." --as Michaeleen Oge Flynn in THE QUIET MAN.

Is this a courtin' or a donnybrook? Have the good manners not to hit the man until he's your husband and entitled to hit you back." --as Michaeleen Oge Flynn in THE QUIET MAN.

Just my opinion... But I think all Catholic priests should be required to sound like Fr. Fitzgibbon.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

AXIOS! He is worthy!

Today Deacon Gabriel Seamore, formerly of St. Mary Magdalene Mission parish in Merced, CA is to be ordained to the Holy Priesthood at St. Tikhon's Seminary in Pennsylvania. This is a moment of intense joy for all of his many friends, loved ones and family including his parish family here in Merced. Although this takes part on the other side of the country let there be no doubt but that the cries of AXIOS! and Many Years! will echo in the Central Valley today. To both Fr. Gabriel and Matushka may God truly grant you both many many years!

Feast of St Patrick Enlightener of Ireland

To all of the you who share with me the roots of the Emerald Isle, a Happy St. Patty's Day to you. And at the risk of causing scandal, yes I will be relaxing the fast today. No Irishman fasts on the 17th of March.

From the web site of the OCA

Saint Patrick, the Enlightener of Ireland was born around 385, the son of Calpurnius, a Roman decurion (an official responsible for collecting taxes). He lived in the village of Bannavem Taberniae, which may have been located at the mouth of the Severn River in Wales. The district was raided by pirates when Patrick was sixteen, and he was one of those taken captive. He was brought to Ireland and sold as a slave, and was put to work as a herder of swine on a mountain identified with Slemish in Co. Antrim. During his period of slavery, Patrick acquired a proficiency in the Irish language which was very useful to him in his later mission.

He prayed during his solitude on the mountain, and lived this way for six years. He had two visions. The first told him he would return to his home. The second told him his ship was ready. Setting off on foot, Patrick walked two hundred miles to the coast. There he succeeded in boarding a ship, and returned to his parents in Britain.

Some time later, he went to Gaul and studied for the priesthood at Auxerre under St Germanus (July 31). Eventually, he was consecrated as a bishop, and was entrusted with the mission to Ireland, succeeding St Palladius (July 7). St Palladius did not achieve much success in Ireland. After about a year he went to Scotland, where he died in 432.

Patrick had a dream in which an angel came to him bearing many letters. Selecting one inscribed "The Voice of the Irish," he heard the Irish entreating him to come back to them.

Although St Patrick achieved remarkable results in spreading the Gospel, he was not the first or only missionary in Ireland. He arrived around 432 (though this date is disputed), about a year after St Palladius began his mission to Ireland. There were also other missionaries who were active on the southeast coast, but it was St Patrick who had the greatest influence and success in preaching the Gospel of Christ. Therefore, he is known as "The Enlightener of Ireland."

His autobiographical Confession tells of the many trials and disappointments he endured. Patrick had once confided to a friend that he was troubled by a certain sin he had committed before he was fifteen years old. The friend assured him of God's mercy, and even supported Patrick's nomination as bishop. Later, he turned against him and revealed what Patrick had told him in an attempt to prevent his consecration. Many years later, Patrick still grieved for his dear friend who had publicly shamed him.

St Patrick founded many churches and monasteries across Ireland, but the conversion of the Irish people was no easy task. There was much hostility, and he was assaulted several times. He faced danger, and insults, and he was reproached for being a foreigner and a former slave. There was also a very real possibility that the pagans would try to kill him. Despite many obstacles, he remained faithful to his calling, and he baptized many people into Christ.

The saint's Epistle to Coroticus is also an authentic work. In it he denounces the attack of Coroticus' men on one of his congregations. The Breastplate (Lorica) is also attributed to St Patrick. In his writings, we can see St Patrick's awareness that he had been called by God, as well as his determination and modesty in undertaking his missionary work. He refers to himself as "a sinner," "the most ignorant and of least account," and as someone who was "despised by many." He ascribes his success to God, rather than to his own talents: "I owe it to God's grace that through me so many people should be born again to Him."

By the time he established his episcopal See in Armargh in 444, St Patrick had other bishops to assist him, many native priests and deacons, and he encouraged the growth of monasticism.

St Patrick is often depicted holding a shamrock, or with snakes fleeing from him. He used the shamrock to illustrate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Its three leaves growing out of a single stem helped him to explain the concept of one God in three Persons. Many people now regard the story of St Patrick driving all the snakes out of Ireland as having no historical basis.

St Patrick died on March 17, 461 (some say 492). There are various accounts of his last days, but they are mostly legendary. Muirchu says that no one knows the place where St Patrick is buried. St Columba of Iona (June 9) says that the Holy Spirit revealed to him that Patrick was buried at Saul, the site of his first church. A granite slab was placed at his traditional grave site in Downpatrick in 1899.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Bishop's election is vetoed

For the first time in living memory the Episcopal Church has (sort of) rejected a candidate elected by his diocese for bishop. Although Fr. Mark Lawrence, an outspoken conservative, received the necessary number of consents to serve as the next Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina the Presiding Bishop (PB) Katharine Jefferts Schori has declared the election null and void. Her reasons for doing so are that some of the consents were not communicated in a manner that exactly corresponds with her reading of the church canons. You may read the rest here and go to T19 for what I am sure will be an exhaustive discussion of this insanity. Fr Lawrence has been all but burned in effigy by the left wing nuts now running the show in TEC. Once again, I am compelled to ask, why anyone who calls themselves Christian would remain in such an obviously heretical (if not apostate) organization? I particularly invite Episcopalians to answer this question. At what point do you say "enough."

Quick Update: Most blogs in the classical-anglican ring are down right now. My guess is that the events noted above are causing a minor tidal wave on the various Anglican blogs.

Please... no bacon.

Beryl Dsouza was late and in no mood for delays when she stopped at a Target store after work two weeks ago for milk, bread and bacon.
So Dsouza was taken aback when the cashier — who had on the traditional headscarf, or hijab, worn by many Muslim women — refused to swipe the bacon through the checkout scanner.

“She made me scan the bacon. Then she opened the bag and made me put it in the bag,” said Dsouza, 53, of Minneapolis. “It made me wonder why this person took a job as a cashier.”

In the latest example of religious beliefs creating tension in the workplace, some Muslims in the Twin Cities are adhering to a strict interpretation of the Qur’an that prohibits the handling of pork products.

Instead of swiping the items themselves, they are asking non-Muslim employees or shoppers to do it for them.

Read the rest here

Hat tip to T19

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

St. Benedict of Nursia: Father of Western Monastacism

Saint Benedict, founder of Western monasticism, was born in the Italian city of Nursia in the year 480. When he was fourteen years of age, the saint's parents sent him to Rome to study. Unsettled by the immorality around him, he decided to devote himself to a different sort of life.

At first St Benedict settled near the church of the holy Apostle Peter in the village of Effedum, but news of his ascetic life compelled him to go farther into the mountains. There he encountered the hermit Romanus, who tonsured him into monasticism and directed him to live in a remote cave at Subiaco. From time to time, the hermit would bring him food.

For three years the saint waged a harsh struggle with temptations and conquered them. People soon began to gather to him, thirsting to live under his guidance. The number of disciples grew so much, that the saint divided them into twelve communities. Each community was comprised of twelve monks and was a separate skete. The saint gave each skete an igumen from among his experienced disciples, and only the novice monks remained with St Benedict for instruction.

The strict monastic Rule St Benedict established for the monks was not accepted by everyone, and more than once he was criticized and abused by dissenters.

Finally he settled in Campagna and on Mount Cassino he founded the Monte Cassino monastery, which for a long time was a center of theological education for the Western Church. The monastery possessed a remarkable library. St Benedict wrote his Rule, based on the experience of life of the Eastern desert-dwellers and the precepts of St John Cassian the Roman (February 29).

The Rule of St Benedict dominated Western monasticism for centuries (by the year 1595 it had appeared in more than 100 editions). The Rule prescribed the renunciation of personal possessions, as well as unconditional obedience, and constant work. It was considered the duty of older monks to teach the younger and to copy ancient manuscripts. This helped to preserve many memorable writings from the first centuries of Christianity.

Every new monk was required to live as a novice for a year, to learn the monastic Rule and to become acclimated to monastic life. Every deed required a blessing. The head of this cenobitic monastery is the igumen. He discerns, teaches, and explains. The igumen solicits the advice of the older, experienced brethren, but he makes the final decisions. Keeping the monastic Rule was strictly binding for everyone and was regarded as an important step on the way to perfection.

St Benedict was granted by the Lord the gift of foresight and wonderworking. He healed many by his prayers. The monk foretold the day of his death in 547. The main source for his Life is the second Dialogue of St Gregory.

St Benedict's sister, St Scholastica (February 10), also became famous for her strict ascetic life and was numbered among the saints.


Monday, March 12, 2007

The Dutch Bible Belt

STAPHORST, Netherlands (Reuters) - Just 90 minutes' drive from Amsterdam and its temptations is a village so devout that swearing is banned, women refuse to wear trousers and the bank machine does not dispense cash on a Sunday.

The Netherlands, best known abroad for its liberal policies on sex, drugs and homosexuality, is also home to a Protestant "Bible Belt" mapped out by villages such as Staphorst.

Now a small political party long associated with the Bible Belt, the Christen Unie (United Christians or CU), is benefiting from a surge of support outside its rural heartland triggered by nostalgia for a more moral, compassionate society.

Read the rest here

Friday, March 09, 2007

Breaking News

To summarize, we conclude that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. That right existed prior to the formation of the new government under the Constitution and was premised on the private use of arms for activities such as hunting and self-defense, the latter being understood as resistance to either private lawlessness or the depredations of a tyrannical government (or a threat from abroad). In addition, the right to keep and bear arms had the important and salutary civic purpose of helping to preserve the citizen militia. The civic purpose was also a political expedient for the Federalists in the First Congress as it served, in part, to placate their Antifederalist opponents. The individual right facilitated militia service by ensuring that citizens would not be barred from keeping the arms they would need when called forth for militia duty. Despite the importance of the Second Amendment's civic purpose, however, the activities it protects are not limited to militia service, nor is an individual's enjoyment of the right contingent upon his or her continued or intermittent enrollment in the militia.

-United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia earlier today.

Read the story here

Read the court's opinion here

Drawing the line

First read this short essay posted by Michael Liccione. Feel free to peruse the comments there too. It raised a topic which for me has always been rather thorny, and about which I concede some ambivalence.

Moving beyond the question of the arguments against this insanity, (I will trust we are all agreed that this is in fact insane) it raises a very interesting question which has always dogged me. I confess to being politically a very conflicted moderate libertarian. As an Orthodox Christian this puts me in the awkward position of arguing for legal tolerance of at least some things I find morally noxious. However when I start to contemplate legislating religious morality in a pluralistic society I quickly get a headache at the thought of the very large can of worms opening. Whose morality will we be legislating? Protestant or Catholic? Certainly not Orthodox... we are only about three percent of the population of the USA. (Although I have always liked the idea of imposing a three times limit on marriages... I digress.)

The case cited by Mike is admittedly an extreme one. But it’s good in the sense that it forces us to ask where we draw the line outside of attacks on human life (which is where my line tends to be right now). I have often contemplated the feasibility of Christian government in the modern world. And that road usually leads me in the direction of sacramental monarchy, which I will also confess (it's Lent) that I have always viewed as the most Christian form of government.

So here is the question... (well several questions)
Can we have a Christian government that is democratic in a religiously pluralistic society and if so in what form? Do extreme cases like the one cited justify a suspension of liberal democratic rights in order to impose a certain set of values on others? If not where do we draw the line if we draw one at all? And what arguments will we use to justify legislating our religiously based morals upon others? Should we have a state religion while perhaps proposing some form of limited tolerance for nonconformists?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The end of the Anglican Communion

There’s an Anglican church, St. Luke’s, a few blocks up Old Georgetown Road from my parish in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. St. Luke’s recently posted a large sign on the church lawn: “No matter who you are, no matter what you believe, you are welcome at our table.”

Which is, in one sense, a noble sentiment: if it’s meant to convey that, look, we’re all sinners, and no matter how awful you may think you are, you’re welcome in the communion of Christ’s Church if you’re truly repentant. Judging from recent events in the Anglican Communion, however, St. Luke’s sign isn’t a synopsis of the parable of the prodigal son and his merciful father; it’s a succinct, if unwitting, statement of why the Anglican Communion is coming apart at the seams.

No Catholic serious about the Catholic commitment to the unity of Christ’s Church can take any satisfaction from today’s Anglican meltdown. It now looks as if John Henry Newman was right when he concluded that Anglicanism was not a “third branch” on the tree of historic Christian orthodoxy, of which the other branches were Catholicism and the Orthodox churches of the Christian east; rather, Newman decided, Anglicanism was Protestantism in English guise. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, as hopes for ecclesial reconciliation between Rome and Canterbury ran high, it seemed, briefly, as if Cardinal Newman might have been wrong. With the Anglican Communion now fracturing into a gaggle of quarreling communities no longer in communion with each other, it looks as if Newman had the deeper insight into what King Henry VIII wrought.

Read the rest here

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Preparing for Confession

Although confession should always be proceeded by a period of concentrated preparation, our daily lives are scheduled in such a way that most of us find this very difficult. For this reason, it is the custom of some people to have Confession and Communion only on major feasts or during fast periods, especially Great Lent, when the penitential prayers and abstinence enjoined by the Church predispose the soul towards the sobriety and contrition necessary for a good confession. How often a person should partake of the Holy Mysteries is determined by his/her priest or father-confessor. During Great Lent, however, everyone should make an effort to prepare themselves especially thoroughly. The following essay provides guidance in this all-important spiritual endeavor.

One should confess in the presence of a father-confessor. Some people want to dismiss this holy Tradition, thinking to themselves: "Why is it necessary to tell one's sins to a priest? Doesn't God know our sins anyway? and can't He forgive them without our having to confess them to someone else?" To confess our sins, i.e., to recount them aloud before a priest, is necessary not because they would otherwise remain unknown to God, but because this act is spiritually beneficial and necessary for the penitent.

Our wholehearted confession of sins before a priest shows first of all our sincere readiness to judge ourselves for these sins. Whoever has the resolve to confess his sin in order to be healed of it, clearly regards the sin as something offensive; he wants to rid himself of it. The confessed sin leaves the soul; it is separated from it, just as a splinter, when it is removed, becomes something apart from the body and ceases to harm it.

...An open confession of sin before a father-confessor humbles our pride which shrinks from any witness of our sins and weaknesses, especially those which are shameful. This same pride prompts us to think that it is enough to have an inner awareness of a sin before God, because it is easier for our pride to admit to a fault before the Unseen God than in the presence of someone like us, whom we can see.

Confession before a priest is also necessary because to him is given the power to release us from our sins. And how can he absolve a sinner if he has no knowledge of the person's sins? Furthermore, how can the penitent be firmly assured that his sins are forgiven, that he has been cleansed of them, without the visible sign of this forgiveness-the priest's prayer of absolution? The priest's absolution sets the mind and heart of the penitent entirely at rest, and he departs full of peace and joy.

Finally, confession before a priest is necessary because only in knowing the state of a person's conscience can he give him beneficial counsel, guide him towards properly ordering his life, and help him to avoid falling into his old sins. [No one expects a doctor to prescribe medicine without first examining the patient and knowing his medical history.]

How should one prepare for confession? Our lives are habitually so enmeshed with worldly cares that it is very difficult for us to concentrate on our inner spiritual state and to keenly sense our sinfulness. To help us the Church has ordained that confession be proceeded by fasting. For several days we withdraw from our normal way of life; we fast from certain foods, morning and evening we attend church services, we occupy ourselves with spiritual reading and spend time alone or, better still, in the company of a like-minded individual.

Thanks to attending services, to hearing the special Lenten prayers and hymns, thanks to reading and to our retiring from worldly occupations, we enter a new world where spiritual interests predominate. We think more about God and have a closer sense of His presence within us; our inner life--with all its sins and weaknesses--appears m ac h more clearly to our consciousness...

Our attention during this period should be directed primarily towards acquiring a lively sense of God's great love for us and of our guilt, our indebtedness before Him. We should, therefore, pray more often with the words o£ King David: "Have mercy on me, O God, according toothy great mercy! Turn not Thy face away from me, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Create in me a clean heart, O God..." (Ps. 50). Self-reproach is the first and foremost requisite in properly approaching confession.

We should bring to mind David who nightly washed his bed with tears, the sinning woman who washed the Saviour's feet with her tears, the prodigal son's return to his father, Apostle Peter whose whole life was spent in tearful lamentation over his denial, St. Mary of Egypt, and similar examples. These rouse the soul to a feeling of repentance; they dispel carelessness and light-mindedness--the worst foes of a proper confession.

Sometimes our conscience immediately reveals to us all our spiritual sores. This happens if our conscience is sufficiently sensitive, or if we committed an especially grievous sin. But at other times cur conscience is silent. Those people who are inattentive towards spiritual life, who don't give serious thought to confession, who approach it merely to fulfill a sense of duty, come to confession entirely ignorant of their inner state and therefore not knowing of what to repent. And when the father-confessor asks in what way they feel themselves to have sinned, they usually reply: "In no way in particular, I've sinned like everyone else, in thought, word and deed."

Such an answer is altogether unsatisfactory. It only shows that these people either had no time or were too lazy to examine their consciences more thoroughly, and therefore didn't notice in themselves any specific sins. To test the conscience is not difficult; anyone can do it by measuring himself against God's commandments wherein man's moral obligations are clearly set forth. There does not exist a person who has never in some way transgressed one or another of the commandments. Through an attentive examination of the conscience, these transgressions surface to a level of greater awareness.

One must confess not only particular sins, as some mistakenly believe, but also the soul' s general state of uncleanness. One who truly recognizes his uncleanness often grieves more over a small misdeed than a light-minded person over a serious transgression. To a great extent, the gravity of a sin is felt in relation to the sensitivity of the conscience.

A confession must be wholly sincere. Only those who have no understanding of the purpose of confession can rejoice that the father-confessor didn't discover their sins. After all, if a sin remains concealed and is not confessed, it remains lodged within us.

A frank confession is sometimes undermined by false shame--the tongue refuses to admit to the shameful sin. In order to overcome this reticence, we must firmly remember that we are confessing not before a priest but before God Who already knows this sin. We must have fear of God! This fear will compel us to overcome our false shame before the father-confessor. If we burn a little from shame--well and good; at least our conscience will then be clean and we shall be clean before God.

Sometimes a good confession is troubled by a fear that the confessed sin will become known to others, Such fear is absolutely unfounded. The father-confessor is forbidden to divulge to anyone, at any time, what he has heard in confession. That is an everlasting secret known to the penitent, the father-confessor, and God alone!

Some people, not trusting in their memory and fearing lest agitation cause them to forget some sin, write them down and then read this list to the father-confessor. For those who tend to forget what they have to say, this is a good and perfectly acceptable means of confession.

Together with self-reproach and sincerity we must approach confession with the earnest desire not to repeat our sins, We should be repulsed by the sins we have committed; we should shake them off and desire from thenceforth to begin a new, clean life. And we must firmly believe that in the Mystery of Confession the Lord removes from as the burden and impurity of sin and sets us upon the path of a new life.

In coming to confession with this disposition og heart, and having truthfully, seriously and compunctionately confessed before the priest your sins both great and small, you should listen attentively and with faith to the prayer of absolution read by the priest; and when he says: "And I, unworthy priest, by the power given me, forgive and release you from all your sins," you will sense a unique flood of joy and freshness; you will feel that a heavy load of filth has been lifted from your heart, and that you have become a new, clean person. The past has departed from you, and there begins the dawn of a new life!

This is the experience of those who work upon themselves during the days of the Fast, and with faith and contrition of heart approach the holy Mystery of Confession.

-Protopresbyter Sergei Chetverikov