Thursday, May 31, 2007

Those Kneeling Prayers!


This past Monday Eve -- that is, on Pentecost Sunday afternoon -- we prayed the Kneeling Prayers at the Vespers for Holy Spirit Day, on Monday. I love coming to each feast day, in its distinctiveness, and partake of some unique aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ communicated through that liturgical celebration. And Pentecost does not disappoint, with its annual Kneeling Prayers.

Yet, as a priest and the one leading the people of God in these important prayers, I must admit a certain degree of struggle with these prayers. Undoubtedly, "love-hate relationship" is much too strong, but you get what I mean. These prayers are, well, quite long; priests are tempted to read them quickly, which would result in less than full comprehension. They're read once a year, so there's no opportunity to absorb them over time by repetition, week by week. They're written in classic Byzantine style, not certainly in classic English style, with its genius of directness and simple elegance. (You can tell I teach writing, eh?) I wish that I were more pious, less of a sinner, so that such thoughts wouldn't enter my head like so many birds stealing the fruits of faith, but there you have it.

So, let's look more closely at them, in order to understand them better. In these Kneeling Prayers there's actually seven different prayers, done in three sets of kneeling: two in the first set, two in the second set, and three in the third set.

Each set ends, sealed as it were with a lovely capstone, with one of the ancient vesperal prayers for light, from the Great Church of Holy Wisdom, in Constantinople. That much makes sense: praying for light as we re-enter the world from the heady days of Pascha-Pentecost, and enter "ordinary time" in our cycle of the church year. We need the light of Christ in the dark paths of this world, as our Gospel for the Feast proclaimed.

I believe that the latter is important to the content of these prayers: all the talk (prayer) about forgiveness, strength, and even death makes sense as we turn the corner from the glory of Pascha and into the normal mode of sacramental discipleship. We kneel. We fast. We sin...and confess. We beg for God's mercy. We die...or rather enter into eternal rest in the God of the living. These are the dynamics of authentic spirituality and real life in Christ. Such things always involve struggle, spiritual warfare, and self-denial as we joyfully offer up our lives as a living sacrifice to God, holy and acceptable. They are the core of sacramental discipleship, of preparation and fulfillment in our festal cycles, of self-emptying and divine infilling by the Holy Spirit. Walking in the light is no cakewalk. So, we kneel. And we pray, at length, prayers which embrace the various dimensions of being a Christian seeking the fulness of the Spirit of God this Pentecost season.

St. Paul commanded us to pray with understanding. Certainly this is all the more true on the Great Feast of Pentecost. For on this day the Apostles spoke in languages they did not know, in order to be understood by the crowds of non-Palestinian Jews in Jerusalem for the feast. The holy fathers call Pentecost the Anti-Babel: God's remedy for the confusion of tongues when He judged the builders of Babel. So, we need to understand these Kneeling Prayers. Heed, then, the wise words of the late Father Alexander Schmemann, onetime Dean of Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, about these special Pentecostal Prayers:

We are invited to kneel. This is our first kneeling since Easter. It signifies that after these fifty days of Paschal joy and fulness, of experiencing the Kingdom of God, the Church now is about to begin her pilgrimage through time and history. It is evening again, and the night approaches, during which temptations and failures await us, when, more than anything else, we need Divine help, that presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who has already revealed to us the joyful End, who now will help us in our effort towards fulfillment and salvation.

All this is revealed in the three prayers which the celebrant reads now as we all kneel and listen to him. In the first prayer, we bring to God our repentance, our increased appeal for forgiveness of sins, the first condition for entering into the Kingdom of God.

In the second prayer, we ask the Holy Spirit to help us, to teach us to pray and to follow the true path in the dark and difficult night of our earthly existence. Finally, in the third prayer, we remember all those who have achieved their earthly journey, but who are united with us in the eternal God of Love. The joy of Easter has been completed and we again have to wait for the dawn of the Eternal Day. Yet, knowing our weakness, humbling ourselves by kneeling, we also know the joy and the power of the Holy Spirit who has come. We know that God is with us, that in Him is our victory.

Thus is completed the feast of Pentecost and we enter "the ordinary time" of the year. Yet, every Sunday now will be called "after Pentecost" — and this means that it is from the power and light of these fifty days that we shall receive our own power, the Divine help in our daily struggle. At Pentecost we decorate our churches with flowers and green branches — for the Church "never
grows old, but is always young." It is an evergreen, ever-living Tree of grace and life, of joy and comfort. For the Holy Spirit - "the Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life - comes and abides in us, and cleanses us from all impurity," and fills our life with meaning, love, faith and hope.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Moscow takes aim at (new?) Rome

Despite all the ink spilled over the subject of my preceding post, many Orthodox (including yours truly) will tell you that the Filioque is something that can probably be overcome. In fact most of the differences between Orthodoxy and Rome are in my opinion not insurmountable. This doesn't mean it would be a cake walk. But with a lot of charity and patience and a healthy dose of creativity most of the separating issues probably can be overcome to a degree sufficient to permit some sort of restoration of communion. The key word there is "most."

To me and I think again most (I only avoid the term "all" out of an abundance of caution) Orthodox the deal breaker is papal primacy and Vatican I. The language in the decrees of the First Vatican Council regarding the universal jurisdiction of the Pope and his infallibility are regarded as heresy by almost all Orthodox. And unfortunately the language used in those decrees is so crystal clear and unambiguous that there is not really any wiggle room for creative reinterpretation or "doctrinal development."
Wherefore we teach and declare that,
  • by divine ordinance,
  • the Roman church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other church, and that
  • this jurisdictional power of the Roman pontiff is both
    • episcopal and
    • immediate.
  • Both clergy and faithful,
    • of whatever rite and dignity,
    • both singly and collectively,
  • are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this
    • not only in matters concerning faith and morals,
    • but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the church throughout the world.
So, then,
  • if anyone says that
    • the Roman pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and
      • not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole church, and this
      • not only in matters of
        • faith and morals, but also in those which concern the
        • discipline and government of the church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that
    • he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that
    • this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful:
    let him be anathema.
This is just not acceptable to the Orthodox Church.

In fairness we Orthodox, partly from historical circumstances, have been very clear in articulating what primacy is not, and not particularly clear about what it is. Indeed until recent times the subject has not really been much on anyone's agenda. There really was no need. However some years ago the late +John Paul Magnus of blessed memory issued a challenge to the Orthodox world to give our interpretation of the function of the Roman See. The silence was deafening. Now we are coming to the point where the silence will need to be broken. At the forthcoming session of the Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue the topic is to be the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the Church. I would give a lot of money that I don't have to be a fly on the wall of that meeting (with a universal translator).

As an interesting background to this, the chilly relations between Moscow and Constantinople seem to be growing cooler. Moscow has long accused the Patriarchate of New Rome of meddling in the affairs of the other churches (Russia's in particular) and of asserting a jurisdiction it does not have. Whereas +Bartholomew and the Synod of Bishops in Constantinople have been taking a more expansive view of things. Met. +John of Pergagmum, one of the foremost theologians in the Orthodox Church today, has strongly hinted at a broader interpretation of primacy than what has been normative within Orthodoxy. Of course nothing he has written even comes close to supporting the monarchical claims of the First Vatican Council. It is with this fascinating mix of church politics as a background that we see Moscow announcing that it is preparing an official position on the subject of primacy in the Church.

The Interfax News Service reports...
‘Our principal affirmation is this: primacy in the Church is necessary, also on the universal level, but on the level of the Universal Church it cannot be the primacy of jurisdiction but only the primacy of honour’, Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria, Russian Church representative to European organizations, told Interfax on Monday.

‘There can be no compromises’ in this matter for the Moscow Patriarchate, he said. The aim of the theological dialogue is not to make a compromise but to identify the original understanding of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the early undivided Church, he noted.

‘Historically, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the Christian Church, from our point of view, was that of honour, not jurisdiction. That is to say, the jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome was never applied to all the Churches’, the bishop stressed.
No real surprises there. However, one might begin to wonder just who Moscow is taking aim at when reading a little farther down we note...
‘We consider it (the primacy of Constantinople - IF) exclusively as primacy of honour, while the See of Constantinople itself tends occasionally to give a broad interpretation to this primacy. These are the questions I believe around which principal problems will emerge’, Bishop Hilarion said.
We aint called "byzantine" for nothing.

All of the politics aside, the bottom line remains. Vatican I is the show stopper. I know of no Orthodox hierarch or credible theologian who would accept it. All of the other debates won't amount to a hill of beans because Vat. I is a nonnegotiable for the Roman Catholics and also for the Orthodox. In order to overcome it one or the other would have to cease to be what they are. And that is not gonna happen.

The Filioque part MMVII

If there is one issue between Orthodoxy and Rome which has been beat to death, buried, then dug up and beaten some more it is the Filioque. If you doubt me just do a brief Google search on the matter. Or better yet go take a look at the archives on Energetic Procession and Sacramentum Vitae, two excellent blogs that generally deal with things over my head. On which note Mike Liccione has just posted his latest installment on the subject. At the end of that installment he quotes a proposal that the wording of the Creed be altered (again) to read...

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord the Giver of Life, who comes forth (ejkporeuvetai) from the Father as the one in whom the Son is begotten and who proceeds (proei'si) from and through the Son in communion with the Father, and together with the Father and the Son is worship and glorified.
An interesting suggestion. But given the fact that we would require an Ecumenical Council (at least from our side's POV) to alter the Creed, wouldn't it be just easier if Rome removed the offending phrase from its version? Now I am not going to get into the issue of it's being heretical or not. That's being hashed out by people who probably translate the Sunday comics into ancient Aramaic for fun.

What to me is pretty hard to argue is that whether or not the Filioque is truly heretical when properly understood is moot. That's because the overwhelming majority of those in the pews DO NOT grasp the elaborate points Mike is making. And it is not practical to try and instruct the vast sea of ordinary laymen in the intricate points of advanced theology. They read "who proceeds from the father and the son" and foolishly believe what someone raised with a basic command of English would assume. Namely that it means what it says.

Now people like Mike and Benedict XVI and various others can hash out the finer points on the legitimacy of the Filioque, but I have a question. Why? What possible purpose does it serve? It was added illegitimately to the Creed (even Card +Ratzinger has acknowledged as much). I see no compelling reason for retaining it. And the likelihood that it is causing confusion among the Roman Catholic faithful, of whom I would hazard a guess that 99+% do NOT understand the true meaning of the Filioque as posited by Mike and other RC defenders, seems beyond doubt.

Back in the good old days before "heresy" was effectively removed from the Roman Catholic dictionary, the Holy Office (just typing the old name gives me chills) used to routinely suppress or condemn writings for a variety of reasons. One reason cited more frequently than heresy, was that the writings had a "tendency towards heresy." That would seem to be a good way of phrasing the principal objection.

In a nut shell my argument against the Filioque is this. Irrespective of whether or not it is heretical when properly understood, it is heretical as it is almost universally understood by the Roman Catholic faithful. And there is no practical way of correcting that short of removing it. It is an impediment to restored relations with the Orthodox Church. Its addition to the Creed was accomplished by means that have been publicly acknowledged by the current Pope to have been improper. And it serves no purpose which can justify its retention when weighed against the harm it is doing. The Filioque should be removed from the western creed until the issue of its orthodoxy can be resolved by a future council of the church.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Cost of Filling Up the Tank

You don’t need a church newsletter (or a religious blog) to tell you that the price of gasoline has skyrocketed. We are all taking a second look at each and every trip that we make, from forays to the grocery store to more ambitious outings. More than that, we are driving differently: accelerations are made with care, pretending that proverbial egg is under the pedal. We shop around—without driving too much—for our car’s fuel. Gas has gone from a mundane, everyday necessity that we hardly consider to something that shapes our basic behaviors and lifestyle. It’s a basic need, and now it is costly.

At Pentecost, celebrated this upcoming Memorial Day weekend, we celebrate and embrace a Reality that, like gas in our cars, makes our spiritual lives “go:” the Holy Spirit. If cars need gas to help us fulfill our various callings and desires, Christians need this Holy Spirit, given at Pentecost, to fulfill their callings in Christ. Now the teachings of Jesus, as well as the saving realities of His passion, death, and resurrection, are established in His People. All the prophecies of the Torah and the Prophets pointed to this “Day of the Lord” when the Spirit of God would become the driving force of God’s covenant people. Without this gift of the Spirit, God’s People continue but are stuck—out of gas—unable to fulfill everything that God has revealed in Christ.

Despite appearances to the contrary, there’s no shortage of God in our world. The only fuel crisis for the Christian is refusing to fill up our lives with the Spirit of God. That is why St. Paul commanded Christians to “Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). We have to keep our tanks full. The consequences of not doing so are similar to not keeping gas in our automobile’s tank: we will stall out, stranded on the roads of life, flashers embarrassingly shouting our vulnerability and lack of foresight. It’s bad enough to be physically out of gas, yet it’s even worse not to be filled with the Spirit. We are, after all, talking about eternal things, the essence of who we truly are.

So, how do we fill up our spiritual tanks with the Holy Spirit? This, according to St. Seraphim of Sarov, the great 19th century Russian wonderworker, is the ultimate question of the Christian’s life:

…the true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ's sake, they are the only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. … [O]nly good deeds done for Christ's sake bring us the fruits of the Holy Spirit. …That is why our Lord Jesus Christ said: "He who does not gather with Me scatters."

St. Seraphim merely echoes what St. Paul was saying in Ephesians:

Do not get drunk with wine…but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your hearts, always and for everything giving thanks in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.

All this involves a twofold movement: emptying, and filling. You cannot pour anything into a full container; first, you have to empty it out. That’s why we can’t be “drunk with wine” or anything else, for that matter. We’ve got to make room for God in our lives; this involves concrete actions and effort, and must be done first. We’ve got to turn away from our passions, and engage in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, and works of mercy. That’s self-emptying, in order to be filled.

Second, we’ve got to glorify Christ in His Body, the Church, and in our lives. St. Paul stuns us with the imperative of worship in order to have a life brimming with the Spirit. In this brief passage,he mentions three forms of hymnody (“psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”), two types of worship expression (“singing and making melody”), one way to fulfill all this properly (“all your hearts”), and the content of it all (“giving thanks”). To that, St. Seraphim adds concrete “good deeds” done in the Name of Christ. It’s no accident that this movement is imprinted on every cycle of Orthodox Christian worship, as we continually prepare for—emptying!—and then celebrate—filling!—the feasts throughout the church year.

It’s all very simple, really, but it is costly, to be sure. “Emptying” and “filling” is the basic rhythm of our life in Christ, in the Spirit of God. The Feast of Pentecost recalls us to this dynamic, powerful life. We say in the Dismissal Hymn for Pentecost that by the Spirit of God “the fishermen were made most wise.” The implication for you and me is that Spirit of God can change anyone, no matter what. Have you checked your gauge lately? Are you willing to pay the price to truly fill up?

The bombshell and the gun

Venus Ramey circa 1944

And today...

A Colt Detective Special

In 1944 Venus Ramey won the Miss America contest. She was a pin up girl in any number of American military barracks, she sold war bonds and her image adorned the side of a bomber. In the language of the time she was quite a bombshell. However the headlines and attention were long behind her or so she thought as an 82 yr old living quietly on her Kentucky farm.

The only problem is that she had suffered from a rash of burglaries where person or persons unknown had been stealing things from her barn. About a month ago she became aware of uninvited guests in her barn. So naturally she did what any normal 82 year old lady would do. She grabbed her walker and a .38 revolver and went out to nab the crooks. When confronted one of them announced he was leaving whereupon she replied "Oh no your not." Then balancing her weapon on the walker she proceeded to shoot out the tires of the would be getaway car. After which the intruders decided to just sit down quietly and wait for the cops.

The video at the linked news report show her handling a short barreled (snub nosed or "snubbie") .38 special, probably a Colt Detective Special. Now I used to carry a little snubbie (Taurus Model 85) back when I lived in Virginia. And I can tell you that while they are fine for close quarter personal protection they are not designed for target shooting. Hollywood film nonsense notwithstanding people just don't go around shooting out car tires with a gun that has a 2" barrel. All I can say is...

What a broad!

Monday, May 28, 2007

From Russia with love...

All is not warm and fuzziness coming out of Russia these days.

TALLINN, Estonia, May 24 — When Estonian authorities began removing a bronze statue of a World War II-era Soviet soldier from a park in this bustling Baltic seaport last month, they expected violent street protests by Estonians of Russian descent.

They also knew from experience that “if there are fights on the street, there are going to be fights on the Internet,” said Hillar Aarelaid, the director of Estonia’s Computer Emergency Response Team. After all, for people here the Internet is almost as vital as running water; it is used routinely to vote, file their taxes, and, with their cellphones, to shop or pay for parking.

What followed was what some here describe as the first war in cyberspace, a monthlong campaign that has forced Estonian authorities to defend their pint-size Baltic nation from a data flood that they say was set off by orders from Russia or ethnic Russian sources in retaliation for the removal of the statue.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

News from the travelling priest

Fr. John Whiteford (ROCOR) has returned from his trip to Russia to witness the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion. You can read all about his exciting trip and the many things he got to see while there over at his blog. There are some excellent pictures and a few video clips of the event and some of the other sights.

All in all it sounds like his trip was pretty awesome. I also had a good time during my two trips to Russia. However the first trip (1987) was marred when I came down with a really bad case of Stalin's Revenge right about the time I got back to my ship in Italy (I was in the navy). For the better part of several weeks I could not even look at food without without having to make a mad run for the head (navy term for restroom). Since I was already so thin that my shipmates would toss loose change at me in the passageways with the words "go buy some food" this was not a good thing. By time I began to recover I had become so emaciated I looked like an extra from "Schindler's List." Unfortunately inability to put on weight is not a problem I suffer from anymore.

The Music of the Russian Orthodox Church

There is a magnificent series of music videos on youtube featuring the music and chant of the Russian Orthodox Church. You can see a list here or just go to the youtube home page and type in "Russian Orthodox Music" for the complete list of videos. Even ignoring the music the scenery in the videos is breathtaking in itself. Below is a sample of one.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Of stolen land and genocide

They are among the poorest people in the western hemisphere, and they won't take $600 million in blood money from us. Apparently honor and nobility are not always for sale. These people should haunt the conscience of our country.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tax Free Immigration

Memo to the IRS:
It appears that the 12+ million illegal immigrants who are to be allowed to stay in the United States as part of the pending immigration "reform" bill are to be exempt from paying back taxes.

I have just decided to renounce my citizenship and become an illegal alien. Please note I will no longer be paying taxes..

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

No Confidence

The ongoing situation in the OCA has taken another turn. Met. +Herman has now suspended the work of the special investigative commission looking into all aspects of the scandal that has shaken the church. This was done without consulting either the Metropolitan Council or the Synod of Bishops. It is the latest in a series of steps +Herman has taken that are to say the least controversial.

Unfortunately most of these measures have clearly had as their objective the suppression of any questions that might prove embarrassing to the central administration of the OCA. The record includes making false and misleading statements, suppressing reports, abusing hierarchical authority in silencing critics or removing them from positions of trust within the church and attempting to bully the Metropolitan Council into subservient compliance with his agenda of non-accountability. This must not continue.

It has become increasingly clear that the vast majority of both clergy and laity who have any knowledge of the scandal are loosing confidence in +Herman's ability or willingness to deal in an upfront manner with the issue of accountability. This is creating a crisis in confidence in the leadership of the OCA across the board. There is at least once diocese that is in something very close to open revolt with many parishes withholding money from the central administration.

I believe that the time has come to make a statement that the stonewalling needs to come to an end. The Metropolitan Council should demand that +Herman rescind his decree suppressing the Special Commission. If he refuses the council should pass a resolution of no confidence in the Metropolitan's conduct of his office. Obviously such a measure would be non-binding. But it would send a powerful if symbolic signal to +Herman that he has pushed the envelope to its limits. The Synod of Bishops should also not permit this latest act to pass without a response.

The situation is fast reaching a point where +Herman's suitability to remain in office is coming into question. Any further obstructionism may necessitate a discussion of that very serious issue.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Not invited

“I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion,”

-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on his decision to not invite V. Gene Robinson and Martyn Minns to the Lambeth Conference in 2008.

Read the whole story here

Hat tip to T-19

Predictably this is producing outrage among the usual suspects. In what can only be described as truly breathtaking chutzpah some are accusing the ABC of precipitating a schism! Read the comments below Jake's thoughts if you have the intestinal fortitude.

T-19 has moved

As many have noted a lot of the blogs on the classical Anglican net (T19 and Pontifications prominent among them) have suffered from chronic tech issues and down time. Titus One Nine's new address is below.

The Immigration Fraud

On the subject of the current immigration debate Thomas Sowell has written a prescient piece.

Back in 1986 it was "unrealistic" to round up and deport the 3 million illegal immigrants in the United States then. So they were given amnesty -- honestly labeled, back then -- which is precisely why there are now 12 million illegal immigrants.

As a result of the current amnesty bill -- not honestly labeled, this time -- will it be "unrealistic" to round up and deport 40 million or 50 million illegal immigrants in the future?

... Its advocates' argument is that illegal immigrants will have to meet certain requirements to become citizens. But amnesty is not about how you become a citizen.

The word is from the same root as "amnesia." It means you forget or overlook some crime, as if it never happened. All this elaborate talk about the steps illegal immigrants must go through to become citizens is a distraction from the crime they committed when they crossed the border illegally.

Instead, all attention is focused on what to do to accommodate those who committed this crime. It is a question that would be recognized as an insult to our intelligence on any other issue.

Read the rest here.

My personal opinion is that this is rather akin to announcing that any thieves who have not been caught and jailed may keep what they stole prior to Jan of this year if they are willing to pay a fine. This is a joke, a very bad one. We are either a country based on the rule of law or we are not. I particularly feel badly for the poor fools that played by the rules and have been patiently waiting for for the opportunity to enter the United States legally. What a slap in their face.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Hell, Universalism and the Episcopal Church

There is a short essay with a large number of comments over at T-19 by Canon Kendall Harmon on the subject of Hell in TEC. I commend it to the readers attention.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Brief Hiatus

Having (unbelievably) found myself with a 3 day weekend, I am going out of town until Monday to visit some friends. I will still (probably) have access to the internet but posting and comment moderation will be limited or nonexistent until Monday or Tuesday. I hope you all have a great weekend.

Memory Eternal

It is with sadness I note that Fr. Michael Trigg pastor emeritus of St. Michael's Western Rite Orthodox Parish in Whittier, California (Antiochian Archdiocese) reposed in the Lord on Saturday the 12th of May instant.

May his memory be eternal.

Hat tip to Bill for this news.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Fred Thompson replies to Moore

As some of you are aware the (very) liberal film maker Michael Moore recently caused a small ruckus by visiting Cuba as part of filming his latest propaganda piece supposedly on health care. Former Senator Fred Thompson (possible GOP presidential candidate) was among those who criticized Moore for the trip. Moore responded with a statement taking shots at Fred's taste in cigars and ended with a challenge to debate Moore on health care. Fred's reply is below.

Personally I think it's high time we had a president who knows the correct use for a good cigar.

Surprise: Oswald did it...

So says Vincent Bugliosi the famed prosecutor of Charles Manson in a new book that is longer than Tolstoy's "War and Peace" and capped with around 1200 pages(!) of end notes to back up his conclusions. This monumental work has received widespread critical acclaim. But don't expect all the conspiracy devotees to give up. Some are already preparing to do battle with the new book.

As someone who was for many years rather inclined to the belief that there was more to this than we were told, I have been slowly coming to the conclusion that I (and many others) may have been looking for something that was never there. I look forward to reading the book as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.

In Communion!

Glory to God!

A great and bitter schism has ended and the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church are again united.

Church bells pealed in Moscow as leaders of the Russian Orthodox faith signed a pact on Thursday healing a historic schism between the church in Russia, which for decades cooperated with Soviet authorities, and an offshoot set up abroad after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

After a choir sang sonorous hymns, Moscow Patriarch Alexy II, leader of the main Russian Orthodox Church, led the ceremony with a sermon praising the healing of the split. Later, he formally signed the pact with Metropolitan Laurus, head of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the somber celebrations, which were broadcast live on television.

Worshippers and white-robed clergy thronged the Christ the Savior Cathedral, symbolic of Russia's rejection of its communist past, when atheism was state doctrine and many believers were arrested and imprisoned.

Read the rest here...

Feast of the Ascension

"I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and to My God, and Your God" (John 20:17).

In these words the Risen Christ described to Mary Magdalene the mystery of His Resurrection. She had to carry this mysterious message to His disciples, "as they mourned and wept" (Mark 16:10). The disciples listened to these glad tidings with fear and amazement, with doubt and mistrust. It was not Thomas alone who doubted among the Eleven. On the contrary, it appears that only one of the Eleven did not doubt - St John, the disciple "whom Jesus loved." He alone grasped the mystery of the empty tomb at once: "and he saw, and believed" (John 20:8). Even Peter left the sepulcher in amazement, "wondering at that which was come to pass" (Luke 24:12).

The disciples did not expect the Resurrection. The women did not, either. They were quite certain that Jesus was dead and rested in the grave, and they went to the place "where He was laid," with the spices they had prepared, "that they might come and anoint Him." They had but one thought: "Who shall roll away the stone from the door of the sepulcher for us?" (Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:1). And therefore, on not finding the body, Mary Magdalene was sorrowful and complained: "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him' (John 20:13). On hearing the good news from the angel, the women fled from the sepulchre in fear and trembling: "Neither said they anything to any man, for they were afraid" (Mark 16:8). And when they spoke no one believed them, in the same way as no one 'had believed Mary, who saw the Lord, or the disciples as they walked on their way into the country, (Mark 16:13), and who recognized Him in the breaking of bread. "And afterward He appeared unto the Eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them who had seen Him after He was risen' (Mark 16:1O-14).

Read the rest here...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ratzinger on the Lefebvrist Schism

Fr. Kimel has posted some remarks by then Card +Ratzinger on the Roman Catholic Traditionalists who revolted under the leadership of Archbishop +Lefebvre. I had not seen this particular quote before and I think it is well worth a read. I think they are all the more interesting given the current efforts by +B16 to heal this particular schism.

More on the reunion

The International Herald Tribune has a nice article on the restoration of unity in the Russian Orthodox Church.

MOSCOW: The atmosphere was tense, laced with nearly a century of mistrust and bitter feelings, when President Vladimir Putin met in New York with leaders of an émigré church that had broken with the Russian Orthodox Church after the Bolshevik Revolution. The breakaway church had vowed never to return as long as the "godless regime" was in power.

"I want to assure all of you," Putin said at the 2003 meeting, "that this godless regime is no longer there." Then, recalled the Reverend Serafim Gan, a senior priest of the breakaway church, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Putin added: "You are sitting with a believing President."

That meeting set in motion years of difficult negotiations that on Thursday are expected to be capped by the signing of a canonical union at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which was dynamited by Stalin in 1931 and rebuilt in the 1990s. Church members are calling the signing - which coincides with the feast of Ascension - the symbolic end of Russia's civil war and confirmation of the Russian Orthodox Church's central role in post-Soviet society.

Joint services will also be held this weekend at Butovo, a Stalinist killing field outside Moscow that is now an Orthodox shrine to the Soviet dictator's victims, and at the Kremlin's Dormition Cathedral.

"This was a place of much sorrow, temptation, suffering, and the death of martyrs," said Father Gan about Butovo. "Now this place serves revival. I think that's what was deeply touching for all of us."

In an interview broadcast Monday on Vesti-24, a state-run news channel, Patriarch Aleksei II of the Russian Orthodox Church said "the Lord is helping us in this time, this time of spiritual revival, to gather up the stones that were so thoughtlessly scattered in the past."

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, known informally as the Russian Church Abroad, will retain its name and administrative autonomy, said Father Gan. But Moscow will exercise ultimate authority in appointments and other church matters.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The end of a schism

On Ascension Thursday the long standing schism within the Russian Orthodox Church will come to an end. Last summer the IV All Diaspora Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) gave its approval to pursuing reunification with the mother church in Russia. The two have been estranged since the 1920's, mostly over The Russian Orthodox Church's perceived collusion with the Communist regime then running Russia. Although ROCOR maintained communion with the Serbian Church and the Jerusalem Patriarchate its relations with most of the other canonical Orthodox jurisdictions have been strained at various times.

ROCOR has also been a supporter of some of the so called "old calendar" jurisdictions. A number of these groups received their episcopal orders from ROCOR. However over the last few years most of these groups have broken communion with the Church Abroad as it became increasingly clear that it was interested in healing the schism with the mother church in Russia. For most of the last century ROCOR has been an uncompromising bastion of Orthodoxy, especially for the emigre (white Russian) community. It is well known for being conservative in its interpretations of church canons and disciplines.

The restoration of formal communion will occur at the celebration of Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow on Thursday. Following which the Church Abroad will once again become part of the one Russian Orthodox Church, while maintaining a certain degree of self governance. This will also by default resolve the questions of communion between ROCOR and the various other jurisdictions such as the OCA, which has at times been the target of sharp criticism from ROCOR.

All Orthodox Christians should rejoice in this great miracle of spiritual healing.

Jerry Falwell Gravely Ill

The news services are reporting that noted Protestant televangelist Jerry Falwell was found unconscious in his Liberty University office after he missed an appointment. Sources are reporting that he is very gravely ill. This is a developing story.

Update: The Rev Jerry Falwell has reposed. Memory eternal!

Monday, May 14, 2007

A cult fights back...

There is an interesting article over at the New York Times about how the Church of Scientology (COS) has launched a pretty bare knuckles campaign against the BBC. Why? Because the BBC is doing an investigative documentary about the SOC. For years this cultish organization has been well known for reacting fiercely against any criticism or attempt to expose to the light of day the inner working of one of the world's most successful con-jobs. Some of the comments below the article are worth a glance as well ( although some tend to lump all religion into the same category as the SOC).

P.S. In case any Scientologists want to take issue with my appraisal of your "religion" feel free to comment provided it is not abusive.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Quote of the day...

There were several candidates, but I had to give the award to leftist and pro abortion Mexico City lawmaker Leticia Quezada.
“I’m Catholic and I’m going to continue being Catholic even if the church excommunicates me. My conscience is clean.”

Quote of the day...

I meant to post this last week but forgot. After some brief thought I decided not to post his actual quote because I want you to go and visit his blog. But yea Fr. Huneycutt has a way with words that sometimes just hits the proverbial nail right on the head. For the record if I could only look at ten sites a day, Orthodixie would be on the list. Anyways check out Fr. Joseph's comment on the Episcopal Church.

Another correction: Arrrggghhh! This is the second one this week. Fr. Joseph has pointed out that the above quote was actually from Mark Krikorian. It was being quoted over at Orthodixie. I apologize to Mark for failing to give proper attribution.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Social Update

For those of us who were not invited, it appears that the Haute Formal (white tie) dinner at the White House last night for Queen Elizabeth II was a success. Incredibly Mr. Bush managed to get through it without tripping over his own tail coat or drinking water from a bottle as some had feared. Everything was done in a way demonstrating that yes... we Americans are capable of putting on a ritzy party. In addition to the white tie dress the dinner featured a five course meal (prepared by the White House chef de cuisine) served on the gilded Clinton china with gold flatware and candelabra. Several different wines were offered for the various courses (although the president is a teetotaler). After dinner entertainment was provided by the famous violinist Itzhak Perlman. Later there was dancing to music from the Marine Corps Band.

The New York Times can breath easily again.

A correction: In the original post above I referred to the china used in the state dinner as being 200 years old. However a reader correctly pointed out to me by email that the china was in fact the Clinton china that was commissioned by the White House Historical Society commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of the White House. I have corrected the text to reflect this.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Christian Flight

Despite the chaos and sectarian violence raging across Baghdad, Farouq Mansour felt relatively safe as a Christian living in a multiethnic neighborhood in the capital.

Then, two months ago, Al Qaeda gunmen kidnapped him and demanded that his family convert to Islam or pay a $30,000 ransom. Two weeks later, he paid up, was released and immediately fled to Syria, joining a mass exodus of Iraq's increasingly threatened Christian minority.

"There is no future for us in Iraq," Mansour said.

Although Islamic extremists have targeted Iraqi Christians before, bombing churches and threatening religious leaders, the latest attacks have taken on a far more personal tone. Many Christians are being expelled from their homes and forced to leave their possessions behind, police, human rights groups and residents said.

The Christian community here, about 3 percent of the country's 26 million people, has little political or military clout to defend itself, and some Islamic insurgents call Christians "crusaders" whose real loyalty lies with U.S. troops.

Many churches are now nearly empty, with many of their faithful either gone or too scared to attend. Only about 30 people attended this Sunday's mass at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in the relatively safe Baghdad neighborhood of Karradah, and only two dozen took communion in the barren St. Mary's Church in the northern city of Kirkuk on Sunday.

As many as 50 percent of Iraq's Christians may already have left the country, according to a report issued Wednesday by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal monitoring and advisory group in Washington D.C.

Read the rest here

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Is greed still good?

"The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed -- you mark my words -- will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA."-Gordon Gekko

I am not a big movie goer. But I do like to watch them now and then on TV, usually the classics. One of the better ones that came out of the 1980's was the movie Wall Street. It was supposed to be something of a morality play with the devil and an angel fighting over the soul of the hitherto innocent Bud Fox played by Charlie Sheen. The only problem is that in the movie the devil stole the show.

In the plot young Bud is a fresh out of business school guy, new in the big city (New York) looking to make his way in the world as a stock broker. He takes a chance and makes a cold call to one of the great financial wizards Gordon Gekko (brilliantly played by Michael Douglas). Enter the devil. The rest of the movie is about how Gekko corrupts young Bud and turns him into a soulless greedy... "Republican" for want of a better PC epithet. The counter to Gekko is Bud's conscience or angel in the form of his honest hardworking blue collar (presumably Democrat) father, played a bit weakly by Martin Sheen.

Alas most people (including me) who saw the movie seemed to fall for the suave devil. Gekko is a completely and utterly amoral character totally devoid of anything resembling a conscience. But he was a brilliant devil and a charismatic one. I can't count the number of lines from Gekko that became national catch phrases. In short he was the perfect villain. So why did so many people wind up quietly rooting for him?

I suspect that its because deep down there is a little bit of greed or avarice in all of us. That desire to live like a king and play with vast fortunes and the lives of others as though they were pieces on a chessboard. We wonder what it would be like to live in house with more rooms than the local Motel 6 and a staff of liveried servants. What it would be like to summer on the Riviera and winter in Aspen and travel between the two on a private jet. But more than that it is about the power that comes from money. Power is a fantastic addiction as almost anyone who has ever held a serious elective office can attest to.

A fascinating statistic I recall reading somewhere (I have forgotten the source) indicated that a solid majority of those who win the lottery, wind up broke. Why? How could you end up flat broke if you have just won a cool several million dollars after taxes? There are a couple of reasons. One obvious one is that many people who play the lottery are people who come from a socio-economic background where they have no concept of money or how to deal with it. And therefor they don't understand that it can disappear as quickly as it appeared. Even several millions of dollars is after all not a fortune anymore and can be squandered quickly by those who don't grasp that money is finite. Adding to this is the low regard people have for that which is not earned. This might be why inherited fortunes also seem to go rather quickly.

But I think one of the major issues with money is its power to play on and aggravate or exacerbate whatever vices you have. Money, in large amounts, permits the owner to indulge in things that would be difficult or impossible for those of us who have to work for a living. Think about some of the most common vices out there, drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, and any number of others you could add. Money can be a facilitator for almost all of them. A man who has 20 million does not need to worry about being sober in the morning to go to work. He doesn't need to worry about work at all. At least until the money runs out. And depending on your vices, they can eventually take over and destroy your life.

Oh by the way, the devil is coming back. "Money Never Sleeps"

"I create nothing. I own." - Gordon Gekko

White Tie and hold the snobbery please

President Ford (in tails) with HM the Queen

The New York Times has put up an article noting that President and Mrs. Bush will be hosting the Queen of England for dinner on Monday evening. (For any royal watchers it will be live on C-Span.) All well and fine but of note to the Times were the two words in the lower left of the fancy invitations. "White Tie"

For those who just got their invitation and were wondering what that means, it defines the dress code for dinner. White tie (that's tail coats) is the most formal dress for a social function and is considered to be more formal than the tuxedo (black tie). The Times was practically giggling when they observed that this is Mr. Bush's first white tie function in his seven years in office. They then went on to intimate that the President of the United States is a Texas hick in urgent need of etiquette lessons to get him through this.

Somehow I suspect that the son of George Herbert Walker (and more importantly Barbara) Bush knows which fork to use for the celery and which for the fish. His family, although low key in their personal lives are actually from east coast society and he did after all manage to get through Yale. OK, so he is not all that fond of tails for dinner dress. How many white tie functions have you hosted lately?

I think our friends at the NY Times might do well to remember that outside of Manhattan Society probably 70+% of Americans would not even know what white tie meant on a dinner invitation. We as a nation are just not that formal anymore. West of the Mississippi there are a lot of places where the definition of formal means you wear a sport coat with your jeans and a nice collared shirt.

That said there are moments when a little formality is tasteful. I am on record complaining about just how low our standards have sunk in dress in some situations. And yea I happen to think doing white tie for the Queen of England shows a little class. I still miss morning coats and top hats for presidential inaugurals too. But seriously. Just because the man has been seen drinking water from a bottle (oh the horror!) and is almost certainly more comfortable wearing boots and jeans clearing brush at his ranch than wearing a tux at the opera does not mean he is the rube the Times made him out to be.

My closing thought on this subject is that the Times might have done well to recall that it is generally considered rather bad form to point out the social faux pas of others.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Catholics sitting on their seat's edge

The existence of the much rumored Motu Proprio no longer being in doubt, the two questions now are when and what. With apologies to scripture ... "No one knows the day or the hour..." However this of course has not deterred the online rumor mill from speculating ad infinitum. Although I have repeatedly avoided this speculation, I will note that the two most frequently mentioned dates among those waiting with impatience (or dread), were April 30th and May 5th. Why? Because they are the dates of the feast Pope Pius V who is much venerated by traditionalists and those who are fans of the classical (Tridentine) Roman Rite. Pius V of course issued the much quoted papal bull Quo Primum Tempore which some trads have gone so far as to opine to be an infallible document.*

Of course a quick glance at the calendar will show that April 30th (the saint's feast on the reformed Catholic calendar) has now passed. May 5th is his feast on the traditional calendar as observed in the 1962 missal. To say that a lot of trads will be deeply disapointed if they don't wake up on Saturday morning to find a little gift from Rome in the news, would, I suspect be an understatement.

Of course everyone who has read this blog knows I have religiously (no pun) avoided speculating on the date. But without saying ya or nay, I will admit that a May 5th release date would not terribly surprise me. We will see.

Of far more interest to me than the date is the substance. What will the MP actually say? How broad will it be and what conditions will be attached. Will this be a step towards the much discussed "reform of the reform?" Or will it be more restrictive? More interesting reading will come if the rumored cover letter to the world's bishops materializes. That may prove to be as or even more important than the wording of the MP itself. Again we shall see. From that point of view I do wish that B-XVI would hurry up. The tantalizing lead up has lasted long enough.

* I vigorously disagree with that assessment. QP is an essentially disciplinary document and is not irreformable by any of his successors. The question of whether or not it was ever lawfully abrogated however, is a fair one. The former Cardinal Ratzinger went on record with +John Paul II in the 1980's to the effect that it was not abrogated and remained in effect.

Liturgical Bowdlerization?

John has brought up the demand by a handful of allegedly Orthodox Christian priests to revise or even excise certain liturgical texts, ones which especially occur during Passion Week, that sound anti-Semitic. I’d like to make some comments about that, as this blog’s newly invited contributor.

First, I’d like to thank John for inviting me to be a part of his outstanding blog. He has done a great job here, and I hope that I can rise to its standards. Unfortunately—or maybe not!—I tend to write in fits and starts, with considerable gaps in-between. Such is my life and (lack of self-) discipline.

So, let’s get back to this issue of the revision of liturgical texts.

Without trying to open a veritable can of worms, this issue is certainly worthy of sane, holy discussion. We live in post-holocaust times, in the wake of a human tragedy which rightly shapes our moral and spiritual vision. It does not make for smooth sailing, nor should it. I am sensitized to this because I teach a writing class at our community college that uses the book Night, by Eliezer Wiesel. It is a powerful account of a boy's experience in the concentration camps under the Nazis. (Reading this opens the door to discussing religious faith and theodicy in a secular classroom. This is an all-too-rare opportunity that I value!) Racism, bigotry, and violence are spasms of human corruption and sin that must come under the Lordship of Christ, who was of course himself a Hebrew, and the Messiah of the Jewish people.

However, such “calls” as these clergy make raise a host of unavoidable questions for Orthodox Christians. Are our liturgical texts untouchable, absolute and inspired by God, and so "inerrant" in every detail and passage? If not, what are the limits to such revision? How can we modify our liturgical texts without imbibing in a spirit of radical revisionism? Therefore one can stumble two ways: the Scylla of revisionism on the one hand, or the Charybdis of ossification.

However, we must speak to the issue itself, for our worship is our rule of belief and teaching. Lex orandi, lex credendi--if our liturgies sing in a racist key, then we are racist, unless we change those texts. I am convinced that neither the Orthodox Faith nor our liturgical texts are racist, and that the burden of proof is definitely on those who would say otherwise. Those Holy Week texts are not about race, per se, but rather about the community of those who reject their own Messiah. Phrases like “the Jews” are lifted directly from the pages of the New Testament, and in particular the Gospels. These God-inspired texts were of course largely written by Jews. Such texts, biblical and liturgical, are about unbelief and power-mongering, not anti-Semitism. I'm not saying that there isn't a text here and there that doesn't deserve some consideration and attention. But, a systematic Bowdlerization of our tradition of liturgical texts? I think not.

I am not much for worrying of slippery slopes, but we are definitely letting the Camel’s nose under the tent flap here. If we are not careful, we will be nervously jumping at the shouts of every advocacy group or ideology. What other groups could be offended at our liturgical poetry? What of all those "oppressive" texts that smack of patriarchalism to feminists? Do we rush to follow old John Bowdler by prudishly modifying classic texts--especially holy ones--for the sake of current taste?

It is not insignificant that these priests declared this statement during what seems to be an official visit to Israel, one which involved meetings with official representatives. In other words, this was a political event. The context was not a churchly committee meeting, or a diocesan assembly, or meeting of a holy synod. It was not even in a seminary or an academic setting, such as the SBL or AAR. Certainly, an ecclesiastical process with hierarchical oversight is better than ad hoc tinkering on the fly by parish priests seeking media attention!

It was an old Church of England Cathedral Dean that once said, “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” If the Anglicans, and perhaps the Roman Catholics, have paid little heed to such admonitions, we Orthodox had best do better.

In Christ,
Father David

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Anti-Semitism in the Orthodox Liturgy?

From the Jerusalem Post.

A group of 12 Orthodox priests have called on their Church to review its longstanding theological positions toward Jews and the State of Israel, and to excise anti-Semitic passages from its liturgy.

The dissident priests made their demands in a 12-point declaration adopted during a weeklong visit to Israel that is meant to spur debate in the Orthodox Christian world and to challenge centuries-old anti-Semitic views.

"Sadly, there are some Orthodox Christians who propagate disgusting anti-Semitism under the banner of Orthodoxy, which is incompatible with Christianity," said Rev. Innokenty Pavlov, professor of theology at Moscow's Biblical Theological Institute.

"We have to raise our voices and call on Orthodox laity and the Church leadership to formulate an official position of the Orthodox Church toward our relations with Judaism, as it was formulated a few decades ago by the Catholic Church," he added, referring to the Second Vatican Council of 1962 to 1965...

...Unlike the Catholic and Protestant churches, the Orthodox Church has never removed anti-Semitic passages from its liturgy, which still refers to Jews as Christ killers, said Dr. Dmitry Radyehsvky, director of the Jerusalem Summit, a conservative Israeli think tank that co-sponsored the visit.

He said the anti-Semitic passages were most conspicuous during Easter services, and included statements such as "the Jewish tribe which condemned you to crucifixion, repay them, Oh Lord," which is repeated half a dozen times, and "Christ has risen but the Jewish seed has perished," as well as references to Jews as "God-killers."

Read the rest here.

As a side note I attended most of the services during Great and Holy Week as also the Pascha Liturgy. I don't remember any of these words or hymns being sung. I also think its worth noting that the priests in question are clearly referred to as dissidents. That casts an instant cloud over their credibility. One is even identified as belonging to an "Ecumenical Orthodox Church." Translation he is at least schismatic and quite probably a heretic.

Having said all this I will concede with some pain that in a few corners of the culturally Orthodox world, antisemitism is alive and at times it has been abetted by members of the Church. I think the various Orthodox Churches would do well to formally condemn this noxious bigotry in no uncertain terms.

Answering the call...

I could not make this up if I tried...

NEWARK, May 2 (AP) — James E. McGreevey, who resigned as New Jersey governor in 2004 after saying that he had had an extramarital affair with a man, has become an Episcopalian and wants to be ordained as a priest in that faith, according to a published report.

The former governor, who was raised as a Roman Catholic, was officially received into the Episcopal faith on Sunday at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Manhattan, said the Rev. Kevin D. Bean, the church’s vicar.

Mr. McGreevey has entered the church’s “discernment” phase, which usually precedes any seminary work, Father Bean told The Star-Ledger of Newark in a report posted Wednesday on its Web site.

A St. Bartholomew’s spokesman, Bob Johnson, said he could confirm that Mr. McGreevey was received into the faith because the former governor’s name was listed on a program for the service. The step is for those who have already been baptized and confirmed in another Christian denomination, but wish to become Episcopalians, he said.

Mr. Johnson declined to say whether Mr. McGreevey was considering the priesthood, since that involved an individual parishioner.

But a spokesman for the Chelsea section of the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan said Mr. McGreevey had been accepted as a student. The spokesman, Bruce Parker, added that he did not know if the former governor wanted to become a priest.

“Mr. McGreevey has been admitted to the master of divinity program, and he will be starting in the fall,” Mr. Parker said. “Where Mr. McGreevey goes with this is up to him. We have a lot of people studying here who are not interested in ordination at all.”

Mr. McGreevey did not return a call or an e-mail message for comment Wednesday night.

Mr. McGreevey, 49, shocked his state in August 2004 by proclaiming himself “a gay American” who had had an extramarital affair with a man, and that he would resign that November. Aides to the governor identified the man as a former aide. The former aide, however, has always denied that there was an affair, and claimed that he was sexually harassed by the governor.

Growing up in Middlesex County, Mr. McGreevey served as an altar boy and attended Catholic schools. While in office, he continued to practice the religion, but differed from church teachings in several areas, including his support of abortion rights.

The issue of gays in the clergy has caused divisions in the worldwide Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church in the United States. This year, Anglican leaders demanded that the American denomination step back from its support of gays or risk losing its full membership in the Anglican fellowship.


A cutting difference in faith

May 7, 2007 issue - Poor "Misha." Caught in a terrible custody war, this 12-year-old boy from Washington state has become a cause célèbre for a diverse group of activists. Here are the facts, in brief: Misha lives with his father, who has sole custody and who recently converted to Judaism. The father wants Misha to convert as well, and so he wants Misha circumcised. The boy's mother, who is Russian Orthodox, is against it. Doctors Opposing Circumcision, an activist group, started circulating Misha's story online, asking for donations for Misha's defense. A lower court affirmed the father's right to circumcise his son but has allowed the mother to exhaust her legal options before he does so; now the mother hopes that her case will be taken up by the Oregon Supreme Court. The boy's own desires remain unclear.

Two weeks ago, Richard Dawkins, the Oxford don, noted atheist and author of "The God Delusion," posted Misha's story on his Web site. Dawkins was irate, calling Misha's father's intentions "religiously inspired child abuse." While court documents clearly paint a picture of a marriage and divorce so acrimonious and bizarre as to strain credulity, the questions Misha's case present remain interesting. What is the contemporary religious justification for circumcision? How do couples deal fairly with religious differences in situations of divorce and remarriage?
Read the rest here.

First let me note I am loathe to comment on a situation where clearly a great many facts have been left unprinted. That said this raises some interesting questions that I think are worth some discussion. Not the least of which is what do you about children when one or both of the parents convert to another faith? My general feeling has been that children in such situations should be divided into three groups.

Those who have attained the age of reason and are fairly close to their majority:
I loosely define this as the 15 or 16 and up kids. Since they often have already established a religious faith, possibly the one being abandoned by their parent(s) and further they are also old enough to have strong opinions and are near their majority, I don't think they can or should be obliged to convert or even necessarily attend the services of the new faith.

Those who have attained the age of reason but are still a number of years removed from their majority:
I loosely define this as the roughly preteens to 15 crowd. They can be obliged to attend services but I think that formal participation in sacramental life or conversion should be a matter of choice. This is really a tricky area since since its hard to measure each child by uniform standards in terms of how mature they are and their individual faith level.

The very young: These are the children who have not really attained the age of reason or are too young to formulate serious decisions. Again roughly speaking this would probably cover the ten and under crowd. In their case the parent(s) is within his rights to make the decision for the child.

Beyond all of the many complicating factors that I can think of to throw a wrench into my above guide is the glaring issue in this case. What happens when the rite of conversion involves the surgical mutilation of the child? Given the age of the child and the fact that he would be obliged to undergo a very painful procedure of doubtful medical benefit that would deprive him of part of his manhood, I think this should not be done unless the child has made an informed and pressure free decision to go through with it.

I do not know all of the exigent circumstances in the case. But reading between the lines it sounds like the author was hinting that both parents have more issues than the magazine he works for. If that is in fact the case, perhaps the child properly belongs in the hands of a relative until the two parents get their act together. Thoughts?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"Murder by duel"

Somehow I don't think this was what the statute had in mind.

WELCH, West Virginia (AP) -- The annoying buzz of an all-terrain vehicle may have triggered a deadly shootout that led police to file a rare charge of "murder by duel," authorities said.

The count, based on a dueling law that predates West Virginia's statehood, was filed Monday against Steven Bryant Simpson, 47, said State Trooper J.S. McCarty.

Simpson is accused of killing Dana Martin, 39, in an April 20 shootout a few hundred yards (or meters) from Simpson's home.

"We've had shootout-type cases, but I can't recall one quite like this where there was an argument, then the people separated and came back to the very same location, each knowing the other had a gun," said prosecutor Sid Bell.

The law, written in 1849, reads: "If any person fight a duel in this state and in so doing inflict a mortal wound, he shall be deemed guilty of murder." West Virginia became a state in 1863.

Read the rest here.