Monday, December 31, 2007

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

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

Sunday, December 30, 2007

An Historic Anniversary

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

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Wishing each of you a joyous Feast of the Nativity!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

History's Long Shadow

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

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

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

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

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

Minding My Own Business

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

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

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

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

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

Ad Orientem

Why are you not Orthodox?

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

Comments Off

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Welcome Return and a Sad Loss

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 14, 2007

Memory Eternal: Cardinal ++Alfons Maria Stickler

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 13, 2007

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

December 13, 2007
Repose of St. Herman of Alaska

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

(Ephesians 4.15-16)

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

Glory to Jesus Christ!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Signature of Metropolitan Herman

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

The Summary Report may be read here.

Say it aint so Joe...

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

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

Read the entire report here.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

San Joaquin Secedes (Official)

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

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Roma urbs aeterna; Latina lingua aeterna.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Remember the Gospel according to Judas?

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

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