Thursday, October 30, 2008

Heresy's New Missionary

From the AP via T-19:
MANCHESTER -- Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson said he led a confidential retreat a few years ago for gay Roman Catholic priests...

...I had said to them, 'It's too dangerous for you to come out as gay to your superiors, but I believe that if you work for the ordination of women in your church, you will go a long way toward opening the door for the acceptance of gay priests," Robinson said.
Not content with the destruction he has wrought within his own denomination and the wider Anglican Communion it would appear that VGR has now decided to branch out to the Roman Catholics. This is so outrageous and offensive I really don't even know where to begin. It is one thing for a high ranking member of the clergy to stand up in the clear light of day and express deep disagreements with the theology and discipline of another religious confession. It is an altogether different thing to attend clandestine meetings with clergy from that confession and encourage them to work to subvert their church's doctrine and discipline. This is just way over the top. At the very least, I hope that a strongly worded letter is sent by Rome to Ms. Schori (the Presiding Bishopess of The Episcopal Church) protesting this intrusion by one of their "bishops" into the affairs of another church.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Propositions 8 and 4

(The below is posted at the request of Fr. David Thatcher, an occasional contributor to this blog. - John / Ad Orientem)

Recently, I was asked by a parish member about a couple of very important Propositions in our California election next week. Proposition 8 would re-establish heterosexual marriage — between a man and a woman — as California law; Proposition 4 would require parental notification, as well as a 48 hour waiting period, before a minor girl could obtain an abortion. She knew my position, in particular about Prop. 8, and she disagreed — adding that she also was not for Prop. 4. In response, I wrote the following. I do not attempt to be original in what I say. Rather, I write as an unworthy pastor in the historic Christian tradition and faith.

You ask me if I am interested in polling the faithful in our church, to see how they intend to vote with respect to Propositions 8 and 4 this election in California. Well, voting as a Christian citizen in this land of ours is a matter of conscious before God. I certainly do not see my calling as a priest to impose a particular point of view on these matters. My role is one of moral persuasion. Besides, the question is twofold, at least: there is Christian moral belief on the one hand, but then the law of our country on the other. In addition, while I am interested in what folks think, moral truth is not established (or changed) by taking a vote. If every one in our church parish voted against Prop 8, it would be a source of great grief for me, but it would not change moral truth.

First, taking a position for Proposition 8 is not an act of intolerance, or hate. If marriage is, by nature and meaning, essentially heterosexual, then any law seeking to re-define it is simply mistaken, and needs correction. I certainly disagree with your opinion on both counts, and believe that you are incorrect in your assessment. I have put down my response, worrying that you could, in the end, be offended. Please know that my goal is to speak the truth in love.

I believe that the concept of "civil rights" is confused in our day. Rights do not come from the State; our founding documents and language of inalienable rights are clear in this respect. Rights, as such, are rooted in the structure of nature and creation, believe it or not. Does that not frame the matter differently? If rights are an expression of nature, according to the intent and design of the Creator, and homosexuality is not the way that people are meant to be, viz a viz creation, then the State granting a "right" of marriage is something not at all rooted in reality, is it? After all, every cell of every part of our body has our sexuality imprinted in it, as male or female. Chromosomes! They are XX or XY, female or male (respectively), right? Our affections may get confused, but our nature is not. I suppose there are genetic mutations, but that is another matter.

Another red herring in all this is the framing of rights in terms of some amorphous vision of the evolution, or so-called "progress," of the human spirit. C. S. Lewis refers to this in its different forms: "scientism" (as opposed to science) or "evolutionism" (as opposed to evolution). These "-isms" take a fundamental form of human thought or life which is legitimate in and of itself, like science or evolution, and turns it into a paradigm of interpretation only dimly related to the original activity itself. This many, like Huxley or contemporary "faux" philosophers, see some sort of "onwards and upwards" concept of human "progress" and applies it inappropriately to all sorts of things. Behind it is often lurking an ideology, a kind of utopianism or vision of society, such as is the case with Marxism.

I believe that such concepts of human progress have been applied, inappropriately, to civil rights and freedoms. The thinking, which should seem familiar, goes like this: first is was liberation of the African American from slavery, then came the rights of women through suffrage and then, later, women's liberation; today it is all about the rights of our gay friends. A kind of grid or timeline is erected to frame the issue at kind, in this case an apparent human right. With such thinking, the issue — and now I am talking about same sex marriage, not toleration or the human rights of homosexuals — is not decided so much on the merits of the arguments. Rather, all depends on this model of movement and progress. Are you not on board with same sex marriage? Well, then! You are contrary to this great movement of the human spirit — a sort of political and moral throwback to medieval times, or the like!

This is all nonsense, and I can demonstrate that. If the "right" to marriage is indeed on the table, then what about my right to merry, say, my mother, or perhaps my daughter? I might say, if you object, that we love each other! How dare you interfere with my right to love somebody as I see fit! Or, perhaps I want to marry my pet dog? If you think that is an outrageous reductio ad absurdum, so be it — but beware! One of the leading philosophers today is Peter Singer, at Princeton University, who decries our anthropocentric worldview as "speciesism" and so advocates all sort of animal-stuff as "rights."

This illustrates an important principle, or corollary, if you will: cultural fads and utopian fancies are not the stuff of good law. The legal fabric of our society is not an appropriate forum for such social experimentation. As one Christian pastor once put it: "Marry the spirit of the age today, and you will be a widower in the next." This is one reason why, up until very recently, our nation's courts have been the most stable and conservative force in our government.

Marriage is a societal recognition of the fundamental reality of a man and woman, who then establish a family through procreation. It is rooted in creation, a reality given to us by our Creator. This is not contrary to our nation's concept of liberty and rights. It is the legal recognition of the fundamental equality of all human beings as a law of nature that is the sure foundation for rights.

To consider the so-called right to marriage as rooted in anything other than this is simply to pretend. We can play house with whomever, and I can cross my legal-ethical fingers behind my back and call it marriage, but it isn't. And if we do "baptize," as a culture and nation, homosexual marriage, then the norming of our social scientists/educators begins.

My dear, forgive me, but you're smarter than all this. The argument for same sex marriage is intellectually puerile, in my opinion. Advocacy against Prop 4 is the same, or worse. Good heavens! Do you know any 13 year old girls? If it is true that psychologists have established, now, that the developing human brain's moral reasoning and judgement is not even complete until age 25 (the true end of adolescence, apparently), then how in the world can you grant the power of life and death of an unborn child to someone completely unequipped, at this point in life, to make that decision. Perhaps we should hand out AK-47s to early adolescent boys, as well, because they are afraid of school bullies.

One cannot do ethics or morality from the extreme exception, as you apparently suggest. This is the old error of "situation ethics," popularized in the '70s by Joseph Fletcher. Ethical and moral norms are just that: normal. Rather than completely divorce a pregnant child from her parents by establishing such a hideous law as secret abortions (i.e. murder, if one gives any moral authority to the the teachings of the saints through the ages), we have laws protecting young pregnant girls who are afraid. There is just no excuse that I can see for being against Prop 4, unless you throw out the precepts and understandings of human rights informed by the great tradition of Christian humanism.

You cannot be unaware that Christianity itself tamed the most violent empire in human history by, in a few hundred years, overthrowing both human slavery and the death penalty. I speak of the Roman Empire. Later, it was Christian abolitionists that overthrew the unholy and untenable union of a semi-Christian culture in the American South with ethnic slavery. Christianity established hospitals. Rather, would you embrace a post-modern ethic based upon the autonomous reason and morality, without root and disembodied? The result is, in my opinion, moral anarchy. In the end, it is anything but humanizing, because in the end it isn't classic concepts of moral truth that are king, but demagoguery and fad. The ones with the most power will decide. They will re-define human nature, and play with the very stuff of life and human culture. It is happening. We should see this.

I do not like politics, and I do not like being an advocate of something that many mistakenly believe, mistakenly is just mean. They are deluded, and I cannot define my advocacy by such.

Begging forgiveness and hoping the dialogue will continue,
Rev. David Thatcher
Orthodox Christian Priest and Pastor
Merced, CA

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Libertarian Revolt

...McCain's working on the other realignment: The one where eight years of fiscal recklessness and cultural warfare alienates swing voters and withers the Republican Party until the very base of the conservative movement cracks in half—splitting a coalition that has endured since the Barry Goldwater campaign of 1964.

That coalition between social conservatives and economic libertarians (who tend to be socially moderate to liberal), served the GOP well from 1964 to 2006. It gave the party eight years of Ronald Reagan and 12 years of a Republican Congress. But the Bush years have proven to be one long pulling apart. And, in a matter of days, we may just see the final snap.

Hat tip to Brian

I have occasionally summarized my political philosophy as being a monarchist with strong libertarian tendencies. My politics are generally conservative in the classical sense of the term. I believe that we have a government that is FAR too intrusive into areas it has no business worrying about, even as it ignores things that need regulation. And for me it is getting harder and harder to vote in concience for the GOP these days.

I voted (mea culpa mea culpa...) for Bush in 2000. But I could not bring myself to pull the lever for him again in '04. I voted Libertarian that year. By 2006 my disgust with the Republican Party had reached such levels that I felt obliged to sit out the election. While I did vote for McCain this year and I endorse his candidacy, I do so with more than a few reservations.

This simple truth is that the last eight years have been an unmitigated disaster for our country. We have a president who has shown no respect for the constitutional limitations on the powers of his office and has become a virtual power unto himself. He ignores laws at will with so called signing statements and has unilaterally suspended the writ of habeus corpus. He has authorized various agencies of the government to spy on citizens without a warrant and he has invaded a country which did not attack the United States and in no way threatened us. He has spent our country into near bankruptcy while cutting taxes mostly for persons in the higher tax brackets. He has been vigorously pressing for government regulation of the bedroom while all but suspending regulation of Wall Street. And in all of this he was backed by a rubber stamp Republican Congress for the first six years.

I for one have had enough. I am tired of voting for people who do not share my values or concerns. If the GOP wants my vote in the future they are going to have to start making some changes. As I noted elsewhere the Democratic party's marriage to the abortion lobby is an absolute impediment to their getting my vote. But that does not mean the Republicans are entitled to my vote by default.

If the choice before me is to waste my vote by casting it for someone who might win but reflects almost nothing of my values and in many respects is antithetical to them, or waste it voting for someone whose positions I respect though he may have little chance of winning, I am more inclined to the latter. I voted for McCain because I frankly think some of his neo-con rhetoric in this election has been born more of political necessity than conviction. But I will not criticize anyone who can't go there and who pulls the lever for Bob Barr instead.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Address of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW to the XIIth Ordinary General Assembly of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church


Your Holiness,
Synodal Fathers,

It is at once humbling and inspiring to be graciously invited by Your Holiness to address the XIIth Ordinary General Assembly of this auspicious Synod of Bishops, an historical meeting of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church from throughout the world, gathered in one place to meditate on “the Word of God” and deliberate on the experience and expression of this Word “in the Life and Mission of the Church.”

This gracious invitation of Your Holiness to our Modesty is a gesture full of meaning and significance - we dare say an historic event in itself. For it is the first time in history that an Ecumenical Patriarch is offered the opportunity to address a Synod of the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, and thus be part of the life of this sister Church at such a high level. We regard this as a manifestation of the work of the Holy Spirit leading our Churches to a closer and deeper relationship with each other, an important step towards the restoration of our full communion.

It is well known that the Orthodox Church attaches to the Synodical system fundamental ecclesiological importance. Together with primacy synodality constitutes the backbone of the Church’s government and organisation. As our Joint International Commission on the Theological Dialogue between our Churches expressed it in the Ravenna document, this interdependence between synodality and primacy runs through all the levels of the Church’s life: local, regional and universal. Therefore, in having today the privilege to address Your Synod our hopes are raised that the day will come when our two Churches will fully converge on the role of primacy and synodality in the Church’s life, to which our common Theological Commission is devoting its study at the present time.

The theme to which this episcopal synod devotes its work is of crucial significance not only for the Roman Catholic Church but also for all those who are called to witness to Christ in our time. Mission and evangelization remain a permanent duty of the Church at all times and places; indeed they form part of the Church’s nature, since she is called “Apostolic” both in the sense of her faithfulness to the original teaching of the Apostles and in that of proclaiming the Word of God in every cultural context everytime. The Church needs, therefore, to rediscover the Word of God in every generation and make it heard with a renewed vigour and persuation also in our contemporary world, which deep in its heart thirsts for God’s message of peace, hope and charity.

This duty of evangelization would have been, of course, greatly enhanced and strengthened, if all Christians were in a position to perform it with one voice and as a fully united Church. In his prayer to the Father little before His passion our Lord has made it clear that the unity of the Church is unbreakably related with her mission “so that the world may believe” (John 17, 21). It is, therefore, most appropriate that this Synod has opened its doors to ecumenical fraternal delegates so that we may all become aware of our common duty of evangelization as well as of the difficulties and problems of its realization in today’s world.

This Synod has undoubtedly been studying the subject of the Word of God in depth and in all its aspects, theological as well as practical and pastoral. In our modest address to you we shall limit ourselves to sharing with you some thoughts on the theme of your meeting, drawing from the way the Orthodox tradition has approached it throughout the centuries and in the Greek patristic teaching, in particular. More concretely we should like to concentrate on three aspects of the subject, namely: on hearing and speaking the Word of God through the Holy Scriptures; on seeing God’s Word in nature and above all in the beauty of the icons; and finally on touching and sharing God’s Word in the communion of saints and the sacramental life of the Church. For all these are, we think, crucial in the life and mission of the Church.

In so doing, we seek to draw on a rich Patristic tradition, dating to the early third century and expounding a doctrine of five spiritual senses. For listening to God’s Word, beholding God’s Word, and touching God’s Word are all spiritual ways of perceiving the unique divine mystery. Based on Proverbs 2.5 about “the divine faculty of perception (αἴσθησις),” Origen of Alexandria claims:
This sense unfolds as sight for contemplation of immaterial forms, hearing for discernment of voices, taste for savoring the living bread, smell for sweet spiritual fragrance, and touch for handling the Word of God, which is grasped by every faculty of the soul.
The spiritual senses are variously described as “five senses of the soul,” as “divine” or “inner faculties,” and even as “faculties of the heart” or “mind.” This doctrine inspired the theology of the Cappadocians (especially Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa) as much as it did the theology of the Desert Fathers (especially Evagrius of Pontus and Macarius the Great).

1.Hearing and Speaking the Word through Scripture

At each celebration of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the presiding celebrant at the Eucharist entreats “that we may be made worthy to hear the Holy Gospel.” For “hearing, beholding and handling the Word of life” (1 Jn 1.1) are not first and foremost our entitlement or birthright as human beings; they are our privilege and gift as children of the living God. The Christian Church is, above all, a scriptural Church. Although methods of interpretation may have varied from Church Father to Church Father, from “school” to “school,” and from East to West, nevertheless, Scripture was always received as a living reality and not a dead book.

In the context of a living faith, then, Scripture is the living testimony of a lived history about the relationship of a living God with a living people. The Spirit, “who spoke through the prophets” (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed), spoke in order to be heard and take effect. It is primarily an oral and direct communication intended for human beneficiaries. The scriptural text is, therefore, derivative and secondary; the scriptural text always serves the spoken word. It is not conveyed mechanically, but communicated from generation to generation as a living word. Through the Prophet Isaiah, the Lord vows:
As rain and snow descend from heaven, watering the earth … so shall my word go from mouth to mouth, accomplishing that which I purpose. (55.10-11)

Moreover, as St. John Chrysostom explains, the divine Word demonstrates profound considerateness (συγκατάβασις) for the personal diversity and cultural contexts of those hearing and receiving. Adaptation of the divine Word to the specific personal readiness and the particular cultural context defines the missionary dimension of the Church, which is called to transform the world through the Word. In silence as in declaration, in prayer as in action, the divine Word addresses the whole world, “preaching to all nations” (Mt 28.19) without either privilege or prejudice to race, culture, gender and class. When we carry out that divine commission, we are assured: “Behold, I am with you always.” (Mt 28.20) We are called to speak the divine Word in all languages, “becoming all things to all people, that [we] might by all means save some.” (1 Cor. 9.22)

As disciples of God’s Word, then, it is today more imperative than ever that we provide a unique perspective – beyond the social, political, or economic – on the need to eradicate poverty, to provide balance in a global world, to combat fundamentalism or racism, and to develop religious tolerance in a world of conflict. In responding to the needs of the world’s poor, vulnerable and marginalized, the Church can prove a defining marker of the space and character of the global community. While the theological language of religion and spirituality differs from the technical vocabulary of economics and politics, the barriers that at first glance appear to separate religious concerns (such as sin, salvation, and spirituality) from pragmatic interests (such as commerce, trade, and politics) are not impenetrable, crumbling before the manifold challenges of social justice and globalization.

Whether dealing with environment or peace, poverty or hunger, education or healthcare, there is today a heightened sense of common concern and common responsibility, which is felt with particular acuteness by people of faith as well as by those whose outlook is expressly secular. Our engagement with such issues does not of course in any way undermine or abolish differences between various disciplines or disagreements with those who look at the world in different ways. Yet the growing signs of a common commitment for the well-being of humanity and the life of the world are encouraging. It is an encounter of individuals and institutions that bodes well for our world. And it is an involvement that highlights the supreme vocation and mission of the disciples and adherents of God’s Word to transcend political or religious differences in order to transform the entire visible world for the glory of the invisible God.

2.Seeing the Word of God – The Beauty of Icons and Nature

Nowhere is the invisible rendered more visible than in the beauty of iconography and the wonder of creation. In the words of the champion of sacred images, St. John of Damascus: “As maker of heaven and earth, God the Word was Himself the first to paint and portray icons.” Every stroke of an iconographer’s paintbrush – like every word of a theological definition, every musical note chanted in psalmody, and every carved stone of a tiny chapel or magnificent cathedral – articulates the divine Word in creation, which praises God in every living being and every living thing. (cf. Ps. 150.6)

In affirming sacred images, the Seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicaea was not concerned with religious art; it was the continuation and confirmation of earlier definitions about the fullness of the humanity of God’s Word. Icons are a visible reminder of our heavenly vocation; they are invitations to rise beyond our trivial concerns and menial reductions of the world. They encourage us to seek the extraordinary in the very ordinary, to be filled with the same wonder that characterized the divine marvel in Genesis: “God saw everything that He made; and, indeed, it was very good.” (Gn. 1.30-31) The Greek (Septuagint) word for “goodness” is ά, which implies – etymologically and symbolically – a sense of “calling.” Icons underline the Church’s fundamental mission to recognize that all people and all things are created and called to be “good” and “beautiful.”

Indeed, icons remind us of another way of seeing things, another way of experiencing realities, another way of resolving conflicts. We are asked to assume what the hymnology of Easter Sunday calls “another way of living.” For we have behaved arrogantly and dismissively toward the natural creation. We have refused to behold God’s Word in the oceans of our planet, in the trees of our continents, and in the animals of our earth. We have denied our very own nature, which calls us to stoop low enough to hear God’s Word in creation if we wish to “become participants of divine nature.” (2 Pet 1.4) How could we ignore the wider implications of the divine Word assuming flesh? Why do we fail to perceive created nature as the extended Body of Christ?

Eastern Christian theologians always emphasized the cosmic proportions of divine incarnation. The incarnate Word is intrinsic to creation, which came to be through divine utterance. St. Maximus the Confessor insists on the presence of God’s Word in all things (cf. Col. 3.11); the divine Logos stands at the center of the world, mysteriously revealing its original principle and ultimate purpose (cf. 1 Pet 1.20). This mystery is described by St. Athanasius of Alexandria:
As the Logos [he writes], he is not contained by anything and yet contains everything; He is in everything and yet outside of everything … the first-born of the whole world in its every aspect.
The entire world is a prologue to the Gospel of John. And when the Church fails to recognize the broader, cosmic dimensions of God’s Word, narrowing its concerns to purely spiritual matters, then it neglects its mission to implore God for the transformation – always and everywhere, “in all places of His dominion” – of the whole polluted cosmos. It is no wonder that on Easter Sunday, as the Paschal celebration reaches its climax, Orthodox Christians sing:
Now everything is filled with divine light: heaven and earth, and all things beneath the earth. So let all creation rejoice.
All genuine “deep ecology” is, therefore, inextricably linked with deep theology:
“Even a stone,” writes Basil the Great, “bears the mark of God’s Word. This is true of an ant, a bee and a mosquito, the smallest of creatures. For He spread the wide heavens and laid the immense seas; and He created the tiny hollow shaft of the bee’s sting.”
Recalling our minuteness in God’s wide and wonderful creation only underlines our central role in God’s plan for the salvation of the whole world.

3.Touching and Sharing the Word of God – The Communion of Saints and the Sacraments of Life

The Word of God persistently “moves outside of Himself in ecstasy” (Dionysius the Areopagite), passionately seeking to “dwell in us” (Jn 1.14), that the world may have life in abundance. (Jn 10.10) God’s compassionate mercy is poured and shared “so as to multiply the objects of His beneficence.” (Gregory the Theologian) God assumes all that is ours, “in every respect being tested as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4.15), in order to offer us all that is God’s and render us gods by grace. “Though rich, He becomes poor that we might become rich,” writes the great Apostle Paul (2 Cor. 8.9), to whom this year is so aptly dedicated. This is the Word of God; gratitude and glory are due to Him.

The word of God receives His full embodiment in creation, above all in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. It is there that the Word becomes flesh and allows us not simply to hear or see Him but to touch Him with our own hands, as St. John declares (I John 1,1) and make Him part of our own body and blood (σύσσωμοι καί σύναιμοι) in the words of St. John Chrysostom.

In the Holy Eucharist the Word heard is at the same time seen and shared (κοινωνία). It is not accidental that in the early eucharistic documents, such as the book of Revelation and the Didache, the Eucharist was associated with prophesy, and the presiding bishops were regarded as successors of the prophets (e.g. Martyrion Polycarpi). The Eucharist was already by St. Paul (I Cor. 11) described as “proclamation” of Christ’s death and Second Coming. As the purpose of Scripture is essentially the proclamation of the Kingdom and the announcement of eschatological realities, the Eucharist is a foretaste of the Kingdom, and in this sense the proclamation of the Word par excellence. In the Eucharist Word and Sacrament become one reality. The Word ceases to be “words” and becomes a Person, embodying in Himself all human beings and all creation.
Within the life of the Church, the unfathomable self-emptying (κένωσις) and generous sharing(κοινωνία) of the divine Logos is reflected in the lives of the saints as the tangible experience and human expression of God’s Word in our community. In this way, the Word of God becomes the Body of Christ, crucified and glorified at the same time. As a result, the saint has an organic relationship with heaven and earth, with God and all of creation. In ascetic struggle, the saint reconciles the Word and the world. Through repentance and purification, the saint is filled – as Abba Isaac the Syrian insists – with compassion for all creatures, which is the ultimate humility and perfection.

This is why the saint loves with warmth and spaciousness that are both unconditional and irresistible. In the saints, we know God’s very Word, since – as St. Gregory Palamas claims – “God and His saints share the same glory and splendor.” In the gentle presence of a saint, we learn how theology and action coincide. In the compassionate love of the saint, we experience God as “our father” and God’s mercy as “steadfastly enduring.” (Ps. 135, LXX) The saint is consumed with the fire of God’s love. This is why the saint imparts grace and cannot tolerate the slightest manipulation or exploitation in society or in nature. The saint simply does what is “proper and right” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom), always dignifying humanity and honoring creation. “His words have the force of actions and his silence the power of speech.” (St. Ignatius of Antioch)

And within the communion of saints, each of us is called to “become like fire” (Sayings of the Desert Fathers), to touch the world with the mystical force of God’s Word, so that – as the extended Body of Christ – the world, too, might say: “Someone touched me!” (cf. Mt 9.20) Evil is only eradicated by holiness, not by harshness. And holiness introduces into society a seed that heals and transforms. Imbued with the life of the sacraments and the purity of prayer, we are able to enter the innermost mystery of God’s Word. It is like the tectonic plates of the earth’s crust: the deepest layers need only shift a few millimeters to shatter the world’s surface. Yet for this spiritual revolution to occur, we must experience radical metanoia – a conversion of attitudes, habits and practices – for ways that we have misused or abused God’s Word, God’s gifts and God’s creation.

Such a conversion is, of course, impossible without divine grace; it is not achieved simply through greater effort or human willpower. “For mortals, it is impossible; but for God all things are possible.” (Mt 19.26) Spiritual change occurs when our bodies and souls are grafted onto the living Word of God, when our cells contain the life-giving blood-flow of the sacraments, when we are open to sharing all things with all people. As St. John Chrysostom reminds us, the sacrament of “our neighbor” cannot be isolated from the sacrament of “the altar.” Sadly, we have ignored the vocation and obligation to share. Social injustice and inequality, global poverty and war, ecological pollution and degradation result from our inability or unwillingness to share. If we claim to retain the sacrament of the altar, we cannot forgo or forget the sacrament of the neighbor – a fundamental condition for realizing God’s Word in the world within the life and mission of the Church.

Beloved Brothers in Christ,

We have explored the patristic teaching of the spiritual senses, discerning the power of hearing and speaking God’s Word in Scripture, of seeing God’s Word in icons and nature, as well as of touching and sharing God’s Word in the saints and sacraments. Yet, in order to remain true to the life and mission of the Church, we must personally be changed by this Word. The Church must resemble the mother, who is both sustained by and nourishes through the food she eats. Anything that does not feed and nourish everyone cannot sustain us either. When the world does not share the joy of Christ’s Resurrection, this is an indictment of our own integrity and commitment to the living Word of God. Prior to the celebration of each Divine Liturgy, Orthodox Christians pray that this Word will be “broken and consumed, distributed and shared” in communion. And “we know that we have passed from death to life when we love our brothers” and sisters (1 Jn 3.14).

The challenge before us is the discernment of God’s Word in the face of evil, the transfiguration of every last detail and speck of this world in the light of Resurrection. The victory is already present in the depths of the Church, whenever we experience the grace of reconciliation and communion. As we struggle – in ourselves and in our world – to recognize the power of the Cross, we begin to appreciate how every act of justice, every spark of beauty, every word of truth can gradually wear away the crust of evil. However, beyond our own frail efforts, we have the assurance of the Spirit, who “helps us in our weakness” (Rom. 8.26) and stands beside us as advocate and “comforter” (Jn 14-6), penetrating all things and “transforming us – as St. Symeon the New Theologian says – into everything that the Word of God says about the heavenly kingdom: pearl, grain of mustard seed, leaven, water, fire, bread, life and mystical wedding chamber.” Such is the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, whom we invoke as we conclude our address, extending to Your Holiness our gratitude and to each of you our blessings:
Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth
present everywhere and filling all things;
treasury of goodness and giver of life:
Come, and abide in us.
And cleanse us from every impurity;
and save our souls.
For you are good and love humankind.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Some thoughts on... Thoughts

Fr. David Thatcher (my parish priest and an occasional contributor to this blog) pointed me to a magnificent lecture by Fr Meletios (Webber) given at the Diocesan Assembly (OCA Diocese of the West). I strongly recommend it to all.


To the Tampa Bay Rays who beat the Red Sox in game 7 of the ALCS.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

For those of us on the left coast... A Pan-Orthodox Hierarchical Liturgy

Click on the picture for the full size view.

Hat tip to Mary P. Thanks for the email.

Another forthcoming election

Bishop Hilarion (Alfeeyev) of Vienna

The OCA must soon begin the process of electing a replacement for Metropolitan Herman who recently retired under a cloud. As it has become clear that there are not many members of the Holy Synod who have not been in one way or another touched by the recent scandals in the central administration there has been more than a passing discussion of looking outside the OCA for our next primate. Among the names being prominantly mentioned are Met. Philip of the Antiochian Archdiocese and Bishop Basil, also of the AA.

But the name that I think is currently causing the most buzz is Bishop Hilarion (Alfeeyev) of the Russian Orthodox Church. The bishop is well known and highly respected both in the Orthodox world and among other Christian confessions. He is considered by some to be a bit of a heavy weight and has been endorsed by a number of OCA clergy including notably Fr. Thomas Hopko (Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir's Seminary). However, I am wondering at practical issues like getting the consent both of Bishop Hilarion and also the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church whch I believe would have to release him. Alas I am not sufficiently up-to-date on church politics to be able to handicap this election. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable can comment on where things stand.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A little election humor

In case you missed it, the two candidates were both guests at the annual Alfred E. Smith charity dinner tonight. The Al Smith dinner is a political tradition hosted by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York where presidential candidates have been showing up to roast and be roasted by one another for decades. Decked in the traditional white tie, senators McCain and Obama took turns stumping for laughs instead of votes (well maybe votes too). I thought both were funny. But (maybe its my Republican prejudice here) I also thought Senator McCain stole the show at this, the last of the face to face showdowns between the candidates. For those who may have missed the speeches they are linked below.

McCain Part 1

McCain part 2

Obama part 1

Obama part 2

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Blue Election

"Sometimes in life your the windshield and sometimes your the bug."

Today I cast my vote (via absentee ballot) for the man who I hope, but seriously doubt, will be the next President of the United States of America, John S. McCain. McCain is not perfect. I think he is wrong on some important issues like taxes and debt. But he is right on the imperative ones; those two being life and national security.

Anyone who can read and who has a basic grasp of math (my grasp has never been more than basic), will note the spreading ocean of blue on any of the various election maps that all of the news services are putting up. If you want red (oddly, the Republican color) you are in for a disappointment. Senator Obama is not only firmly in command of all of the usual blue states and a majority of those states often touted as battleground, but he also holds leads in a number of states that are traditionally Republican.

No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio. Right now the odds of Ohio voting Republican are somewhere between slim and none. And I think that was slim I just saw on the bus heading out of town. Add to this mix states like Michigan Florida and Pennsylvania which are all either solidly in Obama’s camp or leaning in that direction and it looks ugly. But it gets worse.

Look down from Pennsylvania a bit and you will see Virginia and N. Carolina.. These are two states which have been reliably Republican for decades. How reliable? The last time Virginia voted for a Democrat was when they went all the way with LBJ in 1964. For the benefit of those of us who are mathematically challenged a TV talking head explained that was 44 years ago. Or put another way Virginia has never voted for a Democrat for President in my lifetime (plus two years).

Right now Virginia and N. Carolina are leaning strongly towards Obama. This is starting to look like we could be facing an electoral landslide the likes of which we have not seen in decades. And I am not talking just about the numbers but about a fundamental shift in the political landscape and out look of the American people. The last time we saw an election that could be a bellwether for a major shift in the political pendulum was probably 1980. That was the year Ronald Reagan thumped Jimmy Carter and announced in his inaugural address that government was not the solution, it was the problem. From that election up to now traditional big government liberalism has appeared to be safely dead and buried.

And yet here we have one of the most reliably conservative states about to vote for the most liberal member of the United States Senate who also happens to be African American for president! The joy which I think anyone should feel at the sight a black man about to carry at least three states out of the old southern Confederacy (Virginia was home to their capitol city) must be tempered by the implications of this election. Big government liberalism is poised to make the biggest comeback since John Travolta’s return from the dead.

Not only is McCain likely facing a historic pasting (Dick Morris, no friend of liberals, thinks McCain’s home state of Arizona might go blue), but the Congress is likely to be reshaped by this election as well. Herein lies the sign of a bellwether election. You may well have both the presidency and the Congress in the hands of an overwhelming liberal Democratic majority. Although I doubt the Senate will see enough of a shift to give the Democrats a filibuster proof majority they could come close enough to make the threat of a filibuster more or less empty. What does this mean? Think Great Society the sequel. And as Jim Cramer is wont to observe, the sequel is always worse than the original.

* Federal Legislation Enshrining Abortion Rights
* Higher Taxes
* Massive Federal Spending
* Increased Debt
* Surrender in Iraq
* Liberal Judges
* Extension of Same Sex Marriage Benefits

I could go on but I am guessing the point has been made.

Unlike the last two presidential elections, the suspense this year will not be over who is going to win, but rather how much he will win by. Barack Obama will likely be called the winner before the polls even close in California. What we will need to watch closely is how big the Democrats win in the House and Senate.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


It's time to call this what it is... a stock market crash. It's occuring in slow motion. But it's a crash all the same.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Down Time

Starting tomorrow I am heading back east to visit family and enjoy a little R&R. For the next couple of weeks posting will be infrequent. Unfortunatly, during this period I will also have to set comments for moderation. In the past when I announced a hiatus some people took advantage of my absence by posting inappropriate things in the comments area. Sorry for any inconvenience, but there could be some lag time on comment approval.