Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Of Birthers Birchers and Flat Earthers

To be honest I really hesitated before posting on this subject. I mean why do anything to even acknowledge these wingnuts? But I am seeing too many people buying into the urban-legend that Barack Obama is not a natural born citizen. It is getting to the point where these off the wall conspiracy types are starting to bring discredit on mainstream conservatives. People (especially on the left) are starting to conflate the word "conservative" with flaky tin foil hat nut jobs. This is a serious issue which conservative Bill Pasco addresses in his recent column ...
In January 1962, conservative leaders faced a similar problem: How to deal with the members of the John Birch Society, whose leader, Robert Welch, believed that the former president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was a a conscious agent of the International Communist Conspiracy.

National Review Founder William F. Buckley, Jr., Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, conservative historian and philosopher Russell Kirk, and American Enterprise Institute President William Baroody took it upon themselves secretly to meet at The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, where they decided Welch and the Birchers would have to be excommunicated from the Conservative Movement, lest their lunacy taint reasonable and responsible conservative political activity.

Were Buckley alive today, is there any doubt he would have the same response to the "Birthers"?

I think not.
The Honolulu Star Bulletin said it well when they wrote in part...
An online posting of his official certificate of birth hasn't quelled the ridiculous accusation that he is ineligible for the presidency. Hawaii officials' verification of the certificate's authenticity has been challenged repeatedly as dubious.
Independent reviews and confirmation of the certificate also have been dismissed as a vast conspiracy involving Obama's parents, state officials, the news media, the Secret Service, think tanks and a host of yet-to-be-uncovered others who have connived since Obama's birth to build a false record so that he could eventually seek the presidency 47 years later.
Seriously folks. When entities as hostile to Obama as FOX News and even Ann Coulter come out and unequivocally state that Obama is in fact a natural born citizen, and STILL the so called birthers refuse to concede, one is well entitled to ask... Where are you people getting your drugs from? As is true of urban legends in general, there reaches a point where the "true believers" become impervious to facts or reason.

But at the risk of wasting my time; here are some facts...
  • Barack Obama's birth certificate has been made available for inspection by the State of Hawaii. It has been repeatedly examined by government officials of both political parties (the governor is a Republican) as well as investigative journalists and other experts. Without exception it has been deemed valid and authentic.
  • His birth certificate DOES have both a signature and a raised seal contrary to widespread reports.
  • His birth certificate meets the standards of the United States State Department for issuing a U.S. Passport.
  • Announcements of his birth were published in both of Honolulu's daily newspapers in August of 1961. Maybe the newspapers back then were already complicit in the vast conspiracy to install Obama as the 44th President of the United States.
  • Multiple lawsuits filed in an effort to challenge Obama's eligibility to serve as president have been repeatedly dismissed by the Federal Courts. In the most important case (October of 2008) the presiding judge issued a 34 page ruling in which he referred to claims presented by the plaintiff as "frivolous and not worthy of discussion." He specifically stated that the plaintiff's arguments "ventured into the unreasonable." Translated from legalese into plain English the judge was calling the plaintiff a nut and laughing him out of court.
Subscribers to the birther movement must by necessity believe that there is a vast conspiracy at every level of government in the State of Hawaii as also the press dating back to at least 1961 (recall those inconvenient birth announcements in the newspapers). And further that this plot extends into both political parties, the press and mass media at every level, the FBI, Secret Service and other Federal agencies, all engaged in one of the most elaborate conspiracies in the history of the world. This would dwarf the cover up when Bill Clinton had Vince Foster murdered or the cover up when the Navy accidentally shot down TWA flight 800. It would even be bigger than the vast conspiracy launched by George Bush and Israel to carry out the 9/11 attacks and blame it on the Arabs.

In fact the only conspiracy that could possibly compare to it was the one uncovered by General Jack Ripper and revealed to Group Captain Lionel Mandrake in the following memorable conversation...

Of course if we were merely talking about some harmless eccentrics, the sort of people I observed in a recent conversation, who are inclined to believe that the moonshot was faked and professional wrestling is real, it would really be a non-issue. But when you have a group of people standing up and publicly challenging the legitimacy of the President of the United States; that's on a rather different level altogether. In most political societies throughout history such would usually constitute some form of High Treason, and not without good cause.

While I am not arguing that we should take such an extreme view of this, I do think it is harmful and to a certain degree even dangerous to the body politic. Sinister conspiracy theories are not a phenomenon limited to our modern age. There have always been people willing to suspend reason and ignore facts when it comes to believing the worst of public officials who they were predisposed to dislike. History has shown the effects of this sort of paranoid extremism to be corrosive. It impairs the ability to debate real issues if you can't move beyond the validity of the government. It serves to radicalize a political environment that is already dangerously polarized. And as I noted at the beginning of this post; it provides ammunition for the political left to dismiss the President's legitimate conservative critics as cranks. All of which leads me to believe that it is time and indeed past time for respectable conservatives to publicly repudiate these purveyors of dark fantasy and relegate them to their true home, the political fringe.

(Note: This post has been slightly edited for grammar and typos.)

The Guardian: Kirill is not the Kremlin's man

From the British newspaper The Guardian:
As the head of the single largest Orthodox church, Kirill's desire to defend the special contribution of the Moscow patriarchate "to the common Orthodox witness before the modern world which is losing its spiritual and moral guidelines" is not reactionary nostalgia. Rather, it underscores his continued commitment to a shared supranational Orthodox identity.

Nor is it accurate to brand him as a Russian neo-imperialist dressed in the clothes of religious piety. Like his predecessor Patriarch Alexy II, under whom he served as metropolitan in charge of ecumenical relations, Kirill has already improved ties with other Orthodox churches. Last summer, he opposed the creation of a new patriarchate in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia, arguing that political independence is no reason for the South Ossetian Orthodox church to cut ties with the Georgian patriarchate. (Both the Moscow and the Georgian patriarchs spoke out publicly against the military conflict). Kirill's visit to the Ukraine is of a piece with the logic of Orthodox unity rather than an ill-conceived exercise in pro-Russian PR.

Key to a stronger pan-Orthodox identity is greater church autonomy from the state – Kirill's other key priority. In a sermon during his enthronement service attended by both President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, he criticised the Russian government's response to the current economic downturn, enjoining the president to take bolder action and inveighing against the authorities for violating the standards of justice and righteousness.

Moreover, only a fortnight ago Kirill obtained guarantees from Russian politicians that the Moscow patriarchate would be allowed to preview all legislation considered in the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament. This extraordinary agreement enables the church to examine proposed legislation and influence its outcome. Staunch secularists and atheists will be up in arms, but this is potentially a stunning reversal of the widely perceived subordination of the Orthodox church to the Russian state.

None of the patriarch's initiatives are uncontroversial, but the charge that he is the Kremlin's cleric simply doesn't wash. At 62, Kirill is relatively young and his patriarchal rule could last for a generation. Together with the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople and others, he will seek to strengthen Orthodoxy against the forces of aggressive secularism and atheism and to affirm the autonomy of the church vis-à-vis the state without divorcing religion from politics.
Read the rest here.

Before anyone starts pointing out some of the factually dubious aspects of this column (like the tired 3rd Rome bit), yes I did take note of them. Still it's an interesting article that approaches some of the recent events from a perspective I had not considered. That said, I remain dubious about the wisdom of the Church being so closely tied to the State.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Recovery or Bear Market Rally?

There are widespread reports that at least some aspects of the Great Recession may be hitting bottom. Certainly if we believe Wall Street things are on the mend. The DOW is up 35% and the S&P 500 is up 40% since their lows in March. Surely this is a sign that Happy Days are at least on their way if not yet actually "Here Again."

March 2 to July 24th 2009 (click to enlarge)

To which I respond... maybe and maybe not. There is a very interesting phenomenon that shows up during periods of protracted economic decline or stagnation called a "bear market rally" also sometimes known as a "suckers rally." This is when investors desperate for any sort of good news latch onto the first not horrible news and read it as an indication that a corner has been turned and economic recovery is on the way.

The main characteristic of the bear market rally is a sudden sharp rush by speculative investors trying to get in at "the bottom" and score some big profits. This mass speculation temporarily drives up the value of equities and the overall indexes but it is not sustainable long term if the recovery is not real. A bear market rally ends when people begin to realize that the situation is not as good as hoped and there is a mass rush for the exits. In some cases this has precipitated stock market crashes that were as bad as or worse than the ones which may have signaled the beginning of the economic downturn. Such was the case in 1930.

In early 1930 following the crash of 1929 there was an almost violent rally on Wall Street as investors, believing that the crash was an anomaly and that damage to the broader economy had been minimal, started to dive back into the stock market. By April of 1930 the market had recovered about half of its losses from the crash of '29. It then slipped slightly and traded sideways into the middle of the summer when it dipped again. There followed a couple months of sideways trading and then the floor fell out.

The stock market crash that began in September of 1930 did not end until July of 1932. When the market finally bottomed it had lost 90% of its value from its high in August of 1929. It would not recover its pre-crash value until 1954, a quarter of a century later. Even after the great crash of 1930-1932 there would be a series of bear market rallies and mini crashes right up until the outbreak of the Second World War finally stabilized the economy.

Bear market rallies were also seen on a number of occasions during the stagflationary period of the 1970's.

It is not my intention to declare that what we are seeing today is a repetition of the events of 1930. There are important differences that could be fairly pointed out between the present day and age and the early years of the Great Depression. But I will say that if you look at the events of the last twelve months including the performance of the stock market, the similarities are chilling. One need only look at a chart of the stock market's performance over the last year to see the dangerous pattern.

Last 12 months (click to enlarge)

Year to date

And it is a fact that there has never been a stock market rally that was anywhere near the levels we have seen since the bottom in March that did not turn out to be a suckers rally. If this rally is the real deal, it will be one for the history books.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Antiochian Convention

Regular updates are being posted by the Ochlophobist and at OCANews which is also live blogging the convention. If anyone else is posting updates on the convention please leave a link in the comments or drop me an email (link in sidebar). I will update this post periodically as additional convention related sources are brought to my attention.

Some of the events so far have been absolutely shocking.


Update: The Ochlophobist is so far the only online source that is providing regular "as it happens" (or close to it) updates. Just be sure you have set your coffee down before going there.

Orthodox in Communion with Rome?

That said, as an Eastern Catholic I reject the idea that Trent is truly ecumenical, and hold instead that its decrees espouse Latin (mainly Scholastic) theological theories, which no one outside the Latin Church is required to accept
Hat tip to The Young Fogey

I encourage the reader to peruse the entire thread. It really is quite interesting. Clearly the concept of "cafeteria" Catholicism is not limited to the Latin Rite. I am slowly coming to the view that many of these people are neither Catholic nor Orthodox. They are Protestants dressed in Byzantine vestments. "I will believe whatever I want to believe."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Episcopalian Mess: The Catholics (mostly) get it...

The problem, however, is not homosexual clergy. The problem is ecclesiology. The much vaunted "via media" that Anglicans pride themselves on has hit a fork in the road. If it had not been the issue of homosexuality it would have been another issue. They need to make a decision that is binding on the whole church, but they have no mechanism for doing so. They need a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as it were, but they very idea seems so un-British. Or, they need to decide that the Baptists and Congregationalists were right all these years, that the local church alone should guide its own destiny and that thoughts of a universal communion are delusional.

The statements coming from the Episcopal Church’s General Convention were purposely not inflammatory, but they did pass a resolution that dug in on their position. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury and to the other Primates of the Anglican Communion, assuring them that the new resolution affirming gays was no news at all. But for conservatives the Rubicon was already crossed. They want a guarantee of orthodoxy and the Anglican church, as a whole, cannot provide it.
Read it all here.
Hat tip to T-19 (they are still having major problems with their main website)

Obviously I don't see an imperative need for a CDF or the Pope. But Anglicanism has a major problem. They claim to be a "branch" of the church catholic spoken of in the creeds. And yet they have repudiated the methods employed by the Church to keep order and prevent schism/heresy. Can anyone imagine Rowan Williams calling for an OEcumenical Council to deal with this mess?

The Anglican Communion is alas just a loose confederation of Protestant churches with the exception of the Episcopal Church. That once mighty mainline church has been reduced to being a liberal social club whose theology (to the extent there is any) could best be described as liturgical Unitarianism.

Someone please explain to me very slowly so I can understand it... why are we still accepting Episcopalian baptisms as "close enough" for the purposes of economia among converts?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

North Korean concentration camps thrive as the world remains silent

This should be required reading in every political science course in every college in the United States. But of course the liberal academicians would go ballistic.

Caution: This article contains graphic details about life and death in the Communist concentration camps of North Korea.
SEOUL -- Images and accounts of the North Korean gulag become sharper, more harrowing and more accessible with each passing year.

A distillation of testimony from survivors and former guards, newly published by the Korean Bar Association, details the daily lives of 200,000 political prisoners estimated to be in the camps: Eating a diet of mostly corn and salt, they lose their teeth, their gums turn black, their bones weaken and, as they age, they hunch over at the waist. Most work 12- to 15-hour days until they die of malnutrition-related illnesses, usually around the age of 50. Allowed just one set of clothes, they live and die in rags, without soap, socks, underclothes or sanitary napkins.

The camps have never been visited by outsiders, so these accounts cannot be independently verified. But high-resolution satellite photographs, now accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, reveal vast labor camps in the mountains of North Korea. The photographs corroborate survivors' stories, showing entrances to mines where former prisoners said they worked as slaves, in-camp detention centers where former guards said uncooperative prisoners were tortured to death and parade grounds where former prisoners said they were forced to watch executions. Guard towers and electrified fences surround the camps, photographs show.

"We have this system of slavery right under our nose," said An Myeong Chul, a camp guard who defected to South Korea. "Human rights groups can't stop it. South Korea can't stop it. The United States will have to take up this issue at the negotiating table."

But the camps have not been discussed in meetings between U.S. diplomats and North Korean officials. By exploding nuclear bombs, launching missiles and cultivating a reputation for hair-trigger belligerence, the government of Kim Jong Il has created a permanent security flash point on the Korean Peninsula -- and effectively shoved the issue of human rights off the negotiating table.

"Talking to them about the camps is something that has not been possible," said David Straub, a senior official in the State Department's office of Korean affairs during the Bush and Clinton years. There have been no such meetings since President Obama took office.

"They go nuts when you talk about it," said Straub, who is now associate director of Korean studies at Stanford University.

Nor have the camps become much of an issue for the American public, even though annotated images of them can be quickly called up on Google Earth and even though they have existed for half a century, 12 times as long as the Nazi concentration camps and twice as long as the Soviet Gulag. Although precise numbers are impossible to obtain, Western governments and human groups estimate that hundreds of thousands of people have died in the North Korean camps.

North Korea officially says the camps do not exist. It restricts movements of the few foreigners it allows into the country and severely punishes those who sneak in. U.S reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee were sentenced last month to 12 years of hard labor, after being convicted in a closed trial on charges of entering the country illegally.

North Korea's gulag also lacks the bright light of celebrity attention. No high-profile, internationally recognized figure has emerged to coax Americans into understanding or investing emotionally in the issue, said Suzanne Scholte, a Washington-based activist who brings camp survivors to the United States for speeches and marches.

"Tibetans have the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere, Burmese have Aung San Suu Kyi, Darfurians have Mia Farrow and George Clooney," she said. "North Koreans have no one like that."
Read it all here.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church says "No" to endless dilaogue

Sofia, Bulgaria - According to the correspondent of the Ecclesiastic News Agency "Romfea" in Sofia, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria decided to not send envoys to the Meeting of the Combined International Theological Committee for the Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church, which is to be held in Cyprus between the 16th and the 23rd of October 2009.

Specifically, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria examined the letter-invitation sent by the organizers of the Meeting, and after discussions, decided that representatives of the Bulgarian Church should not participate.

The participation of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in this dialogue was characterized as inappropriate by the Holy Synod, who, after carefully analyzing similar meetings and conferences which had taken place in the past, reached the conclusion that such theological dialogues between Orthodox and Catholics had not led to even the slightest settlement between Roman Catholic and Orthodox Dogmatics.

The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Church did express its willingness to discuss other social and humanitarian issues in the future, during such meetings.

It should be noted that similar meetings of the Committee and its sub-committees have taken place in Belgrade, Ravenna, Rome and Ayios Nikolaos in Crete.

Finally, it should also be noted that the last meeting took place on the 27th of September to the 4th of October 2008 in Ayios Nikolaos of Crete, on the subject of "the role of the bishop of Rome in the community of the Church during the 1st Millennium".
Hat tip to Carlos Antonio Palad

An Orthodox Confession Against Ecumenism

I read it earlier today here and Eirenikon has posted another link. I thought about posting it for discussion on A/O but after reading some comments left in an East-West thread on a different blog (not on this topic) which frankly shocked me, I thought better of it. Still it is a serious topic and one that I think is well worth discussing. I just hope that the discussion remains a "discussion." Leave your comments at Eirenikon.

Comments are Closed

Friday, July 17, 2009

And that's the way it was...

Walter Cronkite: The most trusted man in America

May his memory be eternal.

Update: A nice video tribute from CBS News...

Watch CBS Videos Online

T-19 temporary site

Canon Kendal Harmon's blog TitusOneNine (T-19) is still down. It looks like it crashed hard from all the traffic generated by the mess in the Episcopal Church. However the elves have managed to get a backup site running until the main one can be fixed. It is located here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Quote of the day...

Another bishop said that in his diocese he will never have to deal with gay marriage. I told him, you don’t know where this is going. Gay marriage could go to the Supreme Court, it could become the law of the land. Maybe part of your responsibility is to get your people ready for where the country is going.
(Emphasis mine A/O)

-V. Gene Robinson Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

An interesting concept of a bishop's duty, to lead your people into conformity with society's evolving standards. In very few words this says so much about the Episcopal Church.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar) writes on the scandals in North America

One of the most respected Monastic Fathers in the Arab/Greek Church has written a powerful indictment of the scandalous state of affairs in the American Orthodox Church. (This was originally written in Arabic and has only recently been translated thanks to blogger SAMN!.) The impetus and focus of his letter is the current crisis in the Antiochian Archdiocese, chronicled in detail by our favorite ochlophobist. However he really lays it on the line and addresses the broader situation, correctly diagnosing the roots of the many problems here as being the interference of foreign churches in America coupled with an unhealthy dose of the passions and a craving for power.

I strongly encourage that it be read in its entirety. However, out of respect for the blogger who translated it I am only going to post a part of it and then send you to his blog for the rest.
The situation of all the Orthodox eparchies dependent on mother churches in North America is uncanonical. There is one Orthodox church in those lands whose situation is sound and canonical: the American Orthodox Church (OCA). This alone is independent and autocephalous and this is de-facto recognized by the other Orthodox eparchies. Its recognition, formal or implicit, by the eparchies depending on mother churches is clear and frank confirmation that the status of these eparchies is uncanonical and unsound. If these eparchies and mother churches on which they depend were to be logical with themselves and consistent with Orthodox ecclesiological and canonical thought, in the true sense of the word, then they would belong to the OCA or would at least enter into an understanding with it and the thorny crisis of the Orthodox presence there, theologically and canonically, would end. The simplest position and the most sound is for us to leave the Orthodox in North America to themselves and to encourage them to arrange their affairs themselves! We and the other mother churches are the ones who are complicating their affairs!

Naturally, there are those who claim that the problem of the diaspora is, to a great extent, a problem of nationalist sentiment. The sentiments exist, but not to the degree that is thought. The Church in the past has dealt with nationalism-- in Constantinople, in Antioch, and elsewhere-- and she is able to deal with it in every time and place whenever proper ecclesial sentiment abounds. But if nationalistic notions eclipse concern of the Church, then this is a dangerous event and a serious deviation because we are no longer a church possessing one faith, but rather a group of tribes. The truth is that the mother churches hold on to their eparchies in North America because they do not want to be stripped of their prerogatives and their benefits and their power there. The issue of money plays an important role in this matter and likewise does political and ecclesial influence. None of this has any connection to the Church in the exact meaning of the word, not to her theology, nor to her canons, nor to pastoral care for her people nor to her spirituality.

I will return to the subject of the bishops and I will say that the hidden cause behind the debate going on between those who hold to the concept of titular, helper bishops and the concept of local bishops over a people and a territory is, in reality, related to the passions. There is struggle for power, in the worldly sense, going on, and the arguments put forth call for each to claim his own power and leadership. But we have no power to receive, rather service to give for the Church of Christ and the People of God. For this reason, if we were to be just, then we must, first and last, to put pastoral care for the People of God before ourselves and before any other standard. The struggle for power going on today is, unfortunately, on account of this pastoral care! The single legitimate and acceptable question in this context is: what is most appropriate for the care of the Orthodox faithful here and there?

For this reason it is to be hoped that the interaction of the metropolitan with the bishops within a single eparchy, wherever they may be and especially right now in North America, will be first of all with goodness, love, humility of heart, and magnanimity. The issue of the episcopate, which has long been outside the genuine ecclesiology, will not be solved by emptying it of its pastoral content and enshrining its titularity, and not by, in response, idolatrously harping on the application of cannons but rather by the metropolitan embracing the bishops as brothers, and the bishops the metropolitan. Calmly and deliberately we will become able to solve our issues in cooperation and simplicity and flexibility, relying on [Orthodox] principles, and we will raise up the People of God in truth so that God will be glorified in us. The way of dividing, subjugating with decisions from on high, and debasing is of no avail. It will only alienate and create factions and lead to schism! I say this and it is to be feared that we are in a delicate and dangerous situation. Orthodox America will not be treated in the ruinous way we are accustomed to in our lands here! If we do not leave our selfishness and our pride and build each other up with kindness and generosity and put the good of the Church and its unity and theological principles ahead of any personal consideration, whatever it may be, then worse is to come!
Read it all and read it carefully here.
Hat tip to the Ochlophibist

Note: While correcting a typo on the original post, blogger had a hiccup and wiped out the entire thing. Needless to say I was annoyed as I had to reconstruct the post from memory. Fortunately there was not much of my own writing to repost. That said, if you looked at this right after I posted it and are looking at it again now you may notice some minor differences in wording. The post is substantially the same though.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Some general advice to inquirers and those contemplating Holy Orthodoxy

I have been getting more than a few comments and private emails lately from people who are considering conversion to the Orthodox Church. Some have asked for advice and counsel. Let me begin by saying to those who have indicated they are entering or at least thinking about entering the Orthodox Church, welcome. It took me roughly a quarter century from my first visit to an Orthodox service to make the move. So, most of you are already ahead of me. Secondly let me say thank you. I am flattered (and a little surprised) that apparently some people actually read my blog and take my often eclectic ramblings seriously.

Ronald Reagan once said that leaving the Democratic Party for the Republican was the hardest thing he ever did. He compared it to changing religions. My politics have evolved over time but I have never had a "Road to Damascus" moment that impelled me to a really major political sea change. So I can't comment on how hard that is. But if Reagan meant that changing religions is hard, he won't get an argument from me.

It really is not easy, especially if you are coming into the Church at least in part because of a painful situation in your current/former spiritual home. Family considerations can be tough too. Even if you are single or your spouse has no objections to your conversion, changing religions creates baggage. You will forever be explaining to extended family and those friends who will know of your move why the Episcopal Church (or fill in your former church) was not good enough for you.

But then there is the compensation. And that is in the form of the peace that comes only from knowing that you are in God’s Church working out your salvation “in trembling and fear” with other Orthodox Christians. That sense of peace is priceless. It doesn’t mean there won’t be rough patches. I promise you there will be. It doesn’t mean the Orthodox Church doesn’t suffer from all of the problems that come with any organization composed of human beings. It does. You need only do a quick online search to find references to the recent troubles in the Orthodox Church in America or the current controversies in the Antiochian Archdiocese for evidence. Orthodox Christians, whether layman or clergy or even bishops suffer from all the temptations of the world just like Methodists, Roman Catholics, and everyone else. And sometimes we fail. (I could write books on that subject without ever making references to third parties.)

A friend of mine once told me the story of a monk at St. Anthony’s monastery in Arizona who was asked by a visitor what they (the monks) did all day. The monk replied “we fall down and get back up again.” That in a nutshell is Orthodox Christianity. To borrow a line from a source I have long forgotten, “after years of desperate searching, I finally found the perfect church. And then I ruined it by joining.”

So what about the advice I mentioned in the title? It’s coming. First though we must have the inevitable disclaimers. I am not a priest, monk or anyone whose opinions should be taken as being of more importance than anyone else’s. If someone else gives you conflicting advice there is at least an even chance that you should pay more attention to them than me. And if they are wearing a cassock those odds rise to near 100%.

Ok with the disclaimers out of the way here is John’s generic advice, which along with $5.00 will get you a very small cup of coffee at Starbucks.

I strongly encourage inquirers and those more firmly on the path to Orthodoxy to look at some of the material and websites I have linked in the sidebar of Ad Orientem. You will find a lot of stuff there. Perhaps one of the best things you can do (besides praying and fasting) is to join the Orthodox Inquirers and Converts online discussion group. That's also linked in the sidebar. You will be able to talk to people from all kinds of backgrounds who are also converts or inquirers. Some have been in the Church for many years. Others are still new or just asking questions. The group has many clergy who are there to help and answer questions. Also the forum is moderated by clergy so things don’t get out of hand if someone starts throwing out really bad advice or making statements that aren’t quite on the mark.

Remember also that the Church has been around for 2000 years. Whatever questions, problems or concerns you have, I promise you that you are not the first one with those issues. The discussion group is I think one of the best places for an inquirer to go for information besides their priest. That said don't get wrapped up in too many details.

Not long ago someone commented on another thread that they were always worrying about whether or not they were doing things "right." Were they correct in their understanding of church canons and rules? It is really easy to start getting focused on things like what is and is not OK on a given fast day, or how many times should I make the sign of the cross when entering a church or when should I be making full prostrations. Some people also worry about which councils forbid fourth marriages or what council condemned Calvinism.


I am not saying that any of that is unimportant. But I am going to say most of that is not critical to our salvation. God is not worried about whether you bow and make the sign of the cross three times when you walk into a church or can rattle off church canons from memory. He is worrying about the other things, most of which are covered in the Ten Commandments. Your priest / spiritual father will guide you on your path into the Church and make sure you get the need to know information. So don’t sweat the details until you have the basics down first. Speaking of which, what are the basics?

This is IMHO what we really need to know and be doing… the basics. First the “know this” part…

1. We need to know how to make the sign of cross correctly.

2. We need to know the Creed and be able to recite it from memory.

3. We need to know the Lord’s Prayer and the Jesus Prayer.

4. We need to have a basic familiarity with church teachings and doctrine of which most of the essentials can be found in Fr. Thomas Hopko’s work on The Orthodox Faith. There are other sources as well, but that one is convenient and you don't need a PHD to read it.

Now for the need “to be doing” part…

1. First you need to find an Orthodox parish church and start attending services. If you are blessed to have more than one Orthodox parish within a reasonable distance from where you live, visit all of them. I encourage you to look for parishes where services are mainly or entirely in English. This is increasingly the norm here in North America but there are still some very ethnic parishes where services are in old country languages. There is nothing wrong with liturgy in Greek, Arabic or Slavonic. But much of the Orthodox Faith is found in our liturgy. It has often been said that the Orthodox Liturgy is one of our great catechetical tools because almost every sentence, gesture and even individual words are packed with theological meaning. Some of you however may be limited in your choices. You go where you must. I know of many people who converted into Orthodoxy through parishes where the services are still mostly not in English and one can find great beauty in the Divine Liturgy served in some of the ancient liturgical tongues of the Church, just as many Roman Catholics often find great spiritual inspiration from Mass in Latin. Once you find a parish be sure to introduce yourself to the priest and let him know you are considering converting. He will take it from there.

2. Pray. We need to pray everyday, ideally at least three times a day. If you don’t have an Orthodox Prayer Book, buy one. I recommend the Jordanville Prayer Book, but any one that your spiritual father blesses is a good choice.

3. Fast to the best of your ability under the guidance of your spiritual father. This latter part is very important. It is extremely common to try taking on too much fasting fresh out of the gate. The result is that you fall and get discouraged. Always remember that fasting is not an exercise in how well we can meet some 5th century dietary restrictions. It is spiritual medicine designed to stretch and discipline the body. If you discover that keeping the fasts strictly (especially during Lent) is really tough, don’t worry. You are not alone. Talk to your spiritual father and ask his advice. Often priests will bless a relaxation of the fast for those who struggle with it.

4. Don’t dive into theology. Read the lives of the saints.

5. Do visit an Orthodox monastery. But don’t move in. Monasteries are one of the great treasures of the Orthodox Church. If the Church is a spiritual hospital then monasteries are often our intensive care ward. Some people have a calling to the angelic life. But inquirers and recent converts need to be cautious about becoming convinced in the fresh enthusiasm for their new faith, that they are called to be monks or nuns. Most monasteries wisely will not take recent converts as novices. But by all means visit a monastery for a few days.

6. Once you are received into the Church take confession frequently and Holy Communion as often as your spiritual father will bless you to do so. As Metropolitan +Jonah recently said “you can not lead a spiritual life without frequent confession.”

7. This next point falls under the heading of “do as I say and not as I do.” Avoid (online) disputations and arguments. I am soooo guilty of this. So trust me when I say that these are very rarely spiritually healthy. That doesn’t mean you should not share your faith with others. It doesn’t even mean you should not discuss it with people who might not agree with you. But when you sense a “conversation” turning into a debate or an argument, that is usually a good time to bow out. I have never once met anyone converted into Orthodoxy by calling them a heretic. That’s not saying that there is no such thing as heresy or that there aren’t heretics. But judgmentalism and triumphalism are spiritually dangerous. Yes, we sometimes need to make prudential judgments. Many converts have found Orthodoxy in part because they concluded that their former spiritual home had gone off the tracks. But care needs to be taken before judging or correcting others. St. Maximus the Confessor once said that those who busy themselves with the sins of others have not yet begun to see their own. I have frequently been guilty of this. May God forgive me.

Have you noticed something? The “do this” list is a lot longer than the “know this” list. That’s because Orthodoxy is not a collection of canons or decrees from OEcumenical Councils. It is quite literally right belief and right worship of God. Orthodoxy is inherently experiential. You can’t become Orthodox from reading books. You become Orthodox from praying and living an Orthodox life. And that is really what everything I have written boils down to.

Please feel free to drop me a line with questions, comments or even criticism either in the combox or by email. My contact info is in the link in the sidebar.

See Orrologion's post of a similar theme. I strongly concur with his witty (and pointed) observations.

A Pilgrims Way

Monday, July 13, 2009

Update on the Episcopalians

Following up on my two previous posts (here and here) dealing with the Episcopal Church (TEC); things are now happening at a greatly increased pace. Those desiring details are encouraged to check out TitusOneNine (T-19) for all of the latest news. If you have some time for reading, there is a deluge of articles and posts dealing mostly with their intra-church crisis. Canon Kendal Harmon does a pretty good job of updating regular reports on what's going on at their Gen-Con. Be patiant though. T-19 has been loading very slowly today. No doubt the traffic has been heavy.

Update to the update @ 1929 PDLT:
Well they did it. TEC voted to end it's moratorium on gay bishops. Trying to get some details on the vote but T-19 has crashed. Probably got buried after the vote. Bottom line is that they just pretty much slapped the entire Anglican Communion across the face. But mark my words. This is just the beginning. The flood gates are now open.

On a side note this tends to put the recent sad troubles in the OCA and the Antiochian Archdiocese in perspective. May God preserve us from such disasters.

Lord Have Mercy!

Caritas in Veritate: An ideologue's nightmare

For liberals and conservatives alike, “Caritas in Veritate” is an invitation to think anew about their alliances and litmus tests.

Why should being pro-environment preclude being pro-life? Why can’t Republicans worry about economic inequality, and Democrats consider devolving more power to localities and states? Does opposing the Iraq war mean that you have to endorse an anything-goes approach to bioethics? Does supporting free trade require supporting the death penalty?

These questions, and many others like them, are the kind that a healthy political system would allow voters and politicians to explore.

But for now, at least, you’re more likely to find them being raised in Benedict XVI’s Vatican than in Barack Obama’s Washington.
Read the rest here.

Whether Catholic or not; Caritas in Veritate is a fascinating read and further proof that Pope Benedict XVI is a world class intellectual. I have noticed with no small amusement the disconnect between the left and right wings of the Roman Catholic Church, both of which are guilty of cherry picking which papal pronouncements they are going to pay real attention to while giving a "polite nod" to the rest.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Episcopal Church General Convention

Joe Roberts writes what is pretty much the "everything you need to know" summary of what the Episcopalians are up to at their Gen-Con.
To this point no major decisions have been made but that will begin changing over the next few days. From what I take from the reports of the activity in the Legislative Committee meetings, the stage is being set for a rather dramatic lunge leftward. My sense is that at the end of the day we are likely to see one or more of the following significant developments, and probably all of them in some shape or fashion:

1) A statement to the wider Anglican Communion that says essentially, we love you and we want to "be Anglicans" but, we intend to do it on our own terms so, whether you like it or not, we are going to decide for ourselves what it means to be Anglican and, if we feel like it, we'll let you know what we've done - - after the fact;

2) Canonical and Prayer Book revisions that remove any gender impediments to any aspect of Episcopal life and particularly access to holy orders and the episcopate (moving beyond BO33); and

3) Constitutional and Canonical revisions designed to ensure bishop and clergy compliance with the full inclusion provisions mentioned in #2.

For traditional, orthodox, Episcopalians the next ten days appear likely to very clearly reveal the permanent and very visible change of the face of The Episcopal Church. At least from the actions of the majority elected deputies to General Convention (actually, the vocal one's at this point), I see the following as a description of what The Episcopal Church is preparing to admit that it has become (and I hasten to state that I pray that I am over reacting and wrong):

First, its Mission, is no longer about telling God's story but, rather, it is about sharing and celebrating human stories (and celebrating them strictly by human standards). Stated slightly differently, The Episcopal Church seems to be less concerned about presenting God's self-revealing story as recorded in Holy Scripture and in serving as the vessel through which we, as fallen creatures, worship God and learn to live holy and godly lives and thereby become "Christ like" and worthy of God's grace and redemption. Instead, The Episcopal Church appears ready to say that it is comfortable saying that we no longer need to be worried about the redemptive power of Christ's death because God has already redeemed us; our ticket to heaven has been punched. As such, we no longer need to learn to be holy and we no longer need be bothered with Christ's Great Commission to make disciples because God loves us just as we are and only wants us to love each other and take care of our world. In short, our focus is about us and our earthly lives and not upon heavenly things and most importantly, worshipping God.
Read it all at his blog.

For the record, as bad as this is (and it's about as bad as you can get), there is a silver lining in this cloud. It is called clarity. Heresy openly declared for all the world to see and beyond any possible obfuscation is preferable to heresy that is hidden and thinly disguised just enough to keep the sheep in line. Some time ago on another blog I opined that with much (perhaps most) of the conservative wing of TEC now gone or packing their baggage there would be nothing to serve even as a speed bump for the radicals running the show. One prediction of a more specific nature was that at Gen-Con they would drive a stake through the heart of the Windsor Report which called for restraint on activities that the wider Anglican Communion was not prepared to go along with. This is going to force the issue. The rest of the AC is now going to have to decide if this is something they can live with or not.

Which is to say the slow motion train wreck that is the Anglican Communion is about to pick up pace sharply. When the dust settles I think TEC will be largely isolated from most of the rest of the Communion.

All of this of course is cold comfort for those still wandering about the ruins of what was once their spiritual home. There is nothing in the Good Book that promises our time in this world will be painless. In fact quite the contrary. We need to keep in mind the enormous pain that conservative Episcopalians are going through as they are forced to grasp what their church has become. Let us keep them in our prayers and let them know that if and when they decide (and some of them are) that it is no longer possible to remain in good conscience in an overtly heretical church, that the welcome mat is out and we are leaving the light on for them.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Quote of the day...

Jack: What we did was starting with C056 is take the second and third resolves of C056 and make the amendment the 1st and second resolve of the amended resolve. And taking from C031 the language about the legal contexts and making that the last clause of the first resolve. And then taking the first of C056 and making it the third but removing the language about inclusion in EOW--that was left open ended. We also in that 3rd resolve and 4th include the HOB theology committee to work with the SCLM and the 4th resolve is largely from C031 about the process that resolution recommended for that work to be done in

Candler: obviously we are not going to perfect anything, but let’s have some conversation’....

Hat tip T-19

From Matt Kennedy live blogging at the Episcopal Church General Convention. How he got in I don't know. Last I heard they had denied him credentials.

David Brooks on the loss of dignity

When George Washington was a young man, he copied out a list of 110 “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” Some of the rules in his list dealt with the niceties of going to a dinner party or meeting somebody on the street.

“Lean not upon anyone,” was one of the rules. “Read no letter, books or papers in company,” was another. “If any one come to speak to you while you are sitting, stand up,” was a third.

But, as the biographer Richard Brookhiser has noted, these rules, which Washington derived from a 16th-century guidebook, were not just etiquette tips. They were designed to improve inner morals by shaping the outward man. Washington took them very seriously. He worked hard to follow them. Throughout his life, he remained acutely conscious of his own rectitude.

In so doing, he turned himself into a new kind of hero. He wasn’t primarily a military hero or a political hero. As the historian Gordon Wood has written, “Washington became a great man and was acclaimed as a classical hero because of the way he conducted himself during times of temptation. It was his moral character that set him off from other men.”

Washington absorbed, and later came to personify what you might call the dignity code. The code was based on the same premise as the nation’s Constitution — that human beings are flawed creatures who live in constant peril of falling into disasters caused by their own passions. Artificial systems have to be created to balance and restrain their desires.

The dignity code commanded its followers to be disinterested — to endeavor to put national interests above personal interests. It commanded its followers to be reticent — to never degrade intimate emotions by parading them in public. It also commanded its followers to be dispassionate — to distrust rashness, zealotry, fury and political enthusiasm.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Russian Orthodox Church gets review rights over legislation

Patriarch Kirill
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill invited the United Russia deputies to his office to voice his angst over EU-backed plans to introduce sex education in Russian schools. He left the meeting with a promise from the pro-Kremlin party that he would be allowed to preview all legislation considered in the State Duma. The extraordinary agreement grants the Russian Orthodox Church a privilege not shared by any other religious community in Russia and not even afforded to the Public Chamber, the civil society advisory body that is supposed to have the right to examine pending legislation and influence its outcome.

It raises questions about separation between church and state, which is enshrined in the Constitution, and promises to raise new concerns about the growing clout of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has seen a revival since Vladimir Putin rose to power in 2000. Putin, now prime minister after eight years as president, heads United Russia. Patriarch Kirill invited two senior United Russia deputies to his office near the Christ the Savior Cathedral on Wednesday to express his worries about the Duma’s ratification of the European Social Charter on May 20. The charter, which Russia was obliged to approve as part of its membership in the Council of Europe, guarantees people’s right to housing, health, education, employment and other issues. It also requires public schools to offer sex education and member states to establish juvenile justice systems aimed at deterring minors from committing crimes — two matters that the patriarch told Deputies Andrei Isayev and Vyacheslav Volodin that he opposes strongly.

Kirill said parents should be responsible for both sex education and disciplining their children, not the government. “We told the patriarch … that the ratification of the charter won’t require any changes in Russian legislature and won’t lead to circumstances that will frighten the public,” Isayev said in a statement. At the meeting, Kirill also asked whether he could preview upcoming legislation to prevent any misunderstandings in the future, and the deputies agreed.
Read the rest here.

Scenes from the Feast of St. John Maximovitch

Here are some pictures taken during the various services commemorating the glorification of St. John in San Francisco. I actually got caught in the background of one of the photos. Click on the pics to see them full size.

(I can sort of be seen between the bishop's right shoulder and the protodeacon.)



In the lower part of the sidebar the reader will note a section I named "The Blog Yard." It's where I preserve a few of the blogs that have died off, which I felt were good enough that they deserved to be linked if only for their archives. I am pleased to report that one of those blogs appears to have risen from the grave. Eirenikon, one of the few really good blogs dedicated to East West discussion is back. The blogger being Orthodox, I have moved the link into the Orthodox blog roll.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

New York: Still trying to make California look good...

New York is still at it. That is to say they are still resolved to make California's government look rational if not positively good. Recall that back in June I took note of New York's bitterly and evenly divided state senate and how they were behaving like spoiled children. One of the major problems has been that New York's Lieutenant Governor's office has been vacant ever since then Lt Governor Paterson had to take over after Governor Eliot "Mr. Clean" Spitzer got caught renting the kind of entertainment you don't get at Blockbuster Movies. Thus there has been no tie breaking vote for the Senate.

Today Governor Paterson finally resolved this problem by appointing Mr. Richard Ravitch as the new Lt. Governor for the state. There is just one small problem. He has absolutely no authority to do that. There is no provision in the State Constitution that permits filling that office between elections. But hey, why let something petty like legality spoil the beauty of the thing?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Others mourn too

No this is not about Michael Jackson...
If Wootton Bassett had had the money to build a proposed by-pass, it would never have found a place in history. Lack of funds to divert traffic has had the unforeseen consequence of turning this otherwise obscure market town in Wiltshire into a national focus for honouring those who have given their lives in the service of their country. Twice this week – on Monday, and again on Friday – townspeople, visitors and the world's media will have gathered to watch a funeral cortege as it passes down the High Street.

The ceremony that has grown up in Wootton Bassett is as simple and moving as the coffins themselves, wrapped only in the Union flag. As the hearses approach, the tenor bell of St Bartholomew's Church begins to toll. Business stops while shoppers and shopkeepers join the crowds lining the pavement. When the cortege reaches the war memorial, the president of the British Legion says a single word – "Up" – to mark the moment when ex- and serving members of the forces should begin their salute. "Down," he says 60 seconds later, as the hearses move on.

"It is a most strange feeling," says Sally Hardy, manager of the Sue Ryder charity shop. "When the bell from the parish church starts to toll and the police stop the traffic, there is just silence. It is a very unusual thing to find in a town. Just about everybody and anybody comes out. It makes me feel there but for the grace of God go my son and daughter."

Dennis Smith, 73, an assistant at butchers K & E J Crump & Sons and a former corporal in the 5th Royal Tank Regiment, also stops serving when the coffins pass. "We all stand outside the shop and take our hats off. They come out of the pubs and stand in silence. It is a very patriotic scene. Everybody shows their appreciation of what the soldiers are doing."

In the last two years, Wootton Bassett has become a very British version of Arlington, the US cemetery where respect is paid to the fallen. No fuss. No flowers or razzmatazz. No tired old formulae of condolence dished out by the PM before the argy-bargy of Prime Minister's Questions begins. Just thousands of people, young and old, standing with lowered eyes and lumps in their throats at the thought of yet more young lives ended in a distant land.
Read the rest here.

Sometimes I think we Americans need to be reminded that we are not alone in the world and our soldiers are fighting and dying with comrades at their side from other countries.

A Western Rite Discussion

Some Ochlophobic ruminations on the Western Rite with my comment here.

Please leave comments there.

Michael Jackson: Pagan idolatry is alive and well

A golden casket and wall to wall coverage that exceeds that accorded the death of presidents, so what's missing? The only thing I can think of is a pyramid for a tomb. But then Forest Lawn cemetery has a reputation as a sort of modern day Valley of the Kings.

Break out the popcorn

Last week was busy. There was the parish fireworks sale (I am cautiously optimistic about how we did), and the trip to San Francisco. By time I got home Sunday after church and tearing down the fireworks stand I was really tired. So here I was sitting at home today after the busiest week in a while... and I was bored. Then I checked my usual sources for information on what's going on in the world, and I discover that my boredom is to be short lived.

Mid-summer entertainment is on the horizon, courtesy of The Episcopal Church.

Yes, that's right. TEC is getting ready to hold their every several years General Convention. And this year it should be more entertaining than watching those late night chiller movies we all loved as kids. You know the kind I am talking about. Where the creature comes out of the mist and creeps up on its intended victim.

With the departure of a sizable block of what was left of the Christian wing from TEC over the last couple of years, there is very little left in the way of a loyal opposition to the liberals. Of course the liturgical Unitarians already dominated the church once referred to as "the Republican Party at prayer." (Proof that God, while not a Republican, does have a sense of humor.) There are rumors flying that GenCon will drive a stake through the heart of the Anglican Communion wide moratorium on consecrating gay bishops and same sex marriages. This should have the effect of forcing everyone in the AC to choose sides once and for all. Indeed, with nothing left to slow down the "progressives" beyond their own self restraint, one can easily imagine the near endless possibilities for theological knavery.

With no other comparable entertainment, I guess its time to break out the popcorn and soda, lean back in the easy chair and wait to see what form the monster in the mist will take.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The service on the 15th anniversary of the glorification of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco

Video of parts of the liturgy on Saturday July 4th. There is also a close up of St. John's relics.

Hat tip to ROCOR UNITED.

The Incorrupt Relics of St. John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San Francisco

I was asked in a previous post about the relics of St. John (+1966) with specific reference to their being "incorrupt." Unfortunatly I did not take any pictures during my recent pilgrimage. This was more of a personal spiritual trip than sightseeing. The next time I go I will try and take some photos. However I did a quick google search and found several photos of St. John's relics.

The top one was taken some years ago during the transfer of his relics into a new coffin after his old one had rotted away. The middle photo is of his relics in their usual shrine in the right side of the Cathedral. And the last Picture is of him lying in repose looking towards his face (which in keeping with Orthodox custom is veiled). I can confirm that these photos were substantially what I saw in San Francisco last Friday.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Feast of the Holy Royal Martyrs of Russia

Sometimes it's easy to forget that saints were real people.

Holy Royal Martyrs of Russia
pray for us!

I'm back

I have just returned from a one day pilgrimage to the relics of my namesake, St. John Maximovitch, in San Francisco. While there I had the opportunity to venerate his holy and incorrupt relics, take confession (along with hundreds of other pilgrims) and attend the all night vigil in the Cathedral of The Virgin Mary Joy of All Who Sorrow. The experience was profoundly edifying and frankly one of the most emotional since my reception into the Orthodox Church.

I added my own contribution to the sea of candles burning before the relics of St. John for innumerable family (both blood and spiritual), friends and those who have touched my life in so many positive ways. Thank you to everyone for being there in the good times and not so good.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Antiochian Archdiocese: It's getting ugly

I am not under the Antiochian jurisdiction. As such I am profoundly reluctant to throw stones in what some might argue is not my fight. However I AM an Orthodox Christian who cares deeply about the Church as a whole. And I recognize that more than any other jurisdiction excepting perhaps the OCA; the Antiochian Archdiocese has been and is going to continue to be an integral part of what will eventually be a unified local North American Orthodox Church. Thus while the scandal now gripping it affects all Orthodox everywhere, it is felt most keenly here in the United States.

When a close personal friend and honorary Trustee of the Archdiocese sends vulgar and menacing emails on your behalf to Orthodox laymen, clergy and even bishops, that's not what I would call a good character reference. When said Trustee is also a gentleman with well documented connections to large scale narcotics and weapons trafficking then it is time for serious questions to be asked. And this time executive privilege will not fly. I don't care that Met. +Phillip is a Metropolitan. I frankly would not care if he were the Patriarch. Extremely serious allegations have been made and silence, under whatever pretext, is not an acceptable response.

The details of the most recent chapter in the ongoing scandal in the Antiochian Archdiocese (AOANA) are up over at ocanews.org and also the Ochlophobist has more on Metropolitan +Phillip's latest champion, Walid Khalife. The situation is starting to sound like an episode of the Sopranos with critics of the Metropolitan receiving very threatening communications from a man with simultaneously close ties to +Phillip and organized crime. I am not going to rehash the details of what has been posted at the two linked sites. But I do strongly recommend reading both posts.

So where are we? We have a Metropolitan who has refused an independent audit of the Archdiocese's funds since forever, who has been living a lavish lifestyle, who has been implicated in the forging of Patriarchal documents, whose supporters have used wholly deceptive means in an attempt to subvert the canons of the Church and reduce in dignity lawfully elected and installed diocesan bishops, whose supporters have further been implicated in the forging of Synodal and Patriarchal documents already alluded to, and who now has mobbed up "Trustees" trying to muscle his critics.


Metropolitan +Phillip has been accused of things that in another day and age would have seen a bishop run out of town one step ahead of the angry crowd with pitchforks and torches. The Metropolitan must summon an emergency and open meeting of the Archdiocesan Synod and answer these (among many other) allegations for as long as it takes to satisfy everyone that he is and has been on the up and up. A forensic audit of the AOANA’s finances must be conducted. The ranks of its Trustees, honorary or otherwise, must be purged of gangsters and persons of similarly questionable backgrounds.

If he can not do this then he has forfeited any claim to obedience that might enjoin the other bishops and clergy in the AOANA. If he defies the faithful of the Antiochian Archdiocese and refuses to answer these very serious charges the bishops and clergy of the AOANA should cease to commemorate him and demand that he be deposed. The offense of forging Patriarchal and Synodal documents alone warrants excommunication.

Insured But Bankrupt Anyway

The New York Times is reporting that huge numbers of people who are facing bankruptcy over medical bills actually had insurance. This should not come as any particular surprise. There are a number of factors which contribute to the high rate of bankruptcies associated with medical bills. One is indeed a lack of health insurance on the part of a large number of Americans. This is a serious problem and one that needs to be addressed. But it is not the subject of my post.

The crux of the problem is that most Americans don't understand medical insurance, including what it is for. If you ask the average American if he files a claim against his car insurance when he has a flat tire or needs a routine oil change he would laugh at you. Likewise presumably most of us don't file a claim against our home insurance when the toilet backs up. We may swear a little as we run for the plunger, but we deal with it ourselves.

That's because we understand that our car insurance and homeowners insurance is for serious emergencies. A collision or fire or some other event that inflicts a high dollar bill on us. Why then do Americans feel that we need to call our insurance company to deal with routine maintenance or minor dings on... US?

Large numbers of people who have insurance either from work or purchased on their own tend to look for policies that will provide some coverage for routine medical expenses like the occasional doctors visit or a possible trip to the ER because someone gets stupid with a hammer and smashes a couple of fingers (been there and done that). But these same policies usually leave the buyer inadequately insured against the real danger to their finances and health.

That is not the flue or the measles or a smashed finger. It is the catastrophic medical crisis.

Being honest, most Americans who are stably employed could cover routine medical bills themselves if they set aside a little money in a rainy day fund. If you have around $5-10,000 in a bank account somewhere that is understood to be untouchable except for medical expenses then the average family could get the insurance they really need, which is major medical.

The vast majority of insurance policies held by Americans provide some coverage for the routine things and also some coverage for hospitalization and emergency medical care, a lot of which is unnecessary and merely adds to the cost of the policy. The only two things most Americans need to pay attention to on their insurance policy is the percentage of major medical expenses covered (hospitalization etc.) and total maximum lifetime payout amount.

The typical policy today covers around 70-80% of hospitalization bills. But that is frankly inadequate. The bare minimum needed to protect yourself from potential financial ruin is 100% coverage for major medical with a lifetime payout maximum of at least $3 million.

Consider a case from my own family. On March 30th of this year my step-mother collapsed while visiting her natural son in Florida. She was taken by ambulance to the local hospital which quickly diagnosed a massive stroke. Following protocols she was airlifted to a nearby regional medical center which specializes in neuro-medicine. She had emergency brain surgery performed on her that night. She spent the next 3 weeks in intensive care. And she is STILL in the hospital today, though not in ICU. I don’t know what her medical bills are but I would be surprised if they were not well north of a million dollars. Fortunately for her she is a retired teacher with excellent health benefits.

But a person whose insurance covers routine doctors visits but only 70-80% of hospitalization would be wiped out by this kind of event. Far too many Americans base their insurance needs on covering small minor expenses without considering what would happen if there were a serious medical crisis with very steep bills.

I can cover a few thousand dollars in bills from a quick trip to the ER if I needed to or even could arrange a payment plan if I was short on cash. But a high five or six figure medical bill would I suspect push me and most ordinary Americans over the financial cliff.

I believe the solution is for Americans to steer clear of the types of insurance that are most common today. They should save $5-$10k (depending on family situation) to cover ordinary expenses and low level medical emergencies. If the money is not needed then they are ahead of the game with money stashed and collecting interest. They should then purchase a major medical policy that will insure excellent care and protect them from financial ruin in the event of an extreme medical crisis. These policies are offered by most insurance companies with high deductibles of $3000 to $5000 (again you pay for the routine things) but they cover 100% after the deductible. They also have the added advantage of being generally less expensive than the ‘cover a little of everything’ policies most people buy because the insurance companies know they are not likely to have to pay out.

If many Americans are being bankrupted by staggering medical bills, I suspect it is in part a result of poor planning and bad spending habits.

In fairness many, indeed probably most Americans get their insurance from their employer. In some cases they have no real choice in polices and employer offered medical insurance rarely covers more than 80% of hospital bills these days.

In these cases the individual needs to consider his/her options.

There are essentially two ways to deal with the inadequate major medical coverage typical of employer provided insurance. The first is to opt out of the employer provided plan and buy the major medical policy on their own. The second, and usually the better choice, is to purchase a supplemental policy solely to cover any major medical expenses not covered by the employer’s insurance. As with catastrophic health plans, these policies are available from many providers and are usually quite inexpensive since they would only kick in in the event of a catastrophic medical crisis and then only to cover the 20-30% not covered by the employer provided policy.

But again for the math challenged, 20-30% of a six or seven figure medical bill is pretty substantial. A lot of families could not cover that on their own.