Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Metropolitan gives advice to the young - and food for thought for all at the turning of the year

I found this meditation by a Ukrainian Metropolitan online. Regardless of our state in life (or age) this reflection should provide moments of penitent reflection for all. Especially as many consider "resolutions" for the new year, would we not all benefit from repentance over our sins and a true commitment to living the Christian life of love, charity, and virtue in the upcoming year?

Metropolitan Anthony (Krapovitsky) of Kiev

Ask the person confessing whether his conscience does not accuse him either of some crude outrage or insult against his parents or else of constantly offending them in small ways. Let him not think that this is an everyday triviality in family life. The Lord said to Moses, "He that curses his father or mother shall surely be put to death" (Ex. 21:16). This death sentence for one who reviles his parents is confirmed by the Saviour as being a commandment of God (Mt. 15:4; Mk. 7:10), although not in the sense of a criminal law concerning the death penalty, but in the sense that it is a mortal sin. This then is what the priest should say to an adolescent who is guilty of this: "When you grow older and, perhaps, bury your parents, then, believe me, on remembering such occasions, even while by yourself, you will blush from shame right up to your ears and wring your hands, wishing in vain to make amends for the sin which now seems so insignificant to you. For, although you cannot understand it now, when an insolent son or daughter grieves his loving parents with malicious words or rude disobedience, it is like thrusting a sharp knife into their breasts. You will understand this when you have your own children, but then in all probability it will be too late to wipe out your guilt before your deceased parents." The same thing, or nearly so, is experienced by teachers when their pupils are insolent to them; as a result of this, many become embittered and the sacred task of teaching becomes a torment both for the teachers and for the pupils. However, it is much easier for the latter to change this situation for the better, than it is for the former.

Guided by the desire to awaken or strengthen in the penitent a feeling of his guilt before God, put questions to him about which he probably does not think, but which reveal the wounds of his soul to him. To this end it is more profitable not to continue your questions in the accepted order of sins against God, against one's neighbour and then against oneself, but rather to ask them in the order which is most likely to awaken his conscience. You see, our contemporary flock has almost forgotten about its direct relationship to God. What sense is there in asking a person about going to church regularly or attention to prayer if he forgot the way to God's church years ago, and never so much as makes the sign of the cross in the morning or in the evening? "I am not used to praying," such people boldly answer, "but I live honorably and do no harm to anyone; but there are many who pray to God and devour people." If a spiritual father has managed to dislodge a sinner from such a self-satisfied position by using the basic questions we have indicated above, then let him thank God. However, it is still useful to continue asking questions in the same order, according to the degree in which the conscience of contemporary people is sensitive to them" i.e., first ask about sins against one's neighbour, then about sins against the Person of God and finally about sins which derange the inner life of the sinner himself.

And so, if a Christian thinks that he has never offended his neighbour, tell him: "That is good, but we must understand "offense" not only in the sense of what makes a person angry, but even more in the sense of what causes him harm. Thieves are strictly punished by the law and despised by people, but man has pleasures that are far more significant than money or things" his soul and his purity. Have you advised people to do anything evil or depraved? Have you made fun of any one's chastity or modesty, or of their obedience to their elders, their honesty at work or in their studies? When young people lose their innocence, modesty and obedience to their parents and even their honesty, it is always under the influence of bad examples and evil advice, but those who have turned them away from the good path entirely forget about them and about the evil they have done to them. They have sinned terribly before God, far worse than thieves and robbers. But far more criminal are those who, not content with giving treacherous advice when they are asked, also make efforts on their own initiative, sometimes over a considerable period of time, to lure an innocent person into a sin from which he will probably not be able to free himself for a long time, or even for his whole life. How many such tempters there are in any school, who will not be content until they have dragged their comrade into a public house or acquainted him with corrupt people. Nevertheless, who does not know Christ's words: "Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." (Mt. 18:6)? So, haven't you committed this sin? Have you purposely sowed the seeds of doubt in your neighbor's heart? Have you made fun of his piety? Have you driven him away from prayer and church? Have you sowed the seeds of discord between brothers, between husband and wife, between co-workers or comrades? All those who do things like this will understand how far from the truth is the prejudice that has long been commonplace in society" that prayer and religion in general are the helpers and servants of the devil. The devil acquires great power over them, since they have surrendered themselves to his will. The same fate awaits those who sin by slandering their neighbour, either in conversation or in print; it also awaits those who condemn their neighbours without being sure that they are guilty of anything.

Perhaps you have no opportunity to tempt or grieve your neighbor or lead him into disaster, and do not even wish to do so, but nevertheless, if you find out that some misfortune has befallen him, you glory over it rather than feel compassion for him. If this is so, see how black your soul is, and what a dangerous path you are on, for the Scriptures say that "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer" (1 John 3:15). But you are not guilty of this, glory to God. However, are you not given up to remembrance of wrongs, even if it is not expressed as a desire for revenge? According to the words of our Lord, this makes your prayers quite worthless, and shows that your heart is filled with great self-love and self-justification. You are guilty of the same thing if you have the spirit of disobedience in the family, at school or at work; if you fulfill your obligations only when you can be made to answer for them and find satisfaction in doing something your own way. It was through this disobedience that sin came into the world, and it is precisely from this that criminals begin their sinful exploits" guided always by the spirit of self-justification. This demonic spirit leads them through the following steps: disobedience, laziness, deception, outrages against their parents, seeking sensual enjoyment, theft, rejecting the fear of God, leaving their father's house, robbery and murder and denial of the faith itself. When the person confessing hangs down his head, and you hear the voice of penitence in his speech and also that he is frightened by his sins, then tell him that these evil feelings of disobedience and especially of remembering wrongs and gloating over others misfortunes, grow up in a soul which likes to condemn everyone. This is sinful because a feeling of pleasure at others shortcomings always develops together with the habit of judging people without need. After this comes the desire not to recognize anything good in them, and this is already near to gloating over their misfortunes and even nearer to remembering wrongs. In secular or worldly society all this is considered praiseworthy " people openly make fun of obedience, or even become indignant at the very mention of it, expecting, on the contrary, that every subordinate, every soldier, workman, official and especially every professor should demand freedom upon freedom. This is expected especially of students and even of school boys. This spirit has even moved into the country and the parish, and even into the family, where only a strong paternal hand and the threat of being thrown out or of hunger can uphold that small amount of order that is left, which still protects the home from destruction. The last two years have shown where this foul teaching of self-will has led. Not to mention the fact that people have become villains almost to a man, they are also dying of starvation, going about in ragged clothes, are deprived of the possibility of studying and communicating with each other by letter " in a word, they have returned to the state of savages. How, through what struggle did our Saviour lead people out of their former life and make them righteous and intelligent? Through obedience! Through the obedience of one, many were justified.And even up to our days the highest form of piety, monasticism, consists primarily of obedience.

And so, young Christian, the priest will say, if you wish to be a good, intelligent person and not just a stupid sheep, another member of the flock, then do not agree with the crowd of your contemporaries who are perishing spiritually and physically, do not go by the path of self-will, but by the path of obedience.

Only then will you be a person; then, perhaps, of your many comrades you alone will not be a syphilitic at the end of your studies, will preserve your faith and your heart uncoarsened; truthful in word and honorable in soul, you will not be battered and storm-beaten like a weather vane, as are the majority of our contemporaries. But now you must know that, as you have admitted, you have already sinned much against God, and I am glad to see that you are filled with grief at the picture of your not insignificant sins, which have now been revealed to you and about which you probably did not even think previously.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Psalms – Comfort and Challenge in Hard Times

It is almost clichéd to the point of triteness to say that the recent past has been a season of fear, uncertainty and confusion. The world seems to be crumbling day by day into an economic crisis the likes of which have not been seen since the 1930’s. In such anxious times, the need to find perspective and spiritual focus, while perhaps no greater than in times of luxury and earthly peace, is at least more apparent. Fear over declining finances strips away the false faces of fashion, the immodesty of obsession with ‘taste’ and preference, and the scandalous delusion of self-sufficiency. The precariousness of societal instability inevitably leads to the recognition that only inner spiritual strength can provide the means to tread forward through this vale of fears.

It is therefore worthy to become reacquainted with the Psalter. The Psalms have been central to Christian worship and prayer since the time of our Lord and the Apostles. This may strike one as odd, given that the Psalms are hymns and reflections firmly rooted in the liturgical life of the Jewish Temple. Yet, the Church appropriated the Psalms as prototypical sources of spiritual nourishment from the beginning. Until a hundred years or so ago priests and Monastics of all the Churches of Apostolic origin were required to read the entire Psalter every week. Even today, the Psalms form the backbone of the Roman Church’s Liturgy of the Hours.

In the Byzantine Tradition, while much of the actual recitation of the Psalter on a weekly basis has given way to only chanting the troparia and other hymns that once functioned as spiritual reflections and elaboration, references and allusions to the Psalter still permeate the hymns and common texts of the Divine Liturgy and other services. And in a welcome advancement, many Byzantine Christians and others recently have turned again to include the recitation of the Psalter as a constituent part of their daily devotions. This is a highly commendable development.

Our Lord frequently quoted the Psalms, and the Apostles came to understand that these millennia-old hymns reveal essential insights into the human condition and man’s relationship with God. The Psalms speak of devotion to God, fear of enemies, sorrow for sin, humble acceptance of God’s justice, and longing to understand in times of confusion and doubt. These are universal themes of human existence. By meditating on the Psalms the Christian finds continuity between his own experiences and those of the shepherd tending his sheep four millennia ago.

Over the years, your rambling host has found the Psalter an inexhaustible and indispensable source of spiritual strength. Having used different versions and several different methods, I have witnessed that my devotions and confidence in God’s mercy and protection can only be sustained through close contact with the Psalms. They are at once intimately personal and concretely universal, providing comfort and challenge to live a more Christian life.

In this light, I recommend two resources that have recently proven most valuable to me. The first is The Psalter According to the Seventy, published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery Press. HTM is a traditionalist monastic community in Brookline, Massachusetts. The monks have been engaged in a now decades-long task of translating the entire corpus of Byzantine hymnody and service materials into English. Their aim has been accuracy and attention to the need for chantability. While the language is “classical”, which may not speak to everyone, their works will long be remembered as foundational in the history of Byzantine Christianity in the English speaking world.

The Psalter According to the Seventy is beautifully printed and bound in two editions; a large print edition suitable for the psalterion, and a ‘pocket size’ edition perfect for personal use. The large edition includes the traditional Byzantine Scriptural canticles. The pocket edition features end notes explaining the Kathisma system for weekly recitation.

The second resource is the translation of the Psalter Translated from the Greek Septuagint by Baron Jose De Vinck. This nicely-bound edition follows the artistic format of Byzantine Daily Worship; the translation being an elegant contemporary English, without the use of jargon. For those in the Melkite Tradition, the translation has the benefit of being familiar due to its inclusion in Byzantine Daily Worship. The only drawbacks are the exclusion of Psalm 151, the use of ‘double numbering’ when the division differs between the Greek and the Masoretic versions, and the lack of noting the Kathismata divisions. Nonetheless, while it is often hard to find, this edition is well worth the effort.

For those who prefer to utilize their time in the car for spiritual reflection, there are also two versions of the Psalms available for careful drivers. The first is an intoned reading by one of the monks of the Hermitage of the Holy Cross simply entitled The Psalter, utilizing the aforementioned Holy Transfiguration edition. This version has the benefit of being divided into the Kathismata, allowing one to program the particular Kathisma or Kathismata for a given day and time-period.

The second version uses the King James Version of the Psalter and is recited by Alex Jennings entitled The Psalms and available from Naxos. This version is beautifully read by Mr Jennings, an accomplished Shakespearean actor, and brings out the drama and pathos in the readings. Here and there, short pieces of classical or choral music punctuate the readings.

As both of these versions utilize translations in "classical" ("Church") English, the listener who finds "Thou shalt make me to lie down in green pastures" an awkward phrasing may not benefit from them. Others will find either edition worth using as an aid to devotion and reflection. Those wishing for a version that easily allows for listening according to the days and times of the Byzantine tradition will prefer the Holy Cross Psalter. Those preferring a more nuanced reading will prefer Jennings.

Whatever version or edition one chooses, the Psalter - prayed daily - will reward the seeker with deeper spiritual insights, greater appreciation of the universality of human nature, and a renewed sense of confidence in facing the vicissitudes of life. The words of the psalmist will seep into the heart, and references and allusions in the Liturgy will becoming striking both during the Divine Service and during the psalm reading. Slowly but surely, one will find one's layers of would-be and want-to-be falsehoods flaking away as the person God created and loves come more clearly into view. At the same time, knowledge and, more importantly, intimate acquaintance with God is fostered through these timeless meditations.

For true inspiration in these troubled and confused times, make the Psalter a priority on your reading and devotional list.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Benedict on Original Sin

Sandro Magister reports on Pope Benedict's recent teachings on Original Sin. The Eastern Churches have always viewed Original Sin in different terms than the Roman Church. Indeed, it has been a topic of much polimical debate - although I have always found a congruence between the two understandings, which the Holy Father seems to balance in his catechesis. It will be interesting to see the reactions to his teachings from the various proponents of the differing interpretations.

Here is a snippet...

God created everything for existence, and in particular he created the human being in his own image; he did not create death, but this entered the world through the envy of the devil, who, rebelling against God, also drew men into deceit, inducing them to rebel (cf. Wis. 1:13-14; 2:23-24). This is the drama of freedom, which God accepts completely for the sake of love, while promising that there will be a son of woman who will crush the head of the ancient serpent (Gn. 3:15).
For the rest, go here.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI's Condolences for Death of Patriarch Alexis II

VATICAN CITY, 5 DEC 2008 (VIS) - Benedict XVI has sent a telegram of condolence to the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church for the death of His Holiness Alexis II, Patriarch of Moscow and All the Russias.

"I was profoundly saddened to receive news of the death of His Holiness Alexis II, Patriarch of Moscow and of All the Russias, and with fraternal affection I wish to convey to the Holy Synod and to all the members of the Russian Orthodox Church my most sincere condolences, assuring you of my spiritual closeness at this very sad time. In my prayer I beseech the Lord to welcome into His Kingdom of eternal peace and joy this tireless servant, and to grant consolation and comfort to all those who mourn his passing, Mindful of the common commitment to the path of mutual understanding and co-operation between Orthodox and Catholics, I am pleased to recall the efforts of the late Patriarch for the rebirth of the Church, after the severe ideological oppression which led to the martyrdom of so many witnesses to the Christian faith. I also recall his courageous battle for the defence of human and gospel values, especially in the European continent, and I trust his commitment will bear fruit in peace and genuine progress, human, social and spiritual. At this sad time of loss, as his mortal remains are consigned to the earth in the sure hope of the resurrection, may the memory of this servant of Gospel of Christ be a support for those who are now in sorrow and an encouragement for those who will benefit from his spiritual legacy as leader of the venerable Russian Orthodox Church".

For his part, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has issued a note expressing his own sadness at the death of the patriarch, who "was called to guide the Russian Orthodox Church in a period of great change. ... His leadership has enabled that Church to face the challenges of transition from the Soviet era to the present with renewed interior vitality".

The cardinal recalls his "many meeting with His Holiness, who always made a point of expressing his goodwill towards the Holy Father and his desire to strengthen collaboration with the Catholic Church. His personal commitment to improving relations with the Catholic Church, in spite of the difficulties and tensions which from time to time have emerged, has never been in doubt".


Memory Eternal

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Alexy II dies

Associated Press Writer

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II, who presided over a vast post-Soviet revival of faith but was accused of making the church a force for nationalism, died Friday at age 79, the church headquarters said.

The Moscow Patriarchate said he died at his residence outside Moscow, but did not give a cause of death. Alexy had long suffered from a heart ailment.

Alexy became leader of the church in 1990, as the officially atheist Soviet Union was loosening its restrictions on religion. After the Soviet Union collapsed the following year, the church's popularity surged. Church domes that had been stripped of their gold under the Soviets were regilded, churches that had been converted into warehouses or left to rot in neglect were painstakingly restored and hours-long Masses on major religious holidays were broadcast live on national television.

By the time of Alexy's death, the church's flock was estimated to include about two-thirds of Russia's 142 million people, making it the world's largest Orthodox church.

But Alexy often complained that Russia's new religious freedom put the church under severe pressure and he bitterly resented what he said were attempts by other Christian churches to poach adherents among people who he said should have belonged to the Orthodox church.

These complaints focused on the Roman Catholic Church, and Alexy refused to agree to a papal visit to Russia unless the proselytization issue was resolved.

"Patriarch Alexy II was tasked with leading the Church at a time of great transformation," the secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Monsignor Brian Farrell, told the ANSA news agency. "He was able to carry out this task with a great sense of responsibility and love of the Russian tradition."

Alexy lived long enough to see another major religious dispute resolved. In 2007, he signed a pact with Metropolitan Laurus, the leader of the breakaway Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, to bring the churches closer together. The U.S.-based ROCOR had split off in 1927, after the Moscow church's leader declared loyalty to the Communist government.

Alexy successfully lobbied for the 1997 passage of a religion law that places restrictions on the activities of religions other than Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. Under his leadership, the church also vehemently opposed schismatic Orthodox churches in neighboring Ukraine, claiming the Ukrainian church should remain under Moscow's control.

He was born Alexei Mikhailovich Ridiger on Feb. 23, 1929 in Tallinn, Estonia. The son of a priest, Alexy often accompanied his parents on pilgrimages to churches and monasteries, and he helped his father minister to prisoners in Nazi concentration camps in Estonia. It was during those visits that Alexy decided to pursue a religious life.

Under Soviet rule, this was not an easy choice. Lenin and Stalin suppressed religion and thousands of churches were destroyed or converted to other uses, such as museums devoted to atheism or, in some cases, stables. Many priests and parishioners were persecuted for their beliefs.

The persecution eased somewhat during World War II, when Stalin discovered that the church could be used as a propaganda tool in the fight against the Nazis. But the Soviet authorities never fully loosened their grip, penetrating the church at the highest levels.

Alexy was ordained in 1950, progressed through the Orthodox hierarchy, and was consecrated Bishop of Tallinn and Estonia in 1961.

The British-based Keston Institute, which monitors religious freedom in former Communist countries, has cited research suggesting that Alexy's career may have been aided by assistance he gave the KGB while a young priest in Tallinn. Orthodox Church officials vehemently denied the allegations.


Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II died

05.12.2008, 13.11

MOSCOW, December 5 (Itar-Tass) -- Tolling of bells in the bell-towers of Moscow City's 600 or so churches has officially announced to the lay the passing away of the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, His Holiness Alexy II.

The bells were tolled in strict comformity with the regulations the canon of the Russian Orthodox Church envisions for such cases.

Patriarch Alexy II took office in 1990, when resurrection of the Church and spiritual life in Russia was just at the beginning. During his stay at the helm of Moscow Patriarchate, this country has seen a de fact rebirth of the Orthodox Christian faith, as thousands of churches and monasteries were restored from complete decay or built anew, millions of people got baptized and the Church re-emerged as a full-fledged social and juridical organization.

He died at the age of 79 Friday morning at this residence in Peredelkino, to the southwest of Moscow. According to medical reports, he suffered from a number of chronic illnesses.


Head of Russian Orthodox Church Dies at 79

5 December 2008, Friday

Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexy II, died at his home outside Moscow on Friday at the age of 79, the church reported.

"This is an irretrievable loss for all Russian Orthodox people, wherever they live," speaker of the upper house of the parliament, Sergei Mironov, declared.

Patriarch Alexy II was an establishment figure who restored the authority of the church after decades of Soviet repression and had been a moral authority among millions of Russian believers.

The patriarch had led the world's biggest Orthodox church since 1990.

and also

Russian Orthodox Church leader Alexy II dies

05/12/2008 12:57 MOSCOW, December 5 (RIA Novosti) - Russian Patriarch Alexy II, who led the Orthodox Church for almost 20 years, died at the age of 79 in his residency near the Russian capital on Friday morning, a Moscow Patriarchy official said.

The cause of death has not been reported, but the patriarch was known to have suffered from heart disease.

On Thursday evening, Alexy II held a church service in one of Moscow's central cathedrals to mark a major religious holiday.

The church's ruling body, the Holy Synod, is due to gather for an urgent meeting in Moscow on Saturday following the patriarch's death.

Alexy II suffered a severe stroke in 2002. In April 2007, media reports said he was in a Swiss clinic in a serious condition or even dead. Church officials then confirmed the patriarch had undergone medical treatment in Switzerland, but denied the seriousness of his condition.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Report on St Philip's Fast

Hat tip to Josephus Flavius for this article on St Philip's Fast. The original link is here.

I'm only giving a few snippets from Josephus' coverage so you will check out his blog - always a good read. Note his citations of emphasis.

11/18/2008 (The Bulletin) - In a few short days most Americans will be sitting down to a sumptuous dinner. In most cases that includes turkey, dressing, special potatoes, cranberry sauce and so on. However, there is a minority of Orthodox and Greek Catholic Christians whose food these days consists of no meat, no eggs no dairy products. Dining this past Sunday with Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Cyril Bustros at Holy Transfiguration Church in McLean, Va., we enjoyed some salmon on rice with special potatoes, kibbe, with raw fruits and vegetables. On a week day we would only be permitted shellfish.

Why the fast now? Christmas, when God became man, is one of the two most important feasts of the Church. Christmas is the only feast which originated in the West and was adopted in the East. All of the other feasts originated in the East and was adopted by the West.

The Jesus Prayer

Иисycoва молитва-The Jesus Prayer

Found quite by accident.

The Jesus Prayer is the epitome of Byzantine contemplative prayer.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

On the Suffering of Palestinian Christians

From comes this important report on the suffering of Palestinian Christians. In the US, the word "Palestinian" is often synonymous with "muslim" and, until 9-11, "terrorist". In fact, some Palestinians are Orthodox Christians and Greek Catholic Christians. (Remember Sayidna Elias Zoghby of blessed memory.)

Palestinian Christians Suffering ‘Severe Blows’ From Muslims, Muslim Says
Friday, November 14, 2008
By Julie Stahl

Manger Square in the West Bank City of Bethlehem. (Photo by Julie Stahl/
Jerusalem ( – Palestinian Christians are suffering “severe blows” at the hands of Muslims, a Palestinian wrote in an exceptionally candid column about the situation of Christians in Arab countries.

“Let us be honest with ourselves and courageously say out loud that Palestinian Christians are taking many severe blows, yet are suffering in silence so as not to attract attention,” wrote Abd Al-Nasser Al-Najjar in the P.A. daily Al-Ayyam. (A translation was provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute this week.)

Muslims and most Christians in Palestinian areas tell journalists that they are all Palestinians. Publicly, they usually deny that there are any problems or differences between them. They say that they get along fine and the main problem is the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank.

Privately, however, some Christians admit to job losses, land seizures, attacks on churches, intimidation, torture, beatings, kidnappings, forced marriage and sexual harassment of Christian women. Some Christians have been killed.

But examples of inter-religious tension rarely make it into the Palestinian or Arab media.

In his column on October 25, Al-Najjar, who is himself a Muslim and a regular contributor to the official P.A. newspaper, criticized the Muslim persecution of Christians in Arab countries, particularly in Palestinian Authority-administered areas.

Al-Najjar said Christians are suffering, not because of the Israeli “occupation” but because of the confiscation of Christian property, especially in theWest Bank cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Al-Birah.

What makes the situation worse is that those who are plundering the property of Christians are either powerful themselves, or they are backed by powerful people, including “high-ranking military officials or influential members of large clans,” he wrote.

Attempts by political leaders or the judiciary system to rectify the situation have failed, Al-Najjar said.

“Over the past few years, several of my Christian friends have told me of the harm they have suffered, including various threats, even death threats, for trying to gain access to their lands after they were taken over by influential Bethlehem residents.

“Furthermore, there has been an attempt to marginalize Christian culture in Palestine, even though it is rich and deeply rooted [there]. This began with [accusations] of unbelief [against Christians] -- a move that ultimately harmed Palestinian society as a whole,” Al-Najjar wrote.

Despite the injustices against Christians, no one in the government, non-government organizations or political factions has taken constructive action to stop it or to defend the Christians, he said.

Such action should have been forthcoming, “not out of kindness and compassion” but because Palestinian Christians are indigenous to the land and “no different from us, with the same rights and obligations” as Muslims.

“We continue to instill a horrific culture in our children, one that sees Christians as infidels,” Al-Najjar wrote. He called for a “national awakening” to restore the rights of the Christians and preserve the “demographic balance.”

Tens of thousands of Arab Christians have fled the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the years. In Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, the Christian exodus has been most acute. In 1990, 60 percent of the population there was Christian. Today, some estimates say 20 percent or less of the city’s population is Christian. Only 1.5 percent of the population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is Christian.

“[Let us] remember that the tribes of Arabia were Christian. The best writers and poets were Christian, as were [many] warriors and philosophers... It is they who bore the banner of pan-Arabism. The first Palestinian university was established by Christians.

Al-Najjar called for tyrannical rulers to be presented with “progressive attitudes” and “truth” – “so that clerics and old men will not be the only Christians left in the Holy Land and in the city of [Jesus'] birth.”

Al-Najjar also mentioned recent attacks on Christians in Iraq, many of whom have been forced to flee after a series of killings over the last several months. Hundreds of thousands of Christians are estimated to have fled the country since the U.S.-led military invasion in 2003.

Just this week, two Christian sisters were murdered by gunmen identified as Islamic extremists in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

“Christians are being persecuted not only in Iraq, but in most Arab countries, regardless of their numbers there. They are subjected to every possible kind of discrimination, as well as expulsion,” Al-Najjar wrote.

Not only do Arab officials remain silent but so do Arab intellectuals, elites, non-government organizations and private sector leaders, he wrote. He also mentioned Egypt, Lebanon and Algeria as countries with the same “rampant” anti-Christian problem.

Al-Najjar’s assessment of the situation is backed up by the State Department’s 2008 International Religious Freedom Report.

In Algeria, government respect for religious freedom has declined, the U.S. says. “There were many claims of government restrictions on worship, including the arrest and sentencing of converts to Christianity, ordered closure of churches, the dismissal of a Christian school director for allegedly using a school for evangelizing, and confiscation of Bibles,” the report said.

In Egypt, respect for religious freedom also has declined, amid violent incidents and attacks on Christian institutions, the report said.

In Lebanon, the report noted that over the past 60 years, “there has been a steady decline in the number of Christians as compared to Muslims, mostly due to the emigration of large numbers of Maronite Christians and a higher than average birth rate among the Muslim population.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Stability in a World Out of Control

What follows is a reflection I have submitted to the local newspaper. I have no idea whether they will print it.

It seems the world is out of control. We find ourselves living days of ever mounting anxiety as we read of terrorists, wars, diseases, economic panics, and worries that the earth itself faces ecological disaster. When we look to our society, it seems rudderless. Everywhere there is the sense that institutions, long the bulwarks of order and stability, are failing. The buzzwords of the day are ‘collapse’, ‘decline’, ‘uncertainty’ and ‘fear’. It is not just that we have come to fear the stranger; we seem to have become strangers to ourselves.

Our fears are not groundless. We have gloried in our technological and societal accomplishments and, as if embracing Wittgenstein’s image of casting down the ladder, our society has turned away from all the old ‘superstitions’ and ‘ignorant ways’ of history. Instead, we attempt to build a new society based on vague egalitarian principles. Science, which in its essence is no more than an empirical process to advance a technological end, has come to supplant the roles of ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics and theology. Because these disciplines refuse to be restricted to the vocabulary of Science, they are charged with ‘meaninglessness’ rather than exposing the limitations of scientific methodology. And yet, we sense the gnawing feeling that the promise of Science to provide us all the answers is itself empty and lifeless.

“Trust ye not in princes, in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return unto his earth. In that day all his thoughts shall perish.” (Psalm 145 LXX)
The Psalms have always been essential to Jewish and Christian worship and reflection. In these ancient hymns we discover not just truths about God but truths about ourselves. As we reflect on our current fears and the condition of our society and world, the Psalter uncovers a common thread in our humanity that remains stable no matter what changes we face socially or technologically. I discover that the fears and hopes I experience today are actually the same as those experienced by the shepherd tending his sheep four thousand years ago. The vanity, humility, pettiness, joy, repentance and anxiety of human existence –it is no different today than it has ever been.

Of course, the Psalms address our humanity in the context of adoration of God. This itself reveals that our humanity in its fullness is discovered only in relationship with God. In the fifth century, Blessed Augustine wrote of this relationship: “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” (Confessions I.1) Our worship of God, our experience of Divine Love, a Love that is unearned, generous and life-giving, awakens within us a true understanding of who we are. The shackles of position, family, class, race, gender, and circumstance melt away in the integration of our personhood. We discover that we have infinite worth because we are loved by God; that we possess a dignity that cannot be lessened by loss of social standing or economic crash. This dignity gives us new eyes to see those around us in a new spirit. It is not what one possesses that makes one worthy, it is who one is. And we, transfigured by the love of God that we experience, cannot fail to see others as also beloved of God and therefore also possessing infinite dignity.

Yes, there are many reasons to fear in today’s world, yet there is also hope. That hope is in God and in worship. In the Byzantine Christian Tradition, changeless worship comforts and enlightens while allowing participants to turn aside from the false-self imposed by society and live in the true personhood of Divine Grace. Ancient rituals become vehicles of self-realization and transcendence. Hymns whose melodies are from another time speak to the heart in a language contemporary music cannot match.

Indeed, the worshiper not only finds a center in his/her own life, but also a link to the thread of continuity that unites all humanity throughout history. Unlimited potential is unleashed in a fountain of love and solidarity with others that refuses to be stifled by ‘modern’ definitions. Eastern Christians come to truly experience Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever, and in that encounter discover themselves. It is in that experience and discovery that doubt is transformed into hope fear is resolved into peace.

As we look to the future with all its uncertainties and anxieties, we need not fear. The same God who walked with the shepherd boy four thousand years ago is here for us today. Spend some time with him today and allow yourself to be amazed that in meeting him you will also discover yourself.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

OCA Elects new Metropolitan

The Orthodox Church in America has elected a new Metropolitan to lead its North American flock. In what is considered a surprise, the Bishops have chosen Bishop Jonah of Fort Worth, an Abbot who has been Bishop for less than two weeks. The new Hierarch has a formidable task; the OCA has been subject to a financial scandal for the past few years, the investigation of which has revealed a pattern of corruption going back decades.

That said, Metropolitan Jonah is not, perhaps, such an odd choice. On the one hand, his history of ministry and piety (in the good sense of the word) truly commends him. And on the other hand, as one of the rotation of Bishops answering questions put forth by participants in the All American Council, he gave this address the day before his election. Listen to it all, then play it again (Sam). It's worth pondering no matter from what tradition you hail.

PS, in case you missed it; the link to his address is here.

PPS, here's what Rod Dreher has to say about then-Bishop Jonah.

PPPS, and here's the Pittsburgh Post=Gazette's story on his election.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Touchstone and friends on partial-birth abortion

Touchstone Magazine's Mere Comments blog references a blog by an Anglican minister who has written a scathingly logical and accurate argument against "partial-birth abortion".

Touchstone's piece is here.

The original blog entry is here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Comment on the Election...

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Please note, that I have posted this before the votes are counted.

At this time, the sources I read indicate it could go either way.

Friday, October 31, 2008

For our Western Friends Who Get into This Kind of Thing

meanwhile, back at the ranch....

Okay, it's not "our" ranch, but you get the idea...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Okay, I just find this one funny....

Think of it as release during this "end of the season" political time in America.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Kurt Luchs -- Things Politico and Frodo

First Things' On the Square today features humorist Kurt Luchs offering humorous but quite lucid and serious considerations on power, politics and the lessons that can be drawn from The Lord of the Rings. His analysis is entitled Frodo in a World of Boromirs. Read one excerpt here; then go read it all here.

It is no longer shameful to lust after power so long as one lusts for the good
of the people. In the words of Boromir, speaking of the One Ring, “For you seem
to think of its power only in the hands of the enemy: of its evil uses not of
its good.” The only rejoinder, in Frodo’s words to Boromir, is that “we cannot
use it, and what is done with it turns to evil.” Yes, it’s that simple. And as
you ascend the levels of authority, from city to state to nation, it only
becomes more true.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ecumenical Patriarch addresses Roman Synod

Thanks to Sandro Magister for the text of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I of Constantinople to the Roman Synod on the Holy Scriptures. His All Holiness' intervention came on Saturday, 18 October 2008 in the context of a Vespers Service. The main celebrant was His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope of Rome.

Josephus Flavius over at Byzantine, Texas in an article recounting an interview with Archimandrite Ignatios Sotiriadis, includes the quote:

"It was a historical event, in which a Pope celebrates vespers before the representatives of the entire Catholic episcopate and on this occasion, doesn't exercise his ministry as teacher, but concedes it to the second bishop of the Church when it was not yet divided."
Sandro provides the whole address. Read it all.

To whet your whistle, herein are a few snippets...

[I]n 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.
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 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 part of Pope Benedict's response to the Ecumenical Patriarch's intervention, he is quoted as saying:

Your Fathers, that you have quoted so many times, are also our Fathers, and ours are also yours: if we have common Fathers, how could we not be brothers?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Neuhaus on Hauerwas and the Church

First Things' On the Square has Fr Neuhaus at his best discussing the nature of the Church. Consider these excerpts:

It follows that to speak of Christ and culture is to speak also of the Church and culture. Within this society, or any society, the Church is a distinct society. The word Church is from the Greek ekklesia, which means a gathering of the people who are called out. In theology, the subject of the Church is called ecclesiology. Some Christian traditions—the Orthodox and Catholic, for instance—have a full-orbed ecclesiology, an understanding of the Church through time that encompasses continuity with the apostles, councils, martyrs, saints, and authoritative teachers, all inseparably bound by a sacramental communio that is nothing less than communion with Christ through time.

American Babylon is our culture. It is not the culture of our choice, although, given the other cultures on offer, it may be the culture we would choose if we had a choice. It is certainly the culture in which we have been chosen and for which we have a measure of responsibility. The irrepressible human aspiration toward the transcendent, toward that which at the core of our being we know to be our destined home, takes many different forms. That aspiration is our religion, whether or not we call it by the name of a religion. The aspiration may be stifled or misplaced, but it cannot be denied; at least it cannot be denied for long. When, as Augustine teaches, our loves and loyalties are rightly ordered, we recognize that the only satisfactory alternative to Babylon is the City of God. At least this is how Christians see the matter.

By the bye, the article is related to Fr Neuhaus's current project, a book to be entitled American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile. I have a feeling it will be a must read book!

The whole article is available here.

PS Deep in the mysty recesses of time, I had an ethics class with Professor Hauerwas. On that basis, I encourage you that if you ever have the opportunity to attend a lecture by the Professor, do so. He has that kind of quirky passion usually only found in Old Testament professors (think Father Paul Tarazi) and is quite entertaining as well as thought provoking.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Deacon Preaching

Below, our beloved Deacon's notes for his sermon on the Healing of the Widow's Son. The notes give only a glimmer of what was a fine sermon!

In Catholic theology, Christ comes not simply to save something called the "soul," but rather a much more mysterious reality called the person.
Let us consider why it is that the human person, created as we are in the image and likeness of God, is mysterious and what it means for us to walk with God in a life in Christ.
Each of us is unique and unrepeatable.
We share, paradoxically, the quality of being unique.
We are able to experience empathy for others in which we see our unique selves in the other human person.
Empathy for others in their moments of hardship makes it possible for us to transcend our own uniqueness and enter into a sense of sameness between our neighbor and self.
It is often in moments of great need that we come to see our neighbor as really and truly neighbor.
Jesus established the second of the great commandments: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Collectively, we rose in many ways to help our neighbors when we were attacked by Moslem terrorists on Sept. 11th.
We came to our neighbors’ aid when hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast a couple of years ago.
Daily, when we hear that clear small voice that directs our hearts to action, we love our neighbor as our self.
Ideally, all this happens in a way that both preserves, and even sharpens, our uniqueness while making manifest, sometimes unbearably so, our sameness.
Like St Cyril of Alexandria said of the distraught widow: “I want, like Christ, to have "mercy upon the woman, . . . that her tears might be stopped, . . . [and see] the cause of her weeping . . . undone".
But because my communion with God is impaired through my sin, my communion with my neighbor is also wounded.
Because of my sin in the face of human suffering, and the renewed and deepened communion that contact within that suffering offers, I fail.
So often the face of human suffering, with its invitation to experience our common humanity, overwhelms us.
My concerned for my neighbor is well intentioned, but in the final analysis I am only able to lower my friend into his tomb.
Respect for each human person and empathy for our shared humanity are pleasing things.
As in Gal 5 these basic truths of respect and empathy must be transformed by the grace of Christ into "the fruit of the Spirit . . . love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control".
We are warned by St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians that it is only through cultivating a life in Christ through the Holy Spirit can we put to death in us:
"the works of the flesh [that] are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like" (vv. 19-21).
These works of the flesh need to be healed since it is these that are the cause of lost resolve in the face of human suffering.
These preoccupations of self blind me to the mystery of the human person since each degrades the person and changes my stance toward him from an end into a means.
Changing him from a human person into an object.
Standing unrepentant in my sins before God in Whose image and likeness I have been created, I do prefer to think that God saves souls and not that He saves persons.
There is a cleanness, a simplicity to the idea of a soul.
This simplicity does not require from me an acceptance of a life of communion with other human persons in their embodied uniqueness.
The salvation of the person, the person in all his uniqueness, however, is an invitation to live a life of respectful communion.
Christ comes to save people, not souls.
Christ gives people life in its full abundance, not amorphous souls.
Again, St Cyril:
Christ raised him who descending to his grave.
The manner of his rising is plain to see.
"He touched," it says, "the bier and said 'Young man, I say unto thee, arise.'"
How was not a word enough to raise him who was lying there?
What is more powerful that the Word of God?
Why then did he not work the miracle by only a word but also touched the bier?
So that we "might learn that the Holy Body of Christ is productive for the salvation of man."
In Christ, human flesh becomes "the body of life" and is "clothed with [divine] might."
To be saved, to have salvation, to be in Christ, means that we are not only liberated from sin, but are united once again to one another.
St Cyril says: Christ has entered into our sinfulness and has delivered us "from evil works, even from fleshly lusts" so that He "may unite us to the assembly of the saints."
Christ unites each unique human person to all others through love!
Jesus commands us: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Life in Christ returns to us the transcendent possibilities of our own full humanity.
We can love one another and need not fear the weight of our shared humanity.
As Christ said to the widow’s dead son, "…I say to you, arise.”
In Christ, life everlasting is given to us in and through his Church.
Let us lift up our hearts.
Let Jesus raise us, as He raised widow’s dead son, to true life and joy in Him guided by and nurtured in His Church. Amen.

[Inspired by Fr. Gregory Jensen]

Sunday, October 19, 2008

O Virgin Pure

Another version of "O Virgin Pure" by St Nectarios.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Abortion Rights? Personhood Misunderstood

A recent letter to the editor in the local paper presents several interesting arguments on the topic of abortion and politics. What surprises in the letter are both an admission and an assertion that bears need of more scrutiny than the writer would have the reader consider.

First, for a pro-abortion advocate, the writer surprises in his first paragraph by conceding the fact that life begins at conception. Despite the opprobrium of pro-abortion fanatics, the pro-life position is grounded on solid physical science. Far from being a question of imposing “my” personal religious beliefs on anyone, biological science clearly shows that an abortion ends a human life. The writer admits this fact at the outset.

In conceding this point, writer hopes to ground his pro-abortion stance on a more controversial question: “But at what point on that line can we say that we are dealing with a human person?” Surely, the writer must know that the question of what constitutes and defines the limits of “personhood” has vexed philosophers for over two hundred years. To date, most attempts to define personhood so as to include every human while excluding non-human creatures and devices like computers have proven fruitless. But this shift from a scientific and fact related discussion to a philosophical one suits his purpose.

The writer goes on to note several “striking facts” that he believes lend support for his pro-abortion stance. First, he asserts that “nature is an abortionist on a large scale”. In other words, if something occurs in nature, it must be morally acceptable. However, this ‘fact’ fails to distinguish between “miscarriage” and “abortion”. Miscarriages occur in nature, sparked by any number of biological causes: these cannot be seriously considered as relevant to moral decision-making. Only human actions or factors resulting from human interventions can impute a moral dimension to a miscarriage. The argument that nature itself is ‘acting’ murderously and that this should impact the position of pro-life advocates is a straw man and absurd. This argument also involves a fallacious appeal to common practice that would analogously require agreement with killing the sick on the basis that a large percentage of deaths occur due to sickness. Nature is not the guarantor of moral rectitude.

The writer next ‘reveals’ that “every religious faith allows some abortion”, which he seems to equate with a logical imperative to morally approve of all abortions. But this is a genetic fallacy failing to distinguish the relevance of specific, defined circumstances that impact the moral standing of certain particular cases of abortion versus the blanket assertion that all abortions must permitted. The argument is another straw man, cast in all or nothing terms, that presumes the existence of exceptions justifies abandonment of any limitation. It is worth noting that there is a real difference between an ectopic pregnancy that will end in the death of the child and the mother if the pregnancy is not terminated, and the pregnancy resulting from rape, in which an abortion kills a child that would otherwise live. This failure to distinguish the moral impact of specific circumstances would just as easily allow that if I am morally allowed to shoot someone who attempts to kill me, I should be allowed equally to shoot anyone I choose for any reason.

The writer next attempts a logical sleight of hand to confuse the position of the Catholic Church. In Catholicism, matters of belief and morals are held to be infallibly defined and confirmed by the Holy See. Yet the writer asserts, “While the Vatican holds firmly to its position, several Catholic theologians … have argued for setting the marker for personhood later than conception.” This is all well and good, except that these theologians and groups, in opposing the teachings of the Vatican, are opposing the teachings of Catholicism. In short, they simply disagree with Catholic teaching. The fact of their disagreement does not address the issue of the position of the Catholic Church at all.

This brings us to the final paragraph of the letter, which deserves full quotation:

“Finally, we need to see pregnancy as a dual operation, involving an egg and its
host — the woman. Robert Goldstein, a teacher of law at the University of
California at Los Angeles, suggested that we should continually think of the
"dyad" of mother and egg. Her needs and her rights should have weight as much as
those of an embryo. She needs the right to exercise choice.”
The issue of personhood returns with a vengeance: “We need to see pregnancy as a dual operation, involving an egg and its host.” At first blush, this would seem to coincide with the heart of the pro-life position - two beings are involved. But the writer subtly mischaracterizes the issue. Pregnancy involves a fetus and a mother, not an egg and its host. An “egg” by definition is unfertilized and has only the potential for life; a fetus is a living entity. Similarly, a “host” need not be ascribed to have any relationship whatsoever other than proximity to the one for whom it is host. Using this terminology at best obfuscates the issue; and at worst seeks to persuade through assuming the conclusion. This is begging the question.

By using the term “egg” the writer devalues consideration of the fetus's rights and attempts to lend credence to the view that unless the mother is accorded the “right to exercise choice” her needs and rights are being ignored. Only by ignoring or eliminating the rights of the fetus are the rights of the mother ensured. By having equated an embryo with an egg, the writer fosters the notion that the two humans involved (the mother and fetus) are intrinsically unequal. De facto, the writer denies the personhood of the fetus. Thus, the writer's desire to shift the argument to personhood is no more than a slightly more sophisticated denial of fetal rights - the same basic denial that has always been championed by pro-abortion advocates

The writer has, unfortunately, admitted a view of personhood that presents a slippery slope. At what point do we ascribe personhood? He does not directly answer this question, but presumably does not ascribe it to fetuses. However, it is logical to ask: if an otherwise healthy fetus is not ascribed personhood, then are other circumstances also to be equated as invalidating the attribution of personhood? Should Down syndrome, Alzheimer’s, mental illness, or other physical ailments invalidate one’s personhood? By what standards? By whose authority? It is not sufficient to say these are different circumstances; one must show why they are different and why similar considerations could and should not be given to the fetus.

Although pro-abortion supporters seek to prevent this from being considered, abortion’s denial of the personhood of the fetus is logically no different than viewing the fetus as property – the same mindset that allowed for slavery. In the “dyad” noted above, two human beings are claimed to have differing rights; the rights of the fetus are tacitly viewed as deriving from the fiat of the mother. Ultimately, then, the fetus has no rights because these ‘derived’ rights ipso facto deny the fetus's humanity and reduce its status to property (the status of slavery). This is the reality of the blanket claim that one human being’s rights take precedence over those of another. Such inequality stands in total contradiction to primary and historic US political theory (“all are created equal”). It is at the heart of tyranny as witnessed in dozens of regimes throughout history and around the world.

While pro-choice fanatics see opposition to abortion in terms of religious groups ‘imposing’ their beliefs on others; it is incontrovertible that the pro-abortion position is rooted in a denial of the direct evidence of science. Further, the pro-abortion stance rests on political and philosophical premises that are illogical, irrational and built on the tyranny of some over others. These premises arbitrarily limit the attribution of personhood by criteria that, as noted above, open the door to countless other discriminations.

In truth, the only non-ideological criterion to ensure even the question of personhood for all human beings is in returning to the scientific biological fact that human life begins at conception and ends at natural death. Thus, personhood is attributable to every human being, and all humans possess an equality of rights and dignity. Personhood is revealed to be a characteristic of human beings and not reducible (ultimately) to discriminatory attributes such as mental capacity, intelligence, etc. On this model, the rights of all individual humans are protected. Similarly, such a model solves the problem of non-human entities or computers that to which could be attributed person-like qualities. In these cases, either “personhood” is being ascribed analogously, or else hypostatically of another order of being.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Introduction to Orthros - Part Seven

The basic outline of the Sunday Orthros as practiced in many churches is summarized below.

Introductory Prayers – Trisagion Prayers and Censing of the Church

Six Psalms

God is the Lord and Troparia of the Day and Theotokion

Little Litany

Kathismata (Sessional Hymns)


Little Litany

Hypacoi, Anavathmi and Prokimenon

Preparation for the Eothinon Gospel

Gospel Reading

Prayer and Psalm 50

Diaconal Intercessional Prayer

Kontakion, Ikos and Synaxarion

Katavasia 1-8

Hymn of the Virgin with Refrain

Katavasia 9

Little Litany and versicle


Praises, Doxastikon and Theotokion

Great Doxology

Final Hymn

Monday, October 13, 2008

Introduction to Orthros - Part Six

The Exapostilarion and Praises

A short litany and versicle leads to the Exapostilarion. The Exapostilarion is a hymn related to the Eothinon Gospel reading. Its name derives from the command of our Lord in sending out the apostles to proclaim the Gospel. Exapostilaria are always chanted in the tone associated with the corresponding Eothina. As Eothina nine, ten and eleven are associated with tones five, six and eight, respectively, the Exapostilarion adds musical richness to the service. The subject matter of Exapostilaria typically encourages greater attention to praise of the Most Holy Trinity, particularly in the next section of Orthros called “The Praises”.

The Praises are verses from psalms 148, 149 and 150. Hymns from the Octoechos or other liturgical books are interspersed. As the Kathismata and Evlogitaria combine to reveal the magnificent blessing of the Resurrection, the Canon (or Katavasia) and Praises likewise combine to both instruct and offer adoration to the Holy Trinity. The praises, particularly, exemplify a sense of the timelessness of True Worship of God.

The praises are concluded with the Doxastikon (the “hymn of glory”, so called as it follows “Glory to the Father…”), typically related to the Eothinon of the day and thus chanted in the appropriate tone, but always concluding with a Troparion to the Virgin (Theotokion) that is chanted in tone two.

In modern practice, Orthros ends with the chanting of the Great Doxology and one of two short hymns or the Troparion of a particular Feast. In most parishes, the Doxology is commonly chanted in the same tone every week (Tone Three is a favorite), although it is appointed to chant the Doxology in the tone of the Eothinon. In the Great Doxology, the Church unites her praise to that of the Angelic Powers. Unlike the Doxology in the West, the Byzantine Great Doxology continues with various psalm verses leading to a triumphant chanting of “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.” The movement from initial praise of the Holy Trinity that began with the Trisagion Prayers has progressed through various stages of adoration to a hymn of exaltation. The repentant flock stands joyfully ready to offer the Lord the summit of its worship in the Divine Liturgy, which begins immediately after the final hymn of Orthros.

As a concluding note, the Sunday/Festal Orthros actually continues beyond the Great Doxology with additional litanies and prayers. These are often quietly offered by the priest and deacon during the chanting of the Doxology. In this way, the integrity of the service, and its similarity of structure to the other forms of the service (such as the weekday forms) is preserved.


Orthros is the most complex and variable service in the Byzantine Tradition. Attentive participation rewards the worshipper in enhanced understanding of Church teachings and deeper spiritual growth in the Image and Likeness of God. Attendance at Orthros is a most worthy part of one’s preparation for the Divine Liturgy.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Introduction to Orthros - Part Five

On the Canon and the Katavasiae; the Kontakion, the Ikos and the Synaxarion

The second half of Orthros begins with the Canon.

The canon versus the Katavasia

A Canon is a set of hymns divided into nine sections, called odes. The second ode, traditionally dealing with the sinful need for repentance, is commonly omitted. Each ode begins with a hymn referred to as the Hirmos. The Hirmos (plural, “hirmi”) is the model hymn which sets the basic melody for the other hymns of the ode. How the Hirmos is chanted becomes the easy pattern for the remaining hymns of the ode (although this somewhat depends on the translation).

At the end of the ode the Hirmos is repeated, and referred to as the Katavasia (literally meaning “coming or sitting down”, plural “Katavasiae”). The term originated in monastic settings or larger churches in which two groups of chanters would chant the canon antiphonally. At the end of an ode, both groups would descend to the center of the solea and repeat the Hirmos together, the one group then sitting down while the other group stood to chant the next ode.

There are typically, two canons found in the Octoechos for each Sunday, the second usually focusing on the Incarnation of Christ. If either or both are chanted in entirety, short litanies follow the third and sixth ode. However, in typical parish practice, usually only the Katavasia are chanted.

The reduction of the canon to the Katavasia has led to particular Katavasiae being used seasonally. The Katavasia of the Canon of the Akathist Hymn, like the Kontakion “O Never-failing Protectress”, has come to be used for much of the year, with Katavasiae related to other particular feasts being substituted periodically. While this has the advantage that the Katavasia, having the characteristics of idiomela, becomes more easily recognized and sung by worshippers, the disadvantage is that the various canons in the Octoechos and Menaia are seldom if ever heard. Given their rich theological content, this is lamentable.

The Kontakion and the Ikos

While the reduction of the Canon to the Katavasia presents the issue of completeness and adherence to Tradition versus expeditiousness, it also raises a practical issue regarding the Kontakion, Ikos and Synaxarion. These are typically found after the sixth ode of a fully chanted Canon. If the full Canon is not chanted, in many places the Kontakion, Ikos and Synaxarion are simply omitted. A better practice is to include the Kontakion, Ikos and Synaxarion immediately before the Katavasia.

The Kontakion and Ikos are the first hymns of what once were much longer compositions (the old “Kontakia”), which were theological reflections on particular holy days and formed an important element of the “cathedral” office. Kontakia emphasized important theological points of the particular holy day, in the manner of a poetic reflection. The Ikos (plural, “Iki”) expanded on the theme of the main Kontakion. Typically, the final words of the Kontakion are also the final words of the Ikos.

In addition to the role of the Kontakia in the Octoechos and in the Menaion, some Kontakia have also come to function as “seasonal hymns” at the Divine Liturgy. In that capacity, a Kontakion will anticipate a Feast, like the Kontakion in anticipation of the Nativity of our Lord, or the Kontakion of the Cross, etc. The insertion of a particular Kontakion in the Liturgy reminds the worshippers of upcoming Feasts and important seasons.

The Synaxarion

The Synaxarion is a short reference to the saint or event commemorated on a particular day. In modern usage, a simple reference that on such a day, saint so-and-so is commemorated is followed by a brief poetic comment indicating something about the life of the saint, concluding with an intoned petition for God’s mercy through the prayers of the saints.

While this is all that remains liturgically of the Synaxarion in Orthros, the Synaxarion (“book of coming together”) is properly the collection of the lives of the saints celebrated on each day of the calendar year. On any given day, several saints or holy events will be noted in detail. Consequently, published Synaxaria, or Synaxaristes, typically are multi-volume collections. These theologically rich biographies detail not only the simple life of the saint, but the theological implications of various events as well. At one time, readings from the Synaxarion formed a lengthy and regular part of the divine worship of the Church. Nowadays, while the abbreviated references in Orthros are the main liturgical legacy of this practice, the materials of the Synaxarion are available in several editions, including several English language editions, and are sources of inspiration and teaching for many of the faithful.

Again, if the full Canon is not chanted, the Kontakion, Ikos and Synaxarion may precede the Katavasia. In either option, after the chanting of the eighth ode of the Canon (or the eighth Katavasia), the hymn of the Virgin Mary known in the West as the Magnificant interrupts. This hymn (a “Megalynarion”), announced by the deacon, is sung with a refrain while the deacon performs a great censing of the Church. After the Megalynarion, the final ode or Katavasia is chanted.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Introduction to Orthros - Part Four

The Psalms – the Kathismata

Returning to Orthros: The appointed selections from the Psalms are followed by poetic “sessional hymns”. Byzantine Christianity sees the Psalms as the archetypal offerings of praise to God, and traditionally, the entire Psalter is read each week, twice each week during Great Lent.

The Byzantine Psalter is divided into twenty sections, each called a Kathisma. The terms “Kathisma” (plural “Kathismata”) and “sessional” both indicate sitting and all may sit during this time, except when the “Glory to the Father” is intoned. The sessional hymns emphasize important themes in the psalms and relate them to our Christian life. They serve as meditations on human life and God’s merciful interaction in it. The spiritual movement that began with the Trisagion Prayers, the Six Psalms, Litany and Troparia, takes an additional step as the Grace of our Lord is revealed now in the Kathismata readings and reflected in the sessional hymns.

Each Kathisma is divided into three stases. At the end of the first two stases, the Glory … Now and ever… is intoned, followed by the triple intoning of “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia; Glory to You, O God”, “Lord, have mercy” three times, and Glory … Now and ever…

The third stasis concludes with Glory … Now and ever…, the triple intoning of “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia; Glory to You, O God” and “O (our God and) our Hope, glory to you.”

Originally, and still today in monastic settings, two Kathismata (three during Great Lent) are each followed by a set of sessional hymns. In practice today, most parishes omit the Psalms and merely include the sessional hymns alone, although including the Kathismata would only add about twenty minutes to the service.

The sessional hymns generally come from the Octoechos. They may be intoned or chanted in the appointed tone.

The Evlogitaria, Hypacoi, Anavathmi, Prokimenon and Gospel


On Sundays and Great Feasts, the Evlogitaria follows the Kathismata. The word “evlogitaria” comes from the Greek word for “blessed” and is so named for the refrain “Blessed are You, O Lord; teach me Your statutes,” that punctuates these hymns devoted to the Resurrection of Christ. (For Saturdays commemorating the dead and funerals there is a second series of evlogitaria; and on certain occasions the Sunday evlogitaria are omitted in favor of Psalms called the “Polyeleos”.)

As the psalms of the Kathismata become sources of inspiration when viewed in the light of the Cross, the Evlogitaria is an exclamation of joy in the mercy of the Resurrection. It completes the spiritual movement to jubilant adoration of the Holy Trinity.

A short litany leads to the Hypacoi, Anavathmi and Prokimenon.

Hypacoi and Anavathmi

Hypacoi (“hearing”) are hymns usually referencing the hearing the proclamation of the Resurrectionby the myrrh-bearing women. The Anavathmi, “hymns of ascent”, are related to the psalms; they are short hymns praising the Holy Trinity. Each tone has three Anavathmi; except tone eight, which has four. They may be chanted or simply intoned. In some churches, the Hypacoi is read, and the Anavathmi are intoned.

Prokimenon and Eothinon Gospel

The Prokimenon is a short set of psalm verses that precedes a reading from Scripture, in this case the Gospel. The Gospel reading for Orthros is usually one of eleven passages dealing with the Resurrection of Christ, which rotate one after the other on a weekly basis. These Gospel passages are called the “Eothina Gospels”, and each Eothinon (from the Greek for “dawn”) is associated with one of the eight tones. Several hymns are related to each Eothinon, and chanted in the tone associated with it, adding richness of the musical experience of the service.

The Eothinon is always read by the priest, typically from the “south” side of the Holy Table. This symbolizes dawn as the moment between light and darkness. In traditional monastic settings, Orthros begins before dawn so that the Eothinon will be read in the early morning light.

After the reading, the people come forward to reverence the Gospel Book. On certain occasions, the Gospel is related to a Feast of the Lord or the Theotokos; in these cases it is read from the Ambon and there is no reverencing of the Gospel Book.

Concluding Elements of the First Part of Orthros

The first half of Orthros draws to a close with the reverencing of the Gospel Book while a few hymns and Psalm 50 are chanted. Psalm 50, a hymn of repentance, nonetheless maintains the assurance of God’s mercy. It forms an optimistic contrast to the Six Psalms earlier, as the joy of Christ’s resurrection is revealed to be the substance of hope on which all can depend.

A dismissal-like concluding prayer is intoned by the deacon (instead of the priest, indicating that this is not the end of Orthros itself). The prayer asks God’s mercy while referencing various saints, in this way emphasizing our shared devotion with them. The prayer is customarily referred to as the “intercessional prayer”.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Introduction to Orthros - Part Three

Digression about Byzantine Hymnody

At this point, a note about the music and hymns of the Byzantine Church is in order. Byzantine music adheres to eight “tones” or modes. These tones are musical skeletons that allow the chanting of hundreds of troparia, following predetermined melodic phrases. As noted above, a basic collection of hymns form an eight week cycle, one week in each tone, found in the book “Octoechos” – “The book of eight tones”. With extremely few exceptions, selections from the Octoechos form the backbone of all celebrations of Orthros (and Vespers) in the Byzantine Tradition.

Additional, seasonal hymns are found in a variety of other liturgical books, including the "Manaia" (singular, "Menaion", month) which have hymns celebrating saints and liturgical commemorations for every day of the calendar year divided by months, and books devoted to the Paschal (Easter) cycle (Triodion, Great Week, Pentecostarion, etc.). The hymns in these books vary and are in all eight tones; and when combined with the appointed selections from the Octoechos ensure that each celebration of Orthros (and Vespers) will have unique musical qualities and feature a variety of musical expressions.

Music is especially important in Byzantine worship. While many hymns have taken on standard melodies (“idiomela”), and even become model hymns to guide the melody of other hymns, Byzantine music does not exist in the same sense as Western music and hymnody. Byzantine hymns follow strict traditional forms and tempos. These elements guide and enhance the worship, giving it a timeless quality and preventing any faddish ‘contemporaneity’ that all too quickly becomes outdated or ‘old-fashioned’.

We cannot overemphasize that Byzantine music is ‘chanted’ music versus ‘sung’ music. The tones present coherent characteristics, not set melodies in the Western sense, which guide the chanter while allowing freedom to maintain focus on the meaning of the hymn. The flexibility of a tone’s melodic phrasing and basic qualities guide the chanter while freeing him to make this particular hymn chanted at this particular service his own offering, avoiding ‘soloist’ pretensions. The text and tone combine to put the emphasis on God and the commemoration of the day, mystically uniting the particular worshippers with worshippers everywhere and throughout history.

The central focus of Byzantine hymnody is Christ and the Trinity. Even hymns celebrating the exploits of the saints carefully place the saints’ holiness in the context of the salvation and mercy of God. Hymns frequently quote from or make references to the Sacred Scriptures, often the Psalms, reflecting a Christological dimension. The passion, death and resurrection of Jesus are brought forth in numerous references and poetic imagery to emphasize the magnitude of God’s incarnation and act of salvation.

Music becomes one of the main elements of Byzantine worship that expresses our spiritual growth from existing purely in our own limited time and place to live in the mystical presence of God and the saints. Rather than affirming ourselves, Byzantine music helps us find ourselves in the Eternity of God’s Divine Love.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Introduction to Orthros - Part Two

The Introductory Prayers

Orthros begins with the Trisagion Prayers. These standard prayers concluding in the Lord’s Prayer are memorized by all Byzantine Christians. The focus is Trinitarian. This affirms that our worship must always center on adoration of the Holy Trinity and therefore always be Christo-centric. The Trisagion Prayers and accompanying hymns and litany also provide the opportunity for the first censing of the Church. Thus, our worship focuses on the Holy Trinity and engages the whole person.

The Six Psalms

While the priest offers the Orthros prayers quietly, the Six Psalms are read. These penitential psalms are read quickly, not intoned or chanted. All stand during the reading, and any candles that have been lit for prayer intentions are extinguished. The silence and attention to psalms allows us to reflect on the universality of the human experience and need for God’s mercy. Thus, there is a spiritual movement from recognition of the majesty of God (as expressed in the introductory prayers) to our awareness that we totally depend on God for our life and salvation.

The Litany of Peace and Troparia of the Day

Having begun with praise of the Holy Trinity and meditation on our need to turn from sin to the Lord, Orthros continues with the Litany of Peace. The petitions of this litany gather up our concerns and needs and place them confidently before the Lord who is generous and loves mankind. The Litany of Peace focuses on universal needs, not personal petitions or selfish requests. It affirms the universality of our cares and rests the entire human condition in God’s hands, trusting in His mercy.

The first of the variable portions of Orthros follows. Verses from the psalms introduce the Troparia of the day. “Troparia” (singular, “troparion”) are poetic theological reflections that focus on the Resurrection, a Feast of our Lord or our Lady, or the particular commemoration of the Church calendar. Troparia are rich in theological insight, and combine adoration of God, the veneration of the saints, and commemoration of events in salvation history. The great mercy of God is a constant theme in troparia.

On a typical Sunday, the Troparion of the Resurrection in the Tone of the week begins the sequence. It is followed by one or more Troparia appointed for the particular day. The final Troparion of the sequence is preceded by “Glory…” and followed by “Now and ever…” in the same tone. The Theotokion of the Resurrection in the same tone as the final Troparion completes the sequence. (Thus, for example, if the final Troparion is in Tone Four, “Glory…” will be chanted in Tone Four, followed by the final Troparion itself, “Now and ever…” in Tone Four, and the Theotokion of the Resurrection in Tone Four.)

The particular selection of troparia for a given celebration places it in the context of the Church year and the calendar year. The cycle of hymns collected in the Octoechos is the basic collection that flow through the life of the Byzantine community. Combined with hymns from the other liturgical books, this hymnody ensures that each celebration of Orthros is a unique opportunity for praise and learning the essential truths of the Christian Faith.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Introduction to Orthros - Part One

This rambling introduction to Orthros does not pretend to be authoritative or ground-breaking. Much historic detail is simply excluded. The purpose is to provide a bit of context for members of our community who are still becoming familiar with the Service.

As it is rather lengthy (nearly four thousand words), I will be posting it in sections. And needless to say, if anyone sees need for correction, please contact me!

An Introduction to Orthros in the Byzantine Tradition

It is understood that the Divine Liturgy is the summit and heart of Byzantine Worship. The community gathered at the Altar of our Lord’s sacrifice offering up their prayers and sharing in the thanksgiving offering of His Body and Blood expresses the essence of our Eastern Christian experience.

Yet the Divine Liturgy, essential and of paramount importance, is only part of the Byzantine worship tradition. Other services surround and enhance that Eucharistic banquet and deepen its meaning and reception among the people of God. These services sanctify the day, the week, the season and the year. Along with the Divine Liturgy, they give substance and meaning to the Christian life.

The offices of Orthros and Vespers (morning and evening prayer) are, next to the Liturgy, the most vital services of the Byzantine Tradition. These services have developed over the millennia to celebrate both the particular day and the cycle of seasons in the Church Year. In this way, they relate the celebration of the Liturgy to the life of the Church and the life the individual Christian.

Let us look at Sunday Orthros.

Orthros – The Term and Origin of the Service

“Orthros” comes from the Greek word meaning “arise”, and is the proper service for the morning. In fact, it is properly celebrated beginning in the early hours before dawn, with sunrise anticipated to occur around halfway through the service. Orthros is properly a combination of two older services roughly corresponding to the Roman Rite Matins and Lauds in the West. Combining elements from these two older liturgical services, the reading of psalms, standard and variable hymns of Orthros produce an almost symphony-like movement of adoration and praise of God and veneration to His saints.

Orthros, Vespers, and the other “Hours” offices have experienced significant evolution over the millennia. At one time, a “cathedral” office coexisted with a “monastic” office. Over the centuries, the “monastic” office became standard and incorporated elements of the “cathedral” office into its structure. Thus, today, there are different orders of Orthros for Sunday and Feasts, weekday commemorations of varying importance, and Great Lent. In this review, we will focus on Sunday/Feast day Orthros.

It should be noted at the outset that if one reviews the outline and rubrics of Orthros it is clear that the full celebration of the service would easily require a few hours. In parish usage, elements are abbreviated or eliminated to bring the time down to around an hour or so. As we proceed to examine Orthros we will indicate these abbreviations and ‘short-cuts’.

One might argue that as the service is so routinely shortened it would be appropriate simply to produce a standard ‘shortened” version of the service. However, preserving the complete text, and with it options for a more complete celebration, both allows for more variety of choice and encourages the faithful to a fuller celebration.

Thank you for your prayers...

My father is being released today from the hospital. Prayers have met with a favorable response in that he will not need bypass surgery.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Now you see it...

I read the following article a week or so ago and was 'shocked' to discover that it was removed, "at the author's request", in probable response to pressure from hierarchical superiors. It's a shame; particularly as the points made are just as relevant for Eastern Catholics and any church or communion that drifts into focusing more on ethnic pedigree (or any other pedigree for that matter) than on the Gospel and the salvation of souls.

The Orthodox Church of Tomorrow
By Fr. John A. Peck

There is an interesting phenomenon occurring in Orthodox Christianity in America today, and reflected powerfully in our seminaries. Seminaries are loaded almost exclusively with converts, reverts (cradle Orthodox who left the faith, and were re-converted to it again), and the sons and grandsons of clergy.

I believe we are looking at the future of the American Orthodox Church — today.

The notion that traditionally Orthodox ethnic groups (the group of ‘our people’ we hear so much about from our primates and hierarchs) are going to populate the ranks of the clergy, and therefore, the Church in the future is, frankly, a pipe dream. Orthodoxy, despite the failings of its leadership, has actually lived up to its own press. The truth of the Orthodox faith, as presented on paper, is actually being believed - by those who have no familial or historical connection with the Orthodox. These poor deluded souls (of which I count myself) actually believe what they are reading about the Orthodox faith, and expect the Church to act like, well, the Church. They refuse to accept the Church as a club of any kind, or closed circle kaffeeklatsch. No old world embassies will be tolerated for much longer - they will go the way of the dodo. No one will have to work against them; they will simply die from atrophy and neglect. The passing away of the Orthodox Church as ethnic club is already taking place. It will come to fruition in a short 10 years, 15 years in larger parishes.

This is a well known problem. Statistical studies taken a mere seven years ago predicted that within 10 years the Orthodox Church in the United States would for all practical purposes, no longer be viable. If nothing was done within five years (that’s two years ago) the decline would be irreversible. Demographics determine destiny, as they say. As you may have imagined, not only was “nothing done,” such reports were surreptitiously filed away, while the calls for a solution from clergy and laity alike only increased. Larger jurisdictions will, of course, have a little more time, but not a different result.

What we are looking at, of course, is of the highest concern to the hierarchy. They know, in their heart of hearts, that they cannot reverse this trend. Yet they fight a rearguard action, hoping against hope to forestall the historically inevitable movement toward an American Orthodox Church.

Statistical studies taken a mere seven years ago predicted that within 10 years the Orthodox Church in the United States would for all practical purposes, no longer be viable. The laity has already moved on. Americans, generally, don’t fall for very much strong arm intimidation or brow beating, don’t go for bullying by insecure leaders, and certainly don’t see the value of taking on and promoting someone else’s ethnic culture. They care about the Gospel, and the Gospel does not require Slavonic or Koine Greek, or even English for that matter. The Gospel requires context, which is why it cannot be transmitted in any language unknown to the listener.

When we look at our seminaries, we are looking at the Church of Tomorrow, the Church twenty years from now. Indeed, this is the Church we are building today.

Twenty years from now, I anticipate we will see the following:

Vastly diminished parishes, both in size and number. There will be a few exceptions, (and they will be exceptional!) but for the most part, most current Orthodox parishioners will age and die, and have no one to replace them. Why? Because as they have taught the context of their culture, instead teaching the context of their faith. Some parishes will simply be merged with others. Many will close outright. A few will change how they do ministry, with a new vision of parochial ecclesiology. These newer parishes will be lighthouses of genuine Orthodox piety and experience. Some parishes, I believe, will actually be formed specifically, in the old fashion, by purchasing land, building a chapel or Temple in the midst of it, and parishioners building or buying homes around it. The Church will be the center of their lives, and many will come from far and wide to experience their way of life.

Publicly renowned Orthodox media and apologetic ministries. These ministries are the ones providing a living and powerful apologetic for the Orthodox faith in our culture (that is, our 21st Century life in the United States), and actually providing the Gospel in its proper context - engaged in society and the public arena. These will succeed in visibility and public awareness more than all the speeches before the U.N. and odd newspaper stories about Orthodox Easter or Folk Dance Festivals could ever do. In other words, the Orthodox Christian faith will become that most dangerous of all things - relevant to the lives of Americans, and known to all Americans as a genuinely American Christian entity.

More (and younger) bishops. If our current slate of bishops has been mostly a disappointment, reducing their number will only tighten this closed circle, making the hierarchy less and less accessible, and more and more immune to things like, oh, the needs and concerns of their flock. The process of selection for the episcopacy will contain a far more thorough investigation, and men with active homosexual tendencies, psychological problems, insecurities, or addictions will simply not make the cut. We aren’t far from open persecution of Christians by secularists in this country, and we need bishops who know the score. With better bishops, no one will be able to ‘buy’ a priest out of a parish with a gift of cash. Conversely, parish councils will no longer be able to bully priests into staying out of their affairs, and will be required to get out of the restaurant/festival business and get into the soul saving business.

A very different demographic of clergy. Our priests will be composed of converts, reverts, and the sons and grandsons of venerable, long-suffering clergy. These men all know the score. They won’t tolerate nonsense like homosexual clergy (especially bishops), women’s ordination, or financial corruption. They will not tolerate the Church being regularly and unapologetically dishonored by her own clergy. Twenty years from now, these convert and revert priests will be sending life-long Orthodox men, a new cradle generation, en masse to our seminaries. They will be white, black, Asian, Polynesian, Hispanic, and everything in between. Fewer will be Russian, Greek, or any other traditionally Orthodox background.

Orthodox Biblical Studies. Orthodox Biblical scholarship will flourish, and will actually advance Biblical Studies, rather than tag along for the latest trends, staying a minimum safe distance back in case the latest theory tanks unexpectedly. Septuagint studies are already on the rise and Orthodox scholars will usurp the lead in this arena, establishing a powerful and lasting influence in Biblical Studies for decades to come. Orthodox higher education — specifically in Biblical Studies in the Orthodox tradition — will finally have a place at the doctoral level in the Western hemisphere, and it will become a thriving academic entity. The whole Church will feed on the gleanings of this new scholarship and Scriptural knowledge, preaching, and Biblical morality will invigorate the Church for generations.

A much higher moral standard from all clergy. The next twenty years will see a revival of practical ethics. Instead of trailing military or business ethics, the Church will, once again, require the highest standard of ethical and professional behavior from her clergy — and they will respond! The clergy will not tolerate lying, cheating, or stealing and hold to account those who practice these vices. They will vigorously defend the honor of Christ’s priesthood, and Christ’s Church. I dare say, even the clergy will finally respect their own priesthood.

Vocations will explode. As a result of the elevated ethical standard publicly expected from the clergy, candidates in far greater numbers will flock to the priesthood. There will be very full classes, distance education, self-study and continuing education going on in every location. Education at a basal level will disappear, except in introductory parish classes. Clergy will powerfully articulate Orthodoxy to the faithful and to the culture around them. Personal opinion will no longer be the standard for clergy when articulating Orthodox ethics and morality. Our seminaries must become beacons for this teaching, and give up “training culture” once and for all. We will finally begin to penetrate our society, rather than go along for the ride like a tick on a dog’s back.

Philanthropy will flow like the floodgates of heaven. Finally, the many Orthodox Christian philanthropists who annually give millions of dollars to secular institutions will finally find their own Church completely transparent, completely accountable, and worthy of their faith-building support. Let’s face it, there is more than enough money in Orthodoxy right now to build hospitals, clinics, schools, colleges, universities, and a new Hagia Sophia right here in the United States. The reason this is not being done is because these philanthropists are intelligent men and women who do not trust the hierarchy to do the right thing with their millions. This will change in short order once it is shown that transparency doesn’t destroy the Church, but strengthens it immeasurably. Frankly, I don’t anticipate every jurisdiction to do this in the next twenty years, but those that are practicing transparency will emerge as the leaders in every arena of Church existence.

This all may seem unlikely today, but it is coming.

How do I know this? For one thing, the last holdouts of corruption, Byzantine intrigue and phyletism (a fancy theological term for ethnic preference) are clinging desperately to a vision of the Church that is, quite frankly, dying fast. Oh, they are doing everything to shore up their power and influence, and busy serving their own needs, but their vision is dying. And where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18).

As frightening and disconcerting as it may seem to our leaders, they will learn that emerging from a cocoon, even a Byzantine cocoon, is not a bad thing. Orthodoxy is about to take flight on new beautiful wings. These are the birth pangs of a new era for Orthodoxy. God is giving us a time of freedom and light.

This new Orthodox Church will have a different face, will be ready for contemporary challenges, and will have begun to penetrate American society at every stage and on every level. This Church is the one that will be ready for the challenges of open persecution, fighting for the soul of every American, regardless of their genetic affiliation. This Church will be the one our grandchildren and great grandchildren will grow up in, looking back on the late 20th-early 21st century as a time of sentimental darkness from which burst forth the light of the Gospel. Let it begin.

Fr. John A. Peck is pastor of Prescott Orthodox Church in Prescott, Ariz.