Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Christ, Holy Week, Western Media, and the Calendar

The web blog Ex occidente ad orientem has a timely entry on Western media's fixation with all things denigrating to Christianity. Many years ago I noticed that whenever a major Christian Holy Day was approaching, suddenly the 'more intellectual and scientific, historical' stations (mainly, though not exclusively cable) were awash with 'discovery' programs on the 'true' story behind this or that Christian belief. As a student of history, not just as a son of the Church, my reaction generally fluctuates between amused to outraged at the historic inaccuracies, scientific sleight of hand, and relativistic materialism proffering a more culturally sound and significant assessment in blatant attempts to deny anything and everything Christian. The fact various scandals have not only been brought to light but fairly well heated to the point of burnt toast has also contributed to a seeming hunger among many people for such programming. (Certainly, if this scandal is true, this 'fair and objective' program revealing 'the truth' about x must also be true!)

In the entry It's that time of year again, blog host Chris presents a compelling argument not only for turning off the TV but also for distancing oneself and one's Church from the National Council of Churches. Below is the first paragraph of his assessment.

...when the media gives us all sorts of articles and "insights" as to what really happened during Holy Week and what Christ's Resurrection "really means." More often than not, we are bombarded by scholarly opinions about how current Christian observance of Holy Week and Pascha are misguided and are mere inventions of third century totalitarian bishops (read, Pope of Rome, which is, of course a historical anachronism) wishing to impose an orthodoxy that was at odds with the beliefs and faith of MOST of the world's Christians. Also, at this time, such ecumenical groups as the National Council of Churches laments that the observance of Western Christians and Eastern Christians is, with the exception of this year and next, most often on differing dates. So, the NCC, with its obvious respect to the traditions of other Christian confessions, says that we must all observe Pascha of the Lord on the same date so as not to give a divided witness. In fact, you can read their most current press release about that very issue here.
It is a compelling argument in that the calendar question should really be resolved not only by Orthodox, but Eastern Catholics, and indeed Roman Catholics as well. One can argue that Pope Gregory did the world a favor by promulgating a more 'accurate' calendar, but the question is one of belief. Perhaps at the time of its promulgation the Pope thought everyone would just fall in line and there would be not problem (near sightedness if there was ever such a case); but in the light of twenty-first century clarity reveals that one of the major divisions between the Orthodox East and Roman West includes calendar related issues it seem to this issue could be settled by the Holy Father of Rome simply making a declaration that would put the Catholic Church in concordance with the Orthodox Church at least regarding Pascha.

I have always argued that for the Orthodox and Eastern Churches it should be either fish or fowl: Either embrace the "New Style" Calendar in its entirety or stay en toto with the Julian Calendar. The older I get and the more commercialization of Christian Feasts by Western consumerism, the more I favor the Old Style Calendar. Let Pascha be Pascha, not an "Easter and Spring Sale" opportunity.

To read the entire It's that time of year again, click here.

I may add references to a couple of very interesting arguments debating theological preference for the Old Calendar in the near future.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Syrian and the Serbian

Make peace with yourself, and both heaven and earth will make peace with you.

St Isaac the Syrian.

All the Holy Fathers lived a good life, a quiet life. All of hem say that the perfection of the Christian life is in extreme humility. This means that patient long-suffering is what we most need in this life. We must bear everything patiently and forgive all. If we have good thoughts and desires, these thoughts will give us peace and joy even in this life, and even more so in eternity. Then we will see that there no death, that the Lord has vanquished death, and that He has given us eternal life!

Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Lazarus: the Raising of the Dead and Death via Division

I'm not one to post on specific political issues save the dignity of the human person (e.g., such issues as abortion) and those stances that are derived from this axiom. The Church in the US particularly frowns on clergy directly speaking for or against political persons, parties, and movements. In principle, this is not a difficult prohibition as one can always simply proclaim the Gospel and the moral message that it espouses and leave it to the congregation to draw the appropriate inferences. I say this because it is, or should be, obvious that certain positions, and therefore movements, parties, and politicians who hold them inevitably risk ignoring or outright denying elements of the Gospel. That there can be only one Gospel of Jesus Christ is not only unequivocal it is scriptural. (Galatians 1:8f)

To be a Christian is to believe. And the belief of Christianity has real, discernible content. Anyone can interpret around specific aspects of that divine corpus of wisdom we call the Gospel, but in the end, the Faith of the Fathers is exactly as described: a Rock.(Matthew 7:24f, I Corinthians 10:4, I Peter 2:8). As people are fond of saying these days, "It is what it is."

Having given this 'disclaimer' - so that hierarchical bureaucrats need not post me copies of corporate rules written in fear of losing the government granted/imposed tax exemption (READ: "politically motivated gag order") - I would draw your attention to an editorial in today's Washington Times by Jeffrey T. Kuhner, a columnist, president of the Edmund Burke Institute Washington think tank, and host of a daily radio talk show. The editorial is entitled, "Will America break up?"

Ostensibly, the piece is concerned with the ongoing US debate concerning government administered health care. The thesis is that the divisions of opinion regarding the topic of government intervention in assuring basic health care coverage for all citizens, and perhaps non-citizens needing it while on American soil, is so divisive that it can only either threaten or presage the eventual break up of the United States. How this division will unfold is not clearly enunciated in that the diverse opinions of Americans on this topic, like so many others, is not one that can be demarcated along geographical lines. Yet the author draws one illustration that I have long felt apropos to one hotly debated portion of the program recently passed by the US Federal legislature: Abortion.

Mr Kuhner says:

Moreover, the law codifies the federal funding of abortion. Taxpayer dollars will be used to subsidize the murder of innocent life. Hence, Mr. Obama has violated the social compact: He has abrogated the conscience of pro-lifers, making them tacitly complicit in the slaughter of the unborn. Obamacare is a radical assault upon fundamental religious freedoms.

The Obama revolution threatens to tear America apart. This has happened before. Slavery eventually triggered the Civil War between the industrial North and the agrarian South. Abortion is the slavery of our time - the denying of basic human rights to an entire category of people.
He goes on from this unarguably accurate analysis of the two basic positions on aborticide to conclude: "The bitter debate over Obamacare has exposed the country's profound divisions. We are no longer one nation or one people. Rather, there are now two Americas: one conservative, the other liberal. Increasingly, we no longer just disagree but we despise each other." This conclusion is itself debatable, if in no other measure than the hatred and starkness of division it ascribes.

Today is the Saturday of Lazarus for Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christians. On this day, we commemorate the death of a close friend of Jesus, whom Jesus allows to die and lay in the crypt for four days until the stench of rot has set in. In that moment, when the crowds begin to mummer that such a great 'faith healer' should have been able to prevent Lazarus's death, our Lord prays to God the Father and through His divine command, restores, resuscitates and resurrects Lazarus. One might say, therefore, that out of the rot of human corruption God provides Lazarus a second chance (although by all accounts, Lazarus was a just man).

People may take various sides on the many issues that confront modern society. These positions may lead one to a triumphalism or else full dispairity that any hope remains. We Christians of the East, following fast the example and living witness of the Church Fathers refuse to succumb to either extreme trusting rather in the Rock that may bruise the storm tossed but also proves the salvation of all who cling to it.

I pray that everyone used the time of Great Lent for spiritual profit, take the opportunity of today and tomorrow (Palm Sunday) to reflect on the power and humility of God, and follow the hours of Holy Week to follow, imitate and grow in the Image and Likeness of the God who, in giving up all gained everything for those who accept the chance to cling to that Rock.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

From the Evergetinos

An Elder said: Humility has often saved many, even without effort; this is demonstrated by the Publican and the Prodigal Son, who said only a few words and were saved.

Abba Isaiah said: "We need humility more than any other virtue; let us always be ready, whatever word we might say or hear, or whatever we might do, to say 'forgive me'; for through humility, all of the evil works of the Devil are foiled."

Evergetinos (I.XLIV.8,10)

Monday, March 15, 2010

From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Abba Macarius the Great was asked, 'How should one pray?' The old man said, 'There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one's hands and say, "Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy." And if the conflict grows fiercer say, "Lord, help!" He knows very well what we need and he shows us his mercy.'

Abba Macarius said, 'If slander has become to you the same as praise, poverty as riches, deprivation as abundance, you will not die. Indeed it is impossible for anyone who firmly believes, who labours with devotion, to fall into the impurity of the passions and be led astray by the demons.'

Abba Serapion said, 'When the soldiers of the emperor are standing at attention, they cannot look to the right or left; it is the same for the man who stands before God and looks towards him in fear at all times; he cannot then fear anything from the enemy.'

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Times Reports on Exorcism

The UK Times reports an interview with Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican's Chief Exorcist. Below are the opening paragraphs.

"Are you afraid of the Devil?” The world’s most famous exorcist levels his gaze at me and then smiles.

“No, it is he who is afraid of me. I work in the name of the Lord. Poor Satan.”

Poor Satan?

“Oh yes. The Evil One shouts and makes noises, but we are made in God’s image, we have the Holy Trinity on our side. There is no need to be afraid of the Devil unless we give in to his temptations.”
To read the entire piece, click here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Fr Touze and Roman Miopia

From Rorate Caeli and also Josephus at Byzantine, Texas comes the most astounding interview from Zenit to be published in decades. The piece in question is an interview entitled "Married Priests Will Always Be an Exception: Interview With Theologian on the Foundations of Celibacy". Before reading my comments, I would urge you to read the entire interview. Below are highlights only.
ROME, MARCH 9, 2010 ( Married priests are an exception and the Church is increasingly convinced that they must remain so, according to a spiritual theology professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

Father Laurent Touze explained the foundations of priestly celibacy when he spoke at a two-day conference held last week at Rome's Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. The conference, "Priestly Celibacy: Theology and Life," was sponsored by the Congregation for the Clergy as an event for the Year for Priests.

ZENIT: Why, then, are exceptions made?

Father Touze: Historically because there has been a manipulation of texts and I believe a bad translation that the Eastern Church, which has separated from Rome and has recognized that what they had declared contrary to tradition, could be accepted. In this connection there truly are some exceptions. The Church discovered that she had the possibility of admitting exceptions but that these should be understood as such. Respectably, as the Second Vatican Council stressed, there are very holy married priests in the Eastern Catholic Churches who have contributed much to the history of the Church and to the faith in times of persecution, but they are truly exceptions and must be understood as such.
To this should be added the quote from Fr Touze noted at Overheard in the Sacristy,
Prof. Laurent Touze – Pontifical University of the Holy Cross
“During the time of the early Church all priests, deacons and bishops had to practice celibacy from the minute they were ordained.”
It is obvious that Father Professor Touze is a terminal victim of scholasticitis. This disease, widespread for centuries in the West and recently thought to be in decline, begins with a defective understanding of "original sin" as an ontological state of being passed on through procreation. Rather than explicitly respecting the Scriptures and Tradition of the Church that the effect of original sin is death, and thus endemic to humanity, scholasticitis views Original Sin as a guilt passed on via the very act of sexual intercourse - even between spouses - and thus somewhat sinful and thus to be avoided. Hence the movement in the West towards a celibate clergy historically had as much to do ensuring the 'purity' of the celebrant at the Liturgy as the commonly referenced prevention of property disputes raised by the progeny of the presbyterate.

Through the miopia of scolaticitis the in persona christi view of the priest at Mass confuses the role of the priest as the president of the community (an essential part in Greek of the etymology of the term "presbyter"), with a somewhat magical ontological identification of the priest with our Lord offering Himself for the life of the world. This is clearly seen in the scholastic obsession that the recitation of the "Words of Institution" are the the identifiable moment and necessary element to confect the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. This accounts for the absence of the Epiklesis in the Roman Canon. (Check the nicely informative article at Wikipedia on Epiclesis.)

On this count alone, Rome has had significant difficulties in recent years when accepting into communion various ancient Churches of the East whose Liturgy never featured the Words of Institution at all. Indeed, it has led to elaborate and imaginative explanations as to how these ancient rites claiming Apostolic origin, could still be found valid in the scholasticized context without the essential ingredient.

The Byzantine Tradition has always held the original position on both the Eucharist and the question of clerical celibacy. Regarding the Eucharist, it is the Epiklesis - the calling down of the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ - that effects the change in substance. In this view, the priest or bishop acts as president or overseer of the gathered Church, with the spiritual authority and power to effectively call on the Holy Spirit for this change, the spiritual authority being guaranteed by the Apostolic Sucession of the bishop and adherence to the Gospel Tradition handed down from the Apostles.

As the result of Original Sin (or more precisely Ancestral Sin) is the corruption and death now rampant in creation, Holy Baptism and Chrismation make each Christian capable of achieving repentant growth in the Likeness of God, and Ordination grants the permission through orthodox teaching and Tradition in the Apostolic Succession for the cleric to lead the people in the Eucharistic celebration. That is the extent of the liturgia - the public work, the work of the people - in the participation of clergy and laity in the Divine Liturgy. It is the Holy Spirit who brings Christ to us through our thanksgiving and anamnesis (remembering) His Self-offering for us to God the Father. Therefore, purity from sexual intercourse is not such a central necessity as the Scholastictic Roman doctrine would have us believe.

True, married clergy abstain from sexual relations with their wives on the eve of the weekly celebration of the Divine Mysteries. However, this is part of the fasting and preparation for the reception of the supreme and highest Gift of God to humanity in the Body and Blood of Christ, not because sexual intercourse compromises the purity of the celebrant and therefore risks the efficacy of the Holy Body and Blood..

In the 2005 Extraordinary Synod on the Eucharist, held at the Vatican, the conflict between the Byzantine historic Tradition and understanding of the Eucharist and priestly celibacy versus the Roman Scolasticitis saw a brief and reportedly heated exchange between Melkite Patriarch Gregory III Laham and Italian Cardinal Angelo Schola of Venice. As noted by Amy Welborn, amongst many at the time, reported:

According to priests who briefed reporters on the synod proceedings in several languages on Tuesday, the debate produced a coarse exchange late Monday between Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, the general relator of the synod, and Melkite Patriarch Gregoire III Laham.

“Celibacy has no theological foundation” in the priesthood, Laham said, responding to an opening speech by Scola that cited “profound theological motives” for not allowing married men to enter the priesthood.

“In the Eastern Church married priests are admitted,” Laham said, adding that “marriage is a symbol of union between Christ and the church.”

Responding to Laham, Scola asserted that “in the Latin church theological reasons exist” for maintaining the policy on celibacy. He did not elaborate on those reasons. He then added, “The synod is a place to explore the Mystery, not to give directions on its use.”

In reality, the Cardinal knew he didn't have a theological foundation to stand on. The history of the issue of clerical celibacy can be easily traced by anyone who wants to take the time to review the history of the canons, starting with the complete collection in the Rudder and equally reviewing the various canons in the West up through the time clerical celibacy was universally invoked.

Foolish comments like those of Father Professor Touze are an embarrassment and irresponsible. Such views will not only reduce any forward movement towards reconciliation with the Orthodox, but will reinforce the sense of estrangement felt by Eastern Catholics who repeatedly have to argue for their own Tradition's 'rights' in the Church.

Let us pray that Fr Touze and those like him retire to happy and peaceful pursuits, like moth collecting.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Sin and Morality

Man was neither made sinful, nor corrupt, nor was he made for sin or corruption. Man was made incorrupt and for sharing in the incorrupt Life of the All-holy Trinity, now attainable through Christ Jesus.

Sin is not an offense against God; the Lord cannot be offended, insulted, or hurt. Sin is an offense against ourselves, a corruption of our human nature hurtful to us, not to God. The entire purpose of God's moral law is to help us lead the normal life of incorruption, as much as possible in the fallen world, so that our hearts and souls would be open to divine grace and we would rejoice forever abiding in the Glory of God. This is what is normal for human nature; everything that falls short of this, everything that is corrupt, regardless of its origin or composition, is abnormal.

Metropolitan Ephraim of Boston, An Encyclical On the Moral Law of God, Holy Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, 2005

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Wisdom of the Church Fathers

There is a breaking of the heart which is gentle and makes it deeply penitent, and there is a breaking of the heart which is violent and harmful, shattering it completely.

Mark the Ascetic
The Philokalia

From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Abba John the Dwarf said, 'He who gorges himself and talks with a boy has already in his thought committed fornication with him.'

Abba John the Dwarf said, 'If a king wanted to take possession of his enemy's city, he would begin by cutting off the water and the food and so his enemies, dying of hunger, would submit to him. It is the same with the passions of the flesh: if a man goes about fasting and hungry the enemies of his soul grow weak.'

Abba Isidore the Priest said that for forty years he had been tempted to sin in thought but that he had never consented either to covetousness or to anger.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Wisdom from the Fathers

Envy is a food of the mind corrupting it with poisonous juices, and ceasing not to torment it miserably with the thought of a neighbor’s happy success.

St. John Cassian

Uncreated Light:A Day Without Sunset and One Eternal Sunrise

We all rejoice in a new day and are inwardly refreshed by the light of the dawning sun. In the spring of the year as the days lengthen and the warmth of the sun or even just the fresh burst of light awakens the slumbering shoots of daffodils, we await the sure sign of approaching summer as the awakening Forsythia seem to embrace the brightness with their burst of yellow flowers.

The created world is aroused and awakens but there is, beyond such mere existence, another birth. This is an eternal birth without Father that betokens a birth in time without mother. Now our tears start to flow for in this we know, in the silence of unknowing, the annunciation of hope beyond hope.

Who tells us of this wonder? Do these marvels come from within, from the human spirit? This cannot be: “let the dead bury their dead”. These things are ineffable and even when spoken, remain hidden. The Thrice Holy, yet One God, has spoken of these things in the heart of our Mother: the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. She, existing before the beginning of time, has, in her turn, proclaimed these tidings throughout creation and beyond being, the uncreated light, showers of mercy, ever-beginning and never-ending love and compassion surge forward from unfathomable depths of endless forgiveness and rebirth.