22 December 2008

In this lull...

...between the end of grading and the joyous Christmas liturgy, I have the time to re-organize my office and indulge in a little non-necessary reading. Currently I'm enjoying Miguel de Unamuno's The Tragic Sense of Life. I don't endorse all its contents, but Unamuno is delightful in his expression, and thought-provoking in his views.

15 December 2008

Sermon outline from 14 December

Note: I'm up to my eyeballs in finals grading. Here's the rough outline of my sermon from yesterday. The text was Luke 14:16-24.

The whole chapter has dealt with dining

> It begins with our Lord healing a man in the house of a Pharisee where he had gone to eat.

> Then Christ tells two parables:

o how to act as guest when you’re invited;

o who to invite when you’re the host

> Now comes our text.

A man prepares a great banquet. He invites many. Then he sends out his servant to let them know: “All is now ready.”

This man is our Lord himself. The banquet is his Kingdom; the servants are those who call and invite us. Hear the words: “All is now ready”—sheer gift to those who would come.

But those who were invited make excuses. “I have bought a field. I have bought five yoke of oxen. I have married a wife.”

Each of these represent reasons why people refuse. The field is the necessities of this life; the oxen are the useful things of this life; the wife is the relationships of this life.

So the master tells the servants to invite others: the poor and maimed, the blind and the lame. This is done, but still there’s room.

The Jews were first-invited. When they refused, the Master turned to us, the Gentiles.

Think of the implication. If the banquet is the Kingdom, then we must learn to think of ourselves in a new way: poor, maimed, blind and lame. All is of God’s mercy. None is of our merit.

“Still there is room”—so there is room for me too.

Yet the man is not done. The banquet must be filled, so he sends the servants out.

Each person they met was someone for the Master’s banquet. And so it is with us, when we go forth. Each one we meet is someone for his banquet. Let us so live a life of gratitude and service, that we "compel" them to come and find what we have received.

25 November 2008

Attention Lutheran pastors

If you're happy where you are, please ignore this.

If you're upset at a parish council or Voters' meeting, this isn't for you.

If you think that Lutheranism is just going through a bad patch now and will, sooner or later, get back on track, forget about this.

But if you think that Lutheranism has a genetic flaw, from which it cannot recover...
If you are coming to the persuasion that Lutheranism is not Church, and you want to find the Church...
If you are looking for somewhere to talk about the concerns you have, with folks who have gone through it before...
If you are even looking for practical help, to make the transition from life as a pastor to life as a layman of the Orthodox Church,

then please contact me about a Yahoo! group I have started. Just drop a line to pastor_hogg[at]hotmail[dot]com. Be sure to include your phone number, and a good time to reach you.

22 November 2008

Does anyone else find this ironic?

As Will Rogers said, "There is no credit to being a comedian, when you have the whole Government working for you. All you have to do is report the facts. I don't even have to exaggerate."

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democratic leaders ordered Detroit's Big Three automakers Friday to submit what amounts to a detailed loan application to Congress so lawmakers can decide whether to give the beleaguered industry an emergency $25 billion lifeline.

In a letter to the auto executives released Friday afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid demanded a detailed accounting by Dec. 2 of the companies' financial condition and short-term cash needs, as well as how they would achieve long-term viability.

"The auto companies' shareholders, business partners and prospective benefactors - the American people - deserve to see a plan that is accountable to taxpayers and that is viable for the long-term," Pelosi, D-Calif., and Reid, D-Nev., wrote.

19 November 2008

Hummus rap

For all those Orthodox who've begun the Nativity fast, check out this rap on Hummus: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIybz6axr1Q

HT: Fr. Shenork Souin

A poem: John 21

When you were young, your hands were free
and where you willed, you went;
In old age you will follow me
suspended head-down on a tree
you'll go where you are sent."

We conjure fates we could not bear
and run to get away;
With fervent hope and patient care,
with cry and shout "It is not fair!"
We hold our fear at bay.

Until at last our hands are bound,
our face is turned to see
What we feared most, like some dread hound
is but the means by which we're crowned
And find true liberty.

(I wrote this in 1996; all rights reserved--not that it's good, but that it's mine.)

09 November 2008

Sermon notes from 9 Nov 2008: Jairus' daughter

Text: Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the issue of blood
(Standard disclaimer--these are the notes from which I preached this morning--not the full text.)

Prayer isn’t just one topic among others, for Christians. It’s the point of the Christian life. The holy fathers teach us that prayer is the fruit, and works are the leaves, of the Christian life. Prayer is not one of the virtues; it’s the mother of them all, as St. Isaac the Syrian says, “Catch the mother (prayer) and the children (the virtues) will come to you.” And St. Paul says, First of all, then, I exhort that prayers be made…”

So let’s ask ourselves,

How is our prayer life?

Do we pray at all?

Do we pray mechanically?

Is prayer simply another thing on our daily to-do list?

Today’s text gives us lessons in prayer.

1. It doesn’t matter what kind of need.

a. Girl: alive for 12 years, now dying;

b. Woman: a living death for 12 years.

2. It doesn’t matter what your status is.

a. Girl: daughter of a prominent man;

b. Woman: nameless, one in a crowd.

3. It doesn’t matter whose is the need.

a. Girl: Another asked Jesus on her behalf;

b. Woman: She went to Christ on her own behalf.

4. Even the quality of your faith doesn’t matter.

a. Girl: Jairus, her father, had little faith;

b. Woman: wanted to keep her faith anonymous.

Note: Christ does not rebuke her touching his garment. Nor is this an exception—many later do the same, both w/Christ and w/ his apostles. It still happens today—story of St. Nektarios of Pentapolis.

5. What matters?

a. That we come to Christ in need.

“Cast all your cares on him, for he cares for you.”

b. That we come to Christ without fear.

“Let us come boldly before the throne of grace, that we may receive grace and mercy to help us in time of need.”

c. That we come to Christ in faith.

“He who would come to God must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who diligently seek him.”

So let us call on him in our time of need, our day of trouble. He will answer us, and we will glorify him, both here and in his Kingdom, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

05 November 2008

On January 21,

...we will still pray, in our eucharistic petitions, for the President of the United States and all civil authorities, and for our armed forces everywhere.

We face some serious challenges, as Church:
  • to promote, in practical ways, a culture of life when our culture has embraced choice;
  • to practice repentance and self-control, at a time when indulgence is everywhere;
  • to love and serve the poor from our own resources, when more than ever people will think "That's the government's job."
I think that Senator Obama has a very hard road ahead of him. I think he will end up disappointing his own supporters (because their expectations are so high) more than those who opposed him. (I've heard no one reflect on what it means that a Congress with lower approval ratings than the President's has been reaffirmed in this election. If they try to push an agenda that was unapproved before, it should be interesting.)

His election does represent a new step in making our culture color-blind, and that is good.

I hope he is less likely to want to meddle in other parts of the world (like Iraq and the Russia/Georgia conflict), and have a more balanced view of the Middle East; time will tell. God give him wisdom, and protect him, and save our nation.

We are moving ever more rapidly to the situation the Church faced before the edict of Milan. Now, on with the work of repentance...

28 October 2008

Another experiment

I don't write my sermons out in full any more. I've taken to jotting down notes and preaching from them. So I thought I'd share with you (both?) the notes from last week's sermon. It's an unsatisfactory way of doing things, I know, because a lot of the 'meat' is left out. But it's what I have time for now. So here goes. If it's helpful to anyone, let me know; if not, let me know that as well. The text is the healing of the demoniac in Luke 8...

1.”Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.”

Why home? Hadn’t those people seen him

…in his shame and nakedness?

…in the demon-inspired violence and torment?

He wanted to go with Jesus. But Jesus had something else in mind.

2. Christ and the apostles had traveled across the lake, it seems, for one purpose: to heal this man. They left the west shore the night before, and when this man is healed they return again. (Tell story, through “Return to your home.” Stress Christ's power over the demonic--the ultimate conquest being in the cross.)

3. The people of the town had begged Jesus to leave. He did. But he left behind a witness, one of their own, a living reminder of God’s mercy. It was because those people knew what he had been, that they above all might continue to marvel at what he had become through Christ.

4.The holy fathers teach us, “Remain in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” Here they echo the words of St. Paul, “Remain in that situation where you were called.” It’s happened to me on more than one occasion: as I stay in a place, and get to know people, they see my shame and faults. I have, in the past, sometimes changed my location instead of changing my heart. It feels good for a while—a new adventure. But when I journey, I bring myself along with me. I must learn repentance where I am, or I will learn it nowhere.

5. “But Father,” you say, “I want to journey with Jesus.” Thanks be to God, we have an option that man did not have. We can remain where we are and journey with the Lord as well. For he has promised that we can find him in two places, neither of which requires a move:

* here in the liturgical life of the Church—that’s why, after all, we come (“where two or three are gathered; lo, I am with you always)

*and out there in the lives of his precious ones, the poor and the needy (I was hungry, and you fed me…)

6. Let us therefore stay where we are: let us cultivate not a change of scenery, but a change of heart. And let us seek Christ where he wills to be found: here in his Temple, and out there among the poor and the needy. For so our cell will prove the entrance to his Kingdom, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Thank God...

...my wife arrived safely back home last night at around midnight. And yesterday was the 31st anniversary of our engagement. Hooray!

21 October 2008

This may be a stupid question...

...since I don't sleep well when my wife is away (she's visiting her father in New Mexico; he's ill).

Once upon a time, years ago, I was in discussions to write the Preus dogmatics volume on justification. (By that time, my thinking had become far more eastern than western.) As I considered the connection between justification and the sacraments, I saw a problem.

1. Forgiveness of sins, and justification, are imputational, not imparted, according to Lutherans and other protestants. That is, they consist essentially in the reckoning of our sins to Christ, and the reckoning of his righteousness to us--not in the sharing of the divine energies. Hence the strong Lutheran emphasis on the extra nos (outside us) aspect of salvation.*

2. The sacraments of baptism and the eucharist are explicitly said to be for the forgiveness of sins.

3. The sacraments are said to be "visible words"--that is, they show what the Gospel says.

4. Why, then, would it not be more fitting for those who hold #1 above to baptise by pouring water next to the person being baptised--i.e. avoiding contact with the body? Why would it not be more fitting for the eucharist, if offered, not to be consumed but viewed with faith?**

* Protestants grant some sort of mystical union between Christ and the believer, but they teach this mystical union as a consequence of imputation, an effect of forgiveness and neither the cause nor the essence of forgiveness. Rome recognizes the need for an imparting, but lest the Creator/creature distinction be destroyed, what is imparted (grace) is not God's energies (which for them are identical to God's essence) but rather a created substance or habit.

** Certain streams of evangelicalism are being consistent to the Reformational emphasis on imputation when they abandon water baptism altogether; likewise, when the last remnants of what was once communion consist in a little side table with little glasses of grape juice and a cracker, for those who wish it to serve themselves after the benediction has been pronounced (within a generation it will disappear entirely), this is consistent with an imputational view of grace and forgiveness.

Once again, forgive me if I'm missing something obvious; I am tired. But I'd be interested in others' thoughts on this issue.

15 October 2008

Remember yesterday's date

It represents the fact that more than our economy is bankrupt. The Secretary of the Treasury appointed by a "conservative Republican" President said, "Government owning a stake in any private US company is objectionable to most Americans, me included. Yet the alternative of leaving businesses and consumers without access to financing is totally unacceptable."

In my view, it was a Chamberlain-like moment. To paraphrase Churchill, "He had a choice of abandoning his principles or economic disaster. He chose to abandon his principles; he shall have economic disaster also."

01 October 2008

Episcopal visit

This past Sunday, we were blessed to have our bishop MARK visit Holy Cross. He performed the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, which is much more elaborate than a standard liturgy. In the photo he is inducting Michael Cook, another former LCMS pastor, into the Order of St. Ignatius. Michael and his wife Mary just had a baby a few weeks ago; the baptism is set for this coming Sunday. Many years, Sayedna MARK...and many years, Michael!

(This photo also gives a glimpse of one part of our nave.)
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23 September 2008

How odd...

That some honor Christ as the Way,
but object to honoring his Mother as the One who shows the Way...
how easily they get lost.
That some honor Christ as the Truth,
but object to the Church as Pillar and Ground of the Truth...
how easily they slip into falsehood.
That some honor Christ as the Life,
but object to the prayers and intercessions of the saints, as those alive in Christ...
how easily they insert the world's death into their worship.

22 September 2008

Walking on water--more thoughts, on my 52nd birthday

Our parish is looking at buying land for a permanent temple. God has blessed us with a wonderful building; but we sit on less than an acre and that's not enough room to do the things we need to do (e.g. have a cemetery).

Land costs money. Some can be tempted to shrink from the challenge--especially in this time of financial crisis. But I keep reminding the people, "God made the land. If he wants us to have it, he will provide the green paper to buy it. Just seek his will." (I'm not really talking to them. I'm talking to myself.)

Our generation has feared poverty; we have built all sorts of levees to protect ourselves from it. But the sea of our passions and greed has overtopped the levees, and only God knows whether we are about to face a Katrina-like deluge of trouble.
Those who contemplate coming to the Church must face squarely the issue of how we value money and security--and anything else--over against truth and the will of God. Last evening the wife of another priest told me of a family that was contemplating the Church. She said they told her they were subjected to horrific demonic attack. They pondered pulling away, returning to the place they were coming from. But they kept praying, "Lord, have mercy. Help us." And it was made clear to them, "Don't worry; you are not alone."
A dear bishop once told some Lutherans, "You must not impoverish your family to become Orthodox." It is true that the Orthodox Church has, for those who come, much in the way of good will, but little in the way of resources. But I would make bold to amend that bishop's words.
When it is not clear to a man that the Orthodox Church is the truth, he is not yet ready to come. He would be foolish to put family at risk in such a case.

But when it is clear, when the questions have been answered to such a degree that his heart says, "Yes, this is the Church"--then truth tips the scales. He may wait for a time, to try to help spouse and children come to the same conclusion. But once it is clear, he must obey the truth. "Even though knowledge is true, it is still not firmly established if unaccompanied by works. For everything is established by being put into practice." (St. Mark the Ascetic) This is the true theology of the cross--not the theoretical, but the practical denying of oneself and taking up suffering freely and willingly for Christ's sake. Surrender to Truth is made without terms and conditions. "I will follow you, but first..." someone said, and Truth replied, "Let the dead bury their dead..."

It takes no faith to walk on water when it's turned to ice.

That is why I ask your prayers, all you (?both of you) who read these scribblings. I am Orthodox in name. I wish to be Orthodox in truth--to abandon my thoughts, my will, my dreams, and follow after Jesus Christ. Please, in God's name, pray for my conversion.

Curmudgeonly musings on friendship

One of my sons once came back from a trip and announced to me, "I made a lot of new friends on this trip." "No, you didn't," I responded. When he objected, I explained.

Friendship requires that you share a common life. The joys and sorrows, the trials and triumphs of friends are one and the same. Friends share a common mind: the Lord told his disciples, "I do not call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." A friend gives his life for his friends, "Greater love hath no man than this--that he lay down his life for his friends."

Friendships are revealed in the tough times of life. No roof leaks on a sunny day; it takes a downpour to reveal which ones truly protect and which ones only seem to.

We become like the people we befriend. It's inevitable that since persons exist in relations, those who share a common mind, a common life, and the same trials will resemble each other more and more--even when time and space separates them. I saw that clearly when I went to one of my father's Sixth Armored Division reunions. Their bodies were old and bent, but their eyes shone with pride and with tears as they remembered their common bond.

The word "friend" still means something to me--something dear and precious.

That is why I cannot use it to describe relationships with former companions who took the other fork in the road when the time of crisis came. It is not disdain, but love of truth to recognize that without a common life there is no true friendship. Affection? Yes. Sadness? Of course. But friendship? That cannot be the case, where there is no common mind. "Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess..."

That, too, is why I am going to re-examine my "Facebook" friendships. Facebook tells me that I have 93 friends.
> Some of them are former students;
> Some of them are my family members;
> Some of them are friends of my family members;
> Some of them are truly friends--people with whom we've shared life for more than 20 years.
> And some are newfound, priests and people with whom I have the prospect of sharing one life, one mind.

But as time goes on, the bond with some former students grows dimmer. I need to release them, because as important as they are, I cannot attend to the changes in the lives of those I truly continue to live with.

And now some people I've never met, people with whom I have no common life or even realistic chance of a common life, want to befriend me on "Facebook." I bear them no ill will. I have simply decided not to add them as friends, because I want to focus, in the time I have remaining, on those with whom I have some real connection.

The relation between "acquaintance" and "friend" is like the relation between "house" and "home." As Edgar Guest penned, "It takes a heap o' livin, to make a house a home."

15 September 2008

Prayer to the Theotokos II: Post-communion prayer, part 4

The prayer continues:

"O thou who gavest birth to the True Light, do thou enlighten the spiritual eyes of my heart; thou who gavest birth to the Source of Immortality, revive me who am dead in sin; thou who art the lovingly-compassionate Mother of the merciful God, have mercy on me and grant me compunction and contrition in my heart, and humility in my thoughts, and the recall of my thoughts from captivity."

These petitions paint, in words, what is written in colors on icons: our beliefs concerning Mary are directly tied to our beliefs concerning her Son. She enlightens, because she gave birth to the Light; she revives, because she gave birth to enfleshed Life. Because she continues to be the mother of the Merciful Lord, she has mercy on us who are pilgrims, directing us always to Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

One of the last Lutheran theologians to believe in her perpetual virginity, Francis Pieper, said that if a man's Christology were in all other respects correct, he need not affirm her perpetual virginity. Here we see the last glowing embers of a fire of recognition: one last time, before bibliolatry swallowed Christology, an awareness that a deficient view of the Theotokos almost always implies a deficient Christology.

Orthodox are sometimes accused of having an overinflated view of Mary; in fact, Protestants have a deficient Christology and soteriology. Their god is too small.

"And vouchsafe me until my last breath to receive without condemnation the sanctification of the most pure Mysteries for the healing of soul and body; and grant me tears of repentance and confession, that I may hymn and glorify thee all the days of my life, for blessed and most glorified art thou unto the ages. Amen."

How can we ask the Theotokos to vouchsafe us to receive the Mysteries rightly? Isn't that God's work? Yes, of course it is. But how does he accomplish his work? In no other way than through the prayers of his people, and chiefly through the prayers of his Mother. As Nicholas Cabasilas pointed out, against western calumnies of the eastern liturgy, prayer itself a confession of our own weakness and inability. When we ask the prayers of others on our behalf, it confesses that weakness even more strikingly. Apart from the prayers of others, I cannot be saved (not because God is not gracious, but because salvation is communion, with God the Holy Trinity and with all the members of the Body of Christ). This is true, in a preeminent way, of the prayers of the one God glorified to bear his Son in flesh, and whom all generations call blessed.

08 September 2008

Prayer to the Theotokos II: Post-communion prayer, part 3

"I thank thee that thou hast vouchsafed me, who am unworthy, to be a partaker of the most pure Body and precious Blood of thy Son."

The Greek original says, "Eucharisto soi, hoti exiosas me ton anaxion koinonon genesthai"--"I thank you, that you have accounted me (the unworthy) worthy to become sharer..."

There are two issues here:

1) Can the saints share in works that are God's works?

The answer, as we have seen elsewhere, is "yes." To cite but two examples: The handkerchiefs and shadows of the apostles healed people, and Paul told Titus that he (Titus) would save people by paying attention to himself and to his teaching.

Now making someone worthy of communing is God's work. But he carries out his works in and through means, and when he does so, we can use those same verbs in connection with those means.

2) How are we made worthy to partake of the Sacrament?

Certainly we are made worthy by faith. But that faith does not exclude the prayers of others. Those prayers play a part in our worthy partaking--hence the priest prays for himself and for the other communicants before they receive the sacrament: "To you, Master, Lover of mankind, we entrust our whole life and our hope, and we entreat, pray and implore you: count us worthy to partake of your heavenly and awesome mysteries at this sacred and spiritual table..." If the priest's prayer aids in the people's worthy partaking, how much more do the prayers of the Theotokos aid such partaking!

So in this particular petition, we are thanking the Mother of God that through her prayers for us, she participates in the divine work of making us worthy to receive Christ's body and blood.

Prayer to the Theotokos II: Post-communion prayer, part 2

O most holy Lady, Theotokos, light of my darkened soul, my hope, protection, refuge, consolation, my joy; I thank thee that thou hast vouchsafed me, who am unworthy, to be a partaker of the most pure Body and precious Blood of thy Son. O thou who gavest birth to the True Light, do thou enlighten the spiritual eyes of my heart; thou who gavest birth to the Source of Immortality, revive me who am dead in sin; thou who art the lovingly-compassionate Mother of the merciful God, have mercy on me and grant me compunction and contrition in my heart, and humility in my thoughts, and the recall of my thoughts from captivity. And vouchsafe me until my last breath to receive without condemnation the sanctification of the most pure Mysteries for the healing of soul and body; and grant me tears of repentance and confession, that I may hymn and glorify thee all the days of my life, for blessed and most glorified art thou unto the ages. Amen."

The structure of this prayer, roughly speaking is as follows:
I. Introductory address
II. Petition of thanksgiving
III. Petitions of intercession
IV. Conclusion

In the introductory address, the Theotokos is called:
> most holy Lady, Theotokos--we've addressed this in a previous post.

> light of my darkened soul--My soul is darkened, because I seek my own good and not the will of God. But she shows me a different way, a way that begins with "let it be to me according to thy will," and finds its focus in "whatever he tells you, do it." If Christ calls all Christians the light of the world, how can we object to his Mother being called the light of our darkened soul?

> my hope-- St. Paul calls the Thessalonians his hope, glory and joy:

1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 19 For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy.

Why then would it be wrong to call the Theotokos our hope or our joy?

> protection, refuge--as noted in an earlier post, the city of Constantinople experienced protection and refuge from the Theotokos, during the invasions of Arab and Slavic peoples in the second half of the first millenium. That is the historical background of the song, "To thee the Champion Leader."

>consolation-- how can she help but console us, when she is the mother of the Consolation of Israel?

>my joy--mentioned above, in connection with 1 Thessalonians 2.

So much for the address. (I apologize for the sketchiness and undeveloped nature of these posts. The academic year has begun, and I have very limited time to flesh out my thoughts. But anyone of good will can easily think through the issues himself, I think.)

28 August 2008

Prayer to the Theotokos, II: Post-communion prayer

I have begun a series of posts on prayers to the Theotokos, in an effort to explain to non-Orthodox what the Church prays when it calls on her. I do not propose to re-establish the things I've already shown, to the best of my ability, such as why we ask the intercessions of the saints in general, or what the Church means by terms like salvation. Not everyone will be convinced; but being convinced is not simply an intellectual exercise. It requires a modicum of good will as well. Even the rich man in hell was unconvinced by Abraham's words, notwithstanding his own misery.

After the Eucharist, among many other prayers we pray, we offer this request to the Theotokos:

"O most holy Lady, Theotokos, light of my darkened soul, my hope, protection, refuge, consolation, my joy; I thank thee that thou hast vouchsafed me, who am unworthy, to be a partaker of the most pure Body and precious Blood of thy Son. O thou who gavest birth to the True Light, do thou enlighten the spiritual eyes of my heart; thou who gavest birth to the Source of Immortality, revive me who am dead in sin; thou who art the lovingly-compassionate Mother of the merciful God, have mercy on me and grant me compunction and contrition in my heart, and humility in my thoughts, and the recall of my thoughts from captivity. And vouchsafe me until my last breath to receive without condemnation the sanctification of the most pure Mysteries for the healing of soul and body; and grant me tears of repentance and confession, that I may hymn and glorify thee all the days of my life, for blessed and most glorified art thou unto the ages. Amen."

The first thing to notice is that this prayer does not stand on its own. It is one in a series of prayers; indeed, it stands last in that series. Perhaps this is a key to open the prayer as a whole. (I do not speak dogmatically here, but phenomenologically--that is, as someone who has watched Orthodox services with attention for some time.)

Consider the series of prayers and meditations that occur each Saturday night at Vespers. Nearly always, the last one is addressed to the Theotokos. Consider also the second great censing of the Temple during Matins: it begins with the priest saying, "The Theotokos and Mother of Light, Thee do we honor and magnify with song." These prayers of the Church mean to teach us that all Christ is by nature in the second Article of the Creed, he wills us to become by grace in the third Article. To acknowledge the Theotokos is to confess that God has acted and is acting in the lives of his people; for she is "full of grace," full of the favor of God.

The second thing to notice is the tone of the petitions. Is it the tone of the whole, rather than individual parts, which raises objections? In an earlier post I noted that when we pray to the saints, the chief role they play is that of intercessor for us to the Lord. But it is also true that God shows his glory in them by allowing them to act for him and toward us. The angels are given such tasks, as Hebrews 1:14 tells us, and we see an example in Luke 1:19, "And the angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings." The sun is the source of nearly all light on earth, even that of the moon; but only a sophist would say, of the moonlight, "It's not moonlight at all; it's only sunlight." According to Acts, handkerchiefs and even the shadows of the apostles brought cures to those who were ill. Why, then, should it seem strange that God would work through his holy ones, who share his divine energies by grace, in order to work in the lives of his people?

In my next post, I'll set forth the structure of this prayer.

24 August 2008

Blind and Deaf

Lord Love, I have asked Thee to open me to others. However, Thou hast made me understand that Thy servant must be both blind and deaf, seeing but as if not seeing, hearing but as if not hearing.

Love, make me deaf. Close my ears to the accusations, to all the mockeries that I hear uttered against others.

Love, make me blind. Close my eyes to the failings of others. Of course I must reject what makes an act or a word evil, but I do not have the right to judge and to condemn the speaker or the doer. Thou only, Lord, Thou knowest. Thou knowest all things.

Thy Christ did not want to look at the woman taken in adultery while she was being accused. He only looked at her when they were left alone. As long as the accusation lasted, He stooped down over the earth. He kept silent and wrote. By this attitude, he silenced the accusers. By this attitude He has forever, unto the ages of ages, silenced all accusations.
Fr. Lev Gillet, "In Thy Presence"

20 August 2008

Some advice for students of all sorts...

"When authors have been admired for a great number of centuries and have been scorned only by a few people with eccentric taste (for there will always be found depraved tastes), then not only is there temerity, there is madness in casting doubt on the merit of these writers. From the fact that you do not see the beauties in their writings you must not conclude that those beauties are not there, but that you are blind and that you have no taste. The bulk of mankind in the long run makes no mistake about works of the spirit. There is no longer any questions nowadays as to whether Homer, Plato, Cicero, Vergil are remarkable men. It is a matter closed to dispute, for twenty centuries are agreed on it; the question is to find out what it is that has made them admired by so many centuries; and you must find a way to undersatnd this or give up letters, for which you must believe that you have neither taste nor aptitude since you do not feel what all men have felt." --Boileau, in "The Shaping of Modern Thought," Englewood, NJ, Prentice-Hall 1963, p. 35)

15 August 2008

A shameless plea for money

In reading Khomiakov's On the western confessions of faith, I found an intriguing reference to a book by one Adam Zernikav. Khomiakov writes, "...I mention the fact that the work of Adam Zernikavius, in which it is demonstrated that all the testimony drawn from the works of the holy fathers in support of the addition to the Creed was intentionally altered or misquoted, still stands unrefuted."

Fr. Georges Florovsky seconds Khomiakov's assessment. He says, "Of a somewhat different mold than these Kievan scholars was Adam Zernikav of Chernigov. He deserves mention because of his special place in the ranks of religious leaders at that time in the south of Russia. Born in Konigsberg, and trained in Protestant schools, Zernikav came to Orthodoxy through scholarly study of the early Christian tradition. After a long period in the West, primarily in study at Oxford and London, he turned up in Chernigov. There he made his mark as the author of the treatise, De processione Spiritus Sancti, which after its belated publication in Leipzig in 1774-1776 by Samuil Mislavskii, Metropolitan of Kiev, gained him wide renown. It appears to have been Zernikav's only work, but it is the work of a lifetime. There is manifested in it an enormous erudition and a great gift for theological analysis. To this day Zernikav's work remains a skillful compilation of valuable materials, one of the most comprehensive studies on the subject ever made. It still deserves to be read."

When I tried to find this work by Interlibrary loan, I was unsuccessful. The librarian at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in Toronto pointed me to the State Library of Vienna, which seems to be one of the few places to find the work.

Thanks to some help from a Lutheran friend, I have been able to secure a microfilm copy of the text. I wish to do a Latin/English edition of the text. It will probably take the rest of my life to accomplish it, since the work is hundreds of pages long, and I have only spare time. (Yes, I am selfish, and want to do the whole thing myself, rather than farming it out.)

In any case, the bill I must pay for the microfilm is about 253 Euros, or around 375 US dollars. I am making a shameless plea for anyone interested, if you're willing, to help defray the cost. (I also plan to sell my English edition of Luther's works--nearly complete--to help pay as well.) Any help, however small, would be greatly appreciated. (Even more important, remember me in your prayers.)

From what I gather so far, it appears that Zernikav was a Lutheran convert to Orthodoxy--at a time when such things were unheard of. That makes the text all the more intrinsically interesting to me. If the text lives up to Khomiakov's billing, it should prove very helpful in the ongoing discussion of the filioque.

05 August 2008

"This was from me"--HT www.pramvir.com

From 'Orthodoxy and the World' www.pravmir.com

Holy Fathers
By St. Seraphim of Viritsa
Jul 31, 2008, 10:00

Source: All Saints of North America Orthodox Church (OCA, Hamilton) - asna.ca

(The new St. Seraphim, of Viritsa was born in 1866. He married and had three children. In 1920, at the age of 54, he and his wife quietly separated and each entered monastic life. Eventually he became the spiritual father of the St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra in St. Petersburg, where, as a clairvoyant staretz, he also confessed thousands of laity. He said, "I am the storage room where people's afflictions gather." In imitation of his patron saint, he prayed for a thousand nights on a rock before an icon of St. Seraphim of Sarov. He reposed in the Lord in 1949 and the Church of Russia glorified him in August of 2000.)

The following is (slightly abridged) from a letter sent by St. Seraphim to a spiritual child of his, a hierarch who was at that time in a Soviet prison. It is in the form of consolation given by God to a troubled man's soul.

St. Seraphim of Viritsa
Have you ever thought that everything that concerns you, concerns Me, also? You are precious in my eyes and I love you; for his reason, it is a special joy for Me to train you. When temptations and the opponent [the Evil One] come upon you like a river, I want you to know that This was from Me.

I want you to know that your weakness has need of My strength, and your safety lies in allowing Me to protect you. I want you to know that when you are in difficult conditions, among people who do not understand you, and cast you away, This was from Me.

I am your God, the circumstances of your life are in My hands; you did not end up in your position by chance; this is precisely the position I have appointed for you. Weren't you asking Me to teach you humility? And there - I placed you precisely in the "school" where they teach this lesson. Your environment, and those who are around you, are performing My will. Do you have financial difficulties and can just barely survive? Know that This was from Me.

I want you to know that I dispose of your money, so take refuge in Me and depend upon Me. I want you to know that My storehouses are inexhaustible, and I am faithful in My promises. Let it never happen that they tell you in your need, "Do not believe in your Lord and God." Have you ever spent the night in suffering? Are you separated from your relatives, from those you love? I allowed this that you would turn to Me, and in Me find consolation and comfort. Did your friend or someone to whom you opened your heart, deceive you? This was from Me.

I allowed this frustration to touch you so that you would learn that your best friend is the Lord. I want you to bring everything to Me and tell Me everything. Did someone slander you? Leave it to Me; be attached to Me so that you can hide from the "contradiction of the nations." I will make your righteousness shine like light and your life like midday noon. Your plans were destroyed? Your soul yielded and you are exhausted? This was from Me.

You made plans and have your own goals; you brought them to Me to bless them. But I want you to leave it all to Me, to direct and guide the circumstances of your life by My hand, because you are the orphan, not the protagonist. Unexpected failures found you and despair overcame your heart, but know That this was from Me.

With tiredness and anxiety I am testing how strong your faith is in My promises and your boldness in prayer for your relatives. Why is it not you who entrusted their cares to My providential love? You must leave them to the protection of My All Pure Mother. Serious illness found you, which may be healed or may be incurable, and has nailed you to your bed. This was from Me.

Because I want you to know Me more deeply, through physical ailment, do not murmur against this trial I have sent you. And do not try to understand My plans for the salvation of people's souls, but unmurmuringly and humbly bow your head before My goodness. You were dreaming about doing something special for Me and, instead of doing it, you fell into a bed of pain. This was from Me.

Because then you were sunk in your own works and plans and I wouldn't have been able to draw your thoughts to Me. But I want to teach you the most deep thoughts and My lessons, so that you may serve Me. I want to teach you that you are nothing without Me. Some of my best children are those who, cut off from an active life, learn to use the weapon of ceaseless prayer. You were called unexpectedly to undertake a difficult and responsible position, supported by Me. I have given you these difficulties and as the Lord God I will bless all your works, in all your paths. In everything I, your Lord, will be your guide and teacher. Remember always that every difficulty you come across, every offensive word, every slander and criticism, every obstacle to your works, which could cause frustration and disappointment, This is from Me.

Know and remember always, no matter where you are, That whatsoever hurts will be dulled as soon as you learn In all things, to look at Me. Everything has been sent to you by Me, for the perfection of your soul.

All these things were from Me.

© Copyright 2004 by 'Orthodoxy and the World' www.pravmir.com

03 August 2008

Solzhenitsyn: An excerpt from August 1914

Looking gloomy and careworn, the commander left the staff offices and went to his quarters to rest. No one would have guessed it from his face, but he was aware of it: a layer of his soul had been shaken loose and was slowly, gradually slipping, coming adrift.

Samsonov strained to hear its inaudible movement.

His room had been cool in the afternoon, but now toward evening it was stuffy although the window was half open and the fine-wire screen in place.

Samsonov took his boots off and lay down.

In the gathering dusk he could still see from his pillow a big print mocking him from the wall: Frederick the Great surrounded by his generals, fine stalwart fellows all of them, with twirled mustaches, invincible.

How strange. It had all happened only a few hours ago, yet he no longer felt angry either with Blagoveshchensky or with Artamonov for lying and retreating. They would never have done such things if they had not been under unbearable pressure, if they had not been going through hell. His anger was misdirected. How could he be angry with them when he himself was so much at fault? Putting himself in their place, Samsonov could even find excuses for them: when the action was scattered over such a huge area a corps commander had no more hope of dominating events than his superior.

But if the mistakes of his subordinates were to be excused, where did that leave the general?

Never in his army career had Samsonov imagined that everything could go so badly wrong at once.

When sunflower oil is shaken and becomes cloudy the bottle must stand for a while so that the liquid can regain its golden transparency, as the sediment sinks to the bottom and the air bubbles rise to the surface. The Army Commander's troubled soul needed stillness to regain clarity. He knew what he must do: pray.

Perfunctory prayers, mumbled morning and evening as a matter of habit, while your thoughts stray to mundane affairs, are like washing fully dressed and with one hand: you are very slightly cleaner, but you hardly feel it. But if you pray with concentration, surrender to it completely, pray as if you were slaking your thirst, when you cannot bear not to pray and nothing else will do—prayer like that, Samsonov remembered, always transforms and strengthens.

Instead of calling his orderly, Kupchik, he rose, felt for the matches, lit the cut-glass table lamp without turning up the wick, and latched the door. He did not pull the window shut—the building opposite had no upper story.

He had a portable icon made of Britannia metal—the sort Cossacks take on campaign with them. He opened it out and arranged its panels so that it stood upright on the table. He knelt clumsily without stopping to check whether the floor was clean.

Supporting his ungainly bulk hurt his knees, but the pain gave him satisfaction as he knelt with his eyes fixed on the crucifixion and the two side panels, St. George Bringer of Victory and St. Nicholas Man of God, and began to pray.

First, two or three well-known prayers—"God shall rise again," "A speedy helper He"—then that fluid prayerful silence, a wordless, sound-less prayer put together by his unconscious, only occasionally attached to firm supports retained by his memory: ". . . the radiance of Thy countenance, 0 Giver of Life," "Mother of God, abundantly merciful"; and again prayers without words, wreathed in clouds of smoke, in mist, moving like ice floes in the spring thaw.

What most weighed on him found its truest and most helpful expression, not in ready-made prayers, or in his own words, but in kneeling on his aching knees until he ceased to feel them, in looking fixedly at the icon in oblivious muteness. For him this was the readiest way to lay his whole life, and the day's suffering, before God. God knew anyway that neither honors and awards nor the enjoyment of power were Samsonov's reasons for serving, for decking himself with medals. He was begging God now to send his armies victories, not in order to save his own name, but for the sake of Russia's might, because this opening battle could largely determine her fate.

He prayed that the casualties might not be in vain. Those whose bodies were so suddenly pierced by lead or steel that they had no time even to cross themselves as they died—let them not have perished in vain! He prayed that clarity might descend upon his exhausted mind so that at the very peak of his "highest time" he might make the correct decision, and so himself embody God's will that these sacrifices should not be in vain.

He knelt there, his whole weight pressing into the floor, gazing on the icon at eye level before him, whispering, praying, and the weight of his hand seemed to grow less each time he crossed himself, his body less cumbersome, his soul less dark: all the weight and darkness soundlessly and invisibly fell away from him, evaporated, were drawn heavenward. God who could assume all burdens was taking this burden to Himself.

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008)

I just heard on the news that Aleksander Solzhenitsyn reposed today. May his memory be eternal!

01 August 2008

"Most holy Theotokos, save us!" (Part 3)

So far we've seen that Mary is rightly addressed as "Most holy Theotokos"--Theotokos, because she gave birth to God, and "most holy" because God shared his holiness and his glory first and foremost with her, and because she alone contained within her womb the God whom the heavens cannot contain. If the most holy place of the Temple was called "the Holy of Holies" because the Ark of the Covenant rested in it, how much more can she be called "Most holy," since her womb contained the God who made that covenant!

We've also seen that it is right and proper to address persons other than God in prayer--reclaiming the meaning of "pray" from Protestants, who seek to carry the day by persuasive definition ("Since 'pray' means talk with God," they say, "by definition we must not pray to anyone other than God."). "Pray" means "ask." Specifically, we can address prayers to the saints because they are not dead, but living, and since their condition is 'far better' than ours, and since the Church has practiced these prayers--east and west, from the earliest days, we can be confident that they hear us. The Church is a communion of love, and one of the key ways we express that mutual love is by mutual prayer. (Most arguments against the intercession of the saints are arguments against intercessory prayer in general.)

Now we come to the most difficult part of the prayer: "Most holy Theotokos, save us." What can that mean?

It doesn't mean that we are asking Mary to save us, apart from her Son. The liturgical context alone demonstrates that, for the next words the priest speaks are "Glory to thee, O Christ, our God and our hope, glory to thee."
Nor does it mean, as I have even heard some well-meaning Orthodox say, that Mary saves us from temporal distress and Christ saves us from eternal distress. Such a "division of labor" approach doesn't protect the uniqueness of the Holy Trinity; it actually obscures it--as if God were only personally concerned with our destination, and delegated the path along that way to others.

Biblically, salvation:

> is from death, first and foremost.

The Psalmist cries out, "The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: "O LORD, I beseech thee, save my life!"" When the Lord answers his prayer, the Psalmist says, "Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I walk before the LORD in the land of the living."

And St. Paul explains the work of Christ this way: "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. "

Our lifelong bondage, sin, stems from the fear of death with which we're born into a broken world. And of course, God's salvation frees us from sin as well as from death.

EXCURSUS: On original sin and the Theotokos
This is also why when the Theotokos says, "My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior," she is not implying thereby that she has sinned. A little excursus here: the historic position of both the East and of Rome is that Mary did not sin--even early Protestants like Dr. Luther held this view.

Both Rome and the Protestants hold a view of original sin as original guilt. This leads Rome to make a great exception in Mary's case, by claiming that she was conceived immaculately, that is, without original sin. And it leads the Protestants to reject Mary's sinlessness, because no one apart from Christ is conceived without original sin.

The Protestants rightly reject the Immaculate Conception, because it would have the effect of making Mary different from the rest of humanity. And Rome rightly defends Mary's sinlessness, because that is the universal teaching of the Church before Protestantism appeared.

But if we hold, with the Orthodox faith, that the heart of "original sin" is mortality ("On the day you eat of the fruit, you shall surely die..."), mortality which leads all people, afraid of death, into sin--then we can affirm the ancient Church's teaching without the need for making Mary an exception to the universal rule. Like everyone else except her Son, the Theotokos is subject to death. (In two weeks we mark the feast of the Dormition, her falling asleep in Christ. She did not remain in death, but that's a subject for another post.) We can also make sense of the Lord's saying, "No one takes my life from me. I both lay it down, and I have the power to take it up again." He alone is born not subject to death; when he dies, he does not surrender to the inevitable, but freely gives himself up for us all.

> concerns the whole man, body and soul.
This is hard to grasp sometimes, because translators routinely render the Greek words sozo and soteria with words like "deliver" or "make whole." When Christ heals, he often says, "Go in peace; your faith has made you whole." The phrase "made you whole" is translating the Greek word sozo. (Those of us who are older may remember the King James Version's rendering: "Go in peace; your faith has saved you.") Likewise, in Philippians 1, when Paul speaks of his hope of release from prison, he says, "This will work out for my deliverance..."--but the word translated "deliverance" is simply soteria.

Why don't the translators simply say, "save" or "salvation" in these contexts? It seems they have a bias for seeing salvation as a 'spiritual' matter, or one concerning the soul only. But salvation, biblically, is a body-and-soul personal reality. St. Gregory the Theologian refuted Apollinaris by saying, "That which the Word did not assume, that he did not redeem." We can flip that saying in this context and say, "If salvation is merely a matter for the soul, then why did the Word become flesh?"--an act which involves more than just the body, but certainly no less than the body.

> concerns the whole of life--indeed, stretches from eternity to eternity

Salvation is not merely that at one fixed point in this life, or at the end of time, God judges us "not guilty." Salvation began before the foundation of the world, according to St. Paul in Ephesians 1; indeed, St. John speaks of those whose names were written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. Salvation continues throughout our earthly life in all its dimensions, as we have seen above. And salvation extends into eternity.

> includes all the means by which the Triune God brings about salvation.

Here we get to the crux of the matter. Well-meaning Protestants stumble at the expression, "Most holy Theotokos, save us," because, they say, God alone saves us. It is true, of course, that God alone saves us. We must remember that heresy takes a partial truth and uses it to renounce the fullness of truth (the word 'heresy' comes from the Greek verb meaning 'to choose.')

Some Protestants apply the dictum "God alone saves" more consistently. So baptists will say, "Baptism does not save you." Their conclusion is based on a simple syllogism: God alone saves; baptism is not God; therefore baptism does not save. Similarly, God alone saves; the Theotokos is not God; therefore the Theotokos does not save.

But the Holy Scriptures do not only use the verb "save" with the subject "God" or "Christ." St. Paul tells Timothy,

"Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers."

Subject: "you" (Timothy)
Verb: "save"
Object: "yourself and your hearers."

St. Paul is not saying to Timothy, "You, not God, will save yourself and your hearers." He is saying, "The ministry and ministers of the Gospel are one component in bringing about salvation." Elsewhere he says the same thing: "But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!"" (Orthodox believers regularly kiss the right hand of bishops and priests, and even in anger, they speak with measured tones--not because bishops and priests are ontologically different or better, but because God uses them as the means by which he delivers salvation to his people. Speaking as a priest, I am deeply conscious of my unworthiness to receive such respect. When I and other Orthodox priests sign ourselves, "The unworthy priest," we aren't 'blowing smoke.')

St. Peter says, likewise, "Corresponding to this, baptism now saves you." (I Peter 3:21)
Subject: "baptism"
Verb: "saves"
Object: "you."

Baptism saves, because God uses baptism to join us to the death and rising of Christ.

St. Paul says to the Philippians, as we have seen, "This will turn out for my salvation through your prayers and the help of the Holy Spirit." Clearly the prayers of others play a role in our salvation. Note also how St. Paul links prayer to the help of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is a synergy, a theanthropic work. That work is a work, not only of the Head, but also of the Body (Acts 1:1; Eph. 4:16).

Biblically speaking, then, the words "save" or "salvation" can be used with subjects other than the Triune God--not because those other persons or things save us apart from him, but because they are means involved in the whole process of salvation. One of those things by which salvation comes about, is the prayers of others.

Is Mary involved in that whole process of salvation? To ask the question is to answer it. "When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law." Even the first promise of salvation is not made apart from her; God says to the serpent, "I will put enmity between your seed and the Seed of the woman. He will crush your head, and you will bruise his heel." She freely responded "yes" to God's promise. She gave birth to God.

That work also includes her intercession, as we see in St. John 2. At the wedding in Cana, the Theotokos sees the need of the young couple. She intercedes for them with her Son--not that he who knows all things was unaware of that need, but rather that he who is Love incarnate delights in his people's cries motivated by love. She tells the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." And he responds to her request by meeting the need of the couple. St. John concludes, "This first (arche) of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee; he manifested his glory, and his disciples believed in him."

St. John is not in the habit of recording random events in his Gospel. They are completely historical, to be sure; but they also serve to reveal timeless reality. John 2, as the first, chief, and root (the word arche carries all those connotations) of signs shows this especially.

So when we pray, "Most holy Theotokos, save us," we are asking her to intercede for us before her Son. Why not simply say, "Most holy Theotokos, intercede for us"? Because, as we have seen, God manifests his glory in his saints and through them. And while the chief way they work in our salvation is by their prayers, God has not limited himself to that way. He has also manifested his glory through them in other ways as well. The most famous of these is, of course, his delivering Constantinople through her in the sixth century--an act which serves as the basis of the Church's hymn: "To thee the Champion leader"--

"To Thee, the Champion Leader, we Thy servants dedicate a feast of victory and of thanksgiving as ones rescued out of sufferings, O Theotokos: but as Thou art one with might which is invincible, from all dangers that can be do Thou deliver us, that we may cry to Thee: Rejoice, Thou Bride Unwedded!"

31 July 2008

"Most holy Theotokos, save us!" (Part 2)

Here we encounter a problem. How is it that we can call on anyone other than God in prayer? Protestants tend to work with a definition of prayer something like this:

(1) Prayer is talking to God.

Given that definition, any prayer offered to someone other than the Father, Son and Holy Spirit would be idolatry. For it would be treating as God, someone who is not God.

But the word "pray" was not always defined in the Protestant way. It simply means, "request." Those who read Shakespeare have surely encountered the phrase "I prithee," which is a colloquialism for "pray thee." Even now, plaintiffs "pray" the Court in lawsuits to grant them relief.

For us, then,

(2) Prayer is making a request of God, angels, saints, or other believers.

There is this difference, of course--in the last analysis, God is the one who grants all requests. He alone is all-knowing and all-powerful. If God alone grants all requests, why do we ask others?

First, when we ask others to pray for us, we admit our own weakness. We are not ashamed to admit that our needs are beyond our own ability to help; indeed, we do not even know how to pray as we ought.

Second, when we ask others to pray for us, we confess the bond of love that unites us. How shall we not ask others whom we love--how shall we not pray them--to intercede for us before the throne of the merciful and man-loving God? And how can we love others and not pray for them--even and especially our enemies and those who hate us?

Third, when we ask others to pray for us, we are confessing the amazing and biblical truth, that what happened for us in Christ also happens through us. All that Christ is by nature, we become by grace.

Why does the Lord walk on water? Because the divine perfections were communicated to his humanity, and his one Person works in and through both natures in performing his actions.

But why does Peter walk on water? Because through the Head, those same perfections are communicated to his Body. The power Peter displays when he walks on water is not his own power--all too soon he doubts and begins to sink. It is Christ's own power, working in and through him.

Does that mean that each and every believer will, for example, walk on water? No; each member of the Body contributes something, but no one member contributes all. There is one Head, one Body; each Christian is but a member of that body. Eyes see, ears hear.

So St. Paul can say to the Colossians, "I know that this will turn out for my deliverance (Gk soteria) through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." Here the Spirit and the prayers of the Colossians work in a wonderful synergia.

What of the departed saints, though? Even if they could pray for us--even if they do pray for us--how can we know that they hear our prayers? "We mustn't pray to dead people," some Protestants will say.

But that's the point. The saints aren't dead, they're alive. "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him," Christ told the Sadducees. To claim that the saints are dead, is to subscribe to the world's point of view on death and life--not God's.

How can we know that they hear us? According to Scripture, when believers fall asleep in Christ, they are "with Christ," which, according to St. Paul, is "far better" than our present condition. If, in this present condition I ask people to pray for me, and I trust that they have heard me and will do it, why can I not trust that those others, joined to me and the rest of the Church by one and the same life and love, will also pray for me? The history of the Church (such prayers go back as far as archaeological evidence allows us to say) and the experience of the faithful serve to show those who believe that their requests are not in vain. No amount of "proof" will serve those whose hearts are hard against it.

Look carefully into the eyes of your beloved, and you will see the world behind you, reflected in the beloved's eyes. The saints behold the face of Christ; how shall they not, gazing into his eyes, see reflected in them the whole world?

So it is right and proper for Christians to ask others, including the saints and the Theotokos, to intercede for us with God. And if God chooses to work through their agency to meet our need, it does not take away his glory, but reveals it. "God is wondrous in his saints," says the Psalmist, and especially the Theotokos: "the Queen stood at thy right hand, clothed in a robe of gold and many colors."

"Most holy Theotokos, save us!" (Part 1)

On another blog, Pr. William Weedon cited a post-communion prayer to the Theotokos, with the hint that it's idolatrous. He was nicely answered by Reader Christopher Orr on his blog Orrologion. But the exchange did suggest a theme to me, for some subsequent posts: to take some of the things said to/about the Theotokos--typically jarring to Protestant ears--and examine them theologically.

First on the list, because it can be very jarring for Protestants, is the exclamation the priest makes at the end of each Vespers service: "Most holy Theotokos, save us!" (These words are also sung sotto voce by the people during the Litany's commemoration of Mary.)

How are we to understand them? Let's break them down into subject, verb, and object.

We call upon Mary as "Most holy Theotokos." Theotokos means, literally, "the one who gave birth to God." Mary gave birth to Jesus; Jesus is God; therefore, Mary gave birth to God. Our Lord's humanity--all of it--he gets from her. Each Christmastide the Church sings,

"Today the Virgin cometh unto the cave, to give birth to the Word, who was born before all ages; begotten in a manner that defies description. Rejoice, therefore, O Universe, if thou shouldst hear, and glorify with the angels and the shepherds, (glorify) Him who by His will shall become a new born babe, and who is our God before all ages."

We call her "most holy." Holiness is a feature belonging to the Triune God. The seraphim cry out, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." The wonder of the Christian faith is that through the Incarnation, God shares that holiness, that glory, with creatures. First and foremost among those creatures is Mary. God's free gift of his Son was met by her free response: "Let it be to me according to your word."

She is most holy--higher than all the saints, "more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim"--because in her body she carried the One whom the heavens cannot contain, and in her soul she trusted, loved and yielded her will to the will of the Triune God.

The Church teaches, and even early Protestants like Luther believed, that she had no taint of sin. God made her a pure and holy vessel; that is why Archangel Gabriel greeted her, "Hail, O highly favored one!" She was born subject to death, as are all people; but the shadow of sin, the self-seeking that marks our lives was not found in hers.

And so we address our words to the most holy Theotokos.

30 July 2008

A taxonomy of problems

"Sir, you're drunk!" said a woman to Winston Churchill. "Yes," he replied, "and you're ugly--and tomorrow I'll be sober!"

Churchill's distinction reminds us that not all problems are alike. This is also true when it comes to religious bodies.

(1) Consider the recent troubles experienced by the OCA in Alaska. (I have no opinion on the case; I merely point out that a number of voices in the Alaska diocese had a problem with their bishop.) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the bishop in question *did* have problems. They would be personal problems--problems of character and/or conduct.

(2) But then there's the kind of problem that many Lutheran pastors have experienced in times of conflict, either with a parish or another pastor: there is no one who can step in and mediate the conflict with any real authority. There is no bishop, in the classical sense of that term.

This kind of problem is fundamentally different from (1) above. The system in which it exists is designed to produce it. It cannot be solved with a change of personnel. It is not personal, but systemic.

Nor can it be solved, from Lutheran presuppositions, say by beginning an office of bishop. For any 'hierarchy' now instituted would be self-evidently 'by human right.' At the next time of crisis, those who disagree with such a bishop can safely disregard whatever he has to say.

In my conversations with Lutherans on their blogs, this is one distinction that seems not to register with them: the distinction between personal and systemic problems. But it is an important one.

27 July 2008


During this next week my wife and I, together with my eldest son and his family, are vacationing in Montreal, Quebec. This morning we attended St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church. St. George was the second parish founded by St. Raphael of Brooklyn.

As we sat at coffee after liturgy, my wife said something that moved me a great deal. "This morning our family is in three countries on two continents. But all of us prayed one and the same liturgy."

One of the joys of being Orthodox is the knowledge that, on any given liturgical Sunday, believers around the world unite in the same hymns, the same commemorations. So this morning, as we were in three countries (Canada, the US, and Ukraine), we all prayed together. Glory to God for all things!

25 July 2008

From Wittenberg to Antioch

The past few days, Antiochian Orthodox priests from around the country gathered for a clergy symposium. As with most symposia, the point is not the lectures, but the opportunity to meet new folks and renew old acquaintances. Just for fun, we gathered some of the Antiochian priests and deacons who were formerly Lutherans, to take a picture. Here they are, including your humble scribe--proof positive that the waters of the Orontes are swimmable--indeed, healing. Some were formerly ELCA, others formerly LCMS. But all alike have found their home in the Church.
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09 July 2008

Do Orthodox want non-Orthodox to convert?

In a word, yes. And why not? If we are convinced that "We have seen the true Light; we have received the heavenly Spirit; we have found the true Faith, worshiping the undivided Trinity, Who has saved us"--how could we not want others to see that same light, receive that same Spirit and find that same faith?

Truth is not divided, or relative. So St. Paul frequented the synagogues, after his conversion; he traveled to the Gentiles; he sought out rich and poor, slave and free, man and woman. The Church and her message are for all people alike, and the stakes are high. She rejects the Anglican "branch theory" and the protestant "invisible church." She judges no individual, but she can and must judge the bodies to which they belong.

The issue is urgent, as we see western Christendom give way to relativism. It is one thing to be mistaken that something is the truth when it is not; it is another thing entirely to say that truth no longer matters, and to live in existential communion with falsehood. The former have hope; the latter have none.

How we share this truth is important: the message shapes the life of its messengers.

If we do not seek our own repentance and faith, we have nothing to share. That is why St. Seraphim said, "Acquire the spirit of inner peace, and thousands around you will be saved."

But it is also true that if we withhold speaking until we think we "get it," then we will never speak at all. We carry the treasure of the Gospel in clay pots. We must make it our aim to be "all things to all people, so that by all means we might save some."

We must also be willing to speak, as winsomely as possible, to those in error with the nature of that error. Khomiakov did so in a marvelous and prophetic way to the western confessions, as did Dostoyevsky and, more recently, Fr. John Romanides. St. Ambrose of Optina wrote a tract against Lutheranism. Every council, every father fought the good fight of faith, and suffered willingly rather than deny the truth.

There is a synergy between the work of the Holy Spirit, and the works and words of God's people. So St. Paul says, "we are co-workers with God" precisely in the context of speaking the truth for others' conversion.

May the Lord convert me, an unworthy sinner, and bring me to the glory of his Kingdom!

Mone me si erro.

08 July 2008

The same root error...

...occurs in many loci of dogmatics.

In revelation, it's called "Barthianism." The word of God touches the world of man only at a single mathematical point--like a tangent touches a circle.

In the mysteries, it's called "Receptionism." The eucharistic bread is the body of Christ only in the act of its being consumed.

In the doctrine of Christ, it's called Nestorianism.

In the doctrine of the Church, it's called "the hidden/invisible Church." The Church is only Church in that moment when the Word is being preached and the Sacraments being administered rightly.

and with the Theotokos, it's called the denial of her perpetual virginity. Mary's motherhood is but a surrogate moment; once Jesus is born, mother and virgin no longer co-exist, but virgin gives way to mother.

All of these hang together, in some way I cannot now articulate: but it's guaranteed that, over time, those groups who fall into one will fall into the others...

Mone me si erro.

07 July 2008

St. Augustine and the analogia entis

CAUTION: The following is advanced material, in a relatively unformed state. If you aren't well-grounded, please avoid it!

After a long hiatus, back to St. Augustine's De trinitate. In Book 3, at the end, he writes,

"But now, when the Lord was born of the virgin, and when the Holy Spirit came down in bodily form like a dove, or in visible fiery tongues and a sound from heaven on the day of Pentecost after the Lord's ascension, what appeared to the bodily sense of mortals was not the very substance of the Word of God in which he is equal to the Father and co-eternal, nor the very substance of the Spirit of the Father and the Son in which he is co-equal and co-eternal with them both, but something created which could be formed and come into being in those ways."

Following the example of St. Augustine himself, I apologize at the outset for any unclarity of thought or infelicity of expression in what I'm about to say, and I welcome those who are better-schooled to correct whatever error I might make.

In the Middle Ages, the west spilled quite a lot of ink over the question of the nature of talk about God. Three options were offered:

  1. Such talk is univocal--that is, when we use terms about God they have the same meaning as they do in our normal talk. This, I take it, was (in some form) the position of Duns Scotus.
  2. Such talk is equivocal--that is, when we use terms about God they have nothing at all in common with those terms as we use them in our normal talk.
  3. Such talk is analogical--that is, terms about God are related proportionally to those same terms in our normal talk. This, I take it, was the answer given by Thomas Aquinas and was in turn founded on the analogia entis (analogy of being).
I wonder if this whole discussion was necessitated because the west did not make the essence/energy distinction in God? If all you have is essence/persons, then (since the divine essence is utterly unlike any creature) there is no ontological foundation for our speech about God; it must be somehow equivocal. Yet even if we cannot say that the Lord's humanity is the divine essence, we ought to be able to say that his flesh is divine, and that the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and in the form of tongues of flame.

But if the energies are divine, and yet distinct from the divine essence, then you have an ontological foundation for talk about God--precisely in his revealing himself to us. "God is the Lord who hath shown us light"--the uncreated light of his glory.

Mone me si erro.