29 March 2008

St. Mark the Ascetic, On those who think they are made righteous by works, paragraph 3

Ouvk avpaitei/ dou/loj w`j misqo.n th.n evleuqeri,an( avllV euvarestei/ w`j ovfeile,thj kai. kata. ca,rin evkde,cetai)

Options etc.

I take note that some in the Lutheran blogosphere are beginning to ask whether there needs to be an LC-MS. So let me put in a shameless plug for Fr. John Fenton's fine paper, "What options do the confessions give us?" published several years ago, as well as the presentations from the Lutheran/Orthodox colloquy, which can be found at Ancient Faith Radio. Fr. Fenton's analysis of the options confronting Lutherans remains unsurpassed.

Fr. Fenton's paper

Lutheran/Orthodox colloquy

28 March 2008

Rat race

Even the one who wins the rat race, is still just a rat.

27 March 2008

A word from Archimandrite Sophrony

When we become so conscious of our frailty that our spirit despairs, somehow, in an unknown fashion, a wondrous light appears, proclaiming life incorruptible. When the darkness within us is so appalling that we are paralyzed with dread, the same light will turn black night into bright day.
When we properly condemn ourselves to eternal infamy and in agony descend into the pit, suddenly strength from Above will lift our spirit to the heights. When we are overwhelmed by the feeling of our own utter nothingness, the uncreated light transfigures and brings us like sons into the Father's house. How are these contrasting states to be explained? Why does our self-condemnation justify us before God? Is it not because there is truth in this self-condemnation and so the Spirit of Truth finds a place for Himself in us?

Archimandrite Sophrony

The Church is not an authority

The Church inspired by God became, for the Western Christian, something external, a kind of negative authority, a kind of material authority. It turned man into its slave, and as a result acquired, in him, a judge.

"The Church is an authority," said Guizot in one of his remarkable works, while one of his adversaries, attacking him, simply repeated these words. Speaking in this way neither one suspected how much untruth and blasphemy lay in the statement. Poor Romanist! Poor Protestant! No—the Church is not an authority, just as God is not an authority and Christ is not an authority, since authority is something external to us. The Church is not an authority, I say, but the truth—and at the same time the inner life of the Christian, since God, Christ, the Church, live in him with a life more real than the heart which is beating in his breast or the blood flowing in his veins. But they are alive in him only insofar as he himself is living by the ecumenical life of love and unity, i.e., by the life of the Church. Such is the blindness of the Western sects that, up to now, not one of them has understood how radically the ground on which they stand differs from that on which the original Church has been standing from earliest times, and on which she will stand eternally.

In this the Latinists are completely wrong. They themselves are rationalists, and yet they accuse others of rationalism; they themselves were Protestants from the first moment of their falling away, and yet they condemn the spontaneous rebellion of their rebellious brothers. On the other hand, while they have every right to return the accusation, the Protestants are unable to do so because they themselves are no more than developers of the Roman teaching. The only difference is that they have adapted it to suit themselves. No sooner did authority become external power, and no sooner was knowledge of religious truths cut off from religious life, than the relationship among people was altered too. Within the Church the people constituted a single whole; one spirit was alive in all. Now this bond disappeared, another replaced it: the common, subject-like dependence of all the people on the supreme power of Rome. No sooner did the first doubt of the legitimacy of this power arise than unity was destroyed, since the doctrine of papal infallibility was not founded on the holiness of the Ecumenical Church; nor did the Western world lay claim to a relatively higher level of moral purity at the moment when it arrogated to itself the right to change (or, as the Romanists say, to expound) the Creed and disregard the opinion of its Eastern brothers. No, it simply cited the accidental circumstance of episcopal succession, as if the other bishops established by the apostle Peter, regardless of their location, were not just as much his successors as the Bishop of Rome! Rome never said to the people: "Only the perfectly holy man can judge me, but such a man will always think as I do." On the contrary, Rome destroyed every bond between knowledge and inner perfection of soul; it gave free reign to reason while at the same time obviously trampling it under foot.

It would not be difficult to show in the doctrine of the Reformers the indelible mark of Rome and the same spirit of utilitarian rationalism which characterizes papism. Their conclusions are not the same; but the premises and the definitions assumed and contained in these conclusions are always identical. The Papacy says: "The Church has always prayed for the dead, but this prayer would be useless if there were not an intermediate state between heaven and hell; therefore there is a purgatory." The Reform answers: "There is not a trace of purgatory either in Holy Scripture or in the early Church; therefore it is useless to pray for the dead and I will not pray for them." The Papacy says: "The Church appeals to the intercession of the saints, therefore this is useful, therefore this completes the merits of prayer and works of satisfaction." The Reform answers: The satisfaction for sins made by the blood of Christ and appropriated by faith in baptism and in prayer is sufficient for the redemption not only of man but also of all creation, therefore the saints' intercession for us is useless, and there is no reason to appeal to them in prayer." Clearly the sacred Communion of Saints is equally incomprehensible to both sides. The Papacy says: "According to the witness of the apostle James faith is insufficient, therefore we cannot be saved by faith, and therefore works are useful and constitute merit." Protestantism answers: "Faith alone saves, according to the witness of the apostle Paul, and works do not constitute merit, therefore they are useless." And so on, and so on.

In this way the warring parties have gone back and forth at each other with syllogisms through the centuries, and are still going back and forth at each other, but always over the same ground, the ground of rationalism; and neither side can choose any other. Even Rome's division of the Church into the teaching and the learning Church has been transmitted to the Reform; the only difference is that in the Roman confession it exists by right, by virtue of acknowledged law, while in Protestantism it exists only as a fact; and a scholar has taken the place of the priest.

From Aleksei Khomiakov, On the western confessions of faith

From the desert fathers

Abba Poimen said, 'Give not your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.'

26 March 2008

A Lenten prayer

O Lord Jesus, who with thy Father
Art honored and worshiped
And with thy Holy Spirit art exalted and proclaimed,
Thou who becamest incarnate for us, like unto us,
That thou mightest make us for thee like unto thee,
Thou, light for all, merciful unto all, mighty, celestial,
With divine miracle, I beseech thee,
O compassionate one, restore me now anew,
Mine earthen vessel, shattered and destroyed.
Melt me, thine image, worn out with sins,
In a crucible, with the lightning of thy word,
I implore thee, and cast me anew.
The destroyed edifice of thy place of repose
In the tabernacle of my body, with its guardian soul,
Prithee, O benefactor, cleanse it for thy dwelling.
Do not render for mine evil deeds the same in return.

Grigor Narekatsi, Elegy #19

25 March 2008

The Annunciation of our God and Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Today the good tidings of joy are proclaimed,
today is the festival of the Virgin;
things below are joined together with things on high.
Adam is made new;
Eve is freed from the primal grief;
and by the deification of the human nature, which the Lord assumed,
the tabernacle of our substance has become a temple of God.

Oh, what a mystery!
The manner of His emptying cannot be known;
the manner of His conception is beyond speech.
An Angel ministers at the miracle; a virginal womb receives the Son;
the Holy Spirit is sent down; the Father on high is well pleased,
and according to their common counsel, a covenant is brought to pass
in which and through which we are saved.

For this reason let us unite our song with Gabriel's,
crying aloud to the Virgin:
“Rejoice, O Lady full of grace, the Lord is with you!
From you is our salvation,
Christ our God, Who, by assuming the nature that is our own, has led us back to Himself.
Humbly pray to Him for the salvation of our souls!”

23 March 2008

We are damned by ourselves; we are saved in community

Today's gospel lesson was the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2.

(A brief digression here: a western Christian coming to our Matins service would have thought it was our Easter, too--each Sunday morning at Matins we read one of the 11 resurrection pericopes, and the liturgical verses comment on the text. Just another precious feature of the Church--Christ's death and rising are the focus of every service.)

In Mark 2, we read, "And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." I used to wonder whether the "their" included the paralytic or didn't--and, in either case, I saw this as the great exception to the rule of personal faith.

I now see that what I called "personal" faith was really "individual" faith--e.g. the faith of the paralytic himself, as an individual, over against anyone else's faith. But in fact the rule is rather that we are saved through each others' prayers, each others' faith, and not by our own alone. No one is a person all alone. We are only persons in community. So personal faith is inherently communal.

Hence St. Paul tells the Philippians, "Now this will turn out for my salvation through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." St. Augustine was saved through the prayers of his mother. Was it St. Anthony who said that our salvation or damnation is found in our brothers and sisters?

Even when we fall asleep in Christ, the Church still prays for us. For prayer is an expression of faith, hope and love--especially of love--and death is no barrier to love.

20 March 2008

Those pesky passives

In his blog's discussion of the Issues Etc. problem, Rev. William Weedon noted the following: "Passives allow you to avoid saying WHO did the action. Yes, we all know the decision "was made." What we want is the name of the man who made it."

Rev. Weedon is right.

Oh, sometimes, passives can be fine--indeed, powerful in their humility. The Byzantine baptismal formula is, "The servant of God name is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Here the passive confesses that the Triune God is the One who baptizes--that the priest is but his unworthy servant.

But sometimes passives can hide a lot of mischief--like when someone says the church is found "where the Gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered," but does not address the pressing question of our day in the protestant community: whether layfolk, too, can rightly be the actors in the eucharist and absolution.

the sacraments rightly administered in a body where layfolk do them? If one answers "yes," then he should abandon any pretense that the administrators be "rightly called." If one answers "no," then he must either conclude that such bodies as allow the practice cannot be church--or that the term "church" has no visible referent beyond the level of the parish. (Remember, those who reject lay administration of sacraments are in pulpit and altar fellowship with those who practice it.)

If one says that "church" has no visible referent beyond the level of the parish, then let him drop all ecclesial pretense concerning trans-parish entities.
  • Toward his own people, a man may function as minister; toward the broader group, he is a field-office manager.
  • And what of the place where new minister/managers are trained? It is simply a professional school. If its function can be performed in other ways, more efficiently, let it be done. If skilled managers wish to set up a Parallel Leadership Institution, then by all means let them do so.
  • Finally, if someone is deeply unhappy with the corporation he is in, then let him start a new one. As long as the view is held that "church" has no visible trans-parish referent, that's all he will have started: a new corporation.
If, however, one concludes that such bodies where layfolk administer the sacraments are not church, then let him seek the Church, the pillar and ground of the Truth, to which Christ has given unshakeable promises.

The Issue beneath Issues

A few days ago, Mr. David Strand of the LC-MS ended the Lutheran radio program Issues Etc. and terminated the employment of its host, Rev. Todd Wilken, and its engineer, Mr. Jeff Schwarz.

Since then, Lutheran blogdom has been ablaze with understandable indignation at both the fact and the manner in which the whole thing happened. There was no discussion with those outside the so-called "Purple Palace." It seems that the employees in question were simply told, "You're done." People seem stunned to see their ecclesial body act like a corporation.

Well, it is a corporation.

A few years ago, when I was a minister in that body, I got a group of pastors to discuss issues concerning Rev. David Benke's appearance at Yankee Stadium. They were split on the issue, just like the LCMS. One side thought that what happened was just fine--a mission opportunity. The other side thought Rev. Benke had compromised the gospel. I was more on the second side, though I saw some merit in the first side's point of view. But what really mattered to me, was that we talk about these differences and seek to have one mind--the mind of Christ.

So I kept saying to the other men, "We can't just agree to disagree. We're church. We have to act in a churchly way."

Then one of the other pastors, who'd been in the LCMS even longer than my 22 years, said, "That's your problem, Robb. You think the Missouri Synod is church. We're not church. We're a corporation."

I won't say here how I responded. It's enough to note that I expressed myself the way a pilot does when he's been flying through fog and comes out of the mist only to discover a mountain peak dead ahead. But here's the point: I knew at once that he was right. The Missouri Synod is a corporation.

And so, sadly, will be any split-off or successor body which the most avid and passionate confessional advocates might be inclined to create. It's one of the genetic flaws which simply cannot be fixed in the west. The bishop of Rome asserted his power, his right to rule, over against his brethren in episcopacy in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Absolute power corrupted, as it always does, and the conciliar movement could not prevent it. Lutherans, unable to secure episcopal authorization for their priests, declared the historic episcopacy as de iure humano and began ordaining their own clergy. Since then, they have lived under a series of de iure humano arrangements, ranging from "bishops" (Scandinavia) to the "Voters' Assembly" and "Synod" (America).

Troubles arise in the Church, too: stupidity is an equal opportunity employer. But when a bishop goes off the tracks, or a priest does something foolish, the Church takes action with the full knowledge that it is Church, the bride and body of Christ--not only on the parish level, but also on the trans-parish level. One may suffer and be faithful, as did St. Nektarios of Pentapolis. Or one may speak up and work for peace without the nagging feeling deep down that, after all, one is only dealing with a fallen human invention.

12 March 2008

Off-topic altogether

Winston Churchill said that anyone who's 20 and isn't a liberal has no heart...and anyone who's 40 and isn't a conservative has no brain. Check out this article from the Village Voice (caution: some inappropriate language).

11 March 2008

Forgiveness Vespers

At the beginning of our Lenten struggle is the service of Forgiveness Vespers. Two things, in particular, strike me about this service:

1. While the Prokeimenon is sung, the priest changes from gold vestments to the purple, showing that the Lenten fast has arrived.

2. At the conclusion of the service, the priest and each member of the parish begs and grants forgiveness to every other member.

I have also come to love the prayer of our father among the saints, Ephrem of Syria:

O Lord and Master of my life,
Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk;
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge
my brother, for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen.

A blessed Lententide to you all!

04 March 2008

Reading the Psalms at the funeral home

My son has introduced me to the Orthodox custom of reading the Psalter near the body of the departed. So far we've gotten through about a third of it; I hope to go today to complete the task.

What a wonderful tradition this is! It accomplishes great things in the mind, the heart, and the emotions:

1. The Psalter goes through the whole range of human emotion, giving words to feelings too difficult and deep to understand.
2. The Psalter helps the mind to see death in its proper context, the whole history of salvation: God's creation and preservation, our stumbling and fall, and God's provision of salvation in Christ.
3. The Psalter helps to orient the heart toward the Holy Trinity, and to connect the deepest of sorrow with the richest of comfort.

03 March 2008

More on prayer for the departed

Young man, be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education. Remember, too, every day, and whenever you can, repeat to yourself, "Lord, have mercy on all who appear before Thee to-day." For every hour and every moment thousands of men leave life on this earth, and their souls appear before God. And how many of them depart in solitude, unknown, sad, dejected that no one mourns for them or even knows whether they have lived or not! And behold, from the other end of the earth perhaps, your prayer for their rest will rise up to God though you knew them not nor they you. How touching it must be to a soul standing in dread before the Lord to feel at that instant that, for him too, there is one to pray, that there is a fellow creature left on earth to love him too! And God will look on you both more graciously, for if you have had so much pity on him, how much will He have pity Who is infinitely more loving and merciful than you! And He will forgive him for your sake.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, "The Brothers Karamazov"

01 March 2008

On prayer for the departed

When we pray for the dead, we develop in ourselves a sense of the unreality of the present world--for a part of it which was dear to us is gone--and of the reality of that other world, whose actual existence is confirmed by our love for the dead.

Alexander Elchaninov, Diary of a Russian Priest, p. 71

Charles R. Hogg, Sr. 23 January 1924- 1 March 2008

I just received word that my father fell asleep in Christ. I had seen him this past week--he was in a coma--and I came back to Michigan the night before last.

Among the spirits of the righteous perfected in faith, give rest, O Savior, to the soul of Your servant. Bestow upon it the blessed life which is from You, O loving Lord.

Within Your peace, O Lord, where all Your Saints repose, give rest also to the soul of Your servant, for You alone are Immortal.

Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

O Savior, You are our God who descended into Hades and delivered from suffering those who were bound there. Grant rest also to the soul of Your servant.

Now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Most pure and spotless Virgin, who ineffably gave birth to God, intercede with Him for the salvation of the soul of your servant.

+ + +

May his memory be eternal!

When wondering, "Where did God go?"--consider:

Our lack of compassion, hardness of heart, and mercilessness towards others form an impenetrable curtain between ourselves and God. It is as if we had covered a plant with a black hood, and then complained because it died from lack of sunlight. Fr. Alexander Elchaninov, "The Diary of a Russian Priest," p. 58