15 November 2009

Sermon for 15 Nov 2009

(Text: Parable of the Good Samaritan)

"Who is my neighbor?"
He says this "wishing to justify himself."
To love God was one thing.
There's only one God, and
he gives all that we have.
But to love the neighbor!
There's too many of them, and,
often they're annoying or inconvenient.
If only the field could be narrowed,
the task might be fulfilled.

So the Lord tells a story.
It's the story of a nameless man,
of a priest, a Levite,and a Samaritan;
but it's also our story.

"A man was going down" from Jerusalem to Jericho.
Jerusalem was God's city;
Jericho a city of sin,
the great city whose walls fell down at Joshua's trumpet.
That is the story of our race:
We left God behind in the Garden,
and have journeyed away, going down, since then.

And what of the robbers that beat the man?
They are the demons, who delight in tormenting man,
and leaving him half-dead.
We are to blame for this, of course.
The man would not have been beaten if he stayed in Jerusalem.
The demons would not have tormented us if we hadn't first left God behind.
But we are wounded by the passions,half-dead:
living and breathing in this world,
but in agony when we remember what we've lost.

The priest and the Levite, too, journey down that same road.
Religious men, men of God,
but they pass by. They cannot help. They are afraid.

Then comes the Samaritan.
It doesn't say of him that he was on that same road,
but rather that he was on a journey.

He saw the man, just as the priest and Levite did.
But he felt compassion,
and came to him,
and bandaged his wounds with oil and wine.
He brought the man to an inn,
and gave the innkeeper money,
and told him to care for the man till his return.

The Samaritan is our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Despised, like a Samaritan, by those he came to save.
Being God, he became man,
and journeyed down this road our race had taken.
He saw us in our plight and was moved with compassion.
He wrapped us in bandages when we were baptized,
covering us with his own righteousness.
He poured out the oil of compassion on us in chrismation,
and gives us the wine of his blood.
He brought us to this inn, his church,
where he heals us through his mysteries.

And what is the sign that this healing is ours?
How do we know we've been living in the hospital?

Only this:
That we stop trying to justify ourselves,
and leave that to the Master.
That we cease walking to Jericho
and learn to see our life as a journey--his journey,
That we serve the ones we find along the way,
and serve them in their wretchedness,
and help them to the inn where we too find healing.

"Who is my neighbor?"
God is my neighbor, who proved himself to be my neighbor
by helping and healing me in my distress.
That God calls us to "go and do likewise"--
to copy him as beloved children copy their father.

Lord Jesus, open my eyes to see my neighbor;
do not let fear turn me away,
but let me serve him,
and so come to see, from the inside,
a fragment, a tiny share, of the love you have shown to me.

31 October 2009

I don't commemorate the Reformation any more...

...because I have come to see that I, not the Church, am the one in need of reformation.

30 September 2009


I may have noted elsewhere that our small Orthodox parish has four former Lutheran (LCMS) clergy in it.

I just discovered that the philosophy department in which I teach also has four former Lutherans in it.


07 September 2009

Subterranean scribbling: A little child...

...approaches the Eucharist in the arms of his mother. He has been baptized in the name of the Triune God and, theologically, he is said to possess the faith in its fullness. "The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these," and unless we who are older become like him, we cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven. He has even had the "confirmation prayer" prayed over him at the end of the rite.

To each person near him come the words, "Given for you, for the forgiveness of sins."

But when the host and chalice come to him, he is passed over.

The words are Jacob's: "he is a member of the body of Christ."

But the hands are Esau's: he is not communed.

And it is useless to talk about "earlier" communion. Does baptism give what it says, or not? If it does, there is no reason to refuse what is said to be the body of Christ to those who are his members. Such communion is not 'open,' since such recipients are equally members of the parish in question as their older fellows.

This is the kind of problem that's led many away from Lutheranism, for all its good, to the Church. One can destroy forests with the trees sacrificed to books and articles on various points of theology. But such arguments arise from faith; they rarely lead to faith. What leads one to reflect and to reexamine are these crushingly existential problems. "How can I refuse one whom I say that the Lord himself has received?"

03 September 2009

The Kingdom of God does not consist in talk, but in power.

There is little profit in engaging Lutheran bloggers in logomachy.

It's not our turf.

Lutheranism was born and bred in words. Ninety five theses, Heidelberg Disputations, Visitation Articles, Confessions, etc. From the womb it was quarreling, and it exists by defining itself over against 'the other'--whether that be Rome, the Reformed, or even other Lutherans.

The Church was born in power: the power of God the Word incarnate--and she lives by the divine energies, received in font and chrism, Body and Blood, and revealed in the blood of the martyrs. Less than a year after Luther died, St. Michael the breadseller was covered in sulpher by the Turks and burned alive, singing hymns till the end. While Walther was disputing about predestination, St. Joseph of Damascus was being ripped limb-from-limb by an angry unbelieving mob. While Pieper was writing his Dogmatics, St. Elizabeth was singing the Cherubimic hymn and tending the wounds of her fellow-martyrs in a mineshaft.

It's not the nature of the problem, either:

It's not the problem with Lutheranism. Most or all of us who were Lutherans and became Orthodox didn't do so because a certain formula came to be recognized as heretical. "Find me an error in the Book of Concord" is beside the point. Are there errors there? Of course there are. But one does not see that at once. "The renewing of the mind" takes years. Old patterns of thought cling to most of us, in my case doubtless till I die (though I find hope in St. Elizabeth the New Martyr). We left Lutheranism for the sake of our children.

The problem with Lutheranism is existential. It is not the Church. And that is not a judgment based on Orthodox sources. It is based on the words of the Lutheran Confessions.

The fact that some cars in that train called Lutheranism have not yet gone off the edge of the bridge can, in the end, provide but cold comfort for those further back in the train who realize that they are joined historically and confessionally to those whose cars have gone off the edge. "How can the church of Krauth have come to what it now is?" Indeed! Let every Lutheran ponder that.

It is not the problem with certain Lutheran bloggers, either.

They did not turn away from Orthodoxy because they were troubled by ambiguous truth, or unambiguous error. They turned away for, shall we say, personal reasons. They heard the Truth but walked away sorrowful because of their great possessions--or perhaps, family connections.

What do you suppose the rich young ruler did for the rest of his life?

For all this, I am sad and weep. Kyrie eleison!

24 August 2009

The ELCA decision...

...has produced some thoughtful commentary in the Lutheran blogosphere--most notably on Weedon's blog and on Father Hollywood. Pr. Weedon poses the question of what happened to the church of Krauth, Jacobs, Tappert and Reed--a question well worth pondering. Fr. Beane writes a nice piece on tradition, in which he says, in part:

"The Lutheran Reformation got rid of some traditions, such as the prayers to the saints, the withholding of the cup to the laity, indulgences, and the liturgical language of the canon of the Mass that refers to a propitious (sin-forgiving) sacrifice, offered ex opera operato (by the work itself apart from faith) for the living and the dead.

But the Lutherans kept a whole lot more than they got rid of. "We keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of the lessons, prayers, vestments, etc." (Ap 24:1)...

Tradition that "nullifies" the Word of God is a bad thing, and must go. Tradition that upholds the Word of God is a good thing that ought to be retained. This was a very important principle guiding the Lutheran reformers, and it continues to guide Traditionalist Lutherans today.

Those who cut themselves off from the apostolic tradition cut themselves off from the Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God, and are left with nothing more than their own imaginings and the sorts of "traditions" of the Pharisees that our Lord condemns."
(Note the ellipsis after the second paragraph; I've excerpted the text I want to comment on, but you should read the whole entry--it's well worthwhile.)

First, note the list of traditions rejected by the Lutherans:
  • prayers to the saints
  • the withholding of the cup to the laity
  • indulgences
  • liturgical language of the canon of the Mass that refers to a propitious (sin-forgiving) sacrifice, offered ex opera operato (by the work itself apart from faith) for the living and the dead
The last three were late mediaeval Roman practices, rejected also by the Orthodox. But the first is different. It was practiced universally by all Christians as far back as archaeological and historical evidence can be found, and there was no controversy over it. Mediaeval Rome linked it to its unique theology of merit, of course, and changed the theological underpinnings; but the practice itself is both ancient and universal. I would argue further that it is one of those traditions that "upholds the Word of God," to use Fr. Beane's terms.

(1) The Word of God teaches that those Christians whose hearts have ceased beating are not dead, but alive. The normal New Testament way of speaking of them is as "asleep in Christ," not "dead." And the Word of God enfleshed tells us that "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him."
(2) The Word of God teaches that Christians ought to pray for each other, and to ask for each other's prayers.
(3) Finally, unlike the late Roman system, our motive for asking is not utility, but love.

It is understandable that the Lutheran reformers would reject asking for the intercessions of the saints (though the reason they offer, "How can we know that they hear us?", is an example of early-modern skepticism); after all, they only knew the practice in its late-mediaeval Roman guise. Nonetheless, they tossed out the baby with the bathwater here.

The intercession of the saints is, I would argue, an apostolic tradition. It upholds the apostolic words; it is both ancient and universal. So Fr. Beane's last words cited above are worth pondering:

"Those who cut themselves off from the apostolic tradition cut themselves off from the Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God, and are left with nothing more than their own imaginings and the sorts of "traditions" of the Pharisees that our Lord condemns."

18 August 2009

Subterranean scribbling; On patrology and the fathers

Many people are aware that it was Protestants--Lutherans, specifically--who first came up with patrology as a field of study. In the Tao te Ching, Lao Tzu says,

"When the great Tao is forgotten,
goodness and piety appear.
When the body's intelligence declines,
cleverness and knowledge step forth.
When there is no peace in the family,
filial piety begins.
When the country falls into chaos,
patriotism is born."

Could we not add to his words:

"When the fathers were lost to the west,
then Patrology came into being."

11 August 2009

On consensus, claimed and actual

Over on Weedon's blog, the discussion of the Compline prayer has returned to familiar ground: the Jerome reference concerning church government. Note this exchange between Rdr. Christopher Orr and Rev. Weedon. Reader Christopher wrote:

'The only difference between dogma (δογμα) and kirigma (κηρυγμα) was in the manner of their transmission: dogma is kept "in silence" and kerygmata are "publicized".' (Fr. Georges Florovsky, 'The Function of Tradition in the Ancient Church')

The doctrines concerning the Mother of God were examples of dogma. They were revealed 'in mysteries', in the sacraments, of which the sub tuum praesidium is a surviving example - as is the consensus of all the ancient liturgies.

The consensus of the Church is pretty clear on the place of Mary and requests to her for her assistance - unless one believes in some form of a DaVinci Code theory of early, mass apostasy (or, least indelible taint) across the vast expanses and boundaries of Christendom from the true faith. It's OK to believe that, it's just that it is what it is.

Of course, if this is cherry picking, then so is referring St. Jerome for patristic verification of one's doctrine of Holy Orders. Then again, the consensus of the Church is pretty clear on that, too.

To which Rev. Weedon replied:


The point with St. Jerome is that he claims to present what is the teaching of the Apostles as witnessed from their writings. It's a worthwhile endeavor for all who claim to speak for the Church.

There is, of course, all the difference in the world between an author, however venerable, claiming to present the teaching of the apostles and an author actually presenting the teaching of the apostles. Arius, Nestorios and their ilk claimed to be presenting the teaching of the apostles; so such a claim is not sufficient.

What is sufficient is that said claim be received by the Church. The veneration of Mary and intercession of the saints passes that test; for over 1,000 years in East and West alike both have been practiced, and this in itself should give opponents pause.

Despite the appeal to Jerome, the equality of presbyters and bishops does not pass that test. For the faithful, this fact is enough. For opponents, nothing would be enough.

07 August 2009

Think of it as a sibling thing...

If you had brothers or sisters, this phenomenon is easily recognized. One sibling knows what will get the other one going. S/he will do it, then when the other one reacts/responds, the one who pushed the buttons will feign innocence/ignorance--and sometimes even be praised by others for the patience and forbearance they display.

It happens on blogs, too. When we realize that, it can help us to shape the amount and character of our replies.

06 August 2009

In a nutshell...

A protestant looks at the ecclesial life he experiences and thinks, "How can I improve it?"

An Orthodox looks at the ecclesial life he experiences and thinks, "How can it improve me?"

In this lies the difference between the two, in a nutshell.

03 August 2009

Subterranean scribbling: Marian prayer

Over on Pr. Weedon's blog, he's done a re-write of an Orthodox compline prayer to the Theotokos. "Why?" you ask. Listen to his own words:

I couldn't help but think as I listened that precisely the things that are being asked of the Blessed Virgin in this prayer are the things that I would ask of our Lord. Remembering how the 16th century Lutherans did a similar rewrite to the Marian antiphons after Western Compline (which I posted a few weeks ago), I wondered if it were possible to do the same thing with this prayer, shifting the address to our Lord Jesus Christ, who (after all) has said: Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. And it is He who promised to be with us always, to the end of the age. It is He whom the Father has set forth to be the Propitiation of our sins and our eternal hope. It is He who ever lives to intercede for us at the Father's right hand.

The thought underlying his discomfort seems to be that it is not proper to ask others to do things that we would ask our Lord to do. (It would seem, I take it, either unnecessary or blasphemous: unnecessary if we can ask those things of our Lord directly, and blasphemous if we ascribe to others what belongs to him alone.)

That got me to thinking.

So I went through the Bible, and corrected some troublesome passages that ascribe what Christ does, to others as well. For example, we read in Matthew's gospel:

Matthew 19:28 Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Clearly this must be a scribal error. As it stands, the text says that others will sit on thrones at the same time as Christ, and will do the work that he says elsewhere belongs completely to him (John 5:22ff).

So fix your Bibles, folks. It should say:

Matthew 19:28 Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will get to stand there while I judge the twelve tribes of Israel.

Then there are those puzzling passages in Acts--for example:

Acts 19:11-12 And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: 12 So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.

Now here's another early scribal error. Whoever copied this, obviously was thinking of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus' garment. That in itself is a little superstitious, but he makes it worse here by ascribing a similar work to Paul's handkerchiefs or aprons.

We can fix this one if we supply one detail: obviously Paul had obtained the garment that Jesus was wearing when the woman had touched him. It was pieces of that garment that were made into "handkerchiefs or aprons," that did the work.

"When you put Christ at the center of anything, it makes it better."

+ + + + + + +

What Pr. Weedon and other Lutherans are missing, of course, is that all that is true of Christ by nature in the Second Article of the Creed becomes true of the Church (and the Theotokos herself as type of the Church) by grace. Since Christ himself (who is the Light of the World) calls all Christians the Light of the world, it cannot be wrong to speak of his Mother as "Light of my darkened soul."

22 July 2009

In memoriam: Frisket (11/11/1996-7/22/2009)

This afternoon we took Frisket, our faithful dog, to the vet to be put to sleep. (In the photo at left, he's the larger, white dog; Lucy is the black-and-white puppy.) Because of allergies, he's been on steroids for three years. The last few months have not been pleasant for him. He's become increasingly confused, lost bladder control and, over the last weeks, simply begun to whine and cry.
St. Paul says, "The whole creation groans in travail until now," and that is seen most personally and poignantly when we see the sufferings of those animals who come to share our lives as pets. I have hope because, just as the effects of Adam's disobedience had cosmic effects, so also the work of our Lord Jesus Christ is equally far-reaching. And I am reminded of these words of Dostoyevsky:

Love all God's creation, the whole and every grain of sand in
it. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love the animals,
love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will
perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you
will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at
last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. Love the
animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy
untroubled. Do not trouble it, don't harass them, don't deprive them
of their happiness, don't work against God's intent. Man, do not pride
yourself on superiority to the animals; they are without sin, and you,
with your greatness, defile the earth by your appearance on it, and
leave the traces of your foulness after you- alas, it is true of
almost every one of us!... My brother asked the birds to forgive him; that sounds
senseless, but it is right; for all is like an ocean, all is flowing
and blending; a touch in one place sets up movement at the other end
of the earth. It may be senseless to beg forgiveness of the birds, but
birds would be happier at your side- a little happier, anyway- and
children and all animals, if you were nobler than you are now. It's
all like an ocean, I tell you. Then you would pray to the birds too,
consumed by an all-embracing love, in a sort of transport, and pray
that they too will forgive you your sin. Treasure this ecstasy,
however senseless it may seem to men.
My friends, pray to God for gladness. Be glad as children, as
the birds of heaven. And let not the sin of men confound you in your
doings. Fear not that it will wear away your work and hinder its being
accomplished. Do not say, "Sin is mighty, wickedness is mighty, evil
environment is mighty, and we are lonely and helpless, and evil
environment is wearing us away and hindering our good work from
being done." Fly from that dejection, children! There is only one
means of salvation, then take yourself and make yourself responsible
for all men's sins, that is the truth, you know, friends, for as
soon as you sincerely make yourself responsible for everything and for
all men, you will see at once that it is really so, and that you are
to blame for everyone and for all things. But throwing your own
indolence and impotence on others you will end by sharing the pride of
Satan and murmuring against God.

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17 July 2009

On the bright side, he probably knows how to spell "potato"

“Now, people when I say that look at me and say, ‘What are you talking about, Joe? You’re telling me we have to go spend money to keep from going bankrupt?’ The answer is yes, that's what I’m telling you.”
--Vice President Joe Biden, July 2009

16 July 2009

Short, but sweet

Wie ein Wort verstanden wird, das sagen Worte allein nicht. (Theologie.)
How words are understood is not told by words alone. (Theology)

--Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel p. 26

The morning is wiser than the evening.

--Russian proverb

18 June 2009

Grandmothers' wisdom

I grew up in the same home town my family had lived in for generations. So it was that both sets of grandparents lived there, within walking distance from our house. For years I had a ritual of going to each of their houses once a week for dinner: a hamburger and mashed potatoes.

Perhaps another time I'll write something about my grandfathers; now I want to say something about my grandmothers.

Every kid should have one grandparent who thinks the world revolves around them. For me, that was Grandma Schultz. She and Grandpap Schultz had two children, both of them girls. She told me, again and again, "You're my favorite boy." ("But Grandma," I'd object, "I'm your only boy." "Never mind," she answered. "You're still my favorite boy.") Each year she would take me to downtown Pittsburgh on my birthday. We ate at Stouffer's, a very fancy restaurant. Then she would take me to Gimbels or Kaufmans or Hornes and let me get any one thing I wanted. Sometimes it would be a toy. Sometimes it would be a Hardy Boys book. She never fussed about the cost. She let me feel completely free to choose.

Grandma loved to bowl, and she took me and my sisters bowling from time to time. She wasn't the best cook: her hamburgers might be a bit burned, sometimes I ate TV dinners, and she would serve instant mashed potatoes ("Ersazt Kartoffeln!" my grandfather would protest). But I always knew she loved me. She didn't have to say it. I could tell.

Grandma Schultz taught me how to deal with people. When I was little, each day after lunch my mother and I had a ritual. She would want me to take a nap. And I wouldn't want to. So she would try to reason with me, or compel me. Sometimes she won, and sometimes I did. But on those days I was at Grandma's house for lunch, after lunch she'd say, "Would you like to go to a party?" "Sure!" I'd answer. So she said, "Let's go upstairs." I went up the steps with her and she led me to the spare bedroom. "You can go to Lily White's party," she'd say. "How?" I replied. "Just lie down on this bed--it's magic--close your eyes and breath very slowly, and you'll be right there." It worked like a charm, every time--even though she'd done it many times before.

Grandma Hogg loved me, too. She cooked better hamburgers than Grandma Schultz, and she always made real mashed potatoes--you could tell by the lumps. She was rather strong-willed, which was a necessity in dealing with my Grandpap Hogg. When she was a little girl, she used to walk outside her house and stand in the streetcar tracks as a streetcar was coming. She would hold up her hand and stop the streetcar till the driver had to come out and move her on to the sidewalk.

Her life hadn't been easy. But she kept on keeping on, she endured.

Both grandmothers had words of wisdom I remember to this day.

Grandma Schultz used to say, when something bad happened, "It will get better before you get married." She was right; her words worked like magic--right up to the day, 31 years ago yesterday, that I got married.

Grandma Hogg's advice for bad times kicked in at that point, and remains true today. "You'll live to suffer more." So last year, when a lady hit-and-ran my car, I thought of Grandma Hogg's words. When I wonder what will happen about this or that issue that faces me, I remember.

Grandma Schultz died about a year after I was married--June of 1979. I went to see her in the hospital with my new bride, and she said, "You were made for each other." She was right.

Grandma Hogg endured till 1994. She was 90 1/2 years old when she died. I saw her in the hospital, and to this day I remember her brown eyes looking intensely at me from her bed. I remember thinking, "This is the last time I'll see her in this life." And it was.

Thank God I have a wonderful wife, and kids--I've never needed Grandma Hogg's words for her, or for them. But those are other stories, for other times. I share both grandmothers' words of wisdom with them from time to time. And now I've shared them with you!

09 June 2009

Marina and Nathan Sterk

This past Saturday at 2 pm, my daughter Marina was married to Nathan Sterk. The photo shows the crowning service. What a joy it was to see so much family and so many friends! The liturgy was held at St. Nicholas in Grand Rapids, our mission's mother parish.

Now life begins to return to normal--whatever that is... :-)

04 June 2009

Suberranean scribbling: creative memories

"Creative Memories" is the name of a scrapbooking company. It's also something we're all prone to. Under the influence of strongly-held views, events and stories can change to become nearly unrecognizable.

Such is the case with Luther's recollection of a story from the fathers about St. Anthony. Luther loved the lives of the desert fathers, and on more than one occasion makes reference to them. But over time, his memory of those stories begins to change them subtly, to bring them in line with the views he developed in the Reformation.

I had quoted this story a little while ago in the context of another post. Here it is again:

"When blessed Antony was praying in his cell, a voice spoke to him, saying, "Antony, you have not yet come to the measure of the tanner who is in Alexandria." When he heard this, the old man arose and took his stick and hurried into the city. When he had found the tanner...he said to him, "Tell me about your work, for today I have left the desert and come here to see you."
He replied, "I am not aware that I have done anything good. When I get up in the morning, before I sit down to work, I say that the whole of this city, small and great, will go into the Kingdom of God because of their good deeds, while I alone will go into eternal punishment because of my evil deeds. Every evening I repeat the same words and believe them in my heart."
When blessed Antony heard this he said, "My son, you sit in your own house and work well, and you have the peace of the Kingdom of God; but I spend all my time in solitude with no distractions, and I have not come near the measure of such words."

Now here is that same story, as told by Luther (ht to Pr. Weedon on his blog):

"Anthony is amazed at the comparison and goes to Alexandria with the intention of seeing the man who is his equal in sanctity. I do not know what grand things he promises himself from that cobbler; but when he came to him, he found that he gained his livelihood by working with his hands and in this manner supported himself, his wife, and his children. So he said: “Please, my dear cobbler, I know that you worship God faithfully and serve Him truly. Tell me, therefore, what you do, what you eat, what you drink, how or when you pray. You do not spend entire nights without sleep when you devote yourself to prayer, do you?” “Not at all,” said the cobbler. “In the morning and in the evening I give thanks to God for His faithful protection and guidance. I ask for forgiveness of all my sins for Christ’s sake, and I humbly pray that He would guide me with His Spirit and not lead me into temptation. After this prayer I get busy with my leather and provide sustenance for myself and those who are mine. Besides this I do nothing except to beware lest anywhere I do something against my conscience.”
When Anthony hears this, he is amazed, and he realizes that self-chosen forms of worship are no worship and that therefore no trust at all should be put in them. This blessing not only happened to Anthony himself but is also a warning to all posterity—a warning by which God wanted to help His church, lest it indulge in self-chosen forms of worship, which always bring with them this pernicious pest of self-reliance, which must be crushed."

Some of the differences are minor; Anthony's tanner has become a cobbler, and has apparently acquired a family. Anthony's tanner mentions only his morning and evening prayer; in Luther's version the tanner's prayer is explicitly contrasted with the monastic hours.

But others are major. Can anyone imagine the mature Luther urging this form of prayer: "...before I sit down to work, I say that the whole of this city, small and great, will go into the Kingdom of God because of their good deeds, while I alone will go into eternal punishment because of my evil deeds. Every evening I repeat the same words and believe them in my heart"?

For Luther, Anthony is the proto-monastic, who is yet capable of recognizing the superiority of the peasant's Small-catechism faith and life. Luther claims that the peasant teaches Anthony the uselessness of self-chosen forms of worship (a key criticism Luther makes elsewhere against monasticism); but the historical Anthony never forswore the monastic life. The Lutheran peasant has a measure of certainty; Anthony's peasant has what we might call the "monstrum certitudinis": he is certain of himself that he is going into eternal punishment, yet keeps working. It would be much more accurate to say that he anticipates the words of St. Silhouan: "Keep your mind in hell, and do not despair."

Here already in the great Reformer we see the tendency so commonly found in his followers: to take the patristic witness and filter it through Lutheran dogma. Rdr. Christopher Orr has pointed out this selective reading on many occasions. Perhaps the only cure for this malady is to read the fathers by themselves, on their own terms.

30 May 2009

Appraising the state of Reformed denominations

Yesterday morning we had our house appraised (we're refinancing for 15 years at a lower rate). I got to chatting with the appraiser, a woman raised in the CRC (Christian Reformed Church, for those of you not from Grand Rapids). :-)

She mentioned that she and her husband now attend a parish of the R.C.A. (Reformed Church in America). He was raised Baptist, and they have a 2 year old daughter.

I asked her if her daughter had been baptised, and was surprised to hear her say "No, she was dedicated." Apparently their parish allows parents to decide which of the two they would like: baptism or dedication.

This, I think, is significant slippage in an historically Reformed denomination, where infant baptism was the norm for 500 years. It also serves to highlight why increasingly, in years to come, those who come to the Orthodox Church will likely need to be received by baptism and not simply chrismation. For when baptism becomes optional, it's clear that we are no longer working with an historic Christian notion of baptism.

29 May 2009

Books for sale

I am, once again, culling my collection and am selling the following books (Since I can't seem to post an entire table, I'm only listing the titles.) If anyone's interested, let me know via email (pastor_hoggAThotmailDOTcom) and I can offer more information.

Strange Altars
Die Reformatoren : Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli, Calvin : mit einem Nachwort zur Reformationsgeschichte
Studies in the Lutheran Confessions
Does the Bible contradict itself?
The church of the Lutheran Reformation; a historical survey of Lutheranism [by] Conrad Bergendoff
Manual on the Pastor's chant
Die Bekenntnissschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche
Examination of the Council of Trent: Part I
Luther; An Introduction to His Thought.
The structure of Lutheranism
A New Look at the Lutheran Confessions (1529-1537)
German gospel sermons with English outlines
We condemn; how Luther and 16 th-century Lutheranism condemned false doctrine
Pastor: A Day and a Week in the Life of a Parish Clergyman
An Explanation of the History of the Suffering and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ
Gerhard's sacred meditations
Sacred Meditations
1998 Hymnal Supplement
St Germanus of Constantinople on the Divine Liturgy
Thomasius Gospels Outlines
Lenten Outlines and Sermons
A handbook of organizations
Letters to a Masonic Friend
Notes on doctrinal theology
The pastor as student and literary worker
The problem of Lutheran union and other essays
The secret empire
The Book of Concord
American church history. Vol 4: Lutherans
Common service music
A compend of Luther's theology
Confirmation and first communion
Confirmation and first communion: Leader's Guide
Genes, genesis, and evolution
The theology of Luther in its historical development and inner harmony
Andreae and the Formula of concord : six sermons on the way to Lutheran unity
Sources and Contexts of the Book of Concord
Why are you a Lutheran?
Eisenach Gospel Selections
The sermon: its homiletical construction
Martin Luther. In Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten.
The sermon and the Propers, by Fred H. Lindemann
The daily office
An Den Christlichen Adel Deutscher Natio
Der kleine Katechismus Doktor Martin Luthers
Luther for the busy man
Luther's Large Catechism: A Contemporary Translation With Study Questions
Luther's prayers
Luther's Small Catechism With Explanation
Luther's two catechisms explained by himself
Works of Martin Luther: With Introduction and Notes, the Philadelphia Edition
Occasional services : a companion to Lutheran book of worship
Another fraternal endeavor
The Lutheran hymnal
The Lutheran liturgy
Worship Supplement (1969)
Glaube und Bildung. Texte zum christlichen Humanismus.
Melanchthon on Christian doctrine: Loci communes, 1555
Theology of the Lutheran Confessions
Theologians' convocation: Formula for Concord
Discord, dialogue, and concord : studies in the Lutheran Reformation's Formula of concord
What is Christianity? And Other Essays
The survival of the historic vestments in the Lutheran Church after 1555
The handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal
Matthias Flacius Illyricus
Spiritus Creator
The communion of saints
Getting into the Theology of Concord
The Inspiration of Scripture
The Lutheran liturgy
The Flood in the light of the Bible, geology and archaeology
Calls and vacancies
Jesus in the church's gospels
Ministries Examined: Laity, Clergy, Women, and Bishops in a Time of Change
Lutheran worship workbook
Why should a Lutheran not join any sectarian church?
Here we stand. nature and character of the Lutheran Faith
Scripture and the church: Selected essays of Hermann Sasse
This Is My Body: Luther's Contention for the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar
We Confess: The Church (We Confess Series)
Theology of the Lutheran confessions
The confessional principle and the confessions of the Lutheran Church
American Lutheranism Vindicated
Martin Luther
A summary of Lutheran hermeneutical principles
Accents in Luther's theology; essays in commemoration of the 450th anniversary of the Reformation. Heino O. Kadai, editor
The Protestant Reformation. Edited by Lewis W. Spitz
Various LC-MS Writings
Walther speaks to the church;: Selected letters
God's no and God's yes; the proper distinction between law and gospel
The proper distinction between law and gospel
The word of His Grace : occasional and festival sermons
Walther and the church
The zeal of His house; five generations of Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod history (1847-1972)
Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom of God
Darwin, evolution, and creation [by] Paul A. Zimmerman, editor [and others]

19 May 2009

Subterranean scribbling #2

The Protestant reads the Bible as addressed to him; he makes his understanding of the text the criterion of truth, and then seeks others who share a similar understanding: thus is born his ‘church.’ But the church is always, for him, an article of faith and not a visible reality.

The Orthodox reads the Bible as addressed to the Church; he recognizes her understanding of the text as the criterion of truth, and then seeks to join that body, that community: thus is he born as an Orthodox believer. But his status as Orthodox is always, for him, an article of faith. That is why he is not scandalized by these words from the desert fathers:

When blessed Antony was praying in his cell, a voice spoke to him, saying, "Antony, you have not yet come to the measure of the tanner who is in Alexandria." When he heard this, the old man arose and took his stick and hurried into the city. When he had found the tanner...he said to him, "Tell me about your work, for today I have left the desert and come here to see you."

He replied, "I am not aware that I have done anything good. When I get up in the morning, before I sit down to work, I say that the whole of this city, small and great, will go into the Kingdom of God because of their good deeds, while I alone will go into eternal punishment because of my evil deeds. Every evening I repeat the same words and believe them in my heart."

When blessed Antony heard this he said, "My son, you sit in your own house and work well, and you have the peace of the Kingdom of God; but I spend all my time in solitude with no distractions, and I have not come near the measure of such words."

14 May 2009

Three stages in the destruction of a society

Taken from the introduction to Demons, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky:

"The 'seed of the idea of destruction' is the revolt against God; but that is over and done with, it is already forgotten, no one is concerned with it anymore. What follows is man's replacement of God and the correction of His creation. This amounts to a declaration of the absurdity and meaninglessness of history, of historical reality as the unfolding of God's will in time, but also as the lived life of mankind--that is, to a separation from the historical body of mankind. Reality itself, physical reality, begins to drain out of this radical 'idea,' leaving only the drab abstraction of materialism. This Dostoyevsky felt and realized, and it is one reason why his heroes, when they begin to save themselves, kiss the earth and 'water it with their tears.' The third stage of the revolt in the name of unlimited freedom is destruction and anarchism, represented by Pyotr Verkhovensky. This whole 'development' is a continuous fall, and its thrust is towards sheer fantasy, which our century has witnessed in its bloodiest and most senseless forms. Dostoyevsky explored, tested, represented these three stages with extraordinary prescience in Demons.

01 May 2009

Subterranean scribblings

Protestant: "We do not pray to dead people."
Orthodox: "Neither do we."
P: "How can we know that the saints hear us?"
O: "How can I know that Christ hears me?"
P: "He has promised to hear me!"
O: "And he is not a bodiless head."
P: "Orat pro nobis."
O: "Homoiousion, too, added but one letter to the Church's faith. But one letter changes everything. What is lost when one changes a personal request to a theoretical statement? And how do such changes arise? Only when living relationships have turned to dim memories."

30 April 2009

Christos anesti!

Given the events of the past few weeks (Holy Week and Pascha preparations, last week of class and finals, the repose of my father-in-law and our trip to Cleveland for his funeral, and now a touch of bronchitis), I feel a little like St. Thomas the Monday after Pascha. Let me wish to one and all a belated but blessed Pascha: "Christos anesti!"

15 April 2009

John Carson Howard, 23 June 1923-14 April 2009

I just received word from my wife in New Mexico that my father-in-law reposed last night.
Words fail.
May his memory be eternal!

14 April 2009

A bit of "The Brothers Karamazov"

Beloved fathers and teachers, I was born in a distant province in the north, in the town of V. My father was a gentleman by birth, but of no great consequence or position. He died when I was only two years old, and I don’t remember him at all. He left my mother a small house built of wood, and a fortune, not large, but sufficient to keep her and her children in comfort. There were two of us, my elder brother Markel and I. He was eight years older than I was, of hasty, irritable temperament, but kind-hearted and never ironical. He was remarkably silent, especially at home with me, his mother, and the servants. He did well at school, but did not get on with his school-fellows, though he never quarrelled, at least so my mother has told me. Six months before his death, when he was seventeen, he made friends with a political exile who had been banished from Moscow to our town for freethinking, and led a solitary existence there. He was a good scholar who had gained distinction in philosophy in the university. Something made him take a fancy to Markel, and he used to ask him to see him. The young man would spend whole evenings with him during that winter, till the exile was summoned to Petersburg to take up his post again at his own request, as he had powerful friends.

It was the beginning of Lent, and Markel would not fast, he was rude and laughed at it. “That’s all silly twaddle, and there is no God,” he said, horrifying my mother, the servants, and me too. For though I was only nine, I too was aghast at hearing such words. We had four servants, all serfs. I remember my mother selling one of the four, the cook Afimya, who was lame and elderly, for sixty paper roubles, and hiring a free servant to take her place.

In the sixth week in Lent, my brother, who was never strong and had a tendency to consumption, was taken ill. He was tall but thin and delicate-looking, and of very pleasing countenance. I suppose he caught cold, anyway the doctor, who came, soon whispered to my mother that it was galloping consumption, that he would not live through the spring. My mother began weeping, and, careful not to alarm my brother, she entreated him to go to church, to confess and take the sacrament, as he was still able to move about. This made him angry, and he said something profane about the church. He grew thoughtful, however; he guessed at once that he was seriously ill, and that that was why his mother was begging him to confess and take the sacrament. He had been aware, indeed, for a long time past, that he was far from well, and had a year before coolly observed at dinner to your mother and me, “My life won’t be long among you, I may not live another year,” which seemed now like a prophecy.

Three days passed and Holy Week had come. And on Tuesday morning my brother began going to church. “I am doing this simply for your sake, mother, to please and comfort you,” he said. My mother wept with joy and grief. “His end must be near,” she thought, “if there’s such a change in him.” But he was not able to go to church long, he took to his bed, so he had to confess and take the sacrament at home.

It was a late Easter, and the days were bright, fine, and full of fragrance. I remember he used to cough all night and sleep badly, but in the morning he dressed and tried to sit up in an arm-chair. That’s how I remember him sitting, sweet and gentle, smiling, his face bright and joyous, in spite of his illness. A marvellous change passed over him, his spirit seemed transformed. The old nurse would come in and say, “Let me light the lamp before the holy image, my dear.” And once he would not have allowed it and would have blown it out.

“Light it, light it, dear, I was a wretch to have prevented you doing it. You are praying when you light the lamp, and I am praying when I rejoice seeing you. So we are praying to the same God.”

Those words seemed strange to us, and mother would go to her room and weep, but when she went in to him she wiped her eyes and looked cheerful. “Mother, don’t weep, darling,” he would say, “I’ve long to live yet, long to rejoice with you, and life is glad and joyful.”

“Ah, dear boy, how can you talk of joy when you lie feverish at night, coughing as though you would tear yourself to pieces.”

“Don’t cry, mother,” he would answer, “life is paradise, and we are all in paradise, but we won’t see it; if we would, we should have heaven on earth the next day.”

Everyone wondered at his words, he spoke so strangely and positively; we were all touched and wept. Friends came to see us. “Dear ones,” he would say to them, “what have I done that you should love me so, how can you love anyone like me, and how was it I did not know, I did not appreciate it before?”

When the servants came in to him he would say continually, “Dear, kind people, why are you doing so much for me, do I deserve to be waited on? If it were God’s will for me to live, I would wait on you, for all men should wait on one another.”

Mother shook her head as she listened. “My darling, it’s your illness makes you talk like that.”

“Mother darling,” he would say, “there must be servants and masters, but if so I will be the servant of my servants, the same as they are to me. And another thing, mother, every one of us has sinned against all men, and I more than any.”

Mother positively smiled at that, smiled through her tears. “Why, how could you have sinned against all men, more than all? Robbers and murderers have done that, but what sin have you committed yet, that you hold yourself more guilty than all?”

“Mother, little heart of mine,” he said (he had begun using such strange caressing words at that time), “little heart of mine, my joy, believe me, everyone is really responsible to all men for all men and for everything. I don’t know how to explain it to you, but I feel it is so, painfully even. And how is it we went on then living, getting angry and not knowing?”

So he would get up every day, more and more sweet and joyous and full of love. When the doctor, an old German called Eisenschmidt, came:

“Well, doctor, have I another day in this world?” he would ask, joking.

“You’ll live many days yet,” the doctor would answer, “and months and years too.”

“Months and years!” he would exclaim. “Why reckon the days? One day is enough for a man to know all happiness. My dear ones, why do we quarrel, try to outshine each other and keep grudges against each other? Let’s go straight into the garden, walk and play there, love, appreciate, and kiss each other, and glorify life.”

“Your son cannot last long,” the doctor told my mother, as she accompanied him the door. “The disease is affecting his brain.”

The windows of his room looked out into the garden, and our garden was a shady one, with old trees in it which were coming into bud. The first birds of spring were flitting in the branches, chirruping and singing at the windows. And looking at them and admiring them, he began suddenly begging their forgiveness too: “Birds of heaven, happy birds, forgive me, for I have sinned against you too.” None of us could understand that at the time, but he shed tears of joy. “Yes,” he said, “there was such a glory of God all about me: birds, trees, meadows, sky; only I lived in shame and dishonoured it all and did not notice the beauty and glory.”

“You take too many sins on yourself,” mother used to say, weeping.

“Mother, darling, it’s for joy, not for grief I am crying. Though I can’t explain it to you, I like to humble myself before them, for I don’t know how to love them enough. If I have sinned against everyone, yet all forgive me, too, and that’s heaven. Am I not in heaven now?”

And there was a great deal more I don’t remember. I remember I went once into his room when there was no one else there. It was a bright evening, the sun was setting, and the whole room was lighted up. He beckoned me, and I went up to him. He put his hands on my shoulders and looked into my face tenderly, lovingly; he said nothing for a minute, only looked at me like that.

“Well,” he said, “run and play now, enjoy life for me too.”

I went out then and ran to play. And many times in my life afterwards I remembered even with tears how he told me to enjoy life for him too. There were many other marvellous and beautiful sayings of his, though we did not understand them at the time. He died the third week after Easter. He was fully conscious though he could not talk; up to his last hour he did not change. He looked happy, his eyes beamed and sought us, he smiled at us, beckoned us. There was a great deal of talk even in the town about his death. I was impressed by all this at the time, but not too much so, though I cried a good deal at his funeral. I was young then, a child, but a lasting impression, a hidden feeling of it all, remained in my heart, ready to rise up and respond when the time came. So indeed it happened.

Joy and sorrow...and joy

The press of academic work has kept me from posting recently. Meanwhile, life goes on:

The joy of Holy Week services. Last Friday evening's Lazarus canon...Saturday morning's divine liturgy (I love the services of Lazarus Saturday; they put the events of Holy Week into perspective. Christ goes willingly to the Cross, as the Lord of life whom death cannot hold.)...Sunday morning's Palm Sunday liturgy with our procession around the church building...Sunday and Monday evening's Bridegroom Matins services ("I see thy bridal chamber adorned, O my Savior; but I have no wedding garment..."). This evening, again, we will have Bridegroom Matins.

The sorrow of marking the last few days and hours of my father-in-law's earthly pilgrimage. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease about a year ago, and has gone steadily downhill. Now he's having multiple organ failure. My bride went out to New Mexico to be with him. I used to joke that his only fault was his rooting for the Cleveland Browns. Remember the servant of God John in your prayers, please. Our sorrow is deep...

...and yet our joy is even deeper. For we face his repose in the full knowledge that death does not have the last word. Allow me to say, in anticipation: "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!"

01 April 2009

Skeptical of Orthodoxy?

"The human mind is a frail instrument, easily deluded, and most capable of building brilliant systems of thought and life that have no correspondence to reality whatsoever." So says a blogger, in explaining why his "Orthodox adventure" is over.

There's no disputing that many people have been deluded by various systems of thought. But since delusion, like stupidity, is an equal opportunity employer, we have not yet successfully escaped delusion until we are skeptical of skepticism too. To err, after all, is Humean.

One might further ask the young man, "Have you come to this conclusion by means of your mind?" If so, and if conclusions are no stronger than the instrument by which they are attained, he has further reason to be skeptical of his skepticism.

We do not argue that gold is worthless because some or many are deluded by fool's gold. No one counterfeits the currency of Zimbabwe (and soon, sadly, no one will counterfeit dollars either). That is not to say that some given miraculous story is true; only that it is not necessarily false. To rule out all stories of the miraculous is no less an error than admitting them all. If Satan gives "lying signs and wonders," are there not also true ones?

A more profitable way to consider claims of the miraculous in Orthodoxy, and to compare them to other claims of the miraculous, is to ask what theological underpinnings support them. This would be to follow the instructions God gave through Moses (Deut. 13:1ff).

I am not Orthodox because of signs and wonders, but because the Orthodox Church continues to teach the fullness of the Christian faith now, as it has for the past 2,000 years. I rejoice that the living Christ continues to work with his divine energies through his body, and I acknowledge Nektarios of Pentapolis no less than Spyridon of Trimythous as wonderworkers.

Said blogger, by a felicitous inconsistency, does not apply his skepticism to the words and works of Christ, noting that "Jesus doesn't lie. Jesus can't be tricked. . . Jesus doesn't pass off speculation as fact. All of those are things that humans are very, very prone to." Here at last we reach the logical conclusion of the semi-Manichean anthropology which some forms of protestantism so easily fall into: Jesus isn't human.

23 March 2009

Revisited: "There is no Lutheran Church"

A recent poster on Gene Veith's excellent blog made oblique reference to the theses I composed some time ago, that "There is no Lutheran Church." I thought it fitting, for those who care to read, to have them available on this blog, fwiw.


Propositions concerning the Lutheran Church
1. The Augsburg Confession and those other writings assembled in the Book of Concord (1580) were initially the confession of a group of territorial churches in northern Germany.
2. These territorial churches were not merely congregations, but trans-parish entities, each united by the same administration and the same liturgy within itself, and all alike were trans-parish entities.
3. These territorial churches did not understand themselves as a new denomination, but as the continuation of the catholic Church in the west.
4. They intended their writings to be understood as an unalterable confession of faith, with which they would stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
5. These confessional writings constituted them not merely as a corporation, but as a living, organic entity, as “the churches of the Augsburg Confession.”
6. The principle of unity of the churches of the Augsburg Confession is the quia subscription to, and confession of, the articles of the Book of Concord. (To develop this point a bit: the principle of unity in Rome is the papacy. The principle of unity in the Pentecostal churches is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Other features may change, but the principle of unity is essential to each body and may not be changed without the body's being essentially changed. Remove the papacy, and Rome is no longer Rome. Remove the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and pentecostalism is no longer Pentecostalism.)
7. This act of subscription and confession is not mere intellectual assent, but the ordering of the lives of congregations according to this principle of unity.

Propositions concerning change
8. There are two sorts of change: accidental and essential.
9. Accidental change occurs when a thing is modified, yet remains what it was before. For example, when someone paints a blue chair red, it changes (color), yet it remains what it was (a chair).
10. Accidental change occurs to living entities when they grow, move, or alter in any way which still allows one to say, "It remains what it was."
11. Essential change occurs when a thing is modified in such a way that it no longer is what it was before. For example, when a chair is run over by a steamroller, it is no longer a chair, but a pile of wood, or metal, or plastic.
12. Essential change occurs to living entities when they change in such a way that one can no longer say, "It remains what it was." For example, a human being changes into a corpse at death, or (if it were possible) the humans making up Frankenstein's monster were essentially changed when they were sewn together to make the monster.
13. It is not necessary fully to know or to understand the circumstances of a substantial change in order to affirm that such a change has taken place. All that needs to happen is to show that what was essential to the being of a thing has altered.
14. In the case of a living being which appears to have undergone substantial change (i.e. death), charity requires us to make efforts to restore quickly what was lost.
15. There comes a time when those making such efforts recognize that the patient has died.

Propositions applying the latter to the former
16. The churches of the Augsburg Confession have changed since the Book of Concord was adopted.
17. Some of those changes have been accidental: they grew, they moved etc.
18. Some of those changes have been essential--i.e. the principle of unity (the Lutheran Confessions) no longer describes any existing trans-parish entity.


a. Then: "Churches" of the Augsburg Confession refers to trans-parish entities, i.e. territorial churches.
Now: "Churches" refers to congregations, but not to trans-parish entities.

b. Then: The true body and blood of Christ are present under the bread and wine.
Now: Grape juice is offered in many places as an alternative.

c. Then: Luther excommunicates a pastor who mixes consecrated wine with unconsecrated following the service.
Now: Plastic disposable cups are used widely, tossed out unwashed after the service.

d. Then: Private confession ought to be retained. Practiced as the norm. No one is admitted to the Sacrament unless he is first examined and absolved.
Now: Private confession scarcely exists; in most parishes, not at all, in some parishes, just barely. Open communion the norm.

e. Then: Only those rightly/ritely called should administer the sacraments and preach.
Now: Unordained laity do both.

f. Then: The traditional usages of the Church *ought* to be observed, which may be observed without sin. Uniformity of liturgy within territorial churches (i.e. not merely a parish-by-parish decision).
Now: The traditional usages of the Church *need not* be observed (NB: "ought" and "need not" are logically contradictory).

g. Then: The Mass (i.e. the historic liturgy) is maintained, observed with greatest reverence, and ceremonies exist to teach the unlearned.
Now: The Mass is not maintained, reverence is discouraged by creative services (See, for example, http://www.thefellowship.com /ow/outreachworship.html), and ceremonies are instituted to entertain the bored.

h. Then: The right to excommunicate belongs by divine right (a very strong phrase!) to the pastoral office, and the people are bound by divine right to follow them. (AC 28)
Now: The right to excommunicate belongs by divine right to the congregation, and the pastors are bound by divine right to announce such excommunications. (Blue Catechism)

i. Then: Mary is and remains a virgin after Christ's birth (FCSD 8.24, added by Chemnitz to reject the Reformed Peter Martyr Vermigli's denial of the semper virgo).
Now: The semper virgo is at best a pious opinion.

j. Then: Prayers for the dead are not forbidden, and are not useless. (Ap)
Now: We must not pray for the souls of the dead (Blue Catechism).

k. Then: The Scripture principle ("The Word of God alone shall establish articles of faith") is maintained in tension with the catholic principle ("In doctrine and ceremonies, we have received nothing new against Scripture OR the catholic church"). These two principles are not, of course, two "sources" of doctrine.
Now: The catholic principle is gone.

Let me add another, from my own experience. I was a doctrinal reviewer for the new hymnal (now I won't be one much longer, when this gets to the eyes of others--but I digress). In reviewing the baptismal rite, I suggested that we ought to use Luther's 1526 baptismal rite as a paradigm of what constitutes a baptism from a Lutheran point of view. No-brainer, right? After all, that rite is even included in some editions of the BOC. I was overruled, and it was said that the 1526 rite carries NO normative significance for the Lutheran Church.

19. In some cases, these aberrations can be dated, and the scope of their acceptance be fixed--e.g. the abandonment of AC 14 happened in the LCMS in 1989. In other cases, these aberrations cannot be dated, and the scope of their acceptance cannot be fixed. But it is not necessary to explain *how* a thing dies in order to affirm *that* it died. We bury people without autopsies all the time.
20. Efforts to change these aberrations and return to the teaching of the Confessions have proved fruitless. The time has come to check the clock, note the time, and call the morgue.

21. The quia subscription to, and confession of, the doctrine of the Lutheran Confessions in its fulness is the principle of unity for the churches of the Augsburg Confession, and hence is essential for their existence.
22. There exists no trans-parish Lutheran entity which maintains a quia subscription to, and confession of, the doctrine of the Lutheran Confessions in its fulness.
23. In the sense that the Confessors understood themselves as 'church'--i.e. a trans-parish entity united by a common confession--There is no Lutheran Church.

Revised April 22, 2005

22 March 2009

Who's a Pelagian?

We Orthodox have been accused of being Pelagian because of our teaching on ancestral sin.

One of St. Augustine's arguments against Pelagius was from the practice of infant communion. If infants are not sinful, why are they communed? (We, of course, would answer that infants are baptised and communed because they have ancestral sin--i.e. they are born mortal, separated from the life of God which is communicated via the mysteries: Baptism, Chrismation and Eucharist.)

This morning at our altar and at Orthodox altars all around the world, baptised Orthodox infants were communed. This morning at Lutheran altars, their baptised infants were not communed.

Turn down the volume of the words that have poured forth, and judge by what you see: At Orthodox altars, baptised infants are communed. At Lutheran altars, they are turned away. Who's a Pelagian?

08 March 2009

Book meme (from Christopher Hall and Byzantine Dixie)

1. To mark your page you: use a bookmark, bend the page corner, leave the book open face down?

I've done all of them--usually I mark my place with a piece of paper.

2. Do you lend your books?
And never see many of them again... :-(

3. You find an interesting passage: you write in your book or NO WRITING IN BOOKS!
Usually I'll highlight margins. I put a star by a good passage. A few books have a few 5-star passages. Sometimes I write brief notes. I find it interesting to read annotations I wrote 10-20 years ago.

4. Dust jackets - leave it on or take it off.
When possible, I cover dust jackets with Contac paper. It keeps the books nicer longer.

5. Hard cover, paperback, skip it and get the audio book?
Hardcover is preferred; I enjoy audio too.

6. Do you shelve your books by subject, author, or size and color of the book spines?
Dewey decimal, thank you very much! (My mom was a librarian.)

7. Buy it or borrow it from the library later?
I do both; the local library will have a wing someday with my name on it.

8. Do you put your name on your books - scribble your name in the cover, fancy bookplate, or stamp?
I write my name on the first sheet.

9. Most of the books you own are rare and out of print books or recent publications?
Most are more recent, though I have some old gems. (I have Herman Sasse's copy of the Reformed Confessions.) :-)

10. Page edges - deckled or straight?
Straight, please.

11. How many books do you read at one time?
Oh, dear. More than I should.

12. Be honest, ever tear a page from a book?
I don't remember doing that. But I have torn articles from periodicals.

13. (An added question) What subject matters do you have the most books in?

Philosophy, especially ancient.
Theology, especially dogmatics
History, especially Byzantine & American Civil War/War between the states
Russian literature

14. (Another added question) What do you have none of?


And while I'm at it, I have a few books to sell: most especially a Philadelphia edition of Luther's Works, a volume or two of Sasse and some other things like that from a former life.

03 March 2009

Why do Lutherans go east?

I notice a rise in Orthodoxy-related posts on Lutheran blogs of late. The Revds. Weedon and McCain both have some. Perhaps it's due to the recent ordination of Daniel Hackney to the holy priesthood; or perhaps they are vaguely aware of other developments. It doesn't really matter.

Why are Lutherans looking east?

Rev'd. McCain seems to think it's a 'bug,' an infection whose aetiology he does not disclose, choosing only to focus on its symptoms. For its 'cure,' in part, he endorses a reading of the church fathers--whose views, he says, are closer to Lutheranism than to Orthodoxy.

Rev'd. Weedon opines that the antidote is a good read of C.P. Krauth, the magesterial representative of another American branch of Lutheranism whose magnum opus was "The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology."

One of my former colleagues used to speak of men who esteemed preaching above the sacraments. He called such a person a "word bird" (or "avis verbalis"). It is natural for such creatures to look at problems and solutions in terms of words.

But I, for one, did not leave Lutheranism chiefly because I found some faulty formulations of dogma. Nor do I sense that to be the case with others who have left. (There are, of course, faulty formulations: the filioque comes to mind. Original guilt is another. The denial of the essence/energy distinction is still a third.)

No; what was missing in Lutheranism for me and, I suspect, for those others who have become and are becoming Orthodox is what Florensky called "Tserkovnost" or "ecclesiality." It was the recognition that Lutheranism is not Church, but a school of thought which is incarnated in various corporations. The problem is not first and foremost verbal, but existential.

St. Gregory Palamas, on the divine energies

68. The divine transcendent being is never named in the plural. But the divine and uncreated grace and energy of God is divided indivisibly according to the image of the sun's ray (Cf. Basil, De spiritu sancta 9.22.35) which gives warmth, light, life and increase, and sends its own radiance to those who are illuminated and manifests itself to the eyes of those who see. In this way, in the manner of an obscure image, the divine energy of God is called not only one but also many by the theologians. For example, Basil the Great says, "As for the energies of the Spirit, what are they? Ineffable in their grandeur, they are innumerable in their multitude. How are we to conceive what is beyond the ages? What were his energies before intelligible creation?" (Idem, 19.49.1-4) Prior to intelligible creation and beyond the ages (for also the ages are intelligible creations) no one has ever spoken or conceived of anything created. Therefore, the powers and energies of the divine Spirit are uncreated and because theology speaks of them in the plural they are indivisibly distinct from the one and altogether indivisible substance of the Spirit.

69. As it has been made clear above by Basil the Great, the theologians treat the uncreated energy of God as multiple in that it is indivisibly divided. Since therefore the divine and divinizing illumination and grace is not the substance but the energy of God, for this reason it is treated not only in the singular but also in the plural. It is bestowed proportionately upon those who participate and, according to the capacity of those who receive it, it instills the divinizing radiance to a greater or lesser degree.

70. Isaias named these divine energies as seven, but among the Hebrew the word seven indicates many: he says, "There shall come forth a rod from the root of Jesse and a flower shall come forth from it. And seven spirits shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, piety counsel, might, fear." Those who hold the opinions of Barlaam and Akindynos foolishly contend that these seven spirits are created. This opinion we examined and refuted with clarity in our extensive Antirrhetic Against Akindynos. But Gregory the Theologian, when he called to mind these divine energies of the Spirit, said, "Isaias was fond of calling the energies of the Spirit spirits." And this most distinguished voice among the prophets clearly demonstrated through this number not only the distinction with respect to the divine substance but also indicated the uncreated character of these divine energies by means of the word `rested upon,' for `resting upon' belongs to a pre-eminent dignity. As for those spirits that rested upon the Lord's human nature which he assumed from us, how could they be creatures?

71. According to Luke, our Lord Jesus Christ says he casts out demon by the finger of God, but according to Matthew it is by the Spirit of God." Basil the Great says that the finger of God is one of the energies of Spirit. If then one of these is the Holy Spirit, the others too certainly are, since Basil has also taught us this. But on this account there are not many Gods or many Spirits, for these realities are processions, manifestations and natural energies of the one Spirit and in each case the agent is one. When the heterodox call these creatures, they degrade the Spirit of God to creature sevenfold. But let their shame be sevenfold, for the prophet again says of the energies, "These seven are the eyes of the Lord that range over the whole earth." And when he writes in Revelation, "Grace to you t peace from God and from the seven spirits which are before the throne of God, and from Christ," he demonstrates clearly to the faithful that these are the Holy Spirit.

72. Through Micah the prophet our God and Father foretold the birth the Only-Begotten in the flesh and wishing to show as well the inoriginate character of his divinity said, "His goings forth have been from the beginning from an eternity of days." The divine Fathers explained that these 'goings forth' are the energies of the Godhead, as the powers and energies are identical for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Yet word is being passed around about their being created by those who eagerly hold and defend the opinions of Barlaam and Akindynos. But let those who have lately come to their senses understand who is the one from the beginning, who it was to whom David said, "From eternity (which is the same as saying from an eternity of days') and unto eternity you are." And let them consider intelligently, if they will, that God, in saying through the prophet that these goings forth are from the beginning, in no way said they came into being were made or were created. And Basil, when, in the Spirit of God, he made the theological statement, "The energies of the Spirit existed before intelligible creation and beyond the ages," did not say `they came into being.' God alone, therefore, is active and all-powerful from eternity since he possesses pre-eternal powers and energies.

73. In outright opposition to the saints, those who advocate the opinion of Akindynos say, "The uncreated is unique, namely, the divine nature, and anything whatsoever distinct from this is created." Thus do they make into a creature the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, for there is one and the same energy for the three, and that of which the energy is created cannot itself be uncreated. For this reason it is not the energy of God that is a creature—certainly not!—but rather the effect and the product of the energy. Thus, the holy Damascene taught that the energy which is distinct from the divine nature is an essential, that is, a natural movement (Cf. John Damascene, Expositio fidei 37 and 59.7-9). And since the divine Cyril said that creating belongs to the divine energy,( Cyril of Alexandria, Thesaurus 18) how can this be a created reality, unless it shall have been effected through another energy, and that in turn through another, and so on ad infinitum; and the uncreated cause of the energy is always being sought after and proclaimed?

74. Because the divine substance and the divine energy are inseparably present everywhere, the energy of God is accessible also to us creatures, for according to the theologians it is indivisibly divided, whereas the divine nature remains utterly indivisible according to them. Thus, the Church Father, Chrysostom, says, "A drop of grace filled all things with knowledge; through it wonders took place, sins were loosed (John Chrysostom, Expositiones in Psalmos 44.3)." When he indicated that this drop of grace was uncreated, he then hastened to show that it was an energy and not the substance; and, further, he added the distinction of the divine energy with respect to the divine substance and the hypostasis of the Spirit when he wrote: "I am speaking of this part of the operation for indeed the Paraclete is not divided." The divine grace and energy at least is accessible to each of us since it is itself divided indivisibly, but since the substance of God is utterly indivisible in itself how could it be accessible to any creature?

75. There are three realities in God, namely, substance, energy and a Trinity of divine hypostases. Since it has been shown above that those deemed worthy of union with God so as to become one spirit with him (even as the great Paul has said, "He who clings to the Lord is one spirit with him.") are not united to God in substance, and since all theologians bear witness in their statements to the fact that God is imparticipable in substance and the hypostatic union happens to be predicated of the Word and God-man alone, it follows that those deemed worthy of union with God are united to God in energy and that the spirit whereby he who clings to God is one with God is called and is indeed the uncreated energy of the Spirit and not the substance of God, even though Barlaam and Akindynos may disagree. For God foretold through the prophet not `My Spirit', but rather, "Of my Spirit I will pour out upon those who believe."

76. Maximus says, "Moses and David and those who have become fit for the divine energy by laying aside their carnal properties were moved at a sign from God"; and, "They became living icons of Christ and the same as he is, more by grace than by assimilation"; and, "The purity in Christ and in the saints is one"; and, "The radiance of our God is upon us," sings the most divine of melodists. For according to Basil the Great, "As souls that bear the Spirit are illumined by the Spirit they become spiritual themselves and send forth grace to others. Thence comes foreknowledge of the future understanding of mysteries, apprehension of things hidden, distribution o spiritual gifts, citizenship in heaven, the dance with the angels, joy without end, divine distribution, likeness to God, and the summit of our longings, namely, to become God.”

---from The One Hundred and Fifty Chapters, translated by Robert E. Sinkewicz (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies) Note: I've omitted some footnotes, and put others in parentheses next to the words they refer to.

That prayer, again

On his blog "Cyberbrethren" the Rev'd. Paul McCain has cited another unnamed Lutheran blogger discussing the post-communion prayer to the Theotokos. The unnamed blogger refers to it as an "idolatrous prayer."

For those Lutherans bitten by the "Orthodox bug," as he puts it, who want to see an exegesis of that prayer, I posted a detailed explanation of it some time ago. The exegesis begins with a post of 28 August 2008.

If any Lutheran would like to discuss it, or any Orthodox for that matter, feel free to comment here.

02 March 2009

Forgive me,

dear brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the many ways I have offended God and you:

willingly and unwillingly,
known and unknown,
by action and omission,
by word and deed and thought.

And beseech God for me that he may have mercy on me.

The unworthy priest and fool,

Fr. Gregory

24 February 2009

What a wonderful day...

...this past Sunday. My wife and I traveled to Sylvania, Ohio for the elevation of Dcn. Daniel Hackney to the holy priesthood, and my son John's elevation to the subdiaconate. Naturally, his first litany was in Slavonic! :-)

I'm second from the left; John is next to me; Fr. Daniel is fourth from the right and Fr. Steven Salaris is third from the right. Bishop MARK stands in the center, of course, and next to him stands a 90-year-old priest from Syria, Fr. Gabriel.
Posted by Picasa

07 February 2009

One picture is worth a thousand words...

...or so goes the saying. Consider this icon of the Lord's baptism.

This icon is used for the feast of Theophany, or "God's revelation." Based on the gospel accounts, the Church sings,

"When thou, O Lord, wast baptised in the Jordan,
worship of the Trinity was made manifest.
For the voice of the Father bore witness to thee,
calling thee his beloved Son.
And the Spirit in the likeness of a dove confirmed the truth of his word..."

Note the Persons of the Holy Trinity in this icon. The voice of the Father is heard from on high. The Son is baptised in the Jordan. And the Spirit proceeds from the Father and rests on the Son--just as the Church confesses.

To those visitors from the West, I ask you: What icon could depict the filioque?

05 February 2009

Holy water?

An anonymous poster on Pr. Weedon's blog who calls himself "Michigan J. Frog" (what is it about Lutherans and anonymous posting?) has tried to poke fun at the Orthodox use of holy water, and the customs of Theophany.

On Pr. Eckardt's blog, there's discussion about the use of a tabernacle and the dreadful practice in many Lutheran circles of tossing the used disposable cups in the trash after communion. (I learned there for the first time of some consecrated wafers being tossed as well.)

These two things are connected.

Material things aren't neutral. Either the Church sacralizes the 'secular' (though, in truth, there is nothing 'secular'), or the world profanes the sacred. The Orthodox Church has chosen the former...

Can you spot the incoherence here?

The Lord has given the Sacred Scriptures to the Church to be the rule and judge of all doctrines and teachers.
Whenever she teaches according to them, she speaks a certain and joyful truth, and is to be obeyed.
Whenever she teaches contrary to them, or insists on a teaching or practice for which they give no grounds, she should not be heeded but rather called to repentance.

04 February 2009


"Not to live according to one's faith is worse than to live according to one's unbelief. No atheist can do the Church of Christ so much damage and bring so much devastation into its fold as an evil, money-loving priest who received, and has not been deprived of, the awe-inspiring grace of performing sacraments and wearing sacred vestments."

--from The Orthodox Pastor by Archbishop John Shahovskoy, pp. 16-17

01 February 2009

Number 6!

Steelers 27 Cardinals 23
Late drive wins sixth Super Bowl
Santonio Holmes, Super Bowl XLIII's MVP, celebrates after a game-winning reception.

31 January 2009

Check out this video.

HT: Protonamesnik Milovan Katanic

29 January 2009

Issues etc. on the filioque

The Lutheran radio program "Issues Etc." featured a discussion of the filioque--the western addition "and the Son" to the Creed of Constantinople. Speaking on behalf of Lutherans was Pr. Peter Bender, well known in LCMS circles for his catechetical work. I will try to summarize his main points and respond to them.

1. A key point of his defense of the filioque is the notion that in the eastern church, Jesus and his atoning work does not have center stage as it does in the western church. They are diminished, according to Pr. Bender, in the Eastern church.

It is difficult to respond to a charge of this sort, because it is painted with so broad a brush. Pointing out the numerous feasts of the Holy Cross, the fact that (unlike most Lutheran parishes today) the Eucharist is the center of our liturgical life, every Sunday we read a resurrection gospel etc. would be met with "those are exceptions." Perhaps the best response is to point Pr. Bender and others to the liturgy of Great and Holy Friday, with its sparkling-clear presentation of Christ's work for us.

2. Pr. Bender conflates the economic and immanent Trinity, claiming that because Jesus gives the Spirit in time to the Church, therefore the Spirit proceeds from him in eternity.

Those who make this claim would do well to ponder our Lord's baptism--a revelation in time of the eternal Trinity. There the Spirit proceeds from the Father and rests on the Son, just as the Orthodox faithfully teach.

3. When an email pointed out that the Bible speaks of the Spirit as proceeding from the Father (Jn 14:26), Pr. Bender replied that the whole of John 14-17 has to be taken together.

For someone so sensitive to the words of Holy Scripture, there remains this question: why do the Spirit-inspired Scriptures never speak of the Spirit as proceeding from the Son, but only speak of him proceeding from the Father? In the context of John 14:26, it would have been simple for the Lord to speak of the Spirit "who proceeds from the Father and from me." John 14-17 as a whole is plainly speaking of the economic work of the Trinity. Is the Holy Spirit the "Spirit of the Son"? Of course he is, because the Son sends to the Church in time the One who proceeds from the Father in eternity.

4. Pr. Bender says that the third ecumenical council, the council of Toledo in Spain (589 AD), added the word filioque to the Creed.

It is true that the Council of Toledo added "filioque". But Toledo was not an ecumenical council, it was a local council. The Third Ecumenical Council was Ephesus, in 431 AD. I would have passed over this point in silence, because it betrays an embarrassing lack of knowledge of the Church's history; but it was no misspeaking, since Pr. Bender first alluded to it and then spoke of it explicitly. Nor, by the way, is the Nicene Creed an expansion of the Apostles' Creed.

24 January 2009

Here and now

When God speaks of himself in the book of Revelation, he says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."

But when that same book speaks of the beast, notice what it says: "...it was and is not and is to come."

The battle we fight in prayer is to meet the Holy Trinity in the present moment...not to let our minds drift to things past which oppress us, or things yet to come, which make us worry. Strictly speaking, neither the past nor the future exist. There is only the present, which God gives us to receive from his gracious hand as his creation...as redeemed by his blood...as filled by him who is everywhere present and fillest all things. It is false to say that the finite is not capable of the infinite; indeed, we find God here, and now, in this radically finite thing we call the present moment, or we find him nowhere. Here, too, we find the Theotokos and the saints: God is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him who says, "I am the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob."

20 January 2009

The power of the Word

It was Pascha of the first year after the Communist October Revolution. In front of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Lunaciarski was holding an atheist conference. This founder of the "bezbojnik" (without God) movement had declared openly a couple of months earlier that God should disappear completely from the vast Soviet territories. He had made a solemn commitment in the presence of the Soviet Communist party. On that day the meeting was of great size. Country people and workmen from surrounding areas and from far away had been brought forcibly to attend...There were thousands of Bolsheviks applauding and thundering slogans against God. The orator was in his glory.
To make the argument more powerful, an inflamed group of Communists surprised an old priest on the street; they beat him, spat upon him, pulled his beard and brought him on the stage. Lunaciarski looked at him and said, "Do you see these multitudes? from now on, they do not believe in God; they believe in me, in what I tell them. Look, I give you the floor. If in five minutes, you do not convince them that God exists, I will execute you." The priest turned to the people, and, this being Pascha, he felt in his heart a flow of warm love and compassion for these people. He cleared his voice and cried out with a supernatural force, "BRETHREN, CHRIST IS RISEN!" There were a few seconds of dead silence, and then as if from the depths or even from heaven, the answer of tens of thousands of Bolsheviks reverberated through the air: "HE IS RISEN INDEED!" The old man made the sign of the cross in the presence of the speaker and said, "Your Excellency, my demonstration is finished." Then he slipped away through the crowd and disappeared. The writer Nicholas Arseniev, who was an eyewitness, later related the facts of this event in his memoirs when he was in exile.

---from "On the Way of Faith", by Archimandrite Roman Braga

03 January 2009

"I am a Protestant who..."

Over at his blog, Pr. William Weedon talks about the word 'Protestant' as it applies to him. He says, in part, "I am an original Protestant. That means, I am one who believes that Baptism is for infants and adults and through it the Blessed Trinity saves us; I am a Protestant who believes that in the Eucharist Christ gives me to eat and drink His most holy body and blood beneath the appearance of bread and wine; I am a Protestant who believes that the words of Christ's called servants release me from sin, forgive me, and open wide the gates of heaven; I am a Protestant who believes that the Eucharist is the beating heart of the Church's life; I am a Protestant who rejoices in the liturgy of the Mass and the Daily Office; I am a Protestant who acknowledges the Office of the Holy Ministry as divinely established and ordained for the salvation of our souls. Please don't call me 'high church' or 'hyper confessional.' Just call me Lutheran. For that's what I am."

It is worth reflecting on these words. Here the term "Protestant" functions as a genus-term (like homo in homo sapiens), and the clauses beginning with "who believes..." set forth the differences (like sapiens in homo sapiens) that mark his sort of Protestant (as he says, Lutheran).

What makes him as Protestant as the most ardent Baptist, or the most 'Spirit-filled' Pentecostal? "Lutherans most certainly ARE Protestants vis a vis the papal claims." In other words, for Pr. Weedon the term "Protestant" is, at its heart, a negative description--it tells what he and the Baptist and Pentecostal are not.

The list of what makes Pr. Weedon the kind of Protestant he is, serves to distinguish him from other Protestants--even some who use the term "Lutheran" to describe themselves (including Luther himself--didn't he give thanks somewhere that people were free from the "vain babbling" of the daily hours?)

Pr. Weedon's statement is an excellent example of what Florensky calls the confessional formula as guarantor of ecclesiality, which I cited in my previous post. But there is no oneness of mind in Protestantism--only a shared revulsion of papal claims. And there is no oneness of mind in Lutheran bodies--only a likeminded holding to certain positions and tendencies, while allowing freedom to understand those positions in vastly different ways. The vastly different practices and beliefs concerning lay absolution, grape juice and disposable cups all serve to demonstrate that we are dealing on the level of abstract concepts, not on the level of flesh-and-blood concrete reality.

As a thought-experiment, imagine someone saying "I am an Orthodox who...", in order to distingish himself from some other Orthodox. Some may argue that there are a few differences within contemporary Orthdoxy--e.g. old vs. new calendar--but none of these rise to the level of a doctrinal dispute. "Orthodox" is not a genus-term, like "Protestant." It's a corporate term, an organic term describing a living reality: the bride and body of Christ.

Let it be noted: in no way do I mean these words as a personal attack or criticism of Pr. Weedon, whom I consider to be one of the best representatives of contemporary Lutheranism in its attempt to be catholic. My argument is, rather, that if Florensky's analysis captures so refined a statement as Pr. Weedon's, how much more does it capture more generic protestant views!