Monday, December 27, 2004

Disaster in Asia: IOCC Response to the Tsunami

Words do not begin to describe the aftermath of the fourth-largest earthquake in a century, and the tsunami triggered as a result that has devastated the nations along the Indian Ocean, from Indonesia to Sri Lanka and India, and even as far west as the country of Somalia, on the eastern coast of Africa, over 3,750 miles away. As of this time, the death toll stands at over 23,000 people, possibly half of whom are children. The number of homeless now at risk from disease and exposure exceeds 500,000.

The International Orthodox Christian Charities, together with many other humanitarian organizations around the world, is sending help. They have set an initial goal of raising $100,000 for the first phase of the relief effort. Please go to the IOCC web site to make a donation on-line.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Stem Cells in the News Again

Among the items debated during the recent presidential campaign was the question of the ban on stem cell research put in place by President Bush. Critics of the policy argued that stem cell research was essential; while supporters of the ban cited the grotesque practice of harvesting stem cells from aborted fetuses. It seems, in many ways, that the debate about stem cell research is an extension of the debate about abortion.

As has been noted here before, it is important to distinguish between stem cells taken from embryos, and those taken from a donor, even an adult. To date, as far as I have seen, there is little or no evidence that embryonic stem cells, regardless of the potential many claim exists, are the "magic bullet" that some researchers are seeking. On the other hand, there is dramatic evidence that the stem cells taken from one's own body may have a powerful impact in the healing process. The latest such case is reported by the Associated Press, in which stem cells derived from fat have helped in the restoration of the skull of a seven-year-old girl in Germany. Dr. Hans-Peter Howaldt of the Justus-Liebig-University Medical School in Giessen, Germany, who performed the surgery, said the damage to the girl's skull, caused by a fall about two years ago, affecting some nineteen square inches of her skull, was too extensive to be repaired with bone grafts from her body. He said the hope was that if bits of the child’s bone were mixed with stem cells, the cells would turn into bone-building cells that would create additional bone. This is apparently what has happened, although Dr. Howaldt reports that there is no conclusive evidence that the stem cells were essential to the process. However, the girl, whose brain could be seen in places where the skull had been destroyed prior to the procedure, now has a complete skull, and no longer needs to wear a protective helmet.

Isn't it amazing what we've learned to do? Isn't it amazing how wonderfully God has designed us, and all of creation? How can we fail to recognize His handiwork? How can we fail to give Him praise and glory, in wonder and amazement at all He has done for us? Glory to Thee, O Lord; glory to Thee!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Islam: You Need to Read This Article

Very insightful. Please read "Religious correctness" at the Islamitics blogsite. And thanks, Huw, for the heads-up.

The Depravity Within

Some of these reports are not for the faint of heart, nor the weak of stomach. Accordingly, one might ask, why even bother to make mention of them? Read on, O intrepid explorers of the blogosphere, read on...

Are there truly people in the world who are so desperate for a child that they will kill a pregnant woman and cut her open to obtain the fetus in her womb? Unfortunately, the answer is, "Yes." The latest report comes from Missouri. By the grace of God, the child was found alive in this case. It is not always so. There are enough children in orphanages around the world who would love to have someone adopt them, to love and care for them. But for some people, I guess this isn't enough.

Meanwhile, from Cancun, Mexico, comes a report that "takes the measure of a man." What is that? Man "tastes like lamb" -- at least, if he is roasted. Stewing is not the best option, according to the lost soul of this report.

Have you heard about "Project Entropia?" It must be spectacular. A 22-year old man in Australia has paid $26,500 for the rights to develop a 6,000 acre desert island in a virtual reality game. That's right: it's not a real island; it's an island in a computer game. The cash, however, is real. As of this writing, there are 185,425 people registered to play the game, in which buyers and sellers market virtual items for actual cash. What, there aren't already enough things to spend your money on? On the other hand, storing your virtual acquisitions will require, uh, virtually (sorry, couldn't resist) no closet space...

It may be that the last item is the most disturbing of all -- even more so than murder for abduction, and murder for consumption. (No cannibal jokes, please.) To take a life, created by God, and irreplaceable, is a staggering act. To take the material blessings that have been given to us by God and to use them to buy a building lot on a virtual island and build a virtual mansion there, instead of feeding the people in the real world who are hungry, and housing the homeless, and clothing the naked (and building for ourselves mansions in heaven thereby)... Has humanity, apart from God, sunk so low? And, given that it appears to be so, we must ask: How long, now, until our Lord returns? And, are we ready for the great and terrible Day of Judgment?

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Healing of the Russian Orthodox Church

Yesterday, at our annual parish meeting, one of the members suggested that we adopt a resolution to thank and support Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, and Archbishop Kyrill of the Diocese of San Francisco and Western America, our hierarch, for their efforts in the conversations with the Church of the Moscow Patriarchate that will, hopefully, result in the healing of the divisions in the Russian Orthodox Church, and the establishment of eucharistic communion between the Church Abroad and the Church in Russia. When it has been prepared in its final form, I intend to make it available at our parish website, at the discussion group based at, and at this location.

There is, however, more to the story - and it is this which prompts me to this blog entry. When the idea of the resolution was first proposed, there was some hesitancy on the part of some of the people present about what was being suggested. There may even have been some resistance; and it wasn't until an actual text was proposed and read that we could proceed. The final text was adopted without dissent.

For many, this is not an issue. There are members of the congregation of Holy Archangels Orthodox Church who come from other Orthodox backgrounds: Greek, Romanian, and Antiochian, among many. Others are, as I am, American converts to the Orthodox Church and faith. The remaining part of our congregation consists of those who have their roots in Russia. Together, we are, on the one hand, quite a "mixed bag"; yet we are also one in Christ: one family; One Body. It cannot be any other way, if we are truly going to be Orthodox Christians. The Body of Christ is not, and cannot be, divided.

The origins of the divisions in the Russian Orthodox Church are many, arising from the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, and in the aftermath of the Civil War, as the revolutionaries set about to destroy the Church, if for no other reason than that the Church was capable of serving as a rival center of power against the Bolshevik control of the state and its people. This is not to say that the Church would function as a rival power; simply that it could serve that function. Add to this the atheism of the Bolsheviks, and you have a script for the attempt to eradicate the Church and all of its influence from the Russian land and people.

How much of this is a concern to those who are not of Russian origin? It probably goes without saying that those members of the parish who are from Russia, whether the children and grandchildren of the earlier waves of emigres, or who have only recently left Russia, will have strong feelings about the possibility of reconciliation between the sundered branches of the Orthodox Church of Russia. Some will see no other possible course; while others cannot see how the Church Abroad can have anything to do with a body they had been told was under the control of the atheists, and had (actively) participated in the closure and destruction of churches, and the arrest, torture, exile, and execution of hundreds of thousands of persons whose only crime was that they would not renounce their faith when ordered to do so by the authorities of the state. But why should those who are from the Antiochian, or Greek, or Romanian, or Serbian churches, or who are American converts, care about the potential reconciliation of the Russian Orthodox Church?

When the conversations between ROCOR and the MP were beginning, I had conversations with a number of people in the parish who were worried about what it all might mean. My reply to them was, "How will it change anything here? Will the music change? The icons? The Divine Liturgy? The vestments? The preaching? Imagine, for a moment, that your worst fears with regard to the situation come true: how will that affect us here? Our mission remains the same: to save our souls by living the Orthodox faith and way of life; and to bring the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ to a world in darkness, and in the shadow of death." I don't think that this alleviated their concerns to any great extent; but we all did agree that, in the end, we must pray; and trust our bishops to discern, and follow, the will of God. The same is true for those who are ready without hesitation for immediate and full restoration of relationships with Moscow: We must pray, and follow our bishops, waiting for them to find the way we are to go. And, when all is said and done, what will change here?

Let me answer my own question. What will change will not, on one level, be at all discernible. We will go about the tasks appointed to us, laboring fro salvation on behalf of ourselves and of others, exactly as if the conversations between ROCOR and the MP had never started. But there is and aspect that those who oppose, or even are "merely" concerned about, the on-going dialogue for restoring eucharistic communion, must think about - our Lord's prayer that we all may be one.

If we are not willing to reach out to our brothers, we are not Orthodox. If we are not willing to forgive, we are not Orthodox. If we are not willing to repent, and ask our brothers to forgive us, we are not Orthodox. If we will not do all that is within our power to achieve reconciliation, short of compromising the faith -- and, the last I heard, no one was proposing we do that -- then all the attendance at worship, all the reverencing of icons, all the attention paid to music, and to the ritual, and to the way the church looks, and so on -- all of this is meaningless, if we close ourselves to pursuing the restoration of familial relations, of communion, between our parts of the suffering Russian Orthodox Church. This is not to say that we accept any circumstances, ignoring problems that need to be resolved, to establish unity. It may well be that the end result of the meetings of the committees working on the he question will be that the time is not yet right for restoration of communion; although I hope this will not be the case, and I find the reports of the work of the committees to be encouraging. But we must be engaged with our brothers, out of love for them, and obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ, if we truly desire to be living and acting as Orthodox Christians.

May God bless and guide all our hierarchs (MP and ROCOR) in this effort to be restored to each other, for the glory of His Name, and the blessing of His Church.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Canada and Same-Sex Marriages

The headline reads, “Canadian High Court OKs Same-Sex Marriage.” In the story, carried by the Associated Press (AP), we find that the most likely outcome of the Canadian Supreme Court’s ruling will be the introduction of legislation to approve same-sex marriages on a national level. The legislation, to be introduced early in 2005, is expected to pass without difficulty, making Canada the third nation, with Belgium and the Netherlands, to make same-sex marriages legal.

The head of the ruling Liberal Party, Prime Minister Paul Martin, has reportedly said that party members in Parliament are free to vote their consciences; but that all Cabinet members must support the legislation. I suppose that this resonates with me, in that it calls to mind the situation that developed in the Episcopal Church in the mid-1990’s, leading us to make the move to become Orthodox. The House of Bishops met in September, 1995, to consider the recommendations of a committee that had been established by the 1994 General Convention, charged with the task of finding a way to keep both those who favored and those who opposed the ordination of women within the church. This committee proposed the amendment of the canons to require that any leader of the church, lay or ordained, who spoke against the ordination of women be removed from their position. Knowing that if I spoke my mind about what the Church has always taught and believed could lead to my being defrocked, I saw that this proposed change, adopted in a straw vote by the bishops, and subsequently by ECUSA as a whole at the 1997 General Convention, would be the metaphorical “bullet in the back of the head” for persons such as me. It was the “trigger event” that led us to make the change we had been longing for – to become Orthodox.

It should be noted that the court decision states that religious officials cannot be required to perform such marriages against their beliefs. Presumably, the legislation that will be offered will have the same safeguard. Here again, however, there is an ECUSA connection. When, in 1974, the ordination of women, originally performed in violation of the Constitution and Canons of ECUSA, was considered at the 1976 General Convention following the “ordinations,” it was determined that, in effect, the ordinations were not “invalid”; they were instead, “irregular.” With an amendment to the Canons of the Church, the situation was “regularized.” In 1977, the House of Bishops adopted what came to be known as the “conscience clause”; the concluding paragraph of the “Statement of Conscience” adopted at their meeting in Port St. Lucie provided that:
In the light of all this and in keeping with our intention at Minneapolis, we affirm that no Bishop, Priest, Deacon, or Lay Person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities as a result of his or her conscientious objection to or support of the 65th General Convention’s action with regard to the ordination of women to the priesthood or episcopate.
In the debate leading up to the 1997 change in the canons, the argument was advanced, to the effect, that “opponents of women’s ordination have had almost twenty years to come to grips with it. It’s time they either get with the program, or get out.” Thus, while it appears on the basis of today’s court decision that there is a “conscience clause” regarding churches and a protection from a requirement to perform same-sex marriages, who is to say that this cannot, and will not, be changed in the future? The groundwork is already there…

There is another significant element of the AP report that is not immediately obvious from the headline and opening paragraphs. The decision rendered by the court was apparently set in motion by a request made by former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who asked the court to respond to these three questions:
  • Does the federal government have exclusive authority to define marriage?
  • Does the charter protect religious groups from having to perform gay weddings against their beliefs?
  • Is the proposed same-sex marriage law constitutional?
Prime Minister Martin added a fourth question: Is the traditional definition of marriage - between one man and one woman - also constitutional? (The court declined to respond to the fourth question; at least, for now.)

I’m wondering what prompted the fourth question? Is there some quirky provision in Canadian law that is open to diverse interpretations? Or is this looking for another way to “open the door” for more than just same-sex marriages?