Tuesday, December 27, 2005

There is, Of Course, No God

Scientists Train Wasps for War on Terror

Trained wasps could replace bomb-sniffing dogs within five to ten years, according to this report. Using Pavlovian techniques to train the wasps, and a 15-inch plastic cylinder with five wasps within it, with an opening to the atmosphere (allowing air in, while keeping the wasps contained) at one end, and a computer sensor/camera attachment at the other end, chemical compounds in concentrations as low as four parts per billion can reportedly be detected. Moreover, where it takes several months and several thousands of dollars to train a bomb-sniffing dog, it takes much less time and money to train wasps for the job; and the human handler of the wasps, it is said, can be prepared to work with the "wasp hounds" in the field in as short a time as 35-40 minutes. A "wasp hound" unit would cost about $100.00.

Joe Lewis, a U.S. Agriculture Department entomologist, and his partner, University of Georgia biological engineer Glen Rains, say their device is ready for pilot tests and could be available for commercial use in five to 10 years.

Lewis says the "ability to capture nature and its marvels is ... revolutionary." Rains, meanwhile, says, "The sensitivity of animals (and insects) to chemicals in general is probably beyond what we can comprehend. We don't really know what the limits are."

(Dr. Zeitgeist says: "And, of course, all of these marvelous aspects of living things in nature just sort of happened to come together by random chance. There's absolutely no need whatsoever to even begin to speak of a Creator Who established all things -- including these amazing capabilities that are now being discovered and developed and exploited in the service of mankind...")

Meanwhile, back on the old calendar/new calendar front...

'Leap second' Disrupts Gadgets, Restarts Time Debate

The shift from the use of astronomical observations to the measurement of the vibrations of atoms of cesium-133 as the basis for the measurement of time has produced some complications for those who require levels of precision in time management that would elude the vast majority of us. (Time management is definitely not one of my strengths...)

The proposal to add a "leap second" at the end of this year will apparently create some potential difficulties for those who use instruments which derive their time-signals from the "official" cesium-based clock; but which are used to monitor (or otherwise employ) atronomical phenomena which are not geared to the movements of cesium atoms, but rather the interplay between the rotation of the earth and the movements of the heavens.

(Dr. Zeitgeist says: "And, of course, all of these marvelous aspects of nature just sort of happened to come together by random chance. There's absolutely no need whatsoever to even begin to speak of a Creator Who established all things -- including setting the stars in the heavens and the movement of atoms which are now being used in the service of mankind...")

Reportedly, failure to add a leap second (there have been 21 added so far, beginning in 1972; the most recent having been added in 1998) could result in a divergence in measured time of approximately 2 minutes every 100 years.

Sort of puts the "calendar question" into a whole new light, doesn't it? Two minutes every 100 years... [grin]

Saturday, November 12, 2005

From a Discussion at the Recent Clergy Conference in Vancouver

Many of the clergy of the Western American Diocese gathered in Vancouver, BC, for a conference over October 24th-26th. During that conference, time was provided for a discussion of the dialogue that has taken place between representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and of the Moscow Patriarchate (MP). Unfortunately, Fr. Alexander Lebedeff was unable to be present (please pray for the restoration of his health); but our diocesan hierarch, Archbishop KYRILL, was present, as was Fr. Peter Perekrestov, who serves on the organizing committee for the Fourth All-Diaspora Council to be held in San Francisco in May, 2006.

The session, which ran between 75 and 90 minutes, was by no means exhaustive. Almost all of the time was yielded to Archpriest George Primak, Dean of the western part of the Diocese of Canada, who had, he said, a number of questions and concerns about the proposed establishment of Eucharistic Communion between ROCOR and the MP. While there was not time to ask all his questions (which are reportedly posted on the internet, although I have been unable to find them in English), he was able to ask several; and have answers given by many of those in attendance. What I intend to present here is a recollection of that session, based on the notes I took during the conversations. (This is not meant to be a verbatim report.) What is my purpose for doing this? To let it be known that nothing whatsoever was done to restrain discussion or silence dissent in the consideration of the proposed establishment of Eucharistic Communion between the divided parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, despite what has been claimed in certain circles.

1. Why is the number of participants (particularly priests) attending the Sobor in May so small (certainly less than the number who attended the meeting in Nyack)? There are rumors that the number is limited to reduce the number of those who might question or oppose the proposed union.

Fr. Peter reported that the system for selecting the delegates, and the number of delegates, is consistent with the system used at all previous All-Diaspora Sobors. The sessions of the meetings are closed to all but those who are delegates, as was the practice before. At the first Sobor, there were a total of 95 delegates. At the second, there were 97 delegates; and at the third, 107 delegates. He further noted that the ratio of delegates to parishes in May is 1:5. At earlier such meetings, the ratio was higher; and at the All-Russian Council in 1917-1918, the ratio was actually 1:500. Among other things, this points out the decline in numbers of parishes and people over the last several decades. There are also financial reasons for not having a larger number of delegates; and a desire to avoid the "free-for-all" atmosphere that took place in Nyack. Even so, each diocese has four delegates: 2 from among the clergy, and two from among the laity. The ruling bishops will also be in attendance, as will representatives of approved organizations. Those who were delegates at earlier All-Diaspora Sobors are also invited to attend and participate. Another point in this discussion was that if all clergy who wished to attend and were willing to pay their way would be allowed to take part, then those who are financially better off and geographically closer would have a great advantage over those priests who do not have the financial resources, or who live in a diocese that is distant from San Francisco. The equal representation of delegates, with four from each diocese, ensures balance and fairness. It was also pointed out that, if any clergyman is allowed to attend, how could any parishioners who wished to do so be excluded? But this would make the meeting essentially unworkable.

As discussion continued, the charge was made that the action under consideration next May constitutes a "180-degree" change in direction. Subsequent discussion noted that the decision of the Sobor of 1917-1918 to re-establish the Patriarchate was also a complete change of direction; the implication being that such actions have, in fact, taken place in the past, when this has been necessary. As well, it was pointed out that the decision to break administrative relations with Moscow following the 1927 "Declaration" was not made by an All-Diaspora Sobor, but by a Sobor of Bishops.

2. For many years, our (ROCOR) hierarchs told us that Eucharistic communion with the MP was not possible, because their hierarchs were appointees, even agents, of the Soviet regime; and Pat. TIKHON proclaimed an "anathema" against those who joined the state church. The MP is involved with the World Council of Churches, which our hierarchs anathematized. Also, the act of selling alcohol and cigarettes by the Church to the people prevents Eucharistic communion.

Abp. KYRILL pointed out that there are many newly-consecrated bishops in Russia who think as we do; and that many who were once involved with the KGB have changed their minds, as well. He noted that he once thought the same way as many who have expressed these types of concerns; but the piety he has experienced while in Russia has changed his mind. The act of establishing communion is being done, not for the buildings, nor for the administrative structure, but for the people, who are the voice of the Church. It was, after all, the people who moved the Church to glorify the New Martyrs and the Royal Martyrs. He has met with many of the bishops and people, and says they have repented of, and condemned, the past. It was also noted that the clergy and people of the Church in Russia love and revere Pat. ALEXIY, and have accepted his repentance. One person, having heard that the Patriarch celebrates the Divine Liturgy some 300 times a year, wondered how anyone could think that a man, no matter what he had done in the past, could do so and not be transformed.

Fr. Peter, in reply to the question about selling cigarettes and alcohol, said that part of the problem is the way in which this issue has been reported by the media, who have an interest in undermining the Church. The issue arose when Russia received humanitarian aid from the West, and cigarettes and alcohol were included in these shipments. The Church did not desire to hand these out to the people with the other forms of assistance (food and clothing); but instead made arrangements for the cigarettes and alcohol to be provided to some merchants; who sold these goods and gave the proceeds to the Church. He added that this was a "one-time" event.

To illustrate the way in which media reports can be distorted, the example was cited that Canada now allows same-sex marriages; and that the Orthodox clergy of Canada have been silent, without protest (or even comment) on the matter. Does their silence convey their approval of the action? It is possible to report it that way. Does their failure to protest indicate that they are subordinate to the secular powers, and will not oppose them? Again, it could be reported that way; and the people, without knowing otherwise, could call the Church into question for its actions; as has happened with the reports about cigarettes and alcohol sales "by the Church" in Russia.

3. Are we receiving myrrh (for chrismations) from the MP?

Abp. KYRILL replied plainly that this is not happening, and is not possible at this time. Another priest noted that this is a part of what might take place upon the potential reunion; but that is not the present situation.

4. There was an extended discussion about the question of whether or not there is grace in the MP. As this has been demonstrated many times, our Bishops never made such a statement; while statements to the contrary were made many times. Abp. KYRILL pointed out that the private opinion of a bishop, whether from conversation or in private correspondence, has no bearing on the official position of the Church. It was also noted that there is a distinction between "doubting" and a definitive statement. That is to say, it is possible for someone to question the presence of grace without taking the step to making this as a proclamation. Certainly, the circumstances faced by the Church in Russia under the Communist regime may have caused some of our hierarchs to wonder if there was still grace on the Church in Russia; but this was never the policy of ROCOR.

5. Pat. ALEXIY sent congratulations to the head of state in Vietnam upon the 30th anniversary of their victory over the United States; and gave an award to the head of the government of Kazakhstan, who is a Muslim. How can this take place?

Abp. KYRILL noted that there were occasions in Imperial Russia when awards were given to Muslims (and others who were not members of the Orthodox Church). When an objection was made that this was the action of a head of state, the reply, unfortunately, was primarily in Russian (and so beyond my ability to record and report). However, it was pointed out that our hierarchs, and even priests, must interact with secular authorities all the time; and it is in our best interests to maintain cordial relations with the state. Fr. Peter noted that the message sent to Vietnam also coincided with a decision to allow the re-establishment of divine services there. The general tenor was that the act of "diplomacy" can be understood in a number of ways, and need not be detrimental to the Church; nor be understood as a remnant of the "state mentality" that the Church in Russia had to exercise while under the control of the Communist regime.

At one point, Fr. Peter asked questions of Fr. George, about the way in which his "Thirty Questions" have been handled (having been submitted to “Nasha Strana”; and subsequently posted to the internet). Fr. Peter asked Fr. George if he was indeed the author of 30 questions to the upcoming Sobor. Fr. George replied that he was the author. Fr. Peter, noting that Fr. George had signed the questions in his capacity as the dean of Western Canada (and not just as a private party), asked, did he notify his ruling Bishop that he was doing so as the dean of Western Canada? Fr. George said, "No." "Were the questions posted to the internet with the knowledge of your ruling bishop?" "No." “Since the questions were directed at the upcoming Sobor, did Fr George send his questions to the Chairman or Secretary of the Sobor?” “No.”

Fr. Peter then asked why Fr. George sent his questions to an anti-Church periodical, one that calls bishops of our Church names, spreads lies, publishes articles by schismatics and defrocked clergymen? Fr. George replied, “I didn't think about it.”

The closing comment by Fr. Peter spoke about the last charge given by Abp. ANTONIY (Medvedev) to the clergy of the Western American Diocese at the last clergy conference he attended before his repose in 2000. He urged us to place a high value on church unity, and to weep over the divisions and disunity in the Church.

While there were some tensions in the room throughout the session, the overall tone was one of civility; and an acknowledgement that we all need to be open to those who have questions, and will engage in conversation.

[Again, please remember that these are my observations only; and do not in any way constitute an "official" document or report.]

Monday, November 07, 2005

On Ecumenism

"Ecumenism" is a word that is often bandied about in Orthodox discussions, and particularly those on the internet. It seems to me that the same word is used to describe two different types of activities; and therein may be a part of the problem, as one form of "ecumenism" is not Orthodox; while the other, in my opinion, is certainly Orthodox. Let me unpack this a little bit. The form of ecumenism, which embraces the so-called "branch theory" of Christianity, or which might otherwise hold that all those denominations that profess the name of Christ are essentially equally valid paths to salvation – is not consistent with Orthodox teaching and belief. (Beyond this threshold is the "ecumenism" that would hold that all forms of religious belief -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, etc., etc, etc. -- are essentially equally valid paths. If the former isn't Orthodox, this form is even less consistent with Orthodoxy!)

As a way of distinguishing somewhat what is acceptable from what is not vis-à-vis ecumenism, we might say that "ecumenical relations" are permissible, where "ecumenism" (in the form described above) is not permissible. As such, it is possible for us, as Orthodox Christians, to be engaged in contacts with other Christian groups, in order to bear witness to them of the Orthodox Church and faith. We can also share in activities that do not require us to make a statement about the validity or non-validity of the beliefs and teachings of these other groups. For example, there is not, to my knowledge, any barrier to a group of churches, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, coming together to operate a program to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or to offer alternatives to abortion, or otherwise address a need or confront an evil in the world around us. We do not, and cannot, pray together with those who do not believe as we do; but if we withdraw from their presence completely, we cannot tell them (in word and in deed) about the great treasure that is to be found in the Orthodox Church and faith. The "walling off" is certainly easier to achieve, and involves far less risk of accidentally "crossing the line"; but is that really the form of witness we are called to perform in the world? I don't think so.

Which brings us, inevitably, to the question of the World Council of Churches. Can Orthodox bodies participate therein? When it comes to worship, I'd say, no -- and increasingly, this is the stance being adopted by the Orthodox at the WCC. When it comes to being a signatory to statements that place all beliefs on a common plane, I'd say, no -- and again, the Orthodox members are saying that they must be allowed to make their statements without being obliged to support teachings contrary to our beliefs. I think this is appropriate; and not a surreptitious form of entry into "world Orthodoxy" or into "ecumenism" in its unacceptable form.

What about the position of the Moscow Patriarchate? As I read the document from the Sobor in 2000, entitled "Basic Principles of the Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church Toward the Other Christian Confessions," it seems to me that the Church of the MP has defined appropriate and inappropriate activities as described at the start of this article. That is to say, those who accuse the Moscow Patriarchate of being participants in “ecumenism” are ignoring what that Church has said about the issue. Let me quote some relevant parts of the “Basic Principles”:

2.3. Nevertheless, while recognizing the need to restore our broken Christian unity, the Orthodox Church asserts that genuine unity is possible only in the bosom of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. All other "models" of unity seem to us to be unacceptable.

2.6. Orthodoxy cannot accept that Christian divisions are caused by the inevitable imperfections of Christian history and that they exist only on the historical surface and can be healed or overcome by compromises between denominations.

2.7. The Orthodox Church cannot recognize "the equality of the denominations". Those who have fallen away from the Church cannot re-unite with her in their present state. The existing dogmatic differences should be overcome, not simply bypassed, and this means that the way to unity lies through repentance, conversion and renewal.

2.9. The Orthodox Church also rejects the assumption that the unity of Christendom can only be restored through common Christian service to the world. Christian unity cannot be restored through agreement on earthly matters, in which case Christians would be united in what is secondary but still differ in what is fundamental.

3.1. The Orthodox Church is the guardian of the Tradition and the grace-filled gifts of the Early Church. Her primary task, therefore, in her relations with non-Orthodox confessions is to bear continuous and persistent witness which will lead to the truth expressed in this Tradition becoming understandable and acceptable.

4.3. Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church conduct dialogues with non-Orthodox confessions on the basis of faithfulness to the apostolic and patristic Tradition of the Orthodox Church and the teaching of the Ecumenical and Local Councils. Any dogmatic concessions or compromises in the faith are excluded.

5.2. With regard to her membership in various Christian organizations, she adheres to the following criteria. The Russian Orthodox Church cannot participate in international, regional or national Christian organizations in which (a) the constitution or rules require the renunciation of the doctrine or traditions of the Orthodox Church; (b) the Orthodox Church has no opportunity to bear witness to herself as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church; (c) the decision-making process does not take into account the ecclesiological consciousness of the Orthodox Church; and (d) the rules and procedures make a "majority opinion" obligatory upon the members.

The ROCOR Anathema of 1983

The "ROCOR Anathema of 1983," which condemns ecumenism, reads (in full) as follows:

To those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that Christ's Church is divided into so-called "branches" which differ in doctrine and way of life, or that the Church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future when all "branches" or sects or denominations, and even religions will be united into one body; and who do not distinguish the Priesthood and Mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and Eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation; therefore, to those who knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or who advocate, disseminate, or defend their heresy of ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema!

Does the Church of Russia-MP teach or proclaim the branch theory? As far as I know, it does not; and so the Anathema of 1983 does not apply. If someone will say that the MP does teach the branch theory, please cite your sources.

Does the Church of Russia-MP teach or proclaim that the Priesthood and Mysteries are found in non-Orthodox Churches, or that the baptisms and eucharistic offerings of non-Orthodox Churches are effective for salvation? As far as I know, it does not; and so the Anathema of 1983 does not apply. If someone will say that the MP does teach that the mysteries of the non-Orthodox are grace-filled, please cite your sources.

Does the Church of Russia-MP knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or those who advocate, disseminate, or defend their heresy of ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians? The applicability of the Anathema of 1983 in this case will hinge upon the meaning of the word "communion." It is not enough to say simply that the MP presence in the World Council of Churches equals "communion" and that the Anathema thus applies. Participation in joint worship services would be problematic, but not still does not necessarily constitute "communion" as in the Anathema. As for the "official position" of the Church of Russia-MP on this question, the quotations from the “Basic Doctrines” statement of 2000 cited above address this question.

This is not to say that the MP did not, in the past, participate in the ecumenical movement in a way that would cause it to have run afoul of the Anathema of 1983. There is no doubt that the MP, in international meetings, would claim that there was no persecution of the Church or the faithful under the Communists; and similarly adopted positions that were anti-Western, advancing the “peace and freedom” positions that were also the basis for elements of the foreign policy of the secular government of the USSR. There are also people who maintain that the churches of the MP gave the holy Mysteries to non-Orthodox persons, and, in particular, to Roman Catholics (although substantiation of these reports, while requested, has not, at this time, been found or provided in response to these requests). However, it is not unreasonable to say that allowances can, even must, be made for actions and statements that took place during the time that the Church was subject to control by the Communist government, and was not free to oppose the measures “required” of her during the time of her captivity. A more telling question would be to ask whether these positions and practices have continued after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. A fair examination of history over the past fourteen years will lead a reasonable observer to conclude that the MP has abandoned all of these positions and activities.

Bottom line: By my analysis, the Anathema of 1983 does not apply to the Church of Russia-MP.

Synopsis: Outstanding Issues; ROCOR-MP Dialogues

(originally posted to the "orthodox-reunion" group at Yahoo.com)

You know the one that goes, "Never give a microphone to a preacher and
ask him to say a few words?" This will probably be the internet
equivalent... [grin]

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) came into existence in 1921, following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and the ensuing civil war. Patriarch (now Saint) TIKHON issued a decree (ukaz)authorizing the organization of a temporary Higher Church Authority to administer those parts of the Russian Church that were prevented from having contact with the central administration in Moscow. This body was organized under the leadership of Met. ANTONIY (Khrapovitskiy), and became the group known today as ROCOR. (The group known as the OCA was, at times, associated with ROCOR; exactly how, and what happened, depends upon who is telling the story. But let's not go down that rabbit hole right now...)

Matters became incredibly more complicated when, in 1927, Met. SERGEI (Stragorodskiy) issued a declaration which many consider to have uncanonically subjugated the Church to the state -- amde all the more offensive because it was the openly anti-Church and atheistic government of the Bolsheviks, who earlier had initiated the "Living Church" renovationist attempt to subvert and divide the Church; had confiscated Church property, including the sacred vessels used for the Holy Mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood in the Divine Liturgy; and which has arrested, exiled, or executed thousands of clergy and laity. ROCOR broke relations with Met. SERGEI at that time, as did also a number of other hierarchs still in Russia. Many of these bishops were
later sent to the gulag or were executed outright.

As the Soviet Union fought a war against Nazi Germany, Stalin, in order to rally the people of the Soviet Union in that struggle, took a number of steps that further complicated matters for the Russian Church in its sundered portions. Met. SERGEI became a Patriarch; a move which made it necessary for some of the imprisoned bishops to be freed from their suffering in the gulag -- only to be returned there once more upon the completion of the consecration of the new Patriarch. (Of the 4,000 bishops that had served the Church prior to the Revolution, only 4 remained at the time Met. SERGEI became the patriarch.) ROCOR did not recognize this elevation; nor did they accept those who succeeded Met. SERGEI as the "patriarch" of Moscow and all Russia.

The end of the Second World War saw the appearance, on the international stage, of the USSR in a new way. The Church in Russia was used by the Communist (nee Bolshevik) government; principally in advancing its anti-capitalist/anti-western campaigns for "Peace and Freedom"; and in using the church to deny that there was, or had ever been, any persecution of the Church or the faithful in the Soviet Union. A significant forum for these activities was the World Council of Churches (WCC). In 1970, the Church in Russia granted autocephaly to the American Metropolia, which became the OCA. (ROCOR has not accepted this as a legitimate action; seeing in it, among other things, that the Church was once again used for political purposes; and questioning the canonicity of the Patriarch of Moscow to take such an action.)

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991; and, in that same timeframe, ROCOR decided to establish parishes in the territory of Russia, to form what was, for a time, the "Free Russian Orthodox Church." Many have questioned the canonicity of this action; and some have seen it as the equivalent of an "invasion" of Russia by ROCOR. Relations with the FROC (sometimes called the "True Russian Orthodox Church") went badly; and that body broke away from ROCOR to form the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC) under Met. VALENTINE of Suzdal. As part of this movement, ROCOR accepted several clergymen who came to her from the Church in Russia, includiing some who had been defrocked. This remains as a source of some controversy.

ROCOR has never said officially that the Church in Russia was without grace; nor did ROCOR ever consider herself to be anything other than a temporary body to administer the Church abroad, until such time as the Church in Russia was free once more; and anticipating an All-Russian Council, at which all the parts of the Russian Church -- that which is abroad, that which was once controlled by the Communists, and the so-called "Catacomb Church" -- could give an account for their actions. Over time, several conditions were stated as being necessary for there to be any possibility of rapprochment between the MP and ROCOR. These included the glorification of the New Martyrs and COnfessors of Russia, and the Royal Martyrs by the MP; a repudiation of the declaration made by Met. SERGEI subjugating the Church to the state; and an end to ecumenism by the MP. The Church in Russia gained its freedom in 1991; and, in a Sobor in 2000, glorified the New Martyrs and Royal Martyrs of Russia; and adopted a comprehensive document for the Church, which includes a statement that sets as Church policy the necessity for the Church to resist the state when obedience to the dictates of the state would violate the teachings, beliefs, and practices of the Orthodox Church.

In response, the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR, meeting in the fall of 2000 (after the actions by the Church in Russia), issued a statement that these steps made them hopeful that relations could be improved. (This led to the formation of a group that, initially, called itself the "Russian Orthodox Church in Exile" (ROCiE), under Met. VITALIY, who had retired, at the 2000 Sobor, as the First Hierarch of ROCOR. They have since changed their name to the "Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia." Go figure...) It took some time, but joint committees to explore what would be needed to bring ROCOR and the MP closer together were appointed and began working in 2003 (if I remember correctly). The agreements worked out were held in confidence until the documents resulting had been approvied by the bishops of both the MP and ROCOR. Upon this approval, the documents were published. They can be found at the ROCOR web site.

I apologize if I have incorrectly remembered or reported any information herein, as I have done this from memory, with a minimum of cross-checking.

The Rapprochment between ROCOR and the MP

This past summer saw the publication of a series of documents written in concert by committees, one of persons appointed by the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), the jurisdiction in which I serve, and one of representatives appointed by the Church of Russia-Moscow Patriarchate (MP). The documents were approved by the Synod of Bishops of both ROCOR and the MP, and were simultanteously published by both. (The documents can be found at the web site of ROCOR.)

The documents address a variety of issues and questions that are involved with the proposal to establish eucharistic communion between ROCOR and the MP. The contents, as well as th eproposal in general, have had a varied reception. There are those who think that closer relations should already have been established; others who oppose closer relations, no matter what may be resolved, or remain unresolved, through the dialogues; those who don't know (or don't care) what happens; and those who are willing to allow the hierarchs of ROCOR make the decision, trusting that they will fulfill the ministry entrusted to them by God to serve as guides of the Church, and defenders of the faith. I would count myself in this last group: If our hierarchs say, "Go," we go; and if they say, "Not now," we don't go. It's that simple -- really!

It has sometimes been difficult to find a place where conversation about the questions and concerns that have been raised can take place. One such forum is a group at Yahoo.com, called "Orthodox-Reunion." In the next several days, I intend to post here a series of articles that have been posted there (in whole or in part) that I have written to try to facilitate the discussion of some of the issues and concerns. The first will give a bit of background to the reason why the separation of ROCOR and the MP occurred, and what has transpired since 1917 that has caused some of the problems that await resolution to arise. Articles about ecumenism and "Sergianism" will follow.

It has always been my belief that we can best choose when we are as informed as possible. In the hope that these articles will help in that process, I post them here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Short, Sweet, and Bitterly True

If we actually find advanced life on another planet, will they be as obsessed with their own genitals as we are?

Albert Brooks, commenting on American culture, particularly as it is protrayed in movies today, and how this has damaged America's image in the Muslim world. Well, I thought it was both funny, and true - -and wanted to share it with y'all. (Read the full article here.)

Thanks to Little Green Footballs for the link.

Some News Items of Interest

New Orleans Violence During Katrina Exaggerated
Apparently, the social collapse among New Orleanians awaiting evacuation from the Louisiana Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center during the flooding following Hurricane Katrina's passage through the central Gulf Coast was vastly over-reported. This is the conclusion of two reporters for the Seattle Times. While it si true that there was a degree of violence, and certainly a great deal of looting, the "crime wave" of armed gangs, and rapes and murders was nothing compared to the "storm surge" of media reports that have given an ugly image of the citizens of that city across the country and around the world. One example: It was reported that there were as many as 200 bodies in the Superdome; the actual count was -- six. Of these, four died from natural causes, one died as the result of an overdose, and one fell or jumped in what may have been a suicide attempt. A similar "return to reality" is found with the initially-reported numbers at the Convention Center. (You should follow the link and check out the article.)

Commentary: Much has been made of the "racism" that is supposedly pervasive in our society, based upon the reports that came as we sat (helplessly) and watched the flooding of an American city, and the desperation of those who sought to escape from the terrible conditions this caused. I don't know about anyone else, but the main thing on my mind as I watched the reports was, "What would I do if my family and I were in similar circumstances?" Did anyone think, or know anyone who actually said, that "those people" -- and, for those of you who aren't "plugged in", that's a code phrase for the minority group that you disdain -- "those people" deserved what happened to them? I know that there are some on the "Christian right" who saw the devastation as "God's punishment" for the sins of New Orleans, such as the "gay celebration parade" that was scheduled to take place shortly after the storm hit. (It did, in fact, occur -- just on a much smaller scale than in the past.) I would suggest that these folks haven't got a clue about God; or else God wanted innocent people with absolutely no connection to the event in question to suffer as well -- I guess, to underline and highlight the infamy of these "perverts." Nah...

It seems to me that, if anyone should be questioned about "racism" in these reports, it is the reporters! After all, they seem to tbe the ones who took unsubstantiated (or undersubtantiated) information and broadcast it as "fact." Can't always believe what ya read in the papers, or see on the tube...

Micropower Generation Gets Renewed Attention
Let me call to your attention two reports by the BBC on an avenue of power generation that, to me, holds some potential for making a transition away from the fossil-fuel-based energy economy of today. The first is entitled, "Microgrids as Peer-to-Peer Energy" (think of it as the "Napster" of the energy world -- talk about your "power user!"); while the second is, "Turn Your Home into a Mini Power Station." The first looks at some theoretical aspects; while the second is a down-to-earth examination of some practical (and not-so-practical) alternatives that are available to the "average" homeowner today. Oh, the costs are reported in pounds sterling; but if you're so inclined, you can do the conversions: 1 pound sterling = 1.7666 U.S. dollars.

Ah, the sweet scent of vindication. Back in the late 1970's, as a graduate student in an Environmental Studies program at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (not the party school - that was in Carbondale!), I read extensively into the concept of community-based, small-scale power generation as a way to effectively utilize alternative sources of power in order to go "off the grid" by making power locally. As a Research Analyst for the Arizona State Senate in the early 1980's, I tried to find someone among the senators who would introduce legislation to allow communities to organize themselves into "special districts" that could issue bonds for the purpose of small-scale power generation and distribution -- something that could be applied within a single residential subdivision, or commercial cluster, or industrial park. No one was interested. There was, during that time, one homebuilder in the greater Phoenix area - John F. Long -- who actually tried to interest homebuyers into some ways his designers developed to conserve energy, but no one was interested -- at least, not in numbers sufficient to make the project viable.

Anyone agree with me that it's time to re-visit the subject?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

An Inspiring Tale in Katrina's Wake

The following was posted to the "Orthodox-Convert" list at Yahoo.com earlier today. I think it's worthy of repeating here.

I just returned from New Jersey. While en route there, I was stuck in traffic on Interstate 81, just below the Virginia state line, (Bristol, Tennessee), due to a traffic accident with a fatality involved. This accident involved a tanker truck hauling a hazardous material load that developed a leak, which meant that we weren't going anywhere for several hours.

After being told by the Tennessee state troopers that we would be sitting still until the clean-up was completed, I set my brakes on the truck and got our to stretch my legs. Other truck drivers did the same, and at one point there were 5 of us standing there by my truck, complaining.

Sitting right beside me in the left lane, were two elderly people in a Silverado pick up truck, which was loaded quite well. The man, (Joe), lowered his window and asked what was going on regarding the traffic situation.

Soon we were all talking with this couple. I mentioned that if I had known about this, I would have bought something to drink (water), for I was becoming thirsty. The lady, Anna, said that they had plenty of water, and sodas in the cooler in the bed of the truck, and offered everyone present something. While she was back there, she said that she had plenty of tuna salad made up, and asked if we would be interested in
a sandwich.

After some urging from Joe, we agreed to a sandwich. While Anna was making the sandwiches on the tailgate of the truck, she was singing like a songbird. To be close to 70, (I guess), she had a remarkable voice.

When she finished making the sandwiches, and putting everything up, Joe raised the tailgate of the truck to close it. I noticed a Mississippi license plate on it. I inquired as to what part of Mississippi they were from. Joe said Biloxi. Knowing that Biloxi had been ravaged also by Hurricane Katrina, I asked if they sustained any damage. Joe said that they lost everything but what they had on and what was in the pickup.

All of us drivers tried unsuccessfully to pay them for their drinks and the sandwiches. They would have nothing to do with it. Joe said that their son was living around Harrisonburg, Virginia and that they were going there. He was in the real estate business and that there was a home that became open, and that they were going to start all over there. Staring over at their age would not be easy.

I will soon be 48 years old, and I have say that I have never eaten a tuna sandwich with side orders of reality and humility. These people lost everything except the pictures, important documents, and some clothes. Joe had managed to get their antique heirloom grandfathers clock into the bed of the truck and Anna got her china and silverware, but that was all. These wonderful people lost practically everything
they owned and still would not accept any money for their food and drinks. Joe said that "it was better to give than it is to receive."

They sought refuge behind a block wall that he had built years ago, and they watched their belongings and their home disappear in the winds of Hurricane Katrina. Joe said that during all this he had one hand holding onto Anna and the other holding on to God. Their truck and themselves came out of Katrina unscathed.

As I stated before, Anna was singing a song while making the sandwiches.
The song is titled "I know who holds tomorrow," an old gospel song. She knew every word, and was quite a gifted singer of it. Have you ever heard it? The chorus of this song is, " Many things, about tomorrow, I don't seem to understand. But I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand."

There is no doubt, in my mind, who was holding both their hands. I know there have been many, many emails that have circulated over the years about things that will touch your heart, but this one I personally was involved in.

Forget all of the politics that the news is striving on, and think about people just like Joe and Anna. If you can, help out with the victims relief funds.

If you cannot, at least offer a prayer for everyone.

I know that these two elderly people got to this old boy. I will always remember them. Joe and Anna, if by some strange way you, or someone you know gets this, and shows it to you, God Bless you!

Mike Dowdy Hartselle, Alabama

I certainly hope the story is true... And let us pray that no additional stories along these lines will have to be told by refugees from Hurricane Rita...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Overturning the Gospels

Melinda Henneberger of Newsweek magazine has an article at the MSNBC website with the title, Overturning the Gospels. It's worth reading. Using the response to Hurricane Katrina as a springboard, she takes a good look at Protestant Christianity in the US today -- and she's pretty much on the money in her analysis. Now, I think her conclusions lean toward the left -- the best we could say would be that these have a "social Gospel" element to them -- but she's not wrong, and that's something we need to be aware of, and thinking about.

Boy Brains, Girl Brains

That's the title of another Newsweek article found at the MSNBC website. Reporter Peg Tyre details the approach being taken to increase test scores at an elementary school in Owensboro, Kentucky: classrooms segregated by gender. (The article notes that this same approach is being taken at about 150 schools nationwide.) The basis for this action, once considered "discriminatory?" Tests of brain function have suggested that boys don't think the same way girls do -- and that both boys and girls learn better if they are in a classroom environment that respects these differences.

Some of the differences are in the material realm. For example, the article points out that boys don't see or hear as well as girls do; so boys will do better in a classroom that is brightly lit, and where the teacher talks at a higher volume. On the other hand, girls tend to develop their social skills at an earlier age, and so do better in a "networking" setting; while boys, who are more competitive, do better when challenged with a contest-like approach to testing.

Not everyone agrees that this approach is valid. (We're not surprised, of course.) But it seems to me that, in the background of the objections raised by the program's detractors in the article, one can hear a faint whisper of desperation -- if the evidence continues to support the improvement of test scores, and research continues to delineate differences between men and women, what will happen to all the "politically correct" changes that have taken place over the last 20 years? What if the difference between men and women is more than just an "accident of external plumbing," as I heard so often while I was in seminary, one of only a handful of holdouts against the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church?

Of course, the differences are deep and profound. Please note that the differences do not in ANY way confer a superiority on one gender, or an inferiority on another. Men and woomen are different because they were created that way; and the differences are meant to be complementary, not antagonistic. Where these have become antagonistic, it is because of our fallen nature and our sins.

These differences have implications for many issues in the public arena of ideas today. We need to be aware of these developments, and be prepared to deal with those who will one day challenge the Orthodox Church's understanding of men and women, and how we constitute the Church, the Body of Christ.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Judge John Roberts Should Be Confirmed

OK, I confess: I'm a political junkie. I've spent far more time over the past two days watching the confirmation hearings for Judge John Roberts, nominated by President Bush to be the 17th Chief Justice of the United States, than I'd care to admit. (In fact, the hearings are continuing right now, and I'm kinda in a hurry to get back to the TV screen, in case I'm missing anything...)

A number of the senators on the Judiciary Committee, before whom Judge Roberts is appearing, have attempted to paint the Judge into a corner, hoping to force him to reveal his thoughts about certain issues that clearly are of significance to the questioner, including the Judge's views on abortion and the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court, and aspects of the laws regarding civil rights. One Senator, Joseph Biden, Democratic Senator from the state of Delaware was often, in my opinion, downright rude, accusing Judge Roberts of filibustering, of giving misleading answers (translation: the answers weren't what Sen, Biden wanted to hear), of not answering the questions, even of engaging in a "Kabuki dance" before the committee. Many of the senators from the Democratic Party made extensive use of memoranda wriiten by Judge Roberts while he was working in various capacities for the Reagan Administration in the early to middle 1980's. I thought, "Gee, I wish I could go and quickly find statements uttered by folks such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California back in that time period," and question them about the positions they held then. Even more -- I don't know the right word to use here: disgusting? appalling? nauseating? -- was the spectacle of people such as Sen. Biden, who was shown a number of times to have plagiarized the works of others in speeches and even college assignemts, and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), who, as some of you may know, was responsible for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, who drowned in a car that was driven by Sen. Kennedy at Chappaquiddick in June, 1969, lecturing Judge Roberts on the "people's right to know" his views and feelings on a number of issues.

Through all that I have seen, Judge Roberts kept his cool, even when he "spanked" Sen. Biden (finally!) at the end of the second round of questions put by the Senator this morning -- respectfully, coolly, calmly, yet directly and forcefully -- saying, quite plainly for all to hear that his personal views and beliefs do not enter into his functioning as a judge -- as Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) later described it, the personal opinions and beliefs of Judge Roberts are "irrelevant" to the process whereby a judicial decision is achieved. Judge Roberts has been very articulate, and the caution he shows in giving his response is undoubtedly indicative of the caution and care with which he crafts his decisions, and will continue to do so when he is confirmed as the next Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. These qualities alone, regardless of his political, religious, or cultural beliefs, make him in my mind, eminently qualified for the position to which he has been nominated.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bishop Alexander (Mileant) has Reposed

The Lord bless you.

It is with deep and profound sadness that the following information is

Vladika Alexander (Mileant), Bishop of Buenos Aires and South America,
and founder of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission, reposed peacefully
at 11:36 p.m. on 30 August/12 September 2005, after his heroic battle
against cancer. It is worth noting that this is also the day on which
the Church celebrates the translation of the relics of St. Alexander
Nevsky, the patron of Bp. Alexander.

A pannikhida for Bp. Alexander will be served at Holy Trinity CHurch
in Oxnard (which was his "home" church while he continued his secular
empolyment at JPL)at 7 pm; and his body will be brought to that church
on Thursday. Abp. Kyrill will preside at the Divine Liturgy and
funeral service in Oxnard on Friday. Bp. Alexander will be buried at
Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville.

A pannikhida for Bp. Alexander will be served at our parish tomorrow
(Wednesday) following the molieben at 6 pm.

Please pray for the soul of this departed servant of God.

"In a blessed falling asleep, grant, O Lord, eternal rest unto Thy departed servant, Bishop Alexander, and make his memory to be eternal."

Friday, September 02, 2005

Flashes of Outrage

I probably shouldn't post these thoughts...

Anti-War Mom Glad She Didn't Talk with President
A few days ago, Cindy Sheehan, who has been camped in Crawford, Texas, outside the ranch of President Bush to protest the war in Iraq, in which her son was killed, said that she was glad the President didn't meet with her. “I look back on it, and I am very, very, very grateful he did not meet with me, because we have sparked and galvanized the peace movement,” Sheehan told The Associated Press. “If he’d met with me, then I would have gone home, and it would have ended there.”

Ignoring the fact that a number of senior officials from the Bush Administration did meet with her... What do these people want? Others are criticizing President Bush for being on vacation -- as if the President of the United States can ever truly go on vacation. As Buckaroo Banzai said, "Remember, no matter where you go, there you are." And just who does Jesse Jackson, Jr., think he is? What qualifications does he have, apart from having chosen to be born of a celebrity father, to allow him to be given a public forum to criticize the President about the situation in the Gulf Coast? (Sorry, just because he's a member of Congress isn't enough...) I dunno, maybe it's just me, getting cranky in my old age.

Racism and Disaster Relief
Apparently, Jesse Sr. thinks that racism is at the root of the problems in New Orleans. "Many black people feel that their race, their property conditions and their voting patterns have been a factor in the response," Jackson said after meeting with Louisiana officials Thursday. "I'm not saying that myself, but what's self-evident is that you have many poor people without a way out."

He is not alone in thinking this way, or saying such things. Here are a few quotes:
"If you know that terror is approaching in terms of hurricanes, and you've already seen the damage they've done in Florida and elsewhere, what in God's name were you thinking? I think a lot of it has to do with race and class. The people affected were largely poor people. Poor, black people."
The Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.
"No one would have checked on a lot of the black people in these parishes while the sun shined. So am I surprised that no one has come to help us now? No."
Mayor Milton D. Tutwiler of Wistonville, Miss.

There's no denying that many of the poor in New Orleans, and in every major city, are minorities -- in New Orleans, they are black. There's no denying that their circumstances are pitiable; and even more so, with the floodwaters driving them from their homes, and into desperate conditions. But surely our leaders, including those who speak (or purport to do so) on behalf of the poor and the minorities have enough intelligence to look at the situation, and realize that what can be done is being done? How does one go about bringing in the supplies of food and water and other necessities when the transportation modes into the city are disrupted? How do rescue workers go about their business when they are being shot at? How do buses get loaded when they are being rushed by the desperate? How do soldiers and police restore and maintain order? The doctors and nurses and EMT's, the soldiers, the policemen, all need to be brought to the area -- and that takes time. There must be resources put in place for them -- food and water and supplies -- or else they simply add to the problem. All this takes time -- we have to have patienbce. Yes, it's hard to say that when people are sufferin and starving and dying -- but explain to me, if you can, how being critical of those who are leading the relief efforts helps the situation? Explain to me what more the President might have done to address the situation? We don't have transporter beams to move people and supplies from place to place, after all! Oh, and please explain to me how it is that the relief workers and those seeking to restore order are attending to everyone who comes to them as best they can? Last time I looked, the police and the soldiers and the medical people and ther private citizens out with their fishing boats to bring in survivors were black, and white, and hispanic, and you name it -- and they were risking themselves to help those in need on rooftops and treetops and in attics to get to shelter and safety. Are there racists among us? Yes, of all colors. Each of us must confront, and confess, and repent of our sins. But let's not confuse a lack of information, and an inability to coordinate communications, and transportation problems, with racism -- please!

California State Senate Approves Same-Sex Marriage Proposal
By a vote of 21-15, the California State Senate approved a bill that would allow same-sex marriages in that state. By so doing, they become the first legislative body in the nation to approve such a measure. The bill now goes to the California Assembly, whcih voted down a similar proposal back in June. The bill would change the definition of marriage to speak of a union between two people, rather than a man and a woman.

As Yogi Berra is reported to have said, "It ain't over until it's over." Oh, "over" in this context is usually defined as "getting what I want." This issue is not going to go away...

Please forgive me, a sinner - and please pray for me...

Suffering and God

Hurricane Katrina

It was truly an incredible storm: barely at hurricane strength, and that only just before coming ashore for the first time on the east coast of Florida, Katrina crossed the Florida peninsula and entered the Gulf of Mexico, where, drawing energy from the warm waters of that shallow sea, it grew into a Category 5 hurricane. Only a puff of dry air from onshore just as it approached Louisiana kept it from coming onshore directly over New Orleans; and reduced it to a Category 4 storm, with wind speeds a bit lower, and a landfall to the east. Even so, Katrina’s hurricane-strength winds extended more than 120 miles from the center of the storm, and tropical storm-strength winds extended as much as 230 miles from the center. This added to the swath of destruction, from New Orleans to the Florida panhandle. It caused the 30-foot high storm surge that was so devastating to Biloxi and Mobile and Gulfport and even Pensacola, as well as the smaller cities and towns along the Gulf Coast. Katrina spawned countless tornadoes, which are believed to have contributed to the destruction in Biloxi; and which destroyed homes, businesses, and farms in Georgia, and in Tennessee. Eleven deaths were attributed to Katrina in her passage of Florida. It is still too soon to have any idea of how many people have died in the Gulf Coast region; estimates for New Orleans alone could run into the thousands.

The Human Dimension

Our actions also contributed to the impacts of the storm. We’re the ones who built a city that is, for the most part, lower than the water surrounding it. We’re the ones who built on the coastal wetlands that once helped absorb the storm surge, protecting those who lived further inland. We’re the ones who, lulled perhaps into a false sense of security from “riding out” earlier storms, or just complacent, or yes, even just too lazy to pack up, did not heed the calls for evacuation. And now, human nature continues to add to the depths of the disaster, as looting and shootings and robberies and rapes take place among people who are desperate, and, yes, selfish. (I know how to recognize these things because all of them are true about me, to one degree or another.) The vast majority of people are doing their best to cope, I’m sure – and I thank God that my family is not there, that I am not there. (I also thank God that the members of my extended family who do live in the area south and east of New Orleans all left before Katrina arrived, and are safe, although they do not know when they will be able to return to their homes and businesses.) If my children were sick, or hungry, I’m sure I’d want someone to help. But I don’t understand the anger that is being shown on the cable news reports; I don’t understand the people who blame the government, and blame us, for the consequences they face. I don’t understand breaking into a store and stealing clothing, or guns, or television sets, or computers. Food and water? Yes. It’s not right, but it is understandable; it can be forgiven. But the rest? I don’t get it.

Suffering and God

Part of me wants to say more: but the dimensions of the catastrophe are so overwhelming that words fail. However, one more aspect needs to be mentioned here, and I will try to take a run at grasping it: How could God have allowed this to happen? (This is not my question; but I know many people are asking it.)

I don’t think at all that this is God’s “wrath” or “punishment” for the wild revels that are part of the “Mardi Gras” celebrations in New Orleans, or for allowing a “Gay Pride” festival, as some have suggested. Others say that this is God’s way of expressing His disapproval for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; or for U.S. support for Israel. Are these people serious? If they are, they don’t understand God at all!

Some have said that disasters of this sort are permitted by God – and this is a key distinction: permitted, not caused – to wake us up from the delusion that the good things we enjoy, both tangible (the food and other material abundance we have access to) and intangible (such as freedom) are the result of our own labors and wisdom alone, and not gifts from God. I’m much closer to this point of view; I think this is much closer to what the Orthodox Church and faith teaches and believes. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Because none of us is good, really – that’s one part of the puzzle. This calls to mind a passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke:

There were present at that season some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. (KJV; Luke 13:1-5)

We are all sinners; those who are now dealing directly with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and those of us who find the impacts come from secondary causes. Their suffering is undoubtedly greater than mine. My family is safe; my home is intact; our stores are still open, and fully stocked. Our city functions; and most everyone here isn’t suffering. It may be trite to say it, but, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” I don’t know what I would be thinking or feeling or saying or doing if our home was gone; or if we were faced with the prospect of living in a shelter for months or years; or if my children or wife were sick, and left outside in the heat and the rain and the cold of night, because there was no shelter for us – no food, no water, no medicine, no sanitary facilities. As to my sins, I probably deserve to suffer more than those who are suffering. We must all repent; we must all reach out to do what we can, directly and indirectly, to help those in need, who, like us, are bearers of the likeness of God, made in His image – for, inasmuch as we do it for the least of these, we have rendered that love and care and consideration to our Lord.

We live in a fallen world. The potential for wickedness is found in us all. This is another reason why the good sometimes suffer – to remind us of the depths to which we may plunge, if we do not have a standard by which to live, if we have no morality except the law of the jungle – which, tragically, we see in operation in New Orleans right now. I can’t help but think of the countless New Martyrs of Russia, who, while on their way to the camps, or while in the camps or in prison, were starved, and forced to endure exposure to the heat and the cold and the rain and the snow. Parents watching their children die because there was no food to give them; children watching their parents die as mother and father had given up their food ration to save their children – the list goes on and on. I hope I could endure in patience and peace; and I know I need to be at work at the task of doing my part towards my transformation from who I am to the person I should be to faithfully reveal the presence of Christ in our midst. I am not that person; may God help me, and help us all, to become more Christ-like.

What made it possible for the saints to endure torture and imprisonment and beatings and starving – made it possible for them to sing hymns joyfully while caged up, or on their way to their death? It is this quality which separates us from the acts of desperation that we are driven to when we have no hope within us, no faith, no trust, that there is a life beyond this fleshly, material world. Lord, have mercy, and grant to us all to see Thee in Thy glory, and to know Thy love and mercy; so that the trials and tribulations being faced today, great and small, individually and as a society, may lead us ever closer to Thee, and to life without end in Thy kingdom!

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Oh, the Humanity…

Early on, someone on the news said that Hurricane Katrina was capable of producing a disaster of Biblical proportions. Later, the mayor of Biloxi said, “This is our tsunami.” It’s not possible to improve upon these observations – both are correct.

Indeed, words are not adequate to describe the scenes that have filled the television screens and on-line reports about the disaster that has befallen New Orleans, Biloxi, Gulfport, and other areas along the Gulf Coast. OK, so, on one level, we can see a graphic that shows that most of the city of New Orleans is below the level of the water in the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain; and so we can grasp that, when the protective levees around the city has been breached, it will begin to fill with water; but actually seeing it happen is not at all the same as grasping the concept. It’s possible to picture using the Louisiana Superdome as a refugee center; and it makes sense when you hear that this structure is located on one of the highest points of land in the downtown area. Then you see video of the holes in the rook caused by the winds; and the rain pouring through; and then the lines of people who have come there after the flooding began, and those evacuated there after being rescued from the rooftops in dramatic helicopter efforts made by the Coast Guard and the National Guard. Now, the talk is that these people will be evacuated by bus to the Astrodome in Houston, as the Superdome has no air conditioning, no water; the toilets and trash cans are overflowing; and the water around the stadium is now five feet deep and rising.

Evacuate to Houston by bus? There are, as of the last report I heard today, about 23,000 people there. Your average intercity bus (think: Greyhound) holds 47 people. That means that, if you were to move them all at one time, you’ll need 490 of these vehicles. Well, President Bush announced today that 500 buses will be coming to take those who need to be moved, so I guess that will do the job – but can you imagine going east down the highway while 500 buses are heading in the opposite direction? It boggles the mind!

Those buses may need to come back for a second round of passengers, as some say there could be as many as 100,000 people who thought they could “ride out” the storm in their homes, only to find that, having survived the winds and the rain, they cannot stay. Even if the floods don’t force them to leave, there’s no food; no water; no sanitation; no power (and so no air conditioning, or lights, or ability to cook, unless you have a gas stove or charcoal). You can’t travel; there are no stores open; no businesses operating; and it will be that way for MONTHS.

On the local news last night, there was a report about a family whose home had burned to the ground. They were all safe, no one was hurt – physically – but everything they owned was gone – and all the mementoes, all the little bits of “this and that” which anchor our memories, were gone – only the memories remain. They will rebuild the house; but it will never be the same, and it will take time. Now, this sort of thing happens around us all the time. Homes burn down, or are flattened in a storm, or submerged in a flood – and people bounce back, and rebuild, and get on with their lives. It usually doesn’t even make the news; or, if it does, it’s only for a moment. But now we’re talking about the homes, and the mementoes, and the “this and that” of the lives of the 485,000 people of New Orleans – and that doesn’t count the people of St. Bernard’s Parish, and Plaquemines Parish (both of which are still, for the most part) under water; or those in Biloxi, or Gulfport, or Gulf Shores, or any of the many small villages and towns along the Gulf Coast that were affected by Hurricane Katrina – for many of these places were simply obliterated by the winds and the storm surge. How do we grasp this?

During the reports aired while the storm was coming on shore, there were segments that featured people who had thought they could stay behind, and “ride out” the storm in their house, or apartment, or business, or hotel. I had to ask myself, why would anyone take such a chance? Then it dawned on me: we don’t really think we’re going to die. It’s like being able to grasp the concept, but not the reality, like knowing New Orleans is below the water level, yet being astounded when it floods, or seeing a structure like the Superdome, which looks massive, and so appears to be impervious to the storm suddenly springing leaks with holes in the roof. We don’t believe we’re going to die – and the proof of this, among other things, is that we all too often cling to our sins. Oh, we probably repent, and wish we hadn’t done what we had done, and truly mean it when we ask God to forgive us, and to help us be transformed, so that we don’t do it again. Then we repeat the behavior, and go through the whole cycle once again. “I survived Hurricane Betsy in 1965; I survived Hurricane Camille in 1969; so I figured that this one wouldn’t be any worse…” We all do it; we’re all there in that situation; we’re all, in one way, stupid – because we don’t think it’s going to happen to us. We’re not going to die; we’re not going to have to give an account of ourselves, and of our lives, before the righteous Judge… We need to open our eyes; and realize that we ARE going to depart this life one day – and maybe sooner than we’d think. There are, potentially thousands of people who thought they’d be safe in their homes who didn’t make it out, and won’t be on a bus to Houston, or to another refugee center; or staying with family or friends in another area, or in a hotel or motel, until they find out if and when they can return to their homes. Many people survived, and will come through this, and rebuild their homes and businesses, and lives, and get on with them. Others, perhaps thousands, will be found in the homes they thought would shelter them, killed by the floodwaters, or buried in debris – and others will never be found at all.

Please forgive the length of this blog. I haven’t yet covered all that I want to say, as I try to work all this out for myself, if not for anyone else. That will come later – right now, it’s time for our regular monthly pannikhida service. Please remember to pray for those who died, that the Lord will have mercy on them. Please remember to pray for those who survived, and face a most uncertain future right now, that the Lord will have mercy, and provide for them. Please remember to pray for our leaders, who must make difficult decisions as they try to come to grips with an incredible natural disaster; and for the care-givers who seek to help those in need, that the Lord will strengthen and guide them and keep them safe.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Homophobia, Man Dates, Pink Shirts, and Pat Robertson

A Sampling of News Articles from Today

Are They Serious? Man Dates?
No, it isn’t a typo: the article isn’t about “Mandates” – it’s about “Man Dates”; as in, two guys going out to spend time together, in a way that parallels what happens when a man and a woman go out on a “date.” The rules are almost comical – except, of course, for the part about grilling. That’s something to always take seriously!

Can You Wear These on a Man Date?
According to this article, the latest color for men’s fashions is… pink. Yes, you read that right: pink. Pink shirts, pink neckties, even pink boots and pink sweaters. And the range of pink can be from a soft pastel to a bright coral to a shocking fuchsia. And no, it’s not from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” – this is from the Wall Street Journal.

Why pink? The main explanation offered is that the world is a dark and dreary place; and wearing pink will make you feel happy, and feel good about yourself. Uh-huh. Somehow, I don’t think the Archbishop is going to bless me to wear a pink riassa; and that’s fine, because I don’t want, and certainly don’t intend to ask him to do so! I figured that, if I make it out of black into a grey or blue vestment, I’ve gone about as far as I want to go with regard to the colors I wear…

Homophobia Test On-Line
This one comes to us courtesy of the folks at “Frontline,” which airs on PBS. (I still appreciate the wit who said that this stands for the “Proletariat Broadcasting Service”…) It somehow fits right in with articles about Man Dates and pink as a men’s fashion statement. Note, should you go to the web page, that it doesn’t ask, “Are You Homophobic?” Rather, it asks, “How Homophobic Are You?” In other words, at some level (consciously or unconsciously), the folks who put this gem together have, it would seem, assumed that we are, for the most part, homophobic. So, anyway, I took the test, and scored a “43.” This indicated, according to the report from the test results page, that I am not homophobic. Earlier in the day, when I first took the test, and, in a major blonde moment, got the answer buttons reversed (clicking on “Disagree” when I meant “Agree”, and vice-versa), I scored a “53,” which meant that I was homophobic. So, I guess I’m not too far away from the dividing line between being acceptable and unacceptable. I’m sure my score would have been much lower had I not opted for the “Strongly disagree” option on the approval of homosexual marriages, and that homosexuals should not be allowed to work with children. (And a few others, of course.)

On one level, the whole concept is skewed. “Homophobic” means, if I’m doing this right, “fear of homosexuals.” It can also mean “prejudiced against homosexual people”; and “contempt for lesbians and gay men,” and behavior that exhibits such fear or contempt. I don’t think that either fear or contempt is the basis for my beliefs and actions in this regard. Informed by our faith, we cannot give our consent to the application of our understanding of marriage to include the union of two men or two women as being the same as the union of a man and a woman. We cannot give our approval to sexual activity outside of the bounds of marriage; and, as marriage is not possible in these circumstances, we must say that homosexual behavior is unacceptable for Orthodox Christians. When persons behave in this way, there is the need for confession and repentance, and for the struggle to be transformed, and to live a life of chastity.

It must be said – and it may well be that all of us who use the Christian understanding of morality have erred in not making this more clear – that we cannot set homosexual behavior apart as some sort of aberrant activity that has no parallels. We must be equally firm in staking a stand that says that heterosexual activity outside of marriage is every bit as much a sin as is homosexual behavior; and that the requirements for chastity, and for confession and repentance and amendment of life are just as necessary for heterosexuals as for those who have homosexual desires. It’s not “homosexual vs. heterosexual”; rather, it is “sex within marriage” vs. “sex outside marriage” that is the real issue. Sexual sin is sexual sin. But, because one solution for some who sin heterosexually is the marriage of the two people involved; and since this option is not available for homosexuals, as far as the Church is concerned, I guess I’m still discriminating against homosexuals – and so I guess I’m homophobic.

Pat Robertson, Assassin
This report is simply too unreal to be believed! Is there something peculiar in the water in Virginia Beach? He wants the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, to be assassinated by the CIA, in order to prevent Venezuela from becoming “a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism.”

Last time I checked, communism had pretty much been globally discredited, except in North Korea (and some college campuses here in the U.S. of A); and I don’t think too many people are going to be convinced favorably to try communism on the basis of that experience! As for Venezuela as a hotbed of Muslim extremism… Uh, according to the CIA World Factbook, Venezuela is “nominally 96% Roman Catholic, 2% Protestant, and 2% Other.” I think it’s far more likely that we’ll need to worry about Muslim extremists here before we see much of a threat from Venezuela.

My wife said it best: “How can a Christian call for the murder of another person? How can someone who claims to speak for Christ even think such a thing? It’s sad.” ‘Nuff said.

Sunday, July 31, 2005


(This is put in to try to deal with the huge gap in my format. Please scroll down to find the real "current" blog.

Oh, I'm still trying to find what is wrong with the formatting; and the help of those who are "Blogger gurus" would be very much appreciated. Tim, you wrote,
" It appears to be caused by the div style=clear:both in the template. It's causing the text to drop below the menu on the right." I can't find that in the template...


What's a Promise Worth in America?

Arizona Republic columnist Jon Talton asks this question today in a discussion of the impending loss of billions of dollars from the pension fund for the pilots of United Airlines. In particular, I thought what he said at the end of his column was worth noting and considering:
So the retired pilots have flown into a strange and foreign country, a land where covenants are broken for easy profit, where wealth trumps honor, where yesterday's most trusted professionals are today's throwaways.

Who wants to argue that the moral landscape today is not one "where covenants are broken for easy profit," and "where wealth trumps honor?" Aren't we seeing this taking place right before our eyes? Of course, the economic startegy being pursued by United Airlines isn't unique. It's happened before, and will undoubtedly continue to happen. Something of the sort happened, I seem to recall, at Enron, and at WorldCom, as these businesses collapsed. Indeed, it happened as well at Braniff Airlines when that company ceased operations. I've heard tell that, when Braniff decided to shut down, all their aircraft were ordered to land, or told not to take off. The pilots and flight crews were on their own to get home from where they were around the world -- and at their own expense. That's wrong, plain and simple.

Talton also made one other point worth noting: Had the persons participating in these pension funds been aware that the contract they'd made with the companies could be wiped out without their approval, they would have undoubtedly made other decisions to protect their retirement plans.

Can you imagine one of these business executives standing before the throne of the Lord on the great and terrible day of Judgment and trying to claim that, "I am not my brother's pension-keeper?" Not that I'm not a sinner, with much to answer for myself on that day -- but Lord, have mercy!

Friday, July 29, 2005

Scenes from Along the Slippery Slope

Women's Ordination and the Roman Catholic Church
In a story dated July 26, 2005, nine women were supposedly "ordained" as priests and deacons in the Roman Catholic Church by three women who, in 2003, had supposedly been consecrated as bishops. None of the women involved are recognized by the Church of Rome; seven women who had been "ordained" in 2002 were excommunicated. The ceremony took place on a tour boat cruising the St. Lawrence River in what a participant described as "international waters" -- thus being outside the jurisdiction of any American or Canadian dioceses. The justification for their action was reported in a quote from one of the women who became a "deacon" in the ceremony. She said, "I believe it's valid even if it's against the law of the Church, because it is an unjust law."

Oh, so that's how it works! I think it's unjust/unfair/immoral, and so it can be set aside, 'cause I think that what I want is just and fair and moral, despite what anyone else may have taught or thought. This, of course, is a recipe for anarchy.

Those familiar with the history of the Episcopal Church USA will recall a similar step onto the slippery slope with the illegal -- oh, sorry, how judgmental of me -- "irregular" ordinations of eleven women as priests in 1974. This violation of their own Constitution and Canons was "resolved" in 1976 when the General Convention of the Episcopal Church "regularized" these ordinations by approving the ordination of women. After that came the consecration of a woman as a bishop; changes to the church's practices regarding the ordination of practicing homosexuals; a spread of the blessing (as marriages) of same-sex unions; and the consecration as bishop of a man who left his wife and children to enter into a relationship with another man. So far, Rome has avoided following the Anglicans down that part of the slippery slope; but watch out if any of these illegal/irregular ordinations are ever recognized...

Of course, the Orthodox Church is not immune; there are, in our midst, those who disagree with this or that teaching of the Church -- including those who think that the Church has been "wrong" for almost 2,000 years -- certainly, since the disappearance of the order of deaconesses from the life and ministry of the Church -- regarding the question of the ordination of women. How long will it be, one must wonder, before a similar ceremony takes place involving those who claim to be Orthodox Christians?

The Slave Trade in Europe
Sounds as if this is the title for an article on the Middle Ages, doesn't it? And yet it is of growing concern today. As this news report points out, the economic distresses of the former Eastern bloc of nations, and, in particular, among the states of the former Soviet Union, has led to an increasing trade in young women for the sex industry in western Europe. Things have gotten so bad in some areas that friends and even family members are luring young women with the prospect of jobs in the west; and, once these women have arrived, they find themselves working, not as waitresses or au pairs or in a massage parlor, but sold into a brothel. Some who manage to escape and make their way home are not taken seriously when they tell of their experiences; and so those responsible for selling them are usually able to continue their activities.

Reading this news report, I couldn't help but think of our Lord's teaching about the conditions as the end of time draws near, as found in the 24th chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. He speaks about the "shortening of the days," without which no one would be saved. We think we've come so far; and in many ways, we have. Slavery in the United States was ended with the Civil War, in the mid-nineteenth century. Of course, slavery had been ended before that time in both Great Britain and Russia. Yet the depravity of human beings continues to be demonstrated, as evidenced by accounts such as the news story above. Are we getting better; or are we getting worse?

Canada Approves Same-Sex Unions
Last week, the Canadian legislature set Canada on the path to follow the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain by approving legislation to permit the recognition of same-sex unions as marriages. The measure needs the approval of the Governor-General to go into effect. In part, the measure was driven by a series of court decisions in seven different Canadian provinces, which found that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was violated by legislation in the provinces limiting marriage to the union of a man and a woman.

It seems that judicial activism isn't limited to the United States. It was a similar court decision which led to the requirement in Massachusetts that same-sex unions be permitted as marriages. The message of these situations is clear, at least for those in favor of this action: Don't give up. Keep pushing. Sooner or later, you will find a judge favorable to your situation. For those who oppose the recognition of homosexual marriages, and pin their hopes on legislation and constitutional amendments, be warned: no such "victory" is permanent. All of us who hold to the traditional view of marriage must not only teach our children what we believe and why; but do our very best to persuade others to our point of view. Otherwise, we will lose to those whose appeal to the questions of fairness, freedom, and equality -- all valued parts of our society -- to argue on behalf of such recognition. When morality becomes subject to what we think is right, rather than what God has revealed, we will find ourselves irretrievably down the slippery slope.

It is also worth noting that leaders of the Catholic Church in Canada have threatened that children of same-sex couples might not be baptized; as the unions are not recognized by the church as being valid marriages. The archbishop of Quebec, Cardinal Marc Oullet, is quoted as saying, "If I take the example of the ceremony of baptism, according to our canon law, we cannot accept the signatures of two fathers or two mothers as parents of an infant."

Again, we must wonder: How long will it be before our Orthodox bishops, and now, especially, those with jurisdiction in Canada, must face a similar challenge?

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Marriage: Is "Poly" the Next Step?

Spain has just joined Belgium and the Netherlands by making same-sex marriages legal. Canada is poised to do the same. In both instances, the arguments are the same, and can be summed up, essentially, as, "fairness" and "equality."

According to the folks in Canada, a "nation of minorities," the legalization of same-sex marriages is necessary, because "a right is a right." (This begs the question of marriage as a right; life, liberty, and marriage? Ask any husband about the first two in light of the third! But we won't go there now...) The anticipated approval of the measure to create this "right" will, according to the national co-ordinator of Canadians for Equal Marriage, Alex Munter, show Canada to be a nation that is "open, inclusive, and welcoming." Meanwhile, in Spain, Beatriz Gimeno, a longtime leader of the gay rights movement in Spain, said, “Now comes the hardest part, which is changing society’s mentality.”

OK, let me see if I follow this: Marriage is a right which all citizens -- no, wait, all persons -- are entitled to exercise. Any attempt to restrict the application of this right is unfair, and should not be permitted. Minorities, in particular, need to be protected by the state; and this is true even if the preferences and practices of these minority groups do not agree with those held by the "mainstream" of society, and established, historical positions. After all, the members of these minority groups are just as capable as anyone else of entering into stable, fulfilling, long-term relationships -- right? And as for "historic positions," well, there was a time when everyone knew that certain minority groups were inferior to others; and that slavery was an acceptable practice; but now, in this enlightened age, we all know better -- right?

As I have said before in this space, if we make the argument for or against the permitting of same-sex marriages (so-called) without reference to anything beyond, shall we say, constitutional law, we will (ultimately) lose the debate. (We ain't doin' so well now anyway...) Those who, for the most part, oppose the legalization of same-sex marriages tend to do so from a moral, rather than a legal, standpoint. We appeal to the beliefs of our faith groups -- where, remarkably, there is a considerable degree of agreement on the question of recognizing (blessing) the union of a man and a woman, while not extending the same to any other pairing (with one exception: polygamy). Christians, Jews, and Muslims don't agree about the Person of God, or the way to live in accordance with the will of God -- but all three of the world's monotheistic religions agree that the union of a man and a man, or of a woman and a woman, is contrary to the will of God. We cite as well that, in the inability to procreate the species, such unions are against "nature," in that a male-male pairing cannot produce offspring under any circumstances; while a female-female pairing can only do so with "outside help." (This is a family-oriented blog, so we won't go into any details here...) Those who do not share our religious beliefs do not accept the revelation of God as an acceptable line of argumentation; and they have other explanations as to why the "natural vs. unnatural" aspect of human reproduction has no significance when considering the question of allowing two persons of the same gender to enter into a union as "married partners."

Well, let me go ahead and throw caution to the wind (again). As a student of history, I recognize that a significant part of the foundation for the laws of this land is a Biblically-based morality. For two centuries, this foundation was essentially unquestioned: had the phrase existed, the response of "Duh!" would have been heard had someone seriously attempted to raise the question of same-sex marriages before, say, the 1960's. I'm not directly equating these, mind you, but I don't think it is a coincidence that the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's was follwed by the "sexual revolution" that began in the 1960's. Since that time, many, many things have changed -- not always for the better, in my not-so-humble opinion. As the state -- our nation -- has been moving faster and faster to distance itself (not necessarily knowingly or intentionally) from a morality that arises from the country's Puritan/Protestant roots, those who cling to the arguments and "traditions" that are established therein have an increasingly less-effective voice when the topic turns to debating these issues; including same-sex marriages. So, I'll say first, we're going to lose.

While the proponents of same-sex marriages deny that they favor any developments beyond extension of the right to marry to same-sex couples, the "wall" that will be torn down by their efforts will no longer be effectively in place to address any other definitions that may be advanced for marriage. All of the arguments being advanced today to "change society's morality" to gain acceptance of same-sex marriages -- fairness; equality; acceptance of minority (that is, non-mainstream) points of view and practices, and so on -- can be made in favor of the "polys"; polygamy (one husband, many wives), and polyandry (one woman, many husbands). Indeed, here in the "wild, wild west," we have a group with significant money, power, and influence, whose central tenets at one time required its adherents to practice polygamy as the best way to salvation. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (known to many as the "Mormons") only rescinded this as a principle of belief when required to do so by the federal government as a condition for admitting the territory of Utah as a state. Why would they not return to this practice if the mood of the nation is to change the "traditional" understanding of marriage as the union of a man and a woman to allow same-sex marriages? After all, the proponents of polygamy have Biblical precedent on their side (at least, in the Old Testament), where many of the patriarchs had multiple wives. The practitioners of the Islamic faith also are permitted as many as four wives. Why should either of these groups refrain from entering the fray, and extend the definition of marriage to allow their religious beliefs to be practiced? Granted, part of the problem is that the practice has often been abused, with men marrying girls under the usual state-established age of consent -- girls young enough to be their daughters. But the abuse doesn't abrogate the right; and there's no reason why, with proper documentation, women of legal age to marry should be denied entry into a polygamous marriage if they choose to do so of their own will.

Nor should the legalization be limited to polygamy. After all, that would be unfair to that part of the female population who would prefer instead to have several husbands provifding for their care, comfort, and pleasure. Again, as long as everyone is at or above the age of consent, and enters knowingly into such a union, registered with the state, why should anyone object? And, while there isn't (so far as I know) a "poly" for more complex relationships, there's no need to limit the establishment of some sort of "multiple amrriages," where, say, three men and two women, or three men and four women (or "a" men and "b" women) desire to be joined in marriage and be recognized as each other's spouses. With everyone at the age of consent, and all open and above-board, why not? After all, we can't use Christian morality as an argument against any of the "polys"; that argument is out-of-bounds in the dialogue today. And, after all, just because only a few people, comparatively speaking, will actually want to enter into these forms of union doesn't make them wrong. Even though they are only a small minority, hey, minorities have rights, too -- remember? (See above.)

Well, I guess I'm about ranted out for now...

On a side note: I'm not sure what's going on with my template that's producing this incredible gap between the headline and the body of the most recent posting. Please bear with me while I try to find a solution; and, if any of you blog experts have any suggestions on how to fix this, I'd be grateful to hear about them from you!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Evidence Against the Theory of Evolution!

Right now, the state of Arizona, after over six years of drought, is beset with a number of wildfires that are burning across the state, with a cluster in the center causing the most concern. One of these, the "Cave Creek Complex" fire, has burned over 86,000 acres, destroying 11 homes and 3 other structures (that is, storage sheds). The fire, which has been reported on national news, is only 20% contained at the present time. (It should be noted that the winds, which shifted Friday, are moving the fire away from the towns of Cave Creek and Carefree, which are located to the north and northeast of the Phoenix metro area. The area now threatened by the fire is essentially undeveloped.)

In a report earlier today, carried in the Arizona Republic newspaper at its on-line site, azcentral.com, I found the following paragraph:
At the "Cave Creek Complex" fire, Chris Cantrell, of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, spent Saturday extracting nearly 200 of the endangered Gila topminnow from Lime Creek, where ash in the water could suffocate the inch-long fish.

The fish will be relocated to the Bubbling Ponds Hatchery in Page Springs until the water is clean enough to bring them back.

Cantrell walked the rocky, remote stream bed, undeterred by the triple-digit heat.

"This is an endangered fish," he said, "and we need to save it."

"Undeterred by the triple-digit heat..." Of course, living in Phoenix, we contend with triple-digit heat all the time; but not usually in the form of flames in our immediate vicinity. It takes something special to put yourself at risk in order to save... minnows. Granted, it's an endangered species -- but how many of us would endanger our lives to save a fish?

So, for those who think that human beings are really nothing more than another form of animal, I offer, as one exhibit, Chris Cantrell of the Arizona Department of Game and Fish, who, at some personal risk, acted to save an endangered fish. Only a being made in the image of God would contemplate such a thing. Therefore, I must conclude that we are more than just what our physical being suggests we are; that is, while it is true that we have a physical, animal being, we are more than what we appear to be. Of course, we have the example of the Son of God becoming incarnate in order to save us, a sort of "endangered species" -- and we act as He has acted, and acts today, to save others.

'Nuff said!