Wednesday, April 28, 2004

News and Views

Politics, Excommunication, and the Separation of Church and State

A recent MSNBC poll asks the question, “Should the Catholic Church refuse sacraments to pro-abortion politicians?” As this is being written, the results of this “unscientific” poll show that 41% of those responding say, “Yes,” 52% say, “No,” and 7% have replied, “I don’t know.”

The issue has arisen to the attention of the major media in this country because it has a direct bearing on the presidential election this year. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumed nominee of the Democratic Party, is a self-proclaimed “practicing Catholic” (a statement with which I take no issue); and also a supporter of a woman’s “right” to an abortion. This position is directly contrary to his church’s position on the question of the morality of abortion. The Roman Catholic Church, as does the Orthodox Church, considers the aborting of an unborn child to be a deliberate and intentional taking of a human life – something we usually call, “murder.”

According to an article at, the issue of Kerry’s potential excommunication was raised by Raymond Burke, the Catholic Archbishop of St. Louis. Burke said that Kerry should not be given communion while campaigning in his diocese, because of Kerry’s pro-abortion position. The article continues by noting that Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Vatican’s “Prefect of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments,” speaking at a news conference, responded to questions about what should happen with regard to communing “an unambiguously pro-abortion politician” by saying that such a politician “is not fit,” and that, “If they should not receive, it should not be given.” When pushed to make a statement specifically addressing Sen. Kerry, Cardinal Arinze replied, “The norm of the church is clear. The Catholic Church exists in the United States and there are bishops there. Let them interpret it.”

The article, noting that Catholics, with 65 million people, constitute about 25% of eligible voters, then asks the question, “How can the separation of church and state be maintained when politicians are forced to choose between religion and government?” Having raised the specter of the Pope controlling the President of the United States, the article also asks, “Do the bishops really want to unleash a civil war of opinion among their believers, in a country that was built on the freedom to choose its means of worship? Or will they find it wiser (and safer) to remember that the ultimate judge of moral behavior for Catholics has always been the conscience of the individual?” (The last sentence of the article actually ended with a period. Ever the editor, I fixed it…)

Once upon a time, we thought that it was a good thing for the people who govern us to have a moral direction to follow. Even when we did not always agree with the specifics of their moral imperative, we could, at least, count on them following their beliefs; and so we could have an idea of what direction our leaders were likely to try to go. Looks as if this has changed; and not for the better.

Have people, such as Stephen Weeke, NBC Bureau Chief in Rome, under whose byline the above-referenced article runs, really lost track of the argument for the separation of church and state made by the founding fathers? The first clause of the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Last time I read it, there was nothing in the Constitution that limited the ability of a church authority to discipline a member when that person departs from the standards established by that church. There is no “exemption” clause for politicians!

Would it be too extreme for me to say that, from where I am, it seems as if the folks at NBC are concerned because the Roman Catholic Church is attempting to influence the election of an American President? Let me suggest that what is actually happening here is a genuine concern for the salvation, and ultimate fate in eternity, of the soul of John F. Kerry, and others who attempt to influence others to support positions contrary to what the Roman Catholic Church has declared to be moral and ethical. Is there something wrong with a bishop or a priest saying to an unrepentant sinner, “I’m sorry, but if you receive the Body and Blood of Christ without repenting of your sin, you receive to your condemnation – and I cannot aid and abet you in that?” Is there something wrong with a Church saying that a particular action is morally unacceptable; and that those who engage in that action, or support others in doing so, have sinned? I’m not suggesting that a church should say, “Vote for this candidate,” or, “Don’t vote for that candidate.” But that’s not the same as saying, “Abortion is wrong; and those who support it are not ‘members in good standing’ in this body – and so cannot partake of the Mysteries.”

What do you think? Should the Church make known what is acceptable, and what is not? And is this trying to influence an election?

The "Re-Name this Blog!" Contest

Having been taken to task for what I had thought was a whimsical name for myself (and so for this blog) by my spiritual father, some parishioners, and now by someone known to me only as "anonymous," I guess it's time for me to reiterate my invitation for suggestions for a "better" name for this blog. (This conversation began with the comments to the blog of April 26th, if you'd like a bit of review.) From now through May 5th (mid-Pentecost), send your suggestions for a new name to me. If one strikes my fancy, I'll not only declare it the winner -- I'll change the blog name!

I like to think of myself as being cleverly funny (we're all entitled to our illusions, aren't we?); and so I'd like a blog name that conveys that, without giving offense. (Is such a thing possible?) I've considered, "Observations from an Airhead Father"; but someone somewhere is sure to take issue with what will be called a disrespect for the clergy; or, at least, for the high calling which has been entrusted to me, an unworthy sinner. "Observations from a Desert Father", which "James of the Northwest" has sagely suggested could be used because it is true (as in: I am a priest; and Phoenix is in the desert; so...), might suggest that I think myself worthy to be included with the authentic Desert Fathers. Far from it! The best I could hope for there would be to appear with them on a poster as the "Before" example!

Well, let me hear from you!

Monday, April 26, 2004

Goodbye to the Episcopal Church

For the last several months – since the election to be the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire of a man who openly left his wife and children to live with his male lover – I have been “lurking” on several Anglican discussion groups at My aim was, on the one hand, to be available to offer what I felt – and feel – is the very viable option of the Orthodox Church and faith to those faithful Anglicans who saw their denomination sliding into apostasy; and to correct misunderstandings that occurred from time to time about what we believe and practice as Orthodox Christians. I had occasion a number of times to post messages. Today, I posted a “Goodbye” message, in preparation to resigning from these groups. I expect that, within twenty-four hours, I’ll log in and select the “Leave this Group” option; delaying just a bit, in case someone might want to know how to reach me in the future. I don’t really expect to hear from anyone; or to be missed at the group discussions.

When the election first took place, there was some real energy that filled the groups; and there were a number of people who wanted to know what they could do, or should do; or to ask where they might be able to go. The energy level dissipated a bit as time went on, and jumped back up when the ECUSA General Convention confirmed his election. The energy dropped again, but jumped back up – but only a little bit – when his installation took place. By now, it looks as if some have given up altogether, and will simply stay in the pews – or just stay away. Others seem to have decided to hold their breath, to wait and see if the efforts of the traditionalists (who seem to increasingly be calling themselves “orthodox” – more than once, I wanted to post and say, “If you want to use that term, you have to be a member of that Church!” – but I didn’t…) to form some sort of resistance movement will succeed.

It won’t; it’s already been tried, and it has failed. I know: I was there; I took part. Our decision to leave was difficult, and not made easily. But, by the mercy of God, we had found the Orthodox Church, and faith, and way of life; and what had started as a way of fleeing from the coming apostasy of ECUSA became an increasingly powerful desire to embrace the faith of the Church that has existed since the day of Pentecost, her continuity unbroken, her faith unchanged. We started out as refugees; and found ourselves coming home. There are not words, nor time enough, to adequately say “thank you” to God for His mercy and favor in bringing us home.

If any Anglicans happen to stray across this page, let me say again to you that the faith you desire is safe, and secure, and found today where it has always resided: in the Orthodox Church. Take the Thirty-Nine Articles that have defined the faith of the Church of England; study them, and our faith, and see if what is brightest and best isn’t found in our midst. Granted, the Articles, being a product of the Reformation, are not entirely in agreement with the Orthodox faith; but, if you’re willing to explore the areas of disagreement, I think you’ll find all that you could want in our Orthodox Church and faith. Maybe someday I’ll sit down and go through these in detail; just in case someone might still be interested.

So, farewell to the remnant who remain in ECUSA. May God keep you safe; and may He bring you home…

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Same-Sex Marriage: A "Reality" Now in Oregon

According to a news report from the Associated Press, a judge in Oregon has, at least for the moment, legalized same-sex marriages, even while ordering that no new licenses be issued to same-sex applicants. The decision by Multnomah County Circuit Judge Frank Bearden will be appealed; but for the moment, his order that the state recognize the 3,022 licenses issued in March and April as being valid effectively makes same-sex marriage a reality -- at least, in Oregon. The judge has also given the Oregon Legislature ninety days from the start of its next session to change state law regarding the issue of same-sex marriages.

The article is silent as to how, exactly, Judge Bearden intends the Legislature to address the issue. The article does mention a closely related scenario in Massachusetts, where the Legislature has been ordered by the courts to change the marriage laws so as not to "discriminate against" same-sex unions. We can probably conclude that the directive to the Oregon Legislature is of a similar intention.

According to reports published earlier, the Massachusetts Legislature is, on the one hand, attempting to comply with what the court has ordered, while at the same time being responsible to the electorate which has empowered them; an electorate who, by a significant majority, are not in favor of the legalization of same-sex unions as marriages. I haven't seen similar polling data from Oregon; but I don't expect to see anything different there -- that is, I'd bet that the opinion of a majority of voters in Oregon does not desire the legalization of same-sex unions as marriages, nor supports such a change in Oregon state law. But judicial activism on this issue -- which began a number of years ago in Hawaii, remember, before affecting Vermont and Massachusetts -- shows no signs of going away.

Quite apart from the religious stance on this issue (and I've said enough in earlier blogs!), is there any reason -- from the point of view of the Christian faith -- to be concerned about this wave of judicial activism, and changes ordered to state law without the support of the electorate? You tell me: Is there any reason to be concerned about the breaking down of the way in which we are governed? (Yes!) Is there any reason to be concerned about the way in which the institutions of our society are being transformed? (Yes!)

I dunno... Maybe it's nothing more than coming down from the chocolate-induced euphoria of Bright Week that is giving rise to a most pessimistic point of view... Maybe it's nothing more than having more time than I know what to do with available to sit at a keyboard and ruminate, after several weeks of long and involved services... Does anybody remember a scene from an old (and I do mean old -- "The Original Series" old) episode of Star Trek, in which Mr. Spock and Harry Mudd are discussing the punishments to which Mr. Mudd is liable for crimes he committed on a particular planet? Spock is reciting the list: "Death by hanging; death by drowning; death by electrocution; death by phasers..." Mudd interrupts him to make the point that, particulars aside, all have the same theme, and the same end: death. (OK, I hear you: get to the point, Fr. John!)

If I strike you on the head with an ax, you're dead. If I cut your throat, you're dead. The so-called "death of a thousand paper cuts" takes much longer, but, in common with the first two, the end is the same: death. If we were to leap full-blown into the "brave new world" to which it seems we are heading, the change would be so abrupt that we would reject it. But by taking small, almost unnoticeable steps in that direction, we will arrive, almost without objection, by an incremental process in the same place that, had we made the journey suddenly, we would not accept. Pessimistic curmudgeon that I am (or am becoming), I think that's going to happen -- but it is my duty to be, among other things, one of the watchmen on the wall, who must sound their trumpets in warning, or risk being condemned for complicity in the destruction of the people entrusted to their care. If you like where we're going, folks, fine -- you don't need to do anything. If you'd rather wind up somewhere else, it's time to act: it is truly later than we think...

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Patriot Act, Terrorism, and Orthodoxy; Comments about Comments

Doggone 1000-character limit! It's too frustrating! Therefore, my comments about some of the comments my earlier posting from today have generated are going to serve as the basis for the next blog!

Lola wrote that I was "missing the point"; presumably, about the goals of the Islamic terrorists, and about the suffering of the Greek and Serbian peoples during the centuries that they were oppressed by the rule of the Ottoman Turks: Orthodox people subjugated by those who practice Islam. She doesn't say so explicitly, but my guess is that she wants to defend, on some level, the "Patriot Act" as being necessary for our national defense. I began by saying that I wished she had said more.

As I understand what the Islamic terrorists want -- a target that shifts from time to time, as bin Laden's goal at one point was the complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia; and, while our presence there is greatly reduced from what it once was, there is a permanent American military presence there for the continuing defense of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia -- so I guess ol' Osama is still pursuing that goal among others. Ultimately, they want the end of the United States (the "Great Satan"), the establishment of Islamic rule in the Middle East, and the conversion of the world to Islam.

When the Orthodox people of Serbia and Greece were ruled by the Ottoman Turks, there was a certain degree of religious freedom; but those who did not convert to Islam were, at best, second class citizens; and there were persecutions on the basis of religion from time to time. They are definitely better off for having been able to throw off the Turkish yoke that had enslaved them; and returning to the free and unfettered worship of our Lord in the Orthodox Church. The troubles in Kosovo (among many places -- see my comments about this in earlier postings) show that the efforts of those who follow the teachings of Mohammed continue to plague this part of the world. The number of Orthodox churches and monasteries burned there in just the last few weeks is staggering -- but when did you see or hear anything about this in the media reports in this country? Why was the violence against the non-Islamic peoples in Kosovo not important enough to generate the outrage that was directed against the Serbian government when it attempted to defend its territory against rebels who wanted to secede from Serbia, and make Kosovo -- the cradle of Serbia -- a part of Albania? Would NATO have bombed Washington, D.C., and other east coast cities in an effort to frustrate Abraham Lincoln's attempts to restore the Union following the secession of the southern states in 1861, assuming that it was in NATO's interests to allow the establishment of an independent Confederacy? Because that's what our policy amounted to: through the offices of NATO, we stopped a sovereign nation's attempt to maintain its sovereignty and territorial integrity against rebels who sought to divide it. Not only that -- but those who benefited from our help now shoot at the soldiers who are there, ostensibly for their protection, in order to advance their cause of independence for Kosovo -- a precursor step for its eventual incorporation as part of a "Greater Albania."

So, I don't think I'm missing the point; and I think I have a pretty good idea of what the Islamic terrorists around the world hope to accomplish; but give me a minute so I can wipe the froth from my mouth...

But if the threat of terrorist attack -- and I do want to underline the word "threat" -- is the reason for supporting the Patriot Act, I cannot agree. When we surrender our freedom in order to be protected, we have lost our identity. Trading our liberty for "security" that cannot, ultimately be guaranteed is not only a loss of our American character; it is the first step away from the American republic to a dictatorship; in which we will be promised security and stability and prosperity, at the price of our freedom. Not only does this spell the end of the American dream; it is also a major step towards the coming of the anti-Christ. When we lose our ability to dissent from the decisions of our government officials, we lose our ability to resist, except by violence, the directions our culture takes. It's happened before, and not so long ago. Mussolini came to power in the midst of chaos, and restored order -- "He made the trains run on time." Hitler came to power at a time of troubles, and restored order. So did Franco. Stalin and Mao industrialized peasant, agrarian peoples -- at a price in human life and misery so incredible that it almost defies conception. Do we want to be like them? The Patriot Act is a small step in that direction...

In all probability, there will not be another Spetember 11th, in terms of such a dramatic tragedy -- hijacked airliners flown into buildings. Our other transportation systems remain extremely vulnerable. Do we really believe that the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security will be able forever to prevent an attack on a rail line, as happened recently in Spain? There are so many bridges, tunnels, dams, and highways that can be adversely affected; and it doesn't need anything more sophisticated that the truck filled with fuel oil and fertilizer that brought down the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. And even if we stop every single attempt of this sort, and there never is a suitcase nuclear bomb, or "dirty bomb" set off in a U.S. city, does anyone believe that we can stop someone like the suicide bombers in the Middle East? True, we haven't yet seen anything like this -- and I hope and pray that we never will -- but I think we're fooling ourselves if we think that surrendering our freedom will mean that such attacks will never happen. To me, the cost is too great for the benefits returned. The motto of the State of New Hampshire, "Live free or die," was once a tenet of those who brought about the American nation as an independent people. Do we want to say, "Better to live on your knees than to die on your feet?"

Inasmuch as I must live somewhere on the face of the earth, I am thankful to have the opportunity to do so in the United States of America. But I fear for the future of this "land of the free and home of the brave" -- already, it seems to be shifting, mutating, from the land in which I grew up. If this life were all that there is to existence, it might seem different to me: but, knowing that antiChrist will come, and being endowed with reason, in which the direction of current events suggests that the time of his arrival is drawing much closer -- as Fr. Seraphim Rose often said, "It's later than you think" -- well, we'd better add to our prayers...

As you can see, this has me a bit worked up. I've found and fixed lots of typos; please forgive me for the ones I've missed...

The Patriot Act and the Meaning of History

This blog is prompted in part by news reports this morning of efforts being made by President George W. Bush to build support for the renewal of provisions of the "Patriot Act" which are due to expire in the coming year. It is essentially a reply I sent to a friend in an email after he had read and commented on an email I'd sent (hoping to be humorous) of the "Robin Williams Plan for Peace." (If you haven't already received this yourself, here's a link to it; together with a report dispelling its attribution to Mr. Williams.)

It's not easy sometimes to face up to the truth. This is true for each of us personally, as we reflect upon our own lives, and the shortcomings, sins, and wickedness we have expressed in thoughts, words, and deeds. It is also true for us as a nation: it is hard for us to admit our mistakes, and hard for us to admit we are wrong. I have a "joke" that is used from time to time: What are the nine most difficult words to pronounce in the English language? I'll give you the answer in a paragraph or so! My own study of history has given me an unusual (I think) perspective on things; and all the more so as I have tended for years to read history with at least a part of my brain focused, not from an American perspective, but from a Christian understanding of the meaning and purpose of time, and therefore, of history. This is more than "merely" a record of the names and dates of persons and events: it is the development of all things from the beginning of time (Creation) to the end of time itself -- the great and awe-full day of Judgment; when time itself ends, and we move from time into eternity. Underneath all of "history" from the world's point of view is history accomplishing God's purposes, in His accomplishing our salvation. The ultimate end of history is, in one sense, the "ultimate end" of everything; and the establishment of a new heaven and a new earth, in which the redeemed of the Lord dwell with Him without separation, and without end.

It's hard, then, when viewing history (and "history in the making" -- as today's current events become tomorrow's history) from this "from creation to eternity" perspective, and seeking to observe what we can of God's working as can be seen therein, to look at things from the more parochial view of nationalism, whose highest focus and interest is on the "success" and fate of the nation. Among other things, the Bible tells us that the signs of the coming of the end include wars, and rumors of wars; and nations rising against nations; and "famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places." The fact that these have happened before without the "end" coming does not take away from the truth of such signs. The Bible also tells us of another piece of the puzzle that must be in place to indicate that the end is near: the establishment of the kingdom of the anti-Christ, who shall rule the world.

OK, so now I'm starting to sound like a "nut-case of the Apocalypse." But this thought struck me in a profound way after September 11, 2001: what is needed to move people to desire such a government? Is it not, indeed, the reality of wars, and rumors of wars, and the rest of that sentence? Is it not a fear of instability that will lead us to trade freedom for security? The "Patriot Act" is but one step in that direction. It's not so great a leap to see an advancing American hegemony as serving that end as well. I can't find a copy now of an editorial I found in an overseas source before the war began in Iraq; but the columnist -- a supporter of the US efforts in Iraq, and in the war against terror -- openly advocated a radical change in American foreign policy. Stop building coalitions, he said; stop trying to gain the support of others to legitimize what the American government believes should be done. Rather, he proposed that we declare the establishment of the American Empire; and move into the Middle East to stay; and not to put in power a friendly regime, but to rule it ourselves. Here's a thought: now that the one power on earth that was capable (or, at least, so we thought) of resisting our extension of hegemony has vanished (the Soviet Union) -- have we not become the "bully" in the schoolyard of the world, imposing our will simply because we have the power to do so?

The nine most difficult words to say in English are: "I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me." Typically, you hear this from the bully only after he has been caught; and then you are never certain whether his contrition is genuine; or just an attempt to avoid or minimize his punishment.

I have been a critic of American foreign policy for many years; probably since Vietnam. I will be the first to acknowledge that, until after 1972, I had a personal reason to be non-objective about that particular conflict -- from which I was delivered by having a very high number in the draft "lottery" in a year when the number to be taken was low. Since the early 1990's, and our flawed policies in eastern Europe (and especially regarding Serbia), I have become more cynical still. The "Patriot Act" is indeed, I think, a surrendering of liberties granted under the Constitution; and I do not think we will see it reversed in our lifetime. In fact, I suspect that, should the public sentiment become significantly shifted towards that end, we will experience another terrorist attack that will not only lead to new calls for the provisions of the act to be renewed; but that it be expanded as well. The liberties of the American people must be curtailed in order for there to be a one-world government; and we must be persuaded to yield them up. The enemy of our salvation knows this; and will move his servants to accomplish this end. Note, too, that we are increasing our military presence around the perimeter of the Russian homeland, both directly, with bases in "the land of the -stans" (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan); and through the admission into NATO of the states of the "cordon sanitaire" and former Warsaw Pact: the Baltics, Poland, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, and so on). Let me go paranoid again: Why? Because Russia is the last center of the Orthodox faith, which must be destroyed if the evil one is to gain his success. Remember this: Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that they're not out to get you...

Friday, April 16, 2004

Christian Unity and the Date of Pascha

Christ is risen!

The Bishop of Rome, Pope John-Paul II, has called for the Churches of the East and the West to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on the same day, as has just happened, April the 11th having been the date for the Orthodox celebration of Pascha, and Easter in the western churches. (I refuse to use “Easter” to refer to the day of Pascha; except when speaking with western Christians; and then only to give them a point of reference to understand what we’re talking about when we say “Pascha.” I know… how pedantic of me… I do note that the 1912 edition of “The Prayer Book Dictionary,” edited by Harford and Stevenson, states (p. 342) that, “’Easter’ is from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Eostre’ the goddess of spring.”) My reply, having first read this news from Rome on an email list for the clergy of our jurisdiction (the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia), was along the lines of, “No problem. Let’s send the Pope a telegram (or an email) telling him that we agree that Pascha should have a common date. Now, all he has to do is to order the church under his authority to change the way the date is calculated to agree with ours, and the problem is solved! (And what’s the point of being the Pope if you can’t make changes of this type when necessary?)”

This really isn’t far-fetched. After all, according to the last paragraph of the news report, the appendix to the report of the Second Vatican Council expresses a willingness to work with the churches “separated from Rome” to arrive at a common date for Pascha. Let’s look at this in a bit more detail.

One one level, the east and the west are in agreement about the date of Pascha: It is the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. The agreed date of said equinox is March 21st; and so Pascha always will occur between March 22nd and April 25th. But when does March 21st take place? Therein lies the rub: because the Orthodox Church continues to follow the Julian calendar; while Rome and the rest of the west have made the change to the Gregorian calendar – with a “disagreement” at present of 13 days. Thus, the western calendar’s March 21st is March 8th on the Orthodox Church. (Here I must say that I was in error in mentioning above that April the 11th was the date of Pascha this year. Pascha, March 29th, occurred on the date of April 11th, according to the secular calendar.)

The “calendar question” is a point of controversy among the Orthodox Churches; and it isn’t my intention to engage fully in a discussion of this point within the Orthodox realm. (OK, one shot: Which is more important? Astronomical accuracy, or continuity in the cycle of worship?) (OK, one more shot: Do we really need the calendar of the Church to coincide with the calendar of the world? Sure, having December 25th fall on December 25th, rather than January 7th (new style) is “easier.” Are we, as Christians, supposed to take the easy way?) Why, then, bring it up?

The reason to raise the “calendar question” is precisely the question of the unity of the Church. Those Orthodox Churches that follow the Gregorian calendar celebrate our Lord’s Pascha every year on the same day as those of us who retain the Julian calendar. It isn’t a perfect correspondence. The Feast of the Annunciation, March 25th, took place this year for those on the “new” calendar outside of Holy Week; while for us it took place during Holy Week. Beyond the incredibly complicated rubrics for the liturgy that day, and the fact that they got to eat fish, but we didn’t (!), it’s no big deal – and on the essential point, we keep Pascha on the same day – the calendar is not an issue.

So, if we can do this within the Orthodox world, would it really be so great a step for Rome to set aside the calendar it introduced under Pope Gregory XIII, and use as the basis for a common celebration of Pascha the Orthodox date? If unity on such a matter is so important – and it was important enough for the Emperor Constantine to issue a letter to that effect – surely Rome will be willing to “un-change” its own revision, so that this outward sign of unity can be expressed? Oh, if only it could be so…

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Christ is Risen!

"Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death; and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life." Troparion of Pascha

Typically, Orthodox Christians greet each other during the period after Pascha with the exchange: "Christ is risen!" "Truly, He is risen!" It is a joyous moment during the liturgy of Pascha when this declaration is first proclaimed; and the joy is meant to continue throughout the season of Pascha -- and beyond. Indeed, we are called to continually remember our Lord's death and resurrection, by which human nature has been transformed. We participate in this transformation by baptism and chrismation, in receiving the holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by striving to overcome who we are, in order to become who we are meant by God to be: bearers of the image of Christ, so that we may present Him to the world. The joy of the troparion is meant to sustain us at all times: having destroyed death by His death, we are no longer subject to death; and so we do not need to cling to the things of this world, for it is not meant to be our home. We do not need to pursue the pleasures of the world, the flesh, or the devil, for none of these will endure. We do not need to live according to the old habits that were ours before we embraced the joyous reality of the end of death; for we, trapped as we were in this existence in and of the world, were entombed in the world and its ways; but now we have been given life; and a life over which death has no dominion, no power.

Good News from Holy Archangels Orthodox Church in Phoenix

Our first Paschal celebration came in 2002. There were eight people in attendance, with eight communicants -- rattling around in a borrowed church that would hold 300-400 people! In 2003, in a rented office suite, there were twenty-four people attending, and twenty-two communions. This year, in our own building, there were 46 people attending, and 38 communicants! Truly, God is doing great and wondrous things; and we give thanks for the mercy and grace and blessings that have been given to us. May God continue to build for Himself a community of the faithful here in Phoenix; and in every part of this land!


A few days ago, I received an email from a parishioner, with a link to a web site and presentation that has been making the rounds for some time now. It involves a remembrance of the tragedy of September 11, 2001; with a series of message panels quoting the American Founding Fathers and drumming background music giving way to images of that day, and the haunting music of a piece by Enya.

It is right for us to remember the events of that tragic day, when thousands of people died in the terrorist attacks. But I wonder why this presentation -- coming now from a different website that when I was directed to it before -- has returned to make the rounds again right now. I wonder why, even as I acknowledge the secular point of remembering the day, I feel manipulated emotionally by the presentation. It's as if I am meant to allow a sense of outrage become rage; to fan the flames of a fire that burns with anger, saying "Never again!" It's as if the viewer is meant to renew support for the "War on Terror" without thought for any consequence beyond the prevention of another attack.

Don't get me wrong: I don't want there to be another attack. Not here; not in Russia; not in Serbia; not in Spain; not in Israel; not in Afghanistan; not even in Iraq. I cannot conceive of the Christian faith calling for the death of any other person for any reason. Yes, sometimes it is necessary for the civil authority to go to war to defend the people; and capital punishment is allowed by the Bible -- and so sometimes a Christian people bring about the deaths of others. If we do not acknowledge that these deaths are undesirable, and tragic, we do not grasp the significance of our own deliverance from death by our Lord Jesus Christ, or the high calling entrusted to us to live more and more fully His life, given to us to save our souls, and to show to the world.

The amorphous "War on Terror" has other terrorizing aspects to it. We have surrendered a good deal of personal liberty through things such as the "Patriot Act" as we seek to prevent another September 11th type of attack. We've noted before my incipient paranoia: Does anyone besides me see a parallel between the unending state of warfare between Oceania and its opponents in Orwell's 1984 and the war on terror? As I have pondered what the future might hold -- and in an apocalyptic sense -- I felt that an essential element for the reign of the antiChrist would arise through the increasing instability of life, both at home and abroad. Make things uncertain enough -- destabilize the stock market, and so the economy, if nothing else -- and, when the "strong man" appears, promising to provide peace and security to us all, if we wil give him the power to act, we will, indeed, trade our liberty for prosperity. When you grasp the importance of the "unending state of war" and its impacts on political freedom and the economy as Orwell portrayed it, and the nebulous aspects of the "War on Terror," can you say that things are looking better -- or worse?

There are other things to say: I see a connection, for example, between the fall of the "Twin Towers" on Septeber 11th, and what our Lord had to say about the collapse of the tower in Siloam (Luke 13:4). But this might best be left for another day. But, brethren, while we should never forget those who died, and pray for them to be received in a blessed place of repose; while we should never forget those who lost loved ones that day, and pray for God to comfort them with His presence, mercy, and love -- we must also not allow ourselves to be diverted. The kingdom of our Lord is not of this world, but of the world to come. If we lose our focus on this truth, who will be left to lead those who don't yet know the way we are to go?

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Orthodox Evangelism

About a month ago, at the clergy conference for the Western American Diocese, the topic of conversation involved missions and missionary activities. This leads to the topic of “Orthodox Evangelism.” Since that time, I have had a number of conversations with some parishioners interested in this topic. I wish that I could say that, through the clergy conference, and these parish conversations, we’d arrived at a strategy – but I can’t.

When we examine the "missionary methods" of St. Innocent of Alaska, and St. Nicholas of Japan, we find a common theme in how these men served as evangelists. For lack of a better term, I call it, "earning the right to speak." That is, they went to the new land; learned the language, and customs, and religion; lived as did the natives; and finally were asked, "You're not one of us, but you live like one of us. Why?" They then proceeded to praise those elements of the local culture that were congruent with Christianity; and, as did St. Paul at the Areopagus with the men of Athens and their altar to an unknown God, proceeded to tell them about our Lord Jesus Christ, and the good news of our salvation -- from aspects of the local culture, and in terms of the local language. Those who had asked listened, if only out of being polite; for, after all, they *had* asked the question to begin with! But, more often than not, I suspect they were truly curious about the presence of this "outsider"; and were genuinely interested in what they heard in response to their questions.

One major difference: these missionaries went to people who were, if you will, "pre-Christian" pagans. Today, we are faced with the challenge of bringing a message to people who speak the same language, and think they know what we are saying. How, then, do we "earn the right to speak" in a post-Christian world that is pagan once more?

The only other avenue of evangelism that I've been able to glean from our history is that of being so focused on the pursuit of the Orthodox way of life that I ("every believer") become transformed; with the result being that the people around me ("every believer") notice that I am different -- and they want to know why, because they want whatever it is we have for themselves: strength in the face of adversity, peace in the midst of troubles, and so on... This is, I think, what St. Seraphim of Sarov meant when he said, "Acquire the spirit of peace, and thousands around you will be saved."

"Evangelism" as we tend to understand it in the west is, "going to look for the lost one." There’s also something we might call "99 evangelism"; that is, caring for those who are not lost, and in such a way that the lost are drawn, by the call of God, perhaps aided by our being transformed, to come to Him in our midst. There, being touched, they may find something that brings them back, and so decide to be joined to the Church, and the Body of Christ. Mystical, yes – but, hey, it can happen!

The last part of "Orthodox evangelism" doesn't look like evangelism at all. That's being in Church, doing the services; and making it possible for anyone to come, and be touched by the presence of God in our midst. This is the job of both the priest and the people; and it involves not only the liturgical actions, but also our prayers for God to build His Church (as the Body of Christ) and to fill His church (as the building where the Body assembles).

Still looking for the answer…

Holy Week... and Blogging?

Not too likely! It's not impossible, of course; but as the week goes on, the time for anything apart from services grows indeed. Perhaps a more regular schedule will be possible once Pascha has come! In the meanwhile: a blessed Holy Week to all!