Archive for March, 2007

As I mentioned here a couple years ago [Wow, have I been doing this two years now?!], Fr. John Romanides once said there are no “laws of nature,” only the reliability of God’s Uncreated Energies at work sustaining everything in existence. But this only makes sense o/Orthodoxly if we avoid mistaking the (created) energies of created things for the Uncreated Energies of the Uncreated Trinity. Since creatures are in their energies just as God is in His, this would be tantamount to idolatry, worshiping the created rather than the Creator…or at least, in addition to Him – “strange gods beside Me.” So the science so-called that studies (fallen human perceptions of) “laws of nature” is indeed studying created energies and attributes – but created energies that are in complete harmony with God’s Uncreated Energies, as observed in the classic Orthodox prayer, “All things obey You, I do not.”

(Although it is also true in Orthodoxy that human sin ‘crashed’ all of nature as well as humanity – all ‘createds.’ Nature doesn’t ‘sin,’ but participates in human sinfulness, i.e., self-distancing from God Our Beloved. In Genesis humans and all animals were at first vegetarians, and only later started killing and/or eating each other, by God’s condescending [i.e., economic] permission…which, if I know us, we didn’t really wait for!!! This paradox in Orthodox theology may be one of those areas where we can’t neatly sum-up the truth propositionally like we Westerners are used to [wrongly], merely try to put up guiderails to keep ourselves from falling off the Way. ‘Is nature as it was? Yes and no.’ The important thing is that we humans aspire to bring OUR [created] energies back into harmony with God’s Uncreated Energies, His attributes and activities in the world, by the ‘medicine’ Orthodoxy by God’s Graciousness provides to all.)

NOBODY baptizes by sprinkling, normally. In my travels among Protestants and also Orthodox, I’ve seen occasional reference to alleged Latin sprinkling, usually derogatory, considering it a poor substitute for the speaker’s own preferred method of baptism. (Orthodox, like some Protestants, prefer triple immersion, and even attempt it with adults, as we saw with John Corbet’s character in My Big Fat Greek Wedding [though most of us don’t get Gia Carides to smear oil all over our torsos!!].)

The truth of the matter is that sprinkling, even smudging (not the Native American kind – water, not tobacco smoke!), are permitted only when necessary by the Latin Church. Their usual method is pouring a small amount of water over the candidate’s head – which of course might also be called a poor substitute for triple immersion. But when even pouring isn’t possible, whether because of insufficient water at the particular time or place, or concerns about the candidate, e.g., a water sensitivity or allergy, the fact that they still insist on water at all might be considered by some to be pretty hard-core, considering that many Protestants now use grape juice instead of wine for communion, whether in deference to persons with alcoholism or for other reasons.

I’m not endorsing it *or* criticizing it. “I don’t make the news, I just report it!!” But I thought in fairness a clarification was called for. If we’re going to critique anybody, let’s do so for something they really do as a rule, and not their oikonomia so much.

Just found a few more things on St. Barnabas of Indiana – that is to say, St. Varnava of Hvosno, Kosovo — Bishop, Confessor, Martyr under the Communists, the first glorified (i.e., “canonized”) American-born Serbian Orthodox Saint — so I thought I’d put them all together here.

I think I’m drawn to him not only because he’s American, and recent, but because he was crippled in an accident at 35: I was crippled on the job at 36 (though not as badly as he). Also, I lived in Indiana for 6 years, in the north for one-and-a-half years fulltime and another half parttime.

  • This is the piece I’ve already posted, the lead story in the September 2005 Clergy Messenger (PDF) from the Serbian Orthodox Church in the USA and Canada…a biographical sketch with local color by perhaps his first biographer, a priestmonk-son of St. Varnava’s home parish of St. Sava, first located in Gary, Ind., and now in nearby Merrillville (which, BTW, with 11 parishes in its immediate vicinity, seems to be a virtual Orthodox metropolis…in the colloquial sense, and perhaps someday in the ecclesiastical sense!!). Now for the newer stuff:
  • In November Bishop LONGIN of the Serbian New Gracanica Diocese of the U.S. and Canada (part of the united Serbian jurisdiction here now) blessed new icon-frescoes at St. Sava’s, including one of St. Varnava. The whole story in the SOC’s The Path of Orthodoxy monthly (PDF: scroll down to page 4) included remarks by Fr. Biographer and a color photo of the Bishop blessing St. Varnava’s new icon.
  • A local secular newspaper reporter took an interesting human-interest angle to the story (now seemingly only available in Google’s cache, and who knows for how long?) (also may remain available here), speaking with parishioners who knew Varnava as well as St. Nikolai of South Canaan, and including eight(!) color photos of their own from the service and church interior, the best IMHO being this one of the blessing of the Varnava icon – the others are available via the text links above the photo. (Funny, they want to sell us prints and souvenirs of their pictures – T-shirts? Luggage tags?! – but no computer-saveable fullsize images. Go figure.)
  • The Path article references St. Varnava’s “treason” trial in Communist Yugoslavia in 1948, including his astounding testimony

    saying that all those who do not recognize those three combined letters G-O-D are illiterate. When he was asked if he was claiming that Comrade Tito himself was illiterate he responded, β€œYes, he is, and all others who refuse to recognize these combined letters G-O-D. They are illiterate.”

    As Father mentioned, Time magazine incorporated more bits from Varnava’s trial, which I will quote here to save you the trouble (it was basically a very long editorial laying-out the chess-pieces for the Cold War, even recommending that Washington threaten ‘hot’ war in Western [sic] Europe to prevent Eurocommunist election victories!!):

    The bishop, Varnava Nastich, was born 36 [sic] years ago in Gary (Ind.). In the nine [sic] years he lived there before going to Serbia, whence his parents had come, he breathed in the spirit of freedom along with Gary’s stench and soot. In Serbia, Nastich worked against Tito’s Communists and was brought to trial despite his position in the Orthodox Church, which the Communists cuddle [sic!]. Here is part of his interrogation by three half-literate Montenegrin judges:
    Q. What do you have to say?
    A. All your accusations are inventions and false. I tell you, I am not afraid. You may kill me, but that is not important. The Serbian people are against you and all the civilized world despises you. You have already lost the war.
    (The courtroom cheered the prisoner.{!!})
    Q. You are reported to have said that the regime in Yugoslavia is atheistic, that violence and crime have the upper hand and there is urgent need for action to remove the tyranny. Did you speak in this manner?
    A. Yes, and more than that. I have spoken what all the people are speaking, feeling and desiring.
    Q. Do you believe that Americans will come to overthrow the present regime?
    A. I believe that quite positively. And I know that our people will meet the Americans with cheers as a liberating army.
    Q. Did you speak to the farmers that they will be better off when the Americans come?
    A. In substance I did say that to them. And the same I say to you here and now.
    In a long question the bishop was charged with being in contact with anti-Tito Chetniks in the hills of Praca and Rogatica.
    A. Not a word will I say about those brave men in the free hills who are ready every moment to lay down their lives for their ideals and those of their people.
    (The approving uproar was so great that the judges ordered the courtroom cleared.)
    The prosecutor produced a letter, purportedly written by the bishop, in which it was stated that 1,300,000 Serbs had become innocent victims of the hammer & sickle [sic].
    Q. Did you write this letter, and do you think this statement is true?
    A. With my own hand I wrote it. The only thing that might be incorrect in that statement is the number of victims. For, since I wrote that letter, you have killed very many more people. Therefore, I say, only the number might be incorrect.{!!!}
    In the end the bishop’s legs were manacled, and, clanking his new chains, he was taken off to eleven years of labor in the prison ironworks of Zenica.

    (Though after the Church retired him after those legs were destroyed in a 1949 prison-transport train wreck, Varnava was released from behind bars in 1951, eight years early – though he always remained under government surveillance, and “died suddenly,” some say poisoned, on November 12, 1964, aged just 50.)

  • Here is a page just starting out, for web and print resources concerning Varnava. That St. Vladimir’s Seminary thesis seems to be the basis for Fr. Biographer’s work on him (I mean, it’s HIS thesis); I saw it supposedly on sale here near the bottom of the page, alphabetical by title (“Bishop”), but I can’t vouch for that site; you might also borrow it via Interlibrary Loan maybe?, or contact St. Vlad’s and ask them how else you can look at it. I don’t know if it’d be available through those Master’s and Doctoral Thesis stockers/publishers in Ann Arbor, Michigan (“UMI”??)….
  • ICON OF ST. VARNAVA here (PDF) from the top of this post, on the replicated cover of a book about him being translated into English, authored by a priest who spent some time incarcerated in Varnava’s prison cell in the ’80s. (NB: It might be better to translate it “Holy Confessor Varnava etc.,” or “St. Varnava, Confessor, Bishop of Hvosno”: “St. Confessor” doesn’t work in English because we have two different words – the noun saint from French, and the adjective holy from Germanic – where most languages only have one for both, a substantive adjective. That’s what’s wrong also with “St. Savior” you sometimes hear even from perfectly English-speaking Western sources, or “St. Sophia” when referring to “Holy Wisdom,” e.g., the former cathedral in Istanbul, as opposed to St. Sophia, the martyr of Rome and mother of Holy Martyrs Faith, Hope, and Charity.)

St. Barnabas of Indiana, pray for us all, your poor children, your fellow Americans and your fellow Yugoslavians, to Christ Our God, that He might heal and save us all, and grant to our souls great Mercy!

Meaningfully, according to this writer!

If as said here, the People’s Republic of China’s government’s non-recognition (thus far) of the Orthodox Church is based on concern about foreign influence, what’s their approval of Protestant and Muslim organizations based on?!!! Protestantism is clearly Western, mostly American – “One more Christian is one less Chinese” – and Islam has ties all over…the Muslim World! And where do they think the Holy Orders of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association come from, that in Catholic eyes make them Catholic???

Not that I want them to make life more difficult for Chinese Muslims, Protestants, and Catholics…just easier for Orthodox. A resurrection of the Autonomous Orthodox Church of China would have more legitimacy in Orthodox eyes than the “official” Catholic and many Protestant bodies in the PRC have for their colleagues in the underground and overseas, thanks to Orthodoxy’s traditions of local Church autonomy and coping with non-Orthodox governments…. Just allow some Greek or Russian bishop to ordain some Chinese clergy, like the ones studying in Russia right now, and in a few years, if God provides, a couple bishops, and the Chinese Orthodox Church would be off-and-running again, simple!

Is it possible somebody in Istanbul knew about this Celtic British Orthodox martyr, associated with the famous St. Alban, Protomartyr of Britain, when they awarded English Bishop BASIL (Osborne) the titular see of Amphipolis when he switched from the Moscow Patriarchate to Constantinople?!!! Or just one of those Orthodox “coincidences” (wink wink)?!!!

In case you missed it – *I* did, and not for not having the shortcut right on my desktop all this time!! – the folks making the “epic” movie about St. Nicholas of Myra now have on their website the Buffalo, NY-area TV promo of their online teaser…the teaser itself…and a soundtrack music sample that, for an indie, sounds impressive! (See “Updates.”) BTW, it looks like they’re now looking at a Christmas 2008, as opposed to ’07, release. Mark your calendar – Heck, buy one!

Although Young Nicholas reminds me of Young Spock from the Star Trek movie The Search for Spock…and older Nicholas’ immense mustache looks like it’s growing right out of his nose – for both of which thoughts may God forgive me!

A book-online on Eastern Churches, including but not limited to Orthodox, by a reasonably-understanding Latin priest. Especially helpful for historical information, with only the occasional hiccup or misperception.

Available here. Although for some reason not clear in the text, their sketch of a hand making the Sign of the Cross, I think is being held in the Russian Old Believer/Old Ritualist manner, not the way most Orthodox do it today. (I believe they touch themselves with the two ‘free’ fingers, not the three being held together.) (I invite correction regarding the Old Ritualists…groups of whom, BTW, I believe are in communion respectively with the Russian Church Outside Russia, and the Moscow Patriarchate.)

Years of Russian research.

Yes, recently!

Grain of salt? Or “me of little faith”?!!!

(This is actually a year old. It made an impression then, but re-encountering it three times in the last few days, I took the hint to post it! πŸ™‚

Where exactly is the middle of the solarplexus?

Just to be clearer, I believe when they talk about making the Sign of the Cross “over” food, they mean on yourself when about to eat it, in particular when saying Grace, which includes the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t think they mean waving a blessing above or in front of it as a priest or Bishop does, or as we’re encouraged to do on our pillow and bed before sleep. ‘Crossing yourself,’ as we sometimes say in the West.

I just read something online that gave me a realization: When certain Protestants hear us ask a Saint or the Theotokos to pray “for” us, do they hear “pray in place of us”???

What we mean is “pray concerning us.” Just like intercessory prayer I know many Protestants are familiar with – and nothing like what might be called ‘substitutionary prayer’??? Hence the comparison we offer to asking friends, relatives, neighbors, fellow parishioners, to pray concerning us or something we’re concerned about…even to join us in prayer regarding this or that issue…even if it’s not at the same time and place that we do our praying.

Easter or Pascha?

Christmas or Nativity?

Holy Week or Great Week?

Assumption or Dormition?

Epiphany or Theophany?

Sacraments or Mysteries?

Advent or Nativity Fast?

(Parish) church or temple?

Original Sin or Ancestral Sin?

In each of the sets above, the first items are Western-Church English terms – or Western-influenced – often used by Orthodox today – laity, priests, and even Bishops. The latter items in each set are often considered to be translations more faithful to the traditional Orthodox terminology, usually from Greek. Sometimes which term is used is considered freighted with theological significance…though far from always.

The biggest irony of all is that often culturally-assimilating cradle/ethnic-Orthodox immigrants or their descendants use the Western terms…and (non-marital) converts – especially laity, I think – insist on the non-Western terms!!!

Speaking experientially, I can attest to a certain desire to ‘dis-assimilate’ somewhat from the Western Heterodoxy I left behind. After all, I didn’t convert mostly because of Orthodoxy’s similarities with the Latin or Mennonite Churches, or the Society of Friends, or even the Eastern Catholicism I passed by!

To be fair, I believe some use of the Western terms is for the purpose of being somewhat comprehensible to Westerners within earshot or readership – would-be converts, non-converting spouses or relatives or neighbors (convert/writer Al Fragola just hates it when some otherwise English-speaking parishes use, e.g., Slavonic terms for services [molieben] and other things, “especially when perfectly good English terms exist”!), etc.

IS which term you use theologically significant, or merely culturally? Does it have to be theologically significant, or is it always more in how we Orthodox mean the terms we seem to share with the West, just as in other cases? (“We don’t mean the same thing when we say the same thing,” as I’ve discussed often before.)

That’s the debate. And I’m not gonna solve it here! πŸ™‚

UPDATE 7 April 2007: The AP catches on (link may break).


Why is it that cable and Hollywood always save the attacks (or “doubts” or “questions”) on Christianity for the runups to Easter/Pascha and Nativity/Christmas, most Christians’ holiest times of the year? Most recently The DaVinci Code and now this ‘Hidden Tomb of Jesus’? I’m not against good journalism and competent scholarship – I consider myself both – but these are said to be conspicuous by their absence, in previews of the new effort by the “documentary filmmaker” best known for that hard-hitting “documentary,” Titanic. You may remember I didn’t make a big deal about DaVinci at the time: call me a skeptic of skepticism! But I’m seeing a pattern here. Benefit of the doubt, programmers and distributors look at times of the year when ‘interest’ is thought to be higher among potential customers. But their natural ‘customers’ are the devout! So pragmatically, what’s the goal here, mere ‘entertainment’?? It looks weird. Ethically, they should shy away from Christianity-related ‘iconoclasm’ around Christmas and Easter, sacrifice a few bucks for people’s good will.

Also potentially suspiciously, according to the handful of articles I’ve read from mainstream sources and even the particular cable channel’s own website (and I’m not knocking myself out over this, it’s not worth it, I have other things to do!), there are a notable number of Jewish people, and/or people with Hebrew-language names, involved with this project. Now, Ted Koppel is a reputable mainstream journalist and interview host (from back when the latter were still expected to at least appear relatively impartial); for many years he’s been a “good and faithful servant” of The Man (to wit, Henry Kissinger). But since the audience knows Ted’s Jewish, and I don’t know his personal religious proclivities, he should seek to dispel the appearance of potential bias from the outset, since Judaism explicitly and vehemently denies the Resurrection of the Lord. This raises the question of who could really be objective on the topic? a really “open” Secular Jew like Marjorie Corbman’s parents? a really “spiritually”-advanced, self-denying Zen Buddhist monk/journalist (if there could be such a thing)? a West Coast lifelong atheist with no preconceptions or prejudices, ie, not the “militant” kind (I believe I once worked for one)?

But look at it another way: What if David Duke hosted a “documentary” questioning Kristallnacht…on Kristallnacht?!! What if Pat Robertson hosted a “documentary” denying the Hegira…on the eve of the Hajj?!! Not to mention polytheistic (or even just polytheistic-seeming) Hinduism, on one or more of its many feasts! There would be uproar – and rightly so! The kids would call such timing and staffing “tacky.” Others, maybe Leninist, Stalinist (even though it’s not governmental!*)…or demonic.

(*-And speaking of history, let’s remember that most of the Roman persecutions were not instigated by Emperors, but by more-localized authorities, mobs, pagan temple communities, pagan business leaders, and synagogues.)

If it’s just coincidence, and perfectly good faith (no pun intended)…reschedule it, maybe for August sweeps or the September new season, or early next February’s sweeps.

Speaking Orthodoxly, I hear them claiming to speak to “the experts.” Experts on whether the Lord is alive? How about (most respectfully) these guys?!! or even these guys pictured??? I’m not holding my breath.

Of course, “skeptically” speaking, if there was anything truly credible behind this production, you couldn’t have held the secret until the recent promotional news conference in New York!!! Instead, it’s said to be nothing more than slick, sensationalistic iconoclasm. I hope to be fast asleep!

Sorry for the deletion of my Profile and mug shot that formerly appeared at top-right, but Blogger neglected to inform me before forcing me to migrate my blog to their new software (to call it an upgrade, as they do, might not be entirely in keeping with the truth, as my Quaker friends might put it!), that their recommended method would result in a major violation of my privacy, to say the least. My only option, for now, seems to be to hide it entirely. But it didn’t really contain much useful information – to honest readers, anyway – and the highlights I’ve transferred to the title box at top.

I was working on a “Faith Journey” post, anyway, which of course wouldn’t fit in the profile! I hope to get that up here before much longer.

Just because they’re providing a free service, they think you’re at their mercy: not a socially just way of providing even a free service, IMHO!

So that any of you so inclined may be better-informed, here’s the gorey details. I have another Blogger blog (‘posts not of this blog’!!), which I “migrated” to Blogger’s new setup the other day when they finally forced me to. (We don’t need no stinking betas!) I publish it using a pseudonym for reasons of personal privacy, to say the least. (Don’t worry, nothing dirty or criminal!!) Then just now they forced me to migrate this one too, without warning me (or anyone else – it’s actually becoming quite a controversy in the community, which they seem to be totally ignoring) that if I migrated it to the same new account as my other blog, this blog’s Profile would be automatically replaced by the one from the other blog! This is especially sensitive for several reasons, including that I post this blog under my real name, and include actual personal information – as I consider proper considering what it is I’m doing here – but which for several hours today could have been associated also with my other, pseudonymous blog, which itself includes little or no useful personal information. What Blogger and/or Google – whose alleged involvement is a mystery to me – need to do is make it possible for blogs mistakenly hooked together in this switchover process to be re-separated and set-up under Google via separate accounts. OR – which would be more convenient in the short term – to allow more than one Profile – more than one “identity,” basically – under the same Google account. (I knew it was too easy to post back-and-forth between the two blogs at will via the new combined “dashboard” for the few hours that I did so before discovering this major glitch; ya don’t get nuthin’ for nuthin’!; “the devil” [so to speak] is in the details!) In any case, you would think that since many blogs aren’t personal at all but work-related or in some other way published by a ‘group entity’ that may outlive the individual human being who happened to create the blog/Google account, they wouldn’t make it impossible to change “owners” like they have, which would be a key to my first proposed solution.

SO…if you have more than one Blogger blog and haven’t migrated to Google yet, keep in mind that if you need to maintain separate identities, you need to migrate the blogs under separate email addresses/Google accounts!

“Garbage in, Garbage out!”