Archive for May, 2007

This is for myself as much as for anyone else: Especially because Orthodox prayers are so wordy and repetitive – er, poetic and insistent! – I find it’s easy to lapse into a routinized recitation, with the mind elsewhere. I guess there’s nothing particularly Orthodox about this…. Still, let’s not let our repetition be “vain repetition.” Just because they’re Orthodox doesn’t mean they’re rabbits’-feet. OTOH, don’t get “anal” about it either, and Scrupulous, or Obsessive-Compulsive. Attention at prayer may be the struggle of a lifetime… “remembrance of God.” They say before it’s a gift, we must collaborate (synergeia) with it in advance.

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Remember in the Star Wars movies, how various emotions were able to throw different characters over to “the Dark Side of the Force”? Anger, hate, vengeance, competition, ambition, greed, even an excess of sexual passion or selfishness therein. (Recall that Jedi Knights are supposed to be celibate – like some quasi-monastic mystical police force – and how marrying Padme – secretly and against Jedi advice – was a big wrong turn for Anakin Skywalker on his way to becoming Darth Vader.)

These are some of the passions Orthodox Fathers and Mothers of the Church, and other Orthodox, talk about, and how they push us, as if from outside ourselves, in directions we don’t want to go, or shouldn’t want to. They’re not afraid to say an aim of Orthodox self-restraint and ascesis (asceticism) is a Greek word, apatheia. This isn’t like the modern meaning of the English word apathy, a bad thing, but it is a certain equanimity, or tranquility, like that in the Morning Prayer of the Optina Elders. It’s also illustrated in the story about the spiritual father who told his spiritual child to go to the cemetery and insult those buried there, to note their response, then to go back and praise them, and note their response: like we should be dead to both praise and insult.

Passionlessness is another word used in this discussion, appropriately enough. Again, not that you don’t devote yourself to whatever you’re supposed to be doing in life – what Americans usually mean by “passion” today (in the non-romantic, non-sexual meaning, anyway) – but actually, that you don’t devote yourself to what you’re not supposed to be doing in life, if you get my drift.

This can sound kind of Zen, and of course, self-restraint, self-discipline are important parts of many religions for their serious practitioners. (In fact, I have heard that the most common use of the word jihad in Muslim literature isn’t as an analogue to Western Christian crusade, but spiritual struggle with oneself.) But the big difference with Buddhism is that our goal isn’t nothingness, but ongoing repentance, trying to come closer to the (Tri-)Personal God in His Energies/Activities. We’re not supposed to act ‘out-of-control’ like animals; and Adam and Eve, before they fell, were in-control of themselves, not controlled by passions – perhaps even leading up to and during marital relations!* – until the serpent tempted them, tricked them, and they submitted to him and their passions instead of to the God Who loves them.

Also, of course, our aim is not to control God or His Energies like the Jedi’s is to control the Force – although there are accounts of some Orthodox Saints who seem able to do extraordinary things at will. However, perhaps these are like St. Seraphim of Sarov in his famous conversation with Nicholas Motovilov: Seraphim asked God to let Motovilov see the Uncreated Light of God’s Energies, ie, that he (Motovilov) “was in the Holy Spirit” right at that moment – in response to a question from Motovilov. Generally, the idea is to bring ourselves into agreement with what God wants.

(*–The Fathers are not all in agreement on whether Adam and Eve had relations before the Fall. But ISTM they were married: “What God has joined….” Also compare Genesis 1:28, 2:24, 3:16-17, 4:14, 5:3. For what it’s worth.)

This quote by a blogger from Archimandrite Vasileios, a priest-monk from Mt. Athos, gives a taste of why. It’s not just a ‘truth-claim;’ everybody claims to be right. For Orthodox, it’s so much more… as usual! 😉

No such thing.

How do you know which books are the Bible, or even what’s in them?

Tradition.

Which tradition? Luther, circa AD 1517? He left some important books out. Of course, they’re all important!

The Hebrew-language Jewish Masoretic Text (MT), circa AD 800, edited to oppose Christian teachings?

Rome?*

Christian Scripture – Old Testament and New Testament – comes to us by way of the Greek-speaking world as it existed from Alexander the Great to the Fall of Byzantium in AD 1453, based throughout the eastern Mediterranean (not just modern Greece).

The same Bible as still used by the Greek-speaking Orthodox Churches today in that part of the world and elsewhere, and in translation, by the other Orthodox Churches in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. (*–There are slight differences between the original Christian Scriptures and those used by the Church of Rome until the last couple centuries, when it introduced further variances.)

(I believe for now Orthodox using Western languages provisionally – and advisedly – tend to use Western translations done by Catholics and Protestants, but their Liturgies – based largely on Scripture – are translated from the Greek and Slavonic liturgical texts in use ‘Back East,’ based on wholly-Orthodox Scriptures. An English translation of the Orthodox OT, being participated in by jurisdictional authorities and representatives from the U.S. and U.K., is under way. [The NT and Psalms currently of the Orthodox Study Bible are the unmodified New King James Version – NKJV, a Protestant translation. I have not heard that they plan to re-do them to agree in toto with traditional Orthodox texts as they are doing with the OT… but I believe there the differences are extremely small, not at all like those in the OT which they’re modifying to agree with the Septuagint – LXX.])

And scrolls and fragments discovered in recent decades have frequently shown the Orthodox Scriptures to have been, all along, closer to older Hebrew or Aramaic sources than the Masoretic Text!

God gave us the Christian Scriptures through Orthodoxy – Old and New Testament – which has preserved them faithfully. (I speak not to brag, but simply to state historical facts.)


And how do you rightly understand the Bible?

All by yourself?

No. By way of tradition.

But which tradition? Luther, less than 500 years old, who left books out of the Bible, and introduced significant changes to the Latin theology he’d inherited?

Even more recent Protestant traditions – Calvin, Zwingli, Edwards, the Wesleys, Smith, McPherson, Roberts, Falwell (may God have mercy on him), Robertson, Jakes, Hinn, Van Impe, Rev. Ike?

Rome?

Or the Tradition through which God gave us the Scriptures, and which has preserved them faithfully, and commented on them through universally-acknowledged wise Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Church – Orthodoxy? (I speak not to brag, but simply to state historical facts.)


For Orthodoxy, the Orthodox Scriptures are of course the unique touchstone for the Church’s Tradition – but that Tradition is also the source or context or conduit through which the world was originally presented with Christian Scripture – even the LXX as explained by the Lord to Saints Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus (as well as throughout His Earthly Ministry), and which served almost exclusively as THE SCRIPTURES for the Lord and the Apostles for the first generation of The Church or more.

There are significant differences between how Orthodoxy traditionally has understood the Scriptures, and Catholicism and Protestantism’s understandings. Many of the most important Catholic and Protestant understandings are the more recent. There are also a number of Scriptural points on which Catholic and Protestant traditions pronounce themselves uncertain, ignorant, or agnostic, but which Orthodoxy has remembered for nearly 2000 years (more if you include the OT Church).

These differences are discussed or linked to, scattered throughout this blog, and probably will continue to be, God willing.

You have to trust somebody? Whom?


Many Catholics and Protestants claim direct inspiration by God to understand the Scriptures, whether unconsciously or even more simply through the “gift of the human intellect,” or by more dramatic means such as claimed visions, “words from the Lord,” “vocal ministry,” etc. – from the Pope of Rome, to the most Charismatic or Pentecostal layperson, “mechanic preacher,” or seminary professor with a Ph.D.

One Orthodox approach to this particular question from an author whose name I do not know is, “To believe firmly that God speaks through you is a sign of demonic delusion, dear reader. It is a repetition of the Luciferian pride that cast the ‘light-bearer’ angelic order (a supreme authority among the angelic hierarchy) to become a devil, together with his legions.” Humility is very often recommended to people by Orthodoxy as part of their collaboration with the Doing of God in their favor towards repentance and self-purification from sinfulness and the destructive influence of the passions. To not too readily identify oneself with the Holy Prophets, or the Apostles, or St. Maximos the Confessor or other Fathers or Mothers of the Church – not to mention the Lord Himself – especially in the absence of extensive, long-term self-discipline, self-restraint, and repentance.

Nevertheless, Orthodox Tradition has witnessed many spiritual fathers and mothers who have spoken for God, known things known to God, clarified the Scriptures and teachings of the Church for people and even in great councils of the Church, and counseled souls on how to, like them, bring their lives more into tune with the Doings of God, and manifest His Glory in their lives and even their bodies.

But in Methodist-cum-Episcopalian theologian Stanley Hauerwas’ expression, it’s like learning a trade, like carpentry or bricklaying – you submit yourself to the training of one who knows what s/he is doing according to others who do and according to observable results. In general, we may trust canonical Orthodox Bishops and their clergy. Throughout the years many Orthodox have also proved trust in certain canonical Orthodox monks, nuns, or laypersons, often known generally to Orthodox in their vicinity.

But nobody’s perfect, nobody faithful to Orthodoxy claims individual infallibility. But it is believed and experienced that Orthodox Tradition is nothing less than “the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church” – the whole Orthodox Church, such that even statements of great meetings of bishops have sometimes not been “received” by the Orthodox Church at-large. This is not “democracy,” and no ‘ratification votes’ were taken, but the Body of the Church arose and rejected falsehood from wherever it came, even sometimes apparent bishops’ councils themselves, because, we believe and experience, God’s Spirit fills the Body of Christ, the Orthodox Church, just as He fills the Body of Christ Incarnate. “Theology” isn’t about higher education or (necessarily) higher positions in the Church, but union with God’s Uncreated Energies/Doings… and sometimes some bishops may have lacked this, and some layfolk and/or monastics, not.

(There’s another Fasting Season coming up in just a few weeks – the Apostles’ Fast.)

I believe it’s common to think of “having to” fast at certain times of the week or year when you’re Orthodox. However, before I converted, it came up in conversation with a priest I know, and he made unsolicited reference to the fact that as a non-Orthodox at that time I did not yet have the privilege of observing the Orthodox Fasts!

Fasting is an opportunity to work extra hard on what we’re supposed to be about all the time – collaborating (synergeia) with what God’s doing, His Energies, purifying us of our sinfulness and domination by the passions. I’ve heard the Fasting Seasons compared to sprints, while we jog – Don’t Walk! – normally at other times of the year. A time for focus, not just on food but sins and self-indulgence, prayer, almsgiving, repentance, Confession, extra church services if available, and other means of spiritual growth. All the more so for those of us who, on the advice of our priest or spiritual father/mother, don’t fast from food on account of illness, pregnancy, nursing, extreme youth, or advanced age.

Privilege!

Some Orthodox jurisdictions, when chanting Scripture readings in English during services, use the King James Version of the Bible (aka the Authorised Version). Not to open that can of worms too wide(!), but a frequent objection to the KJV is its often-outdated, incomprehensible language, Early Modern or Archaic English, or vocabulary.

This won’t be one of the more common objections given as an example, but it calls the disciples’ fishing boat a “ship” (which sounds even funnier chanted several times!). Today this word usually indicates a far larger vessel than has probably ever plied the waters of Lake Gennesaret (aka Sea of Galilee/Tiberias). Or does it? Not so long ago, on the 1960s sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies, you may remember, the Clampetts come into a small yacht at one point – in fact, they discover it completely by surprise, parked in front of their mansion. Jethro asks, “Is that ship ourn?” [Jed replies, “No, I think it’s wood,” taking Jethro’s regional pronunciation of ours – “arn” – for iron.]

“SHIP”!

For what it’s worth…! 😉

is a definite danger on this blog! The mention of zapifka in a recent Comment thread reminds me that I come to Orthodoxy with multiple influences, primarily Russian and Greek, but sometimes others, and I don’t always know all Orthodox cultures’/jurisdictions’ terminology. (Sometimes I’m just lazy too.) Also, my experience and study of Orthodoxy is still very partial or fragmentary even in any one tradition. All in all, I guess you could say my knowledge of Orthodoxy is “half-vast”! So if you’re ‘majoring’ in one tradition, double-check with your authorities! 😉

And when in doubt, be humble! In fact, always be humble! (One of my particular challenges….)

Recently I was driving in my car listening to music on the radio, which I almost never do in recent years. But I’d just been in Subway, and the station they had on was doing its nightly ’80s hour, and I was enjoying it, so I tuned it in to keep listening. And they played Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie,” which I don’t think I’d heard since it was on the charts in 1986 or so, the year I graduated from college. And in light of Orthodoxy, I heard it in a whole new way, as though it was a meditation on Orthodoxy!!! Actually what I thought was, “Who the heck wrote this, St. Symeon the New Theologian?!!!” Stranger things have happened in the annals of popular music-writing…. Alas, nothing in the available information (at Wikipedia or elsewhere that I can see) suggests Orthodox or Greek or other-ethnic-Orthodox, or even Eastern Catholic, influence – which doesn’t mean it’s not there, just that if it was, they didn’t feel like talking about it, which would be understandable, since they were presenting themselves as a secular band. Let’s take a look at it.

The wind blows hard against this mountain side,
across the sea into my soul
It reaches into where I cannot hide,
setting my feet upon the road

This reminds me of pictures of Mt. Athos, Greece’s Orthodox Monastic Republic – sheer, craggy mountains rising above the sea, home to dozens of monastic communities. [I’d link to their website, but it hung-up my browser. So here’s Wikipedia.]


“The road” seems to be life, even “the Way,” on which “the wind” – the All-Holy Spirit of God – sets us if we let Him. And deep inside, one really “cannot hide” from God; He knows it all, and forgives anyway if we ask: “Kyrie eleison,” Lord Have Mercy – which Orthodoxy does incessantly.

My heart is old, it holds my memories,
my body burns a gem-like flame
Somewhere between the soul and soft machine,
is where I find myself again

To many ancient cultures the heart and not the brain was the seat of memory, consciousness, self, mind. As I’ve quoted from Fr. John Romanides, the heart not only pumps blood, but also holds the nous, the faculty of the soul that, if purified and given to do so by God – shown His Mercy – may see His Glory as Light now and forever “unto ages upon ages.” And what else could “my body burns a gem-like flame” talk about but:

There is a story … of the fathers of the Egyptian desert. Abba {ie, Desert-Father} Lot journeyed to see Abba Joseph to ask him for a word that he might live. He said to him “Abba, as far as I can, I say my Little Office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven; his fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

That is to say, manifest God’s Doing in your life and even through your very body, His Energies, Light, Fire. Of course, this is the goal. Though after such an experience of theosis, as Fr. Romanides reminds us, we return to continued purification and illumination. Therefore, this verse would reflect the heart of someone for whom it’s taken a long time to receive the gift of divinization, and now has ‘come down from the mountain,’ even like Moses, back to ‘the world’ for the time being.

Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel
Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night
Kyrie eleison, where I’m going will you follow
Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light

Even in the ’80s I questioned “where I’m going will You follow,” and thought it should be the other way around! But if we think of “follow” as “accompany,” and “the road that I must travel” as God’s own calling for the person – that must of ‘Divine necessity,’ even as we read in the Gospels “it was necessary that” – then maybe it’s not so bad. Especially if it’s the reflection of someone not trained in the niceties of fine Latin seminary distinctions and Western ‘theological correctness,’ but merely how it feels, perhaps for an Orthodox layperson…? “Road… darkness… highway… light….”

When I was young I thought of growing old,
of what my life would mean to me
Would I have followed down my chosen road,
or only wished what {or that?} I could be

OK, I don’t have much for this verse! Perhaps healthy introspection, even Examination of Conscience like at the end of the day, or before Confession, or seeking meaning in life. Also questioning wishing versus doing. This sounds more like Western Existentialism, unless we add-in what’s gone before. The speaker of the words may be an elder, the one who has experienced glorification/theosis – St. Symeon, anyone?!! he did write hymns too – recalling his more-youthful questioning of how things would turn out, perhaps offering hope for us listeners. [This is seat-of-the-pants, and you or I might think better of it later!!]

Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel
Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night
Kyrie eleison, where I’m going will you follow
Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light
oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel
Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night
Kyrie eleison, where I’m going will you follow
Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light
(repeat chorus)
(a cappella) Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel!

And you thought the DJ was smart when s/he told you “kyrie” was Greek for “Mister,” as in the group’s name! I don’t mean to suggest what I’ve suggested can be read into the song, like we often try to do with some of the better-written pop and rock songs of the last 40 years, those with reflective or meaningful or moral lyrics. I’m suspecting this is what the song is really about!

Like the man said, ‘Submitted for your approval.’

Thanks to Rachel’s blog for bringing this to my attention: an Orthodox family in Sydney claims walls weeping with scented oil, and strange ash/charcoal appearing in the house, in the wake of their teenage son’s death in a car crash.

Her post includes two TV news reports, one emphasizing a certain “skeptic” who doesn’t seem well-informed at all. You’d think skeptics would be better-informed than that, lest they make fools of themselves! And maybe I’m too PC, but as a veteran American broadcast journalist, *I’d* sound more neutral than the two anchorpersons do in introducing the reports. Maybe it’s the greater ‘secularity’ of Australian society?

As they say, It’s official! Apparently immediately, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) today became a more-or-less autonomous Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (MP). As a result, ROCOR’s status as a ‘canonical’ Orthodox Church, ISTM, is now unquestionable – though if there are technicalities or formalities required with regard to other Patriarchates, Churches, and Jurisdictions, one may hope they take place quickly.

The United States is ROCOR’s main base today; they also have significant numbers in Western Europe, Australia, and the Former Soviet Union, especially Russia and Ukraine. [Go ahead, say it: The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia Inside Russia!] As I understand it, cooperation is supposed to increase between ROCOR and MP structures and personnel throughout the world, aiming for integration before too long, ie, the end of overlapping ‘jurisdictions.’

To clarify, during the years when most of the Church considered ROCOR out of Communion, they were said to still have ties of some sort with the Patriarchates of Serbia and Jerusalem, and I have heard that sometimes “canonical” Orthodox could receive Communion in their parishes and vice-versa.

So, as I was urged to do last year by a Commenter, I am pleased to add the names of the Active ROCOR Bishops:

  • Metropolitan LAURUS, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, Ruling Hierarch of the Eastern America and New York Diocese, Locum Tenens of Eastern Canada
  • Archbishop HILARION of the Sydney, Australian, and New Zealand Diocese
  • Archbishop ALYPY of the Chicago and Detroit Diocese
  • Archbishop MARK of the Berlin, German, and Great Britain Diocese, and Overseer of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem
  • Archbishop KYRILL of the San Francisco and Western American Diocese, Locum Tenens of Western Canada
  • Bishop EVTIKHII of the Ishim and Siberian Diocese, Deputy Ruling Bishop of the Parishes of the Church of Russia in Moscow and St. Petersburg
  • Bishop AGAFANGEL of the Simferopol and Crimean Diocese
  • Bishop MICHAEL of the Geneva and Western Europe Diocese

Auxiliary Bishops:

  • Bishop DANIEL of Erie, Vicar Bishop for Old Believers
  • Bishop GABRIEL of Manhattan, Vicar Bishop of the Eastern American and New York Diocese
  • Bishop AGAPIT of Stuttgart, Vicar of the Berlin, German, and Great Britain Diocese
  • Bishop PETER of Cleveland, Vicar of the Chicago and Detroit Diocese
  • Bishop AMBROISE (Vicar of the Geneva and Western Europe Diocese?)

To clarify, ROCOR’s Synod has only five members, as indicated on their Bishops page, who govern the Church in between sessions of the whole Council of Bishops, which includes all of them. I think Synod membership rotates or something like that. (The MP is similarly structured, as is the Serbian Patriarchate; maybe some others too, though not The OCA, all of whose Ruling Hierarchs meet as the Synod twice a year [I believe their Auxiliaries also attend], a committee of whom, the “Lesser Synod,” meets between Synod meetings for the governance of the Church.)

ROCOR parishes, institutions, etc., may be found here. Many years!!!

starts next Friday, May 25, in South Canaan, Pennsylvania, just east of Scranton. Highly recommended for all ethnicities/jurisdictions!

(FYI, about that Anointing Service on Monday: Orthodox consider that a Mystery [“sacrament”], so I’m not sure non-Orthodox should approach for anointing. Then again, St. John of San Francisco insisted on anointing Timothy Ware before his conversion…. Maybe you should ask in advance to make sure! I didn’t approach five years ago: could I have?)

Protestant article with Orthodox foreword and interpolation: “The Care and Feeding of Your Child’s Future Spouse“! Maybe even your own!! (Or mine!)

All these recent pieces and many more can be found here.

(Come back to this in October!)

I didn’t know that one of the reasons the Church chose to mark the Nativity of the Lord around the pagan Solstice was to counteract and counter-witness it with Christian sobriety!

But what can we do when the parties around us are scheduled before December 24-25? Blow them off? Maybe partake of them lightly and selectively… and if anyone should ask, what a great time to talk about Orthodoxy!

(This also speaks to me about the witness-value of postponing it – as Protestants and most Catholics will see it – until 13 days later, as those on the Old Calendar do. But this is just one opinion!)