Archive for June, 2008

No Racism, Please

Comments seeming to display racism or religious bigotry will be deleted when I see them, without further comment.

There’s serious religious critique and questioning, and then there’s bigotry.  You know the difference.

(Please: “Islamosoviet”?  Isn’t that like “jumbo shrimp“?!!)

Advertisements

I just ran across local newspaper science columnist Faye Flam’s old article (PDF) about speculation around, let’s say marital relations, in the afterlife.  She does remind us that the Lord Himself reported that in Heaven the saved do not marry [and therefore do not have sexual relations], but live as the angels.  (In fact Orthodox Monasticism is often referred to as angelic life, or anticipation thereof, both in pious expressions and in hymns on monastic Saints’ feast days.)  Angels don’t “do it” because they lack a fundamental requirement: bodies!*  We even call them “the Bodiless Powers.”

Flam also reported a non-Christian insight more relevant than she realized: “Zoroastrians, he said, believed there was sex in heaven but people would wean themselves away from both food and sex as they got used to being dead.”  I point this out because the Orthodox Way includes not denial that we are embodied human beings, since we are not dualists like the Zoroastrians (ancient “gnostics” still around today), but seeking to repent of and purify ourselves of any sinfulness (including that related to sexuality and food, though not of sexuality or eating itself) and seeking healing of our domination by our passions (including the sexual and gluttonous).  Mainstream Orthodoxy never considered “intercourse for pleasure … ‘depravity'” as the Western Christian mainstream Flam discusses did.  In fact, the ancient Fathers of the Church recognized the unitive and agape-building, relationship-building qualities of marital relations so much that it is from them that Christianity has its tradition of allowing them (if grudgingly in the West medievally) during infertile times such as pregnancy and menopause, vs. the still-heard Western idea that reproduction is the overriding point of human, Christian sexuality, and anything else mere condescension to human drives.  Nevertheless, the Orthodox Way, especially Monasticism, is also sometimes referred to as “dying to the world,” not entirely unlike what the Zoroastrians say about ‘dying to sexuality and gluttony’ after death.

But fear not!  Since Orthodoxy retains the doctrine that Heaven isn’t merely some kind of ‘earthly life on steroids,’ but advancing ever deeper into the Glory of God as Uncreated Light (as well as glorious fellowship – communion, koinonia – with the other saints, such as those we commemorated this past Sunday, All Saints Day, both those recognized by the official Church and the overwhelming majority not) and God-like-ness, we won’t miss sex!  Although to get there we do need to collaborate (synergeia, synergy) with God purifying us of our exaggerated attachment to it in the first place, here on earth….  Fr. John Romanides was fond of castigating the West’s attachment to “happiness” as fundamentally opposed to Orthodox Glorification / Salvation.  What do I know?  But perhaps another way of seeing it is that we need to find our happiness in God today, or else we’ll really hate spending eternity with Him.**

What about the Orthodox Mystery (sacrament) of Holy Matrimony?  Theologically it isn’t a ‘license to screw’ if you’ll pardon the expression, but just like its counterpart, Monasticism, a form of discipling to use a popular Evangelical word.  IIUC, the Orthodox discipline (or as I like to think of it, disciplin’) of fasting Traditionally includes married couples abstaining from relations, ie, most Wednesdays and Fridays, during Lent, the Apostles’ Fast (going on right now), the Transfiguration / Dormition Fast (in August), the Nativity Fast, the couple other fast-days on the calendar, and also on days before receiving Communion.  (This may or may not be a complete list.)  IIUC, part of the idea is that Orthodox marriage partners help each other with this discipline / disciplin’, since theologically they marry to help each other get saved.  In Orthodox fellowship / communion / koinonia with each other, they’re not to struggle in individual isolation, but to share each other’s burdens and build up each other’s gifts.  (This may have something to do with the ancient preference that Orthodox only marry other Orthodox, not non-Christians or even Heterodox Christians, though today marrying Heterodox Christians of certain denominations is tolerated alot, and of course we were never required to separate from non-Orthodox spouses when ourselves converting to Orthodoxy, since the Holy Apostle Paul counseled that we might help save our spouse.)

(*–With apologies to Fr. Andrew Greeley, who delights in the medieval Western speculation around what exactly the angels do have, for bodies!)

(**–I believe the latter clause comes from Fr. Anthony Coniaris in a basic intro to Orthodoxy of his, but I’m not certain.)

The homepage of St. Paul’s now reports that although the Theotokos has stopped weeping, St. Nicholas has started, so they’re continuing twice-a-day Paraklesis with hymns to him also.

Recall that the original instances in 1960 were also in quick succession, as they mention.

This icon of “St. Nick” demonstrates the Orthodox experience that even store-bought print-icons (mounted on wood, or not), as contrasted with the more traditional hand-painted ones, participate in God’s Uncreated Energies like this.

BTW, the Greek writing quite visible on this icon says literally “The Holy Nicholas” or “The Saint Nicholas” or “Nicholas the Saint,” normally just seen as “Saint Nicholas.”  This is typical of icons, in whatever language, although sometimes the caption is expanded to include other titles or references related to the Saint.

“Someone who is considered among men to be zealous for truth has not yet learnt what truth is really like: once he has truly learnt it, he will cease from zealousness on its behalf.”
–St. Isaac of Syria (7th century)

“No matter how ‘right’ you may be on various points, you must be diplomatic also. The first and important thing is not ‘rightness’ at all, but Christian love and harmony. Most ‘crazy converts’ have been ‘right’ in the criticisms that led to their downfall; but they were lacking in Christian love and charity and so went off the deep end, needlessly alienating people around them and finally finding themselves all alone in their rightness and self-righteousness. Don’t you follow them!…”
–Father Seraphim (Rose) (20th century California)

“Never say that God is just. If he were just, you would be in hell. Rely only on his injustice which is mercy, love and forgiveness.”
–St. Isaac the Syrian

“Have the heart of a son toward God, the mind of a judge toward yourself, and toward your neighbor, the heart of a mother.”
–Blessed Elder Cleopa (Ilie) (20th century Romania – met by English journalist Victoria Clark, as recounted by her in a passage of Why Angels Fall: A Journey through Orthodox Europe from Byzantium to Kosovoshortly before his repose in 1998 )

“The man who follows Christ in solitary mourning is greater than he who praises Christ amid the congregation of men.”
–St. Isaac of Syria

According to a university in Russia (via the Patriarchate there).

I once read that they don’t plan to hold separate glorification (“canonization”) services for each of the – by some estimates – 60 million martyrs and confessors who suffered and died under Bolshevism, obviously.  But they do want to compile as much individual information and testimony as they can, rather than just do a ‘clump’ glorification without striving for details about what actually happened for the Faith.

As the news brief notes, for at least a decade it seems the number of reopened churches there has roughly kept pace with the number of compiled martyrs and sufferers – almost as if each reopened church has a second patron saint in heaven now watching over it!  (I believe that by “acting churches” they mean “active churches,” ie, reopened after being shut by the Communists.)

NB: IIUC, “Confessors” didn’t necessarily die for the Faith, but were persecuted, tortured, imprisoned, etc.  It doesn’t mean priests who hear confessions … or rather, not only them!

This is good news, because it represents closer cooperation of another “canonical” jurisdiction with the main grouping of other canonical jurisdictions.  Bishop MERCURIUS of Zaraisk, who administers around three dozen parishes in the U.S. – referred to sometimes as “the Russian Orthodox Church in the USA” – on behalf of the Patriarch of Moscow personally, has attended some SCOBA meetings in recent years as an observer.  AFAIK there has never been any question about the “canonicity” of the Patriarchal Parishes of the ROC in the USA (as they are also called) as such, ie, their Communion with the rest of the Orthodox Church, at least since Moscow and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) reconciled in 1970.  (Don’t ask me about before 1970 though; my history’s rusty.)

The PPs aren’t officially a diocese, but are under the personal jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Moscow, though as far as I can gather, they function almost like a diocese.  (There’s a similar cluster of parishes in Canada with its own administrator-bishop under the Patriarch.)  They were part of a rival diocese Moscow launched here, also called The Exarchate, after the OCA, then referred to as the Metropolia, declared temporary autonomy as a result of the Russian Revolution and Civil War through the 1920s and the disruptions it inflicted on the Patriarchate.  IOW, Moscow officially didn’t always recognize the Metropolia between the ’20s and ’70, although OCA histories point out that at least a couple times they continued to submit their newly-elected Primates to the Patriarchate for confirmation, and it confirmed them, sometimes years later.  After 1970, these were parishes that didn’t wish to be merged into the OCA right away, when Moscow assigned its canonical territory here to the OCA, and so it was agreed they wouldn’t have to, and that Moscow would only facilitate their integration into the OCA when each parish desires it.

To my knowledge, essentially only two other local canonical “jurisdictions” are not in SCOBA now, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR, aka ROC Abroad / ROCA) and that of the Jerusalem Patriarchate.  AFAIK there is no question about their Communion with the rest of the Orthodox Church, it’s just that SCOBA membership isn’t mandatory.

A word about SCOBA itself is in order.  The Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas* actually is comprised ‘only’ of the 9 member-primates of certain jurisdictions headquartered in the U.S., and now also the PP administrator vicar-bishop, Mercurius (at this writing SCOBA hasn’t updated this page yet).  Jurisdictions themselves technically aren’t part of SCOBA, and neither are the other Bishops of jurisdictions with Primates in SCOBA, although SCOBA has organized so far three meetings of many of their other Bishops here, in Ligonier, Penna., in 1994; in Washington in 2001; and in Chicago two years ago.  SCOBA also sponsors several officially interjurisdictional ministries or organizations.  SCOBA is not a synod or jurisdiction, but a voluntary working-group for greater collaboration among Orthodox here, with an ultimate goal of jurisdictional unity of the Orthodox here.  There are (or perhaps have been) similar organizations in Australia, Germany, and France.  SCOBA has its critics: some say they’re going too slow towards Orthodox unity, others say they’re too involved with the Ecumenical Movement.  The Primates convene twice a year; this is interesting because according to ancient Orthodox Church Canons (rules), a local (provincial) synod of bishops is supposed to meet twice a year.

(*–“Americas,” I believe, because at the time the Greek Archdiocese of America was “of North and South America,” although today a couple other groups have some parishes in South America also.  But most Orthodox there are not part of SCOBA.)

On Sunday – Pentecost, Trinity Sunday – it’s reported that an icon of the Theotokos, the Birth-Mother of God, began weeping myrrh at St. Paul Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Hempstead, Long Island, NY, after a hiatus of some years.  Read all about it!  It’s one of two icons of the Virgin Mary there with a history of weeping … and one of three associated with that parish.  (The third isn’t at the church.)

They’re serving a special service called a Paraklesis twice a day there until further notice, and taking names to add for persons to pray for by (Orthodox given) name during the services, for health and salvation.

We are not worthy, but God is merciful!

With the return of Philly’s hot, humid summer, my blog work may be slowed once again, as last year, since my computer or I do not always have the benefit of an air-conditioned or de-humidified environment.  (Summers east of the Rockies exacerbate my IBS, as this young lady also found out about her own, and returned to Seattle – lucky her!!)  Actually I’m now 15 months behind in Eorthodox blogging, which is probably better for us all anyway! 😉  So if it happens again, hopefully I’m not dead – I’m nowhere near ready for Judgement yet! – and it’s nothing personal….

What follows is extracted from this blog post I know nothing else about, which is why I’m giving you what I got out of it here instead of sending you there to try and pinpoint it.  The book-author discussed, Rodney Stark, a sociologist (and BTW, according to Wikipedia he’s not “a Mormon fanatic” as one of the Commenters over there alleges, FWIW, although we could all learn something from Mormons’ sense of mutual aid, as well as, of course, evangelization), AFAIK became big in seminaries in the ’90s not only with the book mentioned but also his co-authored one with Roger Finke about how the U.S. is so “religious” because it’s a religious free market rather than one with a legally-established faith like most European countries (which fellow socio Andrew Greeley’s research also supports, so it must be right! 😉 ).

This extract first caught my attention because of something I read in a letter to the Orthodox Again magazine a few years ago citing pre-Hitler numbers estimating that in the first century of Christianity possibly some 90 percent or more of the world’s Jews placed their faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, ie, became Christians.  (And as we know from Scripture and Church history, many of them remained identifiably “Jewish” Christians in one way or another for some time afterward.)  I didn’t know how to take that source, and half-feared it might be some Anti-Semitic (ie, anti-Jewish) screed rather than serious scholarship.  But Stark seems to come to a similar conclusion (remembering he’s not a historian but a sociologist – counting people is what they major in!).  So again, FWIW.

I don’t necessarily buy everything in this excerpt, but Big Picture, it suggests alot to me about evangelization in general, as well as other Christian and Orthodox ideals.

Here’s the blog text, pasted as is (except Stark is now teaching at Baylor University instead of U-Dub), text coloring added:

Christianity, emerged from Judaism, introducing a set of revealed truths and practices  to its adherents. Many of these beliefs and practices differed significantly from what the Greek religions and Judaism had held. In The Rise of Christianity (Princeton University Press, 1996) by Rodney Stark, professor of sociology and comparative religion at the University of Washington, gives us a new perspective on the formative years of Christianity. I mention Stark”s study because he is a scholar without an ax to grind against Christians and his research approaches the subject without any preconceptions. In one of the more startling conclusions from his research, Stark says that contrary to the current wisdom, the mission to the Jews of the early Christians was largely successful and continued right up to the year 300. According to Stark, the some four or five million Jews of the Diaspora had “adjusted to life in the Diaspora in ways that made them very marginal vis-a-vis the Jews of Jerusalem, hence the need as early as the third century for the Torah to be translated into Greek for the Jews outside of Israel (the Septuagint).”  For Jews who lived in the Hellenic world, “Christianity offered to retain much of the religious content of both cultures and to resolve the contradictions between them.” 

It should be noted that most of the new converts to Christianity came from the Hellenized peoples of the East especially the Greeks rather than from Judaism, because Christianity had much more in common with the freedom imposed by the Greek mind than the legality of Judaism.  Christianity preached the possibility of a worthwhile and even happy existence for slaves, the weak, the poor, the ugly, even barbarians, people Aristotle  and Plato would not have regarded as capable of a happy life and people the Jews would not have regarded as those like themselves chosen by God.  During the major upheavals of the fourth century Christianity emerged as the dominant movement. The new faith engaged in both dialogue and conflict with Greco-Roman culture. Christians found themselves in conflict with pagan society and even with themselves.  Change, heresy, reformations, compromises, violence, persecutions were characteristics of the fourth century but they did not stop there.

Now was the spread of Christianity a “miracle” or just coincidental based on a combinations of existing facts?  Believers like me will lean toward the miraculous.  {snip}  …I will let Stark offer the conclusions formed by his research. I stress here that historians, even those who can offer us the benefit of their research studies, can’t be sure that they have all the right answers.  They are making an educated guess. Stark points out that in 165, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, an epidemic struck that carried away during the course of fifteen years up to a third of the total population of the empire, including Marcus Aurelius himself. In 251 a similar epidemic, most likely of measles, struck again with similar results. Historians generally acknowledge that these epidemics produced a depopulation which led in part to the decline of the Roman empire, more than the normally attributed cause of “moral degeneration.” Stark points out that these epidemics favored the rapid rise of Christianity for three reasons. One, that Christianity offered a more satisfactory account of “why bad things happen to good people,” based on the centrality of the suffering and Cross of Christ than any form of classical paganism. Second, “Christian values of love and charity, from the beginning, had been translated into norms of social service and community solidarity. When disasters struck, the Christians were better able to cope, and this resulted in substantially higher rates of survival. This meant that in the aftermath of each epidemic, Christians made up a larger and larger percentage of the population even without new converts.” Last, these epidemics left large numbers of people without the interpersonal bonds that would have prevented them from becoming Christians, thus encouraging conversion. He says, “in a sense paganism did indeed ‘topple over dead’ or at least acquired its fatal illness during these epidemics, falling victim to its relative inability to confront these crises socially or spiritually, an inability suddenly revealed by the example of its upstart challenger.”  His words not mine.

Stark introduces a number of other elements in Christianity’s rise to prominence. It was an urban phenomenon based in the teeming cities of the Roman Empire especially in the East. Stark underlines the fact that Christianity brought a new culture capable of making life in Greco-Roman cities more tolerable: “To cities filled with homeless and the impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.”  Contrary to popular belief,  despite Christianity’s drawing power  for the poor and slaves, it also attracted the upper and middle classes in appreciable numbers.

Christianity was unusually appealing to pagan women” because “within the Christian subculture women enjoyed far higher status than did women in the Greco-Roman world at large.” He shows that Christianity recognized women as equal to men, children of God with the same supernatural destiny. Moreover the Christian moral code of prohibition against polygamy, divorce, birth control, abortion, and infanticide contributed to the well-being of women, changing their status from powerless serfs in bondage to men, to women with dignity and rights in both the Church and the State. Go to any Church service on any given day and you will understand the importance of women within the body of the Church.

Stark establishes four conclusions based on his study. One, Christianity rapidly produced a substantial surplus of females as a result of Christian prohibitions against infanticide (normally directed against girl infants), abortion (often producing the death of the mother), and the high rate of conversion to Christianity among women. Second, as already pointed out, Christian women enjoyed substantially higher status within Christian society than women did in the world at large, which made Christianity highly attractive to them. Third, the surplus of Christian women and of pagan men produced many marriages that led to the secondary conversions of pagan men to the Faith, a phenomenon that continues today.  Finally, the abundance of Christian women resulted in higher birthrates; superior fertility contributed to the rise of Christianity. 

Why did Christianity grow then? According to Stark, “It grew because Christians constituted an intense community, able to generate the ‘invincible obstinacy’ that so offended the younger Pliny but yielded immense religious rewards. And the primary means of its growth was through the united and motivated efforts of the growing numbers of Christian believers, who invited their friends, relatives, and neighbors to share the ‘good news’.” At the heart of this willingness to share one’s faith was the revealed word of God, as taught by the Church.  Acceptance of Christian doctrine was based on an article of faith. “Central doctrines of Christianity prompted and sustained attractive, liberating, and effective social relations and organization.” The chief doctrine, of course, which was radically new to a pagan world groaning under a host of miseries was that “because God loves humanity, Christians may not please God unless they love one another.”

…or one of the importances, anyway, appears in the Kontakion (a kind of hymn) of the Great Feast of the Ascension commemorated last Thursday:

When Thou fulfilledst Thy Dispensation for our sake, uniting things on earth with the Heavens, Thou ascendedst in Glory, O Christ Our God, but departing not hence, remaining inseparable from us, and crying unto them that love Thee: “I am with you, and no one shall be against you!” *

Translations into English may vary, including breaking-off the participial phrases into separate sentences or subordinate clauses.  (Sorry, I’m an English major whom they let study Greek! 😉 )  But Patristics often calls Christ’s Incarnation His “Dispensation;” thus His Ascension into Heaven “fulfilled the Incarnation,” or completed it.  How?  “Uniting things on earth with the Heavens.”  Orthodox Christology maintains that in His Incarnation, Christ united the created with the Uncreated “without confusion, change, division, or separation” of either human nature or Divine (IV Ecumenical Synod, Chalcedon).  This is made even clearer in His Ascension: the humanity that He raised from the dead at Pascha, He enthroned in heaven with the Father and the Holy Spirit at His bodily Ascension forty days later.  This may even be suggested by the idea that in the Gospel and Epistles of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, “He is the vine and we are the branches” (see John 15), bringing us also upward to Heaven after Him at His Ascension, if we wish it with our lives, ie, if we truly are branches of Him, drawing His Uncreated Energy into ourselves by every means possible and manifesting it in our lives by His Graciousness.

Then, the Lord’s Ascension isn’t merely a neat trick, a grand finale, a big farewell, a UFO, or a metaphor, but the final act in His work on earth for our salvation, which work on earth was not complete until then.

(*–Adapted from the Jordanville Prayerbook.)

I found the following on the about page of the blog of recent Commenter Vara Drezhlo:

My Orthodoxy is not simply a faith; it is a matrix within which I see all of culture and civilisation. Indeed, without this cultural apparatus, the faith becomes a sterile and barren imitation of Protestant prooftexting. It then becomes a fruitless tree fit only for the fire. With the support of Orthodox civilisation, the faith becomes a spreading and flowering tree with bounty for all, and then some! The tree IS known by the fruits thereof.

(Emphasis added.)

Says an Antiochian Orthodox bookstore owner in Wichita, Kansas,* in this 2002 Publishers Weekly roundup / preview of then-new Orthodox books entering the mainstream book market (in English in the United States).

(*–For the record, home of 5 Orthodox churches, visible at orthodoxyinamerica.org.)

Many have heard of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge University, with which well-known author Metropolitan KALLISTOS (Ware) of Diokleia has been associated.  But apparently the University of Wales has also just established a Centre for Orthodox Studies, and offers a Master’s degree in Orthodox Studies also.  (I’m linking to the personal profile page of the Centre’s head, Dr. Andreas Andreopoulos because it contains links to the rest.  Actually I’m not familiar with him.)

Yes, it’s true, “academic” things get my attention, with all my overeducation!  But I’m thinking – perhaps mistakenly? – that the taking-up of Orthodox studies by British universities can signal a certain “arrival” in that old education system … one might even say return!

There are two “canonical” Romanian Orthodox jurisdictions in North America (mostly), now seemingly talking more seriously about reunion than ever before.  The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate* of America has been part of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) for a couple generations.  The smaller Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese* of the Americas is part of the Patriarchate of Romania (abbreviated English available).  They split up after World War 2, among other reasons, over allegations of Communist government control over the Patriarchate.  Now it looks like they might form a united “autonomous” jurisdiction “in canonical relationship with (not under) the Romanian Orthodox Church.** ”  I don’t know what that means exactly.  They seem to have over 100 parishes between them in the U.S., Canada, and South America (ROAA).  On the ROEA side, their clergy and diocesan congress are slated to look at the proposal next month, but apparently alot of organizational details remain to be worked out with ROAA before it’s finalized.  Also, the OCA Synod would have to approve, having jurisdiction over ROEA.

Here’s OrthodoxWiki’s ROEA piece.  And here’s their ROAA one.

This is being said to promote Orthodox Unity in America, I suppose because intra-ethnic reconciliation would have to happen sooner or later, for overall, pan-ethnic unity to happen.  ROAA’s Ruling Archbishop NICOLAE is young, relatively new on the job, and from Romania; ROEA’s Ruling Archbishop NATHANIEL – a convert (if that’s the right word) from the Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church*** – is a long-time advocate of unity among canonical Chalcedonian Orthodox here, and U.S.-born.  Let’s pray that the All-Holy Spirit of God who filled the Body of Christ at Pentecost / Trinity Sunday, lead both groups to shine forth God’s Uncreated Glory and Energies!

(*–ie, bishopric or diocese; Rom. [arhi]episcopia)

(**–By “Romanian Orthodox Church,” they mean the Patriarchate.)

(***–Officially, “the Romanian Church united with Rome, Greek-Catholic,” ie, Byzantine.)

Profanity

Please don’t Comment profanely in this blog.  I usually intend it to be readable by people of all ages, stages, backgrounds, etc.  That includes web addresses (which I thought weren’t allowed to include profanity?!).  I may sometimes allow myself mild liberty in this area, to make a point about something, and hope I will remember if I do to warn about it in case someone might be offended or thrown off.  But not Commenters!

Thank you, and Blessed Pentecost coming up!