Posts Tagged ‘salvation’

This I haven’t seen or read, because it’s not out yet, but should be interesting.  I’ve heard of funder the Farah Foundation, and Fr. McGuckin, an Orthodox writer and church historian … but I don’t know a whole lot about either the Foundation or Father.  “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer”: Is that like the old A&E’s Mysteries of the Bible ? 😉   Could we look for a cable series?

So, I guess at this point this is just an FYI.

Uncreated Star of Bethlehem

Five years ago I alluded to this, but I’ve just seen concise discussion of it from no less than the Father of the Church St. John Chrysostom, and from certain Old Testament prophecies ‘in its Light.’

It also makes me think of how some non-Orthodox “got saved” by God….  The Apolytikion (a hymn) given on this page brings home the point.  The Magi are commemorated as Saints on Dec. 25.  (Recall that Orthodoxy commemorates the Magi’s Adoration of the Incarnate YHWH not on Jan. 6 but at Christmas; our Great Feast of Theophany [Epiphany] focuses on His Baptism in the Jordan by St. John the Forerunner [Baptist].)  OrthodoxWiki mentions the memory of their eventual baptism by St. Thomas the Apostle to the Indo-Iranians, and service to The Church as Bishops.

What about the mentions of an angel?  Readers of this blog may recall our discussions of the uncreated Logos-Angel from many Old Testament theophanies … highlighted in the writings of Greek-American theologian Fr. John S. Romanides (†2001) … so this need not be a problem, especially because Orthodoxy reminds us that the Divine Hypostatic Logos is not circumscribed by His Incarnation, ie, not ‘completely contained’ in or limited by His Human Body.  Could He appear as Infant and “Angel” at the same time?  Unusual perhaps, but I don’t see why not, although I must confess I haven’t seen this explicitly discussed anywhere yet.

One Web source I read said Western European pagans, even before Christianization, appreciated this, as it were their ‘cameo’ appearance at the very beginning of Christianity’s New Testament.  Similarly, I can say that even as a blond Western Catholic child here in the States, I was fascinated by and appreciated my family’s small wood-and-hay(?) Nativity set featuring non-Mediterranean-looking “kings”: a blond, an African, and an East Asian!*  I also read that extracanonical accounts ‘internationalizing’ them are quite old indeed.  Well, they do “represent the Gentiles,” and foreshadow many more of our ancestors’ conversions to the Faith….  For some reason I thought of the “White” one as some aged King of England — I didn’t know then that that title and State didn’t exist during Christ’s life on Earth!

I couldn’t leave this off without a plug for Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s “Christmas Star” (or another picture of it).  One night during college, around 1985-86, I was driving around town lost (though sober)** and someone told me I almost knocked it down or something!  It sits atop Wyandotte Hill/South Mountain, one of Penna.’s many long, skinny, relatively-low,*** ridge-like mountains, that divides the Lehigh Valley from the main Philadelphia area, as well as from my undergraduate school campus just south of Bethlehem.

And, twelve “kings”?  Catholic priest / sociologist / novelist Andrew Greeley’s Russian (Orthodox) lay student / artist / mystic / beauty / love interest in his 1997 Christmas / spiritual classic Star Bright! (available here) alludes to a 12-magi tradition, without many details except to say something I haven’t encountered personally in Orthodoxy yet, that “We Russians know there were 12 kings” (or words to that effect).  But an English translation of the apocryphal Syriac Revelation of the Magi has recently come out, and it names twelve.  Furthermore, if one Amazon reviewer reports correctly, if you have any Western European ancestry, you may have one or more Magi in your family tree.  How’s that for Gentile foreshadowing?!  Other reviews lead me to doctrinal caution about the Revelation [Apocalypse??] of the Magi, but also hint (seemingly unknowingly) at o/Orthodox Uncreated Energies Theology perhaps.  But some of the kings named by the Armenian reviewer have names or associations I might have encountered a long time ago while tracing my Norman Irish ancestors (Hibernicized McCoogs) into traditional medieval West European royal and noble genealogies … the kind today’s experts say are dubious, but were part of our cultures for most of the last thousand years if not longer … and geneticists now say we might all share in some way.  (Something like some Assyrian kings back there too, being Semites, traditionally then Kin of God!)  (This is another review I saw of it, from a Catholic perspective.)

PS: Many Years to Fr. Greeley!  Glad to see he’s doing better some!  Thank God!

(*–The one with the wind-up music box playing “Silent Night.”)

(**–If you can read and comprehend this without getting a headache, you’re a better driver than I was!)

(***–Compared to, say, the Adirondacks, or the Rockies.)

That’s the upshot of these words of the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann (OCA).  (Link may break after this year; I don’t know if it’s tied to today’s date, as Clean Monday or Pure Monday, the first day of the Great Fast this year, or not.)

An important liturgical and devotional tradition of Byzantine Christianity during the first week of the Fast is the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, a big Orthodox hymnwriter.  Here’s OrthodoxWiki’s briefer discussion, and at bottom of OrthodoxWiki’s article are links to the four portions of this great reflective hymn, sung in sequence Monday through Thursday nights during Great Compline, normally a Night Prayer service (links to service texts at bottom again).  There are also links to the Canon’s portions here.

No, I wasn’t one of those kids who enjoyed reading dictionaries (much) … but you may do well to pray the O Heavenly King before reading this essential, profound definition-list ‘in a nutshell’ from Metropolitan HIEROTHEOS of Nafpaktos, courtesy of this website:

O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and filleth all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of Life, come and abide in us and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

Have you ever heard a couple million people cheer all at once?  Have you ever heard them continue cheering for three-quarters of an hour?  It was moving, but also a little creepy!

So there I am, IBS’ing under an open window (upper pane) a little after 11:30 ET tonight (Wednesday), out of reach of TV and radio.  The Phillies-Dodgers game was in its 6th inning when I had last seen or heard it.  All of a sudden I hear a dull roar outside – not from my neighborhood!  I don’t live in a very noisy part of Philadelphia, so this was definitely coming from some distance away.  It was like the sound from outside a stadium – but the stadium in question was about 3,000 miles away!  So basically this was the whole Delaware Valley cheering the Phils’ 5-1 win in Game 5 of the NLCS, clinching the National League pennant for the first time in 15 loooong years, punching their ticket to the World Series.  After a moment my own neighbors joined in with yelling and firecrackers.  But then it was quiet.  I think Philadelphia was getting into its cars, because about ten minutes later, the roar started up again, accompanied by more firecrackers and car horns.  And it went on like that for 45 minutes!

I’ve never heard anything quite like it in my life, not even for either of the Flyers’ Stanley Cups.*  I guess exasperation can unite a region when it finally breaks!

Does God pick winning or losing sports teams, athletes, plays?  Apparently it’s not uncommon or unusual in Orthodox countries to offer services for national sports teams.  Well, IIUC God’s Uncreated Energies, and Holy Spirit (One of the Trinity), are “everywhere present, filling all things.”  What I’m not clear on myself yet is where God’s Energies leave off and the created energies of non-human creatures / objects come into play, like wind, gravity, the weather, lighting, what umpires see, etc.  But human free will is definitely involved in athletes’ self-conditioning and practice, choices and performances, teamwork and precision, as well as how umps decide to rule, and coaches decide to call; that’s not God.  Though out of human decisions and created energies, God works to try to bring about good, in particular, people’s Salvation or Theosis, Godlikeness.  This is the ultimate object of all Orthodox prayers of petition, eg, “grant their saving petitions and eternal life,” “which conduce to salvation,” etc.

(*–I was in suburban New York when the Phillies last won the World Series, in 1980, so it wasn’t the same for me anyway!  In fact, I was attending a Catholic high school seminary, so we couldn’t even watch or listen to the whole game because of our schedule of study hall and lights-out.  The superior of the religious community was from Kansas City, so he and I were the two people there most invested in that Series.  After Mass early each morning we both ran for the newspaper to check it out.  [“For a Special Intention, let us pray to the Lord.” No, just kidding!]  I actually don’t remember that final morning in detail though….  In ’93 I was in Seattle.  The closest I came to sharing that experience was on a mental-health day-off, driving back to town from the Olympic Peninsula, tuning in via a Vancouver BC radio station … though the following summer I enrolled in Mennonite seminary with a classmate from southern Ontario who wore her Blue Jays victory T-shirt to Biblical Hebrew class!)

This is common and EXTREMELY IMPORTANT ADVICE for Orthodox, seemingly paradoxical considering all the talk about Uncreated Light, angels, theophanies, visions, etc.  “Even the devil can appear as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).  We’re even supposed to avoid visualization-meditation of any kind, which he can make use of.  And if we do see some apparition, we’re not to trust it or obey it, but consult our spiritual parent or priest or bishop.  This is not the same as Western skepticism toward “private revelation” or needing to get “ecclesiastical approval.”  It’s checking your experience with someone who traditionally knew from his or her own confirmed experiences and Divine Gift how to “discern spirits.”  The reason for this is how easily we can delude ourselves regarding spiritual things, in severe form known by the Slavonic word prelest, in Greek plani.  And it’s dangerous because we can be spiritually mis-led and imperil our salvation.  Holy Tradition is full of stories of the greatest Saints and Fathers of the Church who were temporarily deceived or even deluded.

All we do, then, is struggle with life on the Orthodox Way, in The Orthodox Church if available, aided by God’s Energies and an Orthodox spiritual parent.  Purification, period.  Illumination and Glorification / Theosis are in God’s hands and Mercy and Love.

If that doesn’t sound like much, remember this(!), and the great Saint or Father who, as he lay dying in the Monastery, had his brethren around him.  They saw his lips moving, though they couldn’t hear what he was saying, so they asked him.  He said he was seeing an angel, and asking for more time to repent.  They were incredulous: ‘If anyone has purified himself of all his sins and readied himself for God’s Glory, it’s you.’  But he countered, “I’m not sure I have even begun to repent.”  This isn’t “poor self-image;” even my Latin novice-master told us, “The closer you get to the sun, the more cobwebs you see.”  Hence Orthodox prayer asks God ‘merely’ to help us “make a good start.”

Every time I made it to Divine Liturgy while he was with my parish, or just about,* the priest who Chrismated me, preceded Communion with a collective reminder about the o/Orthodox understanding of the Mysteries (sacraments) as special encounters with God’s Uncreated Energies.  I can’t remember it verbatim, but he said Communion is like a fire that risks consuming the unprepared, but purifies those who receive it with preparation, including prayer, fasting, repentance, Confession if necessary, reconciliation with others if necessary, reverence, etc.  I also remember either hearing or reading somewhere – not from him IIRC – a story about someone who once received Communion without preparation, and immediately fell down dead.  I’m reminded of St. Symeon Metaphrastes’ Prayer of Thanksgiving After Communion.  I’m also reminded of Fr. John Romanides’ words about how we will all see God’s Glory in the end, but for those who haven’t struggled for Purification, God’s Energies won’t be experienced as Uncreated Light, but purifying fire: IIUC this fire’s job of purifying is never completed because God is infinitely better than we are, whereas if you’ve at least tried to put yourself on the right trajectory in life, God may, as Orthodox constantly pray, “have mercy.”  And my own conclusion: Created light burns up close but lights at a distance, whereas Uncreated Light lights up close, but burns at a distance.

PS: Nobody’s “worthy” to receive.  The best we can do is prepare, and hope in God’s Mercy.

(*–My health usually prevents me, so I don’t know if he does this all the time.)

I know nothing about the recent controversy over this, referenced at the beginning of this article from St. Tikhon’s Monastery in Pennsylvania (anonymous), and was surprised to hear about it.  But this article seems to address it well, briefly, and Orthodoxly.  It also highlights the misinterpretation or misunderstanding of Patristic writings that is possible unless one is steeped ever more deeply in Orthodoxy’s Patristic, Holy Tradition, ie, not just historic prooftexts (or even Scriptural for that matter), but the Tradition in its fullness, including the Liturgy and its hymns and prayers, the spiritual and ascetic struggle to receive God’s Gift, and even how Orthodoxy has and has not made use of non-canonical (“apocryphal”) scriptures and related writings.  For its taste of this, I highly recommend the article even if you already don’t question the sinlessness of the Theotokos.

(I would only add to the piece, to clarify it, that at no time did Mary lose her free will.  She was probably sorely tempted!)

More from Metr. Anthony Bloom:

…we must remember that ‘to glorify’ in Greek does not mean what we understand so often – to praise or applaud; it means that his splendour, his unutterable beauty is revealed….

So how do *we* glorify God?  Preliminarily by struggling to unite with His Uncreated Energies, His Glory, through all the means of Purification provided in Orthodoxy; and ultimately, if He wills, by literally shining His Glory as Uncreated Light through our bodies as well as our lives.

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.)

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.)

I just found an intriguing ‘inside look’ in a public letter to his priests by then-Ruling Hierarch of the OCA’s Diocese of San Francisco and the West, Bishop TIKHON (Fitzgerald).  I can’t offer any more about it than His Grace does, though.

An Akathist (sometimes spelled Akafist or Acathistos, etc.) is a poetic or quasi-poetic devotional service dedicated to a Saint or God Himself, or themed around a Feast day, a need being prayed for, possibly other things.  It’s divided into stanzas, each of which is called an Ekos (Ikos, Oikos) or a Kontakion.  Several times during the year an Orthodox parish might serve the Akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos, including during the Great Fast as now.

  1. Ekos 7 of this Akathist reads, “The Creator showed us a new creation when He appeared to us who came from Him. For He sprang from a seedless womb, and kept it incorrupt as it was, that seeing the miracle we might sing to Her….”  This “new creation” echoes 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ – Behold! A new creation!”  Never have I associated St. Paul’s “new creation” with Christ’s own Incarnation as in this Akathist, but usually with Genesis and some relatively vague renewal of prelapsarian Creation.  But as o/Orthodox Christianity is about joining energetically with Christ, then linking us even with His miraculous Incarnation is totally appropriate and mind-blowing!  It’s even bigger than renewing Genesis!  Actually Quaker founder George Fox had an expression about a potentially two-stage perfectibility, first “to the state Adam was in before he fell,” and from there “to the state of Christ that never fell.”  Pretty wild.  (Not that God literally becomes incarnate in us of course; something like that is the heresy of Appolinarianism.)  It also underlines the importance of the Incarnation for Orthodoxy; it’s not merely a prelude to Calvary or even Pascha, but wholly part of Christ’s saving activity, uniting created nature to Uncreated in Himself, and human and Divine natures in Himself, in fact making salvation possible … and “all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
  2. Kontakion 11 reads, “Every hymn is defeated that trieth to encompass the multitude of Thy many compassions; for if we offer to Thee, O Holy King, songs equal in number to the sand, nothing have we done worthy of that which Thou hast given us who shout to Thee: Alleluia!”  This is a poignant image of how far and different God is from created things including ourselves; how nothing we do can save us or raise us to godhood by ourselves, yet how hard we must work to collaborate with the only real God; perhaps even why encountering His Uncreated Energies without sufficient Purification in life will feel like a painful, purifying fire, which however will never lead to perfection, ie, the fires of “hell,” because of the infinite separation between us and Him.

Orthodox prayers are highly “theological,” not in the first place sentimental like Western prayers, because “we do not know how to pray as we ought.”  There’s feeling also, but it takes second place to theology – as it should in life.

Italy’s former Orthodoxy is attested by the ancient icons and Greek icon-style murals and mosaics to be found in many old Latin churches there to this day.  Rome itself has at least one icon said to have been painted by St. Luke the Evangelist (like a few in Orthodox hands, or rather, graced to Orthodox churches and/or persons), called the Hodegetria style meaning the Mother of God holds and points to the Child Jesus, in the famous St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore in Italian*) basilica, to which ancient miracles are attributed like many icons in Orthodoxy.  Its traditional account is here, but none of the images on that webpage are it.  This page of a scandalized Protestant seems to bear a copy of the icon, as well as a couple links to the University of Dayton (a Catholic school despite the name!).  The icon is nicknamed in Latin Salus Populi Romani, literally “Health of the Roman People” – that’s people in the singular, aka nation or populace – although often rendered “Salvation of the Roman People,” even more scandalously!  Don’t tell him that the icon itself may be what is called that, not just Mary!

In his diocesan newspaper column this week, Philadelphia Catholic Cardinal Justin Rigali notes that after Rome was spared heavy World War 2 damage, this icon was brought out and processed around the streets in thanksgiving.  (Rigali served 24 years in the Vatican curia in Rome. NB: He’s Italian [and Irish] American, not Italian-born.)

As noted on the linked pages, she and it are also called “Our Lady of the Snows,” for the miracle – a 4th century August snowfall – that inspired the construction of the original church on St. Mary Major’s site.

Despite the quote from a very old and prejudiced (iconoclastic) Protestant source, I’m pretty sure most Latin Rite Catholics don’t think of Mary, angels, saints, statues, or icons the same way they think of God, and certainly Orthodox don’t, even if sometimes flowery, devout, theologically imprecise, nonpedantic language is used.

As for iconography itself, Orthodox traditionally have preferred painted icons to statues because statues are incapable of representing the person or scene ‘in Glory,’ that is, radiating God’s Uncreated Energies or Divine Light, like icons do in rays (which is what haloes are, and why they properly surround the head or body, not float above it like the mystical bowl of oatmeal in that old TV commercial!).  If you tried to have a three-dimensional statue with rays, they’d obscure the image itself.

I’m not aware that iconostases – the icon screens that separate the altar area from the rest of an Orthodox church – were ever used in most of Western Europe, though older Episcopal churches at least (speaking of here in the U.S.) preserve the traditional “rood screen” enclosing the altar, from which was sometimes hung the cross (the “rood”) and possibly one or two other things.

Finally, traditional Orthodox icons are heavy in gold coloring, covering not just haloes but also the space surrounding the holy persons depicted.  Some Slavic traditions have incorporated Western influences different from this, including some icons indistinguishable from Western “naturalistic” paintings of holy persons and scenes, with little of the traditional Eastern indication of Uncreated Light.  But the late Fr. Seraphim Rose, a California convert revered by some Orthodox but who is not uncontroversial, counseled against what might be called neo-iconoclasm:

“There is a case (one of many) in which a church had old, original Russian icons—some good and some in rather poor taste, painted in a relatively new {ie, Western} style—and a zealous person took them all out and put in new, paper icon prints in perfect Byzantine style. And what was the result? The people there lost contact with tradition, with the people who gave them Orthodoxy. They removed the original icons which believers had prayed before for centuries.”

At the same time, Greek / Byzantine-style iconography is starting to be seen more among Latins and even Protestants, in what some Orthodox consider a mixed blessing – though I can’t remember why, and can’t find it again on the WWW.

(*–“Major” refers to the church; it’s dedicated to the Theotokos, not to some saint named Mary Major.)

OK, OK, now that we’ve all had a laugh over a Vatican bureaucrat-archbishop’s politically-correct-sounding interview, first things first: what he was really about (Latin perspective).  For further background, from other sources on the WWW, I gather that what he was doing in the first place was providing advice to priest-confessors / spiritual directors in the Latin tradition, to broaden the traditional examination of conscience to cover things Sister Mary Rose may not have covered when His Excellency was in parochial school several generations ago.  Secondarily, to his faithful as they go to confession themselves – as he wishes they’d do more of (as should we all).

(More sober treatments are, for now at least, available from the Sydney Morning Herald and Reuters.)

The media didn’t have quite as much ‘fun’ when the Latins’ new Catechism of the Catholic Church did something similar over a decade ago, adding speeding and other such “modern” *  things to moral considerations.  As I recall they treated it as just a small, quirky highlight of a very long and detailed book about everything a Latin (or even an Eastern Catholic – with more Eastern Christian ‘flavor’ peppered-into it than we’d ever seen before) needs to believe in order to be saved (as they believe).

Someone with 6 years of graduate Western religious studies 😉 might like to say that this suggestion from Rome is indeed somewhat new, not altogether out of line with recent developments in Western moral theology regarding what it calls social sins or structural evil.  British United Reformed hymnwriter Dr. Brian Wren even penned one that conveys some of the idea:

1. Not only acts of evil will,
but bland routine and good intent,
can hurt and harass, starve and kill
the outcast and the innocent.
  In such a world, and in God’s name,
  we seek a gospel to proclaim.

2. Our normal, ordinary ways
of doing business, getting more,
entrap the poorest in a maze
of hunger, debt, disease and war.
  In Christ we would make good our claim,
  and find a gospel to proclaim.

(Speaking of which[!], you can look at the whole text at his copyright administrators Hope Publishing Company, but when they say you can agree to download one copy free and easy for personal use, they don’t mean you can save the HTML on your hard drive – it’ll hose your browser like it just did mine!  [All open tabs and windows!  Thank goodness WordPress auto-saves drafts.]  But they don’t bar highlighting and copying the text … for now.  BTW, I’m considering this truncated quotation an acceptable use under usual copyright laws; I even recommend his stuff for purchase by non-Orthodox choirs and congregations, so consider this a review.)

Not to mention someone with a background as an oppressed Irish Catholic [849 years, Your Majesty!], a Native American, a political and investigative reporter, a local labor union leader, and in Liberation Theology.

But I would be wrong to think this sort of thing is new, merely counter to stereotype, where we focus on personal failings in areas like sex, stealing, lying, cheating, killing, hurting, betraying – the stuff of the party game Scruples.  Important stuff, stuff that’s often hard not to do, a challenge!  But written Examinations of Conscience or Preparations for Confession have been ‘expanding upon’ or ‘contextualizing’ Commandments, Vices, and other violations for centuries.  ‘Ya haven’t killed anyone lately, but have you killed their reputation?’ etc.  And before that, you still had priests questioning penitents, especially if they seemed reluctant to come clean.

As pointed out, some of the specific things mentioned this week were technologically impossible not long ago, but variations on older temptations.  Other things, like contributing to social injustice, may have felt – rightly or wrongly – largely out of the reach of most laity in past eras, but most Christian Churches have frequently counseled rulers about this.  Today, with voting and rapid transit, not to mention the Internet(!), the average lay Christian in much of the world may sin against many times more people than in former times.

As the context of Confession points out, and as Orthodoxy emphasizes even more, it’s not just about resisting temptation, but repenting of sinfulness, known and unknown, voluntary and involuntary (scroll down to last paragraph).  The perfect Latin is considered possible, as I recently implied, if highly doubtful; and some Protestant groups at least historically believed in some form of perfectibility in life.  But in Orthodoxy we have the frequently-told tales of the saintliest of monastics on their deathbeds worrying sincerely – though not unhealthily – that they haven’t even begun to repent, and the monastic Father who, when asked what they do all day, replied, “We fall down and get up, fall down and get up, fall down and get up.”  “Orthodox aren’t perfect, just repentant.”  Seeming to successfully resist temptation can tempt to and induce pride, the deadliest sin of all; better to remember that we can never repent enough to divinize ourselves – repenting is merely the best preparation for God to do it.  And what happens then?  An even greater sense of our own sinfulness, of our responsibility for the sins of all humanity, even praying for the devil (they say) and seeking to refrain from killing bugs.  “New sins”?  We’ll probably never run out of sins!  But increased sensitizedness?  Even if it’s driven by news media like some of the archbishop’s seem to be – and as journalists say, “The news is usually bad” – is that a bad thing?  Is God unconcerned?  Brian Wren says no.

But consult your priest or spiritual parent.

(*–Who was the guy in the Old Testament who could be identified by watchmen while still several miles away from a fortress “because he drives like a maniac”?!!  I swear I read that exact phrase in a supposedly reputable translation a decade or two ago!)