Sunday, December 30, 2007

If it's OK to murder the innocent, it's OK to assault them, too.

On December 22nd, outside an abortion clinic in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 69 year old Ed Snell was assaulted, knocked unconscious, and badly injured. His assailant attacked him for attempting to dissuade a woman from having an abortion.

Ambulance and police quickly arrived at the scene. Mr. Snell was rushed to the hospital, which later issued the following medical report:

“multiple trauma, right sub-arachnoid hemorrhage (bleeding in the area between the brain and the tissues that cover the brain), compression fractures of four vertebrae (T3, T4, T5 and T10), right scapula fracture and fracture of the fourth and fifth ribs.”
The police interviewed the assailant and let him leave. He was subsequently arrested after the full extent of Mr. Snell's injuries were made known.

When asked for comment, the receptionist at Hillcrest Abortion Clinic replied, "He got what he deserved! He earned what he got!"

more information at:

Tradition, Family and Property
O Holy Innocents, pray for us.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I Love Bad People

For many years, I have wanted to design bumper stickers. I have now found a site that permits me to do just that. Here is my first offering (available at the Dormition Store):

If you love only the good, what thanks are to you? Everyone loves the good. But love even bad people and your reward shall be great, and you shall be the sons of God; for He is kind even to the evil. (c.f. Luke 6: 27 - 35).

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

"An Historical Account of the Birth of Christ"

An account of the nativity you've probably never read before, from the Protoevangelium of James (ascribed to James the Lesser, Cousin and Brother of the Lord Jesus, chief Apostle and First Bishop of the Christians in Jerusalem):

17. And there was an order from the Emperor Augustus, that all in Bethlehem of Judaea should be enrolled. And Joseph said: I shall enrol my sons, but what shall I do with this maiden? How shall I enrol her? As my wife? I am ashamed. As my daughter then? But all the sons of Israel know that she is not my daughter. The day of the Lord shall itself bring it to pass as the Lord will. And he saddled the ass, and set her upon it; and his son led it, and Joseph followed. And when they had come within three miles, Joseph turned and saw her sorrowful; and he said to himself: Likely that which is in her distresses her. And again Joseph turned and saw her laughing. And he said to her: Mary, how is it that I see in thy face at one time laughter, at another sorrow? And Mary said to Joseph: Because I see two peoples with my eyes; the one weeping and lamenting, and the other rejoicing and exulting. And they came into the middle of the road, and Mary said to him: Take me down from off the ass, for that which is in me presses to come forth. And he took her down from off the ass, and said to her: Whither shall I lead thee, and cover thy disgrace? for the place is desert.

18. And he found a cave there, and led her into it; and leaving his two sons beside her, he went out to seek a widwife in the district of Bethlehem. And I Joseph was walking, and was not walking; and I looked up into the sky, and saw the sky astonished; and I looked up to the pole of the heavens, and saw it standing, and the birds of the air keeping still. And I looked down upon the earth, and saw a trough lying, and work-people reclining: and their hands were in the trough. And those that were eating did not eat, and those that were rising did not carry it up, and those that were conveying anything to their mouths did not convey it; but the faces of all were looking upwards. And I saw the sheep walking, and the sheep stood still; and the shepherd raised his hand to strike them, and his hand remained up. And I looked upon the current of the river, and I saw the mouths of the kids resting on the water and not drinking, and all things in a moment were driven from their course.

19. And I saw a woman coming down from the hill-country, and she said to me: O man, whither art thou going? And I said: I am seeking an Hebrew midwife. And she answered and said unto me: Art thou of Israel? And I said to her: Yes. And she said: And who is it that is bringing forth in the cave? And I said: A woman betrothed to me. And she said to me: Is she not thy wife? And I said to her: It is Mary that was reared in the temple of the Lord, and I obtained her by lot as my wife. And yet she is not my wife, but has conceived of the Holy Spirit. And the widwife said to him: Is this true? And Joseph said to her: Come and see. And the midwife went away with him. And they stood in the place of the cave, and behold a luminous cloud overshadowed the cave. And the midwife said: My soul has been magnified this day, because mine eyes have seen strange things -- because salvation has been brought forth to Israel. And immediately the cloud disappeared out of the cave, and a great light shone in the cave, so that the eyes could not bear it. And in a little that light gradually decreased, until the infant appeared, and went and took the breast from His mother Mary. And the midwife cried out, and said: This is a great day to me, because I have seen this strange sight. And the midwife went forth out of the cave, and Salome met her. And she said to her: Salome, Salome, I have a strange sight to relate to thee: a virgin has brought forth -- a thing which her nature admits not of. Then said Salome: As the Lord my God liveth, unless I thrust in my finger, and search the parts, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth.

20. And the midwife went in, and said to Mary: Show thyself; for no small controversy has arisen about thee. And Salome put in her finger, and cried out, and said: Woe is me for mine iniquity and mine unbelief, because I have tempted the living God; and, behold, my hand is dropping off as if burned with fire. And she bent her knees before the Lord, saying: O God of my fathers, remember that I am the seed of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; do not make a show of me to the sons of Israel, but restore me to the poor; for Thou knowest, O Lord, that in Thy name I have performed my services, and that I have received my reward at Thy hand. And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by her, saying to her: Salome, Salome, the Lord hath heard thee. Put thy hand to the infant, and carry it, and thou wilt have safety and joy. And Salome went and carried it, saying: I will worship Him, because a great King has been born to Israel. And, behold, Salome was immediately cured, and she went forth out of the cave justified. And behold a voice saying: Salome, Salome, tell not the strange things thou hast seen, until the child has come into Jerusalem.

21. And, behold, Joseph was ready to go into Judaea. And there was a great commotion in Bethlehem of Judaea, for Magi came, saying: Where is he that is born king of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him. And when Herod heard, he was much disturbed, and sent officers to the Magi. And he sent for the priests, and examined them, saying: How is it written about the Christ? where is He to be born? And they said: In Bethlehem of Judaea, for so it is written. And he sent them away. And he examined the Magi, saying to them: What sign have you seen in reference to the king that has been born? And the Magi said: We have seen a star of great size shining among these stars, and obscuring their light, so that the stars did not appear; and we thus knew that a king has been born to Israel, and we have come to worship him. And Herod said: Go and seek him; and if you find him, let me know, in order that I also may go and worship him. And the Magi went out. And, behold, the star which they had seen in the east went before them until they came to the cave, and it stood over the top of the cave. And the Magi saw the infant with His mother Mary; and they brought forth from their bag gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by the angel not to go into Judaea, they went into their own country by another road.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Swaddling Clothes

"And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7)

swad·dle [swod-l] verb, -dled, -dling, noun
–verb (used with object) 1. to bind (an infant, esp. a newborn infant) with long, narrow strips of cloth to prevent free movement; wrap tightly with clothes.

As a father of small children, I can testify that newborn babies love to be swaddled. I imagine the womb is a tight spot in those last couple of months and swaddling reminds them of home.

A fine example of swaddling is shown in the nativity icon (upper left).

Some have observed that swaddling clothes and death shrouds, as shown in the burial icon (right), have a similar appearance. "And taking him down, he wrapped him in fine linen, and laid him in a sepulchre that was hewed in stone, wherein never yet any man had been laid" (Luke 23:53). The swaddling clothes, then, prefigure the burial shroud; they remind us why He was born.

When my father was dying, he said to my newborn son, "You're coming and I'm going, but there are similarities between us."

Among the aberrations of Western religious art are images of the Infant Jesus like this:

Those are not swaddling clothes. He's gonna have those loose rags off in 30 seconds, then He'll be naked and cold. But, then, Italians have some kind of fascination with naked baby boys, filling their churches with putti masquerading as cherubs. Libera me, Domine.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Wrath of God

I tend to hold an angry image of God. I am choleric, so, in typical human fashion, I imagine the Almighty in my own image.

In justification for this point of view, I fondly point to Old Testament floods and fires, plagues and battles, all wrought by our Lord's own invincible will. And, of course, I do not forget to mention Jesus cleansing the temple of moneychangers. How I love to tell the story of His whipping folks with cord and overturning tables. How often I'd like to do the same.

My father has just reminded me that what our Lord does, He does with love:
When He admonished, He did so with love – not to vent His spleen because somebody crossed Him, but because they needed correction to make straight the way for their own salvation.

So often the story of Jesus driving the moneychangers from the temple is cited as the text to justify justifiable anger. It’s hard for me to imagine Jesus doing anything out of anger and not love. Zeal is a very different thing from anger. He had zeal for His Father’s house and the moneychangers needed to have that, too. The moneychangers needed to be admonished. Surely moneychangers are people, heirs to the Kingdom, children of God. Surely Jesus loved them. He did what He had to do. It’s not easy to make a point in a raucous din.
I am well rebuked.

O.L.G.S. Jesus Christ is rightly called zealous. He is also rightly called wrathful. Maybe the difference between zeal and anger pointed out by my father is in motive. "Anger" seems to stem from wounded pride, "zeal" from love.

I would do well to remember the difference. My own outbursts usually (not always) have been of the wrong kind, steeped and saturated as I am in willful pride, hubris, arrogance, boastfulness, and conceit.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Dormition

As an Eastern Christian, I am committed to the doctrine of Mary's death, resurrection and assumption.

I even chose the Dormition as the patronal feast of my blog.

Mary, model of Christians, imitated Christ in all things. She is His most perfect imitator.

I believe Elijah, too, will die. He has not yet died, but he and Enoch will return one day. And they will die and rise from the dead.

I bring this up because Andrew Sullivan recently wrote:

"As a Catholic, I am obliged to believe that the mother of Jesus was whooshed physically into the sky rather than dying" (hat tip to The Curt Jester), thereby demonstrating how prevalently misunderstood is the doctrine of Mary's assumption.

Though many Catholics choose to believe so, there is no implication in the doctrine of the assumption that Mary did not die.

“Rejoice, O Joyous One, in thy Dormition not having left us.”

Eucharistic Theology Quiz

Eucharistic theology
created with

I scored as Orthodox

The Orthodox worship the mystery of the Holy Trinity in the great liturgy whereby Jesus is present through the Spirit in a real yet mysterious way, a meal that is also a sacrifice.













Reconsidering certain answers, I took the quiz again. I find, with these sorts of quizzes, it helps to take them twice. I am comfortable with all the answers I gave. Here are my new results:













After it scored me as 100% for both Catholic and Orthodox, it asked me a tiebreaker question. I was forced to go with the Orthodox response.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Racial Iconography

There is an increasingly prevalent opinion among Christians that images of Jesus Christ ought to look Jewish. After all, he is a Jew. That is what he looks like. Seems reasonable.

He certainly doesn't have blonde hair and blue eyes. It is historically inaccurate to portray him with such features. Some even regard such images of him as racist.

A fewer number, it seems to me, regard as racist images of him with African features (I am more fond of these images myself), but he is not African either.

He is a Middle Eastern Jew of the first century. But is it racist, or otherwise inappropriate, to depict him as though he were a member of another race?

Icons are not images of what people look like. They are not and are not meant to be realistic images - at least not in the sense we tend to think of realism. They portray spiritual and theological realities over physical and historical realities.

an Ethiopian icon of the Baptism of Jesus
This is why, perhaps, iconographers of the Church scarcely hesitated to make images of Jesus, his mother, his apostles, and others appear just as they did. Ethiopian iconographers portrayed him as an Ethiopian. Greek iconographers portrayed him as a Greek. Russian iconographers portrayed him as a Russian. They were communicating a spiritual and theological reality. They were the Body of Christ.

If I am an early Christian Ethiopian and I know that Jesus is my brother and Mary is my mother and I am a member of the Body of Christ, it is meaningful, then, for Jesus and Mary to look like I do. Why should he look like an alien if he and I are one?

One reason we might put forward is that he is an alien to all but Middle Eastern Jews. There is a spiritual and theological reality to be communicated by this fact too: "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22) - a too often neglected reality among Christians.

I believe there is something to be learned from every trait of Christ. He is human. He is male. He is Jewish. He lived in the Middle East in the first century. It all matters. Everything about him matters. Each particularity is significant, for he is the Logos, the incarnate Word; his is the flesh of God.

The contemporary situation of the Church is somewhat changed, at least where I live. Members of other races no longer appear alien. We go to elementary school with people of every race and are surrounded by a plurality of races all our lives.

In this situation, when we make an image of Christ for our churches, what racial characteristics ought he be given? Members of any race are liable to behold it, pray before it, contemplate his holy face. It seems to me that, in this situation, it is most sensible to portray him as a Jew.

That being said, there are contexts and subcultures to consider and there can be great meaning in an image of Christ bearing the features of any race. He bore our offenses, after all; surely he can bear our features.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Relics, Cremation and Organ Donation, Part 3

Within the Christian tradition, to bury the dead is a work of mercy – to burn the dead a desecration. The bodies of our departed holy ones are rightly venerated in altars, catacombs, and cemeteries, in reliquaries and ossuaries in reverent expectation of the coming resurrection.

In the light of traditional Christian respect for the corpse, ought Christians to regard the transplantation of human organs as a desecration or a veneration of the body?

Most Christians are firmly in the latter camp, believing with neither doubt nor hesitation in this modern medical miracle. Others hesitate. I have hesitated for years.

A compelling argument against organ donation, it has seemed to me, is the resurrection of Lazarus. Imagine that, upon his death, Mary and Martha had carved him up and used his organs to save other folks’ lives. This would put a whole new spin on Christ's command, "Lazarus, come out!" Would his organs, in obedience to their Creator, have jumped from the guts of their recipients?

Lazarus is not unique. The Seven Holy Sleepers, too, rose from the dead. Peter raised the dead (Acts 9:40). The bones of Elisha raised the dead (2 Kings 13: 21). How, if some organs of these lived on, would their resurrections have occurred?

Would Jesus have wanted His organs donated?

If, indeed, our bodies are to rise from the dead, are not our organs to rise with them? What is a body but a group of organs? Significantly, our bodies will rise from the dead – our souls are not given new bodies. Body and soul are linked. The soul is the life of the body. Our bodies rise and, if we are saved, are glorified. They are made new, but are not recreated.

Compelled as I have been by these arguments, in truth, “the free gift of organs after death is legitimate and can be meritorious” (CCC 2301).

Saints Cosmas and Damian, unmercenary physicians, performing a miraculous transplant of a leg from a deceased Ethiopian. Attributed to Master of Los Balbases (15th Century).

What is more, the practice of organ transplantation actually has ancient Christian approval. Sts. Cosmas and Damian, as here illustrated, once performed a miraculous leg transplant as a means of healing an ulcerated leg.

The workings of resurrection are mysterious – unplumbable. Our omnipotent God has taught us the greatest love is the gift of self – self-sacrifice. For the sake of such love, God, Who is Love, will surely make a way. Where I have seen contradiction, there is none.

No greater reliquary could there be for the organs of a departed loved one than the body of another – here is a reliquary of God’s own creation, “more precious than the most exquisite jewels and more purified than gold” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, c. 135). Here indeed is a fitting place to deposit our remains.

Russia and the Pope, continued

From Reuters, Africa:
Pope in rare meeting with Russian Orthodox cleric

So, the Pope and Metropolitan Kirill have met behind closed doors. Details are not forthcoming. Could be good. Could be bad.

Hopefully, this means things are not so bleak as I have feared. This same Metropolitan has been quoted as saying: "the big chill is over and it's thawing time" as regards Russian Orthodox relations with the Vatican.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Islam and Iconoclasm

This week we celebrated the feast day of St. John Damascus (Dec. 4th), best known for defending orthodoxy against the iconoclasts. He famously wrote:
“In former times God, who is without form or body, could never be depicted. But now when God is seen in the flesh conversing with humans, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter: I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take his abode in matter: who worked out my salvation through matter. Never will I cease honoring the matter which wrought my salvation! I honor it but not as God.”
12th century Sinaitic icon of St. Theodosia,
a Constantinopolitan executed by the iconoclasts
in the 8th century.
from the Monastery of St. Catherine
Less well known is the means by which he was able (without being killed, that is) to defy a heresy so prevalent among Christians that the Eastern Christian Emperor Leo himself forbade the use of icons.

St. John was immune to the persecutions of the iconoclasts because he lived under Muslim rule. That’s right, here is a Christian saint protected… from Christians… by Muslims.

A second defender of orthodox iconography during the time of the iconoclasts is the Monastery of St. Catherine, which preserves to this day many of the oldest icons in existence, most of the rest having been destroyed by the iconoclasts. Here in the Sinai desert, while much of the Christian world was breaking icons and killing those who used them, their veneration continued. This bastion of orthodoxy, too, was under Muslim rule.

From The Monastery of St. Catherine, by Dr. Evangelos Papaioannou:

"According to its tradition, the monks of St. Catherine sent a delegation to Medina, in 625 AD, to ask for Mohammed’s patronage and protection. The request was granted; a copy of the original document… proclaims that the Moslems would defend the monks, who were also exempted from paying taxes. Legend has it that Mohammed visited the Monastery on one of his journeys as a merchant. This may well be so, for the Koran does mention the holy places in Sinai. So, when the peninsula came under the rule of the Arab conquerors in 641 AD, the monks and their Monastery continued to live unmolested and emerged unscathed from the early Arab period."
The later Arab period was not so kind, but that is a different story. The Monastery remained under Muslim rule whilst the iconoclast heresy was prevalent (throughout the 8th and 9th centuries).

The irony of all this is that the heresy of Islam embraces iconoclasm as heartily as any of the iconoclasts (witness the desecration of Hagia Sophia). The Muslims, believing icons to be idolatrous, would have had no sympathy for the beliefs they were inadvertently protecting. But the presence of certain Christians among them was insignificant enough that they saw fit to leave them alone (at least during this time). Its icons of great antiquity (even then) were consequently left unharmed.

I am convinced that our Lord and God does not hesitate to use the adversaries of the Church to shape her and correct her, as with a stone against a blade.

Currently, Islam appears to have lost much of its former tolerance of Christians. I believe God is using Islamic persecution of Christians, as with the previous Islamic protection of Christians, to strengthen the Church. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches are now faced with the need to unite or be overthrown. Unprecedented steps toward that reunion are made daily.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Dark Chocolate

Today's sin ad is brought to you by Dove Chocolate:

I have observed that such ads are frequently for chocolate. What can this mean?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Combox Crit

Tim Jones of the blog Old World Swine has come up with a wonderful idea I am here imitating: a "combox crit," as he calls it, of his paintings.

A critique (or "crit"), for those unexperienced in art education, is the capstone of a studio course wherein the artist's work is openly analyzed by a group of his professors and fellow students. Both strengths and weaknesses are discussed, with a view toward improving the artist's ability to recognize these as he is working.

Mr. Jones has just conducted something very like this on his blog.

He writes:
I thought I would see what might happen if I invited readers to offer combox critiques of certain of my paintings. You don't have to be an artist or a collector or anything, just offer an honest critique. The usual rules of combox etiquette apply, of course. Brevity is the soul of wit. Be as specific as possible. Give reasons for your response... "I don't like it" doesn't really help. If you just don't happen to like the kind of work I do, save it. This is about the merits of the individual piece.

Also, if you just really like a certain piece, or want to compliment my work in general, save that, too. Comments like "Wow, I can't even draw a stick man..." are appreciated, and all... just not for combox crits.
So, please, fire away. I eagerly wish to hear your honest assessement of this painting. It is titled, "Forerunner," and depicts St. John the Baptist or St. Elias.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Relics, Cremation and Organ Donation, Part 2

Pagans like fire.

I can hardly blame them. Among earthly things, fire is significant. It creates, destroys, warms, burns, breathes, lives, and dies. Its connection to the spiritual is apparent.

God appeared to Moses as a Burning Bush. The Holy Spirit descended as tongues of fire upon the Apostles’ and Mary’s heads. Christians like fire too. Neither Catholic nor Orthodox Christians would consider a liturgy without candles.

But Pagans sometimes worship fire and burn the dead. That’s where our similarity ends.

The practice of cremation has been widely adopted in contemporary times among Christians. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks tersely of the issue: “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body” (CCC, 2300).

Not so in the early Church. From the earliest times, Christians buried their dead, in continuity with the Jewish practice. At first, this distinguished them from the practices prevailing in the larger Greco-Roman culture, although later a general cultural shift toward burial of the dead would take place. The practice of cremation was repugnant to Christians 1) because it was common among the pagans, and 2) because it appeared defiant of the Christian belief in the incarnation of God and the resurrection of the body.

During the Roman persecution of Christians, cremation of the martyrs was sometimes used as an official public mockery of these Christian beliefs.

That provision given in the Catechism ("provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body") is necessary, for it can certainly seem to so deny.

I’ll not be burning any of my relatives’ bodies nor requesting such for my own.

Relics, Cremation and Organ Donation, Part 1

In her first novel about Brother Cadfael, Ellis Peters refers to the Christian Tradition of venerating the dead bodies of our holy ones as "a morbid taste for bones."


Nah, there's nothing morbid about us...


Anyway, Christian veneration of the bodies of the dead is as old as Christianity itself. It set Christians at odds with much of the ancient world around them, who, with a view toward hygiene, believed in getting dead bodies as far away as they could, as fast as they could. Burn them, bury them on the outskirts of town, just get rid of them before they spread whatever disease they died of.

Along come these strange little groups of Christians. We want to keep the dead nearby. Alright, we’ll bury them because we must, but not too deeply and not too far away. We want the graveyards here in the center of our community. Let’s go down to the catacombs to hold our liturgies on their tombs. And later, we’ll dig up the bones again and richly adorn them with gold and precious gems:

“We afterwards took up Polycarp’s bones – as being more precious than the most exquisite jewels and more purified than gold. We deposited them in a fitting place.” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, c. 135).
Why such veneration for an empty shell?

Well, for one thing, the bones of the just have the power to heal and raise the dead:

“And as a man was being buried, lo, a marauding band was seen and the man was cast into the grave of Eli'sha; and as soon as the man touched the bones of Eli'sha, he revived, and stood on his feet” (2 King 13: 21).
But whence comes this power?

Those bones are no empty shell. “This would not have happened unless the body of Elisha were holy,” record the Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390), which further advise: “Do not seek after Jewish separations… or purifications upon touching a dead body…. For as to those who live with God, even their very relics are not without honor.”

It is, you see, because they live, and are not dead that their power remains with their bodies.

Fundamental to understanding our “morbid taste for bones” is the truth of the resurrection. Christianity is an incarnate religion. “I believe… in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.” – so concludes the Apostle’s Creed. Ours is not a shadowy afterlife of wispy shapes and clouds. There, our flesh is restored, to burn or to exult, as the case may be.

Soul and body are one. The soul is the body’s life. They will be reunited.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Russia and the Pope

Those who follow Orthodox and Catholic relations are well aware of the recent meeting between the hierarchies of said Churches in Ravenna to discuss the “The Ecclesiological and Canonical consequences of the Sacramental nature of the Church.”

The meeting was really about the Pope.

In fact, most meetings between the Catholics and the Orthodox are really about the Pope. Or, anyway, he is the white-cassocked elephant in the room at such meetings. There is no more significant blockade to reunion between the Apostolic Churches than their differing opinions on the proper use of the Petrine office (if, indeed, they can even agree that the papal office is Petrine).

Those who follow Orthodox and Catholic relations are also well aware that, before the beginning of the Ravenna meeting, the Moscow delegation respectfully departed. The stated reason for their withdrawal was the presence of the Estonian Orthodox Church, which the Russians regard as under their jurisdiction, despite the fact that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople granted them an independent status. The Ecumenical Patriarchate had no right to do so, according to the Moscow Patriarchate, because the Estonians fell under their territory. Yadda yadda yadda.

Maybe this was the Russians’ genuine, heartfelt reason for walking out of an ecumenical discussion. Maybe not.

Prior to the meeting, the Russian Orthodox Church launched a workgroup to independently formulate her position on universal primacy. Also prior to the meeting, Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria (he who would later lead the way out the door at Ravenna) told Interfax that the Moscow Patriarchate will defend its own position in the dispute and there will be no compromise at the upcoming meeting. Fair enough. What is Moscow’s position? I eagerly await the results of their workgroup.

Meanwhile, the meeting at Ravenna is ended, its document published. Prior to its official release today, Bishop Hilarion (there’s that name again), posted the commission's final document on his website. This according to Canadian Press and confirmed by the Vatican.

In addition to posting the document, Bishop Hilarion added his own comment that the document was adopted without the presence of representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate at the meeting, casting doubt over whether it could be considered to reflect Moscow's view. He further wrote, "The Moscow Patriarchate will analyze the Ravenna document and present its conclusions in due course."

I await these conclusions alongside the results of the workgroup mentioned above.

That amounts to the same thing, doesn't it? Moscow was already working on its response to the conclusions of the Ravenna meeting prior to the beginning of the Ravenna meeting. It's probably just me, but I find that suspicious.

The Patriarch of Moscow currently heads the largest body of Orthodox Christians in the world. When the representatives of Russian Orthodoxy leave an ecumenical discussion, that leaves a massive body of Orthodox Christians unrepresented. It's a big deal. In practical terms, the Patriarch of Moscow is the most powerful man in the Orthodox Church. Now, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has more history and more honorifics, but not so much raw power. Turkey isn't exactly a hotbed of Christianity in any form.

There's that, and there's this whole idea of the "Third Rome." Quite a while ago - six hundred and fifty years or so - some Russian Orthodox Christians decided that Moscow was the true center of Christianity. Once, they acknowledged, this was Rome. Then, Constantine moved the capitol of his empire to Constantinople, thereby creating a "Second Rome." After the fall of this empire then, where were Orthodox Christians to look for their paragon of orthopraxis? These Russians looked around themselves and - lo and behold - found Moscow's domes the highest.

So, when the Russian Orthodox speak of independently formulating their position on universal primacy and uncompromisingly defending that position, I have to wonder whether they don't have something like the "Third Rome" in mind. Which is to say that the primacy belongs to them.

I'm certainly no expert on these goings-on. All I know is what I read in the news and a little bit of history, but - for whatever it's worth - here's what I suspect:

Maybe the objection about the Estonian Church was just a convenient way to step out of the ecumenical talks, leaving the Russians free to independently develop their own ideas about primacy - quite independent of the man in the white cassock.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Patron and Forerunner

Here are links to images of two recent paintings inspired by St. John the Baptist:

Patron by Katie Russell

Forerunner by John Russell

posted at: J & K Russell Studio

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Angel in my Backyard

In early grade school one day, I sat with my classmates in the church – although not at Mass – listening to a Franciscan brother talk about angels. He began his talk by asking us, “Who in here has seen an angel?” I raised my hand earnestly (while I assumed seeing angels was only natural, I still considered it an honor). To my surprise, this was not what the Franciscan wanted to see. He wanted to talk about believing what could not be seen. And I was ruining his speech. As I looked around, I noticed there were no other hands up. The good brother then explained that he had not meant a picture of an angel, and my classmates laughed. I then said, “No, a real angel. I’ve seen an angel.” There was more laughter. After an awkward moment and a quizzical look, the brother simply continued with his prepared speech saying, “No one has ever seen an angel….” This was the day I learned that people don’t see angels.

For years I have doubted both my memory and my senses. But I always clung to some hope that I really did see an angel.

I’ve told the story so many times that I remember it in the telling more than I remember the actual event. This has been a source of much doubt. Of course, many doubt things they only know stories about. Jesus said, “Blessed are they who believe, but have not seen.” Sometimes, we can and do doubt even what we have seen.

I was standing on something next to my sister Jessica. We were looking out into the backyard through the downstairs bathroom window of our old house. We saw a glowing white figure in long, glowing white robes carrying a staff and walking behind our house. It was after dusk. The figure was like a silhouette of light against the darkness, so brilliant that his features were indistinguishable. I ran through the mudroom to the kitchen where my mother was washing dishes at the sink. I tugged on her pant leg and asked, “Mom, can people see angels?” She said, “I suppose, if God wants them to.” I believe I then asked her if angels have wings and she said, “not necessarily.” I went back to the bathroom and told Jessica it was an angel. We continued watching him walk through the yard.

“At the highest extremity of the visible world are the blessed band of angels,” says St. Clement of Alexandria. Interesting, I think, that he considers the angels a part of the visible world. Sometimes people see angels. Abraham did. Lot did. Jacob did. Joseph did. Sacred Scripture is filled with folks encountering angels – always with some great purpose, it seems. Even in modern angel tales, the angel shows up to save someone’s life in a car wreck or perform a much-prayed-for task. Clarence had great purpose in appearing to George Bailey.

Seldom do we hear of an angel walking through the yard on a casual stroll.

Why would an angel appear to a small boy and his sister one evening with no apparent task? The question has occurred to me. I am not certain of any answer.

But, I will say, angels exist at all times, not only when they are performing tasks of biblical significance. “Angel” means “messenger,” but, as Augustine points out, this is their office, not their nature. Their nature is spirit. Sometimes they just be. Maybe the angel just wanted me to know he was there.

Actually, I sometimes wonder if this doesn’t happen all the time. How many experiences we dismiss as fatigue, faulty memory, or hallucination are actually experiences of the spiritual world? I suspect more than a few.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and All Angelic Powers

Today, as in every November since the fourth century, the Eastern Church honors all Angelic Powers, six-winged Seraphim, many-eyed Cherubim, God-bearing Thrones, Dominions, Powers, Virtues, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. She honors the seven Archangels. The first three are known from Holy Scripture as Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Many of the Fathers give Uriel as the name of the fourth. There are various traditions about the names of the last three. Foremost among the angels and the leader of all heavenly hosts is St. Michael the Archangel.

In the film Gangs of New York, Priest Vallon points to the medallion around his son’s neck and says,
“Now son, who's that?”
“St. Michael.”
“Who is it?”
“St. Michael!”
“And what did he do?”
“He cast Satan out of Paradise.”
“Good boy.”

Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it (Revelation 12: 7-9).
The name Michael means, “Who is like God?” The name well signifies who Michael is. Satan claimed equality with God – “Michael” is Satan’s expulsion from heaven.

Western images of St. Michael often show him in furious combat with Satan, sometimes depicted as an enormous dragon (Rev. 12: 9), or sometimes as a horned, muscular, bat-winged man. Some examples of the latter:

Though defeated, Satan, in these images, appears well-matched to engage Michael in combat. In that central image - I can't say for sure - but it sure looks like Michael is running away to me.

I believe the truth is closer to this:

There - do you see him? that speck at the end of Michael's spear? - that is Satan. The petty black demon is utterly vanquished - not by Michael's might in battle, but by his mere presence.

Angels are spiritual beings; their way of battle is spiritual. St. Augustine says, “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit.’”

Michael’s spiritual stillness, his singleness of heart, his oneness of vision – “always beholding the face of our Father who is in heaven” (c.f. Mat. 18: 10) triumphs over the frantic, grasping, envious, and vain energy of the morning star - Lucifer.

Once, Lucifer was the most brilliant of all Angels. Then he said in his heart: “I will scale the heavens; Above the stars of God I will set up my throne…. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will be like the Most High!” (Isaiah 14: 13, 14)*

The Lord’s rebuke is to make Man like the Most High. The Logos became Man to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (1 Pet. 1: 4; c.f. CCC 460). This Man, Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning” (Luke 10: 18). And it was Michael who cast him down.

Brilliance is nothing to humility. The egocentric is nothing to the theocentric. Who can compare to God? “Lucifer” is nothing to “Michael.”

*The Church Fathers teach us that Isaiah’s taunt-song against the king of Babylon, from which this is excerpted, also, mystically, refers to Satan.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A lesson from Kroger

in today's junk mail:

Proving once again that, while holiness may be more costly, it yields the better fruit.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

"Bring the whole tithe" (Mal. 3:10)

Catholics, I know, are not fond of the subject of tithing. My father once wrote, “One sure way to clear a wide empty space around one’s self, short of igniting a stink bomb, is to bring up the subject of tithing.”

I have never heard a message about tithing in church and not also heard some complaint about how there’s too much talk about money in the church. Any talk at all, it would seem, is too much for some folks. And yet, they discuss little else once they leave sacred ground.

What is it that makes our skin crawl when the priest dares say that word: “tithing?” Is it that money is too profane a topic for discussion in the church, like toilet bowls? Or is it that money is too sacred a topic to profane it by bringing it up at church? Do we serve mammon and not God (cf. Lk 16:13)?

Perhaps we’ve just seen too many televangelists.

A tithe is a tenth, ten-percent: that’s what the dread word means. It also means the first-fruits. If you pay your taxes and your health insurance and your life insurance and your 401K first and give ten-percent of what remains, you’re still giving, but you’re not actually tithing.

This is kind of like what Cain did, as opposed to Abel.

"In the course of time, Cain brought an offering to the LORD from the fruit of the soil, while Abel, for his part, brought one of the best firstlings of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not" (Gen. 4: 3-5).

Cain only gave “in the course of time,” but Abel gave of the “firstlings.” It wasn’t that God liked meat, but not grain so much. It was that God wanted His children to trust Him and give first, not after they made sure they had enough for themselves.

Absolute trust in God is another unpopular topic.

But who says you have to tithe, anyway? The law is laid down in Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Malachi, but that’s just Old Testament business, right? Once, in my ignorance, I confessed my failure to tithe to the priest, who quickly corrected: “That’s no sin. If that were a sin, the whole congregation would be in trouble.”

Difference of opinion as regards tithing is as old as St. Peter (cf. Acts 5: 1-10).

In the earliest Church, the Apostolic Church, nobody tithed. That’s because they didn’t have anything left to tithe on after “all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold and laid them at the apostle’s feet” (Acts 4:34, 35). In other words, nobody could give just ten-percent because they were all too busy giving closer to a hundred.

By the second century, gifts made to the church were seldom so extravagant. St. Justin Martyr (c. 160) wrote, “As for the persons who are prosperous and willing, they give what each thinks fit.” Tertullian (c. 197), unusually strident about other matters, laxly wrote, “If he likes, each puts in a small donation – but only if it is his pleasure and only if he is able. For there is no compulsion; all is voluntary.”

In old St. Peter’s day, folks were struck dead by the Holy Spirit for handing over less than everything (cf. Acts 5: 1-10) - quite the turn about in a mere century, it seems to me. The change in attitude did not go unlamented. St. Cyprian (c. 250) wrote:

"They used to sell houses and estates so that they might lay up for themselves treasures in heaven. They presented the proceeds to the apostles, to be distributed for the use of the poor. However, now, we do not even give the tenths from our patrimony!"

So it goes. So it is still going.

Now we call it one of the six laws of the Church: Catholics are obligated to “contribute to the support of the Church.” How’s that for vague? Yet, too many of us in the pews can’t in good conscience say that we do even this in a meaningful way.

Personally, I advocate a return to the good old understanding of the tithe – all that Old Testament business. After all, the Lord of hosts Himself says, “Bring the whole tithe… and try me in this… Shall I not open for you the floodgates of heaven, to pour down blessing upon you without measure (Malachi 3:10)?” Even if it’s no sin not to, that ought to encourage each and every one of us to cough up the dough.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

“Fear God. Honor the King.” (1 Pet. 2:17)

It has been said that the separation of Church and State is good for the Church. Worldly impotence, apparently, does wonders in keeping churchmen humble.

This is not a new idea. Lactantius (c. 304-313) wrote, “[God] would have Christians live under the power and government of others, lest they should become corrupted by the happiness of prosperity, slide into luxury, and eventually despise the commandments of God.” Ironically, Lactantius would later be appointed tutor to the son of the first Christian emperor, St. Constantine. I certainly hope that living under Christian government did not cause him to despise the commandments of God.

Everyone needs to be humble. Both churchmen and statesmen are meant to serve God. Who is going to keep the statesmen humble? Clearly, no one has been doing this for quite some time.

King Henry II, on the other hand, after he encouraged the murder of St. Thomas Becket, was made to walk barefoot through the streets of Canterbury wearing sackcloth while eighty monks flogged him with branches. He then spent the night in the martyr's crypt. The same kind of penance should be recommended to certain Presidents of the United States for their crimes against humanity. As the Church and State are separate, who is to recommend it? Together, Church and State could keep each other humble.

It has been said that the Government should listen to the people and the people should listen to the Church. Should the Government listen to the people if the people hate the Church or Her teachings? If most people favor the legalization of the murder of a certain class of people (which, debatably, they do) shouldn't the Government stand with the Church, rather than the people? The law must not be relative to the whims of the masses. Truly, the people should listen to the Church, but when have they ever done that?

In the 18th century, democracy was an idea unpopular among faithful Catholics - opposed by the Pope and those loyal to him. Clearly, this is no longer the case.

I have often heard justified complaint that Catholics in America are more concerned with worldly acceptance than with fidelity to Tradition. This is the direct and inevitable consequence of the Catholic adoption of an American culture based on democratic principles. How can bowing to the will of the majority ultimately be anything other than relativist?

Many American Christians balk at my notion that the authority and power to rule does not come from the people. This idea is shared by, of all people, Jesus Christ: "You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above," He said (John 19:11). The power to rule comes from God. You know, Divine Right and that sort of thing. “For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Rom. 13:1). A government that does not acknowledge this true source of its power fails to govern well.

“My opinion is this: that in this way a kingdom may be governed in peace – when the sovereign is acquainted with the God of truth. That is, if the ruler withholds from doing wrong to his subjects out of fear of God, and he judges everything with equity…. For, if the sovereign abstains from doing wrong to those who are under his rule, and they abstain from doing wrong to him and to each other, it is evident that the whole country will dwell in peace. Many blessings, too, will be enjoyed there, because among all of them the name of God will be glorified. For what blessing is greater than for a sovereign to deliver the people that are under his rule from error, and by this good deed render himself pleasing to God”
– St. Melito (c. 170).

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Way of Life

“There are two ways, one of life and one of death.”

Thus begins the Didache (c. 100 A.D.), an ancient Christian text meant to preserve the teachings of the twelve apostles. Our way of life is of great significance, leading, as it does, to either everlasting glory or everlasting perdition. Choose, then, your way of life with care, with faith, with love.

Before Christianity was called Christianity, it was called the Way (Acts 18:26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). Another ancient religion still carries this moniker: “Taoism” means “the right way” (there must be a wrong one, then).

Even as His Holiness battles the dictatorship of relativism, the phrase “way of life” is rigorously replaced with “lifestyle” by those who will tolerate no discrimination.

“Style” carries with it no judgment, neither condemnation nor approval. If I prefer action painting to color field painting, what’s that to you? If you prefer floral prints to paisley, what’s that to me? These are differences of style only; they carry no moral quality. There is nothing wrong with using the word “lifestyle” when referring to innocuous things.

On the other hand, the adulterers, predatory pedophiles, and sodomites of this world would have us believe their “way of life” is actually just an “alternative lifestyle,” as morally neutral as a preference for floral prints. Just type “alternative lifestyle” into Google (or don’t, rather). On page one I get links about swingers, bisexuals, bondage, sadomasochism, nudism, polyamory, fetishes, and personal ads for arranging anonymous affairs between married people. These are not styles of life; they are ways of death. On the same page appear links about vegetarianism and living in old houses. Our use of the term equates incidentals with perversions, good with evil, right with wrong. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20).

In the 1970s, “the lifestyle” referred to what is now commonly called “swinging.” Today, “Lifestyle” is a brand of condoms.

The term “lifestyle” is as modern as “way of life” is ancient. Coined in 1929 as a specific psychological term, in much of its current usage it is a faddish and vapid term. Even in many situations where it is appropriate, "way of life" expresses meaning better.

The phrase, “there are two styles, one of life and one of death,” is void of meaning. This, I believe, is our culture’s objective – to strip meaning and significance from all human actions – to make it so it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it’s “your own thing.”

But it does matter. It matters in the here and now and it matters in the hereafter.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Blessing of Animals

Today, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron of animals, blessings of animals are taking place in parishes across the world. Our cat was suitably censed and soaked with holy water by the ordained hand of Fr. Sid Sidor as he spoke the words of blessing. We now have a holy cat. Our other cat remains unblessed, we being unable to handle two cats at the service. Tonight the holy cat bit the unholy cat’s neck.

There are many days traditionally associated with specific blessings:

Feast of the Holy Theophany / Epiphany – January 6th
– blessing of water / blessing of chalk (Western) / blessing of houses

Feast of the Presentation / Candlemas – February 2nd
– blessing of candles (Western)

Feast of St. Blaise – February 3rd
blessing of throats (Western)

Flowery Sunday / Palm Sunday
– blessing of pussy willows (Eastern) and palm branches

Pascha / Easter
blessing of Easter baskets (Eastern)

Feast of St. Elias – July 20th
– blessing of vehicles (Eastern)

Feast of the Transfiguration – August 6th
– blessing of fruit (Eastern)

Feast of the Holy Dormition – August 15th
– blessing of flowers (Eastern)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Contra-vote

I do not vote. Or, anyway, I never have. My reasons are many and far from political apathy. If, however, what I propose came to fruition, I, and I suspect others, would never fail to vote.

In Catholic circles, there is much talk of "non-negotiables." Support for abortion, euthanasia, or other evils automatically excludes a candidate from receiving an authentic Catholic vote. The list of non-negotiables provided me by my (overactive?) conscience is quite a bit longer than the official and, consequently, I am excluded from voting at all in most cases.

Yet, there are grades of evil and I do wish to oppose the greater evil with greater force, but I cannot, in conscience, do this by supporting the lesser evil. We must not do evil so that good may come of it (cf. Rom. 3: 8). I seek a way to vote against, without voting for: a contra-vote - the power to negate one vote. In this way, a person of conscience can always participate in the election process without moral conflict.

Under the two-party system, many people, in effect, have been voting according to this philosophy already. The candidate they oppose the more they vote "against" by simply voting for the candidate they oppose the less. As the two-party system (blessedly) begins to erode, the power to vote "against" erodes as well. What to do if, among three candidates, there is none worthy? Simply voting for the least offensive of the three has less power than contra-voting the most offensive.

If this results in a candidate winning an election with a negative number of votes, so be it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Conception of John: Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist

Icon of St. John the Baptist from St. Anne's Skete on Mount Athos.
Today is the Feast of the Conception of St. John the Baptist, my son's and my patron saint. So great and worthy a saint is he that my son and I are blessed with three name days. In nine months plus a day on June 24th, the Church will honor his Nativity, and on August 29th his Beheading is commemorated. Today's feast dates back to the fifth century, making it older than the Feast of the Conception of Mary. To add still further to the day's festivity, this is my son's first baptismal birthday (baptized on a feast of the Baptist!). We lit his baptismal candle and laid out his baptismal robe. We blessed him with holy water and holy oil and said a prayer of blessing. He was bemused, but no doubt blessed.

I am reminded, on this feast of a conception, of the three conceptions annually commemorated by the Church. Today's, though ancient, is least among them.

There is also that conception variously called The Maternity of the Holy Anna, The Conception of St. Anne, or The Immaculate Conception, on which we remember the conception of the All-Holy Mary in the womb of St. Anne on December 9th (or December 8th). Nine months later less a day, on September 8th, is the Nativity of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.
Annunciation; Russian Icon of Ustyug, depicting Christ conceived within Mary

First among the three is the Annunciation, on which we remember the fiat of the All-Holy Theotokos (to mix my Greek and Latin), by which the Son of God became the Son of Man. Exactly nine months later (exact to indicate Christ's perfection in all things) is Christmas, The Nativity of O.L.G.S. Jesus Christ, the Nativity of nativities, on which the Daughter of Eve bore her Creator.

On a different note, several years ago, a woman and professor, arguing against the position of the Church on abortion, claimed to me that prior to the mid-twentieth century the Church had no teaching about life in the womb....

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Soap Bubbles

Being out of soap, today I was forced to bathe with my beloved wife's "Sensuality Bath and Shower Gel." That's right folks, not only is this cleansing gelatin sensual, it is Sensuality itself.

CCC 2727:
We must also face the fact that certain attitudes deriving from the mentality of "this present world" can penetrate our lives if we are not vigilant. For example, some would have it that only that is true which can be verified by reason and science; yet prayer is a mystery that overflows both our conscious and unconscious lives. Others overly prize production and profit; thus prayer, being unproductive, is useless. Still others exalt sensuality and comfort as the criteria of the true, the good, and the beautiful; whereas prayer, the "love of beauty" (philokalia), is caught up in the glory of the living and true God. Finally, some see prayer as a flight from the world in reaction against activism; but in fact, Christian prayer is neither an escape from reality nor a divorce from life.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Roman Catholic Church is not the One True Church

The Catholic Church is the one true Church. The recent Vatican document on ecumenical relations does not claim this of Roman Catholicism, as certain commentators suggest. In response to one such commentator, David Yonke, I wrote the following letter:

In your article of Sunday, July 22, you repeat an error that has been widespread in media reporting on the recent document from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

You write: "All Christian traditions except Roman Catholicism have “defects,” “wounds,” or are not true churches, according to the controversial document from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."

The document does not indicate "Roman" Catholicism, but simply "Catholicism." There are more than twenty Catholic Churches in communion with one another. With the Roman Catholic Church being the largest of these Churches and it's Pope being the head of the universal Church, many people are confused into thinking that the Roman Catholic Church and the Catholic Church are the same thing. They are not. If you read more carefully, you'll note that the word "Roman" does not even appear in the document (except in the fourth footnote).

To his credit, Mr. Yonke acknowledged his error, but he then dismissed it, writing, “It is of minor significance, however, when considering the numbers of adherents affected. As you know, the vast majority of Catholics are Roman Catholics.” If small numbers render a Church insignificant, then the Apostolic Church would be least significant of all Churches.

The Roman Catholic Church is not superior to or above the other Catholic Churches. It is equal to them. The Roman Catholic Church’s numbers are by far the greatest, yet greater numbers do not indicate greater importance. As established by the Council of Chalcedon, the Roman pontiff retains the primacy among the patriarchates of the Church. Yet, it is important that the Eastern understanding of the Petrine primacy is as “primus inter pares” (first among equals).

In reference to this, Grégoire III Laham, Patriarch of Antioch of the Melkites, once said, “With all respect for the Petrine office, the patriarchal office is equal to it.” When questioned about this controversial stance Patriarch Grégoire III elaborated:
"Really I always say: I am cum Petro but not sub Petro. If I were sub Petro, I would be in submission, and I couldn’t have a true frank, sincere, strong and free communion with the Pope. When you embrace a friend, you are not “below”. You embrace him from the same height, if not it wouldn’t be a true embrace. Unita manent, (united things last)….

"The papacy, since John XXIII, is the most open authority in the world. In no other Church is there such openness and such democratic praxis as in the Church of Rome. But then there are those who want to appear as the super-Catholics, and they then insist and always only on the sub Petro and sub Roma. And so, according to me, they contradict the true sense of the papacy itself, its office to confirm the brethren in the faith. We have suffered for our communion with Rome. For a hundred and fifty years we have said Mass in the catacombs, in Damascus, because we were forbidden do it in public because of our communion with the bishop of Rome. We’re more Roman than the Romans! That’s why we want to benefit from this communion as from a treasure, a gift, a help for our faith. As Saint John says, our faith is our sole victory."
Patriarch Grégoire III does not here say so, but as Patriarch of Antioch he, too, succeeds St. Peter. Perhaps I will post more on St. Peter's other Church in the future.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Harry Potter and the Culture of Death

The following contains spoilers:

Years ago, whilst at college, I wrote an absurd article concerning liberalism and Harry Potter, in which I dismissed the series’ liberal qualities – not to mention its absence of God – as simply part of the fantasy. I was and remain a fan despite my reservations regarding its politics and my oft-repeated suggestion that the books shouldn’t be read by their intended audience (children). It is not for a political reason that I, nor any other HP fan, read these books. Rather, I read them for their characters (particularly Snape, about whom these books are written whatever their titles or their author may protest) and for the immersive escapism they afford. Most of all, I read them because they are about love – and an uncommonly accurate understanding of love at that – or so I thought.

“Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Love is not a feeling or a passion. Love is self-sacrifice, pursuit of the other’s good with disregard of self. This theme movingly appears throughout the HP series. From the self-sacrifice of Lily Potter’s life to save her son, to Harry’s own sacrifice for the good of all as he walks to his certain death at Voldemort’s murderously acquired Elder Wand, it is clear that the Potters understand what love is and what courage is and what price they demand. Such depiction of unselfish love has become rare in contemporary storytelling, which often centers on passionate self-gratification rather than on the dispassionate self-sacrifice that is love.

I long held that HP was an exception to this – that it depicted love rightly. Here, at the very end, to my disappointment, I learn that the Harry Potter series is actually just another product of the culture of death.

There is a chasm of difference between laying down one’s life – which is the very definition of love – and suicide. Dumbledore’s suicide – Snape’s murder – is presented as heroic. Suicide, whether called assisted suicide or euthanasia, is never morally permissible, let alone heroic. Hey, he was going to die anyway, right? Besides, he did it to save Draco from Voldemort’s wrath, didn’t he? We must not do evil that good may come of it. We are not the masters of life and death. Acting as though we are is what creates the culture of death. Our lives are not our property to dispense with at will for what seems best to us. Lives belong only to their Creator.

Harry's response to Dumbledore's cry, "KILL ME!" in chapter twenty-six of The Half-Blood Prince is the moral one. He deceives Dumbledore by saying, "Just drink this... It'll be over...all over!" In fact it wasn't all over. Harry did not kill Dumbledore.

When Dumbledore makes the same request to Snape, thereby tempting a morally conflicted man with a great evil, Snape obliges. Dumbledore turns out to be an arrogant, manipulative, self-satisfied sinner who is doubtlessly burning in hell and has taken Snape down with him. Pity. And he was on the road to redemption too….

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Passion (Gr. pathos), I think, is the second most misunderstood word in the English language. By the word "passion," most mean "strong feeling" or "fervent commitment." Some mean "sex." Nearly everywhere, the term is used positively. We are told by every third advertisement to follow our passions, act on our passions, or live for our passions. Rekindling passion, we are advised, is the way to save a failing marriage. Fiery passion is admired. The meaning of our life, some claim, is our life’s passion.

The Early Fathers of the Church, on the other hand, have a generally negative and more useful definition of the term "passion." The passions are that which assault us – that which we must endure (compare to the word "passive"). They are products of our fallen nature – perhaps with a good original purpose now corrupted – that lead us into a life of sin. They must be transformed for us to live in Christ.

The following definition is helpful. Probably written by Bishop Kallistos Ware, it comes from the glossary in the English translation of The Philokalia:

Passion (pathos): in Greek, the word signifies literally that which happens to a person or thing, an experience undergone passively; hence an appetite or impulse such as anger, desire or jealousy, that violently dominates the soul. Many Greek Fathers regard the passions as something intrinsically evil, a 'disease' of the soul: thus St. John Klimakos affirms that God is not the creator of the passions and that they are 'unnatural', alien to man's true self (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 26...). Other Greek Fathers, however, look on the passions as impulses originally placed in man by God, and so fundamentally good, although at present distorted by sin (cf. St. Isaiah the Solitary...). On this second view, then, the passions are to be educated, not eradicated; to be transfigured, not suppressed; to be used positively, not negatively.

As with other temptations, God permits corrupting passions to exist but does not desire them. By prayer of the heart and invocation of the Holy Name of Jesus, we can be free of them. Dispassion (Gr. apatheia) is an attribute of the holy. More than the absence of passion, dispassion is a transfigured self. It signifies purity of heart, spiritual freedom, and detachment from earthly cares.

The teachings of Early Fathers of the Church on prayer of the heart and overcoming the passions have changed my life and freed me in a way I never thought I could be free. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Those old men who sat in their desert cells nearly two thousand years ago – there battling powers and principalities – have all the answers we need. Who would have thought? Let us strive to hear their quiet voices over the worldly din – whispering truths that do not change despite the passage of eons.

“The assaults of my passions disturb me; they fill my soul with great discouragement. O Maiden, preserved from all stain, restore the balance of my soul through the peace of your Son, through the peace of your God!” (Paraklis, Ode 1).

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Eastern Catholic Churches

I have been asked to provide a list of Churches in union with Rome. Currently, there are twenty-one Eastern Catholic Churches. They are arranged here according to Rite:

Alexandrian Rite
Antiocene Rite
Armenian Rite
  • Armenian Church
Byzantine Rite
Chaldean Rite

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Bread of Life

The Eucharist is God.

Jesus is the Bread of Life and the Bread of Life is Jesus (cf. Jn 6: 35 & 48). The Eucharist is God become Man. It is Jesus: His Body, His Blood, His Soul, and His Divinity - the whole Jesus. The Eucharist is the Son of God and the son of Mary, the Son of Man and the son of David. The Eucharist laid in a manger and later let Simeon go in peace. The Eucharist walked on the water, healed the sick, raised the dead, and exorcised demons. It still does. The Eucharist ate and drank with sinners. Now, It is eaten and drank by sinners. The Eucharist was once nailed to the Cross for our salvation. The Eucharist died, broke the gates of Hades, rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven. The Eucharist is seated at the right hand of the Father. The Eucharist will come again to judge the living and the dead. Through the Eucharist, everything that is was made and without It was nothing made. The Eucharist is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6).

This is the Eucharist on every altar of the Catholic and Orthodox Church; It is eaten and drank by the faithful everyday. Everyday, others “eat and drink judgment against themselves” (1 Cor. 11: 29) and, everyday, most of the world ignores Him.

“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53). If you are not Catholic or Orthodox, become Catholic or Orthodox, lest you have no life in you. If you are Catholic or Orthodox, properly and frequently receive the most precious Body and Blood of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and life everlasting.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Jesus Would Discriminate

The heretics and blasphemers who brought us the “Would Jesus discriminate?” yard signs have become more aggressive. Perhaps the yard signs were only the preamble to their intended coup-de-grace. The day before yesterday I saw a new sign which read, “David loved Jonathan more than women. II Samuel 1:26,” and last night I saw a billboard very near my erstwhile house proclaiming to all, “Jesus said some are born gay. Matthew 19: 10 – 12.”

I would prefer the exhibition of gay pornography on a billboard to this, printed as it is next to an image of O.L.G.S. Jesus Christ. That, at least, might offer an honest image of active homosexuality. Pornographers and sodomites ought to be briefly imprisoned. Blasphemers ought to be shown the implements of torture, in an effort to inspire repentance. Failing that, they ought to be burned at the stake. Probably I overreact. Do I? Only, who would do the torturing and burning but some other sinner?

At the very least, some vandal ought to spray paint a meaningful alteration to this billboard - perhaps inserting the words “did not say” over the word “said,” or inserting the word “eunuchs” over the word “gay.” I would suggest setting fire to the whole thing, only we must not disrespect Christ’s image. Meanwhile, the written lie stands, even as I write this, disrespecting Christ’s image.

The best remedy to blasphemy is to glorify the name of the Lord. If we speak the truth unfailingly, maybe we needn’t destroy those who speak falsehood. I shall try to let these scriptures speak for themselves.

II Samuel 1:26:

I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother! most dear have you been to me; More precious have I held love for you than love for women.

Matthew 19: 10 – 12 (NAB):

His disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” He answered, “Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

Matthew 19: 10 – 12 (Douay-Rheims):

His disciples say unto him: If the case of a man with his wife be so, it is not expedient to marry. Who said to them: All men take not this word, but they to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs, who were born so from their mother's womb: and there are eunuchs, who were made so by men: and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take, let him take it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Would Jesus Discriminate?

Several months ago, blue and white yard signs began to dot lawns and street corners all over Indianapolis bearing the words, “Would Jesus discriminate?”

Though I am aware that “discriminate” is a buzzword, I did not immediately think of it in this context. Immediately, visions of sheep and goats filled my mind, as well as wheat and chaff, publicans and Pharisees, the Final Judgement, heaven and hell (cf. Matt 25:32-33, 3: 12; Lk 3: 17, 18: 10-14). I thought, too, of Jesus dining with sinners (cf. Matt. 9:11). Yet even these sinners whom He came to call, He came to change. To sinners he says, “sin no more” (Jn 5:14, 8:11). For this reason He dines with them: to discriminate against their former way of life. Yes, I thought to myself, if anyone would discriminate it would be Jesus.

Soon, of course, it occurred to me that not only was this yard sign asking me a rhetorical question, but that its answer was meant to be “no.” Many of our age “put darkness for light, and light for darkness” (Is 5:20). Discrimination, our buzz-catechism teaches, is the greatest of all sins – and surely Jesus is guilty of no sin. What point the authors of this sign were making, I wasn’t sure.

I was unsurprised to discover, upon exploring the website given on the yard sign, the following:

“Would Jesus discriminate? Instinctively, we all sense that the answer must be a resounding No! Yet we live in a time when many churches are leading the effort to deny gay and transgender people equal...” blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Hmm… “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness” (Is 5:20). Instinctively, my answer is a resounding Yes!

Actually, I am fond of discrimination, a quality of any intelligent mind. An undiscriminating chef, for example, would put rats and rat feces in a stew when he ran out of chicken and peppercorns. An undiscriminating husband would sleep with his secretary when he was working late and couldn’t get home to his wife. The inability to discriminate is a mark of madness. The unwillingness to discriminate is a mark of evil.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Church

Nothing is more important than the Church.

Most Christians will agree that God should be our first priority – family our second. The Church is both. Nothing is more important than the Church.

“God is more important,” some will protest. God and the Church are one. To say that God is more important than the Church is like saying that a husband is more important than his wife. In truth, a husband is the head of his wife, but she is not his inferior. It is in the same way that Christ is the head of His Church (cf. Eph. 5:23). Only through the Church can you come to Christ.

“You’re idolizing a man-made institution,” others will accuse. The God-Man made the Church. His Body is the Church (cf. Col. 1:24). The Body of Jesus Christ is no idol.

The Church is God and family. It is God’s family. The Church makes bold to call God, “Father,” – even, “Abba” (Gal. 4:6). The Church is the children of God. The Church is God’s Son – Jesus, the Son of God. The Church is the Mystical Body of Jesus. As God the Son is to God the Father, so the Church is to God. The Church and God are one.

The Church is the Bride of Christ. As in marriage, the two are made one (cf. Eph. 5: 31- 32).

What is this Church? It is not the guy in the next pew – nor myself, a sinner. It is not the priest, nor the bishop, nor the pope. I do not worship men. It is not the saints nor the angels that I worship. I do not worship flesh and blood, but the awesome God. But this God I worship is in the angels and the saints. He is in men. He is in the pope, the bishop, and the priest. He is in the guy in the next pew. And He is in me, a sinner. And all these are in God, too.

God is in the Church and the Church is in God. “There is no salvation outside the Church.”

Monday, April 9, 2007

Byzantine Catholicism

I am often asked why I became a Byzantine Catholic. Like many, if not most, cradle Roman Catholics, I made it through my formative years in the Church unaware that there was more to Catholicism than Roman Catholicism – unaware, that is, of universal, complete and entire (Catholic) Christianity. Though most Roman Catholics are hardly aware of our existence and many, upon hearing of us, ask, “are you Catholic?” or “are you under the Pope?” or a hundred such questions, it is worth pointing out that most members of our Byzantine Catholic Church in Indianapolis were themselves raised Roman Catholic. I am not alone among Westerners in my decision to practice the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic faith according the traditions, liturgy, theology, ecclesiology, and spirituality of the East.

The question is sometimes phrased: “why did you convert?” Becoming Byzantine, having been Roman, is not a conversion of religion. Personally, it resulted from a deepening of faith, an inner conversion perhaps, but we must always remember that there is but one true Church, one God, one faith, one baptism, and one Lord who is Savior of all. Each of the more than twenty Eastern and Western Churches is equal in the one true Church.

Though it is not conversion as such, becoming Byzantine is certainly a change. The liturgical, sacramental, and theological differences attracted me and my love for them draws me into ever deeper immersion in my Byzantine Church.

My Byzantine Church is an abundant Church, a Church of plenty, a Church of overflowing cups, a Church where anything worth doing once is worth doing three times in honor of the Holy Trinity. Here there is anointing and more anointing, blessing and more blessing, incense and holy water, blessed bread and blessed wine. We don’t just dip our fingers in the holy water; we drink the holy water. When we blessed the holy water, it was the day of Theophany – our Lord’s Baptism. The priest blessed the water with fire, with breath, and with the sign of the cross. We don’t just anoint the forehead; we anoint the forehead, the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth, the chest, the hands, and the feet. When the priest incenses during the Divine Liturgy, he incenses the whole church, up and down the aisles, everyone singing all the while, until the place is filled with smoke.

Byzantine Liturgy is always oriented – the priest faces God, the tabernacle, the altar, and the East, from whence O.L.G.S. Jesus Christ will return. Marana tha! The congregation chants and sings throughout the entire Liturgy – the congregation is the choir. We gather together to worship and to exalt the Lord our God. We have no concept of a Low Mass in our Byzantine Church.

The Byzantine Churches make use of four distinct divine liturgies: most commonly we celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom; occasionally we use the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil; during the Great Fast (Lent) we use the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, traditionally attributed to Pope St. Gregory the Great – this has some similarities to the Good Friday Liturgy of the Roman Church; and, rarely, we use the Divine Liturgy of St. James the Apostle and Brother of the Lord, which is an early liturgy of the Church. Each of these liturgies is a glorious sacrifice of praise. The use of different liturgies for different seasons or occasions adds richness to the yearly cyclical life of the Church.

An infant receives communion in an Eastern Church.
Above these liturgical differences, I love the generous and abundant Byzantine approach to the sacraments. The three mysteries of initiation (Baptism, Chrismation (Confirmation), and Eucharist) are given in their original order to infants. My own six month old son, John Elias, having been Baptized and Chrismated, receives the Most Holy Body and Blood of O.L.G.S. Jesus Christ for the remission of his sins and for life everlasting every time he attends the Divine Liturgy. He will receive the Mystery of Penance when he gets older, before which time he is seen as a holy innocent.

The Anointing of the Sick is given to all who are able and wish to receive it at least once a year – and more frequently in my parish. We do not see it as a sacrament only for the dying. All are in need of healing – whether from physical, mental, or spiritual maladies – all can therefore be anointed.

The Holy Mystery of Crowning (Matrimony) is not a bar to the reception of Holy Orders. The Roman Church acknowledges this theologically, but for pastoral and practical reasons usually forbids the ordination of married men. The Eastern Churches do not forbid such ordinations – another example of generous distribution of sacraments. Yet, we also exalt celibacy as imitative of O.L.G.S. Jesus Christ and as a calling from God – even to the extent of acknowledging the sacramentality of monastic vows.

St. Athanasius Byzantine Catholic Church
Eastern theology has never officially limited the number of sacraments to seven, as the Roman Church did at the Council of Trent. Although, certainly, the seven sacraments are held in great reverence – the Eucharist above all others, but this does not keep us from regarding other acts and signs as sacramental. Fr. Sidney Sidor, of blessed memory, formerly of our local parish, St. Athanasius, told us emphatically, “there are more than seven sacraments!”

These are but a few of the differences that attracted me to the Eastern Church. Probably I leave you with more questions than answers. Pope St. John Paul II had more answers than I do. His encyclical, Orientale Lumen, is a good source of information. The Byzantine Churches are a source of truth and beauty in the Catholic Church which everyone should get to know better.

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