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.

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