17 December 2006


Today my wife, six of my seven children, and I were chrismated. Before a sizeable congregation at St. George Orthodox Church in Troy, Michigan, we professed the Orthodox Faith in the words of the (original) Nicene Creed. We were then anointed with Sacred Chrism on the forehead as well as on the five senses (eyes, ears, throat, nose, and hands).

His Grace Bishop MARK presided at the Divine Liturgy and chrismated us. Fr. Joseph Antypas, the Pastor of St George, offered a gracious welcome in his homily. And we received our First Communion from the hand of Fr Gregory Hogg.

There were many great joys during this liturgy. Hearing nearly 300 people say "Sealed," watching my love and beloved children receive the holy oil, and then witnessing my 14 month old son receive Holy Communion--those were among the greatest joys that I shall always treasure.

13 December 2006

Ecclesial Reductionism

I am the Church
I am the Church
I am the Church--and you're not!

That's a sarcastic ditty some of us wanna-be wags would sing amongs ourselves at seminary (no doubt, after too much German barley pop).

This piece reminded me of that ditty.

It also reminded me of those who are debating the formation of what I call "The we'll get it right this time, true blue, have everything as it should be, no doubt about it xxxx Church."


11 December 2006

Chronicling a Journey (Part IV)

Between my first and second years at seminary, with the knowledge of the administration and the approval of the registrar at the Lutheran seminary I attended, I took a course at St. Vladimir’s Theological Orthodox Seminary as part of their annual Liturgical Institute. During a break while walking on campus, I happened to cross paths with Bishop Kallistos Ware as he was arriving. I knew he was coming, figured out quickly it was him, and followed the two or three people ahead of me in greeting him. No doubt, he noticed my awkwardness in the protocol of asking a blessing, and so engaged me in a brief conversation. I told him I was Lutheran, and was considering Orthodoxy. He told me not to become Orthodox if I was upset with what’s happening in the Lutheran Church because the Orthodox Church won’t fix those problems. He told me not to reject Lutheranism, but to thank God for the good it brought me. And then he said, “If you become Orthodox, do so because you want to be Orthodox.” That was essentially the same message I heard from the few professors I spoke with (Fr Thomas Hopko and Fr Paul Tarazi among them) and from the several priests, deacons, seminary students and laymen that I met. I also heard, both explicitly and implicitly, that the Orthodox Church was not nirvana. And I was told that I should not make such a decision until I had the blessing of my father confessor.

That summer I struggled mightily. I talked with my wife—who was not at all interested in Orthodoxy. I also spoke with several professors. And I spoke with my father confessor. They reminded me that nearly all the practices I desired were permitted and possible in the Lutheran church; they convinced me that Orthodoxy and Lutheranism were not that far apart; and they pointed out what Lutheranism sees as key doctrinal problems in Orthodoxy (synergism, a weak view of original sin, a wrong view on free will, invocations to Mary and the saints, and the pietistic/charismatic sounding hesychast movement). With all this, I agreed. And then I spoke with the Orthodox priest that I knew. He suggested I was not yet ready because I was not yet convinced, so I should stay put. And he told me he’d always be available if I wanted to talk. Little did I know that, for twenty years, he also prayed earnestly for me. Yet this is the key: he left the door open, but he never pressured me or tried to strong-arm me to enter. Above all else, he never allowed me to think or believe that the prayers I said, the sacraments I received, the faith I held was not of the Holy Spirit. And then, in his usual off-handed way, he identified the key issue—an issue that really didn’t sink in until three years ago. He said, “The key question is ‘Where is the Church?’”

08 December 2006

Fenton John

This was sent to me by a good friend. It made me chuckle aloud and is too amusing not to pass along.

At one point during our discussion, I was trying to remember the names of the two nineteenth century Englishmen who produced what some believe to be the first modern major* Greek New Testament which formed the foundation upon which all subsequent textual criticism of the twentieth century was built.

The names I was trying to think of were Westcott and Hort, the authors of The New Testament in the Original Greek (1881). More precisely, the authors were Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901) and Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892). It seems that the twenty-three year-old Hort (or Fenton or Fenton John, if one wishes to be informal) was the driving force, drawing poor Westcott, his fellow Cambridge scholar, into that massive, career-long project. After Westcott and Hort, some scholars are of the opinion that all textual criticism that follows is simply derivative; that Nestlé and the Alands only have expanded and extended the work begun by Westcott and Hort. Such was the impact of the young Fenton John.**

Was this excursus worth it? Probably not, but I always leave the reader to judge for himself.

From the Northwest Command Center of Obscure, Silly and Totally Useless Information.

* Sounds a lot like "the very model of a modern major general" from Gilbert and Sullivan?

** One wonders whether a German named "Lobegott", after Lobegott Friedrich Constantine von Tischendorf, another New Testament textual critic, would have the same impact as a the English "Fenton", but now these musings are becoming more esoteric than Dennis Miller's monologues.

Rorate Mass update

Diane has updated her piece on the Rorate Mass. Here's part of the update that I found beneficial:

In Advent we live spiritually between the Annunciation and the birth of Christ. Mary teaches us the spirit of Advent and inner attitude we should have during Advent. During the nine month of pregnancy Mary lived a hidden life, in the spirit of silence and intense intimacy with Christ she carried in her womb. This spirit of intimacy with God the faithful are to cultivate during the season of Advent more intensely by listening attentively to God's message and by obedience to His word.

Blogs I Read

No doubt, one could easily analyze another's personality based on his blogroll.

I'm not smart enough--and frankly, don't have the patience to learn how--to create a blogroll or to modify, in any way, the ready-packaged template that blogspot provides. Yet some have asked me what blogs I regularly read, and others have asked me to advertize their blogs. So, for whoever cares, here's the list (in no particular order, appearing on my "Sage" extension).

With very little difficulty, those who wish to play analyst will discover how one-dimensional I truly am.

Weedon's Blog



Western Orthodoxy


The New Liturgical Movement

Haunted by the Holy Ghost

From Wittenberg to Athens...

All the Fulness


The Confessing Reader

Te Deum laudamus!

Sentire cum Ecclesia

A Confused Anglopapist

Glory to God for All Things

Susan's Pendulum

Restorative Theology

incarnatus est


Ad Orientem

Apologies and Confessions

Sober Joy

Water and Spirit



Mind in the Heart


David L. Lichtenstein

South Ashford Priest

This Side of the Pulpit

Paredwka: Dropping the Ball


OCN Weekly Newsletter

Friends of Mercy

Hispania Sancta

Father Hollywood

Touchstone Magazine-Mere Comments

07 December 2006


Today is the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It also happens to be my eldest daughter's birthday. Happy birthday, Johannah! (Aren't you glad we didn't name you Immaculata or Concepción or Concepta!)

Rorate Mass - A Uniquely German Custom

This weekend when I was presenting at a conference in Dallas, I was asked by a Western Rite Orthodox priest about the German tradition of the Rorate Mass. I vaguely recalled such a custom, but had no answer. Raised in a church that was proud of its German heritage and by a mother who delighted in pointing out specifically German liturgical customs, I had never heard of the Rorate Mass. No doubt it is because it is a Votive Mass in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and those two things--votive masses and commemorating the BVM--were never high priorities for Lutherans. I vaguely recalled the custom because of my readings in liturgics and liturgical history, but what I read never really stuck.

Thankfully, Diane at Te Deum Laudamus has provided a description of the Rorate Mass. Relying on information given by one of the priests at Assumption Grotto in Detroit, Diane offers this history of the origin of the Rorate Mass:

The Rorate Mass has a long tradition in the Church, especially in German-speaking countries. It is a Votive Mass in honor of the Blessed Mother for the season of Advent. Our Lady shows herself in a special way as our leader through Advent to Christmas. The celebration by candle light had originally a more practical reason. According to the Missal of 1570 no Mass could be said after 12.00 Noon. On the other hand, people had to go to work in the morning. Also the Rorate Masses were celebrated in a more solemn form and therefore would last longer. For these reasons the Masses had to begin relatively early in the morning when it was still dark due to winter-time.
I commend the entire post to you.

06 December 2006

On the Radio (II)

For those who may be interested, yesterday Rev Todd Wilken analyzed the interview I gave on the Orthodox radio program “Come Receive the Light.” You may access Wilken’s analysis at the KFUO website. Look for Tuesday, December 5. Rev. Wilken’s analysis begins halfway through “Hour 2”, and concludes in “Hour 3.”

On the whole, I appreciate the tenor of the segments. As often happens in these venues, there is speculation about what I may or may not say to certain issues or questions; and what the Orthodox may or may not teach. In some instances, the speculation hit the mark; in other instances, it did not.

Why Study the Church Fathers?

A weekend flight to Dallas and substitute teaching for a high school math class (I don't know anything about math; fortunately quizzes were the order of the day) allowed me the opportunity to rediscover yet another book in my library. This one I had used when teaching in my former parish, but I had never read it "cover-to-cover." So I started at the beginning, with the introduction.

The book is Mary and the Fathers of the Church by Luigi Gambero (Ignatius Press, 1999). Fr Gambero opens the introduction by explaining why the exploration of early Christianity generally and patristic writings specifically is good and fruitful. From the start, he admits that this study can be frustrating since it can raise so many historical-critical problems. I would add that frustration also occurs when one approaches the Church Fathers as the final authority, or at least a deciding factor, in matters of faith. When this is the approach, the Fathers are often read outside of their historical context as we insist that they speak to our questions in our day. In his volume, Fr Gambero diligently seeks to understand each particular Father and writing in its own specific historical and theological context. As such, he lays down this "rule" which, I think, should be uppermost in the minds of all who study the Christian writers of any era:

The purpose of such research cannot be the search for a verification of our religious creed and our personal Christian life, or a quest to make sure that we are being faithful to the patrimony of faith (depsitum fidei) entrusted by the Lord to his apostles and to the Church. The teaching of the Church, in every age of her history, is sufficient to guarantee this certainty, because it embraces the whole treasury of tradition, rendered present and alive by the faith and Christian action of the people of God.

Our interest in rediscovering the very beginning of the Christian tradition becomes more understandable if considered from a different perspective. For us, retrieving the orgins of Christian doctrine can be like tasting the fresh waters of a spring, where the word of God is poured out by the pen of man under the illuminating and charismatic impulse of the Spirit, where the first Christian generations found nourishment for their faith, prayer, and life. We, too, know the wellsprings of this inspiration: Sacred Scripture and the apostolic tradition, the marvelous works of the Holy Spirit, acting in the lives of the scriptural authors and Fathers of the Church to make them authoritative witnesses and outstanding heralds of the good news of Jesus, through their preaching, writings, and living example. (p. 17)

04 December 2006

Chronicling a Journey (Part III)

I have a good friend who likes to say, “A man is seduced to become a pastor. He falls in love with studying theology, and pretty soon he is bearing the cross of ordination.” I think he’s right; and I was true to form. In the summer of 1985 I enrolled in seminary determined that I would simply “try it on.” Having lived through what Lutheran parishes had done to my father (who is a Lutheran pastor) and other pastors I knew, I wasn’t sure I wanted that life. So I proclaimed to my friends, rather naively, that I was going to seminary to become a deacon. (I honestly believed such a thing was possible, although I had never met or heard of a Lutheran deacon.) And I thought, secretly, that I’d see what would transpire in 2 years, believing I could always fall back on my teaching degree.

At seminary, I was promptly identified as “Mr Orthodox” because I spoke favorably about infant communion, I was earnest about the historic liturgy, I read and studied patristics, and I knew a local Orthodox priest. I got to know this priest because I continued going to Saturday Vespers—this time at an Antiochian church (again, because they spoke English). I also continued using my Eastern Orthodox prayer-book for private prayers, even while I was learning the intricacies of the 1962 Latin-English Roman breviary.

By October, I was called into the office of the seminary president. He knew my father quite well, and years before I had gone to school and played with some of his children; so it was a friendly chat. He had heard rumors about me believing in infant communion, and being favorable to Orthodoxy. He pointedly told me that I was not there to make a confession of faith, and that he would not run me out. This was a time to learn, he said, and that meant trying on ideas. All he wanted to know was which professors I was talking to about these issues. I gave him a half-dozen names—all well respected men with whom I had been talking and continued to talk. He was satisfied. Later, as I was walking with my wife, he saw us and said to her what he usually said to most wives: “I hope you’re keeping your husband orthodox” (by which he meant “orthodox Lutheran”). She said, “I’m trying to keep him Lutheran!” That remark bewildered him for some time.

Chronicling a Journey (Part II)

About two months after my visit to the Frank Lloyd Wright church, I began working part-time for an inner-city Lutheran parish. I saw first-hand the seamiest side of the city and learned to move with some ease within it. Working for an avowed liberal pastor, I also saw the soft under-belly of Lutheranism. Six months later, I took my first teaching position at an inner-city Lutheran elementary school. It took me three months to figure out what the principle, the other teachers and my wife already knew—that I did not want to spend the rest of my life grading spelling books; and that I truly loved to study and talk theology.

During that time, I read little about Orthodoxy and we had no icons. But I did begin to use an Eastern Orthodox prayer-book in my private prayers; and, from time to time, I would go to Saturday Vespers at a local OCA parish. (They spoke English, you see.) At the same time (and paradoxically as I think about it), while I learned to understand and didn’t mind the Byzantine rite, my desire and fondness for the Western liturgy grew. In fact, it was the liturgy—not the idea of liturgy, but the historic Western rite—that drew me more into the Faith, and caused me to fall more in love with God. I also began two habits that, by God’s grace, I have sustained to this day: fasting and private confession. Both were introduced by my encounter with the Orthodox faith, and both were affirmed by my blue-blood Lutheran grandparents. (May they rest in peace.)

My grandmother told me that she never ate anything after supper on Saturdays before receiving Holy Communion. And my grandfather told me that private confession was common when he was my age. Then he related to me the still-vivid story of my grandmother’s pastor standing before the congregation and announcing, in thickly-accented English, that since “vie are no longer tcheman, vie shall no longer kneel or cross ourselves or have private confession; and vie von’t schant the liturgy because it doesn’t sound good in English.” And then the American flag was unfurled in the sanctuary. This pastor’s model for “no longer tcherman” was, of course, the local Methodist church. My grandfather told that story with a bit of shame.

01 December 2006

Chronicling a Journey (Part I)

I guess you can blame Frank Lloyd Wright for sparking the interest to consider Orthodoxy. I was living in Milwaukee. My wife and I had recently married. She was teaching at a Lutheran school, and I was finishing my studies for a bachelor’s degree and K-12 teaching certification. I was also training for the Chicago marathon. One of my running routes took me past Milwaukee Lutheran High School on West Grantosa Drive. Next door to Milwaukee Lutheran is a rather unique building. From the outside it looks like a flying saucer. It was one of the last buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and it was commissioned by Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church.

Needless to say, the design intrigued me—particularly since it was a church. We had become good friends with the pastor of the congregation we attended, and when he told us he was taking a vacation and wanted to visit a unique church in Milwaukee, I immediately suggested the “Flying Saucer Church.” I still remember the unique atmosphere—the bright colors through the haze, the jingling, jangling censor, the server physically moving the irritated old Greek woman aside so the priest could incense the icon, the lack of an organ, the sermon (more like a speech) at the end of the liturgy, and of course the architecture. By the way, my wife went along and was not impressed with any of this.

I can’t recall whether it was in preparation for our visit or afterwards, but during that same Autumn of 1983 I began reading The Orthodox Church by Bishop Kallistos Ware. As I read, I was immediately struck by a number of things, most notably the straight-forward unapologetic yet irenic tone.

As a history major, I appreciated the link to the apostles. I was pleased with the statement that infants were communed—something I had wondered about since I was 13 years old. I was intrigued to find several familiar critiques to Roman Catholicism. I had recently begun reading about Lutheran liturgics, and so was pleased to see that emphasis. But most of all, I noticed several commonalities to Lutheran doctrine and, at the same time, several commonalities to Roman Catholic practices that I had been taught were wrong (invocation of saints, bishops, “other” sacraments, etc.). This especially piqued my interest since I wondered how a church could get doctrine right in so many places, but wrong in some practices; but these “errors” I dismissed in typical Lutheran fashion as “accretions to purity” and “barnacles on the church.” Of course, I was troubled by what I perceived to be a synergistic approach to justification (i.e., the process of regeneration and conversion). And holding, as I did, to the unLutheran doctrine of the total depravity of man, I was put off by the description of free will and original sin. Finally, I was most intrigued to see that certain Lutheran theologians had corresponded early on with the Orthodox and that, according to Ware, Patriarch Jeremiah’s response in this correspondence was considered akin to our confessional documents.

Overall, however, my visit and reading proved to be quite positive and led me to several conclusions: (a) the Orthodox were not Roman Catholic; (b) the Orthodox had much in common with the Faith I knew; and therefore (c) the Orthodox Church and its teachings were worth considering and studying.

28 November 2006

On the Radio

My statement of resignation generated some interest and, subsequently, has led to a radio interview which will be broadcast on Saturday and available via the internet.

20 November 2006

The Feast of the *Other* Presentation

I find it rather intriguing that the Western churches have never really celebrated The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the same earnestness as they celebrate the other Marian feasts. The feast appears in the pre-Vatican II calendar as a Greater Double (or Feast of the Third Class) and in the post-Vatican II calendar as a Memorial. These are not very high rankings, especially when compared to the Conception, Dormition and Nativity. (Even the short-lived "Motherhood of the BVM" enjoyed a higher rank.)

I find this fact rather intriguing because the Eastern churches have always ranked this feast among the Twelve Great Feasts. The details are drawn from the Protoevangelium of St James, which states that when the blessed child was three years old she was brought by her parents, Joachiam and Anna, to the temple to live there as a temple virgin until she was betrothed to a widower named Joseph.

Of course, this story should not be considered on the same level as Holy Scripture. Nevertheless, this feast teaches us an important detail, which may be summarized this way:

In all of Scripture, the word "temple" is most often used to refer only to two things: the place where the Ark of the Covenant (which contained the Lord's Word) is stored, and the sanctified person who is "the temple of the Holy Ghost" The bridge between these two uses of the word is the Blessed Virgin Mary. At least, that is how the early church fathers thought. They saw the Blessed Virgin in the Old Testament descriptions of the Ark and, by extention, of the Temple. And so it was not a novel or radical leap, but clealry within the interpretive matrix of the church, when St. Paul said that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. For he was stating that, just as the Blessed Virgin held within her womb the very Word of God, so we also (like her and, in fact, because of her) can hold within our hearts and our very beings, that same Word of God.

This point is underscored by the Gospel reading which is commonly read in both the Eastern and Western churches on this feast; particularly the words, "Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it."

18 November 2006

The Nativity Fast--An Instruction

The Byzantine Nativity Fast began last Wednesday (15 Nov); the Nativity Fast for Western Rite Christians begins on Advent Sunday (3 Dec). Like all fasts, the Nativity fast is designed "given for us to grow, not to crush us." So states Fr Matthew Jackson in an instructive post on fasting.

I concur with the good priest's analysis that this is the heart of the matter:
The purpose of fasting is to gain mastery over oneself and to conquer the passions of the flesh. We don’t fast because it pleases God if His children don’t eat, "the devil never eats" (Lenten Triodion). We don’t fast in order to afflict ourselves with suffering and pain, that doesn’t make God happy. Neither do we fast with the idea that our hunger and thirst can somehow serve as a "reparation" for our sins. This understanding is never given in the Scriptures or the writings of the Saints which claim that there is no "reparation" for man's sin but the crucifixion of Christ. Salvation is a "free gift of God" which no "works" of man can accomplish or merit. We fast, therefore, and must fast, only to be delivered from carnal passions, to be delivered from our bondage to sin and to our own desires. We fast to make ourselves receptive to the operation of grace in our lives. So that we can become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.
I commend to you the entire message.

15 November 2006


No longer available at an earlier advertized link, Chris Orr makes it available here. You can also find it in pdf format here.

11 November 2006

Petitionary Prayer to Mary

Packing and unpacking a fairly large library is a pain. The benefit, however, is that one is re-discovers books that were forgotten, hidden, or designated for "later reading." One such book that I recently re-discovered is The Haily Mary: A Verbal Icon of Mary by Nicholas Ayo, CSC (University of Notre Dame Press, 1994).

When I should have been doing other things, I picked up the book to re-familiarize myself with its contents. Then, of course, I became engrossed. And then I discovered this little gem which reconfirmed what I had read elsewhere.

Petitionary prayer to Mary characteristic of the second part of the Ave Maria can be found in a fragmentary way very early in the liturgical practice of the church of Alexandria. In a subterranean sanctuary dating from third-century Alexandria there is a fresco depicting the marriage at Cana with an inscription to "Holy Mary" (Haghia Maria). The Sub Tuum Praesidium is the oldest Marian prayer, cherished in the liturgy both of the East and the West. It is remarkable because of its appeal to the intercession of Mary. The Greek text was discovered in the twentieth century on a fragment of papyrus estimated to date from the third century.*

Sun [sic?] tuum praesidium confugimus,
Sancta Dei Genetrix; (Theotokos)
Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus,
Sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper,
Virgo gloriosa et benedicta.

We seek refuge under your protection,
Holy mother of God;
Do not turn away our prayers in our need,
But always deliver us from all danger,
O glorious and blessed Virgin.

*The original text in Greek is a fragmentary piece of papyrus, and some reconstruction was required to present a coherent text for publication. Various liturgies, both East and West, have further adapted the text of this prayer to their particular devotional situation. There is thus no one standard Greek text to which everyone subscribes. For an exhaustive treatment of the "Sub Tuum," see Giamberardini, Il Culto Mariano in Egitto, I:69-97 and 273.

08 November 2006

New Tag: Favorite Quote from Literature

Do you have a favorite quote from literature? I have several, and this one from the pen of Fyodor Dostoevsky is by far my favorite.

Fear nothing and never be afraid; and don't fret. If only your penitence fail not, God will forgive all. There is no sin, and there can be no sin on all the earth, which the Lord will not forgive to the truly repentant! Man cannot commit a sin so great as to exhaust the infinite love of God. Can there be a sin which could exceed the love of God? Think only of repentance, continual repentance, but dismiss fear altogether. Believe that God loves you as you cannot conceive; that He loves you with your sin, in your sin. It has been said of old that over one repentant sinner there is more joy in heaven than over ten righteous men. Go, and fear not. Be not bitter against men. Be not angry if you are wronged. Forgive the dead man in your heart what wrong he did you. Be reconciled with him in truth. If you are penitent, you love. And if you love you are of God. All things are atoned for, all things are saved by love. If I, a sinner, even as you are, am tender with you and have pity on you, how much more will God. Love is such a priceless treasure that you can redeem the whole world by it, and expiate not only your own sins but the sins of others. (Brothers Karamazov, Bk II, Chapter III; Source)
Instead of tagging folks, I'll just wait for others to jump in. All I ask is that you link to this post so that those who visit here can then easily go to your blog.

02 November 2006

"Turn to the Lord!"

[A] common turning to the East during the Eucharistic Prayer remains essential. This is not a case of accidentals, but of essentials. Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord. It is not now a question of dialogue, but of common worship, of setting off towards the One who is to come. What corresponds with the reality of what is happening is not the closed circle, but the common movement forward expressed in a common direction for prayer....

In this way we obey the ancient call to prayer: Conversi ad Dominum, "Turn to the Lord!" In this way we look together at the One whose Death tore the veil of the Temple -- the One who stands before the Father for us and encloses us in His arms in order to make us the new and living Temple.

Pope Benedict XVI
The Spirit of the Liturgy

29 October 2006

Statement of Resignation

Today I resigned as the Pastor of Zion Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Detroit. What follows is the "Statement of Resignation" that I read to the members who attended the semi-annual meeting of the Voters of Zion Church. The Reverend David Stechholz, President & Bishop of the English District, presided at the meeting as well as the Holy Mass that preceded the meeting.

When I became Pastor of Zion Church more than 11 years ago, my intention was to remain at Zion until death or retirement. That is still my heartfelt and sincere desire. However, with much grief and heartache, I have concluded that I must tender my resignation as the Fifth Pastor of Zion Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Detroit.

I tender my resignation because I no longer confess the teachings of the Lutheran Church as these are understood by those who have pledged themselves to the Book of Concord. Zion wants to be a Lutheran congregation. The members of Zion rightly expect their Pastor to be Lutheran—a man who holds unreservedly to the Book of Concord as a true and correct interpretation and understanding of the Holy Scriptures. I can no longer do so.

When a man pledges himself to a confession, he doesn’t get to pick and choose which parts he’ll abide by and which parts he’ll ignore or go against. Most of the Book of Concord is true and correct, and for that God is to be praised. However, I am convinced that the Book of Concord contains defective or deficient doctrines not in accord with the faith of the apostles. In simple terms, these deficiencies include the acceptance of an amended Nicene Creed, the notion that Jesus died to appease His Father’s wrath, a man-centered understanding of the church, the denial of prayers to the saints, and the idea that the liturgy is a man-made product. In addition, there are correct Scriptural teachings in the Book of Concord that are denied in practice by nearly all Lutherans today. These include the teachings that the saints do intercede for us, the affirmation of the perpetual virginity of Mary, the proper respect due the elements in the Lord’s Supper, and the scriptural mandate that only ordained men should celebrate Mass and give the Sacraments. Because of these deficiencies and errors, I can no longer confess and teach from the Book of Concord. Therefore, I cannot be the pastor of any Lutheran congregation.

Now I need to be clear about one thing: I am not resigning because of something someone at Zion has said or done. No one has asked for my resignation. No one has pressured or threatened me to make this decision. On the contrary, you have all been patient and kind with me—even as you saw me struggle. Therefore, I shall always genuinely appreciate and be eternally grateful for the love and the generosity that you have showered upon me and my family during my tenure as your Pastor. I am also deeply grateful for the support you have given me since I first announced my struggle more than 3 years ago. Because of this, I will always have a place in my heart for the people of Zion. This is the parish, and you are the people, I will always love.

I also sincerely appreciate the respect you have shown me as your Pastor. Your respect was evident when I first visited Zion, and that was one of the key things that drew me to you. I also respect you, and so I respect your desire to remain Lutheran. Yet for that reason, I must depart. As I do so, I heartily apologize to any I have hurt, offended, or caused to stumble in the faith during my 11 year tenure as the Pastor of Zion. By your prayers and the mercy of God, may I be forgiven.

As many of you know, the catalyst for this decision was the heart-rending realization that The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is an heterodox communion fellowship, and that it has no desire to be otherwise. The Scriptures clearly prohibit Christians from being in communion with those who deliberately, persistently and willfully deny and depart from the apostolic tradition enshrined in the Scriptures. The fact that many of you, over the years, have come to Zion seeking shelter from the false worship and false teachings in LCMS churches is evidence enough that we live in a false communion. And the fact that what is taught and practiced now in LCMS churches would be unrecognizable and, in fact, abhorred by those who composed the Book of Concord, and by the founders of this parish, is also evidence enough.

Please know, however, that the troubles in the LCMS are not the reason for my resignation. If I was leaving because the Missouri Synod is in trouble, I would be leaving for all the wrong reasons; I would be running when I should be protecting you; and I would be showing you great disrespect.

I tender my resignation because, over time, I have come to see and believe that the faith believed, taught, confessed and lived in the Orthodox Church is the faith of the apostles. Therefore, I sincerely believe that the Orthodox Church is the true visible Church of Christ on earth. For this reason, my family and I will seek to be received into communion in the Orthodox Church.

Your new bishop recently asked me what core issue motivated me to embrace the Orthodox Faith. It is this: The Liturgy never changes. I don’t mean that chants or prayers or feasts are not added or subtracted gradually over time. What I mean is that no priest or bishop or congregation can decide to cut the Eucharistic Prayer or go with a new style of worship or change things to suit his convictions or the times. Why? Because the liturgy is not something smart men have created and so can modify. The liturgy is from the Holy Spirit in the same way that the Scriptures are from the Holy Spirit. In the liturgy, the Holy Spirit rightly instructs us in Holy Scripture and His presence transforms us and the gifts set forth in the Holy Eucharist. So the liturgy is the way the Faith is given, confessed, prayed and proclaimed. As the liturgy goes, so goes the Faith together with your certainty and surety.

Bad bishops and aberrant priests have and will always surface in the true Church. From time to time, they introduce novel and heretical teachings. But if the liturgy doesn’t change, then their faith-destroying words will not take hold and will eventually fade away. The bottom line, then, is that the unchanging liturgy keeps us on the straight and narrow. It keeps us both on the way to the Kingdom, and in the Way which is Our Lord Jesus Christ. And the Kingdom of heaven is the goal, and the Lord Jesus is our Life.

I sincerely believe that what I am doing is good and right not just for me and my family. I am convinced that it is good and right for each one of you. I sincerely believe that the Faith you’ve been taught here in this place for 125 years is lived and believed in its fullness in the Orthodox Church. Therefore, I deeply long for each of you to join me precisely because I have been your spiritual father. You have trusted by ministry, teaching and counsel these past 11 years, and I wish you would trust me in this as well. Some have indicated that they will do just that. I am moved by their confidence, and will do all I can not to betray their trust. But a good spiritual father should never force or manipulate any of his children to believe as he does. In addition, my own struggles have taught me to acknowledge and respect that each person must reach this decision on his own, in his own time.

Because of my deep love and respect for you, I pledge to you this day that I have not and shall not proselytize or recruit away those who desire to remain members of Zion. I will always be pleased to answer any questions you may have, and I will continue to speak the truth in love. But I will never urge you to act against your conscience because that is not our Father’s way, and that is not the way of His Church.

Already I have heard that some people are telling lies about Zion and what I am doing today. In the coming weeks and months, some here and elsewhere will say that I’ve turned against the true Faith, that I’ve betrayed my vows to the Confessions and to you, and that I have been deliberately deceitful. Some will say that the pledge I just made about not recruiting members is a lie. Some will say that some or all of my tenure at Zion has been a lie. And some will say that Zion has never been very Lutheran and needs to change how she’s worshipped and what she’s been taught during the last 67 years.

If you permit me, let me tell you that when you hear these things: do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, do not become bitter or angry, and do not fall into sin. Instead, hold fast to what is true and good and right. And above all, hold on steadfastly to the mercy of God. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He is the loving Father, and so He will always embrace those who come to Him.

I also urge you not to believe those who would question the Gospel and sacraments you have received from me. I have given what I have received. And despite my many failings and the failings of the Synod, the Gospel you have received here in this place is the wondrous, loving, merciful work of the Holy Spirit.

I am grateful for every blessing of the Holy Spirit that I received in the Lutheran Church—most especially for the gift of Holy Baptism, for a rigorous catechesis in many basic doctrines, for the Holy Eucharist that has nourished my faith, and for the grace to serve three parishes. I am also grateful for your prayers; for your words of admonishment, rebuke and encouragement; and for your friendship—which I do not intend to abandon. I am undeserving of every kindness that you have shown me. And although it may be more challenging for various reasons, I hope we continue to see each other in the years ahead.

Finally, although I am undeserving, I ask for your prayers—for me, for my family, for Zion, for your District President, for whoever succeeds me, and for the faithful in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Pray that our Lord have mercy. And pray that, despite our weaknesses and failings, we may together be restored to full communion with our Father through His Son Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.

(Rev Fr) John W Fenton, M.Div., S.T.M.
The Fifth Sunday after Michaelmass
29 October 2006

25 October 2006

Three Remedies from St Raphael

Yesterday when I celebrated the Feast of St Raphael the Archangel, I read these words from St Bonaventure. Granted, he is a post-schismatic medievalist's medievalist; nevertheless, I found what he wrote very comforting. Below are excerpts, but I encourage you to read the whole of what the breviary provides.

Raphael by interpretation is : The Medicine of God. Consider therefore the three remedies bestowed upon us by Raphael which are, as it were, medicines to heal our sickness. First of all Raphael the physician would deliver us from infirmity of soul by inducing within us the bitterness of contrition. This is attested by the Book of Tobit, where we read how Raphael telleth Tobias to anoint his father's eyes with gall ; and how, when it was done, Tobit did see. Could not Raphael have done the anointing himself? Nay, for an Angel cannot give repentance, but only shew the way thither. ...

Secondly, Raphael would deliver us from the devil's bondage by putting us in remembrance of the passion of Christ. ...

Thirdly Raphael would deliver us from the wrath of God, incurred by sinning against him, and this he would do by inducing in us greater earnestness in prayer. Consider how the Angel Raphael, according to Chapter twelve of the Book of Tobit, said : When thou didst pray, I did bring the remembrance thereof before the Holy One. For in such fashion the Angels do all that they can to reconcile us to God. The devils are the fallen angels who accuse us before God. But the holy Angels excuse us, namely, when they bring before God those prayers which they have already stirred us up to offer more devoutly. ...

13 October 2006

My Season of Silence...

To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3.1-8

26 August 2006

True Faith & True Humility

Humility and faith go together. To trust is to set aside your pride—that you know best, that you have all the answers, and that you can work things out on your own. And to be humble is to believe that you are no better than others, and that you need and depend on them.

“I don’t deserve your love, your kindness, your generosity or anything that God gives me through you.” That’s what the truly humble say. It’s also what the faithful man says. For the person of faith acknowledges that anything he offers or does or gives is meager and paltry and not worthy to be compared with whatever the Lord gives through His ministers and through others. And the humble man confesses that, apart from the Lord, everything he does is worthless and vain.

It takes great humility to say, “I was wrong. I mistreated you. I abused our friendship. I am not worthy to stand in your sight.” It also takes great faith. For when you confess your sin, you are not only humbling and lowering yourself; you are also trusting that your apology will be accepted, your sincerity will be believed, your words will not be swatted aside, and your admission will not be used against you.

When you make excuses or defend yourself or blame others or demand special treatment or—worse yet—trot out the good you’ve done, then your pride has stomped out humility; and your faith has been overrun by self-belief. And the man who believes in himself has turned his eyes away from the Lord, and has spurned the Lord’s mercy.

But the man who has true faith and true humility demands nothing from God or anyone else. Of all the things he could request, he begs for only one thing—not life, not strength, not resolve or willpower, but mercy. God, be merciful to me, the sinner. That is his only prayer—that his Creator have mercy on him; that his Savior pity him; and that the Spirit breathe into him once more the faintest whisper of God’s undying compassion. And in return, this man of faith and humility offers nothing except his entire being—all that he is and all that he has--to God for the good of all men. Such an offer he makes, not to buy God’s affection, but knowing that all he has is not his own, but the Lord’s—which he has only tainted or ruined or abused or wasted by his prodigal living. And so “mercy” is his only prayer. And “have mercy” is his gasping breath.

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. And so this man, who truly knows himself, is not too proud to stand with the heathen and make a mess of himself in God’s house. This man is humble because he believes; and he believes because he is humble. And so this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

19 August 2006

Too Funny to Pass Up


The Devil's Day vs. The Lord's Day

We must be on guard that we live not for this day, this moment, this time, but that we live for the Lord’s Day. For the devil has his day—and he can easily seduce us to believe that his day is the best day. How does he do this? Whenever we live for earthly gain or fleeting pleasures; whenever we agree with the Truth but pursue compromise for the sake of peace; whenever we look for honor and praise; whenever we place convenience ahead of living the Lord’s Word; whenever we feed our appetites and gratify our desires; whenever we tolerate false teaching by remaining in communion with it—then the devil is successfully luring us into his day, seducing us to prefer his day over the Lord’s Day. However, the Lord’s Day—both now at Holy Mass, and eternally in the heavenly kingdom—that is the day we must live for, the day we must fix our eyes upon, the day we must desire more than any days that we find comfortable. And for the sake of this eternal day, we must be willing to forsake all our self-chosen days.

The soul that gives itself over to present affairs, the soul that melts at the prospect of earthly comforts or peace at the expense of truth—that soul has hidden the coming evils from itself. It shrinks from anticipating future things which might disturb its present happiness. And when it abandons itself to the delights of the present life, what else is it doing but rushing headlong into the fire with eyes closed? So if there is any happiness that we may derive during these days, let us always temper that happiness with a clear vision of what will be—with true fear of the judgment to come, and true faith in the greatest joys and pleasures that Our Lord has stored up for us, and even now permits us to taste in His holy sacraments.

Our Lord provides us with His mercy in the sacred mysteries. He does this precisely so that we might not deviate from the Way that He is, so that we don’t lose His Way by going our own way. Our Lord extends to us, time and again, His strength and His might in the Eucharist so that we might withstand the seductions of the devil, and so that we might live not for this day but for His Day. In fact, with St Gregory, we may say that Our Lord uses His Gospel in Sacraments and bishops as obstacles to block our self-chosen way. For you have heard that when you go [your way] with your adversary to the magistrate, while you are on the way, endeavor to be delivered from him (Lk 12.58). Our adversary on the way is God’s word, which is contrary to our physical desires in this present life. One who submits humbly to His commandments is delivered from this adversary. So by surrendering your self-serving pride and your self interests and, instead, living the Lord’s mercy, you both make this godly “adversary” your greatest friend, and you abandon your self-destructive way in favor of the Lord’s highway into His kingdom.

An excerpt from tomorrow's sermon. The portions in green are from Homily 39 in Forty Gospel Homilies of St Gregory the Great.

18 August 2006

So Close, So Beautiful

I would like to think that Zion Detroit is the ecclesial jewel in the city, but there are many others. I'm not sure any Detroit parish could exceed the liturgical and ceremonial of Assumption Grotto on the celebration of its titular feast. To show you what I mean, visit their blog and view the 4 photo posts. Stunning!

BT - New Liturgical Movement

17 August 2006

Mercy -- Even for Those Who Insult You

Many church fathers, commentators, preachers--both within the boundaries of the holy Church and outside those boundaries--have maintained that the Lord's commandments to "love one another" and "love your enemies" and "be merciful" may be difficult, but they are not impossibe. For Our Lord does not demand the impossible. But He does require that we submerge our passions of anger, hatred, grudge-bearing, and refusal to forgive and instead embrace all men--especially those who have insulted us or wronged us or treated us ungratefully, unkindly, or unlovingly.

And to show us both that this is not an impossible demand, and that He can and will live His love in and through us, Our Lord leaves us an example when He enters the holy temple during His last month. To be sure, Our Lord drives out those who "buy and sell." But observe the mercy, as drawn forth by St Gregory the Great.

There is no doubt that those who resided in the temple to receive gifts sought to do harm to those who did not give anything. The house of prayer had become a robbers’ den because it was known that those assisting in the temple were there either to do physical harm to those who did not offer gifts, or to inflict spiritual death on those who did. But our Redeemer does not take His preaching away from those who are unworthy and ungrateful. After demonstrating the power of His discipline by driving out those in error, He straightway showed the gift of His grace. [For] He was teaching daily in the temple.


15 August 2006

From Her We Have Plucked the Fruit of Life

The following is a condensed version of a sermon by St John of Damascus on the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was preached this morning at the Dormition Mass at Zion Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Detroit.

No one who has ever lived, and who lives now, is able to praise worthily the holy death of Mother of God because she is greater than all praise. Nevertheless, since it is pleasing and acceptable to God that we should, as best we can, honor her with all our heart and love and zeal, and since what is pleasing to her Son is pleasing to His mother, let me make a feeble attempt to praise the Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ. To do this, I invoke the Word made flesh in the womb of the blessed Mary. May He assist me, for He gives speech to every mouth which is opened for Him, and He is her sole pleasure and adornment.

Today the holy Virgin of Virgins is presented in the heavenly temple. Virginity in her was so strong as to be a consuming fire. It is forfeited in every case by child-birth. But she is ever virgin: before the event, in the birth itself, and afterwards.

Today the sacred and living ark of the living God, who conceived her Creator Himself, takes up her abode in the temple of God, not made by hands. David, her forefather, rejoices. Angels and Archangels are in jubilation, Powers exult, Principalities and Dominations, Virtues and Thrones are in gladness: Cherubim and Seraphim magnify God. Not the least of their Praise is it to refer praise to the Mother of glory.

Today the holy dove, the pure and guileless soul, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, putting off the ark of her body, the life-giving receptacle of Our Lord, found rest to the soles of her feet, taking her flight to the spiritual world, and dwelling securely in the sinless country above.

Today the Eden of the New Adam welcomes its true paradise, in whom our sentence has been repealed. For in her the Tree of Life was planted, and our nakedness is covered. For we are no longer naked and uncovered, and unable to bear the splendor of the divine likeness. Strengthened with the abundant grace of the Spirit, we shall no longer lament our nakedness saying, “I have Put off my garment, how shall I put it on?” For in this Paradise, this woman, the serpent found no entrance. He could not deceive her with the promise to be like God. For the only begotten Son of God, God himself, of the same substance as the Father, took His human nature of the pure Virgin. Because of this—because of His coming down into Mary’s womb, and her willingness to receive Him—we, who are men, can become God; we, who are mortal, are made immortal; and we, who are corruptible, can now in the Spirit put aside corruption and be clothed in the garment of divinity.

Today the spotless Virgin, untouched by earthly affections, and all heavenly in her thoughts, was not dissolved in earth, but truly entered heaven to dwell in the heavenly tabernacles. Who would be wrong to call her heaven, unless indeed he truly said that she is greater than heaven in surpassing dignity? With her womb, the Lord and Creator of heaven, created Himself, without the aid of a man. He made her a rich treasure-house of His Godhead. He resided in her entirely without passion. Now how could she, who brought life to all, be under the dominion of death? Yet she obeys the law of her own Son, and inherits this chastisement as a daughter of the first Adam, since her Son, who is the life, did not refuse it. As the Mother of the living God, she goes through death to Him.

O people of Christ, let us then acclaim her today in sacred song. Let us acknowledge our own good fortune and proclaim it. Let us delight in her purity of soul and body, for next to God, she surpasses all in purity. It is natural for similar things to glory in each other. Let us show our love for her by compassion and kindness towards the poor. For if mercy is the best worship of God, who will refuse to show His Mother devotion in the same way? She opened to us the unspeakable abyss of God’s love for us. Through her the old enmity against the Creator is destroyed. Through her our reconciliation with Him is strengthened, peace and grace are given to us, men are the companions of angels, and we, who were in dishonor, are made the children of God. From her we have plucked the fruit of 1ife. From her we have received the seed of immortality. She is the channel of all our goods. In her God was man and man was God. What is more marvelous or more blessed?

Therefore, let our souls rejoice in this Ark of God. Let us dance in spirit with David; today the Ark of God is at rest. With Gabriel, the great archangel, let us exclaim, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Hail, inexhaustible ocean of grace. Hail, sole refuge in grief. Hail, cure of hearts. Hail, through whom death is expelled and life is installed.”

You will find the full sermon here, which also served as the original source. An eye was also on another translation of the same sermon found in volume 4 of The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers.

10 August 2006

Reed Organ

This is a "must share" and a "must see." It is a short (about 3 minute) video of an original hand-pump reed organ.

Thanks to Jeffrey Tucker at New Liturgical Movement.

The Unfaithful Steward - A Patristic Comment

In what follows, St Peter Chrysologus gives a refreshing (and, perhaps to our ears, unique) interpreation of a difficult pericope--the parable of the unfaithful steward. As you read, you will notice that the church father sees the "summons" as Gospel, because it calls the man to repentance so that he might receive Christ's forgiveness in true faith. You will also notice that St Peter turns the phrase "Give an account" from condemnation of the sinner to the salvation in Christ. It is, at least for me, a magnificent homiletical turn.

And a change against him was brought before him that he had squandered his goods, and he summoned him (vv. 1-2). He summoned him by means of the Gospel. And he said to him (v. 2). And what does he not do by means of the Gospel[—]by means of which he criticizes behavior , he lay bare what was hidden, he exposes ones conscience, he reproves offenses he enumerates sins, and to the one who persists in them he threatens punishment, although to the one who changes his ways he promises pardon in return? And he summoned him, and said to him: “What is this I hear about you?

Give an account of your stewardship; you will no longer be able to be a steward (v. 2) Why does he join such severity with such kindness? Why does he remove him from stewardship before receiving his report? Give an account; you will no longer be able to be a steward. As man he now asks for an account, as God he announces what is not at hand and what will be. Give an account; you will no longer be able to be a steward. He asks for an account, not to exact but to forgive. He asks, in order to be asked; he asks here, so as not to ask there; he asks in this age, so as not to ask at the judgment; he is in a hurry to ask, in order that the time of punishment not preclude time to make amends.

Give an account of your stewardship; you will no longer be able to be a steward. Why? Because the end of your life and the moment of death are coming; already attendants from heaven are ready to bind you, already judgment is beckoning; so hasten, in order not to lose time to make amends, you who have list the time to the do good deeds.

Give an account. That is to say: “Settle your account, settle your business, so that you do not have to pay back what belongs to me; you will settle it, however, if you now stop squandering it. I assume your prior debts, when I assumed you; I paid them off, when I absolved you. As your Advocate I was present to be heard on your behalf; although I am the Judge I stood trial, I was found guilty by those judged guilty by me; although free of punishment, I underwent punishments, and did not avoid being sentenced by those who were condemned; I the conqueror of death accepted death, I the destroyer of hell entered the underworld, not only to wrest you from your punishment by these means, but also to raise you to my dignity. So see to it that although the period of your stewardship has left you excluded, you be now included among the recipients of my everlasting gift.

Source, 177-178

09 August 2006

Lutheran Monks? In America?

Yes, there are a few. Granted, not as many as there were in the days shortly after the Reformation. And I don't believe a current Lutheran monastery claims to have operated continuously since before the Reformation. However, despite prejudices and misconceptions about Luther's views on monasticism, Lutheran monks exist in Europe and North America.

St Augustine's House is the sole remaining Lutheran monastery in North America. It follows what might be called a "modern observant" form of the Benedictine Rule. This means, among other things, that the full Divine Office is recited daily with Holy Mass also celebrated daily. When sung, the Office and Mass employ the common Gregorian tones. It has never had many professed members but by God's grace, and with the generous support of a dedicated few, it has remained.

In a few weeks, St. Augustine's House will celebrate its Golden Jubilee, having been founded on 27 May 1956. The Prior, Fr Richard Herbel, OSB, announces that the Golden Jubilee anniversary will be celebrated August 25-26. In good Lutheran fashion, the celebration will commence with an organ recital and hymn sing in the Chapel immediately after Vespers. Then, on the annual "Fellowship Day," after Holy Mass, Dr Robert L Wilken will give a presentation entitled "Monasticism: A Gift to the Church." In the afternoon, Fr Caesarius Cavallin, OSB, (the Prior of the Östanbäck monastery, a Lutheran monastery in Sweden) will given a presentation entitled "The Fifty Years from the Swedish Horizon."

As a member of the Pastoral Council (the legal "board of directors") for St Augustine's House, I would be remiss if I did not encourage you to attend--or, at least, remember the monastery in your prayers.

Beware of False Prophets II

Our Blessed Lord goes on to say that “you will know them by their fruits.” What does this mean? Does it mean that you will know whether prophets are true by how they live and act? Perhaps. But chiefly it means that you will know them by the Christians they produce; those who defend them as true and honorable teachers of the Faith when, in fact, they usurp what the Church has always confessed.

True prophets, priests, pastors and bishops nurture you in the true faith. They speak from the Spirit of God. They activate in you a lively faith and godliness. Theses are their good fruits—together with their bold confession of the faith and their willingness to suffer all, even death, rather than depart from the Church’s Faith. If these are the fruits, then these pastors and preachers are good trees in communion with and united to the Tree of Life.

So Our Lord warns you. But do not let this warning trouble you. For Our Lord does not say, “Beware” to frighten or scare you, but to comfort and strengthen you. For when you know that there are false preachers and evil prophets; when you know that there are pastors who speak of their own dreams rather than of the Lord’s heavenly vision; and when you know that there are preachers whom Our Lord never sent—then you are more intent to search diligently for the true bishops, the godly priests, the faithful pastors who will shield you and soothe you with the Lord’s undying mercy.

An excerpt from a sermon preached in 2004 on Mt 7.15-21.

Beware of False Prophets I

When Our Blessed Lord warns us to “Beware of false prophets,” He is not warning us about immoral or perverted priests, or lazy or corrupt bishops. These men are wicked, and their wickedness should be exposed and dealt with. But there is a difference between a cleric who does not live the truth he teaches, and one who does not teach the true Faith. Better to have a thousand pastors who teach holiness but do not live it, than to have one morally upright man who tells us devilish lies and who tries to convince us that we should believe and live and worship as the Lord never commanded. These are the real false prophets because they teach not the truth of God but the fancy of their own mind.

So when Our Lord Jesus says “Beware of false prophets,” He is urging us to watch out for those pastors and preachers, bishops and priests in our own midst; those who are part of our communion fellowship. They urge unity at the expense of integrity, and let false teaching and false worship live alongside the truth. They are more impressed with the world’s standard of success than with the kingdom of God. They quickly assign tradition to the trash heap and favor newer, better, more modern ways. And they not only allow but encourage and even insist on innovations which sweep away what we have received, what our ancestors knew and believed, and what we must rely on in time of need.

“Beware of them,” our Jesus says, “because they partake of your communion, yet with their words they destroy it. They urge you not to get so riled, yet they rile you up. They speak of peace, but they persecute the true bringers of My peace. So beware of them. For these are the ones who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

An excerpt from a sermon preached in 2004 on Mt 7.15-21.

02 August 2006

St Gamaliel?

The Western Church remembers as saints those honorable Jewish rabbis or Pharisees who did not deny the Christ but embraced Him. And today (3 August) is one such day for this commemoration.

In the Tridentine tradition, today is know as "The Invention of St Stephen, Protomartyr." St Stephen we know. His feast is celebrated on 26 December, when his glorious death at the hands of Jews "stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears" is commemorated. So why a second feast? Because this is the day when (as Christian tradition has it) his relics were found. (In Middle English, and even today's English, "invention" can mean "finding" or "discovery.")

Yet it is not just St Stephen's relics that were found, but (not surprisingly) those also of some Jews who were known to speak well of the Christ and Christians. Here is how the Anglican Breviary recounts the day:

It is related that, for a long time, there lay hidden, in a mean and obscure place near Jerusalem, the bodies of the following Saints : Stephen the Protomartyr ; Gamaliel, the celebrated Doctor of the Old Law, who withstood his fellow-members of the Sanhedrin when they desired to put the Apostles to death ; Nicodemus, who had defended Jesus in the Sanhedrin, and afterward came to him by night, unto whom was thereupon revealed the mystery of baptismal regeneration, and who assisted in the burial of Jesus ; and Abibon, the son of Gamaliel. Today's feast is a commemoration of the finding of the holy relicks of these men of God. ... [I]n the places where a feast is kept in honor of Saint Nicodemus, or the other aforementioned holy ones, it is observed on this day.

It appears, then, that the Western Church has not traditionally shied away from venerating these Jewish men of God who did not deny, but confessed the Christ. Let us now praise men of renown, and our fathers in their generation. (Eccl 44.1)

01 August 2006

Holy Maccabees, Martyrs

Today, according to the older (pre-Vatican II) Latin calendar and in conjunction with the Byzantine calendar, we commemorated the Maccabean Martyrs at Holy Mass. It is one of the few instances in the older calendar when the Latin rite commemorates a pre-Apostolic saint. Their moving hagiagraphy is summarized here. But I would urge the readers of this blog to read the entire account here.

31 July 2006

How Christ Saves

Excerpt from "Passions & Theosis in St Maximos the Confessor" (a paper written for a D.Min. class)

The salvation of mankind results from Christ (in His hypostatic union of passible human nature within the divine nature) exercising his free choice by not succumbing to the “liability to passions.” He became sin because He was capable of transgressing God’s commandment, truly suffered temptation, and experienced all the urges of corrupted human passions. “For it was in human passibility that the power of sin and death, the tyranny of sin connected with pleasure, and the oppression associated with pain, all began.”[1] Yet He who became sin knew, or committed, no sin because He willfully and freely chose to restrain the passions, resist temptation and refrain from transgression. In Christ, this restraint of passions is redemptive, as is forthrightly manifest when He suffered, was crucified and died. This one event, above all others, is the poignant recapitulation of Christ’s willed free choice in order to restore human nature. Yet the Lord’s Passion is “not a penalty exacted for that principle of pleasure, like other human beings, but rather a death specifically directed against that principle.”[2] For this reason, Christ “erase[s] the just finality which human nature encounters in death, since his own end did not have, as the cause of its existence, the illicit pleasure on account of which he came and which he subjected to his righteous punishment.”[3] Christ’s passion, then, is a true offering not to pay for the debt incurred by Adam’s willful sin, but to free mankind from passions. In a liturgical context, St. Maximos offers this summary:

By it [Christ’s incarnation] he freed human nature which had been enslaved by corruption, betrayed through its own fault to death because of sin, tyrannically dominated by the devil. He redeemed all its debt as if he were liable even thought he was not liable but sinless, and brought us back again to the original grace of his kingdom by giving himself as a ransom for us. And in exchange for our destructive passions he gives us his life-giving Passion as a salutary cure which saves the whole world.[4]

St Maximos argues, then, that by His willful free choice Christ overcomes the consequences of Adam’s sin; that is, the “liability to passions” which is imbedded in with the passible human nature. In doing so, Christ, in His person, restores human nature so that it might be what it was created to be—a nature capable of being deified.

For having given our human nature impassibility through his Passion, remission through his toils, and eternal life through his death, he restored that nature again, renewing the habitudes of human nature by his own deprivations in the flesh and granting to human nature through his own incarnation the supernatural grace of deification.[5]

In another place, St. Maximos declares that, by assuming passibility wits its “liability to passion,” Christ was able to renew our nature; “or better yet, he created our nature anew, and returned it to its primordial dignity of incorruptibility through his holy flesh.”[6] This results in the gift of deification “which he could not possibly have failed to bestow since he was himself God incarnate, indwelling the flesh in the same manner that the soul indwells the body, that is, thoroughly interpenetrating it in a union without confusion.”[7]

[1] Paul M. Blowers and Robert Louis Wilken, trans., On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ: St Maximus the Confessor (Crestwood NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003), 134. (From Ad Thalassium 42)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] George C. Berthold, Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), 198. (From Mystagogia 8)

[5] Blowers, 135. (From Ad Thalassium 61)

[6] Blowers, 83. (From Ambiguum 42)

[7] Ibid.

28 July 2006

Book Tag

Okay, I'll play along.

1. One book that changed your life:
Ceremony and Celebration - Paul H D Lange (yes, you can blame him)

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
The Hammer of God - Bo Geirtz

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
Monastic Diurnal - lightweight, has everything I need

4. One book that made you laugh:
I watch my humor

5. One book that made you cry:
I watch my tear-jerkers

6. One book that you wish had been written:
Dies Irae: A Novel about Irises

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
Sein und Zeit

8. One book you’re currently reading:
On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ: St Maximos the Confessor

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Beginning to Pray

10. Tag others.
Pr Petersen, Chris Jones, Fr Marco Vervoorst, Byzantine Dixie (I just love the nom de plume), Dr William Tighe (if he doesn't have a blog, he should!)

On Lutherans Becoming X

In the latest issue (vol 9 no 3) of De Trinitate, the Newsletter of the Society of the Holy Trinity, Rev Dr Frank C Senn, the STS Senior, comments on the departure of Lutheran clergy to either the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church. His focus is on those in the Society who have left including Phillip Max Johnson, the previous STS Senior (and Paul V Abbee, a former STS Dean and a classmate of mine at CTS). However, he also comments briefly on the departures of non-STS members Jaroslav Pelikan (of blessed memory), Richard John Neuhaus and Leonard Klein.

Senn notes that Neuhaus and Klein (among others)

developed a view of Lutheranism as a reform movement in the Catholic Church of the West. That was exciting, but I think finally misleading.

I think Senn is absolutely correct. If Lutheranism is nothing more than a "confessing movement within the Church Catholic" (a phrase, if memory serves, that A C Piepkorn employed), then it is either the worst form of schism (a selectively communing "church within a church") or it is an admission that, apart from self-invented concordants between local communities, there really is no trans-parochial entity called "church."

Senn continues by stating that one tempting reaction to these departures is to "[look] for deficiencies in Rome or other communions to justify why we are not making this journey" (empahsis added). Let me add that another temptation is to wring our hands wondering about by-gone years (a temptation I've been accused of indulging). Several months ago, Carl E Braaten offered a healthier avenue by asking, in an open letter, not "What's wrong with them" but "What's wrong with us." This, however, can lead to a third and fourth temptation. The third is to say, "Things are getting better" (which, on a lighter note, brings this to mind). And the fourth is to suggest the formation of a new church or another version of a "church-within-a-church."

Predictably, Senior Senn urges his charges not to despair but to remain true to the confession to which they have pledged themselves. He reminds them that "It's not always pleasant to remain in place and contend for the truth of the gospel or to champion the great tradition in our congregations and denominations." These are words to which any faithful churchman, regardless of his communion, would say a hearty "Amen."

Bolstering his argument with the stern warning of a good father, Dr Senn makes this blunt statement:

Short cuts to Rome [or elsewhere, I would add] may be tempting and personally satisfying, but it is pastorally irresponsible to abandon congregations and colleagues, and it is ecumenically irresponsible to give up the painstaking work of moving whole communities toward fellowship with each other.

Again, these are words that, in most circumstances, are true. However, the latter "irresponsibility" assumes that the "work of moving whole communities" is best accomplished within some sort of bureaucratic, centralized structure and not one local parish at a time. This is a point that could be disputed. The former "irresponsibility" assumes that the abandoner is doing so for less than pure motives.

There are many "less than pure motives" that are possible; namely, the desire to run from the cross, pride, greed, etc. The most insidious of these "less than pure motives" is found in the statement, "By becoming x, I became a better Lutheran." Frankly, I once favored that logic, but now I grow increasily impatient with it. For it suggests that joining another communion is little more than a "hop," and that one's not really giving up anything but simply "completing" himself. It also belies an untenable notion of truth; namely, that there is no sure body of truth located in one place (i.e., a true visible church), but that the Lutherans have a bit that helps complete the defiencies of x. Finally, in ecclesial terms, this argument partakes of the false primacy of the invisible church by suggesting that, in the end, communions matter--but only as "communities" and not as assemblies of rightly prayed dogma.

By using the phrase "less than pure motives" I have, of course, raised the question, "What would be pure motives for abandoning one's congregation?" I can think of only one: the Pastor (or layman) has come to the conclusion that he no longer is of the same faith as those with whom he is in communion. In other words, the person who leaves his communion does so with pure motives because he can articulate at least the material (if not also the formal) deficiencies in the confession to which he has pledged himself. I would further add that it is not enough to articulate those deficiencies in terms of doctrinal formulae or propostions which are wrongly stated; more than that, he must articulate the material liturgical deficiencies in his present communion. (Notice, not how doctrinal formulae are poorly prayed, but how the liturgy has helped inform the deficient doctrinal formulae.)

To be sure, it is not always charitable or helpful to articulate those deficiencies publicly; and, I would think, it is certainly pastorally irresponsible to do so to the congregation he may be leaving. But this does not absolve the person from being able to do so--perhaps, if only, to his incoming superior.

In this regard, the title and nuanced argument that Fr Richard John Neuhaus made at Concordia Theological Seminary some years ago (published later in First Things) is very instructive. Neuhaus does not write about "How I Became the Lutheran I Always Should Have Been," but "How I Beame the Catholic I Was." Simply put, his argument is that the Roman Church made up for the deficiencies he found in Lutheranism.

On the whole, then, I resonate with Dr Senn's pastoral letter to the members of STS. However, I offer this caveat:

It is pastorally irresponsible for a man to remain in his parish and in communion with his colleagues when he is capable of articulating serious deficiencies in their common confession; that is, when he can no longer pray the same dogma as they pray.