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.