24 January 2007

Principle Issues: Understanding Mark 9

The following item is excerpted from the "Reflection" published in this week's edition (28 January) of The Observer, the weekly bulletin/newsletter of St George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Troy.

In the Gospel according to Saint Mark, St John the Theologian tells Jesus that he and the other disciples have seen a man performing miracles. This man is not an apostle or one of Jesus’ disciples. St John says, “Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, who followeth not us, and we forbade him.” (Mk 9.37) It appears that St John and the others are irritated by this man because they tell him to stop. But Jesus offers this surprising reply: “Do not forbid him. For there is no man that doth a miracle in my name, and can soon speak ill of me. For he that is not against you, is for you.” (Mk 9.38) What Our Lord is saying is that this man, who is not part of the apostolic company, is still working and speaking by the grace of the Holy Spirit. And with His reply, Our Lord demonstrates His mercy and compassion toward those who know of Him but may not yet walk with the Holy Apostles.

We may understand that St John and the other apostles represent the Holy Orthodox Church. For the Church rightly claims to follow the teaching of the Holy Apostles and to walk in the same Faith that they taught. In other words, the Church is in the apostolic company—in communion with those holy men who walked with Our Lord. The man who performed miracles but was not one of the apostles or disciples—we may understand that he represents all those who know of Christ, who speak of Christ and offer His holy sacraments, yet not within the Holy Orthodox Church. In other words, we may understand that the Holy Spirit is with this man, even though this man is not in the Church. Why and how this is done is something we cannot understand. It is strange to us. Yet it is also wondrous. It is a mystery.

If this is how we understand this brief episode in St Mark’s Gospel, then we may see something else. The Lord desires this man to be with the Holy Apostles—to join their walk with Him. And so perhaps in His reply, Our Lord is telling St John and the others to go fetch this man, let him know about the Church, and bring him in. Then he will no longer need to cast out devils independently, but may work and speak by the Spirit within the warm embrace of the Holy Orthodox Church.

This interpretation helps illustrate how I, and some members of the parish I served, saw ourselves during our last months as Lutherans. We rejoiced that the Holy Spirit had not abandoned us. And so, by the Lord’s mercy, we celebrated together the holy mysteries. However, we became increasingly aware that our celebration was apart from the Church. We and our families knew of the Holy Apostles, and yet we become convinced that we were not in the apostolic company. We did not fear that we were against the Lord and His Church. But we also came to believe that we were not yet in the Church. So we felt like they were on a life-raft in the midst of a great storm-tossed ocean.

By the mercy of God, we were finally able to see our way into the Holy Orthodox Church. This mercy of God was demonstrated in many ways during our journey. Most particularly, we have seen it in the gentle kindness of Bishop MARK, the sturdy generosity of Father Joseph, and the warm embrace of the parishioners of St. George. And it is these concrete manifestations of Our Lord’s compassion that give us the courage, the confidence, and the hope to form a Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church on the west side of metropolitan Detroit.

21 January 2007

Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church

Yesterday we received an official notification from the Antiochian Orthdox Christian Archdiocese of North America that the constitution for a new parish in metropolitan Detroit had been blessed and approved by His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP.

His Grace, Bishop MARK, has named the parish "Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church." It will be a Western Rite parish. This means that it will follow the worship forms that were established in western churches prior to the Great Schism.

Those Orthodox Christians who employ the traditional Western worship are commonly known as “Western Rite Orthodox.” Although their worship forms are different, Western Rite Orthodox Christians share the same faith, doctrine and morality as their Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters. They are in communion with each other.

Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church will begin regular Sunday worship with Lauds and Mass on Quinquagesima Sunday, 18 February 2007.

For more information about the mission, you may visit the Holy Incarnation website. You may also subscribe to the announcement list.

The Impact of Immigration & Migration

In today's Detroit Free Press, a front page story was published entitled "Ancient Ways Entice Detroit Christians." It details the growth of Orthodoxy in the United States due to immigration and the "migration" or conversion of other Christians. At the end, the article mentions the re-establishment of a Western Rite Orthodox mission in metro Detroit. More on that here.

11 January 2007

More Umph please

I resonate with Pr Gregory Alms critique of this essay.

There is good in what is written and food for thought. This cynical statement, in particular, has a ring of truth: "When it comes to understanding the power of virginity or gender differences or anything else related to sex, there’s a good chance we just won’t get it." However, arguments rooted in theological ontology (i.e., maleness) ought to be more carefully explored. In brief, a little more umph would be helpful. In doing so, the ineffability ("it's a mystery") answer is not denuded but heightened.

A Colloquium

My friends at St Andrew's House are offering a colloquium later this month. Although it is billed "for Episcopal and Anglican clergy, spouses and lay leaders," anyone is welcome to attend.

Archbishop Nathaniel, of the Romanian Episcopate in the Orthodox Church in America, has set the tone for the colloquium with these words:

"'Faith of Our Fathers' will be an opportunity to explain who we Orthodox are to our Anglican brethren, and to show our love and concern for them in their time of trial," Archbishop Nathaniel said, referring to doctrinal divisions within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, and among the member churches of the worldwide Anglican Communion. "We hope Orthodoxy might be a salve that can help begin a process of healing," he said.

Lest anyone get the wrong idea, it should be noted that Bishop Wendell Gibbs, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, has promoted the colloquium among his clergy.

If you're able to attend, drop me an email or look for me.

08 January 2007

Principle Issues: An Ambling Preamble

In "Chronicling a Journey," I address autobiographically and chronolically the events that led me to tender my resignation as a Lutheran pastor. Running concurrently with that series, I also wish to describe some of the significant theological issues with which I wrestled during the past 20+ years. Even though I endeavor to present them in a consise manner, none of what I shall describe came quickly, easily or lightly; and some are issues with which I continue to struggle. But now the struggle has shifted--from considering to living, from internalizing to enacting, from believing to doing.

Because of the deep-seated and slowly germinating nature of these wrestlings, it would be wrong to characterize these issues as "ah-ha moments" or "break-throughs." In other words, at no point did I one day wake up or read a book or hear a well-turned phrase or stumble across a thought and then conclude, "I know what I must do." Rather, despite my bold (read: prideful) and often reckless public and private utterances, it was really only a few days before I offered my resignation that I was truly settled and at peace with what I had figured would eventually happen.

As I will describe these issues, I ask you to believe me when I assert that my intent and sincere desire is not to persuade, rebuke or lead one to doubt, but to illustrate; and perhaps to enlighten those who were close enough to see some of the inner angst.

For lack of a catchy title but with a desire to categorize them easily, I shall simply call these occasional posts "Principle Issues."

07 January 2007

Your Prayers Requested

On Thursday I received from His Grace, Bishop ANTOUN, Bishop of Miami and the Southeast and Chairman of the Ordination Review Board for the Antiochian Archdiocese, a letter which contained the following:

The ordination review board met earlier today and, after a positive recommendation, his Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP has given his blessing for your ordination to the diaconate and to the holy priesthood.

Yesterday at Great Vespers and today at Divine Liturgy, my priest, Fr. Joseph Antypas, announced that the ordinations would take place at St George Orthodox Church in Troy. The ordination to the diaconate will be on Saturday, 10 February at 10:00 a.m. The ordination to the holy priesthood will be on Sunday, 11 February, at 10:00 a.m. His Grace, Bishop MARK, will be the ordaining hierarch.

Your prayers for this unworthy servant of God are appreciated as I prepare my body, soul and spirit to serve the Lord and His faithful in the holy Orthodox Church.

02 January 2007

LCD Confessionalism

The author of Three Hierarchies raises an intriguing question. His question is, "Can you be Evangelical without being Lutheran?" The question, of course, assumes a kind of "least common denominator" reduction which really asks, "What do non-Lutheran evangelicals have in common with the historic Evangelische Kirche?"

Here is the list they posit:

1) Justification by faith alone; 2) baptismal regeneration; 3) the real and substantial presence of Christ's body and blood in Holy Communion; 4) the relative indifference of polity as defining the being of the church; 5) Scripture as the only binding norm of faith and practice.

The author admits that “the doctrines characteristic of the (Augsburg) Evangelical Reformation” are not exhaustively presented. I suggest, however, that the list as presented would not be accepted by the original signers of the Confessio Augustana. I think particularly of #4. My studies do not suggest that the question of polity was a reformational, but a post-reformational issue. As evidence, I note two things:

· the CA contains an entire article—and several other statements—that assume an episcopal polity

· both the German and Scandinavian Lutherans continued an “episcopal polity” (granted, in Germany the “bishops” were re-named Superindent)

What was not maintained, of course, was the insistence on ordination from Roman prelates; but even the primacy of Rome as a matter of honor was maintained in the confessional documents. Perhaps what the author(s) meant, then, was not indifference of polity as defining the esse of the church, but the necessity of episcopal ordination and Roman claims of supremacy.

Understanding that the author(s) admit that the list is not exhaustive, I was struck by the omission of the presumption to edit the liturgy. If anything is a hallmark doctrinal characteristic common to all strains of the reformation in the 16th century, then I would find it to be this notion. Furthermore, I would suggest that the presumption to edit the liturgy not only was it bedrock but also had both the most widespread and profoundest impact on subsequent Western Christianity—even into the current edition of the Missale Romanum.

HT: William Tighe