31 December 2008

Scenes from Christ Mass Eve

The sanctuary project at Holy Incarnation is not yet complete, but enough has been completed so that the altar could be repositioned for Christ Mass Eve. Below are scenes from Christ Mass at Holy Incarnation.

29 December 2008

Sister Parish in Oklahoma City

Fr Mark Wallace, the priest of St Andrew Orthodox Church (a Western Rite mission), reports that they celebrated their inaugural Mass in their new location on Christ Mass Eve. What a joy for that parish!

Photographs of the new location and liturgical space may be viewed here.

25 December 2008

Thank You

to the anonymous donor who, once again, generously gave a gift certificate to one of my favorite sites. Your kindness toward me and my family is very much appreciated.

24 December 2008

Christ Mass Greetings

The painting “Adoration of the Kings” by Benedetto Bonfigli (right) depicts the worship of Our Incarnate Lord.

Notice how Our Lord is adored: certainly with gifts and by some on bended knee; but also by the poor as well as the rich, by animals as well as by humans. Notice also how the serene Holy Virgin, who accepts no accolades for herself nor is giddy at what she has done, casts her gaze on her Son. Her joy is contained in Him; and so to Him she looks. And with her dispassionate gaze, she urges us to see and believe that her Son is our joy as well.

Most striking of all, however, is that Bonfigli deigns to include the crucified Lord. As you see Our Lord on the cross, your eye once more has little choice but to follow the lifeless peaceful gaze of the Crucified One to the Holy Child who is blessing all who approach. It is as if the crucified Lord is saying, “For this reason I was born, and for this cause I took human flesh from the pure Virgin—so that I might bless both rich and poor, both pure and sinful, both man and beast.”

Such words should put our heart at ease, and should chase away whatever fear and sadness we presently endure. For the Incarnate Lord is born to put an end to death and misery, and to unite us to His salvation by uniting us firmly to Himself.

May our hearts and minds, in all joy and confidence, ever be reminded, especially this Christ Mass tide, that Our Lord Jesus came into our flesh to unite Himself to our mortality and afflictions and to bear our sin, so that we might share in the blessing of His life, peace and mercy.

And may the richest blessings of this Holy Nativity be with you and yours.

The Icon of the Nativity

A message from our Bishop alerted me to this explanation of the Icon of Our Lord's Nativity. On the Eve of the Holy Nativity, I share it with you. (Note: the numbers on the icon refer to the numbers in the article below.)

What is the meaning of the icon of the Lord’s Nativity?

In this icon, the whole Gospel message of the incarnation of our Savior from the Virgin Mary is depicted, along with details added from the Holy Tradition. In many Nativity icons there are a multitude of details, in others less. In the diagram above, taken from a drawing for an icon, we can identify at least nine major elements.

The focus of the icon, of course, is on the birth of our Lord from His most pure virgin mother Mary (1). The Blessed Virgin is shown larger than any of the other figures, reclining on a mat or blankets, and looking not at her new-born Son, but rather with love and compassion towards her spouse, St. Joseph the Betrothed (8), and seeing his affliction and bewilderment over this most strange and divine birth. He is shown in the left bottom corner, conversing with Satan (7), disguised as an elderly, hunchback shepherd. The posture of St Joseph is one of doubt and inner trouble, for he wondered if it might be possible that the conception and birth were not by some secret human union. How blessed he was to serve the Mother of God and her divine Son, in spite of these thoughts and temptations, and to protect her from the evil gossip of the people who could not yet possibly understand so great a mystery. Tradition relates that Joseph was an elderly widower, thus having white hair and beard. Our Lord is shown in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, “for there was no room for them in the inn” (cf. Luke 2). The back-drop for the manger is a dark cave (3), which immediately reminds us of the cave in which our Lord was buried 33 years later, wrapped in a shroud. In the cave are an ox and ass, details not mentioned by the Gospels, but which are an invariable feature of every icon of the Nativity. The scene is included to show the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “the ox knows his Owner, and the ass his Master’s crib, but Israel does not know Me, and the people has not regarded Me” (Isaiah 1:3). Above this central composition, in the very center of the icon is the wondrous star (2) coming from heaven, which led the Magi (6) to the place where our Savior lay. Tradition speaks of the Magi being representative of all mankind: one being young (beardless), one being middle-aged (in the center of the group, and one being elderly (closest to the cave). The star reminds us of the heavenly orb we see on icons of the Theophany, or Pentecost, wherever divine intervention is indicated. The cow (animals) and star illustrate that all creation rejoices at the birth of the Messiah: the lowly and the great, the earthly and the heavenly.

The holy angels (4) are seen both glorifying God and bringing the good tidings of the Lord’s birth to the shepherds (5) who look in awe at the angles. The fact that Jewish shepherds and heathen magi were among the first to worship our Lord shows us the universality of this great event, meant for the salvation of all mankind.

The final detail of this icon, the scene of the washing of the Lord (9) is an element that has caused some controversy over the ages. In some churches of the holy monasteries of Mount Athos, the scene in the frescoes has been deliberately obliterated and replaced with bushes or shepherds. There was a prevailing opinion that this scene was degrading to Christ, who had no need of washing, being born in a miraculous manner from a pure virgin. But we retain this image on our icons, being part of the holy tradition passed on to us; truly it does not degrade the Lord, but magnifies Him, as is evident in the prayer that is appointed to be read at the time of Baptism for the midwife of a child: (from the Old-rite Potrebnik, 2nd Prayer for the midwife) “O Master, Lord our God… Who didst lie in a manger and didst bless the midwife Salome who came to believe in an honorable virginity…” (According to Tradition, Salome was a daughter of St Joseph by his previous marriage.) Who, more effectively than a midwife, could testify to the divine and virginal birth? Therefore we do well to understand the importance of this blessed scene.

Finally, as we look at the icon as one united composition, we can only be filled with joy, not only because of the bright colors and the festive activity depicted thereon, but for the joyous news of our salvation so clearly proclaimed by it. In it, all creation rejoices at the birth of our Lord: the heavens (a star and angels); the earth (the mountains, plants and animals), and especially mankind, represented most perfectly in the figure of the new Eve, the most pure Mother of God.

Christ is Born! Let Us Glorify Him!

12 December 2008

Avery Cardinal Dulles, RIP

The Jesuit America Magazine reports that Avery Cardinal Dulles, son of the late John Foster Dulles and one of America's foremost Catholic theologians, passed away this morning.

Dr Dulles is famous for his writings, particularly his popular book on the church. He also wrote several articles for FIRST THINGS.

May he, and all the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace.

11 December 2008

Understanding St John & His Question

At issue is the question the disciples of St John the Baptizer bring to Jesus; namely, "Are you the Coming One or should we look for another?" (cf Mt 11.2ff) The question is whose question this is? Is St John sending his disciples to Jesus to voice his own internal doubts and fears as he sits in prison with execution hanging over his head? Or is St John answering their doubts and fears as they wrestle with the mercy of God hidden within St John's impending decolation?

The church fathers teach that St John is not raising his own doubts, but is gently guiding his disciples to seek an answer to their doubts. For what it's worth, Martin Luther agrees. However, an existentialist reading (i.e., projecting what we would do, seeing ourselves as St John, making ourselves the subject of the inquiry), which became common after the Reformation (see Kierkegaard, et al.), suggests that St John is not so pious as to be above doubts and fears; in fact, to deny the possible doubts and fears to St John is to deny his "humanity" and, perhaps, call into question his need to be "saved from original sin" (assuming, of course, that original sin is the primary thing from which one needs to be saved).

In his characteristic manner, a friend offers a clear view of the "question behind the question" (i.e., which tradition is running one's hermeneutics).

As in so many other questions, it’s hard to separate an honest and open exegesis of the text from what we have theologically at stake in the answer. What is at stake here is: “Is John the baptist freed from original sin on this side of glory?”

You can see that the traditional answer to that question is Yes by looking at the Calendar. Only three people have liturgical celebrations of their physical birth: Jesus (Dec. 25), Mary (Sept. 8), John the Baptist (June 24). Normal saints are celebrated on their death days - their heavenly birthday... As explained in Weiser’s Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs, that John and Mary get additional days for their physical births reflects the church’s ancient belief that Mary and John were cleansed of original sin before birth: thus John can leap in the womb and be full of the Spirit even there, and in Mary’s case, many believed that she was preserved from original sin altogether. ...

So, that’s what is lying behind this argument for many people. If you are invested in John being cleansed of original sin in the womb, you simply cannot understand him to be wavering in doubt. If you are invested in John being “just another sinner” then you will really want to jump on this verse as “proving” your point.

But I do not think that this verse can profitably act as a fulcrum to pry an opponent into one’s own camp. One’s opponent reads this verse (as oneself does) in light of a prior commitment: is John cleansed from original sin in this life ahead of the Consummation?

Understanding the "simul doctrine"

A good friend has made the claim that "Luther's simul [justus et peccator] doctrine...is [not] at home in the East." (Simul justus et peccator means "righteous and sinner simultaneously.") I offer the following points for consideration:
  • The Orthodox rejection of the medieval notions distorting the patristic understanding of sin does not necessarily negate the understanding that the man of faith is simultaneously righteous and sinner.
  • The Orthodox principle of theosis (that the Christian is in communion with and participates in God by faith) does not necessarily negate the understanding that the man of faith is simultaneously righteous and sinner.
  • The Orthodox teaching that man, by God's grace, "works out his salvation with fear and trembling" (synergy) does not necessarily negate the understanding that the man of faith is simultaneously righteous and sinner.
  • The clearest evidence for the three points above is found in the pre-communion prayers (both Byzantine and Western rites) which acknolwledge both man's unworthiness to approach God while, simultaneously, acknowledge the faithful man's participation in the Eucharist due to God's mercy. Such prayers (as well as other prayers and the teachings of the fathers on these points) are incomprehensible without a lively understanding that the man of faith is simultaneously righteous and sinner.

10 December 2008

The Conception of the BVM - Some Thoughts

My dear friend, Rev Dr Burnell (Fritz) Eckardt, a Lutheran minister, ponders and debates within his mind (for all to see) whether he should institute in his parish the formerly Lutheran custom of celebrating the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In no particular order, I've suggested the following points for his consideration:

1. The Feast of the Conception of the BVM (as it is known in Orthodox churches, and was previously known to Lutherans) is not tied up in notions of (original) sin or guilt (which, popularly amongst Rome, seems to mathematical), but is yet another opportunity to exalt the human nature in Christ.

2. Three (and only three) nativities are celebrated by the Church: Christ, Mary and St John the Baptizer. In the same way, three conceptions are also celebrated (25 March, 8 Dec, 25 Sept). Asking why only these nativities are celebrated might lead one to consider why celebrating the conceptions is important.

3. The Marian feasts, generally, not only exalt the human nature in Christ, but also God's magnificent mercy; namely, that He deigns to save man. ("What is man, that thou art mindful of him?")

4. That the Gospel reading for the Feast in the historic Western tradition is Mt 1.1-16 (exalting the ancestry of the Christ) should be instructive.

5. The icon "The Conception of the Theotokos" (above) teaches a story told five previous times; namely, that in the ancestry of Jesus, God intervenes with a miraculous conception and birth for a barren woman. (Sarah-Isaac, Rebecca-Jacob/Esau, Rachel-Joseph, Samon's mother-Samon, Hannah-Samuel, Anna-Mary, Elizabeth-John -- all leading to the ultimate conception; namely, the conception and birth for a woman who "knows not a man").

09 December 2008

Scenes from Last Night's Mass

The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was celebrated last evening (8 Dec) at Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church. Bishop MARK, our diocesan Bishop, presided at both Vespers and Mass. He then spoke encouraging words to the parishioners concerning the progress of the Sanctuary Project.

Photographs of the evening candlelight Mass can be viewed here.

06 December 2008

Condolences from a Metropolitan

Metropolitan PHILIP, of the Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, has penned a letter of condolence at the repose of Patriarch ALEXY II. You may read the Metropolitan's letter here.

Patient Preparation (the Advent fast)

Like little children impatiently staring at the presents under a Christmass tree we eagerly await the celebration of Our Lord’s Nativity. Yet our kind and loving Mother Church gently but firmly urges us not to celebrate too soon but to remain patient. For those who begin the celebration too soon do not celebrate with the fulsome joy of those who have patiently waited with fasting and prayer. And those who know no patience have set their hearts and stomachs on the worldly distraction which threaten to overtake the true spiritual benefits of Christ Mass. Therefore, patient preparation is the Church’s exhortation: “Not yet, but soon!” So let us force our fleshly desires and our impatience to submit to the Church’s wise counsel.

02 December 2008

Bishop to Visit Holy Incarnation

His Grace Bishop MARK will preside at Holy Incarnation as the parish joints the Church in celebrating the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary next Monday (8 December).

Vespers begins at 5:30 p.m., and Mass will be celebrated at 6:00 p.m.

During His Grace's visit, Bishop MARK will inspect the work on the Sanctuary project.

Note: In the Western tradition, the Conception of the BVM is commemorated on 8 December, while in the Byzantine tradition this feast is commemorated on 9 December.

Holy Incarnation Featured

Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church is featured on the Diocese of Toledo website. Read about the history of Holy Incarnation, and view various pictures.

30 November 2008

This is not the world we ought to desire

Advent Sunday was commemorated today at Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church. Below is a portion of the sermon. The full sermon can be accessed at the Holy Incarnation blog.

Our Blessed Lord Jesus has often instructed us in the true delights of the heart. He has told us how great His love is for us, how He has mercy on us, how intimately He unites us to Himself by His Spirit, how He has stored up riches for us, and how earnestly He longs us for us join His saints and angels in His heavenly kingdom. And when we hear these things, how our hearts burn within us! And how our desire fades for this world and this world’s good!

Yet now, with that same deep compassion and undying love, Our Lord today warns us that we may lose these riches and His kingdom. For while Our Lord God will never quit His love for us, and will never leave us nor forsake us, He knows that we can become so enwrapped in the cares and occupations of our life, in our pursuit for fleeting honors, and in satisfying our present appetite, that we lose our focus and so may miss out on the things that truly make for our peace. Our Lord knows that we can become so preoccupied with ourselves and our own anxieties that we forget all that He has given us and promised to us; and live unmindful that this is not the world we ought to desire.

28 November 2008

Of my daughter I shall boast...

This past Sunday I stepped off the plane and was driven directly to Alexander Recital Hall on the Eastern Michigan University campus to hear my eldest daughter, Johannah, play her senior recital. After only seven semesters Johannah will graduate in a few weeks with a double major in Applied Music and Math. She intends to be an actuary by day, and a chamber or local symphony violist by night.

Johannah is pictured with her father (an Orthodox priest) and her grandfather (a retired Lutheran minister).

27 November 2008

Why Seminarians attend Seminary

I am increasingly impressed with the words Metropolitan Jonah speaks. The newly elected OCA primate recently visited St Vladimir's Seminary as its new president (by virtue of his election as Metropolitan). Most impressive, I find, is this description of why seminarians should attend the seminary:

Seminarians do not come to theological schools to become 'professionals' and to be 'respected,' but rather to be crucified and thereby shine forth the light of Christ.

15 November 2008

This Year's Reflection on the Rubrics

For the past 10-15 years, I’ve had the annual habit of carefully reading through the rubrics for the ordinary of the Mass. Well, it’s that time of year again, and so I’ve been reading through Fr John Mangels' well written manual "How to Celebrate Low Mass."

When I was a Lutheran and read the rubrics, without much thought or attention I would skip over or edit those rubrics which I determined did not apply to the Lutheran liturgy. Among other things, that means I skipped nearly everything having to do with the canon of the Mass, and all the “ostentatious” rubrics about tones of voice, types of bows, etc. Of course, I would do the same with the liturgy itself. If I lifted some particular feast or text from the Roman or Anglican Missal, I would edit these to fit what I determined was the “Lutheran ethos.” (Honestly, I also did the same when reading the church fathers, aloud or privately.) It was only after I determined that I was not smart enough to correct or edit the church’s liturgy and tradition that I truly began to become Orthodox. The same applies to the rubrics. I’m simply not smart enough to know what to omit or change; and, frankly, the more I follow the rubrics as received within the Western tradition, the more I see not only the practical but also theological wisdom which they contain.

That is what previous reflections on the rubrics have led me to. This year’s reading of the rubrics, however, has reminded me of one of the key principles in liturgy; namely, that since the tradition (i.e., the liturgy) is a living tradition, it is not learned from a book. Rather, the book merely reminds one of what one has seen or witnessed from other celebrants.

But what if, like me, one did not grow up witnessing the traditional Mass? All the bows, tones of voice, movements of the hands, etc seem so foreign and like so much unnecessary (and, at times, overly showy) “folderol.” They certainly don’t seem to fit our modern mindset. So one is tempted to jettison them.

Yet my three year old has taught me something else. All he knows liturgically is the Mass that he’s seen me celebrate. So, from time to time when he’s in the mood to “play church,” I’ll catch him speaking nonsense while conscientiously mimicking all the bows and gestures. He’s begun to learn the tradition—and simply by watching! I envy him that. At the same time, his mimickings are urging me to be ever much more careful in how I celebrate the Mass. For, like it or not, I’m passing on the tradition to him in a way that I never received; and I’d hate for him to have to relearn something because I was careless in my teaching when I was at the altar. Worse yet, I’m not sure I could stand the judgment in his tone when, later, he would either say, “Why didn’t you follow the tradition” or “If you can omit that gesture, why can’t we also omit this or that teaching”?

You see, that’s where “cafeteria Christianity” begins. Not in the philosophy of religion; that is, not when one is taught or determines that certain dogmas or morals don’t apply. Rather, the notion to adopt “cafeteria Christianity” (“which we used to call heresy”—Peter Kreeft) begins when three year olds mimic the priest celebrating Mass, and then later learn that the priest had the hubris to edit the traditional bows or gestures or tones of voice. And then these three year olds, when older, begin to ask themselves “Why didn’t the priest follow the tradition” and “If he can omit that gesture, why can’t we also omit this or that teaching”?

01 November 2008

And if One Never Lives...?

With the election looming, and a proposal favoring embryonic stem cell research on the Michigan ballot, discussions in the philosophy and theology classes I teach have become lively. Not heated, just lively.

Like all high schools, these Catholic school students seek to understand by pushing the limits. More often than not, I repeat the clear logic I heard Dr Peter Kreeft present at a local Catholic parish earlier in October. It goes like this:

Life, liberty and the pursuit of prosperity/happiness are set in a specific order. How can one pursue prosperity or happiness if one has not liberty? And how can one pursue liberty is one has no life? Therefore, of the three, life is the greatest moral good.

I believe that, amongst all the very important issues in this year's presidential campaign, that greatest moral good of life must always reign firm. Of course, one could argue (as many do) that the war in Iraq is a life-issue. So are, to greater or lesser degrees, the policies touching upon poverty, healthcare and the like. But these are to greater or lesser degrees. To the greatest degree is that one can live.

Again, Dr Kreeft offers clear logic when he asserts that the war in Iraq is a key life issue, but what good is saving a soldier's life if we allow the destruction of the life of one who never had a chance to be a soldier--or anything else?

Recently, the Most Reverend Joseph Martino, Catholic Bishop of Scranton, offered the same clarity in a Pastoral Letter:

Another argument goes like this: “As wrong as abortion is, I don't think it is the only relevant ‘life’ issue that should be considered when deciding for whom to vote.” This reasoning is sound only if other issues carry the same moral weight as abortion does, such as in the case of euthanasia and destruction of embryos for research purposes. Health care, education, economic security, immigration, and taxes are very important concerns. Neglect of any one of them has dire consequences as the recent financial crisis demonstrates. However, the solutions to problems in these areas do not usually involve a rejection of the sanctity of human life in the way that abortion does. Being “right” on taxes, education, health care, immigration, and the economy fails to make up for the error of disregarding the value of a human life. Consider this: the finest health and education systems, the fairest immigration laws, and the soundest economy do nothing for the child who never sees the light of day.

Which Saints on All Saints?

On All Saints Day, the Church does not celebrate all those who were baptized, particularly the faithful who are still living. For the Church does not use the word “saint” lightly. Therefore, she does not refer to any or every Christian as a “saint.” Rather, the word “saint” is reserved for those who have led exemplary lives of holiness. And as a mark of their holiness, these men and women would not see themselves as saints. Rather, they would see themselves as unworthy of this honor.

It is not a mark of pride, then, but a recognition of godly humility when a person is canonized (officially recognized) as a “saint.” And it is a witness to all the faithful that we should strive not to be saints, but to live humbly, “soberly, and justly, and godly in this world, looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” (Ti 2.12-13)

The greatest honor bestowed upon a saint, then, is to imitate that person’s life. And there are two things in particular that we should strive to imitate so that we might worthily commemorate the saints.

First, all saints—whether known or unknown—freely confessed Christ and His unending mercy by willingly sacrificing their life. Many of the saints made this confession by spilling their blood as martyrs. Others, however, did not receive the crown of martyrdom, but nevertheless made a great confession by sacrificing all that they had and all that they were for the love of God and the love of all men.

To commemorate the saints by imitation, then, means that we adopt this same attitude of self-sacrifice; that we become willing to give up all our possessions, all our ambitions, all our desires, even our own life if necessary, in order to attain the kingdom of heaven. That is how the saints lived and died; and we honor them by living as they did.

Secondly, all saints strove not for fame, but for humility. All of them desired to be known not for their deeds or writings. Rather, they desired simply to gain true life by losing their lives in a life dedicated to repentance. For they saw themselves as unworthy of even the least of Christ’s mercies, and so lived St. Paul’s creed: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (1 Tim 1.15)

To commemorate the saints rightly, then, means that we adopt their spirit of repentance and humility; that we strive not to impress others, but instead strive to divest ourselves of all pride and self-serving desires. To live knowing that no one is worse than we are, that all are more deserving, and that the Lord should first save everyone else, even the worst sinner—that is the saints’ spirit of humility and repentance that we should strive to imitate. And whenever we do, we truly honor them.

30 October 2008

Bishop to Ordain former Lutheran pastor

On Sunday, 14 December, Bishop MARK of the Diocese of Toledo & the Midwest will ordain Daniel Hackney to the diaconate at St James Orthodox Church in Williamston MI. Subdeacon Hackney is a former Lutheran pastor who visited Holy Incarnation several times before becoming Orthodox. He has been studying at St Tikhon Seminary.

27 October 2008

Website Updated

The Holy Incarnation website has been updated.

Among the new sections are the following:

• A page of photos
• Information about the Sanctuary Renovation Project which is currently underway
• A wish list
• The ability to donate online using PayPal

You are encouraged to visit the website today!

29 September 2008

Inaudible Canon

Yesterday when celebrating Mass, the canon was, for the most part, inaudible. Not because I didn’t say the words aloud. As the rubrics direct, I always say the words aloud. Some days the canon is louder than other days, but it always loud enough for the altar servers to hear—which, in our small space, means that nearly everyone can hear the canon.

Yesterday, however, my voice was not as strong as usual. That, however, did not render the canon inaudible. Its inaudibility was the result of noisy little children. They were babbling, crying, screaming—you know, what little ones tend to do. Of course, leading the charge was my own. The mothers, bless their hearts, did not rush the children out of the nave when their children acted up. They’ve agreed that, as much as possible, children should remain during the Mass instead of being sequestered or unseen, particularly because they are communicants (i.e., full-fledged members of the community). On other occasions, the parents have whisked unruly children out for a time. However, they’ve heeded my encouragement that the holiest moment of the Mass should not be interrupted with unnecessary movement.

Therefore, the canon was difficult to hear—or was not heard at all. Nevertheless (as often happens), those in the habit of saying the “Amens” did so without hindrance because they knew what was being said, even if they did not hear every word. And, as never ceases to amaze me, the children were remarkably quiet during both the words of Christ and elevation. (Bells have a way of fascinating the youngest.)

07 September 2008

Living with Mistakes

Thanks to Ryan T. Anderson for directing me, and many others, to these words by Will Saletan:

Remember that before you judge or poke fun at Sarah Palin[, s]he’s not the candidate whose daughter messed up. She’s the candidate who didn’t get rid of the mess.

18 August 2008

Merits: Part II

In his comment on my previous post about the word merits, my friend Fr Gregory Hogg suggests that "any introduction of the concept will inevitably bring distortions in theology," and then states that, "We may recognize that at one time, the word could be used in a profitable way; but later developments have rendered the use of the word misleading at best."

In the first place, I think that if any introduction will bring distortions, then there was never a time when the word merit could be used profitably; OR, if there was a time when it could be used profitably, then it is not inevitable that any (or every) introduction of the concept or term will bring distortions in theology.

In the second place, Fr Gregory helpfully leads us to ask the following question:
  • When does a word become so helplessly distorted that the rehabilitation of its proper use must be abandoned?
Other questions, also, may be raised:
  • Is it intellectually or theologically honest to avoid a disputed or "distorting" theological term or concept either by ignoring it or by translating it in such a way that it is no longer recognizable (e.g., instead of "merits" employ "godliness" or "sanctity")?
  • What is the difference between omitting a term or concept that is dicey or requires careful catechesis and the Protestant principle (begun by Luther) of eviscerating that canon (because, in this particular instance, as the argument goes, the word "sacrifice" could not be properly rehabilitated)?
The big question for me, however, is this one:
  • If St Peter Chrysologus (and other church fathers) can speak profitably about the merits of the saints, wouldn't the argument that such language is now distorting, confusing or problematic effectively indicate a little less than the "fullness of the faith"?
I pretend to have no helpful or earth-shattering answers to these questions, and do not wish to belittle the important and significant points that are raised by Fr Gregory or others who rightly indicate that "merits" does not always (or often) mean "merits." However, I think these questions ought to be considered carefully before writing off patristic terms in favor of "simple faith."

17 August 2008

Commemorating the Dormition & Assumption of the BVM

On Friday, the Feast of the Dormition (falling asleep) and Assumption (ascension) of the Blessed Virgin Mary was celebrated in Orthodox and Catholic churches. Among the Orthodox, this feast was preceded by a fast (2 weeks of abstention in the Eastern Rite; one strict-fast day in the Western Rite). This fast will continue to be commemorated throughout the week until the commemoration climaxes with the Octave (Western) or Leave-Taking (Eastern).

An apt and comprehensive description of the importance and meaning of this feast is provided in the The Prologue from Ohrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich, which I reproduce below. A hymn of praise and other devotional material can be located here.

The Lord Who, on Mt. Sinai, commanded by His Fifth Commandment: "Honor your father and your mother" (Exodus 20:12), showed by His own example how one should respect one's parent. Hanging on the Cross in agony, He remembered His mother and indicating to the Apostle John, said to her: "Woman behold your son" (St. John 19:26). After that, He said to John: "Behold your mother" (St. John 19:27). And so providing for His mother, He breathed His last. John had a home on Zion in Jerusalem in which the Theotokos settled and remained there to live out the end of her days on earth. By her prayers, gentle counsels, meekness and patience, she greatly assisted the apostles of her Son.

Primarily, she spent her entire time in Jerusalem often visiting those places which reminded her of the great events and of the great works of her Son. She especially visited Golgotha, Bethlehem and the Mount of Olives. Of her distant journeys, her visit to St. Ignatius the Theophorus [God-bearer] in Antioch is mentioned, as well as her visit to Lazarus (whom our Lord resurrected on the fourth day), the Bishop of Cyprus, her visit to the Holy Mountain [Athos] which she blessed and her stay in Ephesus with St. John the Evangelist [The Theologian] during the time of the great persecution of Christians in Jerusalem.

In her old age, she often prayed to the Lord and her God on the Mount of Olives, the site of His Ascension, that He take her from this world as soon as possible. On one occasion, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her and revealed to her that within three days she will find repose. The angel gave her a palm-branch to be carried at the time of her funeral procession. She returned to her home with great joy, desiring in her heart once more to see in this life, all of the apostles of Christ. The Lord fulfilled her wish and all of the apostles, borne by angels in the clouds, gathered at the same time at the home of John on Zion. With great rejoicing, she saw the holy apostles, encouraged them, counseled them and comforted them. Following that, she peacefully gave up her soul to God without any pain or physical illness.

The apostles took the coffin with her body from which an aromatic fragrance emitted and, in the company of many Christians, bore it to the Garden of Gethsemane to the sepulchre of [her parents], Saints Joachim and Anna. By God's Providence, they were concealed from the evil Jews by a cloud. Anthony, a Jewish priest, grabbed the coffin with his hands with the intention of overturning it but, at that moment, an angel of God severed both his hands. He then cried out to the apostles for help and was healed since [he] declar[ed] his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Thomas was absent, again according to God's Providence, in order that a new and all-glorious mystery of the Holy Theotokos would again be revealed. On the third day, Thomas arrived and desired to venerate [kiss] the body of the Holy All-pure one. But when the apostles opened the sepulchre, they found only the winding sheet and the body was not in the tomb. That evening, the Theotokos appeared to the apostles surrounded by a myriad of angels and said to them: "Rejoice, I will be with you always". It is not exactly known how old the Theotokos was at the time of her Falling Asleep but the overwhelming opinion is that she was over sixty years of age.

10 August 2008

Merits of the Saints?!

St Peter Chrysologus concludes his sermon on the life of St Lawrence with this reference to the merits of the saints:

Therefore let us honor and esteem the merits of the martyrs as being the gifts of God. Let us beg for them, and add the inclination of our own will.

Most often, traditional Roman Catholics defend, and Orthodox and Protestants polemicists decry, the term "merits" within the medieval matrix of "supererogatory works" and "treasury of the saints." St Peter Chrysologus, however, is certainly not medieval, and does not, to my mind, evidence "pre-medieval" tendencies (whatever these may be). Hence, his use of the term "merits" suggests that, perhaps, there is a proper use of the term that neither reactively requires its deletion nor unthinkingly compels it to be understood in a scholastic context.

This suggestion is strengthened by hearing St Peter's use within the larger context:

My brethren, let no one arrogate to his own ability that which no one save God gives. When the Apostle was addressing the martyrs, rightly did he say what you heard when his Epistle was read today: 'You have been given the favor on Christ's behalf--not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him.' Therefore let us honor and esteem the merits of the martyrs as being the gifts of God. Let us beg for them, and add the inclination of our own will. For, our will follows; it does not take the lead. Nevertheless, charity is not lacking if our will is not lacking, for the eager will itself is called charity. Who is there who willingly fears? Who is there who unwillingly loves? May prayer be fervent, and let the feast of this martyr be celebrated. But let everyone who celebrates also imitate him, that the celebrating may not be idle. (Source)

Caveat: I don't have access to the Latin, only Ganss' translation. Perhaps the translation is misleading.

14 July 2008

Defining Faith

The word "faith" is variously defined and is used poplularly in many different ways. In addition, in theological or religious studies, the word "faith" is narrowly or broadly defined, depending on how it is distinguished from "belief" or other synonyms. One helpful synonym that I often use is "trust." However, these definitions, while helpful, tend toward the abstract. In other words, they don't give an experiential picture of what it means to have faith.

Let me suggest, then, the following working definition:
Faith is living against the fears and doubts that arise from the flaws, imperfections, disappointments and afflictions brought on us by others or ourselves.
The devil plays on these turmoils to increase fear and doubt in our mind and soul. To live against these is to live as if they will not control either our life in God or our love for another. For to let them control us is to fall into pride and selfishness--which is the mother of fear since fear is fundamentally the child of the the lie that we matter most.

10 July 2008

Morey & Orthodoxy

A brother priest yesterday brought to my attention that Robert A. Morey's book "Is Eastern Orthodoxy Christian?" has recently received some laudatory "air-time" in a recently weekly publication distributed to various Lutherans (and others). I've not read this book, and know nothing of Morey except what he has written about himself and what I found here.

What I found interesting are the reviews or comments to his book as they appear near the bottom of the Amazon website.

The brother priest asked if a response to the publication would be helpful. Knowing the publication and its desire not to inform but to promote a certain view of Lutheranism, and its propensity of twisting words, I suggested that my brother priest leave it alone. Having now skimmed the outline and the reviews, my suggestion remains firmly entrenched.

Errors of Time

So what do the Lutheran debates about the "moment" of consecration (or the endurability of the enduring Eucharistic presence) have in common with the current Anglican/Episcopalian angst that they are no longer--or are not--Church? I believe, with Fr Hogg, that there is a common thread and, with him, also connect that thread to other errors. In fact, I'll press the point a bit further--ultimately the errors that Fr Hogg identifies are rooted in a form of Nestorianism. (You see, in the end its all about Christology.)

Let me suggest that, at root, Nestorianism, as well as the other errors, are errors of time. That is, they are errors because they are attempts by man to bind eternal divine mysteries to a particular point of time. Time, of course, is a creature, and the passing (or winding down) of time is an indication of death. Hence, by binding eternal mysteries to a particular point of time, the divine is forced to be a creature, and life is forced to deal with death on death's terms.

"Forced to be" is a specifically chosen phrase in order to indicate that man is insisting that God and His mysteries answer to our way of thinking. But that is not the right order of things. The right order is that God assumes humanity, and life swallows up death. Hence, moments of time are transformed into eternal realities--rather than eternal realities being confined to time. Therefore, the mystery of Christ's incarnation, His mystical Supper, His mystical Body, etc. are divine mysteries which, by locating themselves within time, thereby transform time.

The clearest indication of this is the sacrifice of Christ which takes a particular moment (the crucifixion) and "crashes it down" at all times and in all places during the Mass/Divine Liturgy.

Much of this, as you'll notice, depends upon St Augustine's brilliant analysis of time, by which He shows that events in time can become, by God's mercy, the "eternal now."

Thoughts on Today's Blog Reading

My busy summer schedule has not permitted me much time to attend to my blog. Yet today, for whatever reason, I took the time to read a few of my favorite blogs. My attention was first caught by an inter-Lutheran debate on how long the Body and Blood of Christ remain the Body and Blood of Christ. Having once entered into these debates, I read extensively various sources. In the end, I found--and still find--them to be rather tedious since the debate often boils down to "my Martin trumps your Martin." See here, here, here and here if you're interested.

That bit of reading led me elsewhere. I read the angst of Church of England bishops (see here, here and here) who are distraught both (a) that the latest final straw has been reached in discovering that the Church of England is not the Church, and (b) that Rome (no mention of Orthodoxy) does not accept them as the Church.

I sympathize with these bishops (as I do also with the above mentioned Lutherans) because I know from experience how hard it is, in the midst of debate or angst, to step back and see what seems clear to others.

Finally, I was led to Fr Gregory Hogg's blog. He seems to be commenting on these, and other, discussions when he suggests a similarity in the line of thought between the errors of "receptionism," the Protestant definition of visible/invisible (or hidden/revealed, if you prefer) Church, Nestorianism, Barthianism, etc. I think he's on to something, but he admits he is having difficulty classifing the similarities.

One commentator suggested that the common theme is reductionism. What I suggest is my next post. So "stay tuned." :)

04 July 2008

Yesterday's Requiem

Yesterday, our dear friend and mentor, the Very Reverend Fathers David (Charles) Lynch, was laid to rest.

Presiding from the throne was His Grace, Bishop MARK. The celebrant was the Rt. Rev. John Mangels, the predecessor and successor to Fr David at St Augustine of Hippo Orthodox Church in Denver. Assisting were Fr. Nicholas Alford of St Gregory the Great Orthodox Church in Washington DC and yours truly. Fr John Connely of St Mark Orthodox Church in Denver assisted at the interment and, with Subdeacon Benjamin Anderson, formed the Schola. Fr Patrick Reardon of All Saints Orthodox Church was the homilist. Several other Orthodox clergy from the Antiochian Archdiocese and the Orthodox Church in America were also in attendance.

30 June 2008

The Repose of the V. Rev. Fr. David Lynch

His Grace, Bishop MARK, has informed us that the Very Reverend Father David Lynch fell asleep in the Lord last evening (29 June).

Fr. David was a sometime member of the Church of the Incarnation before it was received into the Orthodox Church. He served as one of my ordination sponsors in February 2007. And in April 2007 he was celebrant at the first Easter Mass at Holy Incarnation.

Please remember Fr David, his wife Martha, and his children in your prayers today.

Requiescat in pace.

14 June 2008

How Very Interesting

It intrigues me that one of the most serious and kindly critics of “What Options” recently became Roman Catholic.

Read about it here.

18 May 2008

Easter Photos from a Sister Parish

Being the only Midwestern Orthodox parish in the Western tradition can sometimes produce feelings of loneliness. When that occurs, it is good to “connect” electronically with our sister Western Rite parishes.

As one means of making such a “connection,” this link is provided. It provides photos from this year’s Paschal celebration at St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Whittier, California.

HT: Western Orthodoxy

26 April 2008

Christ Killed What Was Killing Everyone

In anticipation of Pascha, I offer the following from our Holy Father among the saints Peter Chrysologus:

Christ accepted death so that death would die. Christ, by being killed, killed what was killing everyone. Christ entered the tomb in order to open up hell. So, having abolished the authority of death, having destroyed the prison of hell, and having annihilated the very power of death, Christ now should not be anointed as a dead man, but should be adored as Victor.


13 April 2008

For Bill, Matthew, et al.

Below are photographs of the interior of Holy Incarnation. These photos were taken during Lauds and Mass on Passion Sunday, 13 April 2008. They show our temporary arrangement of the liturgical space.

The altar was the “Lady Altar” (a side altar) at the former Incarnation Orthodox Church in Detroit.

We are currently considering bids which have been presented for permanent remodeling of the interior.

08 April 2008

Orthodox Holy Week

For those who might be interested, here is the Holy Week & Easter Week schedule for Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church.

06 April 2008


"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." (Oct 2006)

The good people of Zion, with their pastor, are in my prayers.

On the Reading of Parish Newsletters

Parish Newsletter don't always make the most exciting reading. Nevertheless, for the interested or curious, Holy Incarnation now has a monthly parish newsletter. It's called The Chanticleer and can be accessed here.

25 March 2008

Patronal or Titular Feast?

Subdeacon Lucas asked if today, the Feast of the Annunciation, is the Patronal Feast for Holy Incarnation. Well, yes. Our Bishop has declared that the Feast of the Annunciation is the annual "Patronal Feast" for Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church.

But it seems more proper, both in the Western tradition and given the name of our parish, to call today our Titular Feast or Feast of Title. Why? A Patronal Feast is the Feast of the Saint who is the patron of the parish. For example, if a parish is named "St Boniface, Apostle to the Germans, Orthodox Church" (wouldn't that be nice!), then the Patronal Feast would be 5 June, the Commemoration of St Boniface. It would be not only the "name day" of the parish, but also understood that St Boniface prays for the parish and that the parish has a special devotion to St Boniface.

However, Holy Incarnation is named for a mystery, not a saint. And while our Patron Saint (as decreed by our Bishop) is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the particular mystery to which we are, by name, attached would be either the Feast of the Nativity or the Feast of the Annunciation. (Another possibility would be the Feast of the Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary, should this feast be observed in our Vicariate.)

Regardless of which Feast the Bishop would have chosen, it would have seemed odd to term that day "Patronal Feast," since neither Christ Mass nor Annunciation are patrons. Hence, we have taken to call it by the name common in the West; namely, the Titular Feast.

At Holy Incarnation, we celebrated our Titular Feast last evening with First Vespers of the Annunciation followed by the Mass. The celebration was rather low-key on purpose for a number of reasons. We look forward to a grander celebration in the years to come.

All Quiet on the Southeastern (Michigan) Front?

Since I teach at a Catholic High School, I've been on Easter break. But I haven't written because I've been busy with contractors as well as doing inventory and moving items from storage, and then setting up our temporary liturgical space in the new building.

No pictures yet because (a) everything is not in place and (b) we're kind of slow about these things anyway.

15 March 2008

"Let us Exult over the Crafty Reptile"

Tomorrow, Orthodox Christians in the Western tradition will commemorate the First Sunday in Lent. As they do so, they will hear St Paul's exhortation: "That ye receive not the grace of God in vain." They will also hear the narrative of Our Lord fasting, and then being tempted by the devil in the wilderness.

The following words from St Cyril of Alexandria address the victory Our Lord achieved for mankind by His fasting and temptation.

[The Lord] arose and helped [us], having taken the form of a slave, and being made in the likeness of men: for so did He as one of us set Himself as an avenger in our stead, against that murderous and rebellious serpent, who had brought sin upon us, and thereby had caused corruption and death to reign over the dwellers upon earth, that we by His means, and in Him, might gain the victory, whereas of old we were vanquished, and fallen in Adam.

Come therefore and let us praise the Lord, and sing psalms unto God our Saviour: let us trample Satan under foot; let us raise the shout of victory over him now he is thrown and fallen: let us exult over the crafty reptile, caught in an inextricable snare: let us too say of him in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “How is the hammer of all the earth broken and beaten small! Thou art found and hast been taken, because thou stoodest against the Lord.” For of old, that is before the time of the advent of Christ the Saviour of all, the universal enemy had somewhat grand and terrible notions about himself: for he boastfully exulted over the infirmity of the inhabitants of the earth, saying, “I will hold the world in my hand as a nest, and as eggs that are left I will take it up: and no one shall escape from me or speak against me.” And in very truth there was no one of those upon earth who could rise up against his power; but the Son rose up against him, and contended with him, having been made like unto us. And therefore, as I said, human nature, as victorious in Him, wins the crown. And this in old time the Son Himself proclaimed, where by one of the holy prophets He thus addresses Satan; “Behold, I am against thee, O corrupting mountain, that corruptest the whole earth.”


09 March 2008

For Those Who Want to See Pictures...

While we don’t have any pictures of the inside of the new location for Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church, you can get a panoramic view of the outside by selecting this link. Be sure to select “Street View.”

You can also see a picture of the interior (before remodeling and set-up) by selecting this link.

Giving Up Something for Lent?

For Orthodox Christians, the Lenten Fast begins Monday (3/10) or Wednesday (3/12). Monday begins the Fast for Orthodox in the Byzantine tradition, and Wednesday begins the Fast for Orthodox in the Western tradition. (Both traditions fast for 40 days, but different calculations of fasting days result in different starting times.)

In the Orthodox Church, the Lenten Fast does not ask or require Orthodox Christians to “give up something” for Lent. The Fast is not an individual choice or personal practice, but a community discipline. Therefore, the Fast is not simply abstaining from food or disciplining your appetite. Rather, it prescribes the common rule the faithful are to follow as they fast together. Individuals may certainly choose to “give up” additional items during Lent, but such choices should not replace the Church's fast, and should be made in consolation with individual’s spiritual father.

The church fathers assume that the fast is a communal exercise. They also teach, quite consistently and vigorously, that the fast is more than eating less or abstaining from certain foods. One disciplines the body, they teach, so that one may better discipline the soul. One fasts from food so that one may learn to fast from sin. In the Western tradition, this "true fast" or "spiritual fast" is emphasized not only in the excerpts from the church fathers that are read during Matins, but also in many of the daily collects.

Those interested in the Orthodox Lenten Fast as it is maintained in the Western tradition are directed to this resource and this resource.

26 February 2008

What Fasting Does for the Soul

As we are about to undertake the customary sacred fast of Quinquagesima, we must realize that what soap does for human bodies, this is what fasting supplies to Christian souls: it cleanses the filth off the senses, it washes away the offenses of the mind, it removes the crimes of the heart, it removes the blemishes from the heart, and with marvelous splendor it leads the entire human being to the luster of charity. And just as Spring curbs and reins in all the violent storms, clears up the sky’s complexion, gives peace to the earth, and calls forth and rouses to living vigor the whole body of the world, which had been buried in the death of winter; so too does fasting quiet every conflict, restore peace to one’s limbs, enkindle souls lulled to sleep and deadened by the chill of negligence, and bring virtue to life and thaw it out entirely. (St Peter Chrysologus)

24 February 2008

Holy Incarnation Website Updated

It's nothing snazzy, just a few necessary updates, changes, etc. But if you're of a mind to do so, wander over to the Holy Incarnation website and see what's new.

What Is This Race Which We Run?

The following is an excerpt from the sermon preached today at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church. Using the propers for Gregorian Use parishes in the Western Rite Vicariate, the sermon is based on the Gospel reading for Septuagesima Sunday.

St. Paul plainly tells us that we are running a race. And he urges us not simply to run, but to run that you may obtain the prize. The holy Apostle sets the goal before us. We are running to win. The prize has been set before us; it is in clear view. Now we must attain that which has been promised. Now we may lay hold on the treasure that has been stored up for us. And with this goal in mind, we run not with uncertainty, not as someone just pounding the pavement and going through the motions. Rather, we should run so that, in the end, we stand with those who have fought a good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith.

But what is this race which we run? What is the course? And what is the point?

Fear propels most runners. They run to stay healthy, to prolong life, to avoid death. Pride propels a few. They run for the glory, for the accolades and fame. Still fewer run for the sheer joy of running. They run because they enjoy the atmosphere, and get caught up in the act. For all three—the afraid, the proud, and the lovers—for all three, the race is this world. They run the human race. That is to say, they run only with this life in mind: to get the most they can from the time they have, and to experience all that the world offers. They afraid fear missing out. The proud want to be remembered in the record books. And the lovers of this world get caught up in the act of living, in taking it all in, in living life to its fullest.

But that is not our race. For this world does not offer the prize that we seek. This world offers only disappointment and death. Its promises fade or are broken. And getting caught up in this world’s living means getting caught up in its march to death. For in the end, this world’s prize may be monuments for a few and satisfaction for some, but the grave for all.

Yet we run not because of fear or pride or love of this world.We run to obtain the prize. Which means that we run so that we might lay hold on eternal life, unto which we have been called.

The Spirit has sealed us as His own in Holy Chrismation so that we run our race not in vainly, not beating the air worthlessly, but so that we may obtain an incorruptible prize, undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you. And His goal for us is not that we live life to the fullest, but so that we live life in His fullness.

Read the full sermon here.

23 February 2008

A New Blog

Recently a blog was begun on the Holy Incarnation website.

This blog contains news and items of interest for members and friends of Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church.

Check out the latest entry, on the Lenten Fast.

17 February 2008

Holy Incarnation Church has a Home!

Negotiations for the purchase of a church home for Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church were successfully concluded on Tuesday, 12 February 2008. The closing culminated a year-long search for Holy Incarnation's own building. The purchase was blessed by Metropolitan PHILIP and Bishop MARK. They also blessed the release of funds held in trust from the former Incarnation Orthodox Church in Detroit.

Holy Incarnation is a Western Rite Orthodox parish in metropolitan Detroit. Western Rite parishes are Orthodox parishes utilizing the liturgical tradition of European Christianity. In particular, the Sunday Mass follows the historic Latin or Roman rite. All of our services are in English but the order of worship, customs, and liturgical art follows a pattern familiar to most Christians in Europe and America.

From 1975-2001, Incarnation Orthodox Church in Detroit served the liturgical needs of Western Rite Orthodox Christians in and around Detroit, and was the cornerstone of the Western Orthodoxy in the Midwest. Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church builds on the legacy of the former Incarnation parish. The new building will further the permanent re-establishment of a Western Rite presence in Detroit. It also increases the Orthodox presence and mission in the downriver area. The newly purchased building is located in Lincoln Park, Michigan, a near suburb in the downriver area of Detroit.

The building is in good repair, but will require renovations so that the worship space is suitable for the Western Orthodox liturgy. For updates concerning the move, and to learn more about Holy Incarnation, readers are invited to visit the Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church.

The Mustard Seed

In Matthew 13, we hear Our Lord compare the kingdom of heaven to a grain of mustard seed. Later, in Matthew 17, He compares faith to the grain of mustard. From these two comparisons, St Ambrose draws the following: “If the kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, and faith is like to a grain of mustard seed, faith is then truly the kingdom of heaven, and the kingdom of heaven is faith. He therefore that has faith possesses the kingdom of heaven.”

The Gospel, then, teaches us that faith and the kingdom of heaven are intimately related. Of course, one needs faith to enter the kingdom of heaven. But also, the kingdom of heaven is seen only with the eyes of faith. In other words, the kingdom we strive to attain promises security, riches and other ‘rewards’ which can be grasped and held dear only by faith. Faith, of course, is not readily apparent or visible, and in fact seems as insignificant as the mustard seed. In the same way, the kingdom of heaven is not readily apparent or visible, and seems insignificant.

Consider also this: the full power of the mustard seed is revealed only when it is crushed. When nature crushes the seed, a great tree takes root. When a man deliberately crushes the mustard seed, the seed produces a strong and rich spice. In the same way, crushing faith by persecution or martyrdom reveals both its strength and the ‘spice’ of overwhelming love for God. And ‘crushing’ or breaking open the kingdom of heaven reveals both the riches it contains, and the love it releases.

At root, then, what is truly the kingdom of heaven? Once again, St Ambrose urges us to believe that “The Lord Himself is the grain of mustard seed. He was without injury; but the people were unaware of Him. … [Yet] He chose to be crushed. … He chose to be planted in the earth [when He was buried]. … [Then] He sprung up in a garden, where He also rose from the dead, and became a tree;” namely, the Tree of Life.

01 February 2008

Okay, My Turn

Father Gregory Jensen has tagged me in a most intriguing meme.

Here are the rules:

Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. (No cheating!)
Find Page 123.
Find the first 5 sentences.
Post the next 3 sentences.
Tag 5 people.

From the Orthodox Missal According to the Use of the Western Rite Vicariate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. (Stanton NJ: St Luke's Priory Press, 1995). This portion is from the Maundy Thursday Gospel (Jn 13.2-6 in KJV).

And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?

(By the way, the Missal sits in front of me on a turning carousel . I'm glad the carousel wasn't turned to my Liber Usualis since typing neumes is a bit tricky!)

I tag the following (yes, I know it's only 3):

Pr David Petersen
Ad Orientem
Chris Orr

30 January 2008

Pope Benedict XVI & Unity

Last Wednesday (23 Jan 08), in a General Audience commemorating the "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity," His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, said the following near the end of his remarks.

In the liturgy of the ancient Church, after the homily the Bishop or the one who presided at the celebration, the principal celebrant, would say: "Conversi ad Dominum". Then he and everyone would rise and turn to the East. They all wanted to look towards Christ. Only if we are converted, only in this conversion to Christ, in this common gaze at Christ, will we be able to find the gift of unity.

HT: Rorate Cæli

27 January 2008

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware to Visit Detroit

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, the author of several popular books on Orthodoxy, will present a lecture in metro Detroit on Tuesday, February 19. Metropolitan Kallistos is the author of The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way. His lecture is sponsored by the St. Andrew House.

Below are the details, which were originally posted here.

St. Andrew House presents…...

Renowned Orthodox Writer & Theologian

Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware)

The Future of Orthodoxy

in the United States

Eucharistic Community & Unity: Achieving Both

For more than 15 centuries, Orthodox Christians were defined by their faith and worship, following the Great Commission of Jesus Christ to "...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..."

Yet in America, the Ancient Orthodox Church is seen as an “ethnic” church, defined more by the nationality of its members rather than the tenants of the One-True Faith.

Metropolitan Kallistos will explore the future of Orthodoxy in American and offer his thoughts on how a united Orthodox Church can prosper and effectively preach the Gospel in today's world.

Where: St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church

2160 E. Maple Rd

Troy, MI 48083-4483

Tel: 248-589-0480

When: Tuesday, Feb 19th 7:00 PM

Registration: $10.00

Books will be available for purchase and signing by His Excellency,
courtesy of Pascha Books.

For more information, contact Dean Calvert
at 248 624 1222 or email dcalvert@netscape.com

Visit St Andrew House online

20 January 2008

Three Aspects of Our Lord's Incarnation

The great and wondrous mystery of Our Lord’s incarnation, the mystery of God becoming man, the mystery of the divine nature putting on human flesh, the mystery of Our Lord God becoming all that we are so that we might live in Him and enjoy all that He gives—that great mystery is what we continue to celebrate, not only this Sunday but every Sunday and, in fact, every day. For this is why we were made by God—so that we might not only live with Him, but also live in Him; so that there might not be merely a union of God and man, but the union of man in God.

This mystery is magnified and heightened by the simple fact that our pride, which leads to rebellion from God and rejection of His will; our pride, which urges us to cling stubbornly to what we think is good and right; our pride, which finally drags us back to the earth instead of up to God; our pride, which pushes us to believe little about God and to think much of ourselves; our pride, which causes us to love ourselves, and worry about the inconsequential, and strive for riches that break or rust or decay—our pride neither causes Our Lord to reject us, nor prevents Him from carrying through with His original plan. That is what makes this grand mystery even greater—that Our Lord’s desire for union with us is not affected by our proud and selfish refusal to seek union in Him.

And so, despite our sin, Our Lord comes down. And mindful of our mortality, Our Lord puts on our flesh. And risking Himself so that He might love us back to Him, Our Lord enmeshes His divine nature with our human nature—all so that His original desire, His plan for uniting all creation, through man, to Himself, might be accomplished.

Since we celebrated the feast of the Nativity, we have seen that this great mystery of Our Lord’s holy incarnation has three aspects. The first aspect we saw when the Magi visited the newborn Christ Child. That visit made known to us that Our Lord desired union not only with His chosen people, but with all men. He was incarnate so that, in Him, all men might be united to God. The second aspect we saw when Our Lord willingly and determinedly was baptized by St John in the Jordan. That baptism made known to us that whatever we had done, whatever sin we had committed, would not prevent Our Lord from reasserting His love for us. He was incarnate so that, in Him, sin might be forgiven and death undone.

And now, today, Our Blessed Lord Jesus reveals to us the third aspect of this great mystery of His holy incarnation. What we hear and see in today’s Gospel is that this union of God in man is pictured in the marital union of man and woman. And we see that this union of God in man is consummated by water and blood. And so Our Lord reveals that He became incarnate so that, by water and blood, He might wed all men to Himself.

13 January 2008

Christ, the Sin Offering

The following is an excerpt from the sermon preached today at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church. Using the propers for Gregorian Use parishes in the Western Rite Vicariate, the sermon is based on the Gospel reading for the Octave of the Epiphany, which is also the Commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord.

When Our Blessed Lord assumed our flesh, He adhered Himself to our mortality. The unchangeable God was now capable of aging; the impassible was now capable of suffering; the divine was now capable of bleeding; and the eternal God was now capable of dying. Yet the flesh He carefully selected to knit to His divine nature was the pure and holy flesh of the Blessed Virgin Mary. With that flesh He bound Himself to our vulnerability, but He did not bind Himself to our sin. With that flesh, He became mortal but not sinful.

It was not until Our Lord was advanced in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men that He chose to subject His flesh to temptation. It was not until He was ready to accomplish His mission for our sake that Our Lord determined to take up and bear the sin of the world. It was not until He was fully prepared that Our Blessed Lord, who knew no sin, freely determined to be made sin for us, that we might be made the [righteousness] of God in him. And by being “made sin,” we are not saying that Christ became the sinner, but rather that He, the Righteous One in whom all Righteousness abides—He was made by the Father the victim for the sins of the world. (St Cyril of Alexandria; cf. Ambrosiaster; ACC NT VII.252)

Christ Jesus, then, enters the Jordan River to declare that He is determined, He is willing, He is capable and He is ready to be the Lamb of God who is sacrificed so that all men, and all creation, might be freed from the death-curse that sin has brought.

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12 January 2008

Octave Meditation

What follows is a brief meditation, by Dom Prosper Guéranger, on Our Lord's baptism, which is commemorated tomorrow at the Octave of the Epiphany.

O Lamb of God! Thou didst enter into the stream to purify it, the Dove came down from heaven, for thy sweet meekness attracted the Spirit of love; and having sanctified the waters, the mystery of thy Baptism was over. But what tongue can express the prodigy of mercy effected by it! Men have gone down after thee into the stream made sacred by contact with thee; they return regenerated; they were wolves, and Baptism has transformed them into lambs. We were defiled by sin, and were unworthy to stand near thee, the spotless Lamb; but the waters of the holy Font have been poured upon us and we are made as the sheep of the Canticle, which come up from the washing fruitful, and none is barren among them (Cant 4.2); or as doves upon the brooks of water, white and spotless as though they had been washed with milk, sitting near the plentiful streams! (Cant 5.12)

Preserve us, O Jesus, in this white robe which thou hast put upon us. If, alas, we have tarnished its purity, cleanse us by that second Baptism, the Baptism of Penance. Permit us, too, dear Lord, to intercede for those countries to whom thy Gospel has not yet been preached; let this river of peace (Is 66.12), the waters of Baptism, flow out upon them, and inundate the whole earth.

We beseech thee, by the glory of thy manifestation at thy Baptism, forget the crimes of men, which have hitherto caused the Gospel to be kept from those unhappy countries. Thy heavenly Father bids every creature hear thee. Speak, dear Jesus, to every creature!