30 December 2009

Favorite Quote of the Year

"St Augustine was a saint in the Orthodox Church until the 1960s."

Now, I'm aware that this statement was most likely not first uttered in 2009; however, that's when I first heard it. I'm equally aware that it may not be original with the person from whom I heard it; hence, no attribution.

Given those caveats, the truth contained within it captivates my imagination.

20 December 2009

What a Joy!

Yesterday (Saturday), I had the joy of administering the Sacrament of Holy Chrismation to four of my spiritual children. It is always a joy to welcome into the fullness of the Church those who have struggled and sacrificed to buy the field and acquire the pearl of great price. As Fr Anthony said, their faith confirms, encourages and strengthens the faith of all.

After the Chrismation, I also had the joy of serving the Divine Liturgy with two brother priests: Fr Anthony Michaels and Fr Gregory Hogg. It is always good to live Psalm 132. For that is how, I think, that Psalm must be read; namely, that brothers dwell together in unity most clearly when they stand in God's presence offering Him thanks by participating in the Holy Sacrifice.

Yet a third joy was meeting two dear women who have encouraged me more than they can imagine. I have known these two for several years, but only "pixelly." Yet now I can put an endearing and enduring smile to Anastasia and Rose.

As an added bonus, I was blessed to see the new temple (still in progress) for St John Chrysostom parish in Fort Wayne. I remember well the old temple, and am pleased that the parish will have a gorgeous place for gathering both to pray and to fellowship. I hope to be able to attend once again when the temple is finished and consecrated.

12 December 2009

Why Children Don't Get Their Father

This week I had more than one occasion to give the following pastoral counsel.

Children don't always get why their father does what he does; why he disciplines them now but not then; why his discipline is this kind rather than that kind; why he seems so hard and mean and angry when he says he loves them.

To be sure, with human families fathers are often capricious and act out of frustration or anger rather than true love. But that is not always the case. Often a father's discipline or strictness is based on a genuine love for the children. Yet even then, children don't get their father and the direction he is leading them to. And that's because children are children. They don't see (and don't want to see) how the father's discipline, words, etc are for a greater, long-term good--or a good that won't kick in until much later.

Now, if this is how it is with earthly children and earthly fathers, how much more do we, the children of God, not get our heavenly Father, whose "thoughts are not ours thoughts, nor His was our ways."

Certainly, we cannot and do not want to see the big picture. And certainly, we see discipline as punishment; and we see bad things happening as God's anger.

There is a clear distinction between discipline and punishment. And one of the simplest ways to see this distinction is to remember this:

God doesn't punish. He disciplines. In other words, what He does (that we don't like, get, understand or that seems harsh and mean) is His way of training and leading us in the way of salvation. It is one facet of His love.

Let me clarify: punishment happens. But God doesn't do it actively.

Instead, we are punished when God lets us have our way; when He steps back and say, "Okay, do it yourself, for you think you know best." And then we tend to blame God for what we, really, are doing to ourselves. (This is what St Paul means when he writes that "God gave them over to a debased mind." Rom 1.28)

10 November 2009

Why We Worship

A preview of Saturday's presentation in St. Louis.

The goal and ultimate purpose of all human life is communion in God. It is toward this end (telos), then, we were created: so that we might live in God, and participate fully in the love which He bestows from His inmost being. In other words, we were designed by God for relationship with God—a relationship which, like all love, is never satiated but forever grows and deepens and matures. Redemption is necessary chiefly because the death of all, brought by the sin of one, ruined the “forever” quality of true love, and thereby ruined eternal communion in God. So redemption in Christ and by Him is necessary not in itself; that is, not simply to redeem us. Rather, redemption in Christ is necessary in order to restore in us our final cause, our true purpose. It is this realization that allows St Maximos the Confessor to suggest that God becomes human in Christ not ultimately to redeem us; redemption is only a step along the way. Rather, God becomes human in Christ in order grant us fuller access to communion in God. Or, to be blunt, if man had not fallen, Christ Jesus would still have assumed human flesh. For our death did not necessitate or compel the Son of God to become one of us; neither did God’s pity for us or His desire to right what we had wronged. Instead, we were made in God’s image—that is, in the likeness of the incarnate Son of God—so that we might become one in God.

That we were made to be in communion in God, that communion in God is the aim before sin and after death, that redemption is a step toward restoring communion in God, that (from Christ and Mary to you and me) communion in God is what all human life is all about—that one profound truth governs the Orthodox understanding of worship. So worship is not chiefly an expression of gratitude for the reversal of death, but primarily gratitude for our creation, our life (which our subsequent mortality destroyed, thereby requiring redemption). And worship is not chiefly the reception of forgiveness for sin or sins, but primarily the reception of the love of God in Christ Jesus, which deepens and grows true love in God. Again, to be blunt: we worship God because that is how we live in God; that is what communion in God looks like, how it acts. So worship is moving within the “forever” quality of true love—a “forever” quality which we must never forget was revived, resuscitated, resurrection, reconstituted and restored when Christ sacrificed Himself for us men and for our salvation.

01 November 2009

Who Needs a Reformation?

Fr Gregory Hogg, a brother Orthodox priest and a good friend, recently wrote what I've been thinking:
I don't commemorate the Reformation any more because I have come to see that I, not the Church, am the one in need of reformation.
I've been thinking this in light of some comments I've read by some concerning the Pope's recent Apostolic Constitution. It seems that some believe that this announcement is a way for certain Episcopalians to retain their Episcopalianism while coming into communion with the Pope. As David Schütz points out, such is not the case. Those Anglo-Catholics who have applied, and to whom the Constitution will be applied, have already accepted all the tenants of the Catholic faith. And those Episcopalians who take advantage of the Vatican's offer will, in the final analysis, no longer be Anglicans or Episcopalians practicing Anglicans in communion with the Pope; rather, they will be Roman Catholics who are permitted (for a time, or perhaps in perpetuity) to keep Anglo-Catholic (note, not necessarily BCP) customs or traditions (e.g., the KJV language) that conform to Catholic doctrine.

The Orthodox Church expects and offers nothing less; namely, that Orthodoxy is not what makes a Lutheran a better Lutheran, or enables a Lutheran to live his Lutheranism more fully while in communion with the Church. Rather, Orthodoxy requires that a Lutheran embrace fully the Orthodox faith.

27 October 2009

An Item That May Interest

All Saints Orthodox Church near St Louis is hosting a conference entitled "Living the Christian Faith in the Orthodox Western Tradition."

This conference is designed for those who are interested in Orthodoxy, yet within its western liturgical expression. Those who are already Orthodox are also welcome to attend.

Could He Have Nothing to Say??

This blog has been silent for some time. It is not because I've had nothing to say. My wife, children, parishioners and students will dispute that I'm ever at a loss for words.

Several factors have led to this "season of silence"; most especially my circumstances, which have left me busier than usual. Hopefully, I've become more adept at managing these circumstances (in other words, I've finally stumbled upon a routine) that may allow me to continue to share my thoughts.

Therefore, I shall attempt to do so beginning with my next post which, alas, is crass advertisement. Perhaps it may interest some.

30 May 2009

Visit by Bishop MARK

On May 16-17, His Grace Bishop MARK made his canonical visit to Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church. Here are photos from that visit.

For more visit, click here.

Blessing the Incense

At the Canon

Ready to Depart

Incensing the Faithful

Preaching the Homily

Bishop MARK with "bishop James."

23 April 2009

Surety -- How can I know?

Recently a Lutheran acquaintance wondered about the Orthodox understanding of the certainty of salvation. Like many looking into Orthodoxy, this person did not find much of an answer to the question, "How can I be sure that I am saved."

Too often I've heard such a well-meaning question dismissed with the words like these: "That's not the right question." Such a frustratingly typical answer which is often taken to belittle both the questioner and a well-meaning, searching question!

What needs to be understood is that the question is driven by Luther's question ("How do I know that I have a gracious God"). The prominence of this individual quest by Luther has prompted Lutherans and Protestants to place a great deal of stock in the surety of faith. As one who has was schooled by the question and so understands the angst behind it, permit me to suggest that it reveals a need to be convinced that God is merciful, that He loves men as they are, and that regardless of what they've done or their past He accepts, welcomes and forgives them.

There is nothing in those words that the Orthodox dispute. The Orthodox agree that God is merciful, forgiving, kind, and loving, and that we need constantly to be reminded of this since we are prone to forget it or live as if it doesn't matter.

However, we would question why one needs to know for certain that which is a given; namely, that God is gracious, merciful, loving, etc. We would wonder how God could be otherwise since God is (i.e., both essentially and energetically; or metaphysically, epistemologically and experientially) love.

We would also wonder at the hubris of such a question. In other words, the focus of the question is on me (the individual) and my surety rather than on God and His grace. Notice the grammar: How can *I* be certain that God is who He is. Deep down, it seems to suggest that God is gracious only if I find Him to be so. Such a Cartesian method plays well in a post-Renaissance mindset but it, at base, quite prideful and not within the "mind of Christ" (Philippians 2).

Above all, however, we would question what is not said; namely, that this emphasis on the surety of faith quickly leads either to an antinomianism or to an abstraction (or both), and away from the primary narrative in Scripture--that the love God is calls us not to nearness or friendship but to an intimate participation and union; that God invites us to be "wrapped up" in Him (i.e., in the love His gives and does but, of course, not the love that he metaphysically is).

To the first (antinomianism), Luther of course emphasized "faith alone, but faith is never alone." This emphasis of faith and love is seen most clearly in Luther's sermons. However, the most unLutheran notion of total depravity (if not in so many words) has captivated Lutherans and Lutheranism to the point that they apologize for or downplay the necessity for works of love. Furthermore, when these works of love are emphasized, the key works of repentance and humility are not seen as works of love, and are not often seen as the key works.

To the second (faith as abstraction), we would wonder why justification (which is, as Lutherans properly teach, the work of Christ) becomes greater than Christ; to the extent that some would vociferously maintain that not Christ but Christ's justifying work is the chief article (Hauptartikel). The two, we would say, cannot and ought never be separated since the person (hypostasis; essence) cannot be understood apart from His work (energon; deeds), and vice versa. We would maintain that the loss, in late medieval Western theology, of the distinction in one person/nature of essence and energy has led to this abstract understanding of faith in grace. (Note the grammar of the formula: justified by grace through faith--where is God or Christ except as an understood modifier, and all the other words are abstract concepts!) We would further point out that this loss is the result of a de-emphasizing (or, to be precise, a de-personalizing) of the Spirit.

It is precisely the person of the Holy Spirit that Orthodoxy points to as the necessity for the binding together of individuals in love to God and one another. And what is key, then, is not personal surety of one's standing before God, but the relationship that the Spirit calls us to--a relationship of the fullness of love in the God who is love which then, of necessity, binds us to all whom (persons) and which (creation) God loves. Or, to ask it juridically: After one is declared not guilty or righteous (or "made righteous" as the Lutherans sometimes affirm), then what? Does that not evoke a relationship between judge and judged? And if so, what is the nature of this relationship, and what keeps is growing, maturing, deepening? The Orthodox answer, which is only partially (and therefore incompletely, that is, unsacramentally) found amongst the pietists or those oddly accused of Osianderism (often the accusers don't understand the teaching of and charges against Osiander), we would see as an attempt to answer this very necessary relational question. And why is the relational question necessary? Because that is what God made us for--to live in union with Him. But now we are talking of theosis.

05 April 2009

The Courage to Confess

The following is an except of a sermon preached at the pan Orthodox Vespers hosted by St Thomas Albanian Orthodox Church in Farmington Hills MI.

What keeps us from going to confession? What causes us to put off going to our spiritual father? Is it the belief that we have nothing to confess? Or is it rather our fear that Our Lord God does not understand, that He can’t identify, that He doesn’t really know what it’s like? In other words, we’ll confess—but to someone who really doesn’t know us, and what we face, and how hard it is. Now if we could just find someone like that—someone who truly understands, and has been there, and can sympathize with us.

Yet that is precisely who St Mary of Egypt found—a sympathetic ear; and more than a sympathetic ear. She found the Lord and God who had been there and back; who knew her sin not intellectually but also experientially. And St Mary found the Son of Man who had endured her temptations, and so was able to help her—all all men—who are tempted. And when she found Him, she received courage—the courage to confess.

Now isn’t that what confession is? Isn’t confession the courage to name our sins aloud, and also the courage to live against our ungodly desires? For it certainly takes courage to confess. And it certainly takes courage to live for others and against we selfishly pleases us. Yet where does such courage come from? Certainly not from the commandments. The commandments are good, but ultimately they show us that we’ve missed the mark; that we don’t measure up. And they show us how we should live. The commandments encourage us to do what is right, but they don’t give us courage.

Where then do we get the courage to confess? It comes from Our Lord Himself, who gives us His Spirit so that we might begin to know and believe that He will not turn us away—because He’s suffered our temptations.

Remember St Gregory’s words: “What Christ did not take into Himself He did not heal, but what is united with God is also being saved.”

These words mean that Our Lord has truly and really assumed and taken into Himself—into His life-giving flesh and blood—our temptations: our desire to control, our desire to satisfy our urges, our desire to accumulate, our desire to lash out, our desire to want what others have, our desire to feed our appetites, and our desire to lose heart and give up and give in to our fears.

All of these deadly sins, all of these ungodly passions and desires, Our Lord has both assumed and consumed. He has made them His own and swallowed them up in His person. He doesn’t just know about them. He took them in and suffered their sting, and then put them to death in His flesh. And He has done this for only one reason: so that He might transform and convert these ungodly passions, so that He might change them into godly desires—the godly desires which transform us.

Read the full sermon.

01 April 2009

Thoughts on Striving Against Temptation

During Lent, especially as we struggle to keep the fast physically (in foods) and spiritually (in prayer) and relationally (in acts of love toward others), the devil often besets us with our foulest deeds and imaginations. He does so to detract us, to discourage us and to steal our joy. Yet these temptations, for which we often fall prey, are nothing. They are, literally, bundles of no-things. They are thoughts and images (often, very vivid, too vivid), but they have no sustainable reality apart from our will to entertain them, toy with them and (God forbid) act upon them.

Because these maddening temptations are “no-things” does not mean that their pull is not strong, or even seemingly impossible to resist. Black holes and vacuums, both of which contain nothing, are very powerful forces in nature. But by God’s grace through prayer and fasting—in other words, by staying the Lenten course—we can overcome. Perhaps not immediately; in fact, usually only after years of striving do we obtain the victory. For the devil is persistent in his goal of dragging us to hell; and our flesh is equally stubborn in its ungodly desire to be gratified. Nevertheless, these “strong men” have been undone by the stronger man (Lk 11). Therefore, we need simply to remain close to him in prayer and deed, and flee to him when we stumble and when we fall for the devilish lies that the “no-things” are real.

26 March 2009

More Photos of the New Sanctuary

More (and much better) photos of the newly completed sanctuary at Holy Incarnation.

17 March 2009

Photos of the New Sanctuary

Photos of the newly designed and built sanctuary at Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church have now been posted.

Be sure to check out other photos of Holy Incarnation here.

13 March 2009

Invitation to an Open House

Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church will host an open house on Sunday, March 29 from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. The open house will showcase the church’s newly redecorated sanctuary.

This event will celebrate another significant milestone for our little parish, which held its initial Mass in February 2007, purchased its own facility in February 2008, and now has redesigned the interior so that it looks like a traditional church.

We would be honored if the local readers of this blog would join us sometime during the day. If your schedule permits, please feel free to join us also for Mass at 9:30 a.m. or for Vespers at 4:00 p.m.

Read more about the open house.

Read more about Holy Incarnation.

02 March 2009

Thoughts about the Parable of the Seed

The Lord's parable of the seed (Lk 8.4-15) is chiefly about the Father's reckless spreading of His Word (Logos) which is carried aloft by the pneumatic wind. However, one cannot discount the metaphor of the four soils which Our Lord also employs in telling the story. When one considers the soils, it is not uncommon for the heart to be pricked and to ask, "How do I keep myself from becoming thorny, rocky or hard ground"?

According to the fathers, the making of good soil and the bearing of fruit is a cooperative effort intiated by the Holy Spirit, who both carries the seed/word to all soils and also begins the work of preparing the soil.

Yet we also have a part; namely, the life of repentance. Should we depart from constant repentance, we can quickly revert to thorny soil (being caught up with this world's false promises), rocky soil (consenting to faith intellectually but not in spirit) and finally to hard ground (where God's word matters little to us, and we matter most).

The life of repentance, which is our part, is aided by prayer, fasting and almsgiving--as the season of Lent teaches us. St Augustine says it another way in the form of a prayer: "Teach me, Lord, to see You so that I might love you truly, and to see myself so that I might cease loving myself."

To strengthen us in this life of self-denial, God's grace is necessary as He proffers it and pours it upon us generously by the Spirit in the sacred mysteries, most particularly Private Confession and Holy Communion.

Once a Lutheran pastor, now an Orthodox priest

On Sunday, 15 February, Deacon Daniel Hackney, a former pastor in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, was ordained an Orthodox priest. Bishop MARK, the Bishop of Toledo in the Antiochian Archdiocese, ordained Fr. Hackney at St Elias in Sylvania, Ohio.

Fr Hackney continues his studies at St Tikhon's seminary in Pennsylvania and hopes to be accepted as a chaplain in the U.S. military.

Click here to read a fuller article about Fr Hackney.

24 February 2009

What do you do with leftover Pączki?

For those who live where the Polish heritage is strong or dominant, such as Detroit or Chicago, today is Pączki Day (pronounded "punch-key"). Simply put, a pączki is very much like a high cholesterol, high calorie (and therefore, much tastier) filled doughnut. It's traditionally served on "Fat Tuesday"--the day before Ash Wednesday--as a way of both cleanining out the cupboard of foods forbidden during Lent (according to the older Catholic rules), and gorging oneself one last time before Lent.

So you shouldn't save the leftovers for another day. If you don't eat them today, you should throw them out.

However, I have a better solution. Take your leftover pączki to your local Orthodox church, or give them to your Orthodox neighbor. Why? Because our Lent doesn't begin until next week.

18 February 2009

Photos from the Consecration

Last Saturday (14 February 2009), His Grace Bishop MARK, Bishop of Toledo and the Midwest, consecrated the new altar at Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church.

The ceremony included sprinkling the altar with holy water while processing around it; sealing the relics of St Sebastian, martyr, and St Peter, Bishop & Confessor, in the altar stone; anointing the altar stone with Sacred Chrism and the Oil of Catechumens; and burning incense within each of the five incised crosses on the altar stone.

Included here are a few samples of the full array of photographic scenes of the consecration which may be viewed at the Holy Incarnation website.

A story about James and St James

On Sunday after Mass, I went to Denver for a two day meeting with several priests from the Vicariate. As I was leaving the meeting Tuesday afternoon, Fr John Connely presented me with a wonderful gift for my 3 year-old son James--an icon of St James, the Brother of the Lord.

This morning I gave the gift to little James. He, of course, recognized it as an icon, and wanted to know who it was. I said, "It's St James." He was very pleased--so pleased, in fact, that he ran to his mother with the icon and said, "Look, an icon of St. Me!!"

Then James looked at the icon more carefully. He noticed that St James was holding something in his hand. So little James said, "What am I holding?" His mother explained that it was a bishop's staff. I expected (and really wanted) him to say, "Oh, am I a bishop?" Thankfully, he did not since we'd been through that phase already when our diocesan bishop had visited last summer.

Anyway, James continued to admire the icon. Finally, he announced to his mother, "I like me!"

09 February 2009

Consecration of New Altar

On Saturday, February 14, The Right Reverend Mark (Maymon) will consecrate the new altar at Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church in Lincoln Park. The ceremony will begin at 9:00 a.m. and will be followed immediately with Mass. The consecration will include sealing the relics of St Sebastian into the altar.

To the left is a photo of a portion of the new sanctuary. To the right is a photo detailing the newly built altar. To view more photos of the Sanctuary Project, click here.

08 January 2009

"And they worshipped him..."

The Feast of Our Lord's Epiphany is always, in my mind, an occasion for reflection on worship generally and the Holy Liturgy in particular. After all, the Gospel for Epiphany, both in word and ceremony, highlights the worship of the Christ Child ("...and falling down they adored him [the rubrics direct that, at these words, the celebrant and servers genuflect]...")

My personal reflection this year is aided by this excerpt from a longer essay by one of my brother priests, Fr Stephen Freeman. I share it here with the hope that it will be of benefit to you.

Worship is not:

- a service of outreach by which we seek the lost…
- a hymn-sing in which we lift our voices with our favorite hymns…
- primarily for the benefit of those who attend…
- designed to make me feel closer to God…

I could make this list much longer, but to little good effect. The point, I think, is sufficiently made. But if worship is none of these things, then what is it? A small quote from Archimandrite Zacharias’ Hidden Man of the Heart:

The Divine Liturgy is worship; there is prayer and a whole life there, the life of Christ. In the Holy Eucharist, we accomplish the exchange of our limited and temporal life for the unlimited and infinite life of God. We offer to God a piece of bread and a little wine, but in that bread and wine, we place all our faith, love, humility, expectation of Him, all our life. And we say to God, ‘Thine own of thine own, we offer unto Thee in all and for all.’ We offer to God all our life, having prepared ourselves to come and stand before Him and do this act. And God does the same: He accepts man’s offering and He puts His life - the Holy Spirit - in the gifts, transmaking them into His Body and Blood, in which all the fullness of Divinity is present, and He says to man, ‘The Holy things unto the holy.’ God accepts our gifts and fills them with His life, and He renders them back to us.

His small definition of worship as exchange says far more about what is essential in worship than any possible outward description. The exchange which takes place within worship is a communion, a participation, the engrafting within us of the life of God and the engrafting of our life within Him.

It is perhaps possible to give an objective description of the service of worship - but to do so will have missed the point. To reduce the liturgy purely to the act of the consecration of bread and wine, the transmaking of bread and wine into the Divine Body and Blood - is an impossibility. Nothing can be reduced into the Body and Blood of Christ. The reduction of worship to a thirty minute collection of certain “necessary” elements, towards the end of which believers are given the sacrament not only misses the point of liturgy but threatens to misrepresent worship in the extreme. “Worship” that has no intention of exchange may be many things - but it fails to rise to the level of true worship.

Prayers for Fr Richard John Neuhaus

UPDATE: Fr Richard John Neuhaus passed away this morning (8 Jan) shortly before 10:00 a.m.
Requiescat in pace. + May his memory be eternal.
(Rdr) Christopher Orr alerts us that last rites have been administered to Fr Richard John Neuhaus.

The writings of Fr Neuhaus have informed and strengthened a good deal of my thinking on moral philosophy and theology, and he has made several shorter comments on ecclesiology which have been quite helpful. When he spoke at a symposium at Concordia Theological Semianry in Forty Wayne, I had the pleasure of meeting Fr Neuhaus and speaking with him briefly, reminding him of his days at Zion Lutheran in Detroit.

His passing, coupled with the recent repose of Avery Cardinal Dulles, would extinguish two of the leading lights for American Catholics.

May the Lord grant him a peaceful repose.