Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ode to the Greek Church

Last year, while sitting in class, me and my friend Ray composed a sonnet to the Greek Orthodox Church in North America. It is a wonderful piece of poetry that we feel quite accurately highlights the main goals and traits of the Greek Church. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it. Enjoy!

Ode to the Greek Church
By: Theodore Paraskevopoulos & Roland Ray Fulmer III

The Greek Orthodox Church in America,
Built on the blood of the Archons,
Guided by the vision of a one-eyed bishop,
Taught by the valedictorians of summer school.
Supported by the elderly,
Renounced by the spiritual,
contained in the building,
Hallowed by the iconostas.

Lo, though all the forces of decay and rot set upon it,
It shall not waver in its singular commitment to it Lord and Master;

When the need is great, countless sacrifice,
To establish and maintain a working and Holy Greek School.
For the Greek language gave us Christ,
And He will judge all believers in their native tongue.

As God told Abraham in the Septuagint,
"I Bless you that you be a blessing to all nations."
Now the covenant has passed to its true inheritors,
And in the fullness of time the Messiah will restore Hagia Sophia,
And the gentiles will come to learn the Law,
Being justified by their nationality.

As the Apostles, these saints of the Gospel,
Will come to mount Olympus, the new Zion,
To hear the Word that is never read.
To pray for the Eucharist that is never consumed.
For them, Christ is broken but never distributed,
He is given but never received,
for the Greek Word sustains us. Amen.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Orthodox Priorities

Well, the time of the year came around again when we performed our White Castle Feed the Homeless Run. I would have to say that it was a great success in the sense that we raised $263.00 which allowed us to hand out 300 burgers spread over 75 packaged meals that included burgers, chips and soda. This was the most we've every been able to prepare. Yes, in this sense it was a great success.

However, in regards to the willingness of Orthodox Seminarians to actually put the Gospel into practice in their daily lives, it was a HORRIBLE FAILURE. I say this because out of approx. 120 seminarians studying for priesthood and various other positions in the church, we had to beg people to help with the distribution. It was even harder to get people involved than last time we did this. Although the monetary donations were generous, they came from a very small and dedicated group of people. If we actually had the whole student body contribute, the result would have been astronomical.

But lets get back to giving up one's time. I mean, I know that people are busy and have essays to write (as if the people who actually went live on another planet and do not have essays), but lets face it the majority of people procrastinate when it comes to work and then they have the audacity to tell me that they decide on the morning of the homeless run that they need to buckle down and do their essay. C'mon people, who are you kidding. Just tell me the truth; you don't wanna go and you'll gladly give me money to go away. I've heard every excuse in the book from choir practice to laundry day. As if any of these things have to do with salvation or the person who is starving on the street. I mean really, I think that the choir will understand if one misses so they can feed the homeless. What's disturbing is that all these people are the future leaders of the church who will be great at preaching the social gospel but never practicing it. Unless it's convenient of course. If you got no time to come and feed the poor and then you ask me if I wanna see a movie tonight, there's something seriously wrong.

Now I know I am no saint and God knows I am lazy and gluttonous and probably self righteous, but that doesn't change the truth of what I am saying. As Orthodox Christians, especially ones at seminary, we should be clearing our desks when it comes to feeding the homeless, or any other social activity for that matter. NO EXCUSES! That' why next time we're going during exam week, just to piss everyone off. If we can't prioritize when the pressure is on, than we will never do it as priests. That's all.

Oh, and just in case the message was not clear enough in the above paragraphs, what I am saying is POOR PEOPLE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN ESSAYS, EXAMS, OR GOOD GRADES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Sermons that make you feel "Oooohh sooo Good!"

I recently gave a sermon at a Greek Orthodox Church in Long Island last Sunday. I was commenting on not storing up treasures on earth but in heaven by actually practicing good works for our fellow man. The sermon was a semi-rant about our inability to form true relationships with others and idolizing the beautiful churches we build, as if bulding a massive church will be the defining act that will guarantee our entrance into heaven. Anyways, the sermon lasted about 18 minutes which got the attention of both the presiding priest and the people. There were two responses to my sermon:

1. People told me after that is was soooo moving and it hit a nerve. Others said I reminded them about the one time they actually gave something away. Others told me how much they thought this sermon was good for the people to hear. I was like "GAG!" Good Lord people! Wake up!. I didn't come to your church to preach to you so that you could tell me it was good. I mean, I wanted to tell some of them, "I know it's good, it's the Word of God, it has to be!" Really people, don't tell me it made you feel good. That's not the proper response. If a sermon exhorting you to do what the Gospel says, when you're not doing it, makes you feel good, then either you were not listening or someting is seriously wrong with you. I told people, "Don't tell me "good job" or "thank you." If you want to thank me, go out and do what I told you to do. I swear, I should go back there in a week and ask them if anyone visited the homeless, the sick, the suffering, and see what they'd say.

2. The second response from the presiding priest and janitor (of all people), was that it was too long. They promptly told me "the effective sermon should be between 6 and 10 minutes long." I HHAAAAATTTEE that homiletics crap! Sermons should not be simplified into a mere formula for getting the job done. The rationale for keeping them short is that one will lose the attention of the people. C'mon! Lets be serious. We watch TV for countless hours and have conversations with friends for just as many. We watch movies and listen to music, not to mention speeeches that go on forever. Chrysostom used to speak for 2 hours. So why, when it comes to speeches in the church, can we not tolerate more that 10 min for God's word? I think that the length of a sermon is not the issue; it is the content. If people are intrigued and fascinated by your sermon, the time will fly by. It's the same rationale that tells us to hurry up liturgy as well. We are catering to the laziness of our people and not to the spiritual hunger which they have. If they understand why they are in Church and truly feel like they participate, then the hours fly by, just as they do when we do any other activity we love. I'm just not sold on this time rule. Worship and faith is beyond time and space, and when we try to fit it into these things, it is then that we truly miss the point of the Gospel and the Kingdom of Heaven.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The NCC: My Favourite Politicians Part 3

An Opinion By An Old Favourite: Posted By Roland Ray Fulmer III
Although I tend to be pro-moderate on these issues and I enjoyed the presentation in and of itself, I kept having this nagging question - why the NCC?

I guess that I'm doing little more than adding my spin on what Theo, Corban, and Guirguis have already said, but I couldn't see what it had to do with ecumenism. I'm not against the NCC as such, but why not just say it's a "Christians United" organization so that a greater number of Christians can combine for a greater sway on political issues?

As I brought up at the dinner table after class, I'm very skeptical of the idea of religious institutions trying to use as large and cunning an animal as the US government to forward 'Christian agendas'. For one thing I'm not sure that the various institutions involved agree holistically on a single vision enough to promote that vision. As Dr. Stanley Hauerwas says "you have to name the Good in order to seek the Good."

I believe very firmly that when you decide to dance in the political arena, which is indeed necessary on occasion, and especially when you decide to enter the fray as a coalition of semi-partners, it's much more likely that you will end up getting used as an unwitting dupe in some politicians power play than if you remain a sectarian vote that it's understood must be met in order for you to endorse a proposition.

Lastly, let me actually add something to this discussion: I have noticed that there is a trend within leaders at higher-levels in these ecumenical organizations, to try and play 'ecumenical' more than the common people feel ecumenical. For example, notice that the NCCC felt the need to establish a curriculum in order to validate its role to the laity. Should this be necessary if indeed its issues and benefits are such obvious extensions of the faith.

I know that when socially concious Protestants want to do something Christian but not worry too much about theology, social justice issues are always a convenient fallback plan. Just do what we all agree on rather than bringing up differences! But in this case I don't see why we don't limit our social involvement to a smaller but more cohesive group, such as pan-orthodoxy, which represents plenty votes unto itself to be a substantial political lobby, even if only partially mobilized. I feel that organizations such as the NCC often operate outside the radar screen of the general laity, who I believe would question the validity and productiveness of their mission if they knew about them.

The entire Ecumenical endeavor it seems to me presupposes a degree of sameness that I'm not sure we can affirm. In many ways we're choosing to chat and tag-team with groups who I (and many others) consider valid mission territory. I would be more than happy to assist a Presbyterian in converting to Orthodoxy, same with an American Baptist or Episcopalian. I would, in fact, actively encourage it. Such an attitude might strike many as sectarian, but I certainly wouldn't have taken the steps I've had to take for Orthodoxy if I didn't see something in one place that I didn't see somewhere else. But we're supposed to meet and work together? I guess....

It seems to me that most of our devout people are plenty comforatable being a church with a unique identity and vision that supports and removes support for political and sociological causes based on our own understanding of Christ and the Gospel. I can't help but ask this question: Is it that our enlightened leaders are boldly leading the faith without so much as a 'thank you' from the uncomprehending majority, or is it that we're engaged in the entire social justice endeavor so that we're not the "mean" church who gets ridiculed from the outside for not keeping up with the Nelson's in terms of giving and charity.

I ask that not to be sarcastic or rhetorical, but rather because I honestly wonder. Sometimes the church must lead rather than follow the people in the pews, but sometimes it can be guilty of imposing rather than listening to popular values. I think this is an especially dangerous line in politics. reference the CAtholic church where there is almost a dead even split over whether or not to trust the Church's overarching social policy. Our Church, if anyone, shouldn't have to be told the dangers of prioritizing the social, political, and cultural aspects of the faith over preaching the gospel and individual moral responsibility to live it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The NCC: My Favourite Politicians Part 2

Posted by Jim Guirguis
I implore you to examine the evidence before you. The good Doctor maintained that all of this service was done with a theological foundation, but don't groups such as amnesty, and greenpeace also do these types of services without that same foundation? If what truly seperates the NCC is Christ or theology, then as principled human beings we should never make exceptions. The stance of the NCC to avoid an official opinion on gay marriage, and abortion can be seen as nothing less than cowardly. This seems like the shameless attempt of lobbyists masquerading as church communities. If we say that it is alright to look past certain differences, such as abortion (44 million U.S. lives since 1973) in the hopes of working together for common social causes, then we should have absolutely no problem excusing our government for going to war even though they are achieving so much in terms of economic and social development at much less of a human cost. (27,000 Iraqi, and 2,500 U.S. lives) Let's get real, judgement is coming. To conveniently proclaim only half of the gospel is to proclaim none of the gospel.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The NCC: My Favourite Politicians Part 1

Last week in Ecumenism class here at St. Vladimir's Seminary, we had a visit from Dr. Tony Kyriopoulos who represents the National Council of Churches. He was very nice and his presentation was very good and informative. However, the impression I got from the NCC and its mission leaves me with many concerns and reservations about the organization itself. Apparently I am not the only one with a gripe after this presentation. My fellow students also had something to say. Therefore I will be posting a multiple-part post on this subject which will begin with my own thoughts about this issue and will continue with posts from other students within my class. I think the issue deserves the attention since it affects us so much these days. I hope you all enjoy.

My Personal Thoughts of the Issue
It seems to me that out of all the ecumenical bodies that we have encountered in our class, the NCC is definately the most political in its agenda. Judging from Dr. Kyriopoulos' presentation, the NCC is heavily involved in lobbying for human rights issues, famine, genocide, and attacking the local Wal-Mart. This is all good and dandy but where is the theology? It seems that the "Faith and Witness Commission" of the NCC is just a bunch of guys sitting in a small room, fighting the good fight, actually talking about ecumenical issues. However, in the grand scheme of things, they only seem to serve the function of providing theological grounds for the NCC's political agenda.

Don't get me wrong, I think the influence of Christian values that the NCC imposes on the US government isn't necessarily a bad thing, however, I must ask the question: what makes this oragnization different from any other political lobby group? What makes it ecumenical is my question. In my opinion, ecumenism is about coming together to deal with the theological faith issues that separate us so that we may be one as Christ orders us to be one. This seems to be the step that the NCC has passed over. They have agreed that the theological issues will take years to resolve, so in the meantime, why not unite on common issues that we can all agree on (which are ironically the same ones Jews and Muslims would agree as well)and try to make a differnece through politics. I'm not sure that this is the proper goal for an ecumenical organization. I'm not sure that organizing boycots on Wal Mart has anything to do with the true Ecumenistic goal. And uniting on such issues, while avoiding the main problems, sends out the wrong signals to those who would criticize the Ecumenical movement. It shows that the churches are not truly interested in theological reconciliation, but that they are already united on the so-called "Contemporary issues" while avoiding the true issues that divide us. This breeds, I fear, a type of pseudo-union mentality where we become content to agree to disagree as long as we can work together for our mutual political agendas. I may be wrong in my take on this but this is what I got out of the presentation.

Monday, October 17, 2005


I recently came across an article on MSN News online about modern MegaChurch architecture. It is actually a criticism of the design of such churches as not being capable of facilitating prayer in the traditional sense of the word and promoting class distinction and commercialism. I thought it was very insightful and reminded me of why Orthodox are soo conservative in their architecture. Even though this reality is slowly changing in North America for the worst. I noticed this trendy modernization in a Greek Orthodox Church in Long Island yesterday night when I visited it for the veneration of the holy Sitka Icon from Alaska that is cirulating in the US these past weeks. The Church, although posessing a very beautiful byzantine architecture, is decorated inside by many "nouveau" stylings such as futuristic metal iconostas, see through taberbacle, and side panels that look that they came out of the Jetsons. I don't mean to make fun, but I see that there is a concern for what is new and expensive over what is more conducive to prayer. I hope this article reminds us of that. I've highlighted in bold some passages that I think are the most insightful and important:

An Anatomy of Mega Churches

Viewing these images of the megachurch in action, I got the feeling that they've kept everything bad about the scale of Gothic and Renaissance cathedrals but little of the good. In fact, it's all about scale. How big can we make it, how many people can we fit into it, how small can we make people feel individually yet how big as a group?The good that's been discarded, for me, would be the art, which is present in traditional cathedrals in both grand and intimate scale. You have the Creation staring down at you in the Sistine Chapel, but also much more to see at the human level. There are statues of saints, paintings, even wonderful votive candle racks and the like. Then there's the altar itself, with its many rich and interesting things to see.In these modern megacathedrals (or, in some cases, dihedrals, since some of them look as swept as jet wings), where are the arcades, the columns, the clerestory windows, the pendentives holding up the dome, all the fine details that furnish you with eye candy.

If you're in one of these football stadiums like the one in Houston, the stage-altar has been reduced to the level of a detail: you can only see the pastor on the Jumbo-Tron…Will wealthy supporters be able to view the service from skyboxes, where they can sit outside in a private loge or retire indoors to view the service on HDTV while noshing on the full buffet? …The skybox thought brings up another point.

What these megachurches do preserve of the cathedral tradition is the notion of class hierarchy. In the old system, the apportionment of seating reflected the notion of a structured society: God was at the top, the clergy were next to God, the wealthy nobility were next to the clergy in the pews (but just across the altar rail), and the common folk milled about in the nave (presumably with a few hogs or sheep running around). It's hard to see how the rear seats of the new megachurches are any different from the old-fashioned nave, except that there's probably less livestock (on second thought, you probably can't even make that statement with any certainty if you're more than a hundred rows away). It would be interesting to know whether seating is on a first-come, first-served basis, or there are reserved sections as there are in Anglican churches in New England.

Too bad the article is only about the architecture, not the sociology. I'll admit some of these new churches are striking, but they seem less about spirituality and more about showmanship. They're also about herd instinct. More and more, we appear not to be comfortable worshipping our own God in our own way. We have to be part of something big, and the bigness is human, not divine. A great big worship machine, with stadium seating. Helleluja!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Unworthy? How Dare We Be So Arrogant!

I was recently reflecting on the issue of worthiness when it comes to receiving Holy Communion. The issue really vexes me because it seems that all I hear these days is that we are all not worthy to receive communion. This to me is really ridiculous. I mean, I know the prayers speak of us not being unworthy when we receive, but what exactly does this "worthiness" mean?

Many believe that if we sin, especially when the time for Sunday communion approaches, we should not approach the chalice. This usually involves the failure to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, judging others, etc, etc, etc. we seem to think that only when we are in some kind of pseudo-pure spiritual state are able to receive the divine mysteries. WAKE UP PEOPLE! There is no such reality! There was only one who is sinless and pure and He gave us Himself for nourishment! It is quite shocking to realize that we, in our arrogance and over abundant neurotic guilt, stemming from our committing of sins on a daily basis, actually have fooled ourselves into believing that we, at any moment, deserve the Eucharist that our Lord and savior gave us freely. We seem to overlook the reality of the Gospels which tell us that Christ forgave us even when we were nailing Him to the Cross. It is truly a spiritual sickness to think that anything we can do can make us anywhere close to deserving of the free gift of life which Christ gives to us through the Eucharist.

This being said, we continue to live our lives according to somekind of legalistic merit system in which we must perform certain actions to necessitate our entrance into heaven. Really people, how selfish is such a lifestyle! Christ taught us to love for the sake of loving and not for the sake of a reward. This is clear because He had no need of a reward, having already come down from Heaven, but did what He did anyway. In the same way He have gave us his Flesh and His Blood freely without expecting anything in return except to love Him and our Neighbour. If we love Him we must believe in Him and attempt to keep His commandments. But in trying to be perfect, like our Father is perfect, it is not our reaching of the goal that makes us holy and worthy of the faith, but the attempt in itself. Christ knows we are fallen and imperfect. All he expects us to do is to try, really try. This is the worthiness that I believe the communion prayers speak of. Do we believe in the teachings of Christ? Do we attempt everday to follow them, no matter how many times we fall? CAn we recite the Nicene Creed without crossing our fingers? THese are the crucial questions we must ask ourselves; not whether we failed in fasting on friday. Sin is not the obstacle to communion; unbelief and indifference is. It doesn't matter if we fail in our spiritual endeavours, what matters is we try. If we are in the state of ascetic struggle, then that means we are moving towards God and not away from Him. If this is the case, then we must be communing every Sunday. If this is not the case, then and only must we abstain, not because of our unworthiness, but because of our unbelief in the power of God and our unbelief in the miracle of Holy Communion.

It seems to me that in the Gospel accounts Christ did not tell us to take communion whenever we feel worthy or whenever it seems spiritually convenient. He COMMANDED us "DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME" Who are we to deny Christ's commandment? He commanded us to do this because in doing so we would remember Him and his teachings and keep them in our hearts. It is when we forget Him that we are in serious danger of becoming unworthy of the Kingdom. If we wish to come closer to Christ, we must be willing to embrace Him no matter how evil we think our actions have become. If we saw Christ in person today would we run to embrace Him or would we stay away? How is communion any different? And are we so bold as to make that choice? Didn't Christ already make it for us?

Friday, May 13, 2005

If You Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk

My friend and I started a feeding the homeless endeavour during Lent this year which has been carried out twice now, with much success. The success however, has been on the material side, that is the amount of food that has been distributed has been substantial. However, the student participation is the actual distribution run has been somewhat lacking and for an Orthodox Seminary this raises a few concerns. As usual, my friend Ray expresses these concerns most eloquently on his own blog and I therefore post the following excerpt, allowing him to say it far better than I could ever do. Enjoy!

Triumph of the academy
By: Ray Fulmer

Overall I'm usually nice about the fact that a seminary arrangement is more than a little bit silly in some ways. I mean come now, look at it - Here we are in a vocational school for a profession that's based on unseen faith which has as a pre-requisite that things are not always as they appear. Our solution: Study it.Now don't get me wrong, education is great. Education has always been an integral part of the clerical caste, and this has always included an intellectual element. Still, today there was an interesting contest of priorities.We have a student-run project, started by Theo and yours truly, which essentially goes like this: We collect money from the students, order several hundred mini-burgers from White Castle, buy some little brown sacks, economy-sized chips, and various flavors of sodas, sack it all up 4 burgers/a chips bag/and a coke apiece, and hand them out to as many people at the Emergency Assitance Unit for homeless families as we can. Cool huh?Now I don't want to downplay student contribution; the seminarians were very very generous and the effort would have been completely fruitless without them. Still, of probably 20 people I asked to come along with us to do the manpower side of the job...well lets just say that at the last minute I ended up with 2 (both of which were one of the four who went last time). Everyone else had papers to write and books to read for finals.Am I misreading priorities? I haven't always had the greatest ability to gauge priorities, but it seems to me like "I'll help give treats to the homeless once I've got my paper done a full day early" isn't exactly the dead-to-self WWJD kind of answer the gospel seems to call us to.Somehow the whole mindframe behind that kind of answer seems to say a lot about how we're taught to prioritize. Sure, be a Christian and do goody-two-shoes things if you get the chance, but what's REALLY important.... make sure to keep up-to-date on your studies. Don't want those grades to slip while you're out there trying to live the gospel! I mean really, let us not overstate the point, don't make yourself stay up that extra couple of hours and break your mode of concentration just to bag a few burgers!The whole thing in some way seems to represent the triumph of the intellectual-first nature of our religion. I should be the one to gripe I know, but it does.Another thing that seems really... telling. I notice that it isn't the raging social justice libs that get out there. Now of course they applaud the effort from the sidelines. Hell, they're even willing to work the desk job that makes your endeavor possible, but when it comes time for the soles to meet the pavement it's always the worker bees who end up doing everything. Someday we're going to learn how to properly respect and validate the effort of our worker bees. Being only a mild one myself I'm from a family of sterling examples, and don't let anyone tell you differently - they're the ones who keep our boat afloat. Everyone else either doesn't care or, like my Amnesty and social-justice Christian friends, feel it's their job to "raise awareness" about this or that situation. Now of course they end up mostly "raising awareness" to other "aware" people, who are themselves busy "raising awareness", all the while the awareness raisers are just praying that they can lure the intistinguishable swarm to come do the real sweat and blood work of fixing the problem at hand.Again, I don't mean to toot my own horn, or even say that I'm right. Lord knows that without him I wouldn't help a soul, and especially I wouldn't be able to tolerate it after my first endeavor (I haven't ever helped any kind of poor run where the people we were helping didn't contain at least a few ridiculously ungrateful souls). On the other hand, I wonder what the Lord would convict us of if we asked him in prayer? For me everything seems to go a little more spiritually smoothly when I do my part, both financially and physically. So really this is a bit self-rewarding for me, thus I'm not a good example. Nothing makes me happier than making someone else happier in the way the Lord would be happy about. Let happiness flow! Now of course, if I were to pray "lord, sleep in or go to matins?" I think I wouldn't like the consistent answer I received, so I'm certainly not meaning to judge, but rather I guess I'm just seeing that in the end we've all got self-centered priorities. God help us.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven

I saw the movie Kingdom of heaven this past week and I have to say that I liked it, although I do think that it puts down religion a lot. I mean the action is great and both the Christian and Muslim sides are portrayed with respect, despite what some commentators have said. And yet religion as a whole is portrayed as a corrupt organization that is fuelled by blood thirsty war lords. Some of it may be true, but the lack of authentic Christianity is appalling. The closest thing we get is the vision of peace possessed by the young king of Jerusalem.

In addition to that, I also think that the anti-religious sentiment is more of a reflection of contemporary society's views on religion. In this I believe that the movie is not truly being faithful to the spirit and ideologies of the time, but is a depiction of 21st century beliefs in a 11th century landscape. It makes for a great social commentary on today's view of religion and the role it is believed to have played in history. The role it actually di play is irrelevant in such a movie which is more concerned with making the story pleasing to the masses by infusing it with post modernist beliefs of what really happened. It is unfortunate that most will believe that this is the only way it could have happened simply because it agrees with popular conecptions of history. Having said that, it still was a kick ass action flick. Just not a very accurate socio-historical depiction of the actual events.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Ray's Paschal Homily

I would usually prefer to post my thoughts on the current Paschal season; what it means to me and what I feel we should get out of it. But this time I have come across a blog post that really expresses what we believe as Christians. It is written by my good friend and fellow seminarian Ray Fulmer and I would like to re-post his thoughts here for all your reading enjoyment and spiritual edification. It is truy some of his best writing. Enjoy!

Religion is weird and religious people are weird
By: Ray Fulmer

No, you didn't misread the title.

Reading over David Bercot's Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs it struck me how absolutely strange we religious people really are. Here we are in the age of reason and verifiable fact and yet we speak in the language of myth and legend. Think for a second how disconnected it all is? Sure, you're born because your parents made whoopy, you die because your body grows old, nations rise and fall because of economics and military prowess, and outcomes reflect the concious interaction of intention, resources, and effort. Winners are those who have more and weild more power, losers are those who weild less power and have less. This is not difficult.But for us? No. Instead we say that people can be born through the Holy Spirit, we say you die because of sin, nations rise and fall by the intangible will of God, and outcomes reflect all of the above mentioned.... and a completely unquantifiable dimension of providence from the almighty. Winners are those who did the Divine Will, whether or not it rendered unto them anything tangible - indeed they may be considered losers.Think some more on it - we believe that we meet God by eating a little insignificant bread crumb and drinking a spoonful of watered down wine. We think that when we touch our shoulders, head, and stomach in a certain order that it guards us from evil. We sincerely believe that there are invisible spirits all around us, some benevolent and some malevolent, which are always seeking to influence us, guard us, harm us, or what have you. Oh yeah... and we think that by mumbling words into the air that we're affecting some part of this densely populated unseen spiritual cosmos - that's sane.Our entire life is guided by ritual actions and symbolic understandings which underly completely unconnected things. Remember that what goes on for instance at wedding services or at funerals isn't just pomp, but rather we believe that it has an effect - it does something. We hold onto hope for a place we've never been, that noone has ever seen, and that if you do see it you can't come back to tell anyone anyway (and if you did no stable person would believe you). "He isn't really dead, he's just alive somewhere else that I've never seen and cannot empiracally verify." Try to get me to buy that one sometime.So what's it all about? Well for one thing we're weird. Let nobody convince you otherwise. Religious people are strange. Normal people would not spend a day worrying too much about all of this hocus pocus. No well-balanced human is going to seriously consider giving up tangible facts for intangible hopes. It's simply irrational - be honest, it is. We voluntarily curtail our sex lives, eating lives, monetary motivations, and educational beliefs all for the sake of this "thing" out there, which we can't really define.The only way I can synthesize all of this (read: explain myself) is by a mirror of experienced reality. When I have lived my faith, life has been more cogent... it has held together. Part of this is the morality of it all. When I live those morals blindly and faithfully, life just turns out a little different - a little more fulfilling. I read the actions and sayings of Jesus and I think "you know... he's right... this is what we're supposed to be like. This is how it really works."Part of what is so convicting about the gospels that I find nowhere else is the dead on read of what we all know we should be and where we all know that we are. When we see the concerns and reactions of the Jews and other peoples in both testaments it's so full of flesh and blood. While this divine history plays out we can still recognize in its midst people we know, often ourselves. We know why they worship Ba'al. Ba'al's a nice guy. You give him $2 and he gives you a lollypop. He's the kind of God the rich and powerful want to serve. A God that wants to help you out to up your experience and to make you life "happy".Scripture tells us exactly what people are like. None of this flowery yip-yap "you're really a good person deep down" that we hear from self-help gurus. Nono, we all know we're messed up. If you could read my mind I guarantee that you would never listen to another thing I said - ever. I'm sick and I know it, I'm broken and I know it, and I also know that I can hide it from people the vast majority of the time.... and I know that I'm not the only one.We also know truth in God's anger and our fall. Look at the world - destruction, hatred, divisiveness, and the daily indulgence of inhumanity in so many sectors. No nirvana reaching here baby, we're off track.So I guess that I only really subscribe to all of this Christianity business because I see it. History is the product of the winners and science always leaves out that one variable. We always think we know the answers and yet things never turn out like we planned. We try not to give our heart and committments to lost causes, but they pull us back time and again. We know that our way just isn't good enough.When Jesus says to Peter, who is counciling him against voluntary death "get thee behind me Satan" it all becomes clear. What Peter is saying makes perfect sense! Right before this passage Peter had been proclaiming Christ as the messiah, and he knew what Christ was capable of. Slay the dragons! Throw off the yoke! Free the people from tyranny and give them their Universal Human Rights!I can see a mild smile on Jesus' face rebuking Peter... men still don't get it. His ways are not our ways, God doesn't do things like we do, and oftentimes his answers look stupid to us... until they work. His ways are not our ways... and we know the fruits of our ways. His ways are not our ways... and they don't quite square with how we would have written the novel. His ways are not our ways... and that's the only kind of God worth bowing down to worship.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Ireneaus and the Divine Economy

Reading through Irenaeus' Book 3 of Against the Heresies, I find his concept of divine economy absolutely fascinating. At the same time, I find this view diametrically opposed to what I, as well as many others, have been taught in traditional. Orthodox seminaries. The popular interpretation of the fall is that there was an original state of spiritual purity in which Adam and Eve dwelt before the fall. It is a belief that Adam and Eve were in perfect communion with God and that it was their disobedience that caused this relationship to be severed. Therefore, it is God who is forced in some way to change the divine plan in order to compensate for man's transgression. There are many flaws in such an argument and it is Irenaeus who offers a few solutions.

Firstly, to state that the fall was not part of the divine plan is to imply that if Adam and Eve never transgressed then there would be no need for Christ to have come. However, this poses a problem since John 1:1 clearly states that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God." If there was no need for Christ before the fall, than there would be no need for Him to have existed, unless God predicted the fall. It is such a prediction that Irenaeus deals with in Book 3 of Against Heresies. For Irenaeus, the fall was not contrary to the divine economy but indeed part of it. This is evident in AH 3:22:3 when he says, "For, since He who saves already existed, it was necessary that he who would be saved should come into existence, that the One who exists should not exist in vain." It is important to clarify here that Irenaeus is not saying that mankind was created to fall for the sake of the Savior. Instead, for Irenaeus, the fall was a natural progression of man towards his deification, not away from it. In essence, the fall was pedagogical, not disciplinary. This form of pedagogy is emphasized in AH 3:20:2, "Such then was the patience of God, that man, passing through all things and acquiring knowledge of death, then attaining to the resurrection from the dead, and learning by experience from whence he has been delivered, may thus always give thanks to the Lord, and may love Him the more, for he to whom more is forgiven, loveth more" (Lk. 7:42-3).

So it is clear that the knowledge of good and evil that came from the tree was both a tragic and yet pedagogical step for mankind. While at the same time man acquired death and sin by his disobedience, he also acquired the capacity to know the difference between good and evil and to love God more completely since he could finally understand his dependence on Him. Furthermore, Irenaeus also states in AH 3:19:1, "For by no other means could we participate in incorruptibility and immortality, unless we had been joined to incorruptibility and immortality." Hence, even before the fall, man did not yet possess the ability to be united with God because this could only be achieved by God uniting Himself with mankind after mankind had undergone a pedagogical process. Irenaeus also emphasizes the inability of man and creation to receive the uncreated without first growing. This is stated in AH 4:38:1, "Because, as these things are of later date, so are they infantile; so are they unaccustomed to, and unexercised in, perfect discipline. For as it certainly is in the power of a mother to give strong food to her infant, [but she does not do so], as the child is not yet able to receive more substantial nourishment; so also it was possible for God Himself to have made man perfect from the first, but man could not receive this [perfection], being as yet an infant."

Therefore I believe that Irenaeus is clear that the fall is not an event that is against the economy, but something that is part of it. God is patient with our faults and our apostasy because He knows that it is a necessary evil on our path of spiritual growth. Therefore, there is never a time when the Son never existed because mankind must go through these trials in order to progress from spiritual infancy to unity with God.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Nominal Christianity is Worse Than Atheism

I was having an interesting conversation with a fellow seminarian about nominal Christianity. By this I mean those Christians that show to church every Sunday, or not even that, but do not really participate of care to do so. They are the ones who do not completely agree with all aspects of the faith and do not really make any effort to actually grow spiritually by participating in the sacraments on a regular basis (communion, confession, services, fasting, etc.).

In our conversation we agreed that nominal Christianity is not only a problem within the church, but it is indeed worse than atheism. These may seem extreme in today's society where we are told by most Orthodox hierarchs and spiritual fathers that we must be loving and non-judgmental when it comes to dealing with our neighbors. Indeed, as an aspiring priest, I have been cautioned on many occasions to be gentle in my future ministry when "laying down the law" so that I do not offend many congregants and therefore lose their souls if they decide to leave the church. Yes, the prevailing mentality among the Orthodox clergy today is that numbers equal success. If we have our churches full, we are doing well. If we lose bodies, for any reason, then it is a failure on behalf of the priests.

This to me is one of the greatest problems that the ministry faces today. The unwillingness to truly preach the faith as it is for fear that many will reject it and walk out. We believe that we should be lenient on certain contemporary issues such as abortion, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, etc., so that we do not offend the more liberal minded Christians who feel that it is not fashionable to go against the status quo. The problem with this is that we subjugate truth to the relative and transient sense of morality that is so prevalent in today's society.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not advocating a type of puritanism that only allows those "super-orthodox" into communion. Anyone who knows me is aware of my lack of religious rigidity and piety. What I am saying is that keeping compassion and love in the church does not necessarily mean that we must expell hardline morals and unchanging doctrine. The truth does not change, no matter how unpopular it may get at times. We must stand up for the teachings of Orthodoxy, even if it means a few people walk out of our church. The church exists to cater to the spiritual needs of the people, not to the spiritual laziness of the baptized masses. It is true that no one is perfect and we cannot expect everyone to succeed in the perfect execution of the faith. We are all human and we fall. This is why we have the sacrament of confession. However, we must not stop teaching what the church considers to be sin and the need for it to be corrected. It is on this point that we must exercise resolve. We must present the Orthodox Church as the ark of truth; a truth that cannot be compromised. we must say, "This is it. Take it or leave it. "

As a good friend of mine said in a speech a few weeks ago, "If you don't believe in confession, you're not Orthodox. If you don't believe in fasting, you're not Orthodox." It is statements like these that need to be made more frequently in our churches. Notice that he didn't say "if you don't fast, you're not Orthodox." Execution of the ideal is not a pre-requisite for the faith, but belief in that ideal and an attempt to strive to achieve it is. As Fr. Tarazi says, "you're either holy or you're not. You're either righteous or you're not. You're either part if Israel or you're not." There is no in between. In this case, to be holy doesn't mean perfection, it only means that one agrees to attempt to live under God's Law. This is what the Church is. There is no picking and choosing what we like and what we do not like. Either we subscribe to the whole truth or none of it.

It is for this reason that we are warned in the Gospels about being luke warm in our beliefs. Either we are for Christ or against Him. This is also why I, as well as my fellow seminarian, respect the new Pope Benedict XVI. Many criticize him for being to conservative and for not being in touch with today's world and the needs of modern Catholics. I respect him because I agree with the criticism, he isn't in touch with today's world because today's world isn't in touch with the law of God. In this, Benedict affirms that if you wanna be Catholic, be Catholic! Don't be a pseudo-Catholic. North American Catholics are upset at their new Pope because he will actually insist on them being Catholics. And this is the danger of the pseudo-Orthodox, or nominal Orthodox. Their presence within the Church is not a sign of success in numbers. Their presence is an example of spiritual laxity and liberalism that breeds the same attitude among the faithful. In these cases, whether these people are sitting in the pew or at home, makes no difference. And furthermore, it is better that they sit at home, because at least then they will not inspire spiritual laziness among others in the community. We must not think that if people walk out the door we have lost them, because the way things are now, there many in the pews who are already lost. They are simply going through the motions.
n conclusion I would have to say that while we must have compassion for all in the church, those who are pious and those who are not, we must not be afraid to preach the hard truth, even if it causes some to leave. If the minister preaches the truth, it is not he who is causing the condmenation of those who are nominal. At that point their own rejection of the word is condemning them. Christ came to call sinners to hear the truth, but He did not compromise that truth for tha sake of a larger following. Those who have ears, let them hear.

Reading Ireneaus' Typology

The level of theology that can be found in Irenaeus of Lyons is quite shocking. While reading through his work On the Apostolic Preaching, I noticed that typology is used as a way of proving Christ’s identity.

The typological approach that Irenaeus uses is quite clear and systematic throughout his work On the Apostolic Preaching. He sets up this typology in two parts; from chapter 4-30 he tells the story of all of creation, starting from Genesis and continuing through the flood, Moses, the Prophets, and finally up to the incarnation. The second part starts at chapter 31 and extends to the end of the work. In the second section, Irenaeus takes the opportunity to point out how in every instance in the Old Testament, Christ was foretold. For Irenaeus, this foretelling is more than a mere foreshadowing. It is Christ truly present in all aspects of the Old Testament. When Abraham speaks to the three angels Irenaeus says, “Now two of three were angels, but one was the Son of God, with whom Abraham spoke…” and further down he says, “So, Abraham was a prophet and saw things of the future, which were come to pass, the Son of God in human form-that He was to speak with men and eat food with them…” (Ch. 44). And so, for Abraham, the incarnation was already a reality that he had beheld. It is also interesting that Irenaeus also emphasizes the rectifying of past wrongs in the person on Christ. He likes to contrast the mistakes made in the Old Testament with the successes Christ made in the new. This is shown in chapter 33 when he says, “For it was necessary for Adam to be recapitulated in Christ, that ‘mortality might be swallowed up in immortality’; and Eve in Mary, that a virgin, become the advocate for a virgin, might undo and destroy the virginal disobedience by virginal obedience.” In the same chapter this contrast is continued in reference to the crucifixion; “And the transgression which occurred through the tree was undone by the obedience of the tree-which [was shown when] the Son of Man, obeying God, was nailed to the tree, destroying the knowledge of evil, and introducing and providing the knowledge of the good: and evil is to disobey God, just as to obey God is good.”

Monday, April 25, 2005

Reading the Apostolic Fathers

Reading through the Apostolic material of the first century, I noticed many interesting points in regards to what they had to say about the person of Christ and His relation to the God the Father. More interesting, however is the fact that each of these bodies of works, Letters of Ignatius, Letter and Martyrdom of Polycarp and the Letter to Diognetus, all emphasize the truth about Christ in a different and unique way. Although I will be concentrating on the Letters of Ignatius in these reflections, I would also like to say a few things about the other works first. As I just stated, each author attempts to convey the truth of Christ in a different way. Ignatius achieves this goal in the form of letters which include theological statements on the person of Christ (also found in the Letter of Polycarp), and yet the Martyrdom of Polycarp attempts to convey this same truth through the medium of a narrative, such as the gospels themselves. What is more evident is that this particular narrative is modeled after the passion of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This is done intentionally in order to draw clear parallels between Christ and the imitator of Christ who is the good Christian. In this way, we may not get many long theological discourses or clear statements of faith, but what is effective are the actions and behaviour imitated by Polycarp in his quest to be Christ-like. The Letter to Diognetus is another example of using diverse methods to spread the Gospel. This work is in the form of a letter but differs from Ignatius in the sense that this is an apology; a work written for non-believers demonstrating the basic beliefs of the faith. This is also an invaluable resource since it is a clear, eloquent and systematic outlining of the faith. The writer assumes that the receiver knows nothing about Christianity and so makes his exposition clear and concise. It is also important to note that this letter is not only concerned with the identity of Christ but more importantly the identity of Christians within Greco-Roman society. In this way, the way in which we are to act, while living in the world, is effectively conveyed.

Now the Letters of Ignatius were quite fascinating to read and I believe they contain a very advanced Christology. It was clear to me that St. Ignatius was very well aware of the dual nature of Christ and thus emphasizes both the divine and human aspects of the Saviour. This is clear in all his epistles where he intentionally uses contradicting terminology in referring to Christ. Ignatius usually opens his epistles with a greeting in which he makes a distinction between Jesus Christ and God the Father. We see this in Ephesians Ch. 2 when he says, “may the Father of Jesus Christ refresh him.” And again in the introduction of Trallians he says, “by God the Father of Jesus Christ.” So we can see in these cases, as in many others, that there is a distinction between the Father and the Son. But in the same instance, Ignatius will say the complete opposite and unite the two. This is found numerous times such as in Ephesians Ch. 7; “There is only one physician, who is both flesh and spirit, born and unborn, God in man, true life in death, both from Mary and from God, first subject to suffering and then beyond it, Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is statements like these that laid the foundations for the Nicene faith and express clearly the two natures of Christ and the reality of His incarnation all at once. These two modes of explaining Christ’s natures, the distinction of the persons of the Trinity and the unity of Father and Son, are even brought together in the same sentences such as in the introduction of Romans when he says, “Father Most High and Jesus Christ His only Son, beloved and enlightened through the will of Him who willed all things that exist, in accordance with faith in and love for Jesus Christ our God.” And so we see that even in the same sentence, Ignatius is able to emphasize both the divinity if Christ and the distinction between Him and God the Father. This is the most profound realization and teaching that I came across while reading these works and it is amazing to me that in such an early time, before Ecumenical Councils and local synods, St. Ignatius already has the full realization of the identity of Christ, the Incarnation and Trinitarian theology.

Ratzinger Biblical Interpretation

These are excerpts from an article that former Cradinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, wrote on the effects of modern biblical hermeneutics. I found it appropriate to start my posts with this since it deals with the fundamental problem fo discerning our First Principles of belief when it comes to Scriptural exegesis. How do we properly interpret the bible and when do we go to far in our modern dissecting of the text. This is what Ratzinger addresses quite eloquently:

"Within that newfound freedom of thought into which the Enlightenment had launched headlong, dogma or church doctrine appeared as one of the real impediments to a correct understanding of the Bible itself. But freed from this impertinent presupposition, and equipped with a methodology which promised strict objectivity, it seemed that we were finally going to be able to hear again the clear and unmistakable voice of the original message of Jesus. Indeed, what had been long forgotten was to be brought into the open once more: the polyphony of history could be heard again, rising from behind the monotone of traditional interpretations. As the human element in sacred history became more and more visible, the hand of God, too, seemed larger and closer.
Gradually, however, the picture became more and more confused. The various theories increased and multiplied and separated one from the other and became a veritable fence which blocked access to the Bible for all the uninitiated. Those who were initiated were no longer reading the Bible anyway, but were dissecting it into the various parts from which it had to have been composed. The methodology itself seems to require such a radical approach: it cannot stand still when it "scents" the operation of man in sacred history. It must try to remove all the irrational residue and clarify everything. Faith itself is not a component of this method. Nor is God a factor to be dealt with in historical events. But since God and divine action permeate the entire biblical account of history, one is obliged to begin with a complicated anatomy of the scriptural word. On one hand there is the attempt to unravel the various threads (of the narrative) so that in the end one holds in one's hands what is the "really historical," which means the purely human element in events. On the other hand, one has to try to show how it happened that the idea of God became interwoven through it all. And so it is that another "real" history is to be fashioned in place of the one given. Underneath the existing sources — that is to say, the biblical books themselves — we are supposed to find more original sources, which in turn become the criteria for interpretation. No one should really be surprised that this procedure leads to the sprouting of ever more numerous hypotheses until finally they turn into a jungle of contradictions. In the end, one no longer learns what the text says, but what it should have said, and by which component parts this can be traced back through the text."

"But how is it possible to come to an understanding which on one hand is not based on some arbitrary choice of particular aspects, but on the other hand allows me to hear the message of the text and not something coming from my own self? Once the methodology has picked history to death by its dissection, who can reawaken it so that it can live and speak to me? Let me put it another way: if "hermeneutics" is ever to become convincing, the inner harmony between historical analysis and hermeneutical synthesis must be first found. "

"There should be no particular need to demonstrate that on the one hand it is useless to take refuge in an allegedly pure, literal understanding of the Bible. On the other hand, a merely positivistic and rigid ecclesiasticism would not do either. Just to challenge individual theories, especially the more daring and dubious ones, is likewise insufficient. Likewise dissatisfying is the middle-ground position of trying to pick out in each case as soon as possible the answers from modern exegesis which are more in keeping with tradition. Such foresight may sometimes prove profitable, but it does not grasp the problem at its root and in fact remains somewhat arbitrary if it cannot make its own arguments intelligible. In order to arrive at a real solution, we must get beyond disputes over details and press on to the foundations. What we need might be called a criticism of criticism. By this I mean not some exterior analysis, but a criticism based on the inherent potential of all critical thought to analyze itself. "

"In the midst of the theological, methodological debate of his day, Gregory of Nyssa called upon the rationalist Eunomius not to confuse theology with the science of nature. (Theologein is not physiologein.) [23] "The mystery of theology is one thing," he said, "the scientific investigation of nature is quite another." One cannot then "encompass the unembraceable nature of God in the palm of a child's hand." Gregory was here alluding to one of the famous sayings of Zeno: "The open hand is perception, the clapping hand is the agreement of the intellect, the hand fully closed upon something is the recording of judgment, the one hand clasped by the other is systematic science. "

"Along the same lines, I would like to express the following hopes:
a) The time seems to have arrived for a new and thorough reflection on exegetical method. Scientific exegesis must recognize the philosophic element present in a great number of its ground rules, and it must then reconsider the results which are based on these rules.
b) Exegesis can no longer be studied in a unilinear, synchronic fashion, as is the case with scientific findings which do not depend upon their history, but only upon the precision of their data. Exegesis must recognize itself as an historical discipline. Its history belongs to itself. In a critical arrangement of its respective positions within the totality of its own history, it will be able, on one hand, to recognize the relativity of its own judgments (where, for example, errors may have crept in). On the other hand, it will be in a better position to achieve an insight into our real, if always imperfect, comprehension of the biblical word.
c) Philological and scientific literary methods are and will remain critically important for a proper exegesis. But for their actual application to the work of criticism — just as for an examination of their claims — an understanding of the philosophic implications of the interpretative process is required. The self-critical study of its own history must also imply an examination of the essential philosophic alternatives for human thought. Thus, it is not sufficient to scan simply the last one hundred and fifty years. The great outlines of patristic and medieval thought must also be brought into the discussion. It is equally indispensable to reflect on the fundamental judgments made by the Reformers and the critical importance they have had in the history of exegesis.
d) What we need now are not new hypotheses on the Sitz im Leben, on possible sources or on the subsequent process of handing down the material. What we do need is a critical look at the exegetical landscape we now have, so that we may return to the text and distinguish between those hypotheses which are helpful and those which are not. Only under these conditions can a new and fruitful collaboration between exegesis and systematic theology begin. And only in this way will exegesis be of real help in understanding the Bible.
e) Finally, the exegete must realize that he, does not stand in some neutral area, above or outside history and the Church. Such a presumed immediacy regarding the purely historical can only lead to dead ends. The first presupposition of all exegesis is that it accepts the Bible as a book. In so doing, it has already chosen a place for itself which does not simply follow from the study of literature. It has identified this particular literature as the product of a coherent history, and this history as the proper space for coming to understanding. If it wishes to be theology, it must take a further step. It must recognize that the faith of the Church is that form of "sympathia" without which the Bible remains a closed book. It must come to acknowledge this faith as a hermeneutic, the space for understanding, which does not do dogmatic violence to the Bible, but precisely allows the solitary possibility for the Bible to be itself. "