Orthodox Archives

Better You Than Me (continued)

Change of plans. I was going to write about Mr Yannaras next essay. But on reflection I ended my remarks on his essay prematurely last night. What were some of the points he made (discussion below the fold): Read the rest of this entry

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    Better You Than Me

    So. In the next few essay’s I’m going to begin a small series commenting on my reading the book (of essays coincidentally enough) by Christos Yannaras titled “The Meaning of Reality: Essays on Existence and Communion, Eros and History”. My plan is to go through this book essay by essay. Some essay’s I’ll separate a precis post (summary) and follow that with one or more posts with remarks refering back to that post. What follows (below the fold) is the remarks on the first essay titled, “A Reference to Alyosha Karamazov”. This is short (3 1/2 pages) and I’ll perhaps to combine summary and remarks in one post. This opens with a quote from the Brothers’ Karamazov (from which, obviously, the character Alyosha is drawn).

    • I understand it only too well: it’s the innards and the belly that long to love. You put it wonderfully, and I am terribly glad you have such an appetite for life,” Alyosha cried. “I have always thought that, before anything else, people should learn to love life in this world”
    • “To love life more than the meaning of life?”
    • “Yes that’s right. That’s the way it should be; love should come before logic, just as you said. Only then will man be able to understand the meaning of life.”

    And so we begin (below the fold) Read the rest of this entry

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      Vocabulary Bleg

      So, in Sunday’s service (St. Basil Liturgy now that we are in Lent) the phrase “God is [..] adorable” appeared. The word “adorable” in its original meaning actually came from Christian contexts meaning “worthy of adoration” but now mostly is applied to small mammals meaning “very cute”. “Oh, he’s so adorable” is not usually applied to God but to kittens, small seals, and babies.

      Which brings to mind the question, is there a word in English that means “worthy of adoration”? If so what is that word?

      I think “venerable” has gone through a similar degradation, and similarly I don’t know a word meaning “worthy of veneration” in the English language.

      Do you?

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        An Awful Thing To Do

        I had been enrolled in the local diocesan late-vocations education program … but dropped out for the next cycle because I’ve been a little too busy. Anyhow, the last assignment (which I didn’t go to class to deliver) had as part of the homework an assignment to delivery a short 5 minute homily on Baptism. This is intended to be given to the parents, god-parents/sponsors, family and witnesses  just after a Baptism. Orthodox Christians practice infant Baptism, so this talk is geared in that regard (below the fold).  Read the rest of this entry

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          Tonight (Tuesday Night) during Palm/Holy week in the Orthodox tradition the Wednesday morning Matins service is held. Toward the end of this service the Hymn of Cassia (Kassia, Kassiani) is sung. 

          Sensing Thy divinity, O Lord, a woman of many sins
          takes it upon herself to become a myrrh-bearer,
          And in deep mourning brings before Thee fragrant oil
          in anticipation of Thy burial; crying:
          “Woe to me! For night is unto me, oestrus of lechery,
          a dark and moonless eros of sin.
          Receive the wellsprings of my tears,
          O Thou who gatherest the waters of the oceans into clouds.
          Bend to me, to the sorrows of my heart,
          O Thou who bendedst down the heavens in Thy ineffable self-emptying.
          I will kiss Thine immaculate feet
          and dry them with the locks of my hair;
          Those very feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise
          and hid herself in fear.
          Who shall reckon the multitude of my sins,
          or the abysses of Thy judgment, O Saviour of my soul?
          Do not ignore Thy handmaiden,
          O Thou whose mercy is endless.”

          During the service, elsewhere in the service (in verse) the story of the harlot washing Jesus feet with Myrrh at the Pharisee’s house is interwoven with comparisons with Judas as he prepares his betrayal.

          Recently, in the news, more accounts of scandals in the Catholic episcopacy have apparently resurfaced. Those who feel this is an indictment against Christianity and the Church in general forget that the Church is not a collection of good people gathering together to do good works. A better description would be more akin to a hospital for the wounded, who are ministered not by the well, but are tended by other whom are just as wounded. Those who pretend they are well, might not seek a hospital.

          Re-read the prayer above. This poem/hymn is the heartfelt plea written by an ascetic monastic nun in late antiquity. She was a Saint, but this is the cry of her heart (and not on account her view of someone else’s). Like last night’s gospel reading (the Woe to you Pharisees and Scribes, Hypocrites!) … the protagonist is not some other whom we might look down upon, but us. The distinction (made clearly in the service) is not that she sins “more than us” but that she repents (and we so often do not).

          One of the more outrageous conceits found even among Orthodox (who should know better) is to regard those outside of the Church as “more” sinful than those inside. Perhaps we might be more aware of how we fall short of the mark.

          Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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            Another Just War Theory

            In my late-vocations class were were informed that during late antiquity in the Eastern (very Christian influenced) Roman empire there was an operational just war theory. That theory was quite simple and was as follows. 

            War is never just. 

            Now this is an interesting theory of war to be held by a Empire which was almost continuously at war (mostly for defense) for 800 years or so. This merely points out that the conclusion that war is not just is not equivalent to the claim that war is at times necessary. 

            War not being just however, did not mean war was not practice or even should not be practiced. Those engaged in war, because of its inherent injustice, were excluded from Eucharist for a period of five years (if the war was not deemed defensive, in which case it was three years). I think there are some problems with this theory as presented about how the Eastern Roman Empire viewed justice vis a vis war, in that I’m pretty sure that clerical presence was found alongside the army. What was its purpose if these soldiers were all “out of communion” during wartime? 

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              This Thing Called Theology

              I’ve recently acquired this little book by the Met. John Zizioulas, Lectures in Christian Dogmatics. One of the important points made by Met. Zizioulas is that (Orthodox) theological thinking often is just a paraphrasing and restating of what has been already set out and stated by the Fathers. In his words, 

              It is unfortunate that much of today’s Orthodox theology is in fact nothing but history — a theologically uncommitted scholar could have done this kind of ‘theology’ just as well or even better. Although this kind of ‘theology’ claims to be faithful to the Fathers and tradition is in fact contrary to the method followed by the Fathers themselves. For the Fathers worked in constant dialogue with the intellectual trends of their time to interpret the Christian faith to the world around them. This is precisely the task of Orthodox theology in our time too. 

              So, with that in mind, I’m going to begin reading through this book and discussing some small points I encounter on the way (as time permits). Met. Zizioulas begins by defining and discussing what is meant by these terms. What is Theology? How might we define it. He begins:

              Theology starts in the worship of God and in the Church’s experience of communion with God. Our experience of this communion involves a whole range of relationships, so theology is not simply about a religious, moral or psychological experience, but about our whole experience of life in this communion. Theology touches on life, death and our very being, and shows how our personal identity is constituted through relationships, ans so through love and freedom. What makes man different from any other creature? Can humans be truly free? Do they want to be free? Can humans be free to love?

              Theology is concerned with life and survival, and therefore with salvation. The Church articulates its theology, not simply to add to our knowledge of God or the world, but so that we may gain the life which can never be brought to an end. Christian doctrine tells us there is redemption for us and for the world, and each particular doctrine articulates some aspect of this redemption. We have to inquire how each doctrine contributes to knowledge of our salvation. Rather than isolating each doctrine, we have to set each doctrine out in the context of all other doctrines. Theology seeks a living comprehension of the Christian faith, of our place in the world and relationship with one another. It does not just want to preserve the statements of the Church as they were originally made, but also to provide the best contemporary expression of the teaching of the Church.

              Well, that is quite a bit to chew on. What might be offered to start. One thing might be said right off. He goes on in the following to define what he means by doctrine and dogmas. On reflection this begins not so much by defining what theology is, but of what the process examines and consists. What questions does it address, what concerns does theology approach is what is posed here. 

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                Noetic Noah and the Fluffy Hermeneutic

                This started as a reply about hermeneutic in the context of the flood on my personal blog. Do we take the flood literally or not. My interlocutor was exasperated exclaiming that to not take the text literally implies words have no meaning. This is exactly backwords. Here is my response to him.

                Yes, you are exactly right. Words have meaning. There is this word hermeneutic, which I have used on more than one occasion used in this sentence. Yet, you gaily trounce in with replies like “Why start with the Bible at all? Why not just make up your own stories if that’s what you’re going to do anyway?” or other remarks along the “making it all up” line as if every religious person just takes their preconceptions and hammers the text until it fits. That is not what any honest theologian does (and I think the majority of people atheist or faithful are as honest as they can be). That word, hermeneutic means, “the method by which one extracts meaning from a text.” See that word there. Method. It is there for a reason. Read the rest of this entry

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                  Job and Christian Theodicy

                  Frank Turk at Evangel is doing a short series on theodicy. I asked him how/when he would connect his discussion with Job and got the following response.

                  Job is where everyone goes. I think the Scripture pretty much screams out from about every third page an answer which we don’t need Job to tell us.

                  For the record, I think Jesus and the Gospel do a better job of making sense of suffering from a top-down standpoint than we get from Job.

                  Job makes good use of Job’s place in creation, but in Job, God says to Job, “dude: if you think you can do a better job, I’ll ask your advice when you can answer my questions.” I think the rest of the Bible says something a little more revelatory and Christ-centered.

                  I think this is partially mistaken, and because Mr Turk offered that he enjoys a little disagreement and discussion, what follows will be a few points on which I disagree with his remark. Read the rest of this entry

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                    The Great Canon Continues

                    Tonight (and it will continue into tomorrow) the third installment of the Great Canon of St. Andrew introduces a new person into the mix. Besides the Old and New Testament figures which appear, supplicatory prayers are offered to St. Mary of Egypt. For myself, until I was introduced to the Eastern traditions as a convert had never heard of St. Mary of Egypt, but she is an important person in the Eastern Lenten tradition. This week, as many of the western Protestants react in revulsion to ascetic practices of the former Pope, her story may make for interesting counterpoint.

                    Her story can be found in many places, here for example, but the highlights are that she was woman who in her youth resided in Alexandria and led a life devoted to the pursuit of passion, specifically sex. At some point, however she fell into the company of a party going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and decided to accompany them (without it might be noted dropping her particular pursuits). Then, when she arrived in Jerusalem she found that she could not enter the church. With great effort she was only able to get near the doors. She realized her sins were keeping her away, she prayed to the Theotokos and was allowed entry. Shortly thereafter she was Baptised in the Jordan and fled into the desert and dwelt there alone for 47 years before meeting Abba Zosimas through whom we learn her story.

                    Anyhow, if the papal ascetic practices strike allergic reaction in Protestants then the story of St. Mary of Egypt would likely do the same. However her extreme examples of sin, repentance, and asceticism which signal her importance in the East.

                    Tonight’s canon, like last night made an interesting connection. In the last post, I noted that Moses striking the rock produced water, which is seen as a type of Jesus on the cross when speared gushing water (and blood). This was brought up again. This event, when Jesus was pierced and water and blood and specifically the water and blood is connected with the liturgical sacramental acts of Baptism (water) and Eucharist (blood) with his death (and resurrection).

                    From Ode 4:

                    May the blood and water that wells from Thy side be a font for me and a draught of forgiveness, that I may be cleansed, anointed and refreshed by both as with drink and unction by Thy living words, O Word. (John 19:34; Acts 7:38)

                    The Church has acquired Thy life-giving side as a chalice, from which gushes forth for us a twofold torrent of forgiveness. and knowledge as a type of the two covenants, Old and New, O our Saviour.

                    From Ode 6:

                    Rise and make war against the passions of the flesh, as Joshua did against Amalek, and ever conquer the Gibeonites – illusive thoughts. (Exodus 17:8; Josh. 8:21)

                    From Ode 7:

                    Rise and make war against the passions of the flesh, as Joshua did against Amalek, and ever conquer the Gibeonites – illusive thoughts. (Exodus 17:8; Josh. 8:21)

                    Ode 8 (Theotokion):

                    As from scarlet silk, O spotless Virgin, within thy womb the spiritual purple was woven, the flesh of Emmanuel.  Therefore we honour thee as in truth Mother of God.

                    A remark on that last, tradition I am told has it that Mary was spinning thread when the Angel came her at the Annunciation, as is seen in some of the annunciation icons. Scarlet as well as purple were royal colors, if you notice Byzantine mosaics the royalty are shown with red shoes … which was an indication of high honor. Which came first, red as royal -> Mary spinning red thread or vice versa I don’t know.

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                      Clean Week and the Start of Lent

                      Well, I’ve got a few half written posts and a few notions I’ve been mulling over, but time has been a bit short lately. Lent is a big part of why, as like Holy week, Clean week is a busy time for the active Orthodox Christian … and I’m not even going as far as some do. At any rate, we have services every night this week, Sunday night was the Forgiveness Vespers, and the next four nights we are taking part in the Canon of St. Andrew. Friday we celebrate a pre-sanctified liturgy and Saturday night (as is normal) is Great Vespers (our church unlike many in the Slavic tradition does not do Great Vigil, but splits the Matins/Canon part of the Vigil service to Sunday morning, which is I gather a Greek custom and a little easier).

                      Anyhow, in lieu of finishing up those partial posts, here are a few quotes from tonight’s service,  which was the second night of the Canon. A little background first on the Canon. St. Andrew of Crete, the author, was Bishop of Crete in the 8th century. This canon was so well received that it was established as a practice of reading it in four parts during the first week of Lent throughout Eastern Orthodoxy. Each part contains 9 sections (like the rest of the canons, but unlike them this includes a second canon). Each canon begins with a short sung hymn called an Irmos. Then the priest chants a short fragment consisting of a few sentences of meditation. The response is “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me” accompanied by a prostration (or if you are not physically up to the demands of prostrations a sweeping bow called a metania which starts with crossing oneself and from the final hand position (hand at the right shoulder) one sweeps one’s hand in a bow brushing your hand to the floor. The last two stanzas have a different response, being “Glory to the Father … ” and “now and ever unto ages of ages. Amen,” and the penultimate stanzas is a reflection on the Trinity and the final is a reflection on the Theotokos, sometimes called the Theotokion. After the 6th Ode there is a break and the Kontakion (another hymn) is inserted, sung three times slowly.

                      Some stanzas that stood out for me tonight:

                      From Ode 1:

                      Deliberately have I imitated blood-thirsty Cain, O Lord, enlivening my flesh while murdering my soul by striking it with my evil deeds.

                      From Ode 2:

                      Joseph’s was a splendid coat of many colors, but mine is one of shameful thoughts which condemns me even as it covers my flesh.

                      I persist in caring only for my outer garment, while neglecting the temple within — one made in the image of God.

                      From Ode 4:

                      Jacob and his sons, the Patriarchs, established for you, O my soul, an example in the ladder of active ascent. By his way of life Jacob took the first step, fathering twelve sons and offering them as further rungs which step-by-step ascend to God.

                      But you, my hopeless soul, have rather imitated Esau, surrendering to the crafty Devil the beauty you inherited from God, two ways — works and wisdom — have you been deceived, and now is the time for you to change your ways.

                      From Ode 6:

                      Water pouring from the rock when struck by Your servant Moses, prefigured your life-giving side, O Savior, from which we draw the Water of Life.

                      From Ode 7:

                      Solomon was mighty and full of wisdom yet did wrong before the Lord when he turned to idols. And you, my soul, resemble him in your evil life.

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                        Considering Job

                        The “approximate” text of my homily for my OT final is below the fold. I say “approximate” because it was an oral final and unlike the rest of the class, I didn’t read from the text but used it as a rough outline and just tried to talk. The attempt at levity at the start with the Elihu/Elious quote at the beginning worked a lot better “off the cuff” than on paper.

                        I should also note that I didn’t quite get the service right, that is I had prepared this thinking that this reading accompanies the Bridegroom Matins service with the stories of the Harlot and Judas contrasted … it is instead in the Vespers service on the same day. In the morning before class I attempted to make that correction, which I also explained prior to my talk.


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                        Job. Much like the book of Revelations in the New Testament, Job is the book that gives pause to the reader before diving into its complexities. Yet, here we find this book read on more than one evening Matins, ahem, in Holy Week. Yet here I will essay to speak, remembering Elious:

                        “I am rather young in age, but you are older; so I held my peace, being reticent to declare my learnings to you. [ ... ] It is not the long lived that are wise, nor do the aged know discernment.”

                        Ahem. So much for Scripture being inerrant. It has likely been a long day for all of us so I’m going to try to restrict this little talk to try to answer a few simple questions about the verses we just heard (or read).

                        First, Why this reading? Why is this reading, taken from the whole of Scripture selected to be read on this night? For that matter, to amplify, why are three (four?) passages from Job read in Holy Week?

                        Second and perhaps a way to approach the prior question, we might usefully look at examining in what context can or should consider this reading? More explicitly, how does this reading fit in the book of Job, into the Old Testament, into Lent and Holy Week and more specifically at this day in Holy Week?

                        Third, what are some of the lessons we can derive from this and how can we apply it today to our lives?

                        And finally, what can we take from a larger theological perspective, how does it figure in or rather how can it advance our understanding of the relationships between God, Man and the His creation?

                        Before we get too far into this, I’d like to point out that the reading given in the lectionary notes is not derived from the LXX. Specifically an extended paragraph with a conversation between Job and his wife is skipped. Let me read that section for you, starting with verse 9.

                        Then after a long time had passed, his wife said to him, “How long will you persist and say, ‘Look I will hang on a little longer, while I wait for the hope of my deliverance’ for look, your sons and daughters, my womb’s birth pangs and labors, for whom I wearied myself with hardships in vain. And you? You sit in the refuse of worms as you spend the night in the open air. As for me, I am one that wanders about and a hired servant — from place to place and house to house, waiting for when the sun will set, so I can rest from the distresses and griefs that now beset me. Now say some word to the Lord and die!” But Iob look up and said to her, “You have spoken like one of the foolish women. If we received the good things from the Lord’s hand, shall we not bear the bad?” In all these things that happened to him Iob did not sin at all with his lips before God.”

                        So, what is this book of Job. Where does our reading fit in, besides being a chapter number “2” putting it at the beginning. Job starts off in the first two chapters with a conversation between God and Satan. God points out Job as an excellent example of a good and Godly man. Satan offers that he’s only that way because his life has been blessed. So, God offers to Satan that he might put Job to the test. First Satan removes in a stroke Job’s accomplishments, namely his wealth and his children. After that, in the reading we heard (or read), he removes his health and we find Job sitting on a rubbish heap using a piece of broken pottery to scrape pus from sores which cover his body. After all this Job still is “did not sin with his lips before God.”

                        Three friends visit Job. These friends are princes and kings, peers and companions of Job prior to his losing his possessions. And they begin a conversation about why this has happened and what it might mean. His friends think the fault is because he has sinned or failed to worship God rightly. Job denies this, he has been faithful to God, charitable to the poor and needy, and is blameless. Yet still this has transpired.

                        There is a young man, unheralded in the prior conversations who buts in and begins, with the quote with which I began. One of the points he makes is that God punishes more severely and for smaller infractions those to whom he has given much. So perhaps Job’s sin was minute, but because he was so well rewarded now he is so severely punished.

                        Finally, God speaks in answer to Jobs inquiries and to their conversation. God’s answer, like much of Scripture is a puzzle. God doesn’t answer Job’s question and plea for an answer directly. God says basically, much like he did to Moses, “I am. I am creator of the Universe. I created” And this in a succinct epilogue ends the book, God restores Job’s “stuff” and pronounces that “he will rise again with those the Lord raises up.”

                        The Fathers teach us that Job was a type of Christ. Typology is a biblical hermenuetic which was practiced avidly in the centuries following Jesus. (A hermenuetic by the way is a big word that means “a way of extracting meaning from text”) After the midpoint of the first century and for more than a few centuries to follow, Christian scholars, teachers, and preachers searched Scripture and Nature, but especially the Old Testament, for reflections of Jesus, the Resurrection, and other elements or events of Jesus’ life. Job is in fact seen as a type of Christ. This is seen in that Job, like Jesus was an innocent condemned to suffer. I might also suggest, although I have not seen it written elsewhere, that perhaps Job’s wife is a type of Eve. Perhaps Job’s wife, especially as given in the extended LXX translation, and her little speech was prompted by Satan just as Eve was tempted in the garden tempted Adam, here his wife tries to draw Job astray. Yet, Job is unwavering in his faith in God and will not condemn God for withdrawing his blessings from his life. Jesus with his death and Resurrection has redeemed Adam from death … and perhaps this foreshadows that, where this man as a type of Christ rejects by typological proxy Eve’s temptation.

                        Of the service in which this reading/lection is placed, one might ask what are highlights, on what does this service focus? The matins service sung previously highlights two figures, the harlot anointing Jesus hair with expensive perfumes and Judas betraying Jesus for the price of a potters field, 30 pieces of silver. I suggest we can make clear connections with that and Job and more specifically chapter 2?

                        In the kindergarten and beyond there is a common notion about the righteousness that is predominant. Tit for a tat, so to speak is a natural notion of ethical behavior. If you do good, you are rightly rewarded. If you do evil, you should be punished. This natural notion is found in the context of God and his relationship with Israel throughout the Old Testament. Following the people through the desert with Moses to the decline of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah after David to the exile. Moses and the prophets repeatedly show how when the people fail to cleave to God the consequence is that bad things happen. David takes Bathsheba and kills her husband … and therefore God takes that firstborn son of that union. Good things -> reward. Bad -> punishment.

                        This kindergarten balance, this natural ethical algebra if you will, is confounded and rejected in Job. Job was righteous, yet he suffers greatly despite that. This idea of reversing the natural ethical algebra is one we find repeated more than once. I suggest this reversal is one of the key reasons that this lection is read in this place. This story, recounted by Job and his friends has some key parallels in the context of this natural ethical algebra and its reversal in this service in Holy week, in other stories tied to the Lenten/Paschal cycle like the Publican and Pharisee, and as well in Jesus teaching and life taken as a whole.

                        How can the Harlot and Judas be seen to be refutations of the normal ethical balance? Let’s compare the two. Judas was a man of means, he handled the financial aspects of the ministry of Jesus. Harlotry in first century Israel on the other hand was almost certainly not position sought for either wealth or status but one to which one was likely driven by circumstance. Spiritually speaking Judas was one of Jesus’ disciples, the harlot … likely not even permitted to worship. So by our ethical equation then, Judas should by rights be the better person, for he has been received much more. Yet this is not the case.

                        There is another parallel, which takes us a little past our lection which was read today, but Job was rewarded ultimately for “Iob did not sin at all with his lips before God” and furthermore what evidence we have is that his heart and mind were truly given to God. Likewise we venerate the actions and memory of the Harlot in contrast to Judas because of their attitude (and actions) toward things of God and specifically Jesus.

                        Jesus in fact quite regularly inverts the natural/normal status of our expectations regarding the ethical algebra/equation during his teaching and his life.

                        There is a word used in connection quite often to the book of Job, namely theodicy. Theodicy is a 68 cent word which is defined as an attempted answer to the problem of evil or the branch of theology that defends God’s goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil. How can a good God permit evil in the world. Job’s wife states the crux of the problem, asking why as you are blameless can you not fault God for your innocent sufferings, or the memory of those whose birth pangs for which she labored in vain for those children who are now dead. How can a good powerful God permit evil in the world, or more specifically permit Satan, on a lark as it were, to test Job and thereby kill his children?

                        While I will not presume to pose a simple answer to this question, I will put forward a question about that which may be useful for reflection. Jesus and his life and teaching, Judas and the Harlot, Job and his story offer a twist on the natural ethical algebra. A large part of the accusatory argument against God laid to His feet by the theodicy question depend crucially on the normal ethical algebra. If you take that assumption away, and reverse or confuse this algebra in fundamental ways, you need to re-examine how you view God and His actions.

                        Virtually all of the theodicy discussions from a Christian source do (or should) bring into their discussion a reconciliation of their explanation with the discourse and teachings found in Job. And one might add that the young whippersnappers (being a poor reference to my opening quote) who designed and set up our lectionary who put this lection in the contextual neighborhood of Holy Week, the Resurrection, the Harlot/Judas comparison all shmushed together.

                        Modern events such as the earthquakes at Haiti and Armenia, the tsunami in Indonesia, and even the Katrina hurricane and New Orleans all raise for us questions of theodicy. Why did God allow this to happen. But when we consider such questions it might be good to turn that around and consider the relationship between these lessons learned from Job, the Harlot, and Holy Week.

                        One thing to consider in relation to our lives here in America. We are very much in possession of a well blessed life. We, like Job, living in comfort and luxury. We have many cattle and fine possessions … and so on. Satan has not yesterday had conversed with God over our particular situation. But we might ask, would God offer you or me as a paragon of righteousness? Recall the toparion from the start of Lent:

                        My soul, my soul, arise!
                        Why are you sleeping?
                        The end is drawing near,
                        and you will be confounded.
                        Awake, then, and be watchful,
                        that Christ our God may spare you,
                        Who is everywhere present and fills all things.

                        Allow me then to recap.

                        • Why this reading? Because Job is a type of Christ and his suffering on the Cross has resonance with the remembrances we practice in Holy Week and because the ethical twist present in Job is paralleled by Christ and the primary story in this service.

                        • We answered the question of why this reading was read by looking at it in the context of the narrative of Job and as well in the context of the service in which it is placed and finally how that fits into Holy Week and Lent in general.

                        • And a primary lesson we can take from this week and this lection in particular is to emphasize how we should not expect or live by the standard kindergarten or natural ethical equation. By being conscious of how this tit/tat natural ethic is rejected over and over by Jesus (and foreshadowed here by the book of Job) we may then find ways to “do the right thing.”

                        • And finally from a theological perspective, specifically Theodicy, we have perhaps located a track for understanding a piece of the puzzle of the existence and place that evil has in the world.

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                          The Approach of Lent

                          At Evangel, the Rev Paul T. McCain noted that he was somewhat unfamiliar with the details and differences of and between the Eastern Orthodox and the Western (liturgical) calendars. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d attempt to fill in what’s happening and up and coming for the liturgical year at this point. There is a personal reason for writing this, and likely I’ll bring it up again in the next few weeks, which I will get to in a bit. But first, where are we in our respective liturgical calendars?


                          In the West, liturgically these are the numbered weeks of Epiphany waiting for Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. Lent in East and West is a time when the services become more somber and reflective. It is a time set aside, preparing for the great feast of Pascha/Easter. In this time fasting, prayer, more frequent liturgical services, charity, and introspection are emphasized. It is a time to sharpen and hone our attention to our spiritual state and life. We are asked to abstain from meat products (anything invertebrate products), dairy, wine, and oil (although wine and oil are permitted on weekends). At the same time, we should eat less often (no snacking) and push away from the table just a little hungry. That is to say this is fasting both by restricting variety and quantity. For the monastic (or the very devout) practice a complete fast for the first three days of Lent is observed … and during the rest of Lent then only eat in the evening.

                          There is a small matter of dates. For the West, Lent begins on the morning of Ash Wednesday (after the Shrove/Fat Tuesday emptying of the larder). Lent is 40 days (not counting Sundays) and ends on Easter. For the East, Lent begins on Monday, counts the Sundays but Holy week (Palm Sunday) ends Lent. Even though Lent is finished, the fast is not ended until Pascha.

                          What follows is a brief description highlighting some of the features of the Sundays approaching Lent for the Eastern tradition.

                          The three weeks leading up to Lent and the four Sundays associated with those dates are special liturgical events. Each Sunday has special significance with a knickname, and a particular gospel lesson which assist the countdown to Lent.  Last Sunday was the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee and thus this is now the “week” of the Publican and the Pharisee. The gospel reading on Sunday, obviously, was Luke 18:10-14, being the story of the Publican and the Pharisee. Next Sunday will be the Sunday of the Prodigal Son (the gospel reading being Luke 15:11-32). Following that will be the Sunday of the Last Judgement (gospel Matthew 25:31-46). Finally the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent, is the Sunday of Forgiveness (the gospel read is Matthew 6:14-21). This pattern is followed every year and these Sundays start beating the drum heralding the approaching Great Lent.

                          The Lenten fasting is stringent and accordingly the fasting which is proscribed in the three weeks are designed to prepare one for the fast. Normally in “ordinary” weeks one is instructed to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays in the same manner as one fasts during Lent. The Week of the Publican and Pharisee (this week) is fast free (cheers). Next week is an ordinary week regarding fasting, i.e., fast only on Wednesday and Friday. The Sunday of the Last Judgement is also known as Meatfare because the following week is meat free, but dairy, oil, and wine are still permitted thus that will be the last meat eaten until Pascha. Then after Forgiveness Sunday is over, which is also known as Cheesefare, and dairy is removed as well from the diet. Thus in this way one is introduced over a three week period to adjust to the fast as it approaches.

                          On the evening of Forgiveness Sunday there is a Vespers service (Forgiveness Vespers) which some jokingly describe as “Orthodox callisthenics.” At the conclusion of this service each person in attendance, in turn, prostrates himself before the each other kisses him (or her) three times and humbly begs their forgiveness for all the many sins we have committed against the other. This entails quite a bit of dropping to ones knees, pressing ones face to the floor, and then standing up to kiss, hence the “callisthenics” remarks.

                          Here is where the personal request comes in. On the first four days of Lent, starting with Monday in the evening many Orthodox churches hold a service in which the four parts of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is performed. I find this service almost overwhelming. In impact, from my point of view, it compares with even with the Pascha celebration. I have, for myself, not seen any liturgical reflection on or of repentance that comes near to matching this in its impact, its cathartic content, or its depth. From a personal perspective I am really interested in a non-Orthodox impression or remarks on this service. I wonder how much of the impact this service has on me is because I’m an Orthodox convert and how much is due to the impact of service itself. Frank Turk in a post earlier this year dropped his (in)famous remark that some Catholics and fewer Orthodox are saved and based this in part because he felt that non-protestants fail to “a sense of repentance.” Well, Mr Turk, attend one or more of the Canon services and see if you can still say that the Orthodox aren’t repentant enough, that they don’t “know” what it means. This service in many ways defines repentance. More seriously, this year Western Easter and Eastern Pascha are on the same date. Which means … on Monday prior to Ash Wednesday a Protestant might be able to attend a service in which this Canon is performed, there should be no liturgical conflict at any rate. So, if anyone non-Orthodox who might read this and takes up this request to witnesses the canon and is willing to report, please contact me by email (or drop a comment on the blog) and let me know what you thought. I’d be grateful.

                          My soul, my soul, arise!
                          Why are you sleeping?
                          The end is drawing near,
                          and you will be confounded.
                          Awake, then, and be watchful,
                          that Christ our God may spare you,
                          Who is everywhere present and fills all things.

                          The above is a short hymn sung three times slowly in the middle of the service.

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                            Exegetical Reflections on Job

                            Well, as promised I’m going to try to talk about my upcoming oral final exam, an Old Testament homily for my late-vocations class that I’m taking. We were given the task of selecting a OT lection (reading section from the liturgical rubrics) and give an approximately 10 minute homily on that topic. I’ve selected to give a homily on Job 2:1-10, and I might note that being Orthodox we’re using the Septuagint (for that is their Scriptural canon) and the book of Job differs considerably (it’s 400 lines shorter but is longer in some places). The Job 2:1-10 reading is significantly extended in the Septuagint. Many of the changes are not very consequential. However, the final chapter differs in some surprising ways, which indeed might affect one’s interpretations of the story. Read the rest of this entry

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                              Ecumenical Thoughts

                              Mr Turk makes an interesting point in the conversation about ecumenical conversations, although I’m not entirely sure it’s the point he wants to make. A week or so ago he offered that those of other denominations, specifically the Roman and Easter churches were right with God only if they (accidentally) held to a Evangelical belief/approach to the Gospel. I think this point of view is held far more often by most people in every church/denomination. That is to say that any Christian church X thinks that members of church Y are in the soteriological pink inasmuch as those members in church Y (accidentally) hold to beliefs that are held in church X. That is, Mr Turk as an Evangelical thinks that the Catholic and Orthodox are saved if they hold an Evangelical understanding of the Gospel and those in the Roman hold that the Evangelical and Eastern are likewise correct when and where they (accidentally) hold to the Roman understanding of Gospel. And so on. Now I had been under the impression that I was “above the fray” in this regard. But on reflection, I am not. Read the rest of this entry

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