Orthodox Archives

Liturgical Chaos

The theme/question for this quarters CoCR by our host at The Cross Reference is:

I guess I’d be interested in hearing perspectives on what obstacles are presented by the varying liturgies (high/low, sacramental/non-sacramental, rubrical/freeform) and how they might be possible to overcome. I don’t necessarily want to get too doctrinal (although the law of prayer and the law of belief go hand-in-hand, as far as Catholics are concerned). And the issue of liturgical reform would be open for discussion as well.

Much of American worship experience when compared to that 5 or 10 centuries earlier is very much less liturgically and bound in ritual and movement than it was then. Charles Tayler in A Secular Age recounts the development of the secularization of modern Western society. The move away from the ritual and formal liturgical expression was one intended to concentrate the spiritual focus of the worshiper away from externalities and to turn inwards concentrating on ones heart and mind to focus on God. As a result many churches and expressions in churches have become less liturgically bound. I suggest that many who reject, or “don’t get” liturgical expression also don’t really appreciate it. Likewise those who cherish liturgical worship don’t “get” or have a real appreciation for good non-liturgical worship.

I will admit up front, that I have always been part of a liturgical worship environment. I grew up in a Lutheran church … and have now ended in a Eastern Orthodox church, which is arguably about as “high” liturgical as you can get in the modern church. So I have a definite bias on the place of liturgy in worship. But, I’d like to pose a question for the non-liturgical church members.

One of the things liturgy and liturgical cycles are good for is memory. Passover and Pascha (Easter) are memories of two very significant events in the Hebrew and Christian churches. These are marked liturgically. The rest of the church year is marked out with a variety of other liturgical events … which in part are to help us remember and mark those as important. These can also mark other historical events. Recently, the church I attend has added to its liturgical calendar a service to remember 9/11. Americans remember July 4th and certain other Presidential holidays. We remember Pearl Harbor a lot less well. Why? Because, there is no secular “holiday” or secular liturgical event (if you will) to mark that day. 9/11 currently also has no such secular liturgy remembering that day. In 50-75 years in the absence of such a marking, like Pearl Harbor, 9/11 will fade from our public consciousness. The point is, liturgy and ritual make a connection not just in our mind, but in our whole being, our nous if you will, between us and events which we … as a church, find significant.

My question is how do you non-liturgical churches hold precious and fast to the important events in Church history in the absence of liturgical remembrance?

Celibacy UnBibilical?

Dan Trabue, in our conversations on monastic life, offered that celibacy is un-Biblical. Huh?

Explain then (1 Corinthians 7 ESV):

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.

To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

It seems to me the plain meaning of this is that St. Paul offers that unmarried devotion to Christ is preferred to marriage hence the “I wish all were as I myself am”, to whit unmarried and celibate (this chapter offers more support for that view as well).

Secondly, for 1500+ years the Christian church always held that unmarried celibacy, such as the monastic life was a higher calling than marriage. Today, many Protestants reject this. Why? On what basis? I honestly have no idea what is the basis of that rejection.

Christianity and Poverty: Two Views (Overviews)

As noted in the introduction to this series, I’m blogging on two short works on Poverty, the first is Ched Myers The Biblical View of Sabbath Economics and the second is the 14th oration by St. Gregory of Nazianzus entitled “On Love for the Poor” (note I misquoted the title in the prior essay as well as Mr Myers first name). In this short essay, I’m going to attempt to precis the basic thrust of the two works. The current plan is follow this short summary with some critical assessments of the two works Read the rest of this entry

Christianity and Poverty: Two Views (Introduction)

A frequent commenter and blogger (his blog is here) Dan Trabue graciously sent me a copy of a book (that arrived with me away on vacation) that he finds to be a significant work describing his view on how Poverty and the Christian relate. In a short series of essays I’m going to compare, review, and contrast this pamphlet The Biblical View of Sabbath Economics by Chad Myers with a somewhat older work on basically the same topic. The the latter part of the 4th century St. Gregory of Nazianzus gave a lengthy oration “On the Poor”. It is these two works I’m going to compare.

Chad Myers according to the frontispiece has “worked for three decades in the field of non-violent activism for social justice, church renewal and radical discipleship.” Mr Myers has degrees in philosophy from UC Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union (also in Berkeley).”

St. Gregory of Nazianzus on the other hand was the most accomplished rhetorician of the 4th century Church. The piece “On the Poor” is the 14th oration that has been passed on from his era. His most famous orations, the so called 5 “theological orations” given in just a short interval from just outside of Constantinople was a major turning point forever cementing the Nicene tradition in the Church over the more popular (at the time) Arian heresy. If you today hew to the Nicean statement of faith … in part you owe it to the brilliant rhetoric of St. Gregory. It also should be noted that St. Gregory unlike his friend St. Basil (the Great) took a different approach to asceticism. He personally eschewed the monastic and extreme asceticism practiced by St. Basil and others around him. His asceticism was a more literary (and spiritual) asceticism of contemplation without embracing all or perhaps many of the rigors of the monastic life. It might be noted however, that he did take at an early age a vow of celibacy which he maintained throughout his life.

Both of these pieces have some similar conclusions. Both stress that charity is a primary virtue. However their methods, arguments and ultimately their conclusions are very disimilar.

I will also admit up front that I have a lot of difficulty giving Mr Myers work a fair reading. Stylistically he makes blanket assertions about, for example, the nature of the free market society which at best are a caricature of the market economy as told by a Marxist. In short, a lot of false statements are made about economic truths and conditions in markets and in pre-market, i.e., early Bibilical societies which need disentangling from his main argument. What is left after the dissection … is a question I can’t answer at this point of this study. It is indeed one of the questions that will need to be answered in this short series.

Dog, Fetus, Zen, and All That

In the early 80s the hottest book to read, discuss, and ponder in the circles I traveled was the (then) recently published Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. One of the topics this popularized was the famous zen koan:

Has a dog, Buddha nature or not?

A Western perhaps mistranslation of “Buddha” nature might be “a soul”. The answer is not, “yes” or “no” but the retort by the master was “mu”? Mr Hofstadter’s intellectual answer to that puzzle is that “mu” is in essence, unasking that question. That is, a way of emphatically insisting that the very asking of the question implies horrible structural defects in your conceptual framework that leads to this question being askable at all.

This leads us to the question:

Has a fetus a soul or not?

One proposal to consider is not, the emphatic “no” by the pro-abortion rights crowd (or to be fair, the insistent “yes/maybe” by the pro-life crowd) but instead to assume that we’ve made a critical mistake in our structural worldview and conception of reality for which this question is being relevant is a sign of error, not a point to ponder. Read the rest of this entry

Wordle: The Orthodox Liturgy

St. John Chrysostom wrote, just a few years ago (in the 5th century), the Divine Liturgy used in by the Eastern Orthodox. The link is to a wordle-ization of it.

A Question (Finally) Answered

Dan Trabue the other day asked about the basis, in Scripture and Tradition, regarding the reason for having the priest (and Bishop)  always being male in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. For in Orthodoxy, much of what women are just now being allowed to do, has always been permitted in the Orthodox church. Woman are not ordained to the priesthood or episcopate, however can be ordained Reader or Deacon. Women can preach (give a homily), teach, serve the sick and infirm, join monastic orders and so on.

The reason they cannot serve at the altar is that the Bishop (and the Priest in his absence stands in for the Bishop) serves for the Church and his diocese as an Icon of Christ … and Christ was male. Icon and iconography was defended in detail by the 7th (and last) Ecumenical council. The idea of icon is a somewhat more complicated one than can be covered in one blog (very short) post but … hopefully that sheds some light on the matter.

Calendrical Remarks

That is the Question.

In last night’s post, I proposed that the movement away from the liturgical calendar was a motion towards the secular. There were two comments, as I had cross-posted that at the two blogs on which I’m active, and got one from each.

Mr Trabue asks for clarification:

I know you said “arguably,” but I was wondering how exactly you see a move away from a liturgical calendar as being in any way a move towards secularization?

While Kyle points to Zwingli (and do visit as the whole comment is worthwhile)

It has to do with the puritan movement in England, but I forget exactly the argument. I think there was something to do with a radical misapplication of the principle of sola scriptura, so you’ll need to ask Zwingli. If they banned musical instruments because they weren’t mentioned in the New Testament (though actually they are), can you wonder that they also eliminated scheduled holidays?

[…]My personality is such that I’d rather every day were the same – I hate keeping track of dates. But I’ve sort of resigned myself to celebrating holidays, since everyone around me insists on doing it. If I ignore them for no good reason, what am I communicating? But it seems to me that, if we’re going to start celebrating holidays, we might as well celebrate all of them. I suppose we will eventually.

My attempted clarification and further remarks can be found below the fold. Read the rest of this entry

Carnival Announcement

The 12th Carnival of Christian Reconciliation will be held my home blog at Pseudo-Polymath.
For submission guidelines see this post. The carnival submission will be due by Midnight EST Friday June 20th, although technically I’ll probably do most of the work putting the carnival together over the weekend so the real “cut-off” will be some undetermined time on Sunday. It might be important to note that this carnival accepts multiple entries from each person. See the details on posting guidelines at the above link. The Question/Topic-of-the-Month for this month is:

In St. John Cassian’s Conferences Abba Moses teaches that our thoughts come from three sources, the Holy Spirit, Satan, or ourselves. He then teaches discernment is perhaps the most important Christian virtue, to separate those three in our minds and subsequently our actions. Our Church has split from one into so very many over the almost two millennia since Christ’s resurrection. Some have suggested that perhaps the prevalence and predominance of division in our church is a sign that it is God’s will that the Church be divided. But is this so?

In analogy to Abba Moses’ instruction, one might propose that the origins of any one of these divisions arises from the work or activities of the Spirit, Satan, or Man. One would expect that the latter two are the ones which, if one supports ecumenical movement, should be the ones we actively oppose. How should we discern the difference between these, if indeed that is even a thing we should attempt? Is the motive behind the division a thing which we should discern as we try to heal that same division?  Is such a discernment (or claims to the same) today even useful?

Up Next: Ordinary Time

This year, Eastern and Western liturgical calendars were about as far apart as they can be, the Western Easter was in March and won’t be that early calendrically for over a hundred years, while the Eastern Pascha was in May. Next week … the East celebrates the ending of its Paschal season (and to be honest with the feast of the Ascencion just past much of the Paschal liturgical changes have been removed). Pentecost begins “ordinary time”, marking the days between Pentecost and the Nativity fast (although at least 2 “minor” fasts exist between Pentecost and Easter).

Liturgical time is a reflection of the non-secular nature of Church. Secular, coming from the Latin, saeculum has to do with marking time. Liturgical markings of time, the liturgical season strikes a “fork” into our daily time-bound lives grounding us periodic reminders and connections to the timeless. The secular “holidays” that come closest to this like the major sports finals seasons, right now we have the NBA playoffs and coming up the Summer Olympic games, NHL, MLB and NFL as well as many other sports all have their “holidays”. These games are in one way notably unlike liturgical holy days (holi-days) in that typically our “games” are numbered but specifically and purposefully, liturgical holidays are not. There is good reason why Pascha this year is not the 1975th Paschal/Easter celebration. Pascha/Easter is a connection, via liturgy, a forging of a connection to the original Eucharist and the historical resurrection of our Lord, as well as to the eschatological Pascha out of or beyond time. It is a communing with God and our Theosis outside of time.

I’m curious, some Protestant churches have abandoned essentially all but Easter and the Nativity from their set liturgical calendar. The Protestant Reformation was a rejection of many practices in the Roman church that deemed to have  mislayed the essence of the Christian faith and were drawing the laity away from their calling and a distraction. I’m curious. If you belong to a church which does not follow a full liturgical calendar, marking Nativity, Epiphany, Lent, Annunciation, Pascha, Ascension and Pentecost in your season as well as the myriad of lesser feasts (for example coming up “next” in the Orthodox calendar at the end of June is the St. Peter and St. Paul fast and feast). Why? What was the reason for that move, a move arguably toward a secularization of Church?

A Visit

Weekend Fisher at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength has in the last week been running a series on spiritual resources for the terminally ill and their caregivers. Now, where I’m placed in my life’s journey has not found me interacting closely with the terminally ill and I’m not naturally very emotive/empathic anyhow. However, it so happens that this Sunday afternoon our choir visited a terminally ill member of our congregation who is (had been) a member of the choir. I hadn’t gotten to know at all over the past year so we haven’t been visiting until now. But … to the point. When we visited we sang a few songs.

As our final song, our choir sang St. Simeon’s prayer (in the west the Nunc Dimittis) :

??? ???????? ??? ?????? ???, ???????, ???? ?? ???? ??? ?? ??????,
??? ????? ?? ???????? ??? ?? ???????? ???,
? ????????? ???? ???????? ?????? ??? ????,
??? ??? ?????????? ????? ??? ????? ???? ??? ??????.

or more usefully, i.e., in English (which is actually how we sang it but some Greek was sung, i.e., the Paschal Toparion)

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

This is a song well known in Orthodox liturgy as it is part of the Great Vespers service, which in the States is sung every Saturday night.

On the drive home, we were discussing in our family whether this was appropriate to sing in the presence of the dying. I think it is, for that is the precise context of St. Simeon’s urge to speak these words. He has now seen the Christ child and is, as an elderly and likely infirm man … ready to depart … life. The common usage of this song is at the end of a service, and often “now let thy servant depart” is taken as to depart from this place of worship and return to secular life. However, that is now what was meant in the original context. So in that regard, as a song for the dying … it both is appropriate and may provide some comfort.


On Discretion

In chapter 19 of the first conferences of St. John Cassian, it is noted that our thoughts have three origins. That the thoughts we perceive come from God, Satan, or ourselves. Discernment is then of crucial importance. What does Abba Moses (the desert ascetic whom St. John is interviewing in the Conferences) say about discretion? Well, he says quite a bit, for he finds that one of the most important virtue for a Christian. One of the things he says is (chapter 10 of the 2nd conference):

The answer how true discretion may be gained.

THEN Moses: True discretion, said he, is only secured by true humility. And of this humility the first proof is given by reserving everything (not only what you do but also what you think), for the scrutiny of the elders, so as not to trust at all in your own judgment but to acquiesce in their decisions in all points, and to acknowledge what ought to be considered good or bad by their traditions. And this habit will not only teach a young man to walk in the right path through the true way of discretion, but will also keep him unhurt by all the crafts and deceits of the enemy. For a man cannot possibly be deceived, who lives not by his own judgment but according to the example of the elders, nor will our crafty foe be able to abuse the ignorance of one who is not accustomed from false modesty to conceal all the thoughts which rise in his heart, but either checks them or suffers them to remain, in accordance with the ripened judgment of the elders. For a wrong thought is enfeebled at the moment that it is discovered: and even before the sentence of discretion has been given, the foul serpent is by the power of confession dragged out, so to speak, from his dark under-ground cavern, and in some sense shown up and sent away in disgrace. For evil thoughts will hold sway in us just so long as they are hidden in the heart: and that you may gather still more effectually the power of this judgment I will tell you what Abbot Serapion did, and what he used often to tell to the younger brethren for their edification.

This is counter to much of protestant praxis, which relies heavily on trusting in your own personal abilities of discernment. The practice of confession, of the spiritual guide/father is one largely lost in the modern Roman church and in even more in the American protestant with the Yankee tradition of self-reliance. Even in Orthodoxy there is a lot of latitude regarding confession and spirtual guidance and traditions widely vary. For myself, I have discovered that the sacrament of confession to be a great joy and help in feeding and strengthening my spirtual life and journey.

My question for my readers is this. Take as granted that discretion is of crucial importance. Then is Abba Moses wrong in what he says about discretion? Is the virtue of humility a prerequisite for discretion? If not, where is Abba Moses error?  And if so … does how your tradition seeks and strengthen your personal virtue of true humility?

Historically, in the Christian church there were “eight grevious or deadly sins” … which Pope Gregory (the Great) the the 6th century dropped the 7th to prune the list to 7. The one dropped ironically can be translated as “self-esteem.” This is ironic in view of the public school’s emphasis on self-esteem as a virtue. It should, I would think, give us today pause to consider that what was for 600 years in the Christian tradition one of the cardinal sins is in the “wisdom”  of our age thought a virtue. Who do you think more Godly, the Coptic ascetics or the modern west?

Commenter Don Trabue had remarked earlier that he had never heard of St. John Chrysostom. It’s likely he, and many other protestant readers, are not aware of St. John Cassian either. His writings, life, and works. Wikipedia has this to say. In part it was the writings of St. John Cassian as excerpted in the Philokalia (and the pdf linked above) that cemented my sojourn from my Western Protestant roots and into Eastern Orthodoxy. Unless I am discouraged by comments or email  I will (sporadically) post entries like this in an attempt to educate and inform readers in the West of Eastern traditions and their Patristic roots.

A Few Words For Senator Kennedy

Prayer for the Terminally Ill

Lord Jesus Christ our Savior: You were born for us; You hungered and thirsted for us; You suffered and gave Your life over to death for us. You have caused Your servant, Theodore Kennedy, to share in Your sufferings: Now cause him to share in Your grace. Let Your precious blood wash away the stains of his sins; let Your righteousness wash away his unrighteousness. Look upon his faith rather than upon his works when he stands before You as the Judge. As his life draws to a close, surround him with Your grace. Do not let his faith waver, nor his hope fail, or his  love grow cold. Do not let the fear of death cause him  to lose his  faith in You, or trust in anything other than You. Let him look to You steadfastly, so that saying “Into Your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit,” he may enter into Your everlasting Kingdom where You reign with Your Father Who is from everlasting, and Your all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

a second prayer

Lord and Master, Ruler of all and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: You do not desire the death of sinners, but rather that they may turn from their wickedness and live, willing that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. We pray that You will loose the soul of Your servant Theodore Kennedy from every bond and free him from every unfulfilled pledge which he has given, granting him forgiveness of all the sins he has committed from his youth until now, in word and in deed, knowingly and unknowingly, both that that he has confessed and those which he has concealed through forgetfulness or shame.

For You alone loose the bonds and restore the oppressed; You alone are the hope of those in despair, with the strength to forgive the sins of every creature that puts its trust in You. Lord and Lover of mankind, bid him to be released from all bonds of sin and of the flesh. Receive in peace the soul of Your servant Theodore Kennedy and give him rest in Your eternal dwelling with all Your saints, by the grace of Your only Son our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, with Whom You are blessed together with Your all-holy, gracious and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Liberation Theology and an Apology

In a discussion, I can’t locate right now, I accused Dan Trabue of equating Jesus message with class warfare. Now we have some disagreements, but that accusation was and is unfair and wrong … and I apologize.

Mr Trabue is far more comfortable with Marxist Liberation theology than is healthy for anyone, err, than I. Particularly seeing as how I think, and I think I can support, the idea that Marxism is inextricably linked with genocide. But that is no reason to connect Mr Trabue to a line of thinking that link  Jesus teachings on charity to the poor, via Liberation theology to Marxism and thereby conclude that Mr Trabue thinks that Jesus commends class warfare. So, no I don’t believe that Mr Trabue thinks that the outworking of Jesus theology is Holodomor.

Mr Traube holds his beliefs out (see comment 10 in the above linked item) for us all to review so we might examine our differences. I’m going to list these items and remark on some of them in the hopes of exploring in a gracious way, our differences.

1. We are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus. Not by works.

Now a lot of theological fire is held in abeyance in this statement. Catholics affirm it, yet they continue by noting that faith without works is dead … so by logical inference works are required as well, but the works don’t save us, Christ does. Works are the evidence of our faith. Paul also notes works without faith avail us not in Romans.

2. We are not saved merely by believing in Jesus (”yeah, he was a good guy, son of God, that’s all cool”) – even the demons believe, we’re told – but by believing in Jesus and his teachings, the Way he told us to live. By embracing that as the Right and Good Way, by asking for forgiveness when we get it wrong and trusting in God to help us follow in those steps.

Sacramental efficacy? Baptism into life, “all who are Baptized into Christ have put on Christ” is sung at times in Orthodox liturgy. Fasting, prayer, confession, repentance, charity, and the liturgy are the ways in which we follow that way. We don’t ask forgiveness “when we get it wrong” because we always get it wrong. We must pray continually, ask forgiveness continually, etc.

4. Because we’re flawed humans, we don’t always get it right. Sometimes we misunderstand the Bible. Sometimes, our reasoning is off. Thankfully, we are saved by God’s Grace.

What has been accepted by Ecumenical council and received by the Church catholic are how we judge the correctness of our interpretation. See also St. John Cassian on discernment transmitting the wisdom of the Desert.

5. The Bible has clear teachings – consistently throughout the whole of the Bible – about wealth and poverty. To ignore them is foolishness

I agree. I just think the teachings on our attitude toward God, our repentance are more important. That is the crux of our argument.

6. One of the consistent gists of biblical teachings on wealth and poverty is that God is especially concerned for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized. God clearly loves us all, but consistently throughout the Bible, God says, “woe to those who’d mistreat the poor.” God never in all of the Bible says such about the rich, the powerful and the mainstream. There are lessons to be learned there.

“woe to those who’d mistreat the poor”? Where? Just curious. On the “never says that about the rich” I don’t know what is meant by that. St. John Chrysostom taught that the rich should help the poor as part of charity and the poor for their part in charity should pray for the rich. I think that is right.

7. The lesson, though, isn’t that God is a class warrior or a mere marxist – playing the rich against the poor. Again, God loves us all. Rich and poor. God wants what’s best for us all.

“God wants what’s best for us all.” Which is that we are holy, priestly, God-fearing people.

8. This world is a world of abundance and plenty, with plenty for all – providing that some don’t overconsume resources and especially that they don’t do so by “false scales,” “buying land upon land,” etc. i.e., providing that people don’t oppress others by systems or methods that are designed to take advantage of people to one’s own benefit.

?! See my prior post.

9. Both Marxism and capitalism are flawed human constructs – ways of dealing with matters of economy. Neither is perfect and, in fact, both have quite potentially large flaws. My personal inclination is towards a regulated capitalism. I think Marxism is difficult to pull off well on the large scale.

Marxism is evil incarnate. Slavoj Zizek writes that Lenin is to Marx and Marxism and Paul is to Christ and Christianity. You cannot have one without the other. Marxism implies genocide. Marxism was “pulled off” just fine by Mao and Lenin. The result speaks for itself.

10. Because I recognize the reality of the large number of verses dealing with wealth and poverty, because I point out that James said, “Is it not the rich who are exploiting you?” or that Jesus said, “it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom,” doesn’t mean much beyond that I’m pointing them out and that I believe that what Jesus and James and the prophets and all the other writers of the Bible had to say is important.

I’m not disputing that. I’m disputing your comfort level with Marxism and your theological elevation of poverty/charity in the Gospel.

Singular Sex and the Three in One

Frequent commenter in these here parts, Dan Trabue and others brought up the discussion of homosexuality and Scripture. It is said, where two or three or gathered there will be four or five opinions on theological matters and that seemed to be the case. As this conversation too often brings up lots of heat and little light, I’m going to put most of it below the fold. Read the rest of this entry

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