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Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Christmas Carols

While I approach my first Nativity as Orthodox (well, almost), I nonetheless appreciate many of the Christmas carols of my past. Especially those stemming out of the tradition I grew up in, Methodism. I think John Wesley and his brother Charles, who were steeped in the Church Fathers, had a very patristic theology (with distinct protestantisms still). This is very much reflected in the hymns the wrote. One of the truly great expositions of the Incarnation in hymnody may be found in the second vers Charles Wesley's Hark! The Heral Angels Sing:

Christ, by highest heaven adored;
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
late in time behold him come,
offspring of a virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail th' incarnate Deity,
pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new born King!"

Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't see anything un-Orthodox in that! And then there's the sixth stansa of O Come, O Come, Emanuel, a Latin hymn translated into English by John Mason Neale:
O Come Thou Dayspring from on High
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadow put to flight.
It is through the Incarnation that Christ God makes it possible for us to participate in deity and conquer death! Then, one last one to share from Charles Wesley, Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus:
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free:
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in Thee.

Israel's strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art,
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
Born a child, and yet a king,
Born to reign in us forever.
Now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all-sufficient merit
Raise us to thy glorious throne.
May we all have a very blessed Nativity and joyous Noel!

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

When Good is "evil" and Evil is "good"

Burning the American flag is considered free speech; erecting crosses as roadside memorials is not. The Federal Communications Commission allows the "F-word" on television, but thanking God at a high school graduation is a no-no. And some schools freely dispense condoms to kids, but pencils that read "Jesus loves little children" were confiscated from a first-grade class in Virginia.

I wish I had written those words. I have observed this and commented on it to others, but this article on David Limbaugh's new book says it well.

I do believe that a backlash is coming. Those who profess belief it Jesus Christ constitute a signifcant majority in this country. I think it's simply a matter of time (and it may just about be here) when we all say "enough is enough".

Another Chrismation

I find Father Jacob at my Church an absolute delight. He seems somewhat taken with me, though I don't know why. I get the feeling he doesn't remember my name (which is understandable, since he just about only sees me at Divine Liturgy on Sunday mornings), but he always has some interesting, somewhat tongue in cheek, comment for me.

A few weeks back Father baptised a toddler (certainly the child was not a baby). He was not happy at all and put up quite a fuss, especially when being Christmated. After going up to receive Father's blessing at the end of the service, he says "you're not going to be that noisy when we chrismate you are you?" This past Sunday we had an adult Christmation. I usually stand at the back of the Nave, right next to where they have the catechumens kneel to begin the Chrismation service. Father comes up and says to me, "stand right there where the Grace can spill out over you". Later, after the service going up for his blessing and the blessed bread he says "well, there it is, buddy". I know, this probably seems meaningless meanderings, but to me it says something about both his humanity and holiness (a trait he would probably deny). This combination, that I believe Our Lord must have demonstrated supremely here on earth, is what I found so delightful in both him and Orthodoxy as a whole. We can be holy in our humanity, not simply despite of it.

I don't claim to understand much, but I sure do love what I do understand about this ancient faith!

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Am I Ready?

The Deacon who is conducting my catechism says I'm ready to be Christmated. I'm not so sure, in fact, I'm not sure at all. How can I possibly be ready? I mean, I'm 47 years old, I've been a "christian" for a little over 30 years, I've been "studying" Orthodoxy for almost three years, but I've only been attending regularly for a little over two months. I feel like I'm just looking over my shoetops. Sheesh....

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

For the Life of the World

I am in the process of reading Fr. Alexander Schmemann's "For the Life of the World". I had forgotten how much I loved Sacramental theology. I had a truly wonderful professor for a "Theology of the Sacraments" course way back when I was in seminary (if you're a freshman, sophomore or even, likely, a junior in college, you weren't born yet when I graduated seminary). I can close my eyes and still hear him quote "AHH-nahm-NAY-sis" when speaking on the Eucharist. He most have long ago received his heavenly reward. After 20 years as a Charismaniac, however, that love of the sacremental, the theology of it, the realization, had been so subsumed as to be all but forgotten.

The Church, of course, brought much of that back to me in an instinctive, almost subconcious way. Schmemann, on the other hand, reminds me intentionally, thoughtfully, deliberately, of it. If you don't quite "get" the Mystery's, why there is Grace there, I whole heartedly suggest you pick up a copy and read it. Schmemann reminds us (or informs us learning for the first time) that there really is no separation of the sacred and the profane; that all is encompassed by God and His Grace.


Friday, December 12, 2003

The Grace Filled Life

One of the things that I love about Orthodoxy is the concept of Grace. Grace in my old evangelical and charismatic circles was just an attitude on the part of God toward us, you know, "unmeritted favor". A nice abstraction revolving around the abstraction of sin as simply a violation of law and an intention of the will, or heart. If sin is simply an attitude, an act, an intention of the heart, than "grace" need be nothing more than that as well. Salvation becomes simply a function of God's attitude toward you. (I know, I know, this is not all there is to all Evangelical or Protestant concepts of salvation - but they all seem to start here.)

But for the Orthodox, salvation involves so much more than simply forgiveness of breaking laws for sin is more than a violation of law. Sin is a state as well as actions. It is a sickness, a disease that makes us less than fully human. So salvation is the cure of that disease, the reclaiming of the likeness of God along with the image we already have. It is "partaking of the divine nature" Grace is that which transforms us into that likeness, that makes partakers, that "divinizes" us. It is the Uncreated Energy of God, it is God's acts in creation, it is a reality that imbues all of creation even as the radiation from the Sun. This is why holy people, holy places, holy objects, the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments), etc., actually exhibit and communicate virtue (as in "a beneficial quality or power of a thing" - e.g. "And immediately Jesus knowing in himself the virtue that had proceeded from him, turning to the multitude, said: Who hath touched my garments?"). Sometimes this virture is actually visible and not always confined to the saints. I picked up the following story from the Paradosis blogsite, it demonstrates to me the holistic nature of Orthodox soteriology and experience:

A couple of years ago God called the wife of the oldest member of my church home after she'd battled cancer for years. Their son told me that at the last hour of her earthly life while they were sitting around her bed her skin became luminous, the wrinkles fell away. All around her body there was light. The son and the father looked at each other to confirm that what they were seeing was real. The son looked at a picture of her on the wall that was 60+ years old and she looked exactly like the young bride in the photo. She passed a few moments later.
Cool, huh?!!

Thursday, December 11, 2003

A judge gets it right!

I missed this when it first came out, but a Federal Judge in Detroit actually got it right in a ruling concerning the right of a Christian student to express her religious beliefs in opposition to homosexuality during her high school's 2002 "Diversity Week" program. The school officials had put together a forum on Religious views of homosexuality with the express intent to indoctrinate students with the viewpoint that there is nothing immoral or sinful about homosexual practices. They refused to allow Betsy Hansen to express contrary views and so she sued. In an age of political correctness as leftist suppression of the free speech rights of those who refuse to espouse a "correct" point of view, it is a joy to see every now and then a judge who truly seems to understand the issues. Judge Gerald Rosen wrote in part:

This case presents the ironic, and unfortunate, paradox of a public high school celebrating 'diversity' by refusing to permit the presentation to students of an 'unwelcomed' viewpoint on the topic of homosexuality and religion, while actively promoting the competing view. This practice of 'one-way diversity,' unsettling in itself, was rendered still more troubling – both constitutionally and ethically – by the fact that the approved viewpoint was, in one manifestation, presented to students as religious doctrine by six clerics (some in full garb) quoting from religious scripture. In its other manifestation, it resulted in the censorship by school administrators of a student's speech about "what diversity means to me," removing that portion of the speech in which the student described the unapproved viewpoint.
Thank you Judge Rosen, we wish your fellow Federal jurists, including many on the Supreme Court, shared your clarity of vision and insight into the Constitution.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Welcome to the Oligarchy!

Well, it seems just about complete. We in the United States no longer live in a democratic republic whose governance is founded about a written Constitution. No, we now live in an oligarchy where judge's whims constitute the final say! The Supreme court, in a series of 5-4 decisions this year, as moved us closer and closer to the stage that its most leftist members have obviously yearned for. Now, in ruling on the Campaign Finance Reform act passed last year by Congress, they have ruled that the mere appearance of corruption outweighs the First Ammendment. As Justice Scalia wrote in his dissent:

"This is a sad day for the freedom of speech. Who could have imagined that the same court which, within the past four years, has sternly disapproved of restriction upon such inconsequential forms of expression as virtual child pornography, tobacco advertising, dissemination of illegally intercepted communications, and sexually explicit cable programming, would smile with favor upon a law that cuts to the heart of what the First Amendment is meant to protect: the right to criticize the government..."
This law does little to stop the flow of money into the Parties and simply makes it practically impossible for those without entrenched power to influence an election. While Justices Stevens and O'Connor refer to both "quid pro quo" corruption and more subtle money "influences", "money" is not an evil in and of itself, but merely a tool. Further, it is utterly amazing that the prospect of something that no one has ever offered evidence exists (and that all Congressmen and Senators roundly deny happens), can be used to deny basic fundamental rights in this country. To quote from Justice Thomas' dissent:
The chilling endpoint of the Court's reasoning is not difficult to foresee: outright regulation of the press... Media corporations are influential. There is little doubt that the editorials and commentary they run can affect elections. Nor is there any doubt that media companies often wish to influence elections. One would think that the New York Times fervently hopes that its endorsement of presidential candidates will actually influence people. What is to stop a future Congress from determining that the press is 'too influential,' and that the 'appearance of corruption' is significant when the media organizations endorse candidates or run 'slanted' or 'biased' news stories in favor of candidates or parties?"

The five demi-gods on the Supreme Court who voted in the affirmative on this issue constitute what must be one of the most intellectually vacuous and dishonest groups to ever wear black robes. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote "The Court, upholding multiple laws that suppress both spontaneous and concerted speech, leaves us less free than before. Today's decision breaks faith with our tradition of robust and unfettered debate." May God have mercy on us all!

Christmas a "pagan" holiday?

Over the years, accepted wisdom has had it that the Church chose December 25th to celebrate Our Lord's birth to christianize an existing pagan holiday. Some Protestant fundamentalists (watch out, this link should be read by those with their heads screwed on tight) use this as both an example of the Church's early "apostasty" as well as an excuse not to celebrate Christmas. This article from Touchstone magazine gives a bit more accurate information on how December 25th came to be celebrated in the Church as the Nativity of our Lord or Christmas.

Goring Dean...

Okay, so former Vice-President Al Gore has endorsed Howard Dean for president. What does this mean? Is it a good thing for Dean, or ultimately just another sign that he will get hopelessly bogged down by the left wing of the Democratic Party (is there any other wing in the Dems?) in the general election? Most concede that Gore's endorsement basically solidifies the nomination for him. Others aren't so sure. All I know is that with Dean's temper tantrums and Gore's cry-baby whining, the Dems have look to toss up two Presidential losers for the price of one!

Of course, some folks are reading all kinds of conspiracy theories into this endorsement, like David Frum over at National Review. Others see it as Gore petulance and hatred for Bill and Hillary as he attempts to wrest control of the Democratic party from them. In either case, whether Gore really believes Dean has a chance or not, if Dean loses in the general election, Gore has raised his chances vis. Hillary for 2008. Perhaps...

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

How would Jesus vote?

Like folks that write about what Jesus would drive or what Jesus would eat or where Jesus would live, there are others who are convinced they know how Our Lord would vote. No, I don't mean those "right wing" religious fundamentalists, but rather that most often ignored vacuous "religious left". While it is the "religious right" that is most often portrayed as self-righteous, judgemental and authoritarian, it has been my experience that the "religious left" is far more prone to these qualities. Take a look at this interesting article at Intellectual Conservative.com answering the question "Was Jesus A Liberal?"

Are jurisdictions irrelevant?

A question came up on an Internet forum about jurisdictional hopping, especially relating to clergy moving from one jurisdiction to get ordained and then going back to their original jurisdiction. Someone pointed out in his city there were 11 parishes in 6 or 7 different jurisdictions and that if you change parishes you're almost bound to change jurisdictions. To me as a lay-person, this seems like practically a non-issue and that, for the laity at least, jurisdictions are practically irrelevant. As I commented:

We get told "Orthodox is Orthodox" and, by golly, we believe it. So, when necessary, some simply go to whatever parish is closest, regardless of whatever jurisdiction they were originally baptised or chrismated into. Maybe this is the Holy Spirit's way of trying to knock some sense into the Heirachies?
I don't know, but it sure makes sense to me.

But then again, what do I know?

Orthodoxy in Dixie

I picked this up from Huw Raphael's Doxos blog. I like this article a lot and it has much that we could learn in it. When Orthodoxy truly begins to assimilate, where good and reasonable, American culture as well as asking American converts to assimilate aspects of various ethnic cultures, then, ISTM, we will be ready for an American Orthodox Church.

Is Clark Nuts?

My take on Clark back in September was that he didn't have the character, much less philosophy, ideas, experience, etc., to be President. In light of his latest diatribe, I'm now wondering if this guy is really all there or not. Wesley Clark simply doesn't have what it takes to take seriously. The man is a joke.

One Party in US anti-religion?

I'm a regular reader of David Horowitz's Frontpage Magazine. An article published there yesterday demonstrates the disturbing trend among Democrats to not only push for the complete secularization of modern culture but to demonize traditional Christians of all stripes. Are all Republicans and the Republican party "people of God"? By no means, but when one party is so clearly antithetical to practically everything a traditional Christian holds dear, the Republicans look almost like saints.

Don't expect the media elite outlets to pick up on this story, as their own secularist and anti-religious biases serve to filter out this kind of thing as news. Check out Touchstone Magazine's take on this.