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Friday, April 30, 2004

Thanksgiving!

For all who prayed, and even those who did not, my many thanks and also to the most Holy Theotokos, to whom I prayed fervently. Regarding the reorginization of my work place, I was offered two jobs this morning, one of which I accepted. Again, thank you for your prayers!

Unto you, O Theotokos, invincible Champion,
We your people, in thanksgiving,
Ascribe the victory for the deliverance from sufferings.
And having your might unassailable,
free us from all dangers, so that we may cry unto you:
Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride!

Unintended Consequences

Touchstone's Mere Comments blog sheds light on an interesting discussion regarding the demographics of the future. It seems that secular modernists are basically breeding themselves out of existence, or at least out of prominence. Apparently 47% of people who attend Church regularly believe the ideal family includes 3 or more children compared to only 27% of those who don't attend Church regularly. The author writes:

Current demographic trends work against modernity in another way as well. Not only is the spread of urbanization and industrialization itself a major cause of falling fertility, it is also a major cause of so-called diseases of affluence, such as overeating, lack of exercise, and substance abuse, which leave a higher and higher percentage of the population stricken by chronic medical conditions. Those who reject modernity would thus seem to have an evolutionary advantage, whether they are clean-living Mormons or Muslims.
Obviously, this may not be all good news. However, coupled with James Taranto's Roe Effect (scroll down, you'll find it), you have basically have moral relativists breeding themselves out of existence. In a few generations public schools might even be decent again.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

More Prayer Please

Sorry I haven't written much the past few days, been pretty busy. I have been through most of the interviews I have to do (still have a couple more jobs I've applied for, but no interview dates yet - should be next week). Now the powers that be are going through the selection process. A lot of people for not quite as many positions, to be filled in just a couple days. Please, if you think about it, pray for me. Plus, a big thanks to those that already are or have!

O Holy Theotokos, save us!

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Another look at justifying voting for pro-abortionists

Father Rob Johansen, a blogging Roman Catholic priest, has responded to defenders of voting for John Kerry or other pro-abortion politicians with a powerfully cogent demolition of their arguments. While he writes, obviously, from a specifically Roman Catholic viewpoint, and many of his arguments are constrained within that framework, much is, nevertheless, applicable within any moral and/or Christian framework. He writes, in part:

One cannot attribute the same level of culpability to errors concerning prudential judgments on contingent matters as one can to deliberate and knowing violations of the moral law. John Kerry and other pro-abortion "Catholics" are doing just that. John Kerry and the others know that the Church's teaching on abortion is fundamental and absolute, but insist on disobeying that teaching, and misrepresenting it and themselves as well. In the case of John Kerry and Teddy Kennedy, it can be demonstrated that they have done so consciously and deliberately. There is no question of mere "error" here: Kerry's position and record on abortion have been unequivocal and uncompromised for almost three decades. John Kerry cannot do everything in his power to defend and extend the so-called "right" to abortion and at the same time claim to be a good Catholic. To do so insults our intelligence, and is an affront to the Body of Christ.
Read the whole thing and then attempt to justify supporting any politician who backs "abortion rights".

Prayer Request

I have moved this back to the top for obvious reasons.

I have not blogged about this in the past, but the organization for which I work is going through an extensive reorganization push. Many jobs are being eliminated and we are all having to reapply for various jobs. I have two interviews for jobs Tuesday and Wednesday of next week and I covet your prayers if you happen to remember.

Christ is risen!

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Silence

I posted the following message on the Yahoo!Groups Orthodox Convert list.

About two or almost three years ago, there was a discussion on this
list concerning noise, music and silence. This was mostly in
connection to studying and other mental exercises and whether you
could do it with noise in the background or needed silence to
concentrate. I posted a message that I thought it was a matter of
individual preference or requirements. Some people need silence to
concentrate, others need some kind of background noise, be it the TV,
music, etc.

I forget exactly who it was who responded, I think Silouan, but maybe
Seraphim or S-P, but the post was to the effect that silence was a
necessary ingredient to stilling the soul and listening to God and
that one should take the opportunity for silence. There were a lot of
other good points as well concerning the importance of silence in
spiritual development. Of course, being almost utterly ignorant about
things Orthodox I thought "well, I *still* think it's a matter of
personal preference and some people need silence and some people need
noise - no use making a "rule* about it."

I cannot remember the whole exchange, but the despite my misgivings at
the time, as I have grown into the little bit Orthodoxy I have, that
emphasis has stuck with me, boring down, if you will, into my soul. As
I have learned to truly pray and worship and begin to actually try to
clear the rocks and other debris (as Fr. David's metaphor from awhile
back so aptly put it) from my soul, the truth of the need for silence
has been borne out.

So, I just wanted to express my thinks. Silouan, Seraphim, S-P,
whichever of you (or *all* of you) made the assertion, and stuck with
it, thank you. You have no idea what a profound impact the seemingly
insignificant exchange made in my soul. Not that I have learned the
lesson, but I am learning it. Though probably forgotten, please
forgive the arrogance and ignorance displayed in my responses (as I
pray all of you will for any times I have responded in the past in the
same fashion). Please, pray for me, a sinner.

Christ is risen!
I curious as to others experience of the power of silence in prayer, etc. What do you think? How have your views changed, if they have? Post a comment if you have an opinion.

Friday, April 23, 2004

God have mercy on his soul

I don't know if he was a Christian, undoubtedly wasn't Orthodox, but rarely in our day does one read of such self-sacrifice. Pat Tillman was a pro-football player who turned down $3.6 million contract offer from the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the military after 9/11. The young man was killed today in action in Afghanistan. No matter what you think about the war on terror or US actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, this man's actions are notable. No greater love hath a man than this, that he lay down his life for his brother.

Russian reaction to The Passion

Did anyone else see this? Thanks to David's Daily Diversion for bringing this to my attention (BTW, David, when is that comment thing going to get fixed?). After all the brouhaha among various Orthos, including in the blogosphere, over The Passion, it's interesting to see the reaction from an Orthodox culture. Daivd includes one of the more intriguing quotes, which I now share with you:

"The film has overcome [my] prejudices and doubts," said Archpriest Maxim Kozlov, rector of Moscow University's St. Tatiana Chapel and associate professor at Moscow Theological Academy, in an interview published in Izvestia. "It is almost astonishing for the present state of cinematography and public consciousness -- I had not expected that such a profound and sincere return to the foundations of our faith would be possible in Western society. I think that 'The Passion of the Christ' has already become a fact not of cinema history, but of the religious history of Christianity."
I wonder if seeing this right after Holy Week has an effect on perspective? While certainly the Orthodox emphasis throughout the year is more on the Resurrection than the Crucifixion, the impact of Holy Week is to bring Christ's Passion clearly into focus. How heady it might have been to see this movie after Holy Thursday's service!

My kind of "end times" novel...

Just read a review of a new Orthodox end time novel in response to the Left Behind series. Here's a blurb:

The novel, titled Enduring to the End, begins in Rome in AD 63. After a dizzying number of anti-Christs, the book reaches its climax with Darby LaHaye Scofield, a 21st-century televangelist who sells his soul to Satan and tries to take over the world.

Unfortunately for Scofield, but fortunately for the reader, he fails in his attempt, and another day dawns at the end of the book. In the meantime, despite sins, schisms and quarrels, the Christians endure persecution, illness, old age and death, and come to the last chapter ready to endure the next battle.
Now, that's my kind of novel!

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Another step (or two) along the way...

Went to Vespers this afternoon at my parish. If I get to work early enough I can get away early enough to get to Church just when it starts on weekdays. I plan to go every Wednesday whenever possible, provides a nice "pick me up" in the middle of the week. Today I had been emailing my priest about my next confession. Just wanted to get the particulars and clarify some things that weren't clear to me. My confession prior to chrismation was written and while Father talked to me about it, it didn't have quite the visceral impact that a face to face confession does.

Well, when I got to Church this afternoon it was just Father, me and one other person. Prior to getting started, Father asked me if I had ever chanted. My heart jumped into my throat. In our mission I am the designated "reader", so, yes, I have been chanting. And then, Holy Saturday, I was part of a group that read the Acts. But chanting a modified vespers with everything laid out is a lot different than chanting vespers with your priest standing next to you. So, at little past time, the three of us stand around the chanter's stand and begin. Father says I can chant the psalms after the other person "shows me how".

But then, during the first kathisma, Father starts to walk away and whispers "you want to do confession now?" Now? No, I don't want to do confession now, I don't ever want to do confession. It's too hard. It makes me too vulnerable, too accountable, too open, too nekked, as we would say in the South. Father isn't really asking, though, as he motions me to follow. I don't know what I'm doing, but he whispers to me what to do. I receive his blessing, kiss the bible, kiss the cross and he tells me "now, whisper your confession to me". My face is burning, my heart feels like it will jump right out of my chest. I begin. It really is only a few things, just 10 days since I was chrismated. It feels like a mountain and takes forever. A couple things I'm not sure how to confess, or if they're really sin. "Yes," Father says, "confess such and such" and I do. Just a few things, I don't know how to end so I just say "that's it". I press my forehead to the bible and Father covers me with his stole (okay, so I don't know the Orthodox name for it) and pronounces absolution. My face still burns, but at least the weight is gone.

We go back to the chanter's stand. Soon it is my turn to chant. Oh boy, again that feeling of vulnerability. Have I mentioned how much I hate feeling vulnerable, out of control? I mean, I really hate it! But I press on and I chant, in fact, I do the whole rest of the service with Father. He points where to read and I do. I mess up a few times, he corrects me when I do and we go on. Soon it's over and Father gives me a slight bow which I return. Afterwhich I venerate the icons, pray to St. John the Wonderworker and head on home. All in all, not a bad afternoon.

Just say no...

...to both homosexual marriage, partnerships and parenting. The American College of Pediatricians has issued a statement this is sure to rase the hackles of the media elite and social relativists. Well, that is, if they even hear about it. I can't say that I think it will get much play in the major media outlets, but it needs to be seen. The whole statement is quite brief, but here is the conclusion:

The research literature on childrearing by homosexual parents is limited. The environment in which children are reared is absolutely critical to their development. Given the current body of research, the American College of Pediatricians believes it is inappropriate, potentially hazardous to children, and dangerously irresponsible to change the age-old prohibition on homosexual parenting, whether by adoption, foster care, or by reproductive manipulation. This position is rooted in the best available science.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Can't say it better than this

Over at Catholic(?)Kerry Watch they have a post that exposes the hypocrisy of Kerry's assertion to being "personally opposed" to abortion. I commented on this earlier, but it is worth saying again since so many seem to buy into this argumentation. Since I can't put it any better, here's the whole thing (for those who don't like to click thru):

As my brother noted, it's interesting to see Kerry's little Catholic scandal making "front-page news" on CNN.com. This is not something that will fade into the woodwork or be put on the back-burner -- it should rather be a burr in Kerry's saddle all the way to the White House, as faithful Catholics should raise their voices in protest and demand a response from their bishops.

But let us be clear on one thing: in their presentation of Kerry, CNN simply recites the ever-pervasive "personally against" formula of liberal Catholics:

Kerry says he is personally opposed to abortion, but supports the rights of others to make that choice. He argues that church doctrine allows Catholics the freedom of conscience to choose that stance.

Like many other Catholic politicans in his position, Senator Kerry tries to have it both ways. Assuming for a minute that Kerry means what he says when he proclaims his "personal opposition," this might very well imply his recognition that abortion takes a human life -- indeed, why else would anybody be opposed?

But if this were the case, it only reveals the hypocrisy in his position, for one can no more be "personally opposed to abortion, but respectful of other's right to choose" than one can be with regards to slavery, cannibalism, racism, sexism, [insert the evil of one's choice here].

I for one have a difficult time believing Kerry's "personal" opposition to abortion as presented by the media, for the following reasons:

* Kerry pledge his full support for Roe vs. Wade
* Kerry was endorsed by NARAL as "a President pro-choice Americans can rely on"
* Kerry has a consistent voting record in support of abortion
* And now, Kerry campaign has launched a television ad campaign blasting the President for his efforts to stop abortion.

Simply put: Kerry's actions and statements as a politician are not those of a committed Catholic "personally opposed" to abortion and yet regretfully duty-bound to serve the political will of his constituents. Rather, he strikes me as one doing everything in his power to support and promote it. As Cardinal Chaput put it:

Candidates who claim to be "Catholic" but who publicly ignore Catholic teaching about the sanctity of human life are offering a dishonest public witness. They may try to look Catholic and sound Catholic, but unless they act Catholic in their public service and political choices, they're really a very different kind of creature.

What he said

Dennis Prager over at Worldnet Daily well expresses my own thoughts on some issues in his column today. Don't miss reading the whole thing, but here's a taste:

In sum, I feel that I am living in a world that is morally sick. Good is called bad, and bad is called "militant," "victimized," "misunderstood" and "the product of hopelessness," but rarely bad. Only those who fight the bad are called bad.
Christ is risen!

The communion of Saints

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about prayer offered to the Saints. One of the reasons is that this is a big sticking point with my wife. She just doesn’t get it (or refuses to get it, I don’t know which). But the whole idea of that, and icons, really – in her words – “creeps her out”.

Funny, but once I got over my initial Protestant phobia of the whole idea and began to read what the Church taught and some of the lives of the Saints, the whole thing became very appealing and, well, comforting. I grew up in a big family, but have always been something of a loner. Not an introvert, but not a “joiner”, not someone who easily makes friends, or even seeks out friends. Yet always there has been a yearning to “belong” in my bosom, and to belong to people who really care, who really love. What better group to belong to than that “great cloud of witnesses”? I pray to my patron, St. David of Wales, as well as to the patron of our parish, the wonderful St. John the Wonderworker, St. Mary of Egypt (the first Orthodox saint to really blow me away), St. Theophan the Recluse and St. Nicholas of Myra on a regular basis. I pray to others as they are brought to my attention or need arises. I find great comfort, satisfaction and sense of belonging in this.

But why pray to the Saints when you can pray to the Father and Jesus? This is something every Protestant asks, that I asked myself and that probably ever convert has asked. It’s probably something every Orthodox Christian should ask, even “cradle” Orthodox, because the answer is more than just an apologetic, it speaks directly to the communal nature of the Faith and our life in Christ. In other words, it says something about who we are as Orthodox.

So, I started pondering this and coming up with some thoughts, none of which are original with me, but which I wanted to put down in words.

  • First of all, let us be clear that when we pray to the Saints we are not praying to “dead people”. Jesus Himself declared in St. Matthew 22:32 “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” And the Apostle Paul reminds us that to be absent from the body, as a Christian, is to be present with God, i.e. alive in God! (2 Cor. 5:8). Then, in Hebrews 12:1, the Apostle, after having gone through an “honor roll” of the faithful from the Old Testament (i.e. Old Testament saints), tells us that “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses…” We are compassed, or surrounded, by these very witnesses, these great men and women of God who have lived and physically died before us, they still surround us! No, the saints of God are not dead, they are not unaware, they are alive and they are witnesses as we run the race God has set before us!

  • Secondly, we must acknowledge that as members of Christ’s body, the Church, we are one. In what is termed His “high priestly prayer”, our Lord prayed to the Father “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” (John 17 22 & 23 KJV) Christ prayed that we would be one and the Church is one, we are in Christ and we are in one another. As I recently read, when we partake of the Eucharist we all have the “same blood” flowing through our veins! What a thought. The body and blood of Christ unite me to every Saint that has ever gone before, every member of Christ’s Church now living and all who will come after me. We are one and we should, as St. James tells us, “pray one for another”. (James 5:16) This is a wonderful thing to me and touches me right at that desire to belong. I do belong!

  • Again, when we pray to the Saints we are asking them to add their prayers to ours, in effect, to pray for us to God. We are familiar with the Lord's teachings concerning the power of prayer and the power of agreement and encouraging us to seek one another out to pray. In Matthew 18:18&19 He states “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” All Christians recognize the power in corporate prayer and most avidly seek out the prayers of others when there is need in their lives. We have prayer chains, and prayer lists. We asked pastors to pray for us in services and Sunday School classes and bible study members to pray for us in their private times. Why should we not ask the Saints who have gone before us to pray for us as well? Let's recognize that we ask the Saints to pray for us for the same reasons we ask any other Christian to pray for us, because Jesus told us there was power in agreement.

  • Fourth, we must acknowledge that we pray to the Saints because they are “righteous” and their prayers are effective. St. James tells us that “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (Jas 5:16 KJV) Or as the RSV has it, "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects." Now, I know there are forms of Christianity that teach that all those who have prayed a certain type of prayer or have “accepted Jesus into their hearts”, have been “saved”, are righteous and meet the criteria of this verse. But realistically, few of us would claim to be truly righteous. I would not, when I was an evangelical Christian, have put claim to this verse for myself outside of the broad charachterization that we are all "righteous" "in Christ". But the Church recognizes that the glorified Saints truly are righteous. They have finished the race, they overcame to the end, they fought the good fight and won! They are truly righteous men and women and their prayers “availeth much”, or have great power in their working! I don't know about you, but I want the most powerful prayers available for my prayer needs!

  • Finally, we ask the Saints to pray for us because we know that they always pray according to the will of God. St. John tells us in 1 John 5:14 & 15, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not always sure that I am praying according to God's will. Oh, I know when I pray according to God’s general, moral will for all, but what about those specific petitions, what about praying for jobs, or healings, or specific circumstances or guidance? These are times when it is difficult, if not impossible, for even the most spiritually mature to know the will of God. The Saints, however, are glorified with God and they always pray according to God’s will. Therefore, when we petition the saints, we know that they will pray what is best for us in accordance with the will of God and that whatever they pray for God will grant! I don’t know about you, but I sure like the thought of having someone pray for me who always get’s what they pray for from God.
What a marvelous privilege we have as members of Christ’s Church. We are part of the “communion of saints” and may approach those saints and have them intercede on our behalf with God! O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of Thy most pure Mother; our holy and God bearing fathers; and all the saints, have mercy on us and save our souls!

Saturday, April 17, 2004

There they go again

To paraphrase the words of the inestimable Ronald Reagan. No matter what your political leanings or how you feel about the so-called "Christian right", traditional Christians (i.e those who hold to the tenets of the faith as espoused in the historic creeds such as the Nicene and Apostolic) are all being targeted by the Hollywood elitist left in upcoming movies according to a recent story at WorldNet Daily (okay, not always the most reliable source of news). Take a look and educated yourself and your friends on those movies to avoid this summer.

Friday, April 16, 2004

My story in a nutshell

I posted this earlier in the week in response to a query on the Orthodox Convert Yahoo!Group and thought I would post it here as well. It provides a "down and dirty" overview of my transition to Orthodoxy.

I grew up Methodist. Was "saved" at 17. Became involved in various Charismatic type groups: prayer group at my church, Catholic Charismatic prayer group, Agape (Assemblies of God) Bible Study in college. Went ot all sorts of Pentecostal/Charismatic churches during my college years and eventually became part of what was then known as Maranatha Campus Ministries. Upon graduation became a staff member for Maranatha in Murfreesboro, TN and Lexington, KY. Became concerned about some stuff (long story short), left to return home and enter the United Methodist ministry. Started pastoring while in seminary and was ordained a UMC minister. After eight years, fed up with UMC liberalism and having gotten involved with a "Word of Faith" pastor and church, I left the UMC, got a "secular" job and worked as an assistant in the WoF church for six years. Another eye opening had me leaving that church (do we detect a pattern here?) and wandering through a couple more charismatic/pentecostal type churches until I basically quit going to church at all for a little over three years. With my children growing up unchurched, my wife and I finally decided to start back and started going to a Christian Church (Restoration Movement) some fellow homeschoolers attended. During this whole time I was quite
active an Internet "discusser" - ran my own web site, web forum, egroup (now yahoo!groups), etc., as well as participating on a bunch of other forums. In one of those, and off-hand comment about Eastern Orthodoxy in the spring of 2001 started me researching. That research led me to this forum as well as to a lot of reading. Went to my first divine liturgy in July of '01 and knew I wanted to convert by the fall. Only problem was, my family didn't, which created some problems. Then my wife got sick, seriously, which created some more problems. I stayed involved here and on some other forums, and kept reading and praying, but didn't attend Divine Liturgy from about March of '02 until September of '03. In that September, a Deacon I had met a couple years earlier (who happens to live about 3 miles from me) anounced he had received permission to start a mission on the southside of Atlanta (where I live). I talked with my wife about my interest and she said go (something she still sometimes regrets!). After a couple of meetings to organize the mission, I started attending services at St. John the Wonderworker in Atlanta and (finally) became a catechumen on Oct. 12 of '03. Then, as you know, on Holy Saturday I was chrismated. The joy is indescribable, as most here can attest. I had quit taking communion at the Christian Church in the summer of '01 once I had become convinced of the Orthodox position. I hadn't been to church at all from March '02 to September '03, so taking the Holy Mysteries for the first time after so long with *no* type of "communion" was, truly, like "coming home". My wife still doesn't really like it, she and the kids are back at another Christian Church and she worries that this is
another phase in the pattern above. But I feel like Christ's disciples when He asked them if they would leave Him as well as the others who were deserting, and they replied "to where shall we go, *you* have the words of eternal life..." I have been surprised at how many people I talk to at our Parish have very similar stories to mine, but have now
been Orthodox for years. There is simply nothing else like it, truly the fullness of truth and worship!
Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!

Wouldn't It Be nice?

I can't say I haven't wished something like this were possible in the USA. I don't know how many times I've watched Benny Hinn, Oral Roberts, Creflo Dollar or some other tele-evangelists clown show supposed miracles and then ask for money, all the while wearing thousand dollar suits and living in multi-million dollar mansions. I've been present when those of lesser "stature" have done the same thing. I still can't tell if I've ever seen an actual, medically verifiable miracle or not.

Of course, as soon as you start limiting religious speech it's only a matter of time before it's your speech that get's limited. Still, wouldn't it be nice to get these creeps who bring shame on the gospel of Christ off the air?

BTW, you might think I'm being a little harsh here, and maybe I am. But only because I've been there and swallowed all that hokum and am so regretful of it. Like a reformed smoker, I don't want anyone to have to go through that stuff or be taken advantage by con artists (even those that believe the con themselves)!

Pray for me, a sinner!

Catholic Priests Taking A Stand

Jumping into the kerfuffle* over John F. (call me JFK)* Kerry's taking of communion, a group of Catholic Priests has issued a statement. A whole blog has developed in Catholic(?)KerryWatch to monitor the ongoing controversy. No matter how you feel about Bush vs. Kerry, it is disingenuous for any politician to declare himself "personally opposed" to a practice but support it as public policy. It is hypocrital and comparmentalizes one's life in an unrealistic manner. Horray for the Priests who are pointing this out:

It causes even greater concern when public officials try to privatize the issue, as if the shedding of blood can ever be simply a matter of "private religious faith." Abortion practitioners are testifying in these very days in court trials about the partial-birth abortion ban. They describe how they crush the heads of babies, and those are the words they use. Those procedures are not "personal, private beliefs."
Oh, and to those people who, like Kerry, attempt to deflect this type of criticism by asserting it is no different than Catholic (or others) politicians who support the death penalty and assume some kind of moral equivalence, consider a couple things. First, I don't know of any politician or public figure, Roman Catholic or otherwise, who has stated "I'm personally opposed to capital punishment, but it's the law of the land and has been upheld by the Supreme Court so I support it." And, second, there are currently a little over 3500 people awaiting execution in this country with 69 men and 2 women executed in 2003. At that rate, it will take close to 50 years to execute all 3500 people. In that same time, if the current rates remain the same, somewhere between 50 and 75 million unborn babies will be murdered. Don't even begin to talk to me about moral equivalence. The blood on the hands of those who support abortion is unfathomably greater than on hands of those who support capital punishment.

(*With a nod to James Taranto over at OpinionJournal.com's Best of the Web.)

Thursday, April 15, 2004

We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit

Thanks to Abayea for directing me (well, not personally, but on her blog) to this letter from St. Cyprian of Carthage to a new convert in 246 AD. It is truly timeless:

We have received the seal of the Holy Spirit. Our task now is to preserve the integrity of what we have received by living a truly Christian life. We must give time to prayer, and to the study of scripture. Now speaking to God; now listening to His word to us, and letting His teaching mold us. He has enriched us with a treasure no one can take away.

We have eaten and drunk at His heavenly banquet, and can never again know the pinch of poverty.

Alleluia!

Known By Your Enemies

There is an old saying that a man is known by his enemies. In light of this, it seems that the USA might not be so bad after all. America is not perfect, and there is a lot I would change if I could, but it has stood against the greatest evils of the last 120 years and been the difference. We are not as clearsighted concerning Islam as I would like, nor does there seem to be the concern for Christians suffering around the world that there should be. But I view this as a product of Polical Correctness that hopefully will eventually be overcome by the realities of the evil we confront. Sorry, for all those who believe in appeasement and capitulation, some folks and some ideas are evil, and UBL qualifies big time!

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Just as an aside...

...today is my birthday. 48 years ago Mama D had a big, loud-mouthed, bawling brat. Not much has changed since! :-)

Pondering Syria

I have been pondering the dilemna that is Syria in light of a column at OrthodoxyToday.com. While I not only understand but empathize with the desire for stability and protection from Islamic radicalism, I question whether appeasment to the Syrian government is the answer.

Rather than make this a question of US actions toward Syria, why is it not a problem for the Baathist government? While democracy is certainly a goal of US policy in the middle-east, if Syria would cease supporting terrorists and, by all accounts, storing at least some of Saddam's WMD, US policy would not require a change in government.

Secondly, since when is it the Christian ethos to tolerate evil done to others because of our own well-being or that of our brothers? In light of the story of St. Dimitry cited below, who could have certainly lived out WWII in relative comfort in France if he had just minded his own business, I wonder what is the Syrian Christian community's responsibility to help stop state sponsored terrorism? Are not the Israelis their "neighbor" in the gospel sense? Should their own well-being trump stopping the evil purpatrated by their ruler?

Finally, as an aside, can someone please point me to information of Christians actually removed by Israelis from "Palestine" rather than being forced out by "Palestinians"?

St. Dimitry

Thanks to Havdala for providing a link to the marvelous story of the new St. Dimitry. Read this, it will touch your heart as well as dispell the notion that Christians didn't do anything to help the jews during WWII.

Chrismation Homily

Christ is risen!

Something I didn't include in my recounting of Holy Week and my chrismation below, was that Father Jacob gave what was basically a homily upon chrismating all of us (there were six of us chrismated on Holy Saturday in my parish). He took the time to explain what was going on to the non-Orthodox family who had come to celebrate with those being chrismated. He pointed out that none of us had been baptized that morning, but chrismated, and the reasons for that. Also, he said a few other expected types of things that I won't go into. But then, he went on and said a couple things that stood out to me. First, he said that one of the things that distinguishes Orthodoxy from generic christendom (my term, not his, he's more tactful) is that we actually see Christ rather than simply believe on Him. We see Him in His Body and we see Him in the Eucharist. He tied this in to the writer's of Hebrews declaration that "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" as well as Our Lord's declaration to St. Thomas, "Blessed are those who believe having not seen..." It was an interesting twist.

He also talked about the fact that we confess ourselves the chief (or first) of sinners. He said this is not in comparison to others, but soley in relation to God. It is not that we are comparing our list of sins with anyone else's and saying "yep, I'm worse than you, but not so bad as you", but that in light of God's holiness we see how utterly unworthy we are, without any consideration of anyone else. Sort of brought it all into focus for me, especially considering how miserable I felt over dredging up all my past sins. Oh, I'll tell you, what a weight was lifted when the absolution was pronounced. "Now," I thought, "I know I'm clean!" Didn't last long, I've got some stuff to confess from just these past few days (which is somewhat scary in itself) but so many things that periodically would eat at me are gone forever. Glory be to God!

Monday, April 12, 2004

Joyous Development

In a somewhat stunning, though very joyous development, fellow blogger abayea was also chrismated on Holy Saturday (along with Jim N, of whom I assume most of you are aware). Drop by and welcome abayea to the fold! I have moved her link to the list of Orthodox Blogs.

Truly He is Risen!

How amazing, and intense, the past week was. Beginning with Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts on Tuesday evening, I was in services every day through Sunday morning, multiple times. Wednesday it was Presanctified again and then the Holy Unction service later in the evening. Thursday it was Vespers and the Liturgy of St. Basil at 2:00 PM and The Office of the Holy Passion at 7:00 PM. Friday it was Royal Hours at 9:00 AM, Vespers with Epithapion at 2:00 PM and The Lamentations at 7:00 PM. Saturday was Vespers with the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil at 10:00 AM, then The Reading of the Acts of the Apostles at 9:00, Saturday Nocturns at 11:15, Paschal Matins at midnight and Divine Liturgy at 1:30 AM or so. Of course, from The Reading of the Acts on it all ran together into one big (and long) celebration of our Lord's Resurrection.

As most of you know, in the midst of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil on Saturday morning I was chrismated and am now one of the "newly illumined". Glory be to God! It was the culmination of a long, and often difficult, journey and the beginning of another long and, I'm certain, difficult journey. While I have rarely had any doubts about the step I was taking, the past week brought some nagging "what am I doing?" thoughts. No huge demonic attacks for me, but small obstacles and stumbling blocks that I thought I had already dealt with reared their ugly little heads. It's often the little demons that cause us to fall rather than the big ones! Prayer works, however, and the Name of Jesus and the intercessions of the Saints, especially the Holy Theotokos, are powerful beyond words!

Holy week was undoubtedly the most spiritually intense week of my life. I have been a "Christian" for over 30 years, raised in the church before even making that conscious profession, assisted and pastored for 16 years, been in revivals and evangelistic meetings too numerous to count, but *nothing* compared to this Holy Week. Never have I been confronted so intimately and profoundly with the vast holiness and immeasurable mercy and Grace of our God and King nor with the vast depths of my own sin and depravity. Writing out my confession, which I did such a poor job of in my estimation, stripped away any notion lurking in the back of my head of what a good guy I had really become over the last 30 years. Remembering even the sins (especially?) of 40 or more years ago caused me to burn with shame and those of a more recent vintage made me realize what a wretch I am. But then, to come into the Temple of God, to stand in His presence and sing of His mercy and worship the Uncreated Trinity...indescribable.

So, how about a blow by blow account?

Tuesday evening was Presanctfied, humility, repentance, standing and prostrating before God, pondering the week ahead of me. Finishing up my written confession after Father Jacob provided some needed clarification.

Wednesday, working late because Presanctified was an hour later. The last prayer of St. Ephraim - we prayed it twice that evening. Gave Father my confession after the service, what a humbling experience. I think my hand might have been shaking. I had sealed it up in an envelope and he actually sat on a pew and tore it open and started perusing it right then. What a sense of relief when he folded it back up and told me he would look over it thoroughly when he had time and we would talk about it later. Staying in town to go to Holy Unction later because if I drove home I'd have to turn around and come back when I got there. Holy Unction, my first time. Again, repentance, but mercy. God's healing distributed to His people. The seven blessed Oil. Looking on with longing as the faithful participate in the sacrament and knowing that my time *is* coming. Being annointed at the end when the sacrament is over, thanking God and the patron sain of our parish, St. John the Wonderworker, for the grace shown to even me.


Thursday, the Versporal liturgy of St. Basil. I was at service early, so Father took me aside and we talked about my confession. He zeroed right in on what was still the big issue in my life. Couldn't agree with him more. For the service itself I could tell some of the prayers were different (mostly because I read about it before hand that they were different), but I just stood and soaked it up. Time is getting short now, but it stills seems a little unreal. I can't believe my three year wait is almost up! Stayed in town again because of the service later in the evening.

The Office of the Holy Passion of Our Lord was at 7:00 PM. Reading through the 12 Gospel passages recounting our Lord's betrayal, passion and crucifixion. Surrounding the priest with lighted candles as he read, then blowing them out after each reading. Orthodox don't focus on the Passion? This was the most intense service of the week, emotionally draining. We crucified our God!! The One Who hung the earth upon the seas was hung upon a cross! We venerate Thy Passion, O Lord! Father bringing the cross out, standing It up in the middle of the nave and then we all venerating it, touching the crown of thorns upon it. The impact is profound.

Friday, Royal Hours, this went by in a blur. I'm starting to get into that anticipatory state where I am so focused on what is coming that I am too detached from what *is* happening. A little disjointed, disconnected from reality. “Focus on the now, Jon”, I tell myself. Getting in my truck after the service I notice the "Service Engine Soon" light has come on. I just had it in the morning before. One of those "little foxes". It's 10:30 and I had planned to say downtown until after the 2:00 PM Liturgy. But I have no other time to take my truck in so I head back south. The dealership is 12 miles below where I live, a total of about 35 miles. I get down there by about 11:30. I can wait, but it'll be 1:30 before they can check it out anyway because the guys have to go to lunch after they finish with the cars they're working on. I head home thinking that I'll have to miss Liturgy. My wife is home and I tell her what happened. She offers to take my truck back down if I want to take my daughter's car back up to the city to attend the service. An unexpected offer and blessing!

The Vespers with Epithapion was another great preparation for me. The bier is in the middle of the nave and the gospel and icon of our Lord are placed inside it. Again, we venerate the cross and then venerate in front of the bier, prostrating two at a time. My soul is burdened over my sin, I am still shamed and my heart is heavy, our Lord is Crucified. After service I wander around town and get something eat, I've had nothing but water all day. My wife calls, the truck was fine, just a little something and they needed to reset the computer. She has to work at the ballfield that night and doesn't want to park my truck where it might get hit. Would I consider coming home and exchanging cars? Three trips back and forth into the city in one day? I have *never* done that before. I head home and exchange vehicles then, a little later, head back into town. The 7:00 PM service is Lamentations. This is an antiphonal reading of various lament hymns interspersed with the reading of scripture. It is thought provoking and solemn. The Church is dark, the people quiet when we leave. No chatting and laughing after this service.

Holy Saturday. It's finally here. I've made it through the week and I think they're really going to let me in. Do they know what I'm *really* like? Father does, to some extent, because it was in the confession. But I'm no longer filled with that evangelical naivte that believes if you only have the right belief, the right pastor and a strong enough faith, you'll have perfect christians and a perfect church. People are oh too fallible, and while the Church is perfect, churches are not. I have a longing to be devout and holy, but too often I'm not. I think I'm coming to the right place!

Before the service starts I notice the priest going up to other catechumens and gathering up crosses and suddenly tt dawns on me, I have no sponsors, no god parents. Believe it or not, this thought hadn't entered my mind previously. My catechist hadn't talked to me about it and Father hadn't asked, either. Oh, I knew in a vague sort of a way about sponsors, et al, but never connected the notion with myself. I have a cross I wear that a friend at the mission gave me after I became a catechumen. It's not silver or gold, it doesn't hang on a chain made out of precious metals. It's a simple wooden St. Olga cross with a slavic cross carved in it along with IC XC and NIKA (Jesus Christ Conquers). It hangs around my neck on a black length of black string, knoted in the back. It suits me. Father never comes around to me to ask, I quit thinking about it and the service begins.

Immersed in the litanies and hymns, I realize that the priests and deacons have come through the royal doors and proceed to the back of the Nave. Father Jacob motions for the catechumens to stand before him. It is time. The liturgy of "induction" begins. It goes by in a flash. We are responding to questions. Kneeling and reciting the Creed. Moving to the middle of the Nave. The prayer of absolution (thank you, Jesus). The annointing with the Holy Oil. The washing of the oil. The blessing of the crosses...okay, *now* Father asks if I have a cross. Yes, sure, it's under my shirt, with a tie, beneath my blazer. I have to loosen my tie, unbutton my shirt, take off my glasses because the string just fits over my head, but not with my glasses on, and finally I hand Father my cross. He blesses it (it already had been, but I don't mind wearing a double blessed cross, I need all the grace I can get!) and hands it back and I slip it back over my head.

A few more prayers, I think, and it is over. I'm somewhat in a daze and somewhat embarassed by the whole cross thing. That's good for me, pride and vainglory are my biggest problems and consistent doses of humility are helpful. I sit down and put my shoes and socks back on. The service proceeds at a familiar clip, and we come to the prayer of confession after the priests enter with the precious body and blood of our Lord. Before I have always felt awkward praying this prayer. I am sorry for my sins, but I can't really ask God to make me worthy to be a communicant because I own't be communing. Nor can I truly sing "We have seen the true light..." But this morning, now, at last, finally I can. I pull out my service book (I don't have it memorized yet and wouldn't trust my memory this morning if I did) which is marked at the proper place and pray with gusto with the rest of the congretation, "I believe, O Lord, and I confess..."
Now it is time to receive. The newly illumined get to partake of the Holy Mysteries first, oldest to youngest. I am oldest by far, I go first. Father is standing on the ambo so I don't have to crouch too far (I'm a bit taller than he), "Servant of God, David..." That's me? Yes, that *is* me. Oh, wait, am I supposed to close my lips around the spoon? Do I take as if someone were feeding me mundane food? Do I swallow whole or do I chew? All of a sudden a thousand thoughts are flying through my mind, but of course, with no time to ask.

It's done, I have received the Holy Mysteries, the Bread of Life, the Medicine of Imortality. I step over to take of the blessed wine and bread and take a moderate sip and a small piece of bread. I go back to my place and watch the rest of my fellow newly illumined receive. Are they as dazed as I? Probably. We all pretty much have the deer in the headlights look about us. God is good! The rest of the congregation receives, soon the service is over, congratulations begin, hugs all around. Father Deacon, my catechist, comes up to me and gives me a big hug saying "at last". I concur.

Thankfully, the week is not over yet. My chrismation is only the penultimate, but not the ultimate focus of the week. Pascha, holy Pasach, is almost upon us. Father asks those of us newly illumined to come at 9:00 that evening to read the Acts. I hadn't really planned on coming. I need some sleep and I can't sleep during the day. I have been up since 6:00 am and it will be a long night. I don't commit, but in the back of my mind I know I'll be there. I hate to be left out. The afternoon goes by slowly. I try to nap. I'm right, I can't. I read, instead. My eldest daughter, who has been out of town to the beach for spring break, comes back. Her mother wants her and her sister to come up and work concession with her at the park. I take them up. It's still early. Just 6:00. I try to nap again. I can't. I read, instead, get on the computer, do some email. I make a pot of coffee to keep me through the night. I have a cup about 7:30 and pour the rest in my thermos. Finally, a little before 8:00 I start getting dressed. I plan on leaving at 8:15 because I'm never sure exactly how long it will take to get there. Our Church is near the Braves stadium and there is a game tonight and traffic is always a little uncertain. It takes me shorter than usual, about 25 minutes, and I'm there at 8:40. No one else is there. I wait, listening to a cd of Holy Week hymns.

Soon a few others arrive, but the door is still locked. The man in charge of the service goes up the street to get a key but can't find the person with the key. We wait. He goes back, finally finds someone with a key and at 9:10 we go in to start. We take turns reading through Acts. There are enough of us so we each read about three chapters. Around 11:15 I've read my last chapter and I go out to my truck to get some more coffee. The cup from around 7:30 has worn off and I know I will need more to get through the night. After quickly downing a cup, I am back inside for the start of the Nocturn. It all flies by, to be honest. I can't tell where one service leaves off and the other begins. Soon we are well into the Matins and then we are processing out of the Church and around it, singing "Christ is risen from the dead..." All the way around, once, and then stopping, at the front steps, the priests and other clergy at the top, singing at the top of our lungs in the middle of a neighborhood at 12:30 or 1:00 AM, candles in everyone's hands illumining the darkness. It was glorious. The singing stops, Father Jabob turns around and knocks on the door. I cannot really hear what is said. The doors open and we march back inside.

I no longer have my customary spot in front of a pew toward the front of the Nave. The church is full of people, a great many of whom I've never seen before. I take a spot to stand by a side wall. I am tired. The coffee is wearing off and I am too old to go 20 hours without sleep. The children around me are lying on the floor. I wish I could. I don't. I stand and I try to focus the best I can and send up a few prayers, to the Lord, the Theotokos, St. David and St. John the Wonderworker. Finally, during the last litany before the Lord's Prayer, when the children go up to be blessed by the priests, I can move from my spot and I go and stand in front of a shrine to the Theotokos and my "second wind" kicks in. I am still tired, but no longer particularly sleepy. The service is quickly coming to its culmination and I know I will be able to partake of the Mysteries again. It has been almost three years since I had "communion" of any kind, so this twice in less than 24 hours is an incredible blessing to me. Once again Father has the newly illumined to go first. He doesn't say line up oldest this time, but I’m closer to the front of the nave than anyone else so I am again first. This time no thousand thoughts, just the glory of Pascha filling my head and heart. Soon the service is over, Christ is risen, He is truly risen! My first Orthodox Pascha.

If you haven't made it through to this part, I understand. I have been longwinded but have written this for myself more than any of you gentle readers. I wanted to capture this while it was fresh and have something to remind me of this monumental week. If you're an Orthodox convert, you know the feeling. If you're looking into Orthodoxy and have stumbled across this somehow, I'll leave you with a quote I love from "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", "C'mon in boys, the water is fine!"

Monday, April 05, 2004

Five days and counting...

...hard to believe.

Friday, April 02, 2004

The Compassionate Left

Why is it that the left is always perceived as the "compassionate" side of the political divide in this country. From my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the idealogues on the left that I have read and come in contact with have great "compassion" for the abstract concept of "humanity" but actually despise people. Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of the Leftist Daily Kos provides a perfect example in a post, now removed, from yesterday. He wrote:

Every death should be on the front page

Let the people see what war is like. This isn't an Xbox game. There are real repercussions to Bush's folly.

That said, I feel nothing over the death of merceneries [sic]. They aren't in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.
This is leftist compassion. I don't equate the Republican party with Christianity, but I have never heard a respected Republican spew this kind of hate, the kind that seems to exude from the left daily with nary a word of condemnation from anyone. Honestly, I don't believe it is the government's job to be "compassionate" beyond assuring people equal treatment before the law and defending the commond good. The notion that governments should displace, or even suplement, the Church, individuals or private organizations as instruments of charity and "compassion" is wrong headed and inevitably totalitarian.

Michael Friedman got a screenshot of the original post, since retracted (in some sense) and has some comments.

Oh, and add to that Kerry's recent rant about a Secret Service Agent he claims was the cause of his falling on the slopes on his recent ski trip (let's just say he asserted the agent's mother was of the canine persausion) and you wonder why the Left in general and Democrats specifically are considered the friend of the little guy, the average joe, the working man. Yeah, like slave owners were the "friends" of their slaves - as long as they did what they were told and bowed and scraped.

You can't parody this stuff

Well, maybe you can, but it would be hard. Check out the ad that was part of an email I received today.

The Prayer Box Charm Pendant Is A Heavenly Delight

Just write a prayer from your heart, put it inside and let
God do his part. It's sure to make an ordinary day special.

This unique Silver-toned pendant floats on a 19" chain with
lobster claw clasp. Makes a very thoughtful keepsake. Great
with any outfit, this gorgeous Prayer Box serves as a testament
to God's love and the power of prayer. Stylish and elegant
and can be yours today for just $9.99. SAVE when you buy two
or more by visiting:


The Prayer Box Necklace
Now, it doesn't seem this comes from any organization presenting itself as a Christian ministry - just more TV junk being hawked to the religious masses. But what does this say of the attitude of the people who came up with this concept toward God and religion in general and what does it say about the people who buy such things? How is this different from a wishing well or blowing out candles on a birthday cake? Or could it actually be likened to lighting a candle in Church?

What do y'all think?

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Coulter Strikes Again

Despite comments to the contrary, you gotta love Ann Coulter. Her latest column provides a succinct timeline outlining the root causes of the 9/11 attack. Just a taste:

The only time Clinton decided to go to war with anyone in the vicinity of Muslim fanatics was in 1999 – when Clinton attacked Serbians who were fighting Islamic fanatics
Read the whole thing, please.

Marriage as Martyrdom

I really like this from Eidos. I wish there were a way to link directly to the post. However, here it is in full:

The Church calls marriage a bloodless martyrdom. I used to think this a rather gloomy way to talk, but that is only because I did not understand martyrdom. Think of all the martyr stories. They are full of joy. The early Christians had to be discouraged from seeking martyrdom, it was so rich and wonderful.

Marriage destroys selfishness and this causes pain. Yet after all the pain comes great joy. Sometimes other lives seem more desirable, but still one is married. It does not end based on will or pleasure or whim. And so it endures to change the inner parts of me. I am becoming fit for the one God picked for me. There is a deep pleasure in it. To paraphrase Victoria and Albert perhaps not a grand passion, but something deeper, surely better. Holy. It still fills me with wonder that out of the death of selfishness could come my true life.
I can tell you from my experience this is true. I thought I was a wonderful christian until I got married 20 years ago. I have been trying to become one again ever since. Only recently, however, have I started to really understand God's purposes in it.

Prayer request

I don't blog much about my personal life, but the organization I work for is going through a restructure where all of us must reapply for jobs. I have a job interview for a couple jobs this afternoon (1 PM EST). If you think about it, please pray for me.

The cost of discipleship

That is, as you probably know, the title of a book of writings by Deitrich Bonnhoeffer. But it is also something we all must weigh, the cost of following after Christ. Christ Himself told a parable concerning counting the cost and making certain that one will finish what one sets out to do. Today is the feast day of one of the most remarkable, to me, of all the saints who not only counted, but paid, the cost of discipleship. She is celebrated not only this day, but also on the fifth Sunday of Great Lent. Of course, this is St. Mary of Egypt. Her story is quite remarkable as were her struggles for repentence and purity. She is an example to us that God's mercy extends to all who will come to Him with repentant hearts. She also teaches us the true nature of repentance and provides an example of forsaking all to follow Christ. While you may read the whole of her story, part that strikes me most profoundly is this from a reflection on her:

St. Mary spoke about her savage spiritual combat to the Elder Zosimus: "For the first seventeen years in this wilderness I struggled with my deranged sexual desires as though with fierce beasts. I desired to eat meat and fish which I had in abundance in Egypt. I also desired to drink wine and here, I did not have even water to drink. I desired to hear lustful songs. I cried and beat my breasts. I prayed to the All-Pure Mother of God to banish such thoughts from me. When I had sufficiently cried and beat my breasts, it was then that I saw a light encompassing me on all sides and a certain miraculous peace filled me."
"When I had sufficiently cried..."! My goodness, seventeen years! We often consider 15 minutes at the "altar" sufficient, or perhaps an hour of prayer. We ask people to make a "decision" and think that "sufficient". For us repentance is too often as instant as our morning oatmeal, and often not as lasting. The example of St. Mary shatters our notions of repentance, squashes our ideas of what is "sufficient" for Christ and illustrates for all eternity the words of Christ, "if you would follow after me, deny yourself and take up your cross..."

O holy God pleaser, St. Mary of Egypt, pray unto God for us, for we fervently flee unto thee, the speedy helper and intercessor for our souls!

Having been a sinful woman,
You became through repentance a Bride of Christ.
Having attained angelic life,
You defeated demons with the weapon of the Cross;
Therefore, O most glorious Mary you are a Bride of the Kingdom!