Arimathea
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Religion
The human animal is the worshipping animal. Toward the divine, we have a need to pray, to sacrifice, to offer up, and to praise. From the spirit dances of primitive animism to the rational contemplation of philosophical paganism, from the ethical code of the rabbis to the theological vision of the scholastics, from the sprinkled blood (the origin of blessing) of temple cults to helping the poor in simple Christian charity, men need to relate the immanent and the transcendent -- they see their particular lives in time and space transfigured and transfused with meaning unbounded by human things. Religion is this aspect of human life where the everyday and worldly intersects with the ultimate and divine. Is this an accident of human evolution, or is it a racial neurosis brought upon us as conscious beings who live in the shadow of our own death? Is it a reflection of the divine order, where creatures naturally orient themselves toward their source? Has God revealed himself to us, as the Christians claim? In this realm, I shall try to delve into such questions as an Orthodox Christian who ever pesters God with "Why?"
Wednesday, July 27, A.D. 2011
Seeker Centered Christianity

Last week on View from the Right, Auster and his readers discussed the decision by the Campus Crusade for Christ to change its name to “Cru.” In the thread, Alan Roebuck referred to his article in American Thinker that examines the “purpose driven” messages of many contemporary Protestant sects:

The purpose-driven movement begins with the premise that the only way to attract non-Christians to church is by offering to meet their felt needs, rather than their real need for salvation through Christ. If a non-Christian “seeker” visits a church where he hears the traditional Gospel message that he is a lost sinner in need of a salvation that can only come from personal repentance and trust in the atoning death of Christ, he will be repelled by the challenging message, and will not return. To prevent this failure, so the theory goes, a church must conduct market research into what people in its area want, and then find a way to give these seekers what they want.

One result is that the deep and challenging teachings of traditional Christianity must never be presented in the Sunday morning worship service that has traditionally been the cornerstone of Christian fellowship. Not only will non-Christian seekers probably not want to hear that God regards them as sinners, but they will have no interest in what Warren (and theological liberals) dismissively call “doctrine,” that is, the actual content of the religion preached by Christ and the Apostles. The result is a Christianity that retains the rituals and some of the language of traditional Protestant Christianity, but is effectively stripped of its content.

In a typical Sunday morning worship service at a typical seeker-sensitive church, attendees experience the following:

* Professionally-produced “praise music” that expresses emotions, but contains little theology, that is, little articulation of sometimes-difficult religious truths.

* A sermon that emphasizes how faith in God can make your life better, but does not mention the troubling idea that God is angry with sinners, and demands repentance and faith in Jesus in order for His wrath to be averted.

* A liturgy (form of worship) that embodies current standards of popular decorum and entertainment rather than pointing people to a transcendent God.

* Children’s programs that entertain (albeit in a quasi-Christian mode) rather than push the youth to learn challenging doctrines.

What the purpose-driven movement offers, in short, is a religious product for religious consumers, people who want a certain amount of religiosity in their lives, but who don’t want to be troubled by the full measure of Christianity.

Since the Reformation, Protestantism has fleshed out its doctrine and practices by following the secular Zeitgeist. In an individualistic, consumerist, liberal society, “seeker centered” spirituality is an expected Protestant mutation.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, July 27, Anno Domini 2011
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Thursday, July 14, A.D. 2011
“Pride” Eucharist

Tom Crowe posted a fascinating picture from Saint James Cathedral in Chicago on CatholicVote:

It is interesting how homosexualists have coopted the rainbow and the word “pride” as symbols of their movement, much to the chagrin of rainbow enthusiasts and arrogant toffs everywhere.

I wonder if the Episcopalian organizers of the event chose the music cynically, sort of like buppies who throw “chicken and watermelon parties.” Buppies like chicken and watermelon (who doesn’t?), but they cannot allow themselves to confirm stereotypes without embarrassment to their fragile egos. So, they indulge in postmodern irony as cover. Perhaps, the fabulosity of “A Prayerful Celebration featuring the music of Lady Gaga and Cindi Lauper” justifies the event to God’s very diverse people, or perhaps the congregants at Saint James simply enjoy self-effacement when they commit sacrilege.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, July 14, Anno Domini 2011
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Tuesday, July 5, A.D. 2011
An Illness in Orthodox America

The Orthodox Church in America (the “O.C.A.”) has had a rough spring. A short internet search will produce scores of pages and far more opinions on the topic. Indeed, the O.C.A. has dealt with many troubles over the last few decades, and its institutional woes has caused much grief to its faithful. I am not a member of the O.C.A., and I am not privy to the complexities of its ecclesial politics. I do hope that good order and good sense prevail.

I suspect that the jurisdiction’s recent controversy reflects a deeper fissure in the character of the O.C.A. between the Orthodox commitment to tradition and the need to be “relevant” in modern, Western Christian society. Of course, all Orthodox Christians in the West must address this tension in our individual and communal lives, but the O.C.A. has made a conscious, ongoing effort to address the conflict. The dominant force in the O.C.A.‘s approach has been the thought of the so called Parisian school theologians, who taught or were educated at l’Institut de Théologie Orthodoxe Saint-Serge. These men of Russian émigré families who had settled in Paris after the revolution tried to synthesize their Orthodox heritage with Western philosophical and cultural trends amid the horror and confusion of the twentieth century. Many of these Russo-Franco churchmen moved to America after the Second World War, and they formed the intellectual tradition of the Metropolia, which became the O.C.A.

I admire the intellectual and spiritual athletes who came from l’Institut Saint-Serge. There must have been something stirring in Gaul in the first half of the twentieth century; there was an impressive generation of Roman Catholic theologians and philosophers that emerged in France at the same time. They also wrestled with modernity and sought to understand the gospel and the treasures of Christian theology and philosophy in an age that was quickly becoming anti-Christian, anti-human, and anti-rational. Times of civilizational crisis tend to be great catalysts of the human spirit.

So, let me repeat that I admire and appreciate the émigré theologians. Nonetheless, there is a strong Westernizing, modernist strain among many of them, and that modernism still flows in the religio-intellectual veins of the O.C.A. along with all the good qualities of the émigrés. No one typifies this dual tendency better than Fr. Alexander Schmemann. From my perspective, his writings are honey laced with strychnine. He is not unlike the thinkers at the Second Vatican Council who attempted to address similar problems of how to be a Christian in the modern West. In fact, he was present at the council as an observer. He obviously meant well, but he listened too much to the foolishness of the age. He remains a hero in the O.C.A., though I do not think that the culture there often recognizes the tensions in Schmemann’s writings. The émigrés’ heirs at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary seem to be occasionally blind to the contradictions between Orthodoxy and American life. For we Orthodox Christians in the modern West live the contradiction on a practical level, and it is therefore easy to forget that there is a contradiction on the theoretical level. It is our messy lot.

A good—one might even devilishly say iconic—example of this theological neurosis can be seen in Saint Vladimir’s Seminary’s twenty-second annual Fr. Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture from six years ago. Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky delivered what might be the essence of O.C.A. theology: “Orthodoxy Today: Tradition or Traditionalism?” Fr. Leonid’s points are not simply his musings; his arguments reflect an approach pervasive in the O.C.A., where even John Doevich the layman obsesses about the distinction between capital “T” and lower case “t” tradition. Such concerns accompany and perhaps promote the criticism of traditional Orthodox practices as glorifications of some past “golden age,” usually coupled with snarly remarks about nineteenth century Russia. These attitudes are remarkably predictable and consistent among a large section of folks in the O.C.A.

I find Fr. Leonid’s arguments and the religious culture that they engender quite disturbing. The minimalism inherent in seeking to classify our inheritance into the essential and the non-essential betrays a Protestant mindset wholly unsuitable for decent, integrated Christian thinking. The hostile stance toward tradition, the arrogant belief in progress, and the quick dismissal of whatever is not immediately comprehended are all prominent character traits of the so called Enlightenment and its spiritual spawn. These attitudes are most perfectly embodied today by the political Left in Western societies. The modernist elements in the O.C.A. are less unruly, less obnoxious, less impious, and less consistent versions of this same orientation toward that which has been received. Yet, just because the disease is less advanced in a body does not mean that it is not still a disease. To treat an illness, however, requires one to know that he is sick. Perhaps, the recent turmoil in the O.C.A. may convince the body to seek treatment.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, July 5, Anno Domini 2011
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Friday, July 1, A.D. 2011
A New Family

I would like to wish every proper fortune and blessing for my brother and soon to be sister-in-law on their wedding. The expert on nuptial counsels for the past two millennia has been Saint Paul. From his letter to the Ephesians:

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;
Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

You may also profit from reading Saint John Chrysostom’s related homily on marriage.

May you have a happy life together, full of joy and good deeds!

Posted by Joseph on Friday, July 1, Anno Domini 2011
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