Arimathea
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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?"
Thursday, July 19, A.D. 2012
Swedish Techno Mass

At All Saints Church in Stockholm, the locals party:

The Portland Press Herald explores this terpsichorean “piety” in “Techno Mass fills Stockholm church”:

Over the past 10 years, membership in Sweden’s Lutheran church has fallen 13 percent and attendance at regular Sunday services plunged 50 percent to 4.6 million visits last year, worrying the clergy.

The church in Sweden has become increasingly progressive.

In 1958, it allowed its first female priests, and two years ago ordained its first openly gay bishop, Eva Brunne, and gave priests the right to wed same-sex couples.

Idestrom says his modern Mass is a further development on the road of progress.

“People say this is exactly what the Church of Sweden needs,” he said. “We need to develop the services so that we have a service also for people, mainly from the younger generation, who like this kind of music.”

Do the Protestant Swedes ever wonder if causality is at work between their sect’s wayward path and its state of decline? Do “progressives” ever stop to recognize how their “progress” kills the instititions upon which they inflict it? And what happened to Scandinavia? Were the Nordic people always so screwed up? From the time of their conversion to Christianity to the Protestant Reformation, what were the Scandinavians like? Those lands evidently produced saints. Should we blame the rot on Luther? It is just so baffling . . . and sad.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, July 19, Anno Domini 2012
LiturgyProtestantismCommentsPermalink
Tuesday, July 17, A.D. 2012
Murder of the Imperial Family

On this day ninety-four years ago, July 17, A.D. 1918, Bolshevik minions murdered the imperial family and their servants in Ekaterinburg. You may read about their last moments on Eye Witness to History. The following is from Pavel Medvedev, one of the Communist soldiers in Ekaterinburg:

The maid carried a pillow. The Tsar’s daughters also brought small pillows with them. One pillow was put on the Empress’s chair; another on the heir’s chair. It seemed as if all of them guessed their fate, but not one of them uttered a single sound. At this moment eleven men entered the room: Yurovsky, his assistant, two members of the Extraordinary Commission, and seven Letts [operatives of the infamous Cheka or Secret Police].

Yurovsky ordered me to leave, saying, ‘Go on to the street, see if there is anybody there, and wait to see whether the shots have been heard.’ I went out to the court, which was enclosed by a fence, but before I got to the street I heard the firing. I returned to the house immediately (only two or three minutes having elapsed) and upon entering the room where the execution had taken place, I saw that all the members of the Tsar’s family were lying on the floor with many wounds in their bodies. The blood was running in streams. The doctor, the maid and two waiters had also been shot. When I entered the heir was still alive and moaned a little. Yurovsky went up and fired two or three more times at him. Then the heir was still.”

Christian charity demands that we pray for the forgiveness of such monsters. I am not capable of that. The blood of those children cried to heaven for justice, and justice swiftly came upon the whole land. I suppose that I am wrong in wishing for the malefactors to be tormented and to burn in hell forever.

The Eastern American Diocese of R.O.C.O.R. has a short article on Tsar Nicholas II. Royal Russia News features an exhibition about the deaths of the imperial family.

May the people’s repentance of their regicide bring forth a renewal of Russia; for their penance has been severe.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, July 17, Anno Domini 2012
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Friday, July 13, A.D. 2012
Fr. Z. on Ecumenical Treachery

A blessed feast of the holy apostles to those who follow the old calendar!

Speaking of the ecclesia, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf commented a few weeks ago on Episcopalians’ institutional support of dissident Roman Catholics: “Of Women Priests and Ecumenism and how we should respond. Wherein Fr. Z rants.” An organization called Roman Catholic Womenpriests “ordained” a Roman Catholic deaconess at a ceremony hosted by an Episcopal parish in San Francisco. Fr. Z. finds such an act inconsistent with the Episcopalians’ ecumenical rhetoric. He therefore counsels the following practical measures.

When these things come up, we tend to focus on the internal Catholic reaction and on the deluded women who are into this stuff.

We must consider questions both ad intra and also ad extra.

We have to also pay attention to the Protestants who host them.

Look. We either take ecumenism seriously or we don’t. If we do – and I believe we must –  we have to react strongly when ecumenical ideals are so grossly violated by Protesants who invite or permit these “women priest” ceremonies in their churches.

The most sacred rites of the Catholic Church are Holy Mass and ordination to Holy Orders. These are sine quibus non for our Catholic identity and the continuance of Holy Church Herself.  They are of divine origin.  They are for us most sacred.  To treat sacred things with lack of due respect or reverence is the sin of sacrilege.

From our point of view as Catholics, these women-priest supporters are committing sacrilege in simulating Mass and Orders.

The Protestants who host them are also, objectively speaking, committing a sacrilege.  They are permitting or inviting a mockery of our Holy Mass and a mockery of the priesthood.

When Protestants allow dissident Catholics to commit sacrileges in their churches, they effectively wave their middle-digit directly in the face of the Catholic Church.

For a long time progressivist Catholics were staging Jewish sedar meals in their churches.  Some Jews were angered by this.  The Catholics weren’t intending to give disrespect but that it how it was perceived. Except in some rare cases I suppose, Catholic don’t simulate their sacred Jewish rite anymore.  We got the message from the Jews and stopped doing what was offensive to them.

There is no confusion in the religious world about what the Catholic Church teaches about Mass and ordination, about who may celebrate Mass and who may be ordained.  There is NO confusion about what the Church teaches!  Nevertheless, Protestants invite what the Catholic Church teaches is sacrilege to be committed in their churches.

Furthermore, in allowing this group of fakers into their churches, the Protestants are accepting the premise that what the women are doing in there actually is a Catholic ordination and Mass.

How dare PROTESTANTS decide what a Catholic Mass is?

And if they respond, “Gee, we mean no disrespect. We are just giving space to this group”, then what they are doing is aiding a protest against the Catholic Church.

There is no way around this.  Protestants who give these fakers aid are either on their side, and thus support their claim that what they are doing really is an ordination and Mass, or in claiming not to be taking sides they are still giving support to an anti-Catholic protest.

“But Father! But Father!”, you are certainly saying by now, “There really isn’t anything we can do about this!  They can do what they like in their churches and we are powerless!”

I respond: We are not powerless.  Bishops must act.

Imagine that some women-priest fakers have a sacrilegious ceremony at, say, St. Swithan-by-the Slough Episcopal Church – or whatever Protestant church – in Tall Tree Circle, within in the territory of the Catholic Diocese of Black Duck.

Upon hearing the news that this ceremony is going to take place (or has taken place), the Catholic Bishop of Black Duck must call the pastor of that Protestant parish and say, “I’m the Catholic Bishop.  Do not allow this sacrilege to be committed in your church.”  (Mutatis mutandis, if it already happened of course.)  He goes on to say, “You wouldn’t do this for a group of dissident Jews wanting to ordain rabbis, but we are Catholics so you don’t care what offense you give us.  Until an apology is issued, don’t look for us to dialogue with you again.”

Then the Catholic Bishop of Black Duck calls the head of the denomination, the Episcopalian Bishop of the zone or whomever they have depending on the group, and unloads the same message.

Then the Catholic Bishop sends informative notes to the USCCB’s ecumenical office, to the CDF and to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in order to let them know the facts about the the sacrileges against our most sacred rites and sacraments that were committed – with their help – in their church.

Then you call the press.

“But FATHER!” some of you are saying, all aghast and aflutter, “That’s… that’s… isn’t that over the top? Isn’t that a terrible over-reaction? You’ll hurt ecumenism! Shouldn’t we take the high road? Turn the other cheek?  Be nice!  Your response should be, I dunno, more proportionate!”

I respond: “PIFFLE! BULL PIFFLE!”

Protestants invite or permit sacrilege and anti-Catholic protest in their church and, when we say we don’t like it, Catholics are guilty of slowing down ecumenism?  I. Think. NOT.

And as for a “proportionate response”, what would that be?

You want a “proportionate response”?  Here’s a proportionate response!

Given that we are talking about the most sacred rites we have, a proportionate response would have to be something like a special service in the Cathedral of Black Duck.  There would be a prayer of reparation for the sacrilege at St. Swithan-by-the Slough, a sermon about the theological errors of their sect, and prayers for the mercy of God on their souls lest they go to Hell.  There would be handouts about the true teaching of the Church on Holy Mass and Holy Orders and, also, true ecumenism, articles in the local diocesan newspaper describing the errors of the sect and that they are not a true Church in the sense recognized by the Catholic Church.  There would be weeks of sermons in every pupit of the Diocese of Black Duck….  Get the drift?  That’s proportionate.

The response of my fictional Bishop of Black Duck is actually pretty mild compared to a proportionate response.

Take the higher road? Okay, let’s do. Let’s take the high road of true ecumenism.  Let’s start by not lying to each other and committing sacrilege against what others hold sacred.

True ecumenism does not consist in lying down and letting some other church kick you and define what Mass is for you, or say who can be ordained, or stick their “F-You” finger in your face when letting in these sacrilegious fakers.

Enough.

Fr. Z. is clearly mistaken. He does not seem to understand that the most important goal of the “progressives” among the Episcopalians—their highest and holiest mission—is to support and facilitate the demonic legion of modernity’s spiritual diseases. Father’s concern for Roman sacraments contests against the Episcopalians’ concern for their own sacred mysteries—of transgression and “empowerment.” In short, he requests that they cease being what they are. What sort of ecumenism is that—where a priest calls the heathen to repent and to convert? That is so archaic!

Posted by Joseph on Friday, July 13, Anno Domini 2012
EcumenismProtestantismRoman CatholicismCommentsPermalink
Tuesday, July 10, A.D. 2012
Orthodox Immaturity

This past weekend, Metropolitan Jonah, the primate of the Orthodox Church in America (O.C.A.), resigned at the request of his brother bishops. One may read the oddly worded resignation letter on the O.C.A. web site. George Michalopulos and his associates at Monomakhos have been extensively discussing the recent events for the past several days (see “Ineptocracy,” “Jonah the Prophet,” “This Is Far from Over: The Chicago Tribune Weighs in,” “This Is Far from Over: Catholic Online Weighs in,” and “This Is Far from Over: Get Religion Weighs in” and their hundreds of comments so far). Indeed, Michalopulos’ site has been my main source of O.C.A. church political gossip for the last twenty months as the central administration of the O.C.A. has continued to fall apart. While I am not a member of the O.C.A., I feel for my fellow Christians who try to live out the gospel as modern Americans in its jurisdiction. I do not know how much this nonsense will affect the parochial level where the faithful worship and commune, but it is a scandal nonetheless.

I first mentioned Metropolitan Jonah in “Bad Children in Church” when I learnt of his election from my friend Andrew in November, A.D. 2008. That followed a post about the forced resignation of the previous O.C.A. primate, where I thanked God for the boringness of our Church’s politics. In the greater scheme of things, I was correct; the Orthodox Church will not alter its course depending upon its hierarchical elections. On the personal level of the faithful, however, the melodrama of incompetent and ethically dubious actions by religious officials has placed stumbling blocks before God’s people. I do not wish to air my coreligionists’ dirty laundry, but the O.C.A. has had a difficult decade—or two, or three. “Syosset” has a lot to do to put the house back in order. Many people in the O.C.A. hoped that a pious and affable monk like Metropolitan Jonah would manage to do so. It appears that he failed. His detractors blame him for administrative incompetence and worse, while his supporters claim that Metropolitan Jonah’s enemies opposed the reforms that he championed to enliven orthodoxy and orthopraxis in the O.C.A., especially regarding the Church’s moral witness in our society’s “culture war.”

I have praised and criticized Metropolitan Jonah in several posts (“Of Patriarchs and Bishops,” “Christianity’s Odd Place in the World,” “The Human Person Yada Yada Yada,” “The March, A.D. 2010,” and “Thirty-ninth March”). I claim no special insider knowledge of the last three years’ events. However, I am suspicious of the Metropolitan’s critics when they cite his involvement in the prolife movement, his signing the Manhattan Declaration, and his attempt to open monasteries in Washington, D.C. as evidence of his recklessness. Moreover, I have long harbored ill thoughts about the institutional leadership and culture of the O.C.A., as I have noted in “An Illness in Orthodox America,” “O.C.A. Left,” and “R.O.C.O.R. Hosts O.C.A.” The predecessor to the Orthodox Church in America—the Metropolia—was largely constituted of disaffected uniates who rejoined the Church of their ancestors but brought along Latin baggage, and it has been shaped by modernists throughout its independent life, from the Americanist and Anglican sympathizing Metropolitan Platon to the Parisian school theologians that established the intellectual culture of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary to the current renovationists within the O.C.A. who wish for Orthodoxy in America to imitate the Roman Church’s “move into the modern world” after the Second Vatican Council. Partisans within R.O.C.O.R. even claim that the O.C.A. was born in inquity; they hold that the Metropolia’s grant of autocephaly in A.D. 1970 by the then Soviet dominated Moscow Patriarchate was a deal with the Communist devil. Indeed, the financial and leadership crises of the O.C.A. have revealed much institutional rot, regardless of the health and spiritual progress at the local level in parishes and monasteries, where thousands of earnest priests, deacons, monastics, and laymen work out their salvation and manifest the gospel in an age hostile to it. I cast no aspersions on the flock in the O.C.A. Nevertheless, for the reasons mentioned and for personal ones, I do not trust the spiritual maturity or wisdom of that body.

Indeed, the Orthodox Church in America—the experiment in self government among Orthodox Americans—continues to show the folly of those who see jurisdictional independence from the Old World Churches as the most important goal for us in the States. Rebellion and arrogance are in our national character, and it tragically affects our religious sensibilities, as well. Yet, we are clearly not ready, able, or stable enough to rule ourselves. There are too few Orthodox Christians in America, and our religious culture is permeated with alien influences, whether uniate or individual convert baggage or the general Calvinist socio-credal air that we breathe in a decadent, post-Protestant society. Where are our missions, charitable institutions, monasteries, or educational efforts that incarnate the faith in our society and testify to the heterodox? Where are our saints? Of course, they exist, but they remain few, small, limited, or weak. Let us Americans take the holy apostles as our model rather than Thomas Paine. One day, God willing, there will be a truly united, self governing American Church. For now, we require milk, not meat.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, July 10, Anno Domini 2012
Orthodoxy • (2) CommentsPermalink
Friday, July 6, A.D. 2012
Orthodox Marketing

Three years ago, I commented on the blog post, “Can Eastern Orthodox Prove They’re the One True Church?,” and I discussed the topic further in “Competing Claims.” Since then, I have received several messages from inquirers about Orthodoxy. I typically direct such folks to better apologetics sites and recommend that they visit an Orthodox parish, as Christianity is lived rather than merely intellectually affirmed. However, I try to answer questions as I am able to do so. This spring, I received an interesting rejoinder to my feeble attempt to defend the faith. My correspondent wrote:

I suppose I’m entertaining the idea of becoming faithful again, and I had some responses to your first comment in that thread. I’ll start with just one question and we’ll see if the conversation opens up from there:

You said: “The more immediate Orthodox response to an inquirer of Orthodox claims would be an invitation to see if you find sanctity and spiritual nourishment in the Church. For it is easier to trick the intellect of most people than to deceive their hearts.”

I disagree. Psychology (I do hope you permit me to bring in modern science) shows that people are incredibly malleable, in both intellect and heart. Ever tear up from a sappy movie? Or seen someone hypnotized (granted that need to be open to suggestion in the first place).

When I step into an Orthodox Church, I’m greeted with colorful icons and beautiful music. It almost makes me want to believe in something. But then I assess that what I’m experiencing is a form of ancient marketing (though sincere to its followers). You might argue that what I’m feeling is the truth, and that I should embrace it rather than try to explain it. But how am I to know that this is real? What separates that feeling from other feelings of persuasion? I imagine if you or I were forcibly kept at a cult’s headquarters, exposed to their images, their songs, their people, we would naturally develop an affinity for that. The mind can be influenced by so many things. So what makes the influence of Orthodoxy different than others?

My response:

When I wrote “heart,” I was not referring to our emotions, though I think that emotions have their place. It seems that our emotional reactions have their own somewhat idiosyncratic laws, and they are not always fully intelligible. I suppose that is what people mean when they state that emotions are irrational. Yet, they are rational in the sense that they follow our (hopefully rational) assessment of a situation. For example, our anger or sadness usually depends on judgment that requires rational activity—that something is unjust or that circumstances are bad (in whatever qualified way). Emotions are how part of our soul participates in rational activity—by responding in certain ways to what the mind judges. When there is a disconnect between the appropriate emotional response and the input, then emotions are really irrational, as when a man finds himself unfathomably sad even though he cannot figure out what is leading him to such a state. The usefulness of modern psychology and psychiatry is in discovering how such a disconnect occurs (by trauma, chemistry, and so on) and how to manage it. Yet, a more fundamental model of the soul is required to put the whole picture in an intelligible context, and I find Platonic psychology convincing. The subrational parts of the soul are properly ordered when they are commanded by the rational part of the soul.

The previous tangential point relates to your marketing concern. It is clear that different parts of our soul respond to different persuasions, as you wrote. The intellect and all the passions have their own natures. Yet, it seems to me that we may critically and rationally examine what moves us. This is an entertaining activity in its own right, as we can see in literary, art, and film criticism. Whether it be a syllogism, a scene of pathos, or a manipulative commercial, we may step back and trace the power of influence. Then, we may decide if such movement is good and why it is so. Accordingly, the aesthetic and emotional responses that one has to a liturgy, to a natural vista, to witnessing a heroic or villainous act, to a political rally, to a mob, to an orgy, to “two minutes hate,” or to a public execution inform us of ourselves and of reality. Of course, the reading is only as good as the instrument, which the wise have always known, but there is no way around that fact. If you cannot trust your reason to engage the world rationally, then you cannot trust anything, even your own mistrust of the same. We work with what we have. Radical skepticism undoes itself. One must live; nihilism isn’t a viable option.

Above, I mentioned that I was not refering to the emotions when I wrote about the “heart.” I am not a patristics scholar, but I know that the Church teaches an anthropology that distinguishes the heart, as the center of the soul, from the intellect, the desires, and the other passions. This is the seat of personhood. As such, it is very mysterious, but you can see why the Christian world view would demand it, even if you do not currently believe it to be accurate. If the idiot may commune with God just as the philosopher, and if the powerless slave can participate in the Body of Christ just as the emperor, then the most important part of the human person cannot be the intellect or the will, or whatever assembly of forces in the soul that go by those names. Theodicy demands as much, as well. Rather, there must be additional faculties in the soul, the purpose of which is the highest for men—to commune with God. The heart is the locus of this activity, and it is in the heart that man can perceive truth through the fog of illogical obfuscation, ignorance of reality, and moral perversion—in other words, our current state in a fallen world.

This is what I meant by “heart.” I am a rationalist; I am far more comfortable with syllogistic reasoning that can be demonstrated and knowingly shared. Yet, I am also aware that such powers are quite limited among men, more or less depending upon the person. Even where men are intelligent enough to follow logical arguments, many haven’t the spiritual power to attend to them enough to apply them. And even among the clever and wise, ultimate matters become cloudy. It is easier to dismiss faulty paths than to be confident in having found the right one, and that is the great practical value of a philosophical education. So, rational argument is not enough for our race. As such, pre-“Enlightenment” thinkers often uphold authority—whether of revealed religion or of ancient convention. Even Aristotle champions the people’s endoxa when they face the apparently rational arguments of the sophists. The rational argument for such conservatism makes sense; trial and error and the survival of the fittest are persuasive arguments to uphold long inherited convention. Yet, I think that the step toward philosophy—toward waking from the cave and wandering out to try to see the world as it is—involves something superrational. The few will notice contradictions, and that will suffice to start the process of asking questions. However, there is something more, as if man has an awareness of the truth through the curtain. Some have called this innate wisdom or the divine light within the soul or attending to inner natural law or the conscience. I think that these are ways of naming the reality of which I speak—that the heart has an affinity with knowing the intelligible world. It is the intellect’s and the will’s ignition, I suppose. In ancient Greek terms, it might supply the noetic power with the axioms that it uses to comprehend the world. I wonder if the Church fathers ever compared the heart to the active intellect.

If such is accurate, then the heart is what activates your awareness of the truth when you encounter Christ’s gospel. The sheep know the shepherd when they hear his voice. Likewise, men recognize in Christ the source of the law written upon their hearts. That is not marketing. That is spiritual sight.

Of course, we then have to address that ever unpleasant topic of error. How, then, is error possible? In this case, how is it that so many men do not notice the truth of the gospel? That is a thorny question, but we sly Christians have a first response: do the blind even try to look in the first place?

Posted by Joseph on Friday, July 6, Anno Domini 2012
OrthodoxyLiturgyPatristics • (1) CommentPermalink
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