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?"
Friday, February 21, A.D. 2014
Russian America

The Winter Olympics will close on Sunday. I hope that they will have been an edifying experience for the athletes, their staff and families, the visitors, and observers throughout the whole world. For the last Russian themed entry during the Olympics, I want to post something that represents the two teams for whom I cheered—the Russkies and the Americans (though I was quite satisfied with the French sweep of men’s skicross—c’était super!). Thus, I offer a lovely video from the Eastern American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad—“Russian America.” In the video, Fr. Artemy Vladimirov of the Alexeevsky Monastery in Moscow visits a few parishes and monasteries of the Church Abroad in the Eastern American Diocese and reflects upon what he finds. The following has been translated into English, but you may also watch the Russian version here.

I think that the target audience for the production is Russians in Russia. It allows them to see their spiritual brethren across the oceans. It also, one might add, calms fears that they may have about what Americans are doing with the faith, given the modernist troubles that bubble in certain other jurisdictions. In the Church Abroad, though, they would recognize their religion. I felt the same (in reverse) both in Russia and at the holy places tended by the Russian Church in Israel.

Of course, my favorite part of the video was the goats at the Monastery of the Holy Cross in West Virginia. I did not see any cats, but chickens were there for a decent substitute. Besides that given, my favorite part of the narration was Fr. Artemy’s comments during the segment on the parish of Saint John the Baptist in D.C. (starting at 13:30 in the video):

. . . And when you immerse yourself in the elements of parish life, you are convinced with your own eyes that Christ is the true father and savior of all peoples. This is an amazing confluence of hearts and minds between those who were born in America and speak only English [and] those who have only just arrived from Russia and still speak no English at all. It is a true kinship of spirit when the national and regional differences take a backseat to the image of God radiating within us all—in the elderly and children alike, and they feel themselves lighthearted, free, and at ease like flowers in a summer meadow. Such is Orthodoxy; it does not, as you know, exterminate that which is unique in the individual. Quite the opposite—it gives everything true value and significance. At the same time, it unites diverse tribes and peoples in one harmonious family, which offers mutual aid, joy, and interaction—and, of course, a desire to praise the Lord with one mouth and one heart. . . .

Yes!

Once, a Jesuit professor and advisor of mine lectured me on how offensive he found Orthodox Churches as they carried their national designations—Russian Orthodox, Arab Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and such. He found such anti-Catholic and divisive. I have never understood his attitude. True Catholicism is enriching, not effacing. We are not Buddhists, after all, who denounce the manifold splendor of being rather than embracing it as a reflection of God. Christianity preaches true diversity—we are children of the father of the nations. There is a reality—a divinely desired reality—in human diversity—among individuals, families, and communities. To find a particular concrete group expression of the gospel offensive makes as much sense as finding a particular concrete individual expression of the gospel offensive. “Sorry, Barbara, resistance is futile; you will be assimilated.” It is the new Buddhism, only without the insights of the old! The new Buddhism manages to combine nihilism in principle with egoism in practice. That is what Hell calls a two-fer!

There is something pernicious in the modern soul that wants to reduce all phenomena to some base identities and laws, to render the beautiful complexity of mankind a sterile, bland “autonomous individual,” and to disfigure the rich topography of the cosmos with the clumsy, flattening trowel of modern man’s emaciated spirit. Such is not Catholicism. Such is not Christianity. Grace fulfills and perfects; it does not destroy.

I would like to end the post with a call for peace—an important aspect of the Olympic Games. Metropolitan Hilarion has requested that the following petition for peace in the Ukraine be added to litanies:

Again we pray Thee, O Almighty Lord, that Thou mightest grant peace to Kiev, the Mother of Russian cities which is shaken by civil strife, and the entire country of Kievan Rus’, and by the power of the grace of Thy Holy Spirit extinguish all enmity and violence therein; O Source of goodness and Abyss of love for mankind, quickly hearken and have mercy.”

Amen.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, February 21, Anno Domini 2014
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Thursday, February 20, A.D. 2014
Saints of the Twentieth Century

Vivent les Jeux Olympiques! Ура для Олимпийских игр!

For your daily dose of Russia, here is a television piece on twentieth century saints Luke (Voino-Yasenetsky) of Simferopol and Crimea (more on him here), Mother Macaria (Artemieva) of Temkin (more about her in Russian), and Father Seraphim of Vyritsa:

The narrator sounds like the same man who does nearly every show on the Discovery, History, and Learning Channels.

I had the opportunity to venerate the relics of Saint Luke when they visited the United States last year. What an extraordinary man!

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, February 20, Anno Domini 2014
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Wednesday, February 19, A.D. 2014
Second Baptism of Rus

May the Olympic Games continue peacefully in Sochi!

Last year, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk narrated a documentary about the revival of religion in post-Soviet Russia: Второе Крещение Руси. I cannot find it with English subtitles, but, as always, you may enjoy the visual aspect of the film even if you do not understand Russian well.

The renewal of the Russian nation proceeds.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, February 19, Anno Domini 2014
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Monday, February 17, A.D. 2014
Sochi Crossing

Americans of certain backgrounds find it unremarkable when others make a public display of their faith. People often give thanks to God in speeches, pray publically, and wear religiously significant items. As the United States of America become more secular, such public displays of piety decrease, but these actions startle only the most heathenish folks in our land (e.g. upper class A.C.L.U. members from the East Coast). In the former Soviet Union, the opposite trend has occurred over the last few decades. Thirty years ago, one would only see old women cross themselves in public. Today, Russian gold medalists have reclaimed the ancient practice. I have noticed this and the prevalence of baptismal crosses on Orthodox athletes while watching the games in Sochi. Apparently, someone at Reuters has been paying attention, too: “Sign of the times as Russian Olympic athlete shows her Orthodox faith.” I saw Elena Nikitina cross herself, and it was a consolation to know that she was a sister in the faith when she beat Noelle Pikus-Pace in women’s skeleton, whom I had been cheering. Pikus-Place is a poster child for everything that Mormons do right and just about the most ideal life-balanced athlete that one could find. Cheers for them both!

In other Sochi news, the Cossacks are on the job: “Cossacks to Go On Patrol at Sochi Games.” How wonderful! Russia is just a coronation away from finally convincing me to immigrate.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, February 17, Anno Domini 2014
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Thursday, February 13, A.D. 2014
Kaluga Convent

The Olympic Games in Sochi continue; you may wish keep the athletes and their delegations in mind and in your prayers.

Unfortunately, the offering today is not in English and has no subtitles. If you know Russian, you will doubtlessly be watching decent coverage of the games through some IP trickery rather than surfing the web because you have tired of NBC. For us Americans, we must suffer through leftist commentary and propaganda, courtesy of General Electric and General Motors, if we wish to watch television coverage of Sochi. If you do not know Russian, you may still enjoy the videos of the Nativity of the Theotokos women’s monastery in Kaluga, south of Moscow. The first video is of the monastery, while the second consists chiefly of an interview with the abbess. The convent maintains an English site, as well.

Богородично-Рождественская девичья пустынь:

The second video is clearer and shows that the convent is truly Orthodox—by the presence of cats and goats.

Девичья Пустынь:

You know that monasteries just have to come cum cattis caprisque.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, February 13, Anno Domini 2014
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Wednesday, February 12, A.D. 2014
Sacred Road

A blessed synaxis of the Three Holy Hierarchs! Saints Basil, Gregory the Theologian (Nazianzus), and John Chrysostom are some of my favorite people.

Russian-themed posting continues on Arimathea in honor of the Olympic Games. Last year, I watched a Russia Today segment about the Velikoretsky Procession of the Cross—the largest annual pilgrimage in Russia in which thousands of pilgrims walk one hundred miles together over five days. The story is well done except for the voice actors Russia Today uses for its English translations.

Many happy and fruitful years to Nicholas and Helen!

The Saint Nicholas Center has a page devoted to the pilgrimage with much information and several photographs: “40,000 Pilgrims on the Velikoretsky Way of St. Nicholas.”

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, February 12, Anno Domini 2014
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Tuesday, February 11, A.D. 2014
Patriarch in a Tracksuit

The Winter Olympic Games continue in Sochi. I wish the athletes, their coaches, their families, and everyone involved in the games a blessed experience. So does Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. Pravmir features some charming photographs of the hierarch’s visit to Sochi last week: “Patriarch Kirill visits Sochi on the Eve of the Olympics 2014.”

The Archdiocese of Kuban site offers some more pictures of the visit. Following the tour, Patriarch Kirill led a moleben to ask God to bless the athletes and the games. Here the Patriarch addresses some Orthodox athletes from various nations in Sochi’s Christ the Savior Church, which was consecrated only last week.

You may read short blurbs about the patriarch’s visit on Greek Reporter, the Moldovan Metropolis of Chisinau site, and the Archdiocese of Kuban site. Friends in Sochi, a memoir blog of a Jesuit priest who is volunteering as a chaplain for Roman Catholic participants, mentions that Patriarch Kirill also met with the games’ volunteer staff and gave each of them an icon of the Lord.

On a less cheerful note, today is also The Day We Fight Back.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, February 11, Anno Domini 2014
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Tuesday, February 4, A.D. 2014
Paul and Constantine

Last week, I received the following thoughts by James M. Kushiner from the Fellowship of St. James:

Paul, Jesus & Kings

Following up on last week’s comments about Constantine, at the risk of seeming overly preoccupied with this controversial figure, I offer some comments (with questions) on Holy Scripture as it pertains to the matter of a “Christian king.” I begin with a few references to kings in the New Testament:

1. “You will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony.” (Jesus to his disciples, Luke 21:12b-13) The witnesses of the gospel will go all the way to the top, so to speak.

2. “Go, for [Saul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.” (Jesus to Ananias, Acts 9:15) Jesus explicitly says Saul will be witnessing to kings as “a chosen instrument of mine.”

3. “At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun shining round me… And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” (Saul, now Paul, in his defense before King Agrippa, Acts 26:13,15) Here, Paul is, in fact, witnessing before a king, as Jesus said he would.

4. “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time you think to make me a Christian!” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that ... you ... might become such as I am-except for these chains.” (Acts 26:27-29) Paul witnesses to Agrippa with the intent of converting him to Jesus Christ. (What would have happened had Agrippa converted?)

5. And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man [Paul] could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (Acts 26:32) Was Paul’s earlier appeal, then, rash and ill-advised? Did he see the opportunity to bring his case before the Emperor and jump at it? Did Paul hope to convert Caesar himself?

6. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life…..” (1 Timothy 2:1-2) Paul urges Timothy about intentional prayer for kings (why does he use four words to describe our efforts?).

It is no stretch to say that Paul would have rejoiced at the conversion of the Emperor. So why not Constantine? My point is that Christians, following the New Testament teachings, would have welcomed royal sympathy and certainly even conversion to Christianity. (“Trust, but verify”?) They were taught to pray for a “peaceable life,” which I assume would entail the end of state persecution. Constantine ended it.

But the temptation to either blame Constantine for a supposed “demise” of Christianity or to over-exalt him for what others regard as successes may be rooted in a false notion. That is, placing all our hope or blame on one person. That goes for modern as well as ancient times. While we would be foolish not realize the harm that one man can do to the church or to a nation (Stalin? Hitler?), the bedrock upon which Christians must stand is the confession that Jesus is Lord no matter what, and to accept whatever consequences attend to that witness according to the times in which we live, even persecution.

Further, bearing witness before kings requires being willing to speak to all kings, pagan and Christian alike, as Ambrose rebuked the Emperor Theodosius for the massacre at Thessalonica and as Patrick rebuked Coroticus for his crime. The strength of the church always depends on the strength of its members (see the Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation), and its strength is not in worldly measures of “success” or even societal “influence,” but in the power of holiness and faithful endurance. So we pray for our rulers, in season and out of season. The Lord will separate the Wheat and the Tares in the End.

Unlike secularized modern Protestants, we Orthodox do not fret over Constantine. After all, we venerate him as a saint, and we see a just cooperation between the throne and the altar toward the common good as the ideal human political arrangement. Unfortunately, Constantine’s story teaches us a sad truth, too, which was lamented long before the advent of Christian empire: that even good kings sometimes have crappy children.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, February 4, Anno Domini 2014
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Monday, February 3, A.D. 2014
Flash Masses

The Associated Press covered an interesting practice in Buffalo of late: “Mass mobs fill pews, lift prayers at NY churches.” Evidently, Buffalo area Roman Catholics are targeting a different inner city parish each Sunday in order to fill up the old temples as they were before white flight and deindustrialization depopulated the Roman Catholic population in the urban core. The visitors also contribute money during their flash mob attendance to help support the parishes.

This is a neat idea, but these abandoned parishes need more than just occasional visits from the working and donating white folk in the burbs. Fr. Z. suggests that religious communities, especially ones with a focus on traditional liturgical worship, move into abandoned parishes. Then, families who want to worship at a reverent, sober mass rather than singing Girl Scout campfire hymns with a subquality teeny band and a Mr. Happy priest in a sanctuary that looks more like a high school gym would make the trek every week (and every day for downtown workers). If you want a committed congregation, this is how to get one.

On the other end of the spectrum, papist-socialist communities with a focus on charity toward the poor could also use dilapidated parishes as a center to serve (and hopefully to preach unto) the poor. Just because the Irish and Italians abandon a neighborhood to blacks doesn’t mean that there is no longer a need to preach the gospel. Why haven’t inner city parishes been more successful in converting the newer waves of Protestant blacks? I suspect that it is because the kind of American Roman Catholic who is interested in feeding poor blacks doesn’t care as much in converting them to the faith. Their liberalism has made their religion into a form of community service rather than an all embracing commission to transform the world. Unawares, they have adopted a form of Marxist materialism that makes them attentive only to material needs. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Jesus’ words apply as equally to the poor man as to the rich—to the black as well as to the white. Well fed beggars can go to hell just as Dives the rich man. Similarly, Roman Catholic schools enroll many poor blacks on scholarship as a form of charity, but they do little to introduce them to the faith. Of course, they do an abysmal job in instructing their indigenous papist students in the faith, as well—so the problem there is likely more fundamental. On second thought, maybe they should just leave those little black Baptist kids alone so that they at least remain Christians rather than turning into blasé agnostics with contempt for scripture and tradition. For it is better to be a heathen who knows nothing of the gospel—and is thus receptive to it—than an ignorant punk who falsely believes himself to be a religious scholar. How much idiocy and heresy follow the phrase, “Well, I went to Catholic school for twelve years and I think . . .”?

Kudos to the folks in Buffalo—and to all who work to reinvigorate decaying neighborhoods. Civilization needs every tower to be manned all the time.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, February 3, Anno Domini 2014
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