Arimathea | Commentary
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Dear Bruce,

Christ is risen!

You may read the following from the Moscow Patriarchate’s Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church

XII. 3. Among the problems which need a religious and moral assessment is that of contraception. Some contraceptives have an abortive effect, interrupting artificially the life of the embryo on the very first stages of his life. Therefore, the same judgements are applicable to the use of them as to abortion. But other means, which do not involve interrupting an already conceived life, cannot be equated with abortion in the least. In defining their attitude to the non-abortive contraceptives, Christian spouses should remember that human reproduction is one of the principal purposes of the divinely established marital union (see, X. 4). The deliberate refusal of childbirth on egoistic grounds devalues marriage and is a definite sin.

At the same time, spouses are responsible before God for the comprehensive upbringing of their children. One of the ways to be responsible for their birth is to restrain themselves from sexual relations for a time. However, Christian spouses should remember the words of St. Paul addressed to them: «Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency» (1 Cor. 7:5). Clearly, spouses should make such decisions mutually on the counsel of their spiritual father. The latter should take into account, with pastoral prudence, the concrete living conditions of the couple, their age, health, degree of spiritual maturity and many other circumstances. In doing so, he should distinguish those who can hold the high demands of continence from those to whom it is not given (Mt. 19:11), taking care above all of the preservation and consolidation of the family.

The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in its Decision of December 28, 1998, instructed the clergy serving as spiritual guides that «it is inadmissible to coerce or induce the flock to… refuse conjugal relations in marriage». It also reminded the pastors of the need «to show special chastity and special pastoral prudence in discussing with the flock the questions involved in particular aspects of their family life».

As far as I know, the bishops of the Russian Church Abroad have positively assessed this social teaching document from Moscow’s local council in A.D. 2000.

Comment on "Personhood in Theology and Anthropology" by Joseph from Arimathea on Wednesday, May 8, A.D. 2013


What does ROCOR teach about contraception? Some Catholics criticize the EO for taking a permissive attitude towards contraception in modern times.

Comment on "Personhood in Theology and Anthropology" by Bruce on Tuesday, May 7, A.D. 2013

Here’s something to contemplate. Soviet society was dystopic but the Russian people survived the experience.
The West is destroying itself, demographically through mass immigration and chosen sterility. So we may not be able to imitate their revival.

Comment on "Annunciation Church in Sokolniki" by Bruce on Wednesday, May 1, A.D. 2013

This still seems objectionable from the reactionary point of view: “nothing wrong with women pursuing careers, politics, business and many other spheres”

Comment on "Feminism: Enemy of Russia" by Bruce on Monday, April 29, A.D. 2013

Though I left the Russian Church decades ago, I have always respected how truly spiritual and fearless many of the monks and hierarchs have been in criticizing the demonic forces that assail men in these dark days. I believe that the centrality of podvig in traditional Orthodox Christianity gives these men the spiritual insight and steadfastness so lacking in most of Western Christianity, especially since Vatican II.

Comment on "Feminism: Enemy of Russia" by Vighnesh on Saturday, April 27, A.D. 2013

Such a loss for us.

Comment on "Etiology of Cultural Suicide" by Bruce on Wednesday, April 3, A.D. 2013


I address that “recognition” of orders in the linked story about Joseph Julian Overbeck.

The Russian Church began to offer a Western rite in the nineteenth century. The Patriarchate of Antioch is the other Orthodox Church to have a Western rite. I don’t think that it is as old, but I suspect that it is bigger, at least in the Anglosphere. It is odd to think that the Arabs, who have suffered dhimmitude for thirteen centuries, have not succumbed to parochialism. They as well as the Copts are extraordinarily evangelical when they are allowed to be. If it were not for bans on proselytism and apostasy laws in the Middle East, I suspect that they would have succeeded in converting most of their ethnic peers to the faith. In the West, they have no such restrictions, and they are doing good work.

The Greeks and the O.C.A. have been quite hostile to the Western rite. I have written about the Western rite in “What Could We Salvage in the West?” and “Saint Patrick.”

As far as Rome goes, I am quite pleased with Anglicanorum Coetibus. I just wish that the return of the Church of England to the apostolic faith would be corporate rather than piecemeal. A century ago, that seemed possible. Alas, no more . . .

Comment on "The Anglican Itch" by Joseph from Arimathea on Friday, March 8, A.D. 2013

Very timely post for me. I am a continuing Anglican in the Traditional Anglican Communion (no connection other than an historic one to Canterbury.) I am in the process of converting to the Anglican Ordinariate. I had no idea there was a Western Rite in the ROCOR.
Some of the priests in the Anglican Continuum claim that a few generations ago, the Orthodox recognized the validity of Anglican Holy Orders and that Orthodox Christians were allowed to take sacrament at Anglican Churches. I don’t which group of EO they are referring to.

Comment on "The Anglican Itch" by Bruce on Thursday, March 7, A.D. 2013

Yeah, nothing new here. We’ve understood for a long time that dogs are remarkably good (better than we are) at reading body language.

Comment on "Your Dog Really Does Understand You" by Bruce on Wednesday, March 6, A.D. 2013

Back to your objection, though . . . I do not think that the cause of this fastidiousness is mysticism but rather the essential Jewishness of Orthodoxy. We are not simply orthodox, but we are also orthopractical. We not only uphold correct belief and correct praise but also correct practice—orthopraxis. This traditionalist way of life recognizes the value of the rubrics, canons, sacred arts, and even popular pious traditions in cultivating a life oriented (pardon the pun) toward Christ—including ad orientem devotion. The entire prescribed Christian life is an organically evolved, unified, and ordered regimen to educate us to walk as children of light.

Now, the obvious danger inherent in traditionalism is the tendency toward not legalism, in my opinion, but its sister vice Pharisaism—where one’s devotion to the diet becomes more important than the health of which it is the means. That is a real danger, and it is for this reason that so much of our wisdom stories and sayings have to do with Pharisaism. Indeed, in the lead up to Lent, we contemplate the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee for a whole week. A multitude of sayings from the desert fathers warn against Pharisaism in its many species, as well. We are wise to remember that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. We must guard against venerating the form at the cost of its purpose.

Nonetheless, the Latins have forsaken all deference to tradition. They have traded obedience to the apostolic way for obedience to the current hierarchy (and even that is true only of the “good” papists). They do not even begin to consider the importance of ad orientem worship or anything else in their ancient heritage. They have gone the opposite path from Judaism—that of spiritualization. Having reckoned that they know the reasons behind pious practices and laws, they feel free to dispense with them.

This reminds me of Chesterton’s story about a fence found on a piece of property. If the modernist does not know why the fence is there, he wants it removed, whereas the traditionalist responds that he may possibly remove it only after he has figured out why it is there. Our tradition is greater than our understanding of it, and we ought not to alter or to disregard it casually. The disaster that befell the Latins following the Second Vatican Council should serve as a warning for everyone.

As far as the orientation of temples in particular goes, we must work with what we have. When Orthodox Christians purchase an existing structure for their temple, they sometimes have to forgo proper orientation, but they do not ignore the canon. Sometimes, such important considerations are eclipsed by other ones, though they would correct it if they could. When they get enough funds to rebuild the temple or to relocate, they construct the temple appropriately. By contrast, the Latins have routinely disregarded properly oriented temples for centuries. Situational aesthetics and convenience trump orientation. Ad orientem arrangements are a quaint historical note for them and nothing more. The same disregard for the past can be seen throughout the Roman Church; like its reformed daughters, it is often a reductionist religion.

Comment on "Auster and Jesus" by Joseph from Arimathea on Tuesday, March 5, A.D. 2013


Horror? Myself, I feel dismay, but not horror. For horror, read Monomakhos’ thread on the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI. Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon wrote:

Catholic Observer remarks, “If you counted all the Catholic parishes nationwide wherein the Mass is celebrated beautifully and reverently, the number would probably be about equal to that of all the Orthodox parishes nationwide wherein the liturgy is celebrated beautifully and reverently.”

I fear I have inadvertently given offense.

Let me explain, if I may. What I wrote was this: “Still, if an Orthodox Christian visits an average Roman Catholic parish in this country, the experience can be mighty depressing.”

Please, notice the subject of the hypothetical clause—”an Orthodox Christian.” He is the one who will feel depressed.

That is to say, the “depression” to which I referred is specific to an Orthodox Christian who visits an average Roman Catholic parish.

I was not referring to the piety or reverence of the Roman Catholic celebrant or his congregation. I had in mind certain specific things in current Roman Catholic practice that are . . . . well, distressing.

Let me rehearse some of them for you:

I find it distressing beyond words to worship at an altar where the priest stands on the other side and looks out at the congregation during the Anaphora. I must close my eyes in order to endure it.

It is a heavy burden to my soul to open my eyes and behold female acolytes serving at the altar.

It absolutely crushes my spirit when a nun comes up from the congregation at reception time and takes a ciborium from the Tabernacle and—notwithstanding the presence of a dozen priests in the sanctuary—begins to distribute Holy Communion to the faithful. (This happened, most notably, when I attended Holy Mass at St. Michael’s in Munich. I appreciated the Palestrina pieces by the choir, but that nun simply ruined it for me.)

Anyway, I know that Romans Catholics may think me eccentric is my response to these things.

It has to do with cultural expectations, and my own expectations are those of an Eastern Orthodox Christian.

If I have continued to give offense by these remarks, I do beg forgiveness.

I am not one of those embarrassing Orthodox who mindlessly pretend—in spite of massive evidence to the contrary—that the Roman Catholic Church is devoid of grace.

And I added:

And moreover . . .

* The terrible, terrible music that the 1960s-1990s American “hymnographers” foisted upon the long suffering people in the pews. The music reminds me of Benji soundtracks. Awful and unworthy of the mass, indeed! John Foley, S.J., a pox be upon him!

* Not once, not twice, but dozens of times have I had to listen to revamped Simon and Garfunkel pop songs, pieces by Beethoven, and even Broadway tunes as the melodies for saccharine “religious” lyrics at masss. And not just in the U.S. but also in France and the U.K.

* The “Hosanna” chorus from Jesus Christ Superstar sung as the introit on Palm Sunday. Seriously.

* At a Christmas Eve mass once, I saw a “Eucharistic minister” woman (wearing too tight frumpy mom pants, but I digress) *kick* a fallen wafer to the side of the aisle after she dropped it during Communion. A deacon eventually came over to pick it up and eat it. Shameful.

I can go on and on and on. Egregious abuses are not hard to find; they are woefully normal. I wish the poor folks in the new liturgical movement all the best; they need it.

Comment on "Auster and Jesus" by Joseph from Arimathea on Tuesday, March 5, A.D. 2013

If Roman hyper-rationalism can cause legalism, then so can Eastern mysticism (do I misunderstand the East? I’m pretty ignorant of Orthodox basics.). For example, I hear some talk of Eastern “horror” upon seeing that Papists don’t face East when praying.

Comment on "Auster and Jesus" by Bruce on Tuesday, March 5, A.D. 2013

Of interest:

“It is very likely that the new Pope will be Italian, as before John Paul II”: it is the prediction given to public television Vesti 24 by Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. ... “I hope that the new Pope is a traditionalist,” he concluded.

Comment on "Charlton on Modern Orthodoxy" by Bruce on Tuesday, March 5, A.D. 2013

“Hence, they usually adopt the framework and the principles of the enemy unaware..”

This reminds me of the whole “abortion is racist” theme that’s so popular on the so-called “right.”

Comment on "Meandering in the Jungle" by Bruce on Monday, March 4, A.D. 2013


You present a worthy argument, and I am not confident in my answer. I am not a priest and have no seminary or monastic formation. However, based on my own experience, I would say that the Orthodox approach to confession is pastoral rather than juridical.

Of course, in sin, we transgress God’s law. In the covenant with the Hebrews, there is law—the Law. It is a legislative blueprint for a civilization. Scholars dispute exactly what Jesus meant when he said that he came to fulfill the law rather than to destroy it, but the historical testament of the Church is that the focus of the Christian life is not on checking boxes to make sure that you remain in the confines of what is acceptable to God but rather on attaining perfection by allowing God to unite you with him. Following the rules is merely the most basic step in this process, as the aim is to conform to the rule maker rather than the rules. So, divine law remains—it is simply an explanation of the way we are and how we are to live in the world—but it does not constitute the purpose of life. Legalism is not wrong because it acknowledges the law; it is wrong because it trains people to see the law as an end rather than a gift—a tool—in the struggle to become Christlike.

And let me defend “legalism”—and even the poor old Grand Inquisitor—for a moment. Most people, at least in such diseased societies as ours, need a strong emphasis on law. For we are immature, like the Hebrews of old, surrounded by pagans and drenched in wickedness. As Bruce Charlton notes, theosis is far off the radar for most people, and it is somewhat embarrassing to speak of it (due to us, not in itself). I see his and the nasty cardinal’s point. Nevertheless, God has given us his Word and his Spirit, and the Lord of Hosts does not suffer the soft bigotry of low expectations. Even in Sodom, righteousness was possible. In sordid Rome, the saints shone brightly. Legal reckoning needs to be complemented and directed by a clear view of the higher aim—an aim that Jesus the Christ makes possible even to contemporary Americans.

That is what I mean by pastoral—the shepherds of Christ’s flock have as their main job not to rule justly but rather to keep the flock from danger and to herd it safely home to the master’s fields. As such, confessors need to know the territory. They must have knowledge of potential dangers (wolves, chasms) as well as the requisites for the health of the flock (springs, proper grazing land). For this, a proper knowledge of morality is necessary. This is the real value of moral philosophy for clergy. However, they need not know the exact chemical make-up of every watering hole. They do not have to know the botanical classification of every forb in the field. Such things do have value; knowledge is a good. However, to fixate on the details is to ignore their primary responsibility, which is the health of the sheep. They are chiefly shepherds, not biologists or chemists. Leave the execution of God’s law, the subtlety of moral theory, and the rest of the arts and sciences to those whose specialities such things are. The pastors need to attend to the sheep. They may make good use of other disciplines’ tools and knowledge, but their proper wisdom consists in something else – something practical and of such extreme importance that God himself instituted their profession.

Comment on "Auster and Jesus" by Joseph from Arimathea on Wednesday, February 27, A.D. 2013

It is interesting to note that there wasn’t a Protestant Reformation in the east.
Isn’t categorizing sins necessary for the sacrament of confession & absolution? One must have some idea what must be confessed and absolved. Otherwise, you have the Protestant “general” confession.
I’m interested. What, in general, is the Eastern alternative? Just “following God” as Auster puts it?

Comment on "Auster and Jesus" by Bruce on Wednesday, February 27, A.D. 2013


I think that the obsession with knowing one’s spiritual status can be found in the Roman tradition, though it is worse in Protestantism in that those lofty concerns trickle down to every Martin, John, and Henry. Consider the elaborate system devised for categorizing sins and setting indulgences—where daily acts of piety were assigned a particular amount of “days out of purgatory.” Look at the Jesuits’ casuistic tradition—or even the old catechisms. It is not in the Western psyche to rest comfortably with the unknown. The philosophical, analytic tendencies developed in scholasticism cannot rest. That makes for impressive academic output. It also fosters a legalistic spirit in religion—one that, ironically, even the most antinomian of the Protestants share. They are fastidiously legalistic about dismissing the authority of divine law!

The entire West desires a formula for how one may be saved. As the Grand Inquisitor argues, the people want to follow, to submit, to rest assured in the teaching of their betters, and the wild, eery unknown to which the Lord sends us in this world is an intolerable defect of providence—but that has been corrected, of course, by the clergy.

I suspect that the Western mind thinks that Peter’s keys unlock every door—and the Protestants have further imagined that everybody gets a complimentary set.

Comment on "Auster and Jesus" by Joseph from Arimathea on Wednesday, February 27, A.D. 2013

Is the obsession with surety really “Western” or is it particularly Protestant? I am reading a basic Catholic/Papist apologetic s book and the author notes that this characteristic is Lutheran not Pauline.

Comment on "Auster and Jesus" by Bruce on Tuesday, February 26, A.D. 2013


The Act of Canonical Communion occurred on the feast of the Ascension in May, A.D. 2007. We are approaching the sixth anniversary. Since then, ROCOR has operated as a semi-autonomous jurisdiction within the Moscow Patriarchate, and Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral) and our bishops attend the episcopal councils in Moscow. The groundwork for the re-establishment of communion had been laid since the turn of the millennium. Critics thought that such should have happened overnight with the fall of the Soviet regime, but they were unrealistic. These things take time. There are Russian parishes that have left ROCOR because of their mistrust of Moscow, but they are slowly returning, year by year, as they see that their fears were unfounded. Eventually, I expect the full integration of Moscow’s parishes abroad with ROCOR, though such will take time. There is much cooperation now.

Comment on "Charlton on Modern Orthodoxy" by Joseph from Arimathea on Tuesday, February 26, A.D. 2013


Is there any near term possibility of the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia reuniting with the Russian Orthodox Church? I would assume that with the Communists gone, there would be good prospects for this development.

Comment on "Charlton on Modern Orthodoxy" by Bruce on Tuesday, February 26, A.D. 2013
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