Archive for May, 2009

Alberto Cutie Just Did It For Love

May 29, 2009

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And with one simple ceremony, Fr. Alberto Cutie is on his way to becoming – Fr. Alberto Cutie.  Roman Catholic, Episcopalian – ehhh, what does it matter, right?  They both believe in God, they both like wearing fancy clothes, they’re both sort of Catholic.  If you believe that, you’ll believe the dribble coming out of the mouth of  Bishop Leo Frade who poached accepted Cutie into the Episcopal Church (he’s the guy in the red & white pointy hat above):

…he traded his collar, his Roman Catholic collar for another different Catholic collar, which is the Anglican, the Episcopal collar.

What a load of crap!   So the philandering Father doesn’t have enough cojones to honor the vows of celibacy he made as a Roman Catholic priest.   Fine, then leave the priesthood honorably and laicize yourself.    Live quietly; live a period of repentance and reflection.   But no, you decide that the doctrines and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church were as easy to drop as your pants, and you’re suddenly convicted in your heart to become an Episcopalian.   And not even an Episcopalian layman – an Episcopal priest for God’s sake.    Roman Catholic Archbishop John Favalora must have been fuming about this whole mess when he responded with a statement  saying

…(Cutie) has never told me that he was considering joining the Episcopal Church.  (The Episcopal Bishop) has never spoken to me about his position on this delicate matter or what actions he was contemplating. This truly is a serious setback for ecumenical relations and cooperation between us.

But Fr. Cutie just did it for the love of a good woman, right?  The overflowing love of a loving God?   His ecumenical love for his fellow human beings?  No, it was done for self-love, pure and simple.  It appears that Fr. Cutie is possessed by a  self-love that did not consider any other option than “having it all”.  As St. Maximus the Confessor says,

The origin of all the passions is self-love; their consummation is pride. Self-love is a mindless love for the body.  He who cuts this off cuts off at the same time all the passions that come from it.

Misty-eyed, Fr. Cutie said after his reception into the Episcopal Church, “More than ever, I’m assured that God is love.”  How many times has that phrase been uttered by people who use it to justify their actions.   And I bet love is what Fr. Cutie is going to be preaching from his new church pulpit – the watered down message that true love conquers all hardships; that God is love, blah, blah, blah, that any form or fashion of human love is acceptable and should be achieved at any cost.  This should be no problem in the U.S. Episcopal Church.

I doubt there will be many sermons coming out of the good Father’s mouth like St. John Climacus has given us:

However great the life we lead may be, we may count it stale and spurious, if we have not acquired a contrite heart.  For this is essential, truly essential if I may say so, that those who have again been defiled after baptism should cleanse the pitch from their hands with unceasing fire of the heart and with the oil of God.                                                           

Shame Isn’t a Dirty Word

May 26, 2009

Can I ask what has happened to the proper and venerable place of shame in modern culture?   Does no one even know what that is anymore, much less exhibit it in proper moderation?  I’d certainly have thought that if anyone knew the meaning of the word it would be Mel Gibson, but it looks like his big boy hormones have shut off the switch on his good ‘ol reservoir of  Catholic guilt.   

Appearing yesterday on The Tonight Show, his words and body language say (a) I’m the expectant father of an illegitimate child  (b) I’m happy and relaxed with that; and (c) I’m a  sinful package of contradictions and delusions. 

Ironic isn’t it? – that Mel should break the news about the fruit of his infidelity on the same night as America’s current reality TV train wreck, Jon and Kate Gosselin of  Jon and Kate Plus Eight fame.   Here’s a family that needs a little shame in their life too – a little shame and a dose of humility might be able to save them and their poor kids from the monster of reality TV. 

I’m certainly not saying that celebrities should be held to a higher standard of morality or that society should go to a Taliban extreme of enforcing virtue.  I’m saying that, by choice, these people have placed themselves in the public eye for monetary gain.   Children and teens are influenced by them in a way that vastly exceeds anything their parents hope to achieve.  But the perks of celebrity carry a  public responsibility to act in a decent, respectable manner.   You wanna drink your brains out, ditch your wife, and  knock up your girlfriend?  Fine, go right ahead; just don’t go on TV and declare your happiness to the whole world and expect lots of affirmation for your lack of self-restraint. 

Birds of the Holy Land #1

May 26, 2009

I may never get to make a trip to the Holy Land, but I think I’ve found a way to combine Orthodoxy with one of my most passionate and long-standing hobbies – birding.   Have you ever seen or wondered about some of the common birds mentioned in the Bible and still found in Israel and Palestine?  

Think of the Lord sitting under a tree, observing the natural landscape around him.  He had to have taken notice of the plants and animals around him – he certainly knew them in a most intimate way as their witness from the beginning of Creation. 

I think of the swifts when I read the Lord’s words, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them”   Swifts are fast-flying, insect-eating aerialists that are almost never seen on the ground (unless sick, injured or affected by violent weather).  Even their taxonomic family name Apodidae, refers back to the Greek word apous or “without feet”.  They cling vertically with weak, tiny feet to the sides of their nests, through the whole awkward, clumsy business of nest building, egg laying and chick-rearing.  An unproven but popular belief is that they are such completely airborne birds that sleeping and mating are done on the wing as well.

AlpineSwift

Alpine Swift

Little Swift

Little Swift

Pallid Swift

Pallid Swift

Year of the Bible

May 22, 2009

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You know American society has gotten off the track when it takes a politician to propose a government-sanctioned recognition of the Bible and it’s place in American history.  Oh wait…flashback to the good ol’ days of New Wave music, the Cold War and the Moral Majority, and you’ve got the Year of the Bible 1983.  Apparently it’s been so long since we’ve had a Year of the Bible that Americans have forgotten how important the scriptures are. 

President Ronald Reagan first thought America ought to honor it’s debt to the Good Book, and as quick as you could say “Gorbie, the bombs are on the way”, Proclamation 5018 was signed.    I was 21 at the time and you know, I don’t recall 1983 as the year America en masse became a devoutly Christian nation again.  Churchgoers still went to church; Americans who already read their Bibles were doubly grateful to God for something they already knew was special to them, and all the rest –  the atheists, Democrats, the Church-Staters, got themselves in a hot-and-bother that lasted about as long as a music video hit on MTV.   When the new year rolled around again, people were more aware of the irony that, in the midst of the Cold War and fears of nuclear holocaust, it was also the year of George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four

I don’t want to argue that appreciating the Holy Bible is unimportant, because as an Orthodox Christian I think it is the unique and God-given written tradition of the Christian faith and the written revelation of God’s salvation of mankind.   I challenge someone to show me a greater devotion to and veneration of the Bible than is found in the Orthodox Church.   Our services are primarily composed of the scriptures.  We sing them, we pray them, we hear them preached.   We venerate, we kiss, we bless ourselves with the Gospel book itself as the written icon of Christ, the Logos or Incarnate  Word of God.    The Christian faith, ergo, the Bible,  is the foundation of traditional American society and Western democracy.   But as America struggles with recession, joblessness, and heavy-handed political correctness in an increasingly secular, liberal and pluralistic society, I think the general feeling is that this is a pretty ho-hum piece of legislation.   Oh, the Right is going to push this as a return to the glory principles of God-fearing America; the Left is going to get all riled up with anti-Christian brain bashing, and the sum effect is going to be a big ‘who cares’.    Efforts like this rarely seem to make much of a difference.   We already set aside whole months for cholesterol education, camping safety, dental hygiene, gay and lesbian history, and even procrastination (December).   The only one I seem to be honoring to its fullest is Procrastination Month.

My “appreciation” of the Bible and it’s place in American society is in my freedom to attend Church, to evangelize for what I believe is the True Faith, to speak or blog about my beliefs, and criticize or comment about whomever and whatever I want.   I believe in

The Holy Scripture [as] the domain of Wisdom, Word and Spirit, of God in the Trinity: in it He clearly manifests Himself: ‘The Words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life,’ (St. John 6:63) said the Lord…In Holy Scriptures we see God face to face, and ourselves as we are. Man, know thy self through them, and walk always as in the presence of God.

                                  St. John of Kronstadt (My Life in Christ: Part 1)

The Holy Bible is more than a political tool (though funny how it gets used as one all the time).  The great early 20th Century Serbian Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich states in his Prologue From Ochrid, what the Bible clearly is and what it means for mankind:

The word of God is food for the soul. The word of God is both strength and light for the soul…. All the saints emphasized the necessity of reading the Holy Scriptures. St. Seraphim of Sarov says: ‘The soul must keep itself nourished with the word of God; because the word of God is, as St. Gregory the Theologian says, the bread of angels that feeds the soul that is hungry for God. Most of all we must read the New Testament and the Psalms. The understanding is enlightened by these. It is a very good thing to read the word of God in solitude, and to read the entire Bible with understanding. God gives a man His mercy for undertaking this exercise more than for other good deeds, and He fills him with the gift of comprehension. When a man nourishes his soul with the word of God, then he is filled with the understanding of good and evil.

 Can I suggest that instead of creating some hokey year of the Bible, why not spend the next year reading it instead

 

Common Ground?

May 19, 2009

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It appears that President Obama has survived and come out on top of the abortion/anti-abortion mosh-pit of public sentiment.   The news media  have all but placed a blessing on Obama’s call for moderation and common ground.   The President laid down his smoke screen of pro-abortion civility and reasonableness, which will certainly make any pro-life rebuttal look like uncharitable hate-speech.   

As far as the commencement address goes, I’ll certainly admit the man can make a good speech. 

If there is one law that we can be most certain of, it is the law that binds people of all faiths and no faith together. … It is, of course, the Golden Rule — the call to treat one another as we wish to be treated.  The call to love.  The call to serve.  To do what we can to make a difference in the lives of those with whom we share the same brief moment on this Earth.

Politicians sure have a way of using Bible buzz-words that sounds so compassionate to the average American.   The words that come out of President Obama’s  mouth  have a ring of sincerity; they always convey a real person and personality behind them (or rather his speech writer is very good at expressing the Obama image).   You listen to these words and you find yourself sinking into a warm, fuzzy comforting place, involuntarily nodding your head at the reasonableness of it all.   On some issues I’m all there with him.  But suddenly, an image of a student’s mortarboard   taped with the outline of baby feet breaks the mind-meld you’ve allowed yourself to be entrapped by.  You slap your face and remind yourself that pretty, conciliatory words cover a lot of blood; that resistance is not futile.  (Trek references on my mind?  Yeah, I saw the movie this past weekend!)

Lest you think the President’s Notre Dame speech was all sweetness and light, he did allow one vague moment of condescension – the tiniest acknowledgement that, gasp, there are  Americans who will be unmoved in their commitment to pro-life principles. 

I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away.   Because no matter how much we may want to fudge it — indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory — the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.

Point on – they are irreconcilable.   But excuse me Mr. President – millions of us  do not have conflicting, contradictory opinions on abortion.   Our opinions are firm and unwavering.   So, I doubt we’ll be searching for common ground beyond recommitting ourselves to act with civility and compassion, while exercising our right to law-abiding resistance.    Let us be very clear that abortion is not an issue that will allow for the premise of equally valid, but contradictory positions.  No and hell no!

Poetry…Just Because

May 14, 2009

 

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I’ve loved this poem by Richard Garcia since I first read it in the Best American Poetry anthology of 2005 – it’s never going to jive with Orthodox Christianity’s theology or traditional biblical scholarship, but it’s a thought provoker.

Not many people know it but Adam and Eve had a dog.
Its name was Kelev Reeshon, which means, first dog.
Some scholars say it had green fur and ate only plants
and grasses, and that is why some dogs still like to eat grass.
Others say it was hairless like the Chihuahua. Some
say it was male, some female, or that it was androgynous
like the angels or the present-day hyena. Rabbi Peretz,
a medieval cabalist in Barcelona, thought it was a black
dog and that it could see the angels which were everywhere
in the garden, although Adam and Eve could not see them.
He writes in his book of mystical dream meditations,
The Sefer Halom, that Kelev tried to help Adam and Eve
see the angels by pointing at them with its nose, aligning
its tail in a straight line with its back and raising one paw.
But Adam and Eve thought Kelev was pointing at the birds.
All scholars agree that it had a white tip on its tail,
and that it was a small dog. Sometimes you see
paintings of Eve standing next to a tree holding an apple.
The misinterpretation of this iconography gave birth
to the legend of the forbidden fruit and the fall from grace.
Actually, it was not an apple, but Kelev’s ball and Eve
was about to throw it. One day, although there were no
days or nights as we know them, she threw the ball
right out of the garden. Kelev ran after it and did not return.
Adam and Eve missed their dog, but were afraid to leave
the garden. It was misty and dark outside the garden.
They could hear Kelev barking, always farther
and farther away, its bark echoing as if there were two dogs barking.
Finally, they could stand it no longer, and they gathered
Kelev’s bed of large leaves and exited the garden.
They were holding the leaves in front of their bodies.
Although they could not see it, an angel followed,
trying to light up the way with a flaming sword,
And the earth was without form outside the garden.
Everything was gray and without shape or outline
because nothing outside the garden had a name. Slowly,
they advanced toward the sound of barking,
holding each other, holding their dog’s bed against their bodies.
Eventually they made out something small and white,
swinging from side to side; it seemed to be leading them
through the mist into a world that was becoming more visible.
Now there were trees, and beneath their feet, there was a path.

Canon 28 and the Ecumenical Patriarchate

May 13, 2009

I really like George Michalopulos’  writing.  Finally, someone has written clear, concise background and analysis of jurisdictional issues and the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s jockying for power in the US.   The American Orthodox Institute  has quite a few articles on these issues, but for a good overview try this one on the history of Metropolinitates and Canon 28 and the Ecumenical Patriarchate’.    

When you’ve finished those, here’s an excerpt from Metropolitan Jonah’s interview with the Russian Patriarchate’s news service during his recent trip, with specific emphasis on his vision for Orthodoxy in America and the OCA’s autocephaly.   This is a man who may have recently apologized to the Patriarchate Bartholomew for being too honest in an age of political correctness and diplomatic niceties, but he isn’t taking back the basic message – the Orthodox Church in America has no intention of looking to Constantinople for its leadership.   Personally, I think Metropolitan Jonah’s leadership style points up another characteristic in which America differs from the Old World – up front honesty – we lay our cards on the table even when it means stepping on some toes (how’s that for some blatant metaphor mixing!)

Here’s Metropolitan Jonah laying out some honesty in his interview-

The Patriarchate of Constantinople, as well as some other Local Orthodox Churches do not recognize our autocephaly. And if they want to make any decisions affecting our life, this is only possible with our consent. Otherwise, it will be a great sin against us.

Happy Mother’s Day

May 10, 2009

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To all the moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day!  Are you working as hard as I am today on our special day?   The laundry and meals never stop.  I am dog tired after a full morning of church and cooking dinner for the family.  But I got some great hugs, some crayon drawings and roses, and an awesome button-framed photo of my 9 year old. 

Today is also the 4th Sunday after Pascha, the Sunday of the Paralytic in the Orthodox Church.  Did anyone catch this in the Epistle reading today (Acts 9:32-42)?  Sometimes you just hear things completely new and I had to try hard not to bust out laughing.

Now it came to pass, as Peter went through all parts of the country, that he also came down to the saints who dwelt in Lydda. There he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years and was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed.”  Then he arose immediately.

And again in the Gospel lesson (John 5:1-15):

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”  The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”  Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.  The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.”  He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.” Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

Eight years and thirty-eight years – these two guys have been layed up, paralyzed, unable to walk.  Amazing cure.  Total healing.  And what do they have to do immediately after St. Peter or Christ performs this miracle?   Go hug their families?  Go to the temple and give thanks?  Go shout from the rooftops?  No…they have to make up their beds!   It seems like a small detail that two thousand years later we’re still reflecting on.   What’s the point?   

St. Peter’s housekeeping instruction isn’t very clear.  Maybe it’s to prove to everyone that he’s really healed.   The purpose in the Gospel account is more understandable.  It’s a succinct instruction that points out the Jews’ overzealousness for rules rather than  gratitude and acknowledgement to God the Father for the miracle done by Christ his Son.   The paralytic performs a prohibited work on the Sabbath by carrying a load and tests their willingness to recognize Christ’s divinity and the principle of love overshadowing the strict interpretation of the Law.   

Both the paralytics did just as they were instructed.   I can very well picture  Aeneas in Lydda joyfully folding the covers, plumping his pillow; the guy at the pool whistling a tune as he rolls up his mat,  glad to be doing something so normal.

Personally, it’s Mother’s Day.  For just one day of the year I’d like to tell my kids to do anything as simple as ‘make your bed’  and get back a smile and a cheery “Sure Mom, whatever you say.”  Swift, unquestioning obedience without eye rolling or procrastination.  I guess that’s why they call these things ‘miracles’.

paralytic

Out and About in a Spiritual Wasteland

May 9, 2009

desert

I cannot remember a Paschal season where I have been in such spiritual doldrums.  The joy of Bright Week was obscured by an overwhelming tiredness and the let down from my manic rush to attend as many services as possible and get prepared for the celebration of the Feast.  Now here it is, two-and-a-half weeks later and I still haven’t recovered my spiritual equilibrium.   There is a light that just feels like it’s been blown out and I’m floundering.  Prayer is a chore, church is a chore, writing is a chore…pretty much life is a chore right now.   

Sounds pathetic doesn’t it?

I could put it down to my busy personal life, work and family stress, health worries or a touch of depression and anxiety.  It’d be even easier to just blame the devil, but I think our spiritual life is much more complicated than that.  Yes, all those things are real problems and should be addressed.  But spiritual malaise, or by its fancy name – acedia,  has a lot of causes – some internal, some external.

St. John Cassian in the Philokalia identifies acedia among eight vices that lead monks (and laypeople) astray, including numbers five (gloominess) and six (acedia, also known as listlessness or low spirits).  I’d say I can pretty well self-diagnose myself as suffering from numbers five and six.   But it’s  kind of hard to personally admit that ones gloominess isn’t just a spiritual condition, kind of like identifying depression as a brain chemical disruption.   A medical diagnosis takes out any personal responsibility – you can’t be responsible for your body’s disfunction.  Somehow, though, when you label spiritual gloominess as a ‘vice” it takes away the victim mentality and makes you an active enabler of your own problem.  My condition isn’t all just a big post holiday let down, it’s a real spiritual flaw that requires self-examination, discipline and pro-active remedies.

St. John Cassian sees his eight vices as forming a chain, all different but linked together in their deliterious effects on the soul. 

Wherefore, in order to overcome acedia, first get the better of gloominess; in order to get rid of gloominess, anger must first be expelled; in order to quell anger, covetousness must be trampled underfoot; in order to root out covetousness, fornication must be checked; and in order to destroy fornication, you must chastise the sin of gluttony.  

Well, is that all.  So, just when I thought I’d been progressing spiritually through Great Lent, things fall apart after the celebration of Pascha.  Great.  (I know, I know, never try to gauge yourself on spiritual progress)  Is malaise or acedia  normal?  It must be more common than I think because I’m not that special spiritual-wise.  I guess when you start thinking of yourself as having  unique problems, you can go ahead and add the vices of pride and vainglory.  In any event, St. Cassian is a little thin  spelling out the methods for conquering acedia.  This definitely sounds like it requires the help of a spiritual professional – my priest.  They aren’t just there for celebrating Liturgy and giving out blessings, you know.  I think I’ll give mine a good pastoral workout this week.

Poor man – pray for him.  He’s gonna need it.