Archive for the ‘Orthodoxy in the News’ Category

Russia’s Baptized Godless

April 21, 2010

I can’t really give any perspective on this article, but taken at face value it’s a sad reflection on the state of Orthodoxy in Russia.  The effects of communism and secularism seem harder to overcome then merely opening lots of churches and adding more priests.  This news article may also have shaken the view of many  Orthodox Americans (converts primarily) who tend to romanticize the mother countries of Orthodoxy and believe they hold a more pure, more vibrant expression of the faith then America.  When you hear the words “Holy Russia” come out of someone’s mouth, you can bet it’s a zealous convert (and before anyone gets in a huff, I was a zealous convert once too!)

What these religious romantics don’t see from 4,000 miles away, is that Russia, Greece, Serbia, aren’t filled with godly peasants saying the Jesus Prayer while they work the fields.   They love the idea of virtuous, saintly poverty, but  it’s a snapshot of history long gone, or maybe never entirely true.   In either case, these happy Orthodox peasants are now 21st century peoples with all the same problems, temptations and failures that Americans think are exclusively theirs.  

I’m going to look at this article hopefully, not as some kind of doom and gloom prediction of where the Russian Church is headed.  At least someone is saying “hey, we’ve got a problem that needs fixing”.  I truly believe Russia is, at it’s very heart, a deeply, organically Orthodox country.  That flame just need some proper fanning, some careful tending.  In the meantime, American Orthodoxy can’t forget its own problems – let’s get on with our business and let the Russians do what they need to do to reclaim the title of “Holy Russia”.

All Saints Orthodox Mission, Victoria, Texas

March 11, 2010

I’m posting some photos and video below of last Saturday’s road trip  to All Saints Orthodox Mission in Victoria, Texas.  

I was not prepared for how obvious and visible the new church was from the highway.  I was looking for the big water tower – a handy landmark when you’re  trying to find the church – but it was the starkly white and unusually shaped (for Victoria) church building that got my attention.   You just can’t miss it as you drive into town on Hwy. 87.  As I posted last time, Victoria has never had an Orthodox church.  It has a large percentage of Roman Catholic churches, but mainline Protestant and non-denominational are equally present.  There’s even been a Muslim mosque for several years, but never an Orthodox church.  Corpus Christi, 50 miles away, had the closest Orthodox church.

Can you spot the small water tower near the church?  This was about 10:30 a.m. as folks started to gather outside.  By the time the service started I’d guesstimate there were close to 75 or 80 people there, including several Protestant clergy and a photographer from the Catholic Diocese of Victoria.

The Very Rev. Fr. Dimitri Cozby, pastor of All Saints, and our own, the Very Rev. Fr. Leo Poore, begin the service of Thyroxenia or opening of the doors.  (And check out those doors – gorgeous!  An All Saints parishioner pointed out to me that the metal scroll work on the doors perfectly matched the filligrees on the 7-branched candlestick on the altar.  Not intentional but a beautiful coincidence.)

Now, I don’t think many people have ever seen this service performed so none of us knew what to expect, but the symbology of what is being done ties perfectly into the purpose of the service – the opening of the doors of a new church.  Up to this point the reading of Psalm 83, “How beloved are Thy dwellings, O Lord”, the litanies, the Epistle reading from Hebrews 3:1-4, “For every house is constructed by someone, but God has constructed all things.”, and the Gospel of Matthew 16:13-18, “…thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”,  pointed above all else to the founding of God’s Holy Church, both temporal and spiritual.  The climax of the service outside the church and the literal opening of the doors comes after another litany specifically for the raising of a new temple.  The priest then repeats three times a literal knocking at the door:

Lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may come in.

Stationed inside the church is a parishioner reading a response to the priest:

Who is this King of Glory?

And again the priest knocks:

The Lord storng and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle.  Lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may come in.

And the final response from inside the church:

Who is this King of Glory?

The priest’s final statement:

The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.

Below is a clip of Fr. Dimitri at this point in the service.  It was a pretty windy day and you can barely hear the exchange described above.

After entering the temple, Fr. Dimitri blessed the interior with holy water.   Now I’m sorry I didn’t get more pictures, but the interior is something else.  The nave is semi-circular with side areas that will be perfect for adding more space on crowded days.  The doors separating the narthex and nave are huge glass double doors, that when combined with all the clear  windows in the church and the windows around the dome, make the church feel almost like it’s outdoors.  The floors are stained concrete and the altar area is floored with the most satiny smooth exotic hardwood.  All I can say is the finished effect is simply beautiful.  Once the iconostas is in place and the iconography on the walls and dome, then this will be an example of the very best in “modern” Orthodox church architecture.

Altar area sans iconostas

Fr. Dimitri’s sermon at the conclusion of the service was particularly good.  He’s a very scholarly priest and I’ve never heard one of his sermons that didn’t expand my understanding of the Church.  All Saints is blessed to have him.  (You’re gonna to have to bear with me on the video – how was I supposed to know that if you hold the camera sideways the video would turn out sideways too!  Fr. Dimitri usually doesn’t preach in this position, but I think he’d be the first to say that his perspective on things is usually just a bit “off  kilter”.  That’s our life as Christians – off kilter from the world.   So turn the volume up, close your eyes and everything will be alright.)


The parish catered a wonderful meal by a local Greek restaurant (sorry I just can’t remember the name of the business).  Despite the wind and the cool tempertures it turned out to be a perfect day.  God is blessing this mission in so many ways and I pray for their success in this life and the next.

Orthodox Road Trippin’

March 6, 2010

T-minus 6 hours 45 minutes and I’ll be blasting off for a day trip down to Victoria, Texas, to visit All Saints Orthodox Mission.   It’s an OCA mission that’s managed to put down deeper roots in 4 short years then many parishes accomplish in 10.  In the last year they’ve built a brand new Orthodox-style church in a growing area of town, and planted 100 olive trees and pastured a flock of 150 sheep on their 90 acre church property.  That is absolutely amazing, and I’m not just talking  about the sheep.  (Clarification – the church itself owns 17 acres of the 90 acre property; the remainder is owned by a parishioner.)

Tomorrow’s trip is a parish lenten retreat for members of St. Anthony’s to join our brothers and sisters as they celebrate the  official entry into their new church, called the “opening of the doors”  or Thyranexia.  It is a blessing and prayer service, kind of a dedication service.  And of course we’ll have a lenten lunch afterwards.  Nothing is really “official”  in the Orthodox Church unless it’s finalized with a pot luck and lots of coffee.  All Saint’s priest, the Very Rev. Fr. Dimitri Cozby, was actually the priest who received me into the Orthodox Church almost 20 years ago.  He was St. Anthony’s longest serving priest for more than 20 years, then left and started this mission.  You couldn’t ask for a more wonderful and godly priest to serve a new mission. 

I’m also going to combine pleasure with pleasure.  The rest of the group isn’t as crazy as I am to leave at 5:45 am, but I’m going to be doing a little bird watching before the service starts at 11:00 am.  Victoria has got some great birding spots and it’s also going to be kind of nice to just visit around town.  My in-laws lived in Victoria for more than 25 years until they retired and moved to Corpus Christi a few years ago.   I think this is only the 2nd time I’ve been back since they left.  I tried to get my kids to go with me, even bribing them with a trip to The Texas Zoo (yes, Victoria even has a really great little zoo), but they just couldn’t be talked into it.

I’ll post more when I get back.  In the meantime, check out some of the great coverage the Victoria Advocate newspaper has been giving All Saints with this video and news article.

Turkey Reacts to Patriarch Bartholomew

December 21, 2009

Well, here’s no surprise – Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu doesn’t like what Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has to say about the persecution of Christians in Turkey and their taking up of the Cross.   He “graciously” allowed His Holiness  an opening for apology and back pedaling when he said

We regard the use of the crucifixion simile as extremely unfortunate…. I would like to see this as an undesired slip of the tongue.

If you watched the achingly sad interview you’ll know that every word Patriarch Bartholomew used was carefully and thoughtfully chosen for just the message it conveyed – a passive-aggressive and unreasonable government that unfairly singles out the remnants of a conquered ethnic group that just won’t go away fast enough.  One thing that so affected me about the interview was the poignancy of Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of the last remaining Byzantine Greeks, trying to preserve the faith in what was once their own country, oppressed by the muslim descendents of what were once faithful Orthodox Christians.  It’s the same feeling you get with the Copts – how galling that they are a minority in their own country, under persecution by those who, centuries before, were once Copts themselves.

60 Minutes also posted a couple of extra videos that further highlight the de-Christianization of Turkey and the land of Palestine.   These two clips reinforce the sadness and thorough way in which Islam has supplanted the Christian faith in the Holy Land and Turkey.  It is not the “truth” of Islam at work, but the Great Deceiver working through the tide of history, conquest and persecution. (By the way, Dr. Maria C. Khoury, seen in the interview in Taybeh, Palestine, is a popular author of children’s books and a tireless supporter of the last remaining Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land.  Pray for her and for the Christians of Taybeh.)  

For an earlier post, click here to go to Patriarch Bartholomew on 60 Minutes

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on 60 Minutes

December 18, 2009

This Sunday, December 20th at 7 p.m. EST / 6 p.m. CST, His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will be interviewed on 60 Minutes about the Church and the difficulties it faces in Turkey.   The short trailer   surprised me and I hope it reflects the tone of the whole segment.  I’ve never heard His Holiness speak so directly about the oppression the Church endures.   Patriarch Bartholomew, aside from being a religious leader, is a well-versed politician.  His politically sensitive words always seem chosen to keep him balanced between drawn knives.  This interview is sure to raise someone’s blood pressure.

While I’m at odds with the Patriarch’s moves to control the American diaspora and his media-fueled elevation to the role of Orthodox “pope”, I still respect him as an Orthodox Patriarch and can certainly understand where he’s coming from on this issue.  This is a fight for the very survival of the Christian faith in one of its oldest communities, and fighting these days is about media presence.

I hope this news story will do some small part to expose the true nature of the Turkish government even while it scrambles to put its best face on for the EU admission process.  What I think is obvious is that the Turkish government and the country’s rising Muslim fanaticism will finish off the Turkish Christian minority in the 21st century if something drastic is not done soon. 

If you’re thinking this is overreaction, how about a plot by Turkish naval personnel to kill a target list of approximately 939 non-muslims and to bomb homes and places of worship.  Or  the Syriac Orthodox priest ordered under threat of death by muslim extremists  to tear down his church’s bell tower as reparation for the Swiss minaret ban.  I’ve got a limit here or I could give you a hundred more examples of threats, attacks, vandalism, and discrimination directed against Christians in Turkey.    

So by all means, European Union, admit Turkey and see what you get.  

The Search Begins For a New Bishop

August 13, 2009

OCA Diocese of the South

The website for the Diocese of the South is reporting the news that Metropolitan Jonah has taken the first big step in the search for a new Bishop for the Diocese.  Metropolitan Jonah has been acting as locum tenens i.e. temporary caretaker (Latin, “one holding a place”) since our beloved Archbishop Dmitri retired in the Spring. 

August 12.   With the blessing of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, Locum Tenens of the Diocese of the South (‘DOS’), an Episcopal Search Committee has been established. The Committee was approved at the recently concluded DOS Assembly in Atlanta.

The Search Committee will consist of the DOS deans and the chancellor of the Diocese. Members of the Committee include, Archpriest Philip Reese, Archpriest Peter Smith, Archpriest Ted Pisarchuk, Priest Stephen Freeman, Priest Marcus Burch, Priest Seraphim Hisph and Archpriest Joseph Fester.

The Episcopal Search Committee is scheduled to hold their first meeting in early September.

I’m sure there’s going to be lots of idle speculation, rumors and blatthering from the peanut gallery.  The priests that have been selected are well-known and respected, not just for their administrative skills, but for their spirituality and love of the Church.  

The best we can do is to pray for them and the hard work they’re undertaking.  Filling the shoes of Archbishop Dmitri is going to be difficult but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit I believe they will find worthy candidates. 

Tea Parties, Secession and the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Texas

April 16, 2009

041509 tea party 01Texas has always had this escape clause mentality – the idea that we managed just fine on our own at one time and we aren’t afraid to do it again.   We’re independent cusses just looking for something to get riled up about.   So, it’s no wonder Gov. Rick Perry has gone shooting his mouth off about secession.   That could be an interesting conundrum for Orthodox unity in the United States of America.   The Autocephalous Orthodox Church of  Texas sounds catchy, doesn’t it.    San Antonio – the New Constantinople.

Did anyone attend a Tea Party yesterday?  Here in San Antonio   there were close to 10,000 tea bag warriors in front of the Alamo (I know because I was trying to go home).  Motor City Madman, now adopted Texan, Ted Nugent provided the entertainment, along with host Glenn Beck.  Ted’s wild-eyed version of Cat Scratch Fever, along with his rabid conservatism, might explain part of the big turnout locally.  (To say that San Antonio likes its heavy metal and classic rock bands is to say ‘the sun is a little warm’.)

I can certainly understand the anger that precipitated these rallies.  I’ve been just as disgusted about the issue of government bailouts.   When I have to take the bus to work and eat leftovers for lunch, I wonder what I did to cause my lifestyle to drop so dramatically.   So, was it better to let the banking and auto industries collapse and new forms of business rise from the ashes?  Was it better for our country in the long term to re-invent itself out of a failed economy?  I don’t understand things enough to know.  Theoretically, I’d like to see this country revert to a  traditional, family and community-centered, heavily agrarian model, ala Wendell Berry.   Would the social turmoil and suffering be worth it?  That’s a hard choice.   I’m not willing to get all Grapes of Wrath and face homelessness and hunger with my kids, are you?  There are plenty of people in this country right now who are living that and it’s not romantic, it’s misery.   It’s always easier to consider your reaction to these situations hypothetically.

But let me ask one other question about the enormous turnout at yesterday’s Tea Parties.   Has anyone figured out yet how the masses could be whipped up into a tax and big government frenzy against an administration that has only been in office for 4 months?  Where were the protests 1, 4, 6 years ago?   It was 8 years of mismanagement under the other guy that saw the national debt hit one quadrillion gazillion dollars; that created  new, big spending, red tape bureaucracies, and fostered the erosion of civil liberties under the same red, white and blue flag all those folks were waving yesterday.  Who got all pissed off and dressed up in ‘Bush is a Fascist’ t-shirts and protested the 2008 budget? 

041509 tea party 03

A Little Water Never Hurt Nuthin’

February 3, 2009


I’m a little late with this, but here’s a link to a local news story that ran in the San Antonio Express News this past Saturday.    Thank you Elaine Ayo and John Davenport at the Express News for a really nice article that concisely presented the spirituality and deep significance of Theophany and blessings to the non-Orthodox world.   San Antonio is really fortunate to have a local newspaper that covers religion news so well. 

A couple of parishioners quietly mentioned to me they thought an article on the blessing of cars might look a little weird to anyone outside the Orthodox faith who hasn’t experienced this before.  Well, it certainly isn’t as majestic, awe-inspiring and mystical as Pascha or the Nativity, but it really grows on you.  This is a good example of Orthodoxy entering into even the most mundane areas of life.   As Americans we tend to like our religiosity confined to Sunday morning between 10 am and noon.   And we certainly aren’t comfortable with religious expression and “rites” that aren’t confined to the four walls of a church (just bow your head and make the sign of the Cross in a crowded restaurant and see how many people give you “that look” – not an entirely hostile look, just the one reserved for religious zealots).

But as our priest, Fr. Leo Poore, pointed out in the article (he’s in the photo above)

There’s nothing that we know of that cannot be renewed, cannot be blessed. It affirms the fact that things are renewed through Christ and we are all called on to be as Adam and Eve before the fall.

I personally love the season of  Theophany, house blessings and car blessings.  It’s such a personal experience to have your priest bring the services of the Church right into your own home.  It reminds me that Orthodoxy is a total life experience in a way that I just can’t get from my own personal piety and practices (not the Church’s fault, just my own lack of faith and poor prayer life).

So why not bless our cars?  We spend hours a week driving around in them – so much of our life is spent in cars these days.   For all intents and purposes you can complete an entire life cycle in a car.  Babies are conceived in them, born in them.  We eat, sleep and work in our cars.  You can propose in one and get married in a drive-thru line.  And God knows enough of us die in them.   How weird can blessing the darned things be?

The Future of The Russian Orthodox Church

December 18, 2008


Here’s an interesting little commentary  by John Couretas of the Action Institute about the future of the Russian Orthodox Church as it relates to the long history of Soviet repression and church accommodation or some would say, conspiracy. 

The Russian Orthodox Church has been coming into its own for a few years now, and the path it takes towards a supremacy of faith or some form of accommodation for non-Orthodox religions depends on the election of the new Patriarch in February.

I think it’s hard or a bit galling for Americans to look at a church/state structure like Russia has traditionally maintained and is trying to re-invent, and equate that with the religious laissez-faire we have in America.  Our free and easy way with religion has ensured its vibrancy but at the cost of traditional doctrine and the preservation of “the Church”.  When Americans speak about going to church they do not have the faintest idea of what it means to have a unity of faith.  Give credit to the Russians, that despite the most brutal repression, they still preserve the vision of a common Orthodox faith for an Orthodox country.  

The reality of modern Russia is that non-Christian fringe faiths (Hare Krishnas, etc..), heresies (Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses) and various Evangelical or mainstream Protestant denominations have popped up or been resurrected.   Some of these Protestant denominations, such as Lutherans and Baptists, and the Roman Catholic Church  have had an historical presence in Russia since at least the 17th century, due to the expansion or contraction of borders, or the large numbers of European advisors and merchants who came into Russia at the invitation of Peter the Great.   Would I feel so strongly in support of the predominance of  Orthodoxy if I was a Baptist or an Evangelical rooting for the missionaries and house churches of Russia?  Or turn it around completely and I can even understand how Muslims must feel about the singular position of Islam in the Middle East.  At least it’s an easier position to accept with regard to Russia, that for 1000 years it’s been an Orthodox land and unless you’re planning on reverting back to paganism, Orthodox it should remain.

A New Interview With Metropolitan Jonah

December 11, 2008

Here’s a new Associated Press interview  with Metropolitan Jonah that was out yesterday.  For such a short interview I am pretty impressed that the journalist, Tom Breen, asked questions which made him seem more than a little familiar with Orthodoxy.  A very nicely done interview.

I think it can easily be said that our new Metropolitan is amazing.  I also would bet you there’s never before in the history of the Orthodox Church been a Metropolitan who found the ancient faith in a “hippie bookstore”.    Can’t you just picture our future Metropolitan as a long-haired, bearded college student, wearing a tie-died shirt and chanclas?

I encountered Orthodoxy in a hippie bookstore, picking up a book called the Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Vladimir Lossky. It was one of the few books on Orthodoxy available in English at the time. When I read it, I knew it was the truth. I saw that Orthodoxy is the fully integrated experience and vision of what Christianity is all about.

As  a convert I’m always interested in the story of how other converts deal with their non-Orthodox families and the struggles and conflicts they’ve overcome.   I’d love to hear about Met. Jonah’s family and their reaction to his election.  Maybe that’s too “fan club” but I’m sure I’m not the only person who wants to know.