31 August 2016

Relevant Beauty

I've noticed in younger Orthodox Churches (I'm thinking of new missions, etc), both Eastern and Western Rites, a tendency to imitate the decorating styles of "the Old Country" - even when there is no Old Country.  We imitate their art and their architecture as if it were the only way to do things.  I just wonder why we do this.  There are ways to do things, modern ways of understanding beauty, both East and West... why do we cover our walls in imitation of someone else's culture?  Yes, I know that at one time even western rite parishes (in Orthodox England, etc) were all covered in art, but now we think of beauty differently.  Our idea of honoring God with beauty needn't at all imitate Tsarist Russia or Ottoman Greece and the Levant: unless our ideas of beauty are not good enough.

Catholic Monastery in France
Orthodox Church in Denmark
I love both these spaces in their ornate simplicity.  Our churches needn't be Overstimulating Media Screens.

 Just sayin...

19 August 2016

Counting Sundays

Warning, Church Geek Rant ahead.

At one time, the Sundays after Easter were counted (in the west) as X number of Sunday after certain feasts. "After Pentecost", "After Apostles" (the feast of Peter and Paul on 29 June), "After Laurence" (Feast of St Laurence on 10 August) and "After the Angels" (St Michael and All Angels on 29 September).  Advent being the next season was, in some places, the Sundays "After St Martin" on 11 November.  In some places it was the 4 Sundays before Nativity.  This was a lot of counting!  It was regularized in Rome, at least, to Sundays after Pentecost sometime before the 15th Century.  In much of Europe it was regularized to "Sundays after Trinity" - being the first Sunday after Pentecost.  In the time before the Reformation and the Council of Trent, many local churches also had their own calendar and their own cycle of Bible readings, called a lectionary.  One of the more famous of the period (but only so famous in our day) is the Sarum Lectionary, being the the use of the Salisbury Cathedral in England.  They counted Sundays after Trinity. This is important because it provides one of the sources for modern Western Rite liturgical calendars and readings.

At the Council of Trent the Roman church did things to her liturgy.  First: she suppressed almost all the local variations and ordered all Roman Catholic churches to use the same liturgy. Second: she ordered all churches to follow her tradition of counting Sundays after Pentecost.  This might sound like a matter of merely counting different (Pentecost is one Sunday before Trinity, so just add one) except for the next item. Third: she moved the collects in one direction in time and Gospels were moved in the other direction.

This means that what the prayers and readings said, formerly on (eg) the fourth Sunday after Trinity is now broken out and said on the third, the fourth, and the fifth Sundays.

Where this comes home, as it were, is in our Western Rites (ROCOR and Antioch, New Calendar and Old): because the After Pentecost counting happened after the Reformation, the Anglican tradition - and thus the Rite of St Tikhon - following the Use of Sarum Cathedral, still uses Sundays after Trinity. The difference between the Tikhon liturgy and those who use the Liturgy of St Gregory (based on the Roman Rite) is not just a difference of one Sunday.  If one is inclined (as I am) to build connections and meditations on the liturgy based on its component parts, you get a different mosaic from Tikhon than you do from Gregory.

This Church Geekery is compounded by the fact that almost all WR liturgical materials are produced for both sets of communities.  You cannot simply subtract one (or add one) to transpose between liturgies.

End of Rant.

16 August 2016

This is all new, no?

A comment on the previous post:
It's only been since the 70's that many Christians became involved in politics.
This idea was also put forth in the classic discussion of post-9/11 America, The Power of Nightmares. That work offers the (I think correct) opinion that American Neo-Conservatives, and the "religious right" share rather a lot in common with Radical Islam. It fails, I think, in holding the idea that both Muslims and American Christians stayed out of secular politics until the 1970s and that only the political manipulations of the secular right lured Christians into activism.
Although I think it's true that Reagan was the first Candidate in modern political history to run, as it were, on a religious ticket, Muslims and Christians have been in politics since, well... since before there were Muslims.  The Council of Nicea, although a good thing, was summoned by an emperor - not by the Church - for political reasons: the struggle of the true faith against the Arians was causing political dissention in the Empire.  Constantine called the Bishops together to end the public dissention over the matter of the Son of God being divine or not in order to keep peace in his kingdom.

In American History there were clergymen who signed the Declaration of Independence.  Despite the entirely secular tone ("nature's God"?) of the Declaration, someone managed to get "Year of our Lord" included in the Constitution.  Most of the 13 colonies had state churches and this held true for a while after the Revolution. Massachusetts had a state church until 1834!  The Civil War was fought by clergy and churches on both sides: what do you think the Battle Hymn of the Republic is? Most US Churches split geographically and took up allegiances as appropriate. Emancipation was a religious enterprise; as was the Temperance movement in the early 20th century.  The passage of the 18th Amendment in 1920 was a action pushed by progressive Christians to save families being destroyed by alcohol.  It was seen as part of the social gospel that also gave rise, eventually, to ideas about welfare and insurance.  Most American Churches have stood with the country in the World Wars and in Korea and Viet Nam.  WW2 was seen as a fight for Christian Culture against Nazi paganism by both Churchill and FDR. There are rather famous anecdotes about Cardinal Spellman turning in altar boys who were draft dodgers.  Churches were up in arms about the social uprising of the 60s.  But a new thing began to happen: some groups, in order to be "relevant", reached out to the social activists.  ECUSA did, certainly, but the "Jesus People" movement was all about "hippie church".  Baby Boomers began to make religion to be about praise music and a lack of social convention.

As this started to happen, older folks felt driven out of their churches by rock music and clergy in casual clothing. The Catholics had Vatican Two and guitar masses... the parents of Boomers all around were squeezed out.  It didn't take long before the morality of the wider Boomer culture was also creeping into the Churches: ordaining women, approving various non-marital sexual expressions, etc, all in the name of "social justice" and "relevance".

What Jerry Falwell and Ronald Reagan did was, effectively, use each other for their own ends.  Ronald Reagan, veteran of WW2, revitalized his own generation by using religious language and hearkening back to a time when one didn't need to "vote religiously" because the entire culture was covered with a Christian veneer. There were Nativity Scenes everywhere at Christmas, there were Christian flags carried by Boy Scouts in every parade.  The whole country looked and felt Christian, no matter what was going on under the surface.  But the 60s and the 70s stripped away that veneer.  President Carter, a Baptist Sunday School teacher, confessed to having "lusted in his heart".  In the 70s you could freely lust in the open.

So, no: I don't think Christians playing politics is a new thing. Nor is the idea that some politician (from Lincoln onward) is going to do the moral thing and fix the country at all new.  Many elections have been pushed as a "Come to Jesus" moment. And the American Gov't is often seen as God's Tool on the national and international stages.

Unfortunately, the idea of Ceasaropapism plays out fully in American Protestantism.  Although there were exceptions (Spellman and the Kennedy clan first and foremost) most Catholics stayed out of it all and with good reason: throughout much of American History the members of the Roman Church have been held at arm's length by the Protestant majority.  Kennedy and Spellman were both examples of selling out one's religion to buy into political power.  They are the same sort of person as modern Evangelicals who get behind a political candidate only because of the issue of abortion - without wondering about his or her stance on social care or poverty.  It was this same buying into mainstream political power that led huge number of Greek Orthodox Christians to be supporters of the Democratic Party without asking questions about its anti-Christian platform planks, just as it was the cold war that made many Serbian and Russian Orthodox into unquestioning Republicans.

The writer then wonders..
Maybe it wouldn't be that difficult to direct our focus back more fully to where it should be.

Since many of the "convert boom" of Protestants coming into Orthodoxy were in the reactionary parts of their denominations - the parts 'triggered' by Reagan and Falwell - it is understandable that they would bring their politics with them. Like Constantine's sword arm - they hold these parts out of the waters of baptism for fear that they would have to give them up. I doubt it would be easy to get them to give up these ideas. They are married to the idea of having a Christian Country led by the right sort of president.  By this they mean, really, a Christian veneer glued and stapled back on society so we all act right in public and so that their kids won't ask them embarrassing questions in public.  "Mom, why are those two men kissing?"

To this, this series of posts invites them not to baptize their politics and bring their phobias, guns, and hawks in to the church, but rather, come fully into the Kingdom, leaving that demonic crap outside.

12 August 2016

No King but Jesus - Part 2 of 2

Christ is the king of all mankind by natural right - because he is our Creator - and by acquired right - because he is our Redeemer.  He is King (as Creator and Redeemer) even of those who refuse to acknowledge him as such, or those who do not yet know him as such.  Regardless of the source of the image above, the teaching is Orthodox, yes? That the Church should be filled with Royalty as a Court around a King makes perfect sense: the Church is the Kingdom of God on earth.

More directly, the Church is the Body of Christ: the presence of Christ on Earth.  This is not a mystical saying; that is, this is not some sort of vague, spiritual wooji-wooji. It is literally true. The Church is the Body of Christ in exactly the same way as the Bread of the Holy Mysteries is.  The latter constitutes the former.  It is through partaking of "this bread which is truly Thine own pure Body, and... this cup which is truly Thine own precious Blood" the Church is the Body of Christ, conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Blessed Virgin, crucified under Pontius Pilate, buried by Joseph, and on the third day risen from the dead gloriously after harrowing hell and now reigning at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  He is the King of all Creation.  It follows that the Church should both celebrate and manifest his Kingship in all the places where she may be found.  She is his body. She is his presence on earth.

11 August 2016

No King but Jesus - Part 1 of 2

In December, 1925, Pope Pius the Eleventh made a new feast for the Roman Catholic Church: that of Christ the King.  That this is a new feast is evident.  No such thing existed prior to 1925.  The back-story of the feast is one that reaches only 200 years back from 1925, so it's clearly post-schism.  That said, the Holy Synods of the Russian Orthodox Church and of the Antiochian Orthodox Church have both allowed this feast to be celebrated by their Western Rite communities, thus signifying that, while it was "new" there was nothing contrary to the teaching of the Church in its celebration.  Mindful that many American Orthodox clergy and laity think they know better than their Bishops on these matters, I will dismiss any objections to this feast out of hand as contrary to the mind of the Church. When exploring the concept of Christ's Kingdom-not-of-this-World, this feast of Christ the King constitutes part of the teaching of the Orthodox Church, and so should be explored.

04 August 2016

Why bother?

A presidential election always brings out the worst in my internet: partisanship, not the least.  There is also rancor, name-calling, anger, hatred, false witness, calling evil good, and murmuring. We can add in the rest of the list from Galatians 5, if we include the politicians themselves: "adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like." Against these, St Paul contrasts the "Fruit of the Spirit": "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law."  There is no law against these things, but they do put the Christian at variance with the general climate of the Election Cycle and, truth be told, in times past it was these very things that got Christians killed: they might not be illegal, but they can sure be annoying.  Have you ever tried to be the voice of reason in a barfight?

Christ says his Kingdom is "not of this World".  We - especially in America or other parts of the "first world" - hear that to mean "My Kingdom does not have a physical mailing address on this planet."  That is not only true of people who claim to follow Christ.  Nonbelievers of all sorts will cite that passage whenever Christians seem to get "too political".  "Didn't Jesus say his kingdom was 'not of this world'? What are you doing in politics?"  Christians will use the same argument when talking to another Christian of the "wrong" political stripe:  "Why are you a member of thus-and-such political movement?  Jesus said, 'Not of this world'!"  Finally there are those who - and I have counted myself in this camp from time to time - take "Not of this World" as a permission to stand "above it all" not wishing to be mixed up in all the partisanship, one gets all holy and stuff, standing aloof.  I've held that position pretty much since college.  I've never voted in a Presidential election and only three times have I voted locally.  My argument has been "yeah, this isn't working, why bother?"  Consider this post the beginning of an examination of that POV.

Jesus' phrase, as recorded in John in Greek, is:
Ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμὴ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου.

To parse that out in word-for-word: "the kingdom the of-me not is from-among the cosmos this." The important words seem to be "kingdom" βασιλεία, of course, and also "from-among" ἐκ and "cosmos" κόσμου. As Pilate realized in his reply to Jesus: Jesus used the word "Kingdom" βασιλεία, so, in fact, there is a Kingdom.  Jesus is claiming kingship of one sort or another.  But of what sort? The answer lies in that word, "cosmos" κόσμου.

Yes, Cosmos means "universe" or "this entire everything".  But that is not it's primary meaning.  We hear "Cosmos" today and we're waiting for this:

In a very real sense, Dr Sagan's version is useful:  Jesus' Kingdom is not from-out-of this universe in these 100 Billion Galaxies of 100 Billion Stars.  But that's not what Jesus means by "Cosmos".  Such a thing "this physical world" is the 4th definition for the word, noted, in Strong's as "very rarely so in Greek writings until after the age of the Ptolemies".  Jesus seems to be using κόσμου in the primary sense of his culture: "Order". As it was in Greek writings from Homer down, an apt and harmonious arrangement or constitution, (again, from Strong's).  Jesus is saying "My Kingdom - very real it certainly is - has nothing at all in common with your conception of 'Kingdom'".

What that means is - secular issues aside - we cannot say "We have no obligation to this world".  What we have is no obligation to this worldly system. (St Paul commands us to pray for those in authority: but we know that, over and over, our prayers for those in authority in ancient Rome were - rightly - deemed to be seditious.  As I said, these things might not be illegal, but they can sure be annoying. )

Point of fact, despite my previous political aloofness, I don't think we have an obligation  - or even permission - to ignore all this.  However, I don't think we have permission to get involved according to the rules of this κόσμου.  Our obligation  - the command given - is to follow the rules of our kingdom.  But, forgive me my past sins and errors, it seems clear that we should be involved.

In a future post, I will make a little essay towards the truth of what we should be doing.  In closing, for now, a meditation from 1980 on what sort of Kingdom this is.

01 August 2016

Tolkien on the Eucharist

Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. . . . There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death.

By the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste—or foretaste—of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.

The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise.

Frequency is of the highest effect.

Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals.

Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your Communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children—from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn—open-necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them).

It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people.

It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand—after which our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.”


One day, Fr T said unto me "I have solved the problem with the Epiclesis!"  For those not in the know, the Roman Canon is lacking an epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Ghost over the gifts).  This is because the Roman Canon is older than the Constantinopolitan idea of the need for such things.  When the Russian Church examined the Roman Rite, they requested an explicit epiclesis be inserted and it was done.  However Fr Overbeck, who had petitioned the Russian Church for a Western Rite,  was not that familiar, I think, with Byzantine tradition: he used the Epiclesis from the Anaphora of St John Chrysostom, the most-heard Byzantine Liturgy.  Following him, everyone has used that Epiclesis.  If Overbeck had used the Anaphora of St Basil liturgy rather than St John's, the insertion would be of a more harmonious effect.  Thus ruminated Fr T over coffee one morning and, having little to do today, I decided to take the Roman Canon (as translated by Miles Coverdale) and add to it a Basilian Epiclesis.  I think it is, in fact, much more harmonious.