Archive for March, 2008

Guess the author (it sure isn’t me)

I do not deny that there are differences between the Churches, but I say that we must change our way of approaching them. And the question of method is in the first place a psychological, or rather a spiritual problem. For centuries there have been conversations between theologians, and they have done nothing except to harden their positions. I have a whole library about it. And why? Because they spoke in fear and distrust of one another, with the desire to defend themselves and to defeat the others. Theology was no longer a pure celebration of the mystery of God. It became a weapon. God himself became a weapon!

I repeat: I do not ignore these difficulties. But I am trying to change the spiritual atmosphere. The restoration of mutual love will enable us to see the questions in a totally different light. We must express the truth which is dear to us – because it protects and celebrates the immensity of the life which is in Christ – we must express it, not so as to repulse the other, so as to force him to admit that he is beaten, but so as to share it with him; and also for its own sake, for its beauty, as a celebration of truth to which we invite our brothers. At the same time we must be ready to listen. For Christians, truth is not opposed to life or love; it expresses their fullness. First of all, we must free these words, these words which tend to collide, from the evil past, from all political, national and cultural hatreds which have nothing to do with Christ. Then we must root them in the deep life of the Church, in the experience of the Resurrection which it is their mission to serve. We must always weigh our words in the balance of life and death and Resurrection.

Those who accuse me of sacrificing Orthodoxy to a blind obsession with love, have a very poor conception of the truth. They make it into a system which they possess, which reassures them, when what it really is, is the living glorification of the living God, with all the risks involved in creative life. And we don’t possess God; it is He who holds us and fills us with His presence in proportion to our humility and love. Only by love can we glorify the God of love, only by giving and sharing and sacrificing oneself can one glorify the God who, to save us, sacrificed himself and went to death, the death of the cross.

But I would go further. Those who reproach me with sacrificing truth to love have no confidence in the truth. They shut it up, they lock it up like an unfaithful woman. But I say, if the truth is the truth, we must not be afraid for it; let us give it, let us share it, let us show it in its fullness, let us welcome all that there is of light and love in the experience of our brethren. If we continue in this attitude, then truth will become clear of itself, it will conquer all limitations and inadequacies from within, on the basis of the common mystery of the Church. Let us enlarge our hearts, “let each one of us, as the apostle says, look not to our own things, but rather to the things of others” (Phil. 2:4). We have a sure criterion – life in Christ. Faced with a partial expression of the truth, let us ask in what measure it conveys the life in Christ, or in what measure it is liable to compromise it.

Orthodoxy, if it goes back to the sources of its great tradition, will be the humble and faithful witness to the undivided Church. The Orthodox Churches, in coming together themselves in mutual respect and love, will set a movement of brotherhood going throughout the Christian world, giving the example of a free communion of sister Churches, united by the same sacraments and the same faith. As to the Orthodox faith, centered as it is on liturgical praise and worship, and on holiness, it will bring the criterion of spiritual experience to ecumenical dialogue, a criterion which will allow us to disentangle partial truths from their limitations so that they may be reconciled in a higher plenitude of truth.

But we Orthodox: are we worthy of Orthodoxy? Up till the efforts we have made in recent years, what kind of example have our Churches given? We are united in faith and united in the chalice, but we have become strangers to one another, sometimes rivals. And our great tradition, the Fathers, Palamas, the Philokalia: is it living and creative in us? If we are satisfied to repeat our formulas, hardening them against our fellow Christians, then our inheritance will become something dead. It is sharing, humility, reconciliation which makes us truly Orthodox, holding the faith not for ourselves – if we did that we should simply be affirming yet one more historic confession of faith – but for the union of all, as the selfless witnesses of the undivided Church.

— Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I (1886-1972)

(Doubtless there are those now saying, “See? They’ve been wishy-washy ecumenist heretics for awhile now.” Sigh.)

More here. And look at that picture and just try to tell me that… well, you know. Check the tags if you don’t understand.

(HT: Eirenikon.)

Frank Pesci: “music does have meaning”

My buddy and all-around cool guy Frank Pesci in Boston meditates upon the following:

Leonard Meyer’s 1957 treatise, Emotion and Meaning in Music, sums up, at length, the understanding that tone, pitch, rhythm and harmony in and of themselves do not have “meaning” – as in, they inherently do not present, together or separately, a stimulus to which a behavioral or biological response can be assigned or by which a universal response can be predicted – and observes that “meaning” derived from music is an amalgamation of associations dependent upon the societal traditions, personal upbringing, and learned experience of the individual listener.

[…] But that being said, music does have meaning, based on our connotations that have changed surprisingly little in the last few hundred years. We still use the same tonalities and intervals, the same ordering of pitches, the same basic rhythmic structure, the same use of tension and release. These connotations and the emotional response to them have become – while not standardized or universal – at least common for 21st century Westerners.

I’ll let the rest of his thoughts speak for themselves. What I would like to say about this is that the attitude he describes inherently makes the assumption that the received tradition doesn’t, and can’t, matter.

To some extent, this is the opposite of iconoclasm — where iconoclasm says that there is no way, no how that divine things may be depicted (with wood and paint, for example), so any attempts to do so must be destroyed, this says that divine things may not only be depicted (in notes and rhythms in this case), but that no medium is privileged over another, so that any way you choose to depict divine things will be just as good as any other. So, just go with the flow of whatever the taste may be, because it’s just all about what people like anyway.

There is an alternate view, of course, which suggests that iconography is to be governed by Tradition, and that sung prayer as an aural form of iconography, is to be every bit as much governed by the παράδοσις as visual iconography. This doesn’t mean there’s no room for creative expression; it just means that those who are liturgical artisans are held to a different, and higher, standard.

Otherwise, I find it very difficult to see that somehow we’re not ultimately saying that it boils down to where the most entertaining place to be Sunday morning is.

Wherever the bishop appears, there let the congregation be

ὅπου ἂν φανῇ ὁ ἐπίσκοπος, ἐκεῖ τὸ πλῆθος ἤτω, ὥσπερ ὅπου ἂν ῇ Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, ἐκεῖ ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία. (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, 8:2. Full Greek text can be found here, or here as a pdf; there’s also a nice new edition of The Apostolic Fathers by Michael W. Holmes that has Greek-English facing pages and a very useful apparatus and set of notes.)

“Wherever the bishop is, there let the congregation be, just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the whole/universal/general/complete/according to the whole/lacking nothing/catholic church.” (Add whatever doctrinally-influenced translation of καθολικὴ you wish if I’ve left one out that’s particularly near and dear to you.)

(By the way, anybody want to tell me something about that sentence that demonstrates the limitations of a book like Hansen & Quinn when it comes to reading early Christian writings?)bishopmark.jpg

His Grace Bishop MARK visited All Saints over the weekend. I missed his last visit because, scheduled at the last minute as it was, it coincided with my dad’s (already rescheduled due to heart attack) wedding. So, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen him. We were originally supposed to have him present for Friday’s Akathist, Saturday Great Vespers, and then Matins and Divine Liturgy on Sunday, but he ended up attending the funeral services for Metropolitian Laurus of ROCOR (memory eternal) and thus couldn’t be there on Friday. (Or rather, I should say, he attended most of the services. He left, as he said, nine hours into it because he had to catch a plane; they still had about three hours to go.)

(Nine hours into it.)

(With three to go.)

(Sheesh. I can’t imagine anything more fitting for a man such as Metropolitan Laurus, but sheesh.)

Anyway,  every time I meet Bp. MARK, it strikes me that we are very lucky to have him. He is an imposing physical presence, but he is warm and gentle in a way that belies his size. He is completely unassuming — one gets the impression that he’d be just as happy as a reader or a subdeacon. (Imagine a world where all bishops were like this. Perhaps let’s also imagine, as part of this world, that we are also free of readers and subdeacons who would be just as happy being bishops.)

(But I digress.)

He had some interesting remarks; among other things, he expressed some reservations regarding the Triumph of Orthodoxy Vespers that gets celebrated as the “Pan-Orthodox Show of Unity” in many places. Among is comments were, “If we want to have a service that shows our unity, why not make it Forgiveness Vespers?” When asked about the Ecumenical Patriarch, he said, “Well, let’s hope he doesn’t mean everything he says. But let’s also remember that his circumstances are not ours, and that the way we in the free world behave can have a negative impact on those who are not as free as we are.”

The big thing I’m trying to get to, however, is the services. Hierarchical services are a bit of a headache for the choir director and cantor; for my own part, I was sweating bullets over this weekend because I have made major mistakes the last two visits, and they were mistakes made because I either wasn’t told what I needed to know, or I was told the wrong thing. The hierarchical Trisagion in particular is one of those things which, if you’re not told exactly what’s going to happen, you will get lost very fast. And when the poor guy waving his arms in front of the choir doesn’t know what he doesn’t know… yeah. When he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, and no matter who he asks nobody can seem to tell him what it should look like except to say, “Just read the Liturgikon, but prepare for it to be wrong,” well… what can you do? (I remember the time I thought he was going to be here for the Exaltation of the Cross, and, realizing I didn’t have a hierarchical “Before Thy Cross,” I cooked one up on Sibelius two days before. Then it turned out he was going to be here, but not celebrating.)

Thankfully, everything went off without a hitch this weekend, and it really struck me (not for the first time) that the bishop being present for the Divine Liturgy is in fact intended to be normative. That is, during episcopal visits, the bishop is not celebrating in the place of the priest with extra stuff added; rather, on ordinary Sundays, the priest is celebrating in the place of the bishop and stuff has been taken out. As St. Ignatius describes, we are at our fullest when we, the local church, can gather around our bishop to celebrate the Eucharist. When all four orders — episcopate, presbytery, diaconate, and laity — are present for a Liturgy, it is more clear what our individual roles are. It is truly the bishop, the icon of Christ in our midst, who stands in persona Christi during the Liturgy — the presbyter, if the bishop isn’t there, stands in persona episcopi.

That said, on a practical level, I’m just fine with it only happening once a year. It’s quite a blessing to have him here, but it’s a stressful blessing nonetheless.

“Glorious hope is risen today”? What the hell?

With a tip of the hat to Rod Dreher, I’ll let this piece from the Canadian paper, The Globe and Mail, speak for itself. Mostly.

That triumphal barnburner of an Easter hymn, Jesus Christ Has Risen Today – Hallelujah, this morning will rock the walls of Toronto’s West Hill United Church as it will in most Christian churches across the country.

But at West Hill on the faith’s holiest day, it will be done with a huge difference. The words “Jesus Christ” will be excised from what the congregation sings and replaced with “Glorious hope.”

Thus, it will be hope that is declared to be resurrected – an expression of renewal of optimism and the human spirit – but not Jesus, contrary to Christianity’s central tenet about the return to life on Easter morning of the crucified divine son of God.

Generally speaking, no divine anybody makes an appearance in West Hill’s Sunday service liturgy.

There is no authoritative Big-Godism, as Rev. Gretta Vosper, West Hill’s minister for the past 10 years, puts it. No petitionary prayers (“Dear God, step into the world and do good things about global warming and the poor”). No miracles-performing magic Jesus given birth by a virgin and coming back to life. No references to salvation, Christianity’s teaching of the final victory over death through belief in Jesus’s death as an atonement for sin and the omnipotent love of God. For that matter, no omnipotent God, or god.

So, this isn’t really Christianity — maybe GoodFeelingsity, WarmFuzziesity, or just Ity?

Ms. Vosper has written a book, published this week – With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important than What We Believe – in which she argues that the Christian church, in the form in which it exists today, has outlived its viability and either it sheds its no-longer credible myths, doctrines and dogmas, or it’s toast.

Uh, Rev. Vosper? John Shelby Spong called. He’d like his atheism back.

I’m reminded of the one time I went to St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle for Easter, ten years ago (sheesh — has it really been that long?). The sermon was really more of a tapdance than anything, with the dean of the cathedral appearing to do anything and everything he could to avoid mentioning the “r” word (that is, resurrection). Since it was, well, the Feast of the Resurrection, it kinda stuck out like a sore thumb, to say the least.

Mmmmmm, fish.

coptic-annunciation.gifA blessed Feast of the Annunciation to everybody, even if liturgically it’s been over for three and a half hours. I’m still eating fish right now. In honor of the fact that I just got my Coptic textbook six months early, I’ve chosen a Coptic icon of this feast.
So, I’m a member of the Fellowship of Ss. Alban & Sergius, and I think you should be too. I joined a little over two years ago, and quickly noticed — “Hey! Everything they do is over in England!” That makes it a little spendy for academic wannabes with no institutional support to participate, so I inquired after the possibility of starting a United States-based chapter for the, well, probably three of us who are over here. Probably not, was the answer, but they mumbled something about planning a conference on American soil at St. Vladimir’s, probably around January 2007.
Well, January 2007 came and went with no word. However, a few months ago the Fellowship officially announced that the conference would be occurring in June of this year, and then today, at long last, registration opened.
It should be quite an event; Metropolitans Kallistos & PHILIP, and Bp. Hilarion are among the highlights, over five days (4-8 June 2008) in Crestwood, NY.
However, one thing that quickly made itself conspicuous as I was perusing the registration information: there is neither a Fellowship member registration price break, nor a student price break. It’s $400 for everything (including accommodation) if you pay in full before 7 May, otherwise it’s $500 for everything, and that’s the only verse that song has.
Now, to some extent, this is to be understood. I have to imagine the number of actual members in America is so small as to be insignificant, and perhaps most of them are people who are already going to be there as invited guests. This is also not exactly an academic conference as such, so there’s not really a good reason to have student pricing.
But still. With airfare, that’s going to be around $700. We’re back where we started when I first joined the Fellowship — it’s a bit spendy for an academic wannabe without institutional support to participate.
All the same, I wanna go. I really wanna go. I’m not going to get a chance to do much else this summer, my wife will be out of the country again, plus 2008 has really sucked so far anyway, so this would be nice.
It occurred to me that allegedly my blog is worth $2,822.70, which would pay for four people to go to this conference. Well, I think I should leave some of that for a rainy day, but if I can just monetize just a quarter of my blog’s value, then there is my registration fee and airfare, no muss, no fuss.
So I’ve added a tip jar. Besides that link, there’s a permanent link to it on my blogroll under “Tip Jar.” If you think what you read here is worth something, then I recommend counseling and lots of it, but I nonetheless give you the opportunity to let the free market work. (It will be noted that not contributing anything will also be seen as a weighing in on the value of this blog and perhaps a more accurate one at that.)
(And yes, I recognize that, realistically, this will maybe raise enough money for me to buy a latte at the airport. Well, whatever — nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say.)
(Maybe tomorrow I’ll actually say something about Bp. MARK’s visit.)
(OK, OK, I’ll quit with the parentheticals.)

Buying books of Bartholomew’s while browsing at Borders

A hearty Christ is risen! to my readers who are on the Gregorian calendar.

Just out of curiosity, yesterday I decided to check out how available Encountering the Mystery might be in a typical bricks-and-mortar chain store. I figured, it’s the day before Western Easter so Christian books will probably be prominently displayed, plus it’s the first Saturday since the book was released. If there was a day they would have it set out for the masses, it would have been yesterday.

Well, John Shelby Spong’s Jesus for the Non-Religious was set out with the books for Easter at my local Borders. The Patriarch of Constantinople got no such love, there being no copies set out in the front half of the store, either among the Christian books for Easter or in the display of new non-fiction. There were, nonetheless, two copies on the shelf back in the “Christianity: Catholic and Orthodox” section. And, actually, the Orthodox pickings were slim, but not totally absent. The following were also in stock:

And then a couple of not specifically Orthodox books but church history books by Orthodox authors, such as The Christian Tradition: The Development of Christian Doctrine, Volume 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), by Jaroslav Pelikan (and yes, I know he was Lutheran, not Orthodox when he wrote it).

All in all — it’s not anywhere close to the equivalent of a well-stocked parish bookstore, but it could be a lot worse. Like, say, nothing. (No copies of the Orthodox Study Bible, however. It is listed as “on the way” in the digital customer service kiosks. Given you still have to pre-order it on Amazon, my guess is that copies have not yet actually gone out to distributors who are not named Conciliar Press.)

I’m still irked that Spong was out with the Easter books (a real irony, if you think about it) and the Patriarch wasn’t. I guess, if one uses as one’s thesis that part of the point of the Patriarch’s book is to raise awareness (well, generate awareness — you can’t raise what isn’t there) of the Patriarchate’s existence in the West, then this makes the point pretty clear. When an atheist who just happens to have a collar is able to get better display space among the Christian books than the Patriarch of Constantinople, that says something.

I’m two and a half chapters into the Patriarch’s book. I don’t have anything to say quite yet — I want to finish it first. All in good time. I will say only for now that I do not believe the average American who is already Orthodox is his intended audience for the book (although I think there is good that such a person can take from reading it), that it needs to be read through that lens, and therefore, with charity if he doesn’t put everything exactly in the language we would want him to use. But more on that later.

While today was not Easter for my little Orthodox parish, it was nonetheless a special weekend, as our bishop, His Grace Bishop MARK, was with us. More on that later as well.

“Perhaps it is tidier to deal in false dichotomies than to face the fullness of Christ”

On Good Friday as found on the Gregorian Calendar, I give you Teague McKamey (who is, in the interest of full disclosure, my brother-in-law):

Death and resurrection cannot be separated. This may appear so obvious that saying it seems like a platitude. But what I observe quite often, in the words of others and in my own thoughts, is a dividing of these into two separate categories. Now, it is often necessary and profitable to separate them for the purpose of teaching, to gain the clarity that only comes when a thing is considered in its own right. But it is disastrous to separate these two in actual belief and in the living walk of the believer. Perhaps we have grown too accustomed to thinking of death and resurrection as different subjects. Perhaps it is tidier to deal in false dichotomies than to face the fullness of Christ. We can say with certainty that there are theologies in the church that are based on neglecting or marginalizing either death or resurrection. Protestants avoid crucifixes. Prosperity teachers make great use of 3 John 2 but can’t preach on Philippians 4:12. Christian ascetics love to fast but don’t show up to the wedding feast. In the first few centuries, the church had to vigorously stave off attempts to deny Christ’s divinity or His humanity. I wonder: is diminishing the reality of Christ’s death or Christ’s resurrection any less serious?

I’ll let you read the rest.

In addition to Teague’s observations, one can also point out that Christ’s death was a function of His humanity; the resurrection, His divinity. There are still those today who try to deny (or downplay, at least) either the crucifixion or the resurrection, and intentional or not, a concurrent denial of His humanity or divinity is the inevitable result.

Also, consider the publishers of the First Look Sunday school curriculum, who are skipping the crucifixion altogether in their Holy Week materials, and as a result, can’t talk about the resurrection either.

We have made this choice because the crucifixion is simply too violent for preschoolers. And if we were to skip the crucifixion and go straight to the resurrection, then preschoolers would be confused. […] We’re using these formative preschool years to build a foundation for that eventual decision by focusing on God’s love and telling preschoolers that “Jesus wants to be my friend forever.”

Without the crucifixion, as this letter acknowledges, the resurrection winds up meaning nothing; without the resurrection, as these people have found to be inevitable, there’s nothing left to talk about but warm fuzzies. This is an extreme which, intentionally or no, winds up meeting the opposite extreme, denial of Christ’s existence entirely, at the other end.

One thing — clearly, the Christological controversies weren’t limited to the “first few centuries.” Those “tidy false dichotomies” are still with us today — Arianism still exists, in the form of certain sects who are more common than one might realize. (Do a Google search on the words “Arius was right” and you will discover that there are at least two well-known and established, if controversial, groups who claim the teachings of Arius as their spiritual patrimony.) Gnosticism and Nestorianism, I suspect, contain teachings which many modern Christians would encounter and say, “Well, that makes sense enough to me. What was the big deal?” Iconoclasm is proudly and openly claimed by some Christians.

Orthodox Christianity likes to say, “We’re both/and rather than either/or” — Christ was fully God and fully man, for example. Teague is absolutely right — this approach is non-negotiable when it comes to the crucifixion and resurrection as well. Otherwise — as one commenter to the Touchstone posting put it — the Gospel might as well simply be, “Adam and Eve lived in this really great garden that God made for them! Noah really loved animals (and rainbows)! Jesus loved giving children hugs! The end!”

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