Posts Tagged 'american orthodoxy'



Dutifully following up…

Thanks to a couple of friends kindly sharing yesterday’s post on Facebook — I suspect that the ulterior motive in doing so was the opportunity to publicly display goodwill to the deranged — I saw a number of comments on the piece that were not actually posted on the blog itself. I replied to a couple of them, but I also thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to address them here.

What I found very curious about some of the criticism is that what they were objecting to was also what I was objecting to, or at least I thought I was. I grant that I finally hit “Publish” at close to 3am and it’s possible that what seemed like a clear, cogent train of thought at the time was actually me calling for mandatory Batman tattoos on elephant trunks. I’m also enough of a postmodernist, at least in terms of absorption of cultural surroundings, to know that authorial intent is in no way authoritative, so if you think that I called for mandatory Batman tattoos on elephant trunks, I called for mandatory Batman tattoos on elephant trunks (even if the words I actually used were “I prefer rhubarb pie, but only with a nice strong cup of Ethiopian coffee and a rose liqueur chaser”).

One comment went as follows:

I think that that way lies madness on two counts:

1) The approach discussed, answering peoples’ ‘Felt Needs’, is exactly the approach that has led to the decline, and now fall of the historic Protestant denominations in the United States. Speaking from my personal background, the Dutch Reformed Church started saying to itself, “People don’t have a Predestination problem…” “People don’t have a Total Depravity problem…” “People aren’t wandering around feeling guilty about the sin in their lives…” and slowly but surely, all of those distinctions went down the sewer pipe and the Dutch Reformed denominations, with Robert Schuller leading the parade, left Protestantism, then Christianity, and blended into the American religion.

2) There’s an exceedingly false premise in the midst of this piece, and that’s that the Holy Orthodox Church isn’t the only one preaching Christ crucified in the United States today. I don’t know if its stated out of charity or ignorance of just how bad the religious landscape has become, but Orthodoxy is, frankly, the last vestige of Christianity available in the United States. Everything else has blended into the hydra that is Americanism, a kind of Nationalistic Therapeutic Deism. One head is Southern Baptist, one is Mormon, one Episcopalian, but at the core they’re teaching the same thing, a bland moralism, worship of patria, and whatever self help strategy is popular this week.

America is a threat unlike anything Orthodoxy has ever faced. We’re faced with a culture that believes itself to be Christian, but is anything but. A culture with no sense of history whatsoever, and which actively denies history’s relevance to religion. A culture whose religious experience is entirely subjective and individualistic. A culture that has fused this false religion with an overpowering Statism.

To my knowledge, the Orthodox Church was not seeking converts in Western European nations in the 19th century, nor in the fascist states of the early-20th century, and Communism of course left Orthodoxy in no state to seek growth until its fall in the lands afflicted. Those are the only places where She might have had a similar experience to attempting to convert the United States today.

The last thing I’m suggesting is that Orthodoxy blend into the American religion. However, I’m also trying to be realistic about the cultural circumstances that inform the problem, and I’m explicitly problematizing the approach of revising our visible, external practices as a way of making peace with those cultural circumstances. As far as the matter of whether or not Orthodox Christianity isn’t the only one preaching Christ crucified goes, my point is that, even if this commenter is right that Orthodoxy is the only one, we nonetheless are in the position of having to fight to be heard over the din of everybody else claiming to do so, and the ways we try to distinguish ourselves in the midst of that dull roar are received more often than not as exercises in question-begging, at least from what I’ve seen. Your mileage may vary.

Here’s a personal anecdote that seems applicable to me. When I was a little kid, I had a Sherlock Holmes-style double-billed deerstalker hat, a trenchcoat, and a briefcase. I insisted on wearing them to school every day. My parents told me, “You can wear those if you want. You need to be aware that you will probably take some heat for it because you’ll probably be the only kid at school wearing anything like it.” I chose to wear them nonetheless, completely unfazed. Yes, I had a lot of problems getting along with some of the other kids at school as a result, but I stuck to my guns.

From where I sit now, close to 30 years removed from that set of circumstances, I don’t think it was right or wrong that I made the choice that I did. It was just who I was (and still am, to a certain degree), and the way people reacted to me was a function of who they were. To be who I was without those externals was incomprehensible to me. But I still got beat up (and worse, sometimes) and my hat still got stolen on a regular basis (but always recovered — I still have it, in fact). I could have saved myself a lot of grief by just choosing to fit in, but I didn’t want to do that. What I did to adapt, rather, was to do the best I could at the things I was good at and that I was interested in, and eventually my path became clear. (Not until I was 29, and then I was 32 before I could actually go down that path, but never mind that now.)

I have a friend who just very recently started talking to me about the prospect of becoming a priest eventually. It’s coming to him out of a sense of vocation, not to evangelize the United States with the One True Church, but rather — and I can’t say I’ve ever heard any of my various would-be seminarian friends and acquaintances ever put it this way before — to heal people’s souls. Wow. When I think about how rife our culture is with depression, and how much effort we put into possible solutions for it, some that might work and others that assuredly won’t — well, talk about a problem people actually do think they have, and that we as the Church actually can do something about. Is that an impulse that leads to Nationalistic Therapeutic Deism? My instinct is to say no, that it’s rather an impulse to do what the Church should be doing anyway, but maybe I’m wrong.

Here’s another one:

Myeh — he’s right, but he’s wrong. His rhetoric is good, but he dismisses alternate claims on a kind of wistful idealism only then to transition into a realist “let’s meet real problems” mode to throw you off his trail. Not biting, thank you. What’s frustrating is that we _do_ need to translate some things, but it can’t be the result of one generation’s engineering project of “inculturation.”

We do need the Liturgy in English, we also really should have music that taps into some kind of cultural memory (there is such a thing, even if it’s weaker than it is in other cultures — and even, contra the choir director in this piece, if it seems “arbitrarily chosen” according to critical standards…these “arbitrary choices” are the result of decisions that the entire culture has received, that this kind of music captures something primordial about who we are, and it is probably made on a host of very difficult-to-pinpoint resonances between the form of the music and the forms of a bundle of things — the feel of the land, the forms of historical events that are received as defining, etc.).

On the other hand, the ascetical and liturgical tradition of the Church should not be tampered with. I don’t know why people would think that these should change. If there are little changes in iconographic style or vestments or whatever that would translate the tradition better in our land, then these will accumulate slowly over time from deepened fidelity to what is received, and will not result from a program.

Finally, Orthodox people say lots of really silly things about what the West is and what Secularism is. (They also say silly things about what Protestantism is, or what Catholicism is — even converts from these traditions.) This all really needs to be straightened out. In every pre-modern Pagan people that I know of, they had the Gospel translated into the symbolic idiom they knew — so that in the Anglo-Saxon world, for instance, they had the Pagan mythology subtly re-configured to communicate the form of the Gospel. There is continuity, and discontinuity, and I don’t know that there’s any other way to graft something on. Unless someone can articulate the American mythology, we’re not likely to have much success other than pockets of people who’re faithful to their heritage and peculiar converts who can buck all kinds of countervailing forces.

What is there to be wary of in American culture, in the condition of Secularism we all find ourselves in? The shadowboxing will likely continue until someone can speak clearly.

I’m not certain what alternate claims I’m dismissing with wistful idealism, and it’s also unclear to me what he means by saying I’m trying to throw people off my trail. Dealing with the rest of it — I never said we don’t need the Liturgy in English; I said that English is important. What I suggested, perhaps clumsily in my 2:30am stupor, is something that seems to me to be well in line with what he says — that English isn’t functioning as part of a mission so much as part of a cultural agenda. The agenda is looking an awful lot like the tail wagging the dog, and it isn’t addressing what strike me, at least in my own limited experience, as the real pastoral issues that have to do with language and culture.

Unless someone can articulate the American mythology… well, somebody did that. His name was Joseph Smith. The particular genius of Mormonism, it seems to me, was figuring out a way to incorporate an American sense of place into its sacred history in a way that no Protestant group has really managed to do, and that Catholicism and Orthodoxy really struggle to figure out how to do. The way most Protestants seem to have solved this problem is to become semi-gnostic (at least) in their approach to place. I had a conversation with somebody about a year ago, basically a garden-variety Evangelical, about my experience in Greece and being someplace where particular events in Christian history are embedded in the cultural memory. This person looked very thoughtful and said, “Well, that’s interesting, but why does anybody actually need that? I don’t have a sense of place that has resonance with Christian history, but I’ve got Jesus, and I don’t see where I’m missing anything.” (Which again smacks of solutions looking for problems.) I’ve suggested before that the way American Orthodoxy will develop its own sense of place will be American saints who actually were born here and active here, but that’s not going to happen overnight.

(Incidentally, Flesh of My Flesh does medieval Germanic stuff, and I’m well aware of the Gospel being translated into the symbolic idiom that they knew — still, there are limitations there. The Germanic tribes stayed Arian for a long time, for example, and my wife has also talked about there being some very strange things going on with things like the Heliand, the Gospel harmonization written in Old Saxon.)

What is there to be wary of in American culture? That’s a question that I’m sure could take multiple dissertations to answer, but here’s where my brain immediately goes: I met a man once who was a mortgage broker. It wasn’t terribly exciting, but he was very good at it, and he was proud of what he did. “If you’re going to make shoes, make good shoes,” he said. It was a point of view that got me thinking, and I remember mentioning it to my dad, who promptly shot down the man’s attitude as naive and, mortal sin of mortal sins, inefficient. “If you make good shoes that nobody can buy, you’re not going to have a job,” he retorted. “Better to make shoes that are just good enough that the average person can afford them and feel like they’re getting a halfway decent product. Sell to the classes, eat with the masses. Sell to the masses, eat with the classes.” It seems to me that that’s a good place to start.

“Encounter” vs. “reception” vs. solutions looking for problems

As has been our custom for the last seven years, New Year’s found me and Flesh of My Flesh in the company of our dear friends Benjamin and Paul for a long weekend of food and movies. We all started out in Bloomington at about the same time, and we all converted to Orthodox Christianity within a year of each other. During academic year ’05/’06 Benjamin and Paul were roommates, and for all intents and purposes there was something of a miniature commune between our two residences, with at least one shared meal virtually daily at either our place or theirs. When they both departed for broader horizons in summer of 2006 — Benjamin to take an adjunct voice teacher position at his alma mater in Cleveland, Paul to pursue different opportunities in New Jersey — we made a point of continuing to spend New Year’s together, and save for ’10/’11 when Megan was in Germany for the year (and therefore I was overseas visiting her for the New Year), we have done so every year since. ’06/’07 and ’07/’08 were in Cleveland, ’08/’09 was here in Bloomington, and then this time we all made the trek out to New Jersey, since Paul has always been good enough to come out to see us in past years. This year the menu was French food, largely inspired by Benjamin and Paul’s respective travels; the films included The King’s Speech (I’d seen it before; it’s good but I can’t say I found it life-changing or worthy of Best Picture) and The White Countess (excellent on every level, and I was left wondering why in the world I’d never heard of it before). I also had the pleasure of introducing Paul to the Steven Moffat/Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman Sherlock, and I have to say that I have yet to show anybody the first fifteen minutes of “A Study in Pink” who hasn’t both been glued to their chair for the rest and bugging me for the next two or three days about watching the other two episodes. This means I’ve seen “A Study in Pink” now about ten times, but that has yet to be a problem. I will have to write later about how Steven Moffat, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Matt Smith have gradually taken over such TV viewing habits as I have; suffice it to say for the time being that I’m not pleased that I will have to wait until May for “A Scandal in Belgravia” and God-only-knows-when for Series 7 of Doctor Who.

A visit to Paul’s current parish Sunday morning was interesting for a number of reasons. Among them was the choir situation; they appear to be quite blessed with a volunteer choir that can pretty much sing whatever the director puts in front of them, and the director himself is a very capable conductor. He’s given them all very thick binders with multiple options for everything, and he apparently chooses everything on the fly during the service based on whom he happens to have that particular morning. He’s not shy about giving them tougher stuff, either, or about making some, uh, unorthodox musical choices, like Sarum chant and William Byrd.

We had, to say the least, a lively conversation following the Divine Liturgy, prompted in no small part by the director’s mention of the recent publication of the Suchy-Pilalis first Nativity Canon. He brought it up, mentioned that he saw that it was a new melody composed using Byzantine principles for the Lash translation, and I was about to say, “Yes, it’s great work that is one of a few things like that pointing the way forward” when he surprised me with his adamant insistence that it was nonsense. He asserted rather bluntly that composing for English texts using Byzantine compositional principles is no better than keeping an existing melody, whiting out the Greek, and shoehorning in the English. He said over and over again that you absolutely cannot do that — I think he may have even called it “unconscionable” that anybody would think that it’s an acceptable approach. His stance was that Byzantine compositional principles assume an inflected language with particular stress patterns for particular kinds of cadences, and that English doesn’t work that way, so it’s just another way of shoehorning English texts into a context they were never meant to fit. Plus, he said, even if you recompose for English, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re talking about a musical idiom that has zero cultural resonance whatever for the native English speaker, and thus utterly fails in terms of mission. In all fairness, he didn’t really single out Byzantine chant; he seemed to be suggesting that virtually all received forms of Orthodox liturgical music need to be consigned to the dustheap for purposes of English. If they’re going to survive at all, he said, they need to be adapted “organically” for purposes of a culturally American, English-language context, but even when pressed it seemed unclear exactly what he had in mind.

I found myself even more perplexed when it came to what he saw as a better alternative. He was as unsympathetic to the idea of using existing American vernacular musical idioms as a starting point as he was to anything else; “You’re just arbitrarily historicizing something else that way,” was his response. He made it clear that he wasn’t suggesting that we look to Eminem for a example of what “the music of the people” might sound like, but exactly what he thought we should be looking to was never articulated precisely.

He also had unmitigated wrath for anybody who might preserve any kind of Jacobean-style English, arguing that the style has the exact opposite effect from what it was intended to have. Thees and thous were supposed to be familiar, he said, and we now use them to distance ourselves from God and place him higher than ourselves rather than to address him with intimacy. Megan tried to express some appreciation for the style and he would have none of it; “You want Christ’s crucifixion to be meaningless just so you can have your thees and thous!” he told her. (A friend of his started to intervene at this point, only to have him yell, “WE’RE NOT ARGUING!”)

Now, lest I be misleading, I should say that while I intensely disagree with this gentleman on a number of points, he was — believe it or not — good-natured and friendly throughout the conversation, and very well-informed on the whole. There were a couple of things he said where I’m not sure where he’s getting his information, but it’s safe to say that our disagreements are generally informed disagreements, and those are the kind I’d rather have with people.

Megan also asked him, “Why do we need to reinvent the wheel when the wheels we have have done pretty well in every other situation for at least the last 1500 years?” His answer? “Good question. Because those wheels don’t travel on our roads.”

Because those wheels don’t travel on our roads.

Hm.

Matthew Namee’s recent piece over at SOCHA, “Toward and American Orthodox historical narrative”, looks to the concept of “encounter” as a way of talking about American Orthodox history — “Encounter between Orthodoxy and the West; encounter between long-isolated Orthodox ethnic groups; and encounter between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox.” He expands on the notion of the encounter with the West using Orthodox youth as an example:

From the beginning, American Orthodoxy has struggled to retain its young people. It didn’t help that, for decades (and in some churches, up to the present) Orthodoxy was treated as more of a cultural artifact than a living faith. Old languages were preserved, and English was resisted, and most young people didn’t care about the misguided justifications for using only Greek or Slavonic or Arabic or what have you. Who wants to worship in a language they can’t understand? And no matter how beautiful a language is, if the people can’t understand it, it has failed in its fundamental purpose: to communicate meaning.

He wraps up the “encounter with the West” idea thus:

We encountered the West, and we didn’t know what in the heck to do with it. We weren’t prepared. We flailed about, dancing with the Anglicans, wallowing in our nominalism, ordaining every male American convert who expressed the faintest interest in the priesthood. All too often, we have lacked a vision for our mission in America, and even our identity as the Apostolic Church — the Church. Sentimentalism, ethnic pride, a desire for acceptance, a pleasant feeling of surprise when we are accepted — these things all can be good, and they can have their place. But they can also be our downfall.

The “encounter with the West” notion seems to agree with this New Jersey choir director that “those wheels don’t travel on our roads”. What we had doesn’t work here, and the more we try to make it work here, the more it underscores how badly it doesn’t work here. From a musical point of view this problematizes the whole notion of a “received tradition”; you can’t speak of a “received tradition” when nobody’s receiving it. This appears to be what the New Jersey choir director is getting at: reception isn’t happening, and the more you try to make the existing idioms get along with our language and culture, the more it emphasizes that it can’t be done.

As far as Matthew Namee’s piece goes — I like a lot of what he has to say, and I think what he has to say about the dangers we’ve set up for ourselves with convert clergy being ordained too lightly and too quickly is probably exactly right. Still, there are some over-generalizations that bother me. The language issue — and I’m not even going to go near the bit about the “fundamental purpose” of language, because that’s a significantly complicated matter — certainly gets its exercise in almost any conversation about this stuff, but the flipside is the phenomenon I’ve seen of people who’ve grown up in parishes where a non-vernacular liturgical language is preserved and for whom hearing the services in English is a cheapening experience. It’s great that it’s in English, it’s great that I can understand this or that part of the service, they say, but… something’s wrong. It sounds like English, but it doesn’t sound like church. What I have come to understand from what I’ve experienced in non-English parishes is that, for a significant portion of cradles, it matters that the language they hear in church is the language in which they remember hearing their grandmother pray. It matters because liturgy builds, maintains, and transmits religious identity, and to the extent that liturgy feels like a “family affair” in a broad and a narrow sense of the term, it’s going to be difficult for such people to separate their earthly family from their church family. I recently met an older Greek-American who lives here in Bloomington and was part of what became All Saints in the early days but who declined to continue to be part of it when the community incorporated under the Antiochians. He said, rather bluntly, “Forgive my ethno-centrism, but I just can’t do it. What a Greek person gets out of going to a Greek church is very personal, and it’s not something you can just transplant or translate.” A somewhat more flippant Greek-American friend of mine recently put it, “So often, you just want to say, ‘American Orthodoxy — you’re doing it wrong.'”

But let’s be honest — that’s what’s at the core of King James-style English, too. Even we as English speakers want church to sound like church. That’s the Lord’s Prayer the way we were taught it as kids — once again, the way we we remember hearing our grandmother pray. And the New Jersey choir director is right, sometimes that means the meaning has shifted — take the Paschal greeting the way it’s typically rendered into English: “Christ is risen! Truly he is risen!” And we hear things about how that means that Christ is risen now, today, that it’s an ongoing reality — but that’s not actually what “is risen” means. “Christ is risen” is an archaic way of saying what we would now express in English as “Christ has risen”. It’s a perfect tense — think the Christmas carol “Joy to the world” — “The Lord is come“. It’s still the way you do perfect tenses in German — “Christus ist auferstanden!” — but in English it’s an archaicism, and one we don’t readily grasp as being so. If you translate Χριστὸς ἀνέστη literally, it’s something like “Christ rose”; it’s an aorist tense, past time and simple aspect — the narrative past tense, if you like, which establishes it as a once-and-for-all historical event, which is something very different from understanding “Christ is risen” as being in the present tense. But if we started saying “Christ arose!” on Easter, I’m guessing it really wouldn’t work for most people.

If archaic language is keeping youth out, but English isn’t necessarily solving the problem, then there is more of an issue here, and maybe Namee gets more to the point when he says that Orthodox Christianity “didn’t know what the heck to do” with the West.

Here’s what I think is the hard reality: Orthodox Christianity in the United States, at least as presented up to this point, is a solution looking for a problem.

I don’t think I’m going too far when I say that Americans, by and large, have no interest in being part of Holy Russia, have no interest in re-establishing the Roman Empire, and have no real interest in Russian or Greek cultures except when they can get good poppyseed rolls or have a gyros while watching some kids re-enact Zorba’s dance. Yes, fine, we all know that. Americans want to be Americans.

But you know what? From what I’ve seen, I don’t think Americans, for the most part, have any particular interest in being part of “the one true Church” either. America, like it or lump it, is culturally Protestant, and as soon as you start using that kind of language, you’re already making assumptions that were rejected by our forebears centuries ago. Most Americans are not looking for a “more authentic” liturgical experience; most Americans are not looking for anything “traditional” or that constitutes a “deeper Christian spirituality”, or whatever the other buzzwords are that we all like to use. I have seen with my own eyes what can happen when certain kinds of American Protestants try to speak in that language, and the result is something like theatre for the deaf. Americans, at least some of them, can be well aware of the consequences when those elements of Christianity with even the vaguest of historical roots are traded for a mess of pottage, and in a way this can be seen as a manifestation of the same problem as language — church seems too distinct from your everyday life, which might be a problem, but in updating, it loses an important distinction from everyday life, and thus there ceases to be a compelling reason to go. But, by and large, these are pretty rarefied problems from the standpoint of most Americans trying to figure out where they might go to church on Sunday morning. Even the apparent cultural impulse in which Orthodox Christianity subsists of gilding and ornamenting the things you love and think are important falls totally flat in a culture that thinks you need to strip the things you care about down to bare essentials. As marketed and described, at least, Orthodox Christianity, frankly, is just in the wrong key for American culture, no matter what melody you try to write in that key. It may very well be what America needs, but that’s something completely different.

Orthodox Christianity, in order to succeed in any kind of an American mission, doesn’t first and foremost need to find a musical idiom that will have cultural resonance, it doesn’t first and foremost need to be in English, and it doesn’t first and foremost need a simpler liturgy or reduced vestments or married bishops or anything like this. I have a lot more faith in what has been passed down than that — those things have survived this long under wars and occupation and servitude and so on, and I’m not convinced that America is a worse threat than any of those issues. Does Orthodox Christianity need to preach the Gospel, Christ crucified? Yes, but it’s going to be painfully obvious in doing so that we’re not the only ones who are, and being “the one true Church” isn’t going to sufficiently elevate us over the competing ambient noise, I don’t think.

What Orthodox Christianity needs to do is actually have a way of addressing real problems real people have rather than thinking that Joe Average is going to care about Arianism or Iconoclasm. I think I’m on safe ground in saying that most people don’t think they have a “true Church” problem. Most people don’t think they have a liturgy problem or a filioque problem. Most people these days are just trying to get through the day with some amount of sanity and dignity and without going broke, and when they go to church they want to feel like they’re getting comfort of some kind. Solace. Some sense of belonging, of acceptance of and respite from their daily struggle the rest of the week. Some sense that God’s in control even if they’re not.

How does Orthodox Christianity do this? I don’t know. Our services don’t really do catharsis, and I don’t think we’ll serve ourselves or anybody else well to try. I don’t think we do it via self-conscious “accessibility” efforts; I could say something really obvious and pithy like, we have to do it by loving other people, and while that’s true, what does that look like so that, as C. S. Lewis might have put it, in aiming for it, the ecclesial, liturgical, and spiritual issues get thrown in? Certainly organizations like IOCC and OCMC already perform valuable social services and missions and so on, but the narrative of “Orthodoxy doesn’t do those things” already exists, rightly or wrongly, and efforts in those areas are seen as confirming their scarcity rather than speaking to their abundance or efficacy.

By the way, what I’m not arguing here is that we somehow need to come up with a “strategy”. I’m actually trying to say that the strategies we’ve come up with up to this point aren’t actually accomplishing what we think they should be. Some of you may recall that over a year ago, I was trying to get an Orthodox IU alumni association going. Well, we put together a mailing list of 500 people, and somebody got involved who himself had a lot of experience at what he called the “science” of marketing and fundraising. He gave a lot of specific advice about what the mailing should and should not do and look like, and what actually went out in the mail, even though it bore my signature, was more based on his concept than mine. In any event, he believed very strongly that what we sent out should have really grabbed a lot of attention and gotten a lot of people involved. It was a well-strategized effort, to say the least — and there was absolutely zero response. Zero. The strategy accomplished nothing. Why? Again, because we were a solution looking for a problem — for a good chunk of the people we were trying to reach, there would be no association of Orthodoxy with their time at IU because there was no church here in those days. There would be no reason for them to be sold on an Orthodox alumni association if they were already members of the regular alumni association and didn’t have any particular already-established goodwill towards the parish here. Strategies do nothing if you aren’t actually addressing an issue somebody has, unless you’re Steve Jobs, in which case you are magically able to convince people they need something they’ve never heard of before. Orthodoxy in this country has not had a lot of luck being Steve Jobs, although the reason why he was so good at it was because the designs produced under his name were useful and elegant and beautiful. We haven’t yet convinced ourselves that we have the resources to do all three of those things the way they would actually need to be done.

To come back to liturgy and music — I myself do not play to English exceptionalism. English is important, yes, sure, fine, but catering to it to the extent of throwing out large chunks of historical practice with the justification that we have to do it because it’s English can hardly be priority zero. (I’ve already said what I think about the textuality of the liturgy.) I don’t hear anybody arguing that icons need to look more like Norman Rockwell painted them. I think the wheels we have do travel on our roads — I think the simple fact is that we aren’t building the wheels well enough for the most part. If we’d actually build them as designed with skill and attention to quality, they’d work just fine. We need to do what we do and what makes us distinctive as well as we possibly can, not decide for everybody else that they won’t like it anyway. What form of music will play in Peoria is, honestly, a side issue. If the Orthodox Church can actually reach an average person in Peoria who is struggling with just getting through the day, love that person unconditionally, and proclaim the Gospel to that average person in a way that sticks, then that person isn’t going to care that the music is Byzantine chant — rather, he or she will associate that music with the difference that is made in his/her life. (That’s something I have seen, I should hasten to add.) If we don’t take our own practices seriously enough to do them well and with care, then such a hypothetical person will sense that we don’t care about them, and he/she won’t care about them either.

Anyway — all of that is to say, Orthodoxy in America as a solution looking for a problem. Discuss.

Is there any more militant “anti-” than an “ex-“?

Blogging has been light for much of the last year or so. This has been because I’ve been, well, busy. Flesh of My Flesh was in Germany on an academic exchange from the middle of September 2010 to the middle of August 2011, and trying to maintain a two-person household and lifestyle as one person, while also being a full-time grad student, while also having some level of teaching responsibilities for the first time, while also still being responsible for musical duties at All Saints, while also planning a big to-do last fall, while dealing with some personal issues that required a good amount of attention (to perhaps be told someday in another blog post), while also making a couple of semi-lengthy trips to Germany myself, meant that every last second of my time was spoken for, and I had absolutely nobody around to share the load or to delegate to in any meaningful or consistent way. Granted, there were lots of people around for much-appreciated moral support, but by and large I was on my own.

Another reason why it’s been light, however, is because there have been things going on in the circle of blogdom of which I am some kind of marginal member that have prompted the thought, “Maybe I should respond to that,” and ultimately I’ve chosen not to. I don’t like blogging pissing contests; to my mind they don’t resolve anything, they engender bad will, and tend to create (to say nothing of harden) battle lines. I’m at the point where I feel like there are some things that need to be said, however, and while I want to be frank, I also don’t want to pick a fight, so I’m going to keep things reasonably specific but nonetheless as abstract as I can make it. If you know what I’m talking about, then you know what I’m talking about; if you don’t, a Google search on some of the issues I raise should be reasonably fruitful.

Converting to Orthodox Christianity is a tricky business, perhaps a bit moreso than Roman Catholicism. I’ve heard it said that getting married isn’t just saying yes to one woman, it’s saying no to all the others, and that seems applicable here. There’s a way in which it seems to me that converting to Roman Catholicism is saying yes to one communion while at the same time construing all the others as being more or less part of yours, so you’re not really deciding against them in the same way. Choosing Orthodoxy, however, involves some more serious overtones of rejection, I think; when I converted, I told myself that in Orthodoxy Christianity I found fulfillment of many of the ideals I had as an Anglican, and that had also led me to read some Roman Catholic apologetics, but there was nonetheless a line, I was choosing a side, and the only for me to un-choose it was to be for all practical purposes an atheist. From people I’ve talked to, that kind of “double-or-nothing” mindset is fairly common, and for my part, I don’t know what the alternative is that isn’t converting for what amount to warm and squishy reasons.

If that’s the case, however, and you find, for one reason or another, that you can’t stay in Orthodoxy, then I suppose it’s not all that surprising that some do effectively become atheists who are nonetheless left with a particularly dogmatic approach to their atheism. There have been some rather public (as far as this niche of the blogging world goes) departures from Orthodox Christianity recently where this has happened, despite an initial assertion that they were going to a different communion, what they really appear to have embraced is an atheism that allows them to maintain a dogma about the things that they’ve decided they really care about. The irony, inevitable though perhaps it is, is that these were some of the more militantly Orthodox bloggers in their day; calling out bishops, parishes, and whomever for not being Orthodox enough, reading all the Right Theologians and so on, and certainly putting on a show of fighting the good fight. The militancy remains; only the Orthodoxy is gone, and the vacuum seems to have filled itself rather violently with other things — secular metanarratives of Marxist-style class struggle and revolution (highly ironic, since in one case I’m thinking of the person, while Orthodox, famously claimed to despise metanarrative) being one significant example, and their new “orthodoxy” tends be tinged by an ongoing and rather world-weary intellectual dismissal of the Christianity they’ve found wanting.

You know, I can respect that somebody for whom Orthodoxy “doesn’t take” is left without a lot of intellectually honest options that actually retain some veneer of Christianity. It strikes me nonetheless that there’s something far deeper going on here, and what it really seems to boil down to is an issue with people rather than an issue with the faith. How in the world can people like that be allowed in by anything less than crawling over broken glass covered with cow excrement, the reasoning seems to go, when I have this other category that tells me we should treat them as undesirables, if not outright enemies? Why should it be acceptable that the people who are becoming Orthodox are people I don’t like? Surely that’s a flaw in the faith itself. But even that, I think, is to overthink it — what it really boils down to is that, whatever song and dance we like to put on about catholicity, we want to go to church with people like ourselves. When we don’t find people like ourselves in sufficient critical mass, then we assume that it’s not for us. If this happens after we’ve already made a spiritual commitment, then the road out seems to be paved with bitterness and sour grapes. Smash the icons, burn the books, it wasn’t what I hoped it would be, so it must be all bad and full of pathological wackos.

Let’s be honest — for all the jawing converts like to do about “ethnic enclave” parishes, converts often tend to function as their own ethnicity. And, since most converts are white (note I said “most”, not all), and it’s socially unacceptable to claim to be a “white” church in the same way that a Greek/Russian/Arab church can claim to be a Greek/Russian/Arab church, the unifying factor tends to be cultural class, subsequently and quietly reinforced by race. Ethnic parishes, from what I’ve seen, tend to be more “catholic” in terms of class, because the ethnicity is able to explicitly function as the glue. Yes, fine, the Christian faith is supposed to be the glue, but for converts and for cradles it’s more complicated than that. We converts are choosing something that is on some level countercultural, and we want to know we’re not crazy, so we want to see the people like ourselves who make it work without it being contrived, some kind of a put-on. I have a dear friend who has expressed being self-conscious in a lot of parishes just by virtue of the fact that he has red hair, immediately and unmistakably marking him as somebody who doesn’t come from a traditionally Orthodox heritage. For cradles, they come from a background where being Orthodox is simply the default option, and there is nothing to reinforce that in a North American cultural context except ethnicity. One way or the other, whether you most strongly identify with class or heritage, if you go to church and don’t see people you can identify as being like yourself in your preferred category, you’re not going to feel comfortable. I suspect that no matter how much we want to talk about “catholicity”, that’s just the reality of being human. We can be taught to like the idea of cultural or ethnic pluralism, but in the ordering of our own lives, that’s not going to be a practical reality most of us will choose to embrace. Catholicity, I suspect, is an ideal to be supported on a macro-level; on the local level, most people will choose homogeneity. If pressed, I think some people would even go so far as to say that catholicity is great, as long as it doesn’t include those people.

The stones the “ex-“es who are now “anti-“s choose to throw I must take with a boulder of salt. Surely we all know that just because a monk says it doesn’t make it necessarily a) so b) universally applicable even if true. Surely we all know that someone being proclaimed as a saint doesn’t necessarily make them perfect or not subject to various historical circumstances and forces, and I would hope that the easy categorization of “the friend of my enemy is my enemy” is something most people would see as deeply problematic from a Christian standpoint, any Christian standpoint, no matter how much critical theory and class struggle-infused rhetoric one tries to throw at it. The recent assertion by one such person that “a mature Christianity is a nominal Christianity” and that Orthodoxy constitutes “the Byzantine slammer” must be rejected with frankness, yes, but also seen as part of what, I think, is best considered a grieving process. A mature Christianity might well perhaps be a humble Christianity, but by the same token, a mature secularism must also be a humble secularism.

To wrap this up for the moment — I heard it said while I was converting that the trouble with thinking your way into a religion is that it’s then no difficult task to think your way right out when your premises change. It’s perhaps particularly easy to do when one finds that the reality on the ground is harder than the marketing materials may have suggested. For those of us who haven’t fallen prey to this, thank God, but I’ve seen enough people leave for such a variety of reasons, some surprising and some not, that you just never know what’s going to challenge you next.

Announcement: debut issue of Journal of American Orthodox Church History

The Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas (SOCHA) has published the first issue of its journal, the Journal of American Orthodox Church History. It looks like SOCHA has set this up as a peer-reviewed electronic journal (although I’m told that they are toying with the possibility of a print edition for academic libraries), with scholarly articles, source translations, and book reviews in each issue. It will be published annually on the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother God, 15 August. Issues are $10 apiece, which I would suggest is more than reasonable for an academic journal. The table of contents for the first issue, a summary of submission guidelines, and a brief statement of purpose for the Journal by SOCHA Executive Director Fr. Oliver Herbel, may be found here.

This seems like a great effort to support, both by buying issues as they come out, by citing articles that get published, and by submitting articles of publishable quality. I intend to do all three as I am able; please consider doing the same.

American beauty

About seven years ago, I was driving to Chicago from Bloomington for the first time. I was with my friend Jonathan Wey, and we were on our way (as it were) there to pick up my wife up from the airport (long story). Once we were in northwest Indiana, I eventually saw this largish structure several miles off in the distance. My first thought was that it looked like an Orthodox church, but no, surely it’s a grain silo — why would there be an Orthodox church so large it’s visible from the freeway in Indiana, of all places?

As we got closer, however, it became clear that yes, it was an Orthodox church. Jonathan and I looked at each other, nodded, and I got off the highway so we could find it. It turned out to be St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Merrillville (pictured), and there happened to be somebody there who let us in and showed us around. From what I remember, it’s a stunning building, lovingly constructed in every way, with an incredible attention to detail.

St. Sava Church also appears to be the only place where one can buy prints of St. Varnava, the first (and so far only) Orthodox saint from Indiana. I ordered one so that my wife could give it to the Russian church in Kiel that has been so hospitable to her over the last year, and when it arrived this week, they had also enclosed a little booklet titled “St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church Visitor’s Guide”. It’s a lovely, professionally-produced spiral-bound publication that contains a history of the parish, details about the iconography, bells, and external mosaics, liturgical furnishings, and general information about Orthodox Christianity.

A few things jumped out at me about this little book. First off, this bit in the “Welcome” section:

Our present church was built on 140 acres… land purchased by the Church-School Congregation following [the burning down of the old building]… [T]he Priest and the Church Board undertook plans to finance and erect… what would be the “church of our dreams” in a “once-in-a-lifetime endeavor”. That seed having been planted, it gave birth to an ideal that included every church organization. Building and finance professionals helped to nurture the seed and guide its growth. It flowered as our unsolicited volunteers weed their labor-intensive work which epitomized God’s truth that “faith without work is dead”. All contributed their time, knowledge, talent and money to the church that would glorify God in the Divine Liturgy.

What’s interesting about this to me is that the building of a beautiful church is considered part of the work of the whole congregation, that it part of the expression of this community’s faith, and that this is What Orthodox Christians Do. This is reinforced a page later when the book goes into the exterior description of the building:

Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox Church was designed to conform with the spirit of Orthodox teaching. According to Orthodox belief, God is eternal King. Hence the church building, which is the sacred home for the worship of God, should be royal in every aspect. Orthodox Christians have always built their churches with that in mind and have always put into the church everything that they regarded as the best: the sturdiest building materials, the most beautiful adornments and the most costly utensils and vestments they could afford… Earthly royal splendor has always served as a pattern for the expression of heavenly glory. Orthodox church buildings are designed with the intention to make God, the Heavenly Kingdom and Salvation seem sensibly real and present.

Orthodox church have strict guidelines they must follow when building a church. The structure of church buildings is usually in the design of a ship or a cross. The ship plan resembles and signifies the ark of Noah in which he and his family were saved from the flood, while the cross plan reminds Christians of the Cross upon which Jesus Christ was crucified. Strict Orthodox Church guidelines detail that the length of the building must run parallel to the east-west line, so that the church sanctuary is always facing east. Saint John of Damascus (d.753) affirms that it is an Apostolic Tradition to worship facing east. The main entrance to the church is always through the western portal. Most churches have two side doors, the northern and the southern, and Saint Sava Church was built in accordance to all these traditions.

Byzantine architecture evolved from the Roman in the 6th century. The most popular Byzantine plan is a cross pattern in a square. The building is topped by a cupola, a cylindrical or polygonal drum covered with a dome, with narrow arched windows cut all around the concave space. Oftentimes in Byzantine architecture, the central dome is surrounded by several smaller cupolas on a lower level. Crosses embellish the top of every dome and belfry, signifying the church is glorification of the Crucified Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. A great number of Serbian churches and monasteries have been built in the Byzantine style. Originality is expressed both in the design and the ornamentation, and no two churches are alike. Every church can be unique within traditional guidelines. Saint Sava in Merrillville was patterned after the church in Topola, Serbia, but differs with its columns and its west-facing windows.

All church buildings must be consecrated by a bishop before a Divine Liturgy can be celebrated. When a church is consecrated or christened, Kumovi (sponsors) are chosen. Glisho Rapaich, Michael and Yvonne Galich served as Kumovi to Saint Sava Church. Every Orthodox Church is dedicated to a Holy Event in the life of Jesus Christ; to the Most Pure Mother of God; to the Holy Trinity; to the Archangels Michael or Gabriel; to the Holy Apostles or to a Saint or Martyr for Jesus Christ.

The church of Saint Sava in Merrillville is a magnificent edifice which attracts great interest. People who see it from a distance are drawn to visit it personally (pp1-3).

So the building first and foremost is for the glory of God, being tangible, material icon of the Heavenly Kingdom on earth. The building itself is rooted firmly in the witness to Apostolic Tradition, the wider history of the oikoumene, that is to say, the Christian Roman Empire, and the specific, local history of Serbia. This adherence to tradition is confirmed by the whole Church, in the person of the Bishop, the people, and those in heaven with whom we worship. And, finally, this is done for the benefit of the larger community, not just for those who attend the church. The church building, in other words, is not incidental; it’s not just a random gathering of four walls and roof that only the Orthodox in a given area know about. It is an image of the Kingdom, and a witness to both the entirety of the faith and the unity of the Church for all who might see it. A lot of this we’ve heard before in the abstract, but here is an amazing, concrete example of a community making it happen.

I read a book a few months ago called When Not To Build. It’s written by a former Protestant church architect who became convinced that building new buildings is a distraction for congregations, and that churches are better off treating their buildings as more-or-less necessary evils for the purposes of gathering as we’re commanded, but beyond that, the building of big, expensive buildings is a money-pit and something that prevents churches from doing what they’re actually supposed to be doing. It’s a book that has some decent practical suggestions, to be sure, but much of it is problematic from an Orthodox point of view — it embraces the narrative of of post-legalization decline, certainly, and it has no patience whatsoever for a theology that would treat the building as having any kind of an iconographic function.

Problematic though it may be, it genuinely seems to be how a lot of people think. For the last six years, I have been part of the conversations at my parish towards building our permanent building, and these conversations continually circle back around themselves and go nowhere. Some of it has to do with money, but I think a lot of it has to do with being genuinely baffled at the idea that the building has any or all of the iconographic and traditional functions outlined by Andrew Gould and the people of St. Sava Church, and certainly the notion that the church building itself is intended to reflect royal splendor in materials and design runs contrary to Middle American ideals about avoiding conspicuous consumption. For some, it need be no more complex than a practical question of space to be solved practically — build whatever size pole barn or brick box you can manage, and retrofit a dome on top of it if it’s really that important to you for it to look “Orthodox”, whatever that means. Anything else is surely just too theoretical and abstract to be relevant to those of us here and now who have to build and use the place. I’ve even heard it suggested that building a beautiful church building is something that materially wealthy but spiritually dead communities do (usually implied somewhere along the way that these are “ethnic” parishes in addition), and that parishes that are spiritually alive (i.e., “convert” parishes) don’t need such trappings.

When Gould was here, he spent some time talking about multi-aisle design of his interiors, complete with interior columns and transepts, and how there’s a traditional diversity of kinds of spaces inside the church. Somebody asked a question that amounted to, well, so what? Why is anybody here going to think that that’s a good thing? It contributes to the beauty of the nave, Gould replied. “I don’t come to church for the beauty, I come for the participation,” was the answer. Now, to be fair, there’s evidently something of an assumption somewhere that multi-aisle designs are problematic or at least unnecessary in an American context; in the St. Sava booklet, it says that “we preserved the original model and its general characteristics of style and beauty, with additional attributes more practical to serve the religious needs of an American parish. The use of steel eliminated the need for interior columns in the nave…” (p.3) Still, it’s clear that St. Sava Church, in making those kinds of decisions, tried to work things out in the context of a traditional understanding of these matters, rather than an approach that assumes that the traditional practices are irrelevant and impractical.

And yes, traditional practices are also expensive. No question about it. Right now my parish is trying to replace our unsightly, inexpensive metal music stands with a proper analogion so that we can actually look like we belong in our little, awkward corner of the nave, and just that alone could be a few thousand dollars. One Orthodox woodworker said it could be done for as little as $1,000 and as much as $8,000, depending on how much carving we want. Extrapolate from there the cost of a full set of liturgical furnishings needed just to be functional, and it can’t be argued that there aren’t a lot of fantastic low-budget options for an Orthodox church that doesn’t have a woodcarver, metalworker, carpenter, iconographer, architect, mason, and general contractor all in-house. As somebody said to me recently, “Most of us struggle just to be able to pay the priest.”

At the same time, the St. Sava booklet acknowledges all of this, giving an account of things that makes it clear that the entire community made it its responsibility to contribute sacrificially of time, talent, and effort to build a church that would be an Orthodox witness to an entire area. They wanted people to see it from the highway and pull off to find it, and they were willing to do what they had to in order to make it happen. Maybe not everybody wants that, I suppose, but it seems to me that there’s a problem when we on the one hand criticize “ethnic” parishes for being insular and functioning as “little more than the tribe at prayer” and then set up churches in places that are hard to find, inaccessible, and invisible. However “ethnic” St. Sava may or may not be (and I don’t know, having never been there except for that afternoon), you can’t come down on them for trying to stay unnoticed.

I’m not entirely certain how to put all of these pieces together. Is a true “culturally American Orthodox Christianity” going to reflect a core frugality and practicality that sees the architectural and iconographic traditions as ostentatious and unnecessary? Are former bank buildings and insurance offices adapted as well as possible for liturgical use what we’re looking at? I suppose you could argue that church buildings started out as converted temples and public buildings, but it seems to me that that’s a different kettle of fish entirely. Do we get that there’s a difference between chronos and kairos, and that the church is built for one and not the other? Is beauty in Orthodox worship and building design something we’re going to have to redefine along American egalitarian, “horizontal” lines in order for it to be “relevant” enough? Is it a case where, if we see examples like St. Sava, we’ll be inspired to do it ourselves? Or is it a case where examples like St. Sava make us think, “Yeah, how nice for them. Nothing to do with us”?

On package deals

The “Package Deals” piece over at Ius Honorarium has gotten some attention via the Google Reader circuit and whatnot; an Orthodox friend was chatting with me about it and asked, okay, if this guy’s right, what’s the point of being any kind of Christian, if there doesn’t seem to be any real way of doing it that isn’t completely self-engineered and self-directed? Why not just become a Taoist? He pointed out that many of the things they say plague what Esteban Vasquez calls “militant Americanist Orthodoxy” are things that have plagued cultural Orthodoxy from the earliest times —  a cafeteria approach, syncretism, hyper-monastic zeal, and so on. Orthodoxy, this person argues, may be sold in our crass, marketing-language culture in a way that tends toward disillusionment for some people, but the core of the criticism isn’t new or patently American.

I have another friend, a philosophy grad student, a Christian who has occasionally and uncomfortably flirted with Orthodoxy like the girl your friends introduce you to whom you’re supposed to just instantly fall in love with, and you can respect all the reasons they thought you would like her, and you can see that there other people who just think she’s the most gorgeous woman there, but the more you look at her and talk to her the more you’re looking for the quickest and most direct way out of the room. Yes, it might be nice if there were another girl who looked sort of like this girl and who had some of her personality traits, but with this one in particular all you can think about is how it’s just not working for you. And, the thing of it is, it’s not just Orthodoxy that he’s like that with — he’s said that for him to do anything more than uncomfortably flirt with a communion or confession would be for him to acknowledge that communion or confession as something more than he feels able to do. In a pluralistic, postmodern world, he doesn’t feel that there’s any way to choose among the pre-existing options that is going to be any more than simply picking the set of traditions you like the most on a personal level, and he doesn’t see, as he says, how you get any more Jesus that way. His solution is, to use his own word, syncretist — “I want it all,” he’s told me before. “I want Orthodoxy and and Quaker meeting all in the same church. The way I see that we transcend the individual and create a new Christian community is by bringing together a bunch of things that are all intensely personal and then building something new out of that.”

My friend is also a C. S. Lewis devotee. At times when we’ve talked about his confessional wanderings, I’ve brought up the quote from Mere Christianity:

It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. . . . It is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable.

“Yeah, in the present day, Lewis is wrong,” my friend has said. “That presumes a default option, and there just isn’t one in our society. The modern American religious landscape is predicated on the lack of a default option.”

So, as Neo says, the problem is choice. Or, to put it another way, the problem is pluralism.

As I see it, American culture in modernity is fundamentally a culture of being uprooted. I have lived for the last eight years in small-town Indiana after growing up in Seattle, and when I’m at a parish council meeting talking about how we need to be reaching out to families who are actually staying put, I’m quickly told, “Those kinds of families don’t exist anymore.” We have people who commute to All Saints from an hour away or more, which makes trying to do certain things in a regular way very difficult, and I usually hear a speech about “the reality of our mobile society” about once a month. To the extent that this uprootedness is an issue on a personal level, the solution is then to try to construct a personal narrative that either provides one with “virtual” roots or establishes them going forward.

I maintain that for the Christian who is sensitive to such matters, the flaws of American Protestantism become really evident really fast. This can lead to embracing forms of Christianity that at least appear to have stronger historical roots than simply the America of the last fifty years (look at how some Evangelical churches define “traditional” services sometime). Anglicanism is one possibility that at least used to provide some of the trappings without challenging your existing beliefs overly much, if not so much anymore in a lot of parts of the country. Traditional Roman Catholicism, and Orthodoxy of course, provide these things while also challenging one’s existing beliefs (at least to some extent, depending on your resident apologist). Modern Roman Catholicism provides an abstract way of changing your affiliation and beliefs without changing your externals too terribly much.

Still, here’s the problem: if Orthodoxy is the path you choose (and of course implicit here is my own belief that that’s the right path, but we’re not talking about that right this second) you eventually find out one of two things:

  1. Not everybody there is there for the same reasons you are, and those reasons might not be mutually intelligible, and/or very difficult to translate across cultural barriers.
  2. You find yourself in a community of people who ARE there for the same reasons you are, but it’s for that exact reason there’s a kind of hyper-idealized vision that is individually held and to some extent mutually exclusive with the hyper-idealized vision other people have.

And, of course, there’s the simple fact that the “true church” isn’t the perfect church in an earthly sense. All of these points have significant implications; Rod Dreher’s insistence that ethnic parishes are little more than “the tribe at prayer” is a serious misunderstanding of what’s actually going on, but that’s a result of the first point, for example.

As regards the second point — well, in retrospect, let’s just say that I see the mass conversion of the EOC in their existing communities as setting a really dangerous precedent. Along similar lines, if you look at the mission guidebook for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, one of the things it mandates is that the initial group of families MUST be made up of a certain number of Greeks. The point seems to be, “We’re not going to let a bunch of converts who don’t know what’s going on just set up shop and go to town.”

In any event, where I think some of the disillusionment comes from is this —  I think what happens is that there are people who convert thinking that it’s going to be all awesome sauce and incense and kissing chalices and domes and “Boy, people will just come in droves if they can just see what’s happening!” — the Russian Primary Chronicle all over again, only this time, in America. What happens, however, is that bishops turn out to be fallible, English translations of liturgical poetry tend to clank (let’s talk about the canon for Lazarus Saturday sometime), it becomes evident really quickly that the Episcopalians are able to pay their musicians a lot better, there are folding chairs in the middle of a nave that looks like an office building, and if you can convince your friends to come, more often than not, they are frankly mystified and manage to eke out a somewhat patronizing “Well, that was really interesting and I can see why you’re there” before running for the door. If you’re the kind to educate yourself more, you find that what’s happening in American parishes, even a lot of the ethnic ones, is pretty far removed from much of what happens in the old country parishes (what I think Owen White has called “Orthodox Orthodoxy” once or twice), and you realize that part of why the beauty of Hagia Sophia was able to convert the Russians is because the emperor could basically say “you’re converting” by fiat.

Then there’s the problem that i bring up here — people pick up on the fact that the people and places they hear about in our liturgical texts are called Demetrios and Ephesus, not Joe and Akron, Ohio. That can have a kind of mysterious, otherworldly appeal for awhile, but then you start to think, “Wow, is there really nothing of import in my faith to have ever happened where I live?”

But what the real problem is, and what isn’t comfortable to talk about in a culture where religious freedom is one of the fundamentals, is that there’s an extent to which Orthodoxy has to function in a public, popular way in order to really work, and it can’t do that here. How can you have a village or a city popularize a saint in this country when there are no villages or cities that are Orthodox? This is, I suppose, why the “let’s start Orthodox communities” idea is so popular among some converts, but that’s not really something that can work in this country without it being a synthetic utopia that will fall apart within one generation. Orthodoxy really isn’t intended to function as the boutique SWPL religion that Owen semi-accurately accuses it of being — it’s intended to be the local, popular, public church, and there’s virtually no way for it to be that in this country, not with either Orthodoxy or the USA in their current forms. The religious and cultural equilibrium in this country is, frankly, set up to make sure that such a thing doesn’t happen. Orthodoxy has the problem of being just one more Christian group among lots and lots of other Christian groups in this country, and being so in a country that in theory is already culturally Christian, as opposed to being the Christian group in a pagan country that is culturally pagan.

What’s the answer? I have said it before, but I genuinely think that the rabid insistence on divorcing “little-t” and “Big-T” Tradition turns Orthodox Christianity into an abstraction that one can mold into whatever form of Christian idiolect with Byzantine trappings that one likes. Orthodoxy as received by American converts tends to be reduced down into a palatable form, with certain teachings carefully restated so that they don’t actually say what they are, and various “ethnic customs” being essentially “flavors” that one can mix and match as they so choose. It’s an attempt to transplant Orthodoxy in a way that allows you to transplant yourself into it with minimal discomfort. But here’s the thing — all those distasteful ethnic “little-t” traditions come out of the fact that Orthodox Christianity is lived and received in a cultural context and a particular rhythm of life. Read Juliet du Boulay’s Cosmos, Life and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village for some sense of what I’m talking about. As much as we scions of American Puritanism are uncomfortable admitting it, dancing, feasting, and singing folk songs are as much a part of lived, received Orthodox practice in the parts of the world that are actually Orthodox as eight hour long services, monasteries, beards, chant and stone churches. (I will point out that a big point made at a recent rembetiki concert in Bloomington was that the vocal style of rembetiki is grounded in the technique and theory of Byzantine chant.) We want the asceticism and discipline because it helps us to feel something real in our world of ready-made plastic pleasures, but that doesn’t mean that we know what we’re talking about when we write off Greek festivals and haflis and poppyseed rolls as irrelevant, if not dangerous, externals.

If we want Orthodoxy to give us roots, then we need to watch and learn how Orthodox live their lives and not be so quick to judge or talk about how this or that “little-t tradition” “won’t work in America”. Otherwise we’re still Protestants. And if we’re going to still be Protestants, let’s at least be honest about that. I agree that this doesn’t have to mean monarchism, or sequestering ourselves into SCA-style reconstructions of Russian peasant villages, and that a “package deal” mentality is going to be rife with cognitive dissonance in the long run, but the whole experience of being a Christian in the present day is an exercise in cognitive dissonance in one form or another. And let’s be honest — it always has been, and always will be. Something about seeing through a glass darkly and being a folly to the Greeks comes to mind.

Pearls Before Swine weighs in on Orthodox administrative unity in North America?

My godson Lucas is a big Pearls Before Swine fan and often passes along strips that he think might resonate with my lack of a sense of humor. This one struck us both as neatly summarizing how many of the arguments concerning “American Orthodoxy” appear to go:

Pearls Before Swine

On the difference between καιρός and χρόνος and building a church that makes the difference clear (Part II)

Organizing an event is a heck of a lot of work.

I had originally contacted John Boyer in late fall of 2008; I was looking around for Western notation transcriptions of Byzantine chant in Greek, and my friend Mark Powell said he was the guy with whom to inquire, and that I might also be interested in the curriculum he was developing for Byzantine notation. John was more than generous in providing very useful materials, and I figured, while I was corresponding with him and he was seeming friendly, I may as well ask what it would take to get him out to Bloomington for a workshop. This had been an idea I’d been trying to develop for a couple of years, since we were encouraged at PSALM in 2006 to try to put together local and regional events, but I’d never gotten more than a lukewarm response — “Who?” “Isn’t he too far away and too expensive?” etc. I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask him while I had his attention, however, so I did.

He quoted me a much more reasonable number than I was anticipating. I told him, right, let me check on a couple of things; I was able to convince a private donor to pay John’s fee and travel, Fr. Peter had no problem with it (particularly since it wasn’t being paid for by the parish), and I wrote back and said, let’s do it.

Well, then it took a year to make it work with everybody’s schedules. We decided on this last weekend back in August, and what I will say is that given a host of factors (not the least of which was the decision, made a month later, to bring out Andrew Gould the weekend before John’s visit) I would not have wanted any less time to get everything together. Even with five months’ advance planning, a significant chunk of my choir still couldn’t make the weekend work (although, in all fairness, one of them, Megan’s goddaughter Erin, was busy winning the Met auditions, so I guess that’s an acceptable excuse).

In October, the money from West European Studies happened; this really expanded the scope of what I had originally considered from maybe my choir and a couple of other interested parties to something that could be (well, had to be, given WEST’s terms) open to the public and conceived of as an educational outreach event. John and I finalized the schedule and the repertoire on 23 December; the Friday evening session would be the “lecture” of the series, intended to function as the academic side of the weekend, and then Saturday would be the all-day practical part. I set up a Facebook event and sent out press kits to 30 different churches, chairs, institute directors, community choral ensembles, and local news organs the first week of January, and was astounded at the responses that started rolling in. I heard from School of Music faculty; both an Early Music Institute and a Choral Conducting professor registered, and it came back to me that the Choral faculty member was even telling her entire doctoral seminar to come. I heard from a faculty member at University of Louisville presently teaching a seminar on early notation (although she ultimately decided she couldn’t make it); I heard from choir directors and priests in Indianapolis, Evansville, and Louisville; I heard from a Medieval Studies professor at Wabash College; I heard from local people in the community. By the time the registration deadline passed the week before, 45 people were registered; another ten confirmed over the course of the following week, and then still more showed up unannounced.

The last week before the workshop, the event planning was approaching a fulltime job; I had to make sure food got ordered and picked up, I had to track down CD shipments so we could have things to sell over the course of the weekend, I had to bug overworked Cappella Romana executive directors for scores (sorry to have been a nag, Mark, truly), I had to get registration materials printed and assembled, and I had to field phone calls from people who wanted to come but lived a couple of hours away and wanted to make sure it would really be worth their time. The last couple of days I wasn’t quite a one-man army; Megan, God bless her, helped with a lot of the last-minute errands and the putting together of the registration binders. I put together a couple of displays of Andrew’s concept sketch (pictured) so that workshop attendees could see it, at least trying to give a nod to the non-singer-friendliness of our space and indicating that we intend to do something about it.

On the other hand, once John actually got here, my job was significantly easier — I pretty much just got to sit back and enjoy the proceedings.

I must say it was worth it; all in all, throughout the course of the weekend, about 65 different people came. Not bad for an event centered around this obscure, gaudy Eastern repertoire that supposedly we Westerners can’t stand without the edges sanded down.

I picked John up at the airport last Thursday evening; his flight arrived at 10:30, and then between his checked luggage taking forever and my very smooth wrong turn leaving the airport, we didn’t get back to Bloomington until about midnight. Luckily, Megan had a wonderful meal and a good bottle of wine waiting for us when we got home (a Saveur recipe that turns lentils and sausages into a bowl of gold), and we three were up talking until around 2 in the morning.

In what would prove to be a pattern for the weekend, four hours later, it was necessary to be up and about. It was, as I told John, the “showpony” day; he was doing a radio interview for Harmonia in the morning (watch this space for details), a mini-lecture for WEST in the afternoon (no thanks to me; I had both the time and the place wrong, forcing us to rearrange our afternoon a bit), a coaching with Lucas, Megan and me on epistle cantillation, and then the first formal session of the workshop in the evening.

One thing that putting on such an event at All Saints did was push us to the absolute limits of what we’re able to do in our current space. John had a PowerPoint slide deck as part of his lecture; well, we’re a pretty low-tech parish on the whole, so I had to go out and hunt down a projector and a screen. WEST loaned us the projector by way of the Russian and East European Studies Institute; my old employers, the Archives of Traditional Music, were good enough to loan us the screen. Even so, it was difficult to figure out how to set up the presentation in our nave to maximize the size of the slides, minimize keystoning, and be within reach of our power outlets (even with extension cords). We managed, but I’d want to figure out how to do better next time.

We had made the decision to install a comprehensive sound system in the nave as the only real cost-effective solution to our acoustic woes for the time being; we gave the thumbs up to the order on 11 January, and the guys at Stansifer Radio turned it around as quickly as the possibly could, knowing that we hoped to be using it by 22 January, and they got it installed by Vespers on Wednesday, 20 January. John had also wanted to be able to plug his laptop into the sound system; I told Greg at Stansifer what I needed to do, and he told me, “Give me an hour to make you a cable.” An hour and twenty dollars later, I had exactly what I needed, and it worked beautifully.

In the end, where we needed to set up John’s presentation was nowhere near the condenser microphone installed for the homilist, so we still had to give him a handheld mic hooked up to Fr. Peter’s old amplifier so he wouldn’t kill his voice. (Why, you might ask, did we not plug the handheld into the nice sound system? Well, the mixer is back in a closet in the sanctuary, roughly 30 feet away from where John was standing. We had a long enough cable, but plugging it into the mixer produced no result. “Oh, right,” Fr. Peter said, stroking his chin. “I forgot — the long cable is dead.” Like I said — we’re kind of a low-tech community. Note to self: replace long cable before next such event.)

Nonetheless, John was a hit, a big one, and something that I heard from more than one person at the end of the session was, “You know, I was only going to come for tonight, but I need to rearrange my day tomorrow so I can come here.”

Following the lecture session, in lieu of a formal reception (which I’ll have to remember to set up for next time), a number of us tried to go to Finch’s for dinner, it being one of the nicer places in Bloomington. Alas, we got there just as the kitchen was closing, and so we relocated to Nick’s. It was a bit louder than we we might have liked otherwise, and they didn’t quite know how to make a Manhattan properly, but perhaps not an inappropriate venue, given that it was founded by a certain Νικόλαος Χρυσόμαλλος (Nick Hrisomalos).

It was a full house at Chez Barrett; besides John, our friend Max Murphy, my counterpart at Ss. Constantine and Elena in Indianapolis, was staying on our other futon for the night so that he wouldn’t have to commute. Once again, we found ourselves up until about two in the morning chatting, and needing to be up by about 6:30 to make sure our houseguests would be sufficiently plied with coffee and eggs, pick up the food for Saturday’s lunch (shout out to Eastland Plaza Jimmy John’s; three 30-piece party platters was a perfect amount of food for a very reasonable price, and they were gracious enough to have somebody there at 8:30am so I could pick it up, since All Saints is waaaaay far out of their delivery area), and get everything at the church set so that the 9am session could start on time.

Well, it didn’t quite. We might say that everybody was inspired enough by the previous evening to recalibrate their clocks to “Greek time,” and we didn’t get started until about 9:30am. Έτσι είναι η ζωή (that’s Greek for c’est la vie, which is itself French for “Life sucks, get a helmet”).

Without giving a blow-by-blow of the whole day, I’ll say that much of the day was dedicated to rehearsing the Divine Liturgy music, but there were a couple of theoretical points made that I’ll note. First, there was the issue of time, which John got at a few different ways. He has a principle, stated many times over the course of the weekend, that “If you think you’re not going fast enough, slow down.” Too often, he says, we just zip through the text like it doesn’t mean anything, which makes it not mean anything. This can be in chanting a hymn, reading the epistle, whatever. We treat hymns and readings like they’re just the next thing to get through so we can be that much closer to getting out the door, rather than adorning them with the beauty that a) they deserve and b) will make us want to be there and take part in the services as though they are gifts from God rather than as burdens to bear. So, again — if you think you’re not going fast enough, slow down.

Another way he stated this was to discuss the difference between χρόνος (chronos) and καιρός (kairos). The former is the world’s time; the latter is the Church’s time. This came up when he was talking about why some hymns are slow and melismatic, and even sometimes will revert to nonsense syllables — in the case of the latter, when this happens, the text has been stated thoroughly in a slow and melismatic fashion, and the hymn is now using “terirem” or some such to provide the opportunity to meditate on the text. Not only that, however; the whole point of the slow, melismatic style has a practical component — to cover a liturgical action, for example — but it also emphasizes the reality that in the liturgy, we are no longer in the world’s time (chronos) but on God’s time (kairos). I was reminded of what Met. Kallistos Ware says about the first time he was in an Orthodox church:

…I had no idea how long I had been inside. It might have been only twenty minutes, it might have been two hours; I could not say. I had been existing on a level at which clock-time was unimportant” (“Strange Yet Familiar: My Journey to the Orthodox Church” in The Inner Kingdom, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2000, p. 2).

As he acknowledges in the same essay, this itself was a trope (albeit realized after the fact) of what the Kievan emissaries are reported to have said after their visit to Hagia Sophia: “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth…”

Another thought came to mind during this discussion — what do we sing in the Cherubic Hymn? “Let us now lay aside all earthly cares.” What do most of us do with the Cherubic Hymn in our parishes? Sing a setting short and fast enough so that we repeat it three times, because we worry that people will get bored otherwise. Isn’t that rather missing the point?

The other theoretical point John made was that there are three textures of singing in our liturgical practice: soloist (priest or deacon or cantor, depending on what’s happening), choir, and congregation. “We need all three,” he said repeatedly. “It’s very much a dance of who sings what when, and if you limit yourself to only one of those textures, you lose something important and beautiful.” As you may recall, the week before, somebody told Andrew Gould that they didn’t come to church for the beauty but for the participation; one wonders how such a perspective would understand what John had to say on this point. My thought is that he’s right, but dances have to be both taught and learned or they become mass confusion.

The services themselves were an adventure, but a good one; at the kliros, the weekend suddenly turned into Byz Chant Boot Camp (or Parents’ Weekend of same, as our friend Laura Willms suggested), and John was the drill sergeant. This Was A Good Thing; he was able to do get away with making certain points in a way I simply can’t, partially because a) he won’t have to see these people next weekend b) we paid him to be here specifically to do that c) he’s Greek. He was not shy about being emphatic in terms of instructing people during services; if you were on the isokratima, for example, and were sleeping on the job and missed his cue for the move, you got an elbow in the ribs. (As John said later, and I absolutely agree with him, “Please tell me a better way to communicate with people who aren’t watching me while I am singing.”) The thing is, coming from him, people ate it up; after the service, a lot of the folks who got the business end of his drill sergeant-ness said only, “Wow — what an amazing teacher.” For me, how this manifested was him pointing to the Byzantine scores he was following and saying, “You’re reading with me, got it?” Up to that point, I hadn’t dared putting enough confidence into what I had learned over the summer to actually use it during services, but much to my own surprise, I managed to keep up. I wasn’t perfect (and when it was just me on my own I fell down and went boom a couple of times), but I kept up.

After Vespers, we were all tired and hungry enough that it seemed best to simply call off the 7-9 session — we had reached enough of a logical stopping point that anything further that evening would be a matter of diminishing returns. It was early enough that Megan, Laura and I were able to take John to Finch’s for dinner after all, and once again we all found ourselves up until 1am or so talking.

Matins and Divine Liturgy the next morning were not without their speed bumps — everybody was just enough out of their element to make sure of that — but everything went quite well regardless. (We even made it successfully through the Cherubic Hymn, which had been a cause of some lack of sleep on my part.) A lot of non-Orthodox workshop attendees came, so we had a very full church. That said, I’m not entirely certain that everybody in the parish knew what was going on or why we were doing what we were doing (despite my plugs for the weekend along the way), and some of the reactions I got from parishioners were worded accordingly (“That was beautiful, Richard, but I will be very happy when we go back to normal” was one example). On the other hand, there was the chorister who told me, “I felt like my musical soul had been fed for the first time in a long time.”

Here’s a comment made by a workshop attendee to which I keep returning — the commenter in question is part of the local UUC congregation and retired English faculty here at IU:

Excellent workshop on Byzantine chant this weekend at All Saints Orthodox church in Bloomington, with John Michael Boyer, cantor and teacher… The whole attitude of the Orthodox faith tradition is very flexible, welcoming, inclusive, and constantly changing–such a welcome change from most of the Western Christian churches… As it happens, I’m not a theist of any variety, but if I were monotheistically inclined, I’d give this church a serious thought. Good people all around… This was my third visit to your church and in every case, I was much welcomed.

Seems to me that’s successful outreach right there.

John’s flight out was scheduled for 4pm on Sunday. However, as we left All Saints around 12:30pm, he looked at me with deeply exhausted eyes and said, “Would you mind horribly if I changed my ticket and stayed an extra day?”

Well, I told him, I didn’t know for certain where he’d stay, but I’d see what I could do.

Megan and Laura made biscuits and gravy, which I think may have cemented John’s friendship with Bloomington (to say nothing of his arteries). He got a nap, and made a wonderful dinner for us that night — a recipe of his own devising, incorporating pasta, kielbasa, kalamata olives, mushrooms, and green peppers.

(Tellin’ ya — how do we rate all of these friends who ask, “Hey, can I cook in your kitchen while I’m here?”)

And, once again, we looked at the clock while talking, found that the hours had slipped away and it was three in the morning.

On the way out of town the next morning, we had lunch with Vicki Pappas, the chair of the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians — also a Bloomington resident and founding member of All Saints (alas, in absentia for years, since she commutes to Holy Trinity in Indy). It was a very interesting conversation for which to be a fly on the wall; the musical situation in GOArch has its own intricacies, complications, and vicissitudes, to say the least.

The drive to the airport (no wrong turns this time, thank God) mostly consisted of us discussing how to get John back here, and soon. Watch this space.

Just to make sure I’ve said it: as with Andrew, I wholeheartedly recommend John if you’re looking for somebody to bring out as a speaker or as a guest instructor with respect to Byzantine chant. He’s knows his stuff inside and out, both in terms of chant and in terms of liturgics in general, he’s a great teacher, and of course he’s a wonderful cantor. He is a very effective speaker and teacher for an academic audience, an Orthodox audience, and a general audience — not something everybody can claim.

All in all, the weekend was a huge success in terms of being outreach, being educational, being of musical interest, and, more personally, building friendships. It’s very true that there’s very little in the way of specifics you can cover in a weekend; notation wasn’t discussed beyond some theoretical ideas, and there was only so much he had time to do with respect to the tuning systems, but I think what it did was threefold: it established that there is in fact interest in this material here in Bloomington, for the School of Music, the greater community, and the parish, it proved that you could talk about this subject from an explicitly confessional standpoint and have it be more informative for non-Orthodox participants than it would have been otherwise, and it stimulated interest in doing more. The School of Music faculty who came were very clear about wanting to participate more directly the next time John is here; people from the parishes of surrounding areas said, “Hey, how can we help with the next one?” and it’s also been expressed to me that there is a desire to figure out what portions of what we did last weekend we can keep as our normal practice. That will likely be a complicated conversation with a complicated outcome, but it’s a better response from the people in question than “That was nice, now let’s never do it again”.

What I will say is this: by virtue of the fact that we were open to the public and not charging admission, our own success made it quite a bit more expensive than we had originally planned. If you participated and would like to help, or would like to help regardless, please contact me (rrbarret [AT] indiana.edu). Our original donor has been very generous, but we had hoped to come away from this event with perhaps some seed money for the next one as well. Looking ahead, I am contemplating starting something which we might call “Friends of Music at All Saints” or some such, specifically to exist as some kind of a booster organization for such things; again, I am pretty much a one-man army here, so if you’re interested in participating, please let me know.

So, we had two visitors two weekends in a row. One told us about beautiful churches, another told us about what we do in those beautiful churches. Now what?

I think, if we want a useful synthesis of Andrew’s and John’s respective messages, it boils down to John’s point about kairos and chronos, and how that relates to the church building being an icon of the Kingdom. As Lucas pointed out to me, the word kairos kicks off the whole Divine Liturgy: Καιρός τοῦ ποιῆσαι τῷ Κυρίῳ — it is the time/moment/opportunity of acting for the Lord. Even better, if we want to read τῷ Κυρίῳ as a dative of the possessor, it is the Lord’s time of action. And what is the priest’s first blessing? Blessed is the Kingdom… The Liturgy is the Lord’s action in His own house on His own time. (I will note that this does not go well with the populist misunderstanding of “liturgy” as “the work of the people”, but it goes much better with the more accurate rendering of it as “public service”. It is the Lord’s public service being offered to His people, in other words.)

So, you have to liturgize in a way that emphasizes the fact that it’s God’s time, and you have to have a worship environment that emphasize’s that it’s God’s house. As Lucas also put it, you have to get across the idea that, no, actually, you don’t have anyplace better to be.

Schmemann, of course, talked about the idea that we should liturgize in a way that takes the Liturgy back out into the world. What I wonder is if we have a problem with the valve running the wrong way — that we bring our busy lives, our distractions, that is to say the world into the Liturgy with us and then expect the Liturgy to be run in a way that accommodates us. As I said with the Cherubic Hymn — we say that we are now laying aside all earthly cares, but do we really approach that text in a way that indicates we believe that that’s what we’re doing?

And when you’ve got a building that, no matter how you cut it, looks like an office building with icons and which traps our psalmody rather than lifting it up to heaven, is it any wonder that that’s our approach? Andrew was absolutely right — we’ve got the saints and the angels, but no City.

We’ve got our work cut out for us. On the other hand, here’s the good news — Fr. Peter told me a couple of days ago, “You know, a comment I got from a few people was that things seemed too slow. But you know what? In a lot of places, by having the choir sing it so slowly, I found that it matched better with the liturgical action, and it made a heck of a lot more sense.” We talked about a lot of this stuff, and it seemed to click with him that we need to figure out, and make a concerted effort reinforcing, the difference between kairos and chronos. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re at a point where it’s what we have to do.

The project that All Saints has ahead of it is not a building project or a musical project. Those are components, yes, but what it really is is a spiritual project. We’ve got to be the City on the Hill, the Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem, the Light that is not hid under a bushel. It is desperately needed in this town, in this area, in this world, and we’ve got to convince ourselves that we want to be that, that we want to be an icon of the Kingdom, more than we want to be what we’ve been pretty good at being up until now, which is a little, struggling church in a little, struggling Midwestern town.

If we can do that, then we will have the hard part out of the way. If we can convince ourselves that we believe that and that we can walk in faith, then the temple will just about build itself, $2.5 million or no, and people will stop worrying about whether or not the music is too Byzantine or too slow or not congregational enough or not “American” enough or whatever. (By the way, I found over the course of the weekend that just joining a good English translation with a melody written for the English made things pretty well more “American” on their own. Others may disagree with me, but that was my perception.) If there’s a point that both Andrew and John made, it is that the ethos of the received tradition is not a buffet, not a “meat and three”, not a list of things from which you pick and choose. There are things that we can adapt for local circumstances, but you do that after you’ve received the tradition, and then only in a way that doesn’t obscure what you’ve received. You don’t filter out the parts of the received tradition you don’t like pre-emptively. You may well come to church for participation rather than beauty, but that doesn’t mean that beauty isn’t part of the organic whole.

The church building and the liturgy have to reflect the fact that we worship a God who is bigger than we are. God already “met us where we’re at” in the Incarnation; it is up to us to respond to that in faith.

Now, having said all of that, I’m at the head of the line of people who need to figure out chronos and kairos. With these two weekends out of the way, I have a ton of reading to do on Ancient Greek democracy and a couple of weeks’ worth of working out on which I need to catch up. I’m going to be juggling things for a bit yet before I’m really into the rhythm of the semester. Along similar lines, last Wednesday, John texted me at about 8pm my time: “I’ve turned nocturnal. Just woke up. I’m not sure, but I think it’s Bloomington’s fault. :-)” I guess the gap between chronos and kairos gets us all in the end. Pray for us.

More importantly, however, pray for All Saints. We’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us. With God’s help and by your prayers, we can do it. If you want to be involved more substantially, I’ve suggested a couple of ways you might be able to do so; contact me if you want more information.

Okay — back to being a student.

Updated link for Frontier Orthodoxy

Do note that Fr. Oliver Herbel has moved Frontier Orthodoxy to its own site. Not all of the first few articles have been moved; those you will still find here.

Of note: Frontier Orthodoxy

Fr. Oliver Herbel has a new column called Frontier Orthodoxy which looks like it has the potential to be of great interest. There are two posts up now, and my understanding is that he intends it to be a bi-monthly column. That Fr. Oliver reveals in his introductory essay that he is a fencer already means that this is going to be worth watching.


Richard’s Twitter

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