Saturday, April 29, 2006

A New Blog!

I'm going to be writing for a new group blog of the Byzantine Evangelization and Mission Association, which may be found here. Go visit!

Friday, April 28, 2006

NFP is Hard

The Torodes, famous for writing, as protestants, a book supporting the Catholic position on contraception, have now jettisoned their former beliefs. Now they are Greek Orthodox, and are delighted to find a Church, or at least a spiritual father, that lets them have sex more often, sometimes with condoms. On the way, they adopt uncritically some typical Orthodox caricatures of Augustinian theology. But, more crucially, they are making the mistake of thinking that one may do evil so that good may come.

I think I will have to go borrow Meyendorff's book on marriage in Orthodoxy and critique it, since Mr. and Mrs. Torode cite it in support of their new position. I will report back to you. If I recall, Fr. Meyendorff begins his treatment of contraception by conceding that one shouldn't reject Humanae Vitae simply because it is papal. Then he goes on to completely misunderstand the notion in nature in Western theology. But I will have to get the book before I write more.

P.S. NFP isn't particularly hard. Loving one's enemies--that's hard. Doing good to those who hate you is hard. Forgiving others seventy times seven is hard. Going without sex sometimes, or even most of the time, is not hard.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

St. John Chrysostom on How to Read Scripture

In Chrysostom's first homily on the statues, he does a homiletic tour de force, taking a simple and oft ignored passage "Drink a little wine for thy stomach's sake, and thy often infirmities." from 1 Tim. 23, and preaching for an hour brilliantly on everything from the proper attitude to drink, the limits of fasting, why it is that the good suffer, to the problem of evil. It's wonderful stuff, as usual from St. John, but the reason why he does it is perhaps more interesting.

1 Tim. 23 is a minor verse, a little snippet of medical advice from St. Paul to St. Timothy. It seems to be merely a kind little personal detail brought into a letter, similar to my comments about the Green Bay Packers in conversations with my father-in-law. Can't we disregard it? St. John says that we cannot, since the whole of scripture is inspired, and takes it as his task to show that even such an uninteresting passage can contain great treasures.

Well then, let us employ the whole of our discourse upon this subject; and this we would do, not for the love of praise, nor because we study to exhibit powers of oratory (for the things about to be spoken are not our own, but such as the grace of the Holy Spirit may inspire); but in order that we may stir up those hearers who are too listless, and may convince them of the greatness of the treasure of the holy Scriptures; and that it is neither safe, nor free from peril, to run through them hastily. For if indeed a text so simple and obvious as this one, which seems to the multitude to contain nothing that need be insisted on, should appear to afford us the means of abundant riches, and openings toward the highest wisdom, much rather will those others, which at once manifest their native wealth, satisfy those who attend to them with their infinite treasures.

If one believes in the inspiration of Scripture by the Holy Spirit, then nothing in it is boring or insignificant. Every passage is in the bible because God wants it to be. All is important, even the gastrointestinal advice.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A terrible crime

happened in my church last week. Someone stole four silver-covered icons. They stole holy images of Christ and the Theotokos. This makes them guilty of sacrilege, and if they sell the icons, they are guilty of simony. These are grave, terrible sins. I think they may even result in latae sententiae excommunications. In any case, stealing from a church is very, very bad.

So, I ask you to pray with us for the thieves:

Thou who didst pray for them that crucifed thee, O Lord, Lover of the souls of men, and who didst command thy servants to pray for their enemies, forgive those who hate and maltreat us, and turn our lives from all harm and evil to brotherly love and good works: for this we humbly bring our prayer, that with one accord and one heart we may glorify thee who alone lovest mankind

As thy first martyr Stephen prayed to thee for his murderers, O Lord, so we fall before thee and pray: forgive all who hate and maltreat us and let not one of them perish because of us, but all be saved by thy grace, O God the all-bountiful.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Seven hours of liturgy!

Last week, those of us using the new calendar prayed the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. This is a lengthy penitential matins that always occurs during the fifth week of the Great Fast. The odes contain reflections on instances of penitence throughout the Old Testament, contrasting it with the lack of penitence of us. Here is a sample:

By straying far from you, * I have imitated our first parents;* and like Adam, I have been deprived of your divine grace and unending kingdom * because of my sin.

Alas, O my poor soul, * why do you imitate the first Eve? * Your look was evil and you were bitterly seduced; * you have touched the tree and tasted the fruit, * the bitterness of sin.
In place of the Eve of former times, * a spiritual Eve surges up in me; * it is the thought of carnal desires, * recounting sensual pleasures * and unceasingly relishing the bitterness of sin.
Justly was Adam dispelled from Paradise for one sin, O my Savior; * but what shall my punishment be, * for I have unceasingly rejected your life-giving word?
I have followed in the footsteps of Cain, * I have chosen to become a murderer; * for I have led my poor soul to death, * by living according to the ?esh * in the wickedness of my deeds.
O Jesus, how is it that I could not follow the path of the just Abel, * that I could not present to you pure offerings, * holy deeds and an unblemished sacri?ce, * by the purity of my life?

This goes on for about three and a half hours, tracing out all the examples of sin and repentance in the scriptures, and connecting them directly to the state of the soul of the one singing the Canon. The Canon is scripturally based, and both presumes and provides a detailed knowledge of the bible. It doesn't read it as if the bible is some sort of dead text merely to be analyzed, but as a living appeal to the soul of all Christians. After praying the Great Canon, one has the sense that everything that has gone before has happened for the sake of one's own soul. The bible becomes personal and, to use a favorite phrase of the day, becomes relevant. Toward the
end of the Canon, after the participant has reminded himself in great detail of how little good he has done, the figure of Christ appears, giving hope and the possibility of forgiveness:

Christ has become a little child; * he was united to my ?esh* to voluntarily ful?ll the entire human condition, * except for sin.* He shows you, O my soul, * the example and image of condescension beyond description.
Christ has become incarnate, * calling the thieves and harlots to repentance; * repent, O my soul, * for the gate of the Kingdom opens, * and the pharisees, publicans and repentant sinners go in ahead of us.
Christ has saved the Wise Men and gathered the Shepherds;* he called the innocent children to martyrdom; * in the Temple, he glori?ed the Elder * and the Widow in her latter years. * O my soul, you have not imitated the deeds of their lives; * woe to you, for you must undergo judgment!

Christ appears, transforms the tragic history of man, and glorifies it. The scriptures and the life of each human being find their fulfillment in the person of Christ. After these odes, we conclude the liturgy with the psalms of praise, thus experiencing in the space of three hours (or
more) the entire drama of salvation.

And I got to do it twice, since I helped another parish with their singing in the morning, and then cantored at my parish in the evening. Seven hours of liturgy!

By the way, for other reactions to the Great Canon from some bloggers that prayed it with me, see Eric, Renee, and John. One of these days I'll add them to my bloglist.