Archive for the ‘Orthodox Christianity: in general’ Category

Orthodox hierarch endorses “bikers”

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on July 3, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Ok, the header might be a bit over the top.

Thanks to one of the faithful in my parish, Dr Bill Green, now serving abroad for our country (keep him in your prayers, “Theodore”!), a news article came to my attention, “New Orthodox Patriarch Pulls no Punches” (NY Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/10/world/europe/10iht-orthodox10web.html?pagewanted=1&emc=eta1

The article introduces us to the personal style of His Beatitude, Patriarch Kirill, of the Church of Russia. Here is the relevant material for this blog post:

“One of his appointees, the Reverend Vsevolod Chaplin, has proposed creating “Orthodox nightclubs,” where young people would gather for late-night fellowship and discussion. There are even Orthodox bikers, and Patriarch Kirill reminded the crowd in St. Petersburg that he used to ride a motorbike.”

Hey, for a simple priest motoring around on a motorscooter in SoCal, that aint a bad endorsement!

the mess in Antiochian Orthodox America and its promise for the faithful

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on July 2, 2009 at 9:29 pm

My readers are no doubt familiar, at least in some small measure, of the turmoil recently afflicting the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, the province of the Church of Antioch in the United States and Canada.

The turmoil is not at all settled, and indeed may yet continue for some time. However, this promises to be a wonderful opportunity for the faithful to grow in their faith. Patience, endurance, faith, ascetical endeavour, and the like are all the only recourse to those who believe. For them, this bad weather will prove to be a door to grace. For those who are in it for the culture or are mere spiritual tourists; they will be like chaff before the foul winds of the human passions which we sense roiling around us.

Among the blessings for me, is the discovery of more rich resources of our Orthodox faith. I have recently become aware of the postings of the blogsite, Ochlophobist, http://ochlophobist.blogspot.com/

Just today, he offered a post which beautifully captures the problem of our Antiochian Orthodox problem in America. We simply do not have a well-rounded spiritual diet, stemming from the experiential gaps in our hierarchy (this does not include Bp JOSEPH, who is a notable exception).  Read Ochlophobist’s post of July 2nd, 2009, introducing Notes on Arab Orthodoxy blog which will orient you and also introduce you to a new blogsite, Arab Orthodoxy, http://araborthodoxy.blogspot.com/  That site has lots of meat and is worth visiting often, by my initial reckoning.

In the meanwhile, may the all merciful Lord send down His blessing!

Orthodox reply to criticism of calling the Mother of God blessed

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on March 4, 2009 at 10:32 pm

An email inquiry led me to a response which the readers of my blog may find edifying.  The book mentioned in my response below, The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God, by St John (Maximovitch) is easily available.

Read on…  the inquirer’s question is in black font; my reply is in blue.


I accept prayer to the saints in Heaven in that we are asking the saints to pray to God for us; just as we would ask someone on earth to pray for us.  Invoking the saints beyond seeking their intercession to the Throne of Glory on our behalf is, according to Orthodox literature I’ve come across, blasphemous.

Fr Patrick:

This last sentence is a gross overstatement from our Orthodox point of view.  Our communion with the departed is very familiar and deeply personal and varies from person to person and from local church to local church.  I like to express it in the following way:

The saints are those who have been cured.  We who struggle in the pursuit of purification from the passions (the disordered state of the soul from sin) invoke the saints due to their “boldness” (parresia, “freedom of speech”) before God in their intercessory prayers.  However, due to the fact that all of the saints, including the Mother of God herself, are human beings all born under the exactly same conditions as we, our relationship with the Saints is one of reverence, but not worship.  Worship belongs to God alone.


> But then I come across something such as the below which is taken from a Confessional Lutheran website entitled ‘Wittenberg Trail’.  Please, I very much seek your insight into this:


> ” I’d encourage them [a person looking to the East]to look exactly at what the Orthodox DO in the invocation of the saints. They will tell you what they have been indoctrinated in: we’re only asking Mary to pray to God for us. But the Orthodox do more than this. I cite from the Antiochian Service Book, page 130:

‘O all-holy Lady Theotokos, light of my darkened soul, my hope, my shelter, my refuge, my consolation and my joy; I thank thee that thou hast permitted me, unworthy though I be, to partake of the immaculate body and precious blood of thy Son. O thou who didst bring forth the true Light, give the light of understanding to the eyes of my heart; O thou who didst bear the Fountain of Immortality, quicken me who am dead in sin. O compassionate Mother of the merciful God, have mercy upon me and grant me humility and contrition of heart, and humbleness of mind, and deliverance from bondage to evil thoughts. And permit me, unto my last breath, to receive, without condemnation, the sanctification of these Holy Mysteries, unto the healing of both body and soul. Grant me tears of repentance and of confession, that I may hymn thee and glorify thee all the days of my life. For blessed and glorified art thou unto all the ages. Amen.’

We Orthodox see nothing sinister in this prayer.  We do not, as implied above, assign to her a divine status.  Everything in this prayer stems from her status as “full of grace” (Gospel of Luke, ch. 2) and the true Mother of the Eternal Logos according to His human nature.  One way to view this effectively is to see Mary as the Mother in the household of the Church.  As such, she has great effectiveness in guiding our path to holiness in the Lord.  She can, by her prayers, not by any independent agency which one might ascribe to her, “quicken me who am dead in sin,” and so on.  It is important to stress this, as it is frequently misunderstood by non-Orthodox who read prayers such as this out of context.  I invite you to read the entire service of Prayers after Holy Communion, found in any Orthodox prayer-book.

The concluding doxology to her is also appropriate, as testified to by the fact that the living God, the Son, Himself was born of her (how could the all-pure and all-holy God be born from anyone of less standing?).

The problem is not the Orthodox view, quite traditional and apostolic, but rather the Latin excesses which infected the Protestants.  I most strongly recommend a specific book, The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God, by Bishop (St) John (Maximovitch), of Shanghai and San Francisco.  That slim volume will address all the usual issues with regard to the Theotokos (“Birth-giver of God,” a canonical term, authorized by the 3rd Oecumenical Synod held in Ephesus, A.D. 431).


This seems like a prayer directed exactly towards the Blessed Mother and not so much for her to pray to the Father on our behalf.?.

Sure it is.  Now you see that we Orthodox have no problem addressing the saints themselves.  The best way to see how this works out in practice is to attend Orthodox services and bear witness for yourself as to the efficacy of such a rich and multi-textured spiritual way of life.


Thank you again for your time.

With a sigh toward the Lord for my and your salvation, I remain

an unworthy presbyter, +Patrick

Thoughts on Church Music and Liturgics from Bp HILARION (Alfeyev)

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on February 19, 2009 at 1:44 am

I found the following material to be brilliantly expressed, from one of our newer, younger hierarchs.  Some of my readers may be familiar with Bp HILARION’s catechism, “The Mystery of Faith.”


This is drawn from his presentation entitled, “Orthodox Worship as a School of Theology”:  http://orthodoxeurope.org/page/12/1.aspx


On the inspired status of Orthodox liturgical texts:


The school of Orthodox theology that formed my theological thinking was not so much a theological seminary, academy or university but the Liturgy and other services…

Orthodox divine services are a priceless treasure that we must carefully guard. Similar services were once celebrated in other Christian communities, but over the centuries they were lost as a result of both liturgical and theological reforms…

Orthodox divine services, whether it be the Liturgy, vespers, matins, hours, nocturnes or compline … are uninterrupted prayer… Byzantine liturgical texts filled with profound theological and mystical content, alternate with the prayerful incantation of the psalms…

Liturgical texts are for Orthodox Christians an incontestable doctrinal authority, whose theological irreproachability is second only to Scripture. Liturgical texts are not simply the works of outstanding theologians and poets, but also the fruits of the prayerful experience of those who have attained sanctity and theosis.


On Church Singing:


(Church chant) is characterized by a spirituality that is lacking not only in many works of secular music, but also in the contemporary western-style church singing, which is composed according to principles totally different from those of ancient chant. It is not secret that the concert-like, “Italianate” singing performed in many churches does not correspond to the spirit of the traditional liturgical texts to which they were written. The main aim of such music is to give pleasure to the ear, while the aim of true church singing is to help the faithful immerse themselves in the prayerful experience of the mysteries of the faith… It is not easy for modern man to appreciate ancient chant, and just as difficult to “lay aside all earthly cares” and enter the depths of prayerful contemplation. But only this and similar singing is truly canonical and corresponds best to the spirit of Orthodox divine services.


Apologia for classical Church Chant

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on January 29, 2009 at 12:49 am

I have translated a wonderful document written by a priest in Greece. I hope you, my readers, find it to be as informative as I have!  Read on…

The meaning and value of Byzantine[1] Ecclesiastical Music in Orthodox Worship

By Protopresbyter Ioannes Photopoulos, priest at St Paraskeva Church, Attika (Greece)

translated by Fr Patrick B O’Grady, January 2009

 Orthodox worship: tradition of the Holy Apostles and Fathers.

The joy and boast of every Orthodox soul is ecclesiastical Orthodox worship.  From the first years of the ancient Church, worship was shaped, little by little, by the holy Apostles, Fathers and teachers.  Being blessed by the illumination of the Grace of the Holy Spirit, they enriched our worship with psalms, and Gospel, apostolic and Old Testament readings, with hierarchical and priestly prayers, with diaconal petitions, with hymns, troparia, and canons.  These gave form to the Order of the Typikon, subject to the Apostle (Paul) who enjoins us, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40). By degrees, these elements gave shape to the form and structure of the Orthodox nave, to the regulation of sacred ikons; and these things entered into worship and into ecclesiastical music.

Thus, we cannot be Orthodox, when we distance ourselves from the ecclesiastical Synaxis (gathering), which our holy Fathers provided to be celebrated with such attentiveness and piety.  There we become one body, the Body of Christ; we confess Him and we send up prayers to the Trinitarian God; we offer to Him our gifts and He returns them to us as His Body and Blood and He unifies us with Himself—He Who promises to offer us the fullness of His life in His glorious Kingdom.

We hear David, the prophet-king, who moves us as he says: “In the churches bless ye God.” For this reason he himself says for himself, filled with divine love (eros): “My soul longeth for and fainteth for the courts of the Lord.”  The apostle Paul seeks the same thing: “Not forsaking your gathering together.”  So, as we thirst for the Grace of God, we hasten to His nave so that we may participate in divine worship: in Midnight service, in Orthros, in the Hours, in the divine Liturgy, in Vespers, all of which together form one image of heavenly worship and a foretaste of the Kingdom of heaven.

  1. Ecclesiastical Music: a work of the Holy Spirit.

In the Orthodox Church, through the Psalms, Old Testament readings, the Trisagion, the priestly prayers, and certain other readings, all the rest of worship is adorned, clothed with ecclesiastical music, even from the first centuries of the life of the Orthodox Catholic Church.

The holy Fathers understood not only the power which music has for effecting a charm on the souls of human beings, but also the need which man has to express himself musically, to sing and to sing praise to God not only through words but also through means of music.  The heretics ran ahead and began to compose poetic verses accompanied by sweet music so that they could disseminate their errors and to implant these in the hearts of men.  But in contrast, the holy Fathers, being illumined by the Grace of God and knowledgeable of the depths of human nature, were not ignorant of the needs of the human soul, of its powers and of its creativity.  On the contrary, they opened its course to an entire musical expression of the Church at prayer.

In an interpretation of Psalm 1, Basil the Great writes, “Since the Holy Spirit saw that the human race is led along only with difficulty into virtue and that we do have a care for correct life since we are inclined to anything which gives rise to pleasure, what did He do? He mingled the delight of melody with the teaching of the Church so that we could receive imperceptibly without fatigue the benefit of spiritual words with the sweetness which the melody brings about in our hearing. So also, for this purpose, melodious tones were developed for the psalms, so that those who are children may mature into a habit of thinking of singing only in an uncomplicated melody while in fact they teach their souls.”

Finally, we understand from that which the luminary of the Church, St Basil, says; namely, that the introduction of music into the worship of our Church is not some cultivated possession of talented musicians who clothe the ecclesiastical hymns with melody. Rather, it is a work of the Holy Spirit, Who directs the Church “into all truth.” The Holy Spirit knows the difficulty of mankind in assimilating spiritual verities, as also man’s tendency toward enjoyment and delight.  The Spirit does not condemn this human tendency, but rather He employs delight, the sweetness of melody, for imparting the profit of spiritual teachings in souls.  Toward this goal, He employs the poets and composers of the Church.  This saying accurately indicates this, “melodious tones of the psalms have been understood.”  By this phrase human cooperation is made clear, in the sacred work of chanting.

The first composers were at the same time also the poets of the hymns.  Almost all of the ancient holy Fathers exercised this ministry of poet-composer and they extended it into their pastoral work.

  1. The Quality of ecclesiastical tonality. The holy Fathers and the sacred Canons.

Now we come to investigate the creation of psalmodia, chanting. We are dealing with a more serious constant of ecclesiastical music; that which determines both its ethos and consequently also its pastoral and edifying value.  The edifying delight in the soul which comes from chanting must not be considered as having absolute value and as being the main weight for spiritual profit which is stored up in divine thoughts.  The holy Fathers have pointed out for us, “The Church is not theatre, as we hear things chanted there (in the theatre) only for pleasure” (St John Chrysostom). “We must chant in the Church with understanding and attentiveness” (St Isidore of Pelusium).

The pleasure which comes from chanting must be such that a chaste thought (sophrona logismo) is created in the soul, says Basil the Great. He adds that we must apply ourselves to the effort of avoiding being carried away due to pleasurable melodies into fleshly passions; while in one of his homilies which he directs to neophytes, he discerns the healthy melody from the bad and harmful. That is healthy which leads to the elevation of man, while that music is corrupt which begets passions which enslave and degrade the soul.

In the initial years in which ecclesiastical music was taking shape, certain phenomena existed on the part of those who chanted in the Church.  These phenomena were not suitable to the ethos of chanting. The appointed chanters would shout, gesticulate aimlessly with their hands and feet as they sought to please their hearers, and introduce into the realm of divine worship theatrical and worldly tunes.  The holy Fathers reproved all these things and permitted only quiet, spiritual tunes which brought about compunction in the soul and led man to God.

There existed in the Saints great sensitivity to the subject of church music, just as also whatever concerned worship. A summary of their discretion within music is contained in three of the sacred Canons.  The first is the 75th Canon of the 6th Oecumenical Synod (in Trullo), which says the following: “We enjoin that as many as chant in the Church be not so unruly as to employ very powerful voices, that they not force their natural voice so as to turn it into shouting, and that they do not add any foreign tunes which do not suit divine worship, but rather that they offer with much attentiveness and compunction those tunes appropriate to God, Who sees even our very secret thoughts.”

The second one, relevant to our subject, is the 15th Canon of the Synod of Laodicea which orders: “Let no one else chant in the Church except those canonical chanters who ascend the amvon (the chanter-stand, today) and chant from the relevant books.”  There is also a third canon, the 33rd of the 6th Oecumenical Synod which sets forth that canonical chanters are all those who had the laying on of hands (kheirothesia) from the bishop.  By this canon, the chanters are classified together on the kleros.

  1. The Structure and Ethos of Ecclesiastical (Byzantine) Music.

On the basis of the experience of the Church, the relevant teaching of the holy Fathers and of the sacred Canons which form the foundation of church music, church music was developed in liturgical practice.  The ecclesiastical melodies, according to St Gregory of Nyssa, were not composed in the manner which musicians of worldly music composed their melodies—musicians who had only one purpose: the delight of their hearers.

With this testimony of St Gregory and also the formation through the injunctions of the sacred Canons for the production of the church tunes, one can trace forward, up to today, byzantine church music. From the first Christian centuries, by degrees, with slow steps, with the fear of God the music of divine worship took shape by the composers of the Church.  Theatrical tunes were removed, suitable musical scales were added, suitable musical elements for each case were composed.  St John of Damascus gave his seal to each one of the eight modes (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, plagal 1st, plagal 2nd, grave (varys), plagal 4th), having differing musical units (theses).  There are dedicated elements, briefer and slower, analogous to the melody. There are brief melodies; e.g., quick (syntoma) troparia. There are “slow-fast” melodies; e.g. those which are chanted somewhat slower, since with each syllable there correspond two, three, or even four musical notes. And then there are slow (argo) melodies, so-called papadika, the cherubika and koinonika which are fit for the quiet reading of the priestly (papas, “priest”) prayers.

There exists a great musical wealth, a multitude of musical teachers and chanters in the byzantine musical tradition.  However, although the melodies are subject to a natural development, this is not an arbitrary process. The composer cannot arrange according to his taste, according to the inspiration of the moment.  The melody which he will arrange must follow all of the canons of ecclesiastical music, in order to be approved by the body of the Church.  This is the reason why when we enter the Church we are not perplexed, since we do not hear foreign compositions which carry our nous away from prayer and the divine thoughts which are hidden in the troparia. Thus, a continuous relevance through time exists in byzantine church music.

As we are speaking up till now about the quality of the melody, we must point out that this quality has relevance also to the manner of expressing the voice; that is, with the manner in which the chanter lifts his voice. Following the commandment of the holy Fathers, the good chanter does not force his voice; he does not shout; he does not overwhelm the area of the nave with an overpowering tension of his voice and fill the heart of those praying with confusion. He keeps the voice within nature, as the canon referred to above says. He carries his voice according to nature and lifts it with natural utility and with open sinuses.  He does not consider the voice to be unembellished, because, in fact, it isn’t.  He unfolds the powers of his voice in accord with tradition, as his teacher showed him, just as he heard chanting to be both pleasing and compunctionate.

Seeing as there is a reason for a teacher of church music, we must speak of how important his subject is for a correct learning of church music, for preserving the musical intervals, for the manner of expressing the voice, and in general for the musical interpretation of the melodies chanted. Many of these are quite difficult and must be taught to the disciple in detail and then the disciple must be heard chanting it back piece-meal by his teacher.  This is the reason why many great and difficult melodies are called mathemata (“lessons”).

There are other constants and other elements indispensible for correct chanting. Above all, from such things as we have said, the reader grasps that the subject of chanting is very profound and scientific, although it is taken up by whimsical amateurs.  It is a sacred subject, seeing as it deals with the prayer of the whole Church and requires fear of God at every occurrence within its domain.  Finally, chanting is a subject which possesses a great historical continuity. It is a living, golden tradition which each Orthodox soul must embrace, must value, must employ for spiritual benefit.  In this chanting tradition, the human soul, “the archetypal organ,” as Theodore, bishop of Cyprus, calls it, finds its full development, its perfect expression.  It becomes the truly suitable organ of doxology to the Trinitarian God.

  1. Byzantine music does not have ethnic boundaries.

This music does not possess an ethnic character.  It is not simply Greek church music, even though it has been expounded and refined in the broader Greek Orthodox domain.  Our holy Fathers have not ever considered creating ethnic boundaries for divine worship. For this reason there is an entirely common ecclesiastical life in all the local Orthodox churches: the structure of the nave, the Typikon, the vestments of the clergy, etc.  The dogmatic teaching, the sacred Canons, the Symbol of the Faith, and patristic literature were all established in the Greek language and in the epoch of Byzantium, were they not? The same thing happened with the production of hagiography and the other ecclesiastical arts.  However, all these were taken up by the entire Church, by the peoples who followed the Orthodox faith.  Among these arts was also church music which extended to all of the Orthodox.  In Russia and in other Slavic areas chanters from Byzantium were called to teach church music. The Orthodox brethren did not do anything else than to receive it, the music developed by Saints and tested in Orthodox worship.  For example, those sent by St Olga the queen to Constantinople, what did they marvel at in Hagia Sophia? To the brilliance of Orthodox worship, one of the chief factors of which was church music.

  1. The spiritual harm from the use of European polyphony in worship; the benefit of compunctionate monophonic Byzantine Music.

In Orthodox Russia and in other Slavic regions, in the middle of the 18th century, European polyphonic music was introduced into worship.  The chief reason for this invasion was the desire on the part of Peter the Great for a forced European reorientation of all of Russia through arbitrary impositions in all areas of life, social, political, religious, etc. We must not forget that this polyphonic music stemmed from the Latins (Roman Catholics). Because of the error of papism, all the elements expressed, whatever is used for worship, whether music, or painting, or architecture, had something sickly, something diseased.  The evident absence of Grace makes the dominance of emotionalism indispensible in the realm of worship.  All this want of the Grace of God, which leaves the soul empty and thirsting, the papists wished to obscure with a kind of sweet (according to their musical opinion) music with intervals which bring about melancholy, a music which seeks to force the soul to know compunction, which it then knows as though it were some kind of created emotional condition, and not as a visitation of divine Grace.  This music seeks to excite the emotional element and to create compunction.  For this reason, it deploys the many voices of men, women, and children, whose high voices “prick” the ears and whose deep voices (the basses) thrust the soul into the abysses. This music deploys musical instruments and worldly musical compositions in order to order to make a sensation, to create a romantic atmosphere to carry the nous of those praying into imaginary worlds.

The musical affirmations of the West were not spread into Orthodox Russia intact. The Russian Orthodox soul could not receive such an obvious worldliness. For this reason, the Russian Church did not receive the introduction of musical instruments into worship. Likewise, she wanted the melodies to be very simple.  (It would be an oversight if here we do not stress the care which our Russian brethren show in the preparation of choirs, to the importance which they give to chanting, and to the ascetical effort of the faithful through their participation in the services of the Church).  However, polyphony, the use of only the major and minor modes of European music, the mixing of men and women in choirs, the manner of musical expression, does not help very much in attentiveness of the mind and in compunction.

There are three undeniable consequences from the use of polyphonic chanting which interfere with compunctionate prayer in the realm of the Church:

1.      Dominance of sentimentality (synaisthema).  A cultivation of fine “religious” sentiments proposes to make the faithful to know the beautiful, but which in fact produce a sensory pleasure similar (not the same as, but similar) to that which is known in the concert hall.  In this environment, prayer is impeded, because there is interposed a worldly joy and delight which obscures the nous and reorients it away from its chief goal;s namely, its offering to God, the search for the mercy of God, thanksgiving and doxology.

2.      Distraction from prayer.  The many differing voices, of men and of women, which do not all chant the same thing, draw away the attentiveness of the faithful soul, his wakefulness, as well as his whole inner world.  These alienate the nous from total concentration on the divine words which edify and bring compunction.  The different ranges of voices (men, women, children) on the one hand bring different, parallel melodic elements and on the other a sundering in the power of the nous which distracts it from its chief work.

3.      Suspense (meteorismos).  The nous is held in suspense with polyphony in chanting. The holy Theophylact calls meteorismos “unstable roaming about of the nous” (ten astate periphora tou noos).  The nous remembers first one thing and then another, and with this in view, jumps about here and there. In the environment of polyphonic chanting, many voices create a romantic atmosphere which seizes the nous and carries it about here and there, unsatisfied.  Many times, in extreme circumstances, a certain unavoidable linking of musical hearing in differing settings, memories and persons takes place.  Our Lord Jesus Christ exhorts us, “do not have a suspended mind” (Luke 12:29).[2]  Although this exhortation deals with flight from worldly cares and the entrusting of the soul to God, it relates most fittingly to the concentration of the nous in prayer, so that in chanting, the nous prays and seeks the chief thing, “the kingdom of God” (Luke 12:31).

Now, in contrast to polyphonic music, byzantine music employs melodic monophony.  Where one or many chant, as St John Chrysostom says, “the voice seems to proceed from one mouth.”  This simple and uniform hearing with dedicated musical themes which go along with a straight musical note, the isokratema,[3] unifies and holds the nous together in prayer.  The melody of byzantine ecclesiastical music is pleasing and in accord with the teaching of the Fathers as it assists in compunction.  But the nous does not run on out and adhere to the melody, so as to know it as a sensory delight.  Our heart “flies,” when we chant or hear the troparia; we rejoice, but this does not distract us from the text of the troparia.  A sickly nostalgia is not cultivated, nor a romantic mood.  This Music does not allow suspense of the nous.  On the contrary, it assists in the nous coming back from its wandering all around without and in its going into the heart and as a result being offered in all its powers unto God.  Prayer becomes fruitful, something beneficial to the Christian.

  1. The return to genuine ecclesiastical music by the Russian laity.

The following arguments exist in support of the usage of polyphonic chanting in the Russian Church: a) that this already has a history, thus it forms a “tradition”; and, b) that it has been loved by the laity, who find comfort in it and think it pleasing.  To these arguments we could reply as follows: a) it is an historical event that we have in Russia a forceful invasion of European music in the realm of worship. For this reason, it cannot constitute true tradition; and b) to the argument that the clergy and the laity find comfort in polyphonic music, permit me to set before you two facts from our Russian brethren.

The first fact is a citation of some older testimonies.  We read in a musical periodical, “Phorminx” (March 1908), what Professor Sokolov wrote in that era in the periodical, “Church News,” an organ of the Holy Russian Synod, “Greek Church Music was for me unusual, monophonic, and peculiar in its structure.  But the more one hears this music, the more it sounds pleasing to him, the more powerfully it works in the soul and raises him in prayer. After two or three liturgies, I not only got used to this music, but even loved it. And just so! Only monophonic music is a genuine product of the Orthodox Church.”  This is the first witness.

Two other testimonies come from the holy Elders. The first is from Starets Varsanuphios of Optina, who was a very good musician.  Knowing European music well, he would say, “music turns man’s focus and attentiveness away from the words and toward the music… And thus it impedes prayer… The soul is silent.  Only sweet sounds are heard… without meaning… without a text…”  He would also complain about polyphonic choirs whose chanting he characterized as “theatrical melodies.” The second testimony belongs to Starets Sampson, who was advising his spiritual children regarding the manner of prayer to be adopted in the Church, as follows: “You should never reject the feeling that you are present before the Lord. Many times this feeling is only of the nous, a noetic energy, without participation in emotionalism. Emotionalism in worship is something foreign to Orthodoxy. That’s why our European choral music frequently obstructs us in our prayer! By this means, the element of emotionalism enters into our life.”  I think the testimonies given above are sufficient to convince us that the simple laity and also the saints of Russia do not find comfort in the use of European music in worship.

The second fact is relevant to the restoration of church music in Russia today.  In some parish churches they chant polyphony, in others, there is an effort to gain familiarity with and restoration of paleo-russian monophonic melodies (Znamenny Chant), and yet in other parishes and in monasteries there is a effort to chant a mixture of byzantine and paleo-russian melodies.[4]  What do all these things show us?  That there is among the Russian laity a return to genuine church music, the music which truly helps toward compunctionate prayer.  The manner in which the paleo-russian melody is chanted today, as they say who know the facts, does not appear to show the true ancient melody. It is rather in the process of experimentation, due the fact that after the reform of Patriarch Nikon the tradition was rejected along with its continuity, which the raskolniki (Old Believers) incorrectly try to preserve.

On one hand, there exists a superior church music, the byzantine music, which holds true over time, as it has been chanted through very many centuries without interruption.  Even though in the entire 19th century, the Greek nationalist propagandists (diaphotistes) fought against the Grace of God, it was preserved undamaged in the divine worship. Just like a clear spring, if you will, like a torrent of compunctionate chanting, it has no ethnic boundaries.  It is offered to all the Orthodox as a gift of God, as a life-giving water, as a ladder running up to heaven to help souls in prayer, toward their union with the Trinitarian God.

[1] Byzantine: this word carries an enormous weight of meaning, mostly lost to modern Western readers. It refers to the multi-ethnic, unified Christian culture of the Christian Roman world in the context of which our holy Fathers thrived and produced the great Orthodoxy patristic legacy.  We often refer to this Christian culture with the Greek word, romaiosyne, “roh-meh-oh-SEE-nee,” or, in Latin, romanitas, “roh-MAH-nee-tahs.”

[2] KJV, “neither be ye of doubtful mind”

[3] In English, commonly called merely the ison (“EE-sohn”).

[4] TRANS: Hear, for example, the sisterhood of St Elizabeth Monastery in Minsk, Belorussia.

the scandal of particularity: or, how God gives us ONE sure life-saving cure!

In Orthodox Christianity: in general, Orthodox Christianity: sermons on October 5, 2008 at 12:32 am

There is a certain rugged and very focused particularity to our Orthodox Christian faith. This particularity is scandalous to the modern, so-called “tolerant” and liberalizing, relativizing spirit of the age. Our refusal, as Orthodox Christians, to play by the rules of modern religious discourse, chiefly by insisting in the unity of Truth and the importance of language for the purposes of proclaiming this Truth, has cost us martyric blood in the past (Roman period, islamic yoke, Latin yoke, communist yoke) and will no doubt do so again in the future.  Why cannot we Orthodox lighten up a little and grant some leeway here?

In ancient times, the living, eternal Fountain of Life, the Mystery hidden before the ages, the timeless Word of the Unbegotten Father, the Lord of creation, called ONE man, Abraam of Ur of the Chaldeans. This vocation took place some 4,000 years ago. In the pitch darkness of human decay and ignorance, of bestial existence steeped in the stinking rot of the passions, Abraam received the divine call to “leave his homeland and to go to a place where I (God) will show you.” Abraham, his new name–the insertion of the “H” is a new breath of life!–ceased living in the gross ignorance of polytheism and came to the light of FAITH. Many early descendants of Abraham followed him in this faith, trusting in “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” However, it took a while for the worshippers of the LORD (YHWH, the ineffable Name) to come to the more particular view, as follows: whereas an early Abrahamite could say, “I worship the God of my father, Abraham, exclusively. The other peoples have their own gods, but I ignore them and worship only the God Who called my father Abraham.” This early non-polytheistic faith is henotheism (hen, “one–as distinct from two or three” + theos, “God”); namely, the belief that one’s own God is to be worshipped exclusively, whereas the other gods named out there are to be ignored. A henotheist does not necessarily deny the existence of these other gods; he just does not do them obeisance.

By the time of the holy prophet Isaiah, this henotheistic tendency was clearly seen to be insufficient. After all the battles between idolators and the holy prophets preceding him, the clarity of truth shone through. Consider Elias’ battle with the priests of Baal. There could be no middle ground; either Baal is to be tolerated, or not! What a scandal! Elias mocked them in the midst of their stinking, bestial, and cruel rituals. Finally, they were thoroughly expunged from Israel. No tolerance whatsoever could be allowed.  The prophet Isaiah said, “Other gods had dominion over us, but we will not name them ever again. Only the Name of the LORD will we address.” and, “Thus saith the LORD, ‘I AM the LORD; there is no other god beside me.” This is no longer henotheism. It is true monotheism (monos, “only one” + theos, “God”). The monotheist considers the only God as worthy of universal adoration and allows for the existence of absolutely NO divine competitors. In short, monotheism is particular, in that the ONE GOD Who IS, is the maker of all things and, depending on the monotheistic view, must be worshipped.

The scandal of particularity is sharpened with the advent of the Son of God as man, born of the Virgin. Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and of Joseph “as it was supposed,” is confessed by us Christians as the only-begotten Son of God from all eternity.” We allow for no other Christ! As our Lord said, “salvation is from the Jews” (Gospel acc to St John). And, our Lord Himself warned, “Many will come after Me, saying, I AM (this is the Name of God; see Exodus 3:14). But do not believe them…” Now the particularity is deepened. With each step of more particularity, the height of divine therapy is increased. Like a skilled surgeon, our loving God locates the illness of our nature and by locating his living scalpel, He cuts more skillfully, excising sin and death and healing us by His own Life. Jesus our Lord, the Messiah, entered His holy Passion, Crucifixion, Burial, and life-giving Resurrection to bring us back to the Father. How precise! In the ONE person, Jesus, all are saved. St Paul taught the nations, “whoever confesses ‘Jesus is Lord’ … will be saved” Therefore, all other so-called leaders are at best quack doctors without a cure–or as bad as demons in the flesh who actively contribute to man’s illness: Socrates, Plotinus, Arius, Nestorius, Mohammad, Krishna, Siddhartha, Varlaam, Kant, Nietzsche, our modern so-called “new age” practitioners and yoga purveyors, as well as the revisionist so-called theologians, who are really only merchants of empty potions like 19th century old Western fake cures.

Have we arrived at the acme of particularity in the God-man, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the all-pure Virgin Maria, daughter of Joachim and Anna, in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago? In a sense, yes, because  we can go no farther : God the Word become Man for us and for our salvation. If we receive baptism into His life, we are transfigured and saved. However, how do we ensure that we are not deceived in this regard? How do we know that the Jesus Who IS, that He is the same as the one we believe in and call upon? How can we trust our experience of the same? Here the particularity goes yet further!

The Lord Jesus called only 12 apostles. This is particular! St Matthew tells us that He called to Himself “twelve apostles, that they should be with Him” and be sent forth in His Name. At the end of His Gospel He says to these twelve, “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations…” St Peter confirms this particularity when he says (see Acts 10), “(Jesus) did not reveal Himself alive to all the people but to us who ate with Him and drank with Him”  And St John says, “That Which our hands of handled concerning the Word of Life, in order that you may have fellowship with us, for our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ.”  So, not everyone who claims to speak in the Name of the Lord can be believed! The scandal of particularity goes thus further. What church can be believed? What preaching? As St Irenaios of Lyons in ancient Gaul says, we must examine the credentials of preachers and bishops to ensure a saving belief. St Vincent of Lerins, “that which has been believed everywhere, at all times…” The canon of Orthodoxy is essential in saving us from spiritual fakes or, at best, sincere mal-practitioners.  Therefore, even in the Church, we discern between true teachers and those who are to be disqualified since they lack true theology. We embrace St Paul (and not Valentinus), Ignatios (and not Montanus), Clement of Rome (and not Sabellios), Athanasios (and not Arios), John the Golden-mouth (and not Plotinus), Basil the Great of Cappadocia (and not Macedonios), John Cassian (and we take Augustine of Hippo with a large grain of salt), Antony (and not Evagrios), Gregory of Rome (and not Honorius), Gregory Palamas (and not Varlaam the rationalist and his scholastic ilk), Mark of Ephesus (and not the false unionists of Florence), and in modern times the discernment is still with us.  We listen to Nektarios of Aigina, Silouan of the Holy Mountain, and not to Athenagoras of Constantinople or Sergius of Moscow.

The criterion of Orthodoxy is HOLINESS! All false ways are sterile and cannot produce saints. Where are the saints of the heretics, the schismatics, the false unionists, the sectarians? Even within the Church, as one becomes Orthodox, there must be a personal particularity. Just going through the sacraments does not end this particularity. Just because I bear the epithet, Orthodox, does not mean this ever-refining particularity is complete.  I have my spiritual father-confessor to whom I entrust my soul for therapy and healing. Each of us works this out in an intensely personal and unique way. There is struggle throughout, since we actually take up the fight against the inner passions which war against us, “the flesh” as the New Testament calls it, and also the unseen warfare against the powers of wickedness which take advantage of our flight from God to further deceive us.  But when a man turns to the Lord, confesses Jesus as Lord, submits to Him in holy Baptism and is cleansed, receives life-giving Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ and continues in the holy teaching of Christ in His holy Church, walks in the commandments of God (“ye are my friends if ye do what I have commanded you”), seeks absolution through the apostolic gift of holy confession and repentance, accepts in humility the holy therapy given by his spiritual father and walks in holiness, “visiting the orphans and widows and keeping oneself unspotted from the world” in other words, holy asceticism, he will “taste of the Kingdom of God before he dies.”

Is this still a scandal? Or is this LIFE itself?  Particularity does not find its completion until the “I” the “ego” becomes fully and completely a new little christ, re-created after the image of the prototype, the New Man, Jesus Christ, in Whom all the deity dwells bodily, to Whom all glory, honor, and worship are due, as to His Unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, life-creating and undivided Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

33 intercessions to pray, using a 33-knot prayer-rope

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on September 15, 2008 at 3:37 pm

As many of you know, we Orthodox frequently use a komboschoini (“kom-bo-SKEE-nee”), or “prayer-rope,” for aid in developing interior prayer of the heart. All prayer which is pleasing to God ascends from a heart which is set upon Him. The use of aids in prayer, such as movements of the body, books, ropes, etc., all provide a ladder upon which we can ascend to heavenly contemplation (theoria). The komboschoini is a woolen rope, consisting of knots of various sizes: as small as 33 (sometimes even smaller) and as large as 300. At each knot, fingered by the left hand, one says the Prayer of Jesus, “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner!” This is repeated once for each knot. This is the basic use of the rope.  There is a great volume of spiritual literature about this holy prayer and its practice. But the prayer-rope can be used for other prayers as well, as you will see, below.

There are many kinds of prayer: petition, compunction, confession, worship, contemplation, intercession. It is this last one which is the subject of this post.

Last May, I received from John Tsapos’ list a 33-knot intercession on the komboschoini. It was sent out in Greek. Below is my translation. Perhaps you will find it helpful for your own daily intercessions!

When you begin, take the rope in your left hand, with your forefinger and thumb on the cross of the komboschoini and say, while making the Sign of the Cross with your right hand, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” If you like you can say the trisagion (“Holy God…”) and the other customary prayers through the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father…”). Then, moving to the first knot on the komboschoini, say the first petition given below, and on each knot thereafter, each succeeding petition.  After all 33 are complete, say “Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Amen.”

  1. Be mindful, O Lord, for the peace of the world!
  2. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on our Church and our Orthodoxy.
  3. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on our Bishop and his clergy.
  4. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on all Orthodox clergy and laity in every land.
  5. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on our spiritual father and his community.
  6. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on our country and on our armed forces.
  7. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on the civil authorities.
  8. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on those who hate us, on those who love us, and those who pray for us.
  9. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on our parents, our sponsors, and our teachers.
  10. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on our brethren and relatives, according to the flesh and spiritual.
  11. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on the elderly and the monastics.
  12. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on infants, the defenseless, and the powerless.
  13. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on the youth in schools.
  14. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on the adolescent and our youth.
  15. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on the drug-addicted, alcoholics, and smokers.
  16. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on the marriages of Orthodox families.
  17. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on our sisters who are pregnant.
  18. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on the widows and orphans.
  19. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on our brothers and sisters who are martially separated and tempted.
  20. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on the weak in soul and body.
  21. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on those who do works of mercy and labor in the holy monasteries and parishes.
  22. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on the pious pilgrims of monasteries and churches.
  23. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on those who journey by sea, by land, or by air, those who are imprisoned and the despairing.
  24. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on the poor and our brethren who are afflicted.
  25. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on our judges and elected representatives.
  26. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on those who are deceived and blaspheme our Orthodoxy.
  27. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and grant peaceful seasons.
  28. O Lord Jesus Christ, guard us from sickness, wrath, and danger, and enlighten our physicians and nurses.
  29. O Lord Jesus Christ, guard us from poverty, danger, and misfortune.
  30. O Lord Jesus Christ, guard us from heat, fire, and earthquake.
  31. O Lord Jesus Christ, guard us from flood, drowning, and frost.
  32. O Lord Jesus Christ, grant rest also to the souls of our fathers, mothers, brethren, relatives, grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
  33. O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, the sinner!


In Orthodox Christianity: in general on September 15, 2008 at 2:22 pm

With the blessing of the LORD GOD: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

You can find introductory material about me and this website by scrolling below, in this column.

NEW!  English-language Typikon of the Holy Services of the Orthodox-Catholic and Apostolic Church, according to the tradition of the Great Church of Christ (Constantinopolitan usage).

I am now placing the entire translation and recompilation project of the Systema Typikou, the exhaustive and detailed Typikon of the Holy Services of the Holy OrthodoxChurch, published by the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece.   Since this work has not yet received hierarchical blessing for use in the churches, we are under an obligation to limit access to its contents.  Liturgists, scholars, and others with credentials from a hierarch are usually welcome to view our work, after screening.

If you wish to gain security access, please contact me by placing a comment on this post.

+ + +

OTHER CONTENT ON THIS SITE:   Orthodox liturgics, ecclesiastical and biblical Greek, or just more information about Fr Patrick–all are treated on this site with new posts, periodically added. Just click on the subject area in the column you see to your left. For example, click on “Commentary on Divine Liturgy for Laity” to get ONLY those posts. If you want to contact about anything, leave a comment after this post with your email. Christ is risen!

Confirmation… or disappointment.

In autobiography, Orthodox Christianity: in general on August 18, 2008 at 3:51 am

1964: Johnson over Goldwater (WAY over); Bonanza, I Love Lucy, Lassie; first race riots–Harlem, Mississippi; Vietnam War widens; Cassius Clay; Beatles, “I wanna hold your hand”; movie, “Dr Strangelove”; Turkey attacks Cyprus; Kruschev falls from power.  President Kennedy’s assassination in the previous November is still on everyone’s mind.  In this world, I was 13 years old: 7th grade at St Cassian (Roman Catholic) School, Upper Montclair, New Jersey–quiet suburbia about to undergo the cultural tumult.

Like any 7th grader, I am looking forward to the long month of May to end, since that month’s passing signals the approach of summer vacation. In Roman Catholic upbringing, 13-year olds are prepared for Confirmation, the sacramental ritual in which Catholic children are received by the bishop and made responsible members of the church.  We were prepared by our teachers, the Dominican nuns (quite the authority figures! My 8th grade teacher-nun was called “tank” by us in secret!) for the episcopal visit from the Bishop of Newark. On that warm spring-time evening, we all gathered in the parish church of St Cassian. The bishop held a general examination of our faith. He would call upon various individuals to answer specific questions on points of doctrine. We were expected to give the correct answer to these questions as we had been trained from the Baltimore Catechism.  My summer break would be just after the Confirmation service, since school classes were all done. Just this one, last effort…

The bishop called on me. There must have been a hundred kids in that little wooden church! And I have to deliver.  Fortunately, the question was one of those really basic ones which no one could flub. I think it was, “How many persons of God are there?” I aced it–three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. After a few others were put on the spot–some with coaching from the bishop himself– we all drew near the altar rail to be confirmed. There we all are, kneeling and ready. The bishop comes down the line, imposing confirmation oil on the forehead and giving a gentle slap on the cheek. (The nuns warned us of this: the slap would come, a sign of the Holy Spirit “hitting” you!). I think we all flinched, expecting a blow.  Childhood imagination runs riot.

Since Roman Catholic confirmation is a sacrament, we were expected now to act like mature catholics. Unfortunately, it is a widespread sentiment that confirmation served the complete opposite function. No longer would our religion classes be as goal oriented as for that occasion. Only the boys who went off to seminary would experience that next step. (I had explored that interest only briefly and rejected it, since it meant that I would have to go far away and would not get to see any girls.) In our Irish / Italian Roman Catholic culture, once you were confirmed, there was a reception at one of the homes. Families celebrated this coming of age in the church with “the first drink”–nothing special, a little drink. Champagne. Only problem here is that no one warned me about the stuff. Looked like bubbly fruit juice to me. I downed the glass rather too quickly. I suppose you could guess what happened next. After everything was cleaned up from the nasal projectile emission, I got to thinking about the awkwardness of it all.  And that got me thinking about what confirmation was supposed to be. What was confirmed? What did I know? What kind of responsible catholic Christian was I going to be? Is it just to get to have champagne?

I had no answers to those questions. Indeed, those questions would pursue me for the many years to come, until one day a quarter of a century later. In that day, I would discover where real confirmation is to be found. And then it took another ten years before I could experience it: the gift of the Holy Spirit through the sacred Myron of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Roman Catholic rite failed to grant what it offered, since it was no longer energized by God. The Latin ethos had for centuries lost its interior, mystical ethos. I would have to find holy Orthodoxy to experience the answers to my juvenile confusion. Instead of champagne, I would find inner stability. Thereafter all of my angst, my compulsive searching, my aching for the divine homeland, my longing for God would find an effective treatment, a therapy of the Life-Giver Himself.  How I rejoice in the Gift!

a prayer on the apodosis (leave-taking) of Pentecost

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on June 21, 2008 at 6:36 am

O Heavenly King… I am earthly, clay-like, subject to gravity and heavy with sins. I am guilty of treason before Thee, my King, by alienating Thee by my continual hypocrisy and vanity.

O Comforter… I long for Thy comforting, encouraging, exhorting Presence, but my longing is out-balanced with that other longing: for the comforts of sensuality: pleasure-seeking, love of praise, passing delights, false gods of this world. What I think as comforting is but really only that which induces a grey fog of death. My mind in vertigo; my heart enshrouded with dullness…

Spirit of Truth… Thou art indeed the Spirit of Jesus, He Who is “the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.” Do I say with Pilate, “what is truth?” or, do I confess Thee as did San Dimas on the Cross at Thy right hand, “remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom”? Do I show love of truth by obedience to it, or only prideful and vain curiosity without responsibility to what I learn?

Who art everywhere present and fillest all things… but dost Thou fill me? Only the human creature has the power to exclude Thee! Be that power far from me! But my longing does not suffice; there must be struggle, since my will is fickle and my pride is overwheening.

O Treasury of good things and Giver of life… I know that in Thee every precious gem is stored and ready to be distributed. I know that in Thee the very Fountain of Life springs forth, assuaging the thirst of my xerophagic soul–xerophagic, since it only eats the dry dust of vain sensory pleasure and drinks in the vapors of sin! Why do I continually “eat the bread of fools”? I know that Thou art my life, not only that Thou givest life. For I desire THEE, my life! Veni, Creator Spiritus!

Come, and abide in us… Make Thy home in me, as St Ephraim the Syrian of old did entertain: “God Who dwellest in the heavens finds His most comfortable abode in the heart of man,” so may I provide Thee with a throne in my heart! And, not mine only, but that of “this people which Thou hast brought up with me.”  I am not alone, but tied with a holy people, upon whose faith, hope, and love do Thou look, rather than upon my uncleanness!

Cleanse us from every sin… Since the Apostle and Evangelist John taught us that Thou dost cleanse from all unrighteousness them that confess their sins, grant to me to be humble, courageous, honest, and both ruthless and strict with myself to approach holy Confession. May I put out the flames of corrupt passions through humility and fear of God! “When I did not confess my sins, my bones melted like wax within me… so I confessed my sins unto the Lord.”

And save our souls, O Good One!  And, if I be saved, then all is well; for Thou only art Good, as our Lord Jesus taught. To Thee, O Good One, do I repair with hope for salvation. Receive me, O Spirit of Jesus!


Are there Christians outside of the Church?

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on June 3, 2008 at 6:28 pm

This question is posed from the point of view of (mostly Protestant) inquirers into Orthodoxy. For them, a major issue with regard to drawing near to the Holy Church is that of how to assess their prior Christian experience. This much needed personal assessment can become the source of great anguish! But the anguish is not all that necessary, since our Faith teaches us to see the Church differently than Protestant sectarians. Frequently, these sectarians, mostly of the fundamentalist type, were taught by precept and by example to distrust others who were not of their group. This exclusivist vision can create great psychological barriers to these former sectarians as they make their way to Orthodoxy. The following is a reply which I offered to one of these inquirers. The language has been changed a bit to hide the identity of that precious and God-loving soul. Read on, and comment, if you like:

I am grateful to the Lord for sending my way such people as you and your family, and so many others who clearly have a heart for God. May this wonderful grace ever continue, despite my many sins and failings!
As for your reflection on our meeting, let me make a few observations. I ask you carefully to weigh what I write here.  When we Orthodox confess our faith in the Church, it is in a direct sequence with our faith in the Holy Spirit. Notice how this is set forth in the Symbol of Faith (the Creed): “I believe… in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father, and Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, and in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church…”  So, profession of belief in the Church is quite dependent upon faith in God the Holy Spirit. As we like to say, along with St Leo, “no one can have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his Mother.”

Our confession of faith in the oneness of the Church, however, and in distinct difference from what you have expressed in your email, does not set up for us Orthodox a frame of mind of exclusivity. The Church is not shut off from the world, rather she is the manifestation of the crucified life of Christ in the world. The Church is the highest form of Christian presence–the very Body of Christ revealed–in the world. So, of course, there will be many believers in Christ who will come to this holy faith through the outpouring of God’s grace in the world. Remember that Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would “convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).  The “world” seems pretty inclusive to me. You will notice, also, that Jesus shortly thereafter says to His disciples that the Holy Spirit would “be with you and in you”–this is different than how the Spirit works in the world.
God is free, and acts freely!   I would be very disturbed if anyone under my catechesis came to the conclusion that he had to deny his Christian experience of faith prior to entry into the full communion with Christ in His Church. This is not our teaching, so I wish to place great stress on this. Someone, expressing our ecclesiology very succinctly, has said, *The Church knows where she IS, but she does not know where she is NOT.*  Fr Georges Florovsky, a great early 20th century European Orthodox theologian, said “It is impossible to state or discern the true limits of the Church simply by canonical signs or marks” (in his essay, “The Boundaries of the Church” in Ecumenism I: a Doctrinal Approach, Vol XIII of The Collected Works of Fr G. Florovsky, ).  Florovsky also cites St Augustine of antiquity, “in quibusdam rebus nobiscum sunt” (my translation, “in certain matters, they (the sectarians) are with us”).  I could share many other wonderful sayings of the Fathers about this.  Let this one suffice: “We seek not conquest, but the return of brethren, the separation from whom is tearing us” (St Gregory of Nazianzus, also in Florovsky).  Notice that St Gregory calls them “brethren”!  This is why we do not baptize every new convert from Protestantism: the very fact that we see in their (prior Protestant-administered) baptism the Church’s very baptism should indicate the seriousness of this point.
Perhaps we are trying too hard to convert you. For that I offer my humble request for forgiveness. I become very animated and energized about all of the wonderful glories of our holy Church, and I forget the struggle of others who are having to deal with their own backgrounds. Take your time; ask more questions. Do not worry about holding up your family. There is no rush. Your family can wait, it will do them all good. Our bishop JOSEPH has said, “Time is our best friend”!

Warning to keep Preaching pure of egocentrism (Fr Michael Laffoon)

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on June 3, 2008 at 6:04 pm

Those of you who follow my blog with an interest in Orthodox Christianity may be interested in an assessment of the role of preaching in Orthodox Christian worship. This link to Fr Michael Laffoon’s blog (newly set-up; congratulations, Fr Michael!) will offer you that perspective:


the Presence of God in the Divine Services

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on May 27, 2008 at 4:37 pm

Many times we Orthodox place such emphasis on the Holy Eucharist, that we fail adequately to grasp the energizing power of the uncreated grace of God in the other services.  Frequently, I encourage new-comers to attend the service of Vespers. It is rather short, by Orthodox standards, rarely more than 50 minutes or so, and very musical, with lots of chant. The Psalms form the basis for the service of Vespers, and the oldest continually used hymn in all of Christendom is used as its centerpiece, “O Gladsome Light.” It was the service which I attended regularly for two years during my inquiry into Orthodoxy back in the early 90s.

And, now, a witness to that converting power. Go to:  http://shawnragan.wordpress.com/2008/05/22/father-patrick/

Pastor Shawn Ragan, an inquirer into Orthodoxy, is blogging!

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on May 27, 2008 at 4:32 am

Check it out:


Pastor Shawn used to be a Greek student of mine, at Boise State University. He and I have been in pretty constant contact over the last two years, or more, as he has sought the True Faith in the Holy Orthodox-Catholic and Apostolic Church.

I am glad that he is now blogging, since he has wonderful things to say. May the Lord grant him, his wife, Tori, and their dear children, a beautiful and gracious entry into His holy Church!

Baptism: act of violence?

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on May 26, 2008 at 2:08 am

Yesterday I was privileged to exercise my holy office as a Orthodox Christian priest and pastor in performing the sacrament of baptism. Traditionally, baptizands are stripped of all clothing and immersed into the Font thrice, in the Name of the Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We Orthodox Christians still observe the full traditional, ancient way of baptism in every respect in the case of infant children. (With adults, we let them keep some clothing on.)

Some on-lookers appeared shocked as I stripped the infant, seized him in my hands and immersed him fully within the sanctified waters–not just once, but three times, fully underwater, this little two-month old! This has happened to me before. The look says, “What are you doing to my baby?” “Why are you trying to drown my child?” And, in every case, the baby does fine and, frankly, I get crying less often from the baby than what you might expect. A priest friend of mine said that once the mother screamed and tried to take the baby away from the priest after the first immersion! (Evidently, he was able to convince her that it was ok, because I know that the baptism was completed. Turns out, she was Romanian from the communist era and had never seen a baptism before).  It seems that we adults are more worried, lest something untoward happen to a babe. But infants handle immersion into water far better than we might think. Don’t forget, they still have the proximate memory of that 9-month period in the water of the womb! Their first birth is violent, to say the least, and they pulled through. Now, with the second birth unto eternal life, much more will they pull through. “Unless you are born of water & the Spirit, you will not see the Kingdom of God” (John 3). So it takes a momentary drowning, accompanied by the bestowal of the Spirit to enter the Kingdom everlasting.

So, is this momentary drowning of infants violent? You betcha! In the Name of the Lord, action is being taken to put the old man to death, to drown sin and darkness in the noetic flood of baptismal water. Just as Noah had to endure the ark over the flood waters which cleansed the earth of old, so also now, the new flood waters of mystical baptism act violently to rub out the old death in us. “You were buried with Him in baptism, and raised in the newness of life.” Jesus said, “the Kingdom of Heaven cometh violently, and the violent take it by force.” What is more threatening than to plunge a human being under the waters?

Over the centuries, in Christian groups separated from Orthodoxy, baptism was tamed down and lost its energy to save. In some groups, they made it a rule simply to pour water over the head. In others, the person stood in the baptismal pool and the minister splashed some water over the candidate with cupped hands or a small dipping utensil. In yet others, the candidate was sprinkled with water while he lay in the arms of the sponsor or parent. And, even in others by my own experience, it is expected that the minister will use the specially donated rose to administer the baptismal blessing. In this last case, the image of the mystery is completely absent.

To on-lookers unaware of the vital, rugged, all-embracing and staggering simplicity and unembarrassed fullness of Orthodox sacramental practice, it can all seem so scary.  Yeah, scary to sin, the devil, and death; but life to the newly-baptized. “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have clothed yourselves with Christ. Alleluia.” Why would anyone want to don tattered clothing?

You don’t learn how to ride a bicycle by reading books

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on May 25, 2008 at 12:32 am

I can’t remember the exact day I rode a two-wheeler without training wheels. I do remember the day my son learned how to ride a bike. We lived in a little town called Mount Shasta, in far northern California. This town counts as the actual place where, in the city park, the source of the Sacramento River springs out of the ground. We used to live at the end of a rather rough dirt road, overlooking a canyon. One day, I was guiding Christopher on the bike and I let go. He rode, wobbly, almost a crash to the left, almost a crash to the right; yikes, it’s good the road is so wide… and, hey, he’s GOT IT! From then on it was free and easy: more bicycling, sudden freedom to go to a friend’s house; WHEELS.

Christopher never read a book about balance, the gyroscopic effect, steering, and the like. It would be pleasing to types like me to learn about all those things. Indeed, when I was a young bike rider, I actually thought about how it was easier to balance while moving, than when stationary. But, in the end, the act of mastering the riding of a bicycle comes only with the trial and error of guided attempts–or sheer, terror-inducing experimentation! Parents hope that the new bike they bought for their child will survive the initial crashes during the discovery phase of learning, and then have that scratched-up bike go on to serve for some wonderful childhood years.  I think that was how it was for my son.

Many things in life are like learning to ride a bike.  Succeeding in marriage, or in any significant and deep human relationship, is like that. Learning to be a good pastor and curator animarum, for me, a priest, is like that. One can find many books and pay many thousands of dollars on counselors to find out how human relationships work. There are tomes aplenty to train priests on pastoral care. Much to be learned, and a great deal of wisdom in such resources, and yet… Something is always missing. The point is, we learn by fits and starts. We misunderstand each other, we argue, we get intransigent, we accuse, we weep with anger and self-deprecation over failures.  The good news is that God gives us the single necessary ingredient to ensure that those who are faithful in their attempts will not fail: FORGIVENESS.  Forgiveness is the living grace of the *gyroscopic effect* in personal relationships: with God, and with our neighbors.

By faith, we receive the forgiveness of sins, which is the very BASIS for all other virtues, leading ultimately to love which is forever (“God is love,” I John 4: 8).  But faith means something very particular; it is not vague or foggy.  First of all, faith is the organic, inner, living light which makes the human heart sing again. Faith is the noetic light, the return to purity, the bastion of the soul. Faith is “the gift of God” (Ephesians 2: 8). Faith is in itself something substantial, without which God cannot be known, or even be sensed. Just as blindness renders a man unaware of his visible surroundings, so un-faith; i.e., unbelief, renders a man unaware of his spiritual surroundings. When a man believes, he truly sees! This latter teaching was given to us in our Orthodox Christian Sunday Gospel lectionary last week (see Gospel acc. to John, chapter 5). Faith in this sense comes into our heart freely, but only as a result of struggle and a cry out for it. At every Orthodox Christian Vespers (evening) service of prayer, we sing very deliberately the first two verses of Psalm 140, “O Lord, I have cried out unto Thee…”  Without a cry, there is no answer. Get faith by seeking faith, and you will not be disappointed: “and they shall find Me, if they seek for me with all their heart” (the holy prophet Jeremiah, 6th century BC)

And, second, faith is something I have to get from others. I cannot find it in a pure way alone. “Contend for the Faith which is once and for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 4). This is teaching, apostolic instruction, preaching, churchly gifting, and is perfected through obedience to spiritual authority and the practice of love. I must have faith in this objective way from the Church, lest I be led by a surfeit of egocentrism or the bent of my life unknown to me into some delusion.  The Orthodox-Catholic and Apostolic Church is the guarantor of saving faith! She is the storehouse or treasury of sane spirituality, without which a man flounders in error, no matter his intent. Think of the first, subjective dimension of faith as the perfection of balance in the bike rider, and the second, objective dimension of faith as the proper functioning of the bicycle as a piece of equipment.

AS I BELIEVE, I LIVE! Faith is in itself the very life of Christ at work in me, in communion with the Body of Christ, His holy Church. What a fortification! What a sublime bestowal! What a wondrous deliverance! What an escape from ego and depression! What joy untrammeled! What unseen vision, unheard counsel, untasted Manna, intangible meat for the weary soul!

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing from the Word of God (=Jesus Christ, the Logos).  When we read the Bible, or some other book about faith, we can lose heart as we find it all so impossible to live. But, learning to ride bikes doesn’t come by books, but rather in the doing. The first step in faith is undergoing the process of repentance, leading to baptism, and entry into the Holy Community of Mother Church. In the atmosphere of love and forgiveness, all things are then possible. We enjoy the comfort of love when we crash in this holy “bike riding,” knowing that we shall surely learn, since the One Who invited us said, “those whom the Father hath placed into my Hand, no one shall ever take away.”

Are you ready to make the attempt? God invites…

I am a dyophisite!

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on May 21, 2008 at 11:40 pm

I love 50-dollar words, especially if they are barely English, foreign words with a little spin to render them officially English. Our mother tongue offers this largesse of loquacity precisely because it is the product of a mingling of tongues: Latin, through Norman French mostly, and Anglo-Saxon. The latter is the twig from the Old High German branch while the former is the remnant of the medieval lingua franca, Latin as spoken by the Normans. So, English possesses a wonderful ability to adapt foreign words to its use. And, my big word today is dyophisitism (the belief) or dyophisite (the adherent of such belief). Like most such naturalized Greek citizens in our language, these Greek words had to pay homage to Latin first, before being admitted into the hallowed halls of our English lexicon. Consider: Iesous (Greek, from Hebrew yeshu^ah) to Iesus (Latin, with a consonantal initial I, written in the Middle Ages as Jesus) and then pronounced with the characteristic vowel shift in English in our common way now. Or: arithmetikon (Greek, “having to do with numbers”) to Latin arithmeticum, and so on.

Well, then, so what of this dyophisitism? The Orthodox Christian belief that the Savior of the world possesses TWO (dyo) NATURES (physis), one created, human, consubstantial with us, changeable, and the other uncreated, divine, beyond all suffering (impassible, if you want the fancy word). These two natures stand in Jesus Christ in what we call a hypostatic union (hypostasis, “person” or “substance”). This is in opposition to the false, heretical belief, called monophysitism. Monophysites affirm that Christ possesses one nature, thus confusing the human and the divine. The historical monophysites refused to accept the teaching of the 4th oecumenical synod, thus they are not Orthodox Christians, no matter what their modern apologists may say.  In effect, the Savior is not like Clark Kent / Superman, or the Hulk, or more of a parody, Dr Jekyl / Mr Hyde.  Rather, He is truly God, but suffers as a man. “He thought it not robbery (arpagmon, something to be grasped in a haughty way) to be equal to God, but He emptied Himself by taking on the form (morphe, stronger than mere appearance) of a slave” (Philippians 2: 6-7).  We say in one of our hymns, “In the grave with the body but in Hades with the soul as God; in paradise with the thief, and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit wast Thou, O Christ, filling all things, Thyself uncircumscribed” (used in the Divine Liturgy, as the presider places the offered bread and wine upon the Holy Table in the Great Entrance).  By the way, that last word is another fifty-dollar word, and it means…  but wait… Hey, let me know, if you want to know!

And the point? He became FULLY what I am–yet without sin (“He learned obedience through the things which He suffered, that He might become the captain of our salvation” –Hebrews 2), so that I may become FULLY what He is, by divine grace! This is the Hope of man, the thirsting of our race.