Monday, February 26, 2007

BREITBART.COM - Scholars, Clergy Slam Jesus Documentary

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.
Abraham Lincoln

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Archaeologists and clergymen in the Holy Land derided claims in a new documentary produced by James Cameron that contradict major Christian tenets, but the Oscar-winning director said the evidence was based on sound statistics.

"The Lost Tomb of Christ," which the Discovery Channel will run on March 4, argues that 10 ancient ossuaries _ small caskets used to store bones _ discovered in a suburb of Jerusalem in 1980 may have contained the bones of Jesus and his family, according to a press release issued by the Discovery Channel.

Read more: BREITBART.COM - Scholars, Clergy Slam Jesus Documentary


Remember the tale of the Titanic? How it was supposed to be impregnable, and nothing could poke holes in it? How it would never be sunk? Well all I can say is that human hubris knows no bounds, and that hasn’t changed in the last century. On April 15th 1912 the supposedly leak proof Titanic rammed into an iceberg and sank—sank like a giant stone. Sank quickly, with great loss of life.

Why do I bring this up? Because in one of the interesting ironies in recent memory, James Cameron the movie director who made the enormously successful film “Titanic”, on the night after the Oscars, will give an Oscar winning performance at a news conference along with Simcha Jacobovici who have now produced a Discovery Channel special on the discovery of Jesus’ tomb, ossuary, bones, and that of his mother, brothers, wife, and his child Jude as well! Who knew! The show will air on March 4th. In addition we are now regaled with a book by Simcha and Charles Pellegrino entitled The Jesus Family Tomb: The Discovery, the Investigation, and the Evidence That Could Change History just released today by Harper-Collins timed to co-ordinate with their news conference and the Discovery Channel special. Why should we be skeptical about this entire enterprise?


Saturday, February 24, 2007

I Have a Dirty Secret

Though this post is concerned with those who "revert" to the Catholic Church, there is much food for thought for those of us interested in facilitating the reconciliation of lapsed Orthodox Christians to the Church.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Amy Wellborn's "Open Book" blog has an interesting post on "Reverts", that is, Catholics who left the Church, then returned (click on the title of this post to go there). The "dirty secret" is a journey of faith (and doubt or disinterest or disdain or disillusionment, etc.) that, believe it or not, everyone seems to have. We Catholics seldom ask for permission of one another to talk about that journey, which is why I'm jokingly calling it a dirty secret. There are quite a few stories of reversion there, but I'd like to make a few observations about what I've seen on that thread. However, I encourage you to go see for yourself!

Read more: Intentional Disciples: I Have a Dirty Secret

Sacramentum Vitae: Does Orthodoxy allow contraception or not?

From Michael Liccione's always thoughtful blog comes the following question: Sacramentum Vitae: Does Orthodoxy allow contraception or not?

He writes:

I'd be interested in reactions, especially from Orthodox believers, to the online article of the above title. At the very least, there appears to have been some backtracking in Orthodoxy on the topic. And as usual, there is the problem that nobody seems to speak for Orthodoxy as such.

My response:


Your question is, if I understand it, whether or not barrier method of contraception is acceptable within the tradition of the Orthodox Church.

At least as I read the various authors quoted in Armstrong's essay it is less a matter of Orthodox authors saying "Yes, the barrier method is a good thing," and more that they are responding (albeit not well in my opinion) to pastoral situations.

Ideally married couples should simply follow the ascetical tradition of the Church (abstinence from sexual relations on fast days and the evening before receiving Holy Communion) and entrust themselves to God for whatever child He may grant them. If they are unable (as opposed to unwilling)to do this then, in consultation with their spiritual father (and in the main Orthodox Christians who are serious about their faith will have an intimate and long term relationship with their priest-confessor) MAY use so-called barrier-methods of contraception.

But in saying this, no one is suggesting, to repeat what I said above, that the use of a condom is a good thing--only that it is a tolerably thing for those who still need to mature in Christ.

That said, yes certainly some Orthodox clergy (both priests and bishops) and theologians take a rather more accepting view of barrier-methods of contraception. But to the best of my knowledge no one argues that the use of a condom it is a good thing.

Have the Orthodox Church departed from our own tradition in our pastoral praxis regarding the use of the barrier method of contraception? Again, I would argue that no one is saying that the use of a condom is a good thing--it is a concession to human weakness.

The Orthodox pastoral response is I think not that far away from Paul VI in Humanae Vitae when he encourages couples using contraception to have recourse to the sacraments (especially Confession) to grow in Christ so that they can put aside contraception. Would, for example, a Catholic priest forbid Holy Communion to a couple who--out of weakness--use a condom? I suspect that they he would not--which is quite different from saying he would approve of their behavior.

I will grant that artificial contraception is not a good thing--even an intrinsic evil to use Paul VI's language. And yes, the separation of conjugal relationship from procreation is also evil--even as a separation of love would from conjugal intimacy is.

However the question for me as an Orthodox priest is how do I help married couples remain faithfully and obedient to the ascetical tradition of the Church? At the risk of being overly polemical, I would point out that this asceticism is (to the best of my knowledge) almost wholly ignored in the Catholic Church.

In its place one sees such a focus on contraception that you risk robbing married couples of an important part of their own asceticism and opportunity for spiritual growth.

This call to asceticism is largely absent for most Catholics. I am scandalized by the lack of fasting among almost all Catholics (to take one example). I would be encouraged more if Catholics relearned the ascetical tradition--Armstrong simply criticizes Orthodoxy without any understanding that, just maybe, the is something else going on in confession other than Orthodox priests saying it is okay to use a condom.

The real question for me is how do we answer the question of contraception and Natural Family Planing (NFP) within the context of the shared ascetical tradition--East and West. It is easy to score points off each other on the issue--but in fact neither side really takes serious the question in light of the Christian ascetical tradition.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Cost to the Church of Receiving Converts

Commenting on the Sundance film festival showing of Save Me, "a film about a young man’s journey through a Christian 'ex-gay' 12-step ministry," Pastor David Sawson of Community Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, that
Even more striking were the numerous men in the theatre who wept during the most poignant moments of the film, usually when the men in the 12-step program described the pain and brokenness in their pasts. How well, I wondered when leaving the theatre, is the church prepared to really understand this type of brokenness and this amount of pain? And how willing are we to acknowledge our own role in much of that painful memory?
Pastor Sawson's question is also my own for the Orthodox Church.

Yes, certainly the Orthodox Church welcomes converts. But I can't help but wonder if we are willing and able to welcome to converts who carry the kind of pain that Sawson describes at the Sundance Film Festival. My own experiences as a covert and a priest would lead me to answer in the negative: No, for a variety of reasons we are not in a position as a Church "to really understand" the extraordinary brokenness and pain that many men, women and children carry around.

We certainly like the well-educated, middle class convert who affirms us in our conviction that we are the Historic Christian Church, the True Church. But are we willing to receive in our communities individuals whose pain does not admit relief? Some people, some situations, are so broken that they can't be put back together until the Kingdom of God comes in glory. Do we have room for these people? Do we have room for those who are struggle with burdens of shame and guilt that most of us find unimaginable?

Welcoming people with the kind of brokenness that Swanson saw would require from us a rather wide scale reappraisal of our priorities. I suspect from my own time as a mission priest, that this reappraisal would not be done easily or without significant personal and institutional cost and readjustment.

For example, we would need to train both clergy and lay workers who had the necessary pastoral and professional competence to respond to the needs of the people who came to us. As it is now, we equipped to receive converts with theological questions and (relatively) healthy psychological and social identities. In other words, we do well with relatively well-educated, well-adjusted converts from the middle and upper middle classes.

This makes sense since most of our churches are themselves composed of middle and upper-middle suburbanites. Were we are failing to attract coverts are in those parishes that are in the inner city and communities (like Pittsburgh) were economic factors have lead to economic dislocation. In other words, when the neighbor suffers economically the parish dies.

There certainly is no need for this--there are people who we could evangelize. We simply don't. As I alluded to above, we are not equipped pastorally or personally to build communities with people who are "not like us." But this is not primarily an ethnic reality--but a socio-economic reality. We are able to sustain ethnic parishes precisely because we are relatively wealthy and so can afford to not reach out to those who are not Greek or Russian or Arab or whatever.

So back to the Sundance Festival--do we want parishes filled with broken people? Do we want to make the investment in time, treasure and talent it would require to reach outside the confines of our middle class parishes? I hope that the answer is "yes." If it isn't, if we are not willing to pay the cost of receiving converts, then I think that God will simply take from us what we will not give willingly.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Friday, February 16, 2007

Church Evangelism Video

After some prayerful reflection, I am convinced that this is just what is need to get Orthodox Christians out into the mission field in a big way. Too many Orthodox Christians simply take our faith for granted and don't seem to realize that we are all of us called to witness to Christ.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Friday, February 02, 2007

Patriarchial Sermon on Liturgy

Patriarch Bartholomew's sermon during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Constantinople.