Friday, July 06, 2007

Technical Note

Dear Friends,

You will notice at the bottom of each post the following:

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These links allow you my dear readers to forward to others anything of interest on my blog to your friends. As I am trying to build my blog's readership, I would appreciate your taking a moment or two to forward my material to any place you see fit.

Thank you!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

It's Deja Vu All Over Again!

While the content is certainly different (acceptance of terrorism by some Muslims vs. the acceptance of unevangelized Christians in the Church), the underlying psychological and social dynamic that former Islamist radical Hassan Butt discusses in a recent article is instructive for those of us who see a need for renewal in the Church (with a hat tip to Rod Dreher, the Crunchy Con).

I have copied below some of Butt's essay with my emphasis in bold and my comments in red"

But the main reason why radicals have managed to increase their following is because most Islamic institutions in Britain just don't want to talk about theology (even as many Orthodox parishes do not wish to speak about personal commitment to Christ as the necessary first step to active life in the Church). They refuse to broach the difficult and often complex topic of violence within Islam (or in our case repentance and conversion) and instead repeat the mantra that Islam is peace (or that Orthodoxy is the True Church), focus on Islam as personal (or ethnic), and hope that all of this debate will go away (and that somehow, our parish will grow and our young people will remain Orthodox).

This has left the territory of ideas open for radicals (or in our case, the indifferent) to claim as their own. I should know because, as a former extremist recruiter, every time mosque authorities banned us from their grounds, it felt like a moral and religious victory.
. . .

However, it isn't enough for Muslims to say that because they feel at home in Britain (or to "Americanize" the Church or increasing the number or monasteries, or whatever we say rather then face our shortcomings) they can simply ignore those passages of the Koran which instruct on killing unbelievers (or to "repent and believe" and to "preach to all the nations"). By refusing to challenge centuries-old theological arguments (or spiritual apathy among Christians), the tensions between Islamic theology and the modern world grow larger every day. (Or in our case, the Church will grow smaller and weaker everyday).

I'm not suggesting that the Orthodox Church is a terrorist organization. Nor am I suggesting that all Muslims are terrorists. But what I am saying is that spiritual apathy breeds violence--sometimes physical, but always spiritual.

When we fail to take the Gospel seriously, when we fail to take seriously our own needs to leave everything and follow Jesus Christ, when we fail to take seriously that as the People of God we

are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10).
we do something infinitely worse then what any terrorist can do: We leave Christ stillborn in the hearts of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This I would suggest is where Christians are called to fight the real war on terrorism, to help Christ be born first in each Christian heart, and then in each human heart.

So how are we to do? I leave the last word to Butt:

I believe that the issue of terrorism (or in the case of the Church, discipleship and spiritual formation of the laity as the foundation of the Church's ministry) can be easily demystified if Muslims and non-Muslims start openly to discuss the ideas that fuel terrorism (or fuel the acceptance among Christians of spiritual indifference as the norm). (The Muslim community in Britain must slap itself awake (even as the Orthodox Christian community must do as well) from this state of denial and realise there is no shame in admitting the extremism (or spiritual indifferent Christians) within our families, communities and worldwide co-religionists.) However, demystification will not be achieved if the only bridges of engagement that are formed are between the [British jihadi network] and the security services.

And here I am stymied--who among us will be the bridge people?

I guess all we can any of us do is respond as did Isaiah the Prophet and leave the rest to God:

I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:

" Whom shall I send,
And who will go for Us?"

Then I said, "Here am I! Send me." (Isaiah 6:8)
So, here I am Lord, send me.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Faith & Reason

An interesting observation by Fr John Richard Neuhaus. His argument, in a nutshell, is that "Christian faith is informed by and vulnerable to a universal reason." He writes:

Is it possible that the claims of the Christians or of the atheists could be falsified? [Stanley] Fish answers: “As it is usually posed, the question imagines disconfirming evidence coming from outside the faith, be it science or religion. But a system of assumptions and protocols (and that is what a faith is) will recognize only evidence internal to its basic presuppositions. Asking that religious faith consider itself falsified by empirical evidence is as foolish as asking that natural selection tremble before the assertion of deity and design. Falsification, if it occurs, always occurs from the inside.” The difference between Dawkins and Saint Paul, says Fish, is that they are each enmeshed in different “structures” of reason and faith that “speak to different needs and different purposes.”

Not quite. In fact, not at all. The reasons that Christians give for their faith are not an inside job, so to speak. See, for instance, 1 Corinthians 15: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” That is a “structure of reason” shared with Dawkins et al., and indeed with all reasonable people.

Christians can imagine the hypothetical possibility that the remains of the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth will be found buried in the Holy Land and scientifically identified beyond reasonable doubt, with foundation-shaking consequences for Christian faith. That is because Christian faith is informed by and vulnerable to a universal reason that Fish refuses to acknowledge. (Impressive statements of the convincing case for the physical resurrection of Jesus are Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Jesus—God and Man and, more recently, N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.)

This is a claim that many Orthodox Christians unwisely reject out of hand. I say unwisely not because I think faith arise simply and without qualification from human reason, but because the lack of appreciation for the reasonable
character of the Gospel lends itself to a sectarian view of faith that says (in effect) the Gospel is only for "us," whoever "us" might be. While reason alone cannot validate the Gospel, when Orthodox Christians reject that
reason can know, at least in part, the Gospel we deny those outside the Church any understanding of Christ's message. After all we are told by the Apostle Peter:

And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (1 Peter 3.13-17)

I think we hold this unappreciative view of human reason less from a respect for revelation (indeed we can only hold it if we reject revelation) and more from an unwillingness to subject ourselves to criticism. If my faith is divorced from universal reason, or can only be understood from "the inside," then I can (and will) easily dismiss critics who simply "don't get it."

More importantly though, if faith and reason are divorced--if faith owes nothing to reason, and reason to faith--then the evangelistic work of the Church comes to a halt. The outside will remain outside failing some miracle of grace quite separate from the Church's preaching. But if this is really the case, why preach? And for that matter, why even hold to the notion that salvation is synergisitic? If there is no active role for human reason, why do we we say that there is a role for the human body?

"That which is not assumed," St Ireneaus argues, "is not saved." If there is no role for reason, then a key element of the human person is not redeemed.

Anyway, to read more of Fr. Neuhaus essay: FIRST THINGS: Stanley Fish’s Take on Richard Dawkins & Co.-with Unhappy Consequences for Reason.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

East and West

From the delightful blog "Shrine of the Holy Whapping":

Benedict XVI received in audience Patriarch Chrysostomos II of Cyprus. Chrysostomos requested a papal visit to Cyprus, as part of a coordinated effort of the European Churches to counter the growing secularism of Europe:

Your Holiness,

We ask your support through the invincible weapons of brotherly prayer, but also through your fatherly cry for the defense of the inalienable rights of the Ancient and Apostolic Sister Church of Cyprus, this crossroads of peoples, religions, languages and civilizations of the Mediterranean and Middle East.

We want you beside us! Through us the Holy Apostle Barnabas invites his elder brother, the Blessed Apostle Peter, to make a first Visit to his humble home and to receive hospitality in it, to feel as though it were his own home and to bless it!

We await you, Your Holiness, as Bishop of the Roman See which presides in charity, in the Cyprus of dialogue, democracy, dignity, faith, monasticism, hospitality, monuments and works of art! May you deign to come to us and give us the opportunity to reciprocate your fraternal hospitality during these splendid days that we have spent in the Eternal City!

The Patriarch shares much of Benedict's ecclesiology, and his full response (available at is very optimistic about the eventual reunion of Orthodox and Catholic Churches--though also realistic, recognizing that he himself will likely not live to see that day.

A Life No Longer Shameful: Genesis 3.8-24

Shame is a universal human experience. Psychologically, shame is the experience of being vulnerable, unable to protect ourselves in a hostile world. To understand what shame means for our spiritual life, we can turn to Genesis where we read the following:

And they heard the voice of the LORD God, walking in the garden in the cool of the day. And Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called unto Adam and said unto him, "Where art thou?" And he said, "I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself (3.8-11).
Shame in biblical anthropology is the experience not of being naked, but of the fear of one's nakedness of being vulnerable. This fear flows from my disobedience to God and causes me to lose the experience my own humanity and dependency on God and my neighbor as a good and even joyous thing.

Ironically, it is precisely my dependency on others that brings me this experience of shame. Again, as we read in Genesis:

And He said, "Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?" And the man said, "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate."And the LORD God said unto the woman, "What is this that thou hast done?" And the woman said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I ate." (vv.11-13)
As the text suggests, once we cease to care one for another, once we fail to actively seek th good of our neighbor, everything begins to break down--a cascade of failure, degradation, corruption and shame flows naturally from our disobedience and indifference to the commandments of God and the good of our neighbor. Again, from Genesis:

And the LORD God said unto the serpent, "Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field. Upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed; It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel." Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return (vv. 14-19) .
The serpent loses his ability to walk up right; the woman becomes subject to the man and only fulfills her maternal nature through submission and pain; the man's stewardship of creation is rob of joy and becomes a painful labor; creation itself becomes disordered and divested of its original beauty.

And death and reigns where once life and glory held sway.

And yet, all is not lost. There is still the possibility for renew, for forgiveness and starting anew:

And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them. And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life (vv. 20-24).
Though we are no longer clothed in divine glory, but in mortality ("coats of skin") and have been expelled from Eden, the First Eve becomes the mother of the Second Eve how will herself give birth to the Christ. From Eve until the birth of the Theotokos, each new conception represent the renewal of hope--that now, this time, our Redeemer will come to us. And not only is this hope if fulled in the Incarnation, each new birth since then is a reminder of the fulfillment of humanity's hope in Jesus Christ. Before Christ each new human life hinted at redemption; maybe this time our Redeemer will come.

And after Christ, each human life embodies the real opportunity for the human family to shake off a bit more of the "coats of skin." Each new human life represent the real opportunity for humanity, in this or that person, to clothe ourselves anew in divine glory through baptism and the sacraments.

Our great inheritance as Christians is this: To us has been entrusted the liberation of all humanity from a life ruled by fear and shame. This is at the heart of the Gospel we preach; this is the Gospel that we are called to testify to not simply in words, but through the integrity of our lives personal and ecclesiastical--in our daily lives as individual Christians, in our families, in our parishes and as the Church. Though this world, and the princes of this world, rule by fear and shame, we live and serve by love and glory and beauty and peace having been freed from fear and shame by our cooperation with divine grace.

In her blog The Dawn Patrol, Dawn Eden offers a lovely meditation on just this theme. She writes:

One of my favorite prayers is the Anima Christi, "Soul of Christ," which dates from the 14th century.

The Anima Christi is a series of petitions that begins, "Soul of Christ, sanctify me. Body of Christ, save me. ..."

A few lines further and the petitioner is hit with a strange and mysterious verse: "Within Thy wounds, hide me." The original Latin is more evocative: "Intra tua vulnera absconde me." Vulnera, the root of vulnerability. We are asking Jesus to hide us in the wounds caused by His consenting to suffer for our sake.

As a single, childless woman who desires to be married and a mother, my temptation is to focus on feeling the sense of lack in my life. When I allow myself to feel that lack, it feels as though I am carrying around a great void within my heart that has never been filled and, for all I know, may never be filled. The void resembles a gaping spiritual wound.

Jesus has wounds too — but the voids in his body are not because He was never full, but because He emptied himself. For me and for you.

If I am carrying around a big void, I can't hide in Jesus' wounds. I'm too big. He has room for the entire world, but not for those who insist on taking emotional baggage with them — let alone one who's toting an outsized storage cabin "TO THE UNKNOWN HUSBAND."

At some point, difficult though it is, in response to Christ's invitation I need to lay aside, at least for the moment, my own fear and shame and see myself as He sees me. This, in a nutshell, is what happens when I go to confession--I realize that even in the midst of my shame and sinfulness, I am loved by Christ; even while I crucify Him, He forgives me and intercedes on my behalf to the Father. At some point, I need to not allow fear and shame to be the dominate notes in how I see myself, my neighbor and my God.

The great challenge that the Orthodox Church faces in America is that we are here and for the first time in centuries, free not only from Caesar's persecution but also his support (which the finally analysis is even more deadly then his torturers and prisons). Can we now really live in freedom--can we live in gratitude for the gifts Christ has given us not only in Holy Tradition, but in each of our neighbor.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory