Friday, February 29, 2008

Bible and the Sacraments

From fellow blogger Mike Aquilina of Way of the Fathers:

We're working with the diocese to offer a six-week class on the sacraments. So far, enrollment is very small, and we'd like to get a boost. Please spread the word. Those who've taken the course can tell you it's great. Thanks a million. Mike

Class description: Bible and the Sacraments

The newest of our Journey Through Scripture series, Bible and the Sacraments examines the sacraments of the Catholic faith. Not simply looking at the basic teaching of the Church as to their meaning and origin, it investigates the deeper mysteries they contain as illuminated by scripture. Bible and the Sacraments looks at each sacrament individually, seeking to understand where they come from and what they mean. Finding their institution in Christ and their origin in salvation history, they are God’s gift of life to His children

Registration memo from the diocese...

Once again we will be hosting the pilot program “Journey Through Scripture” for those who have taken the training as well as others who might be interested. This next phase is entitled “Journey Through Scripture: The Bible and the Sacraments.” The 6-week training sessions for the program will be held at St. Paul Seminary, Wednesday afternoons from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM on the following dates:

Wednesdays, 1:00 – 3:00 PM: March 5, 12, 19, 26, April 2, 9

In order to facilitate the program, we need to know how many will be attending the sessions. Please complete the form below and either mail the information to us as soon as possible to:

Department for Religious Education, 111 Boulevard of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222; or FAX us at (412) 456-3113; or send via e-mail at

We are looking forward to once again hosting this pilot program in our diocese. It is our hope that the program in the coming years will be part of the adult faith formation program in our parishes. Thank you for your help and cooperation.


Diocese of Pittsburgh

Department for Religious Education

Journey Through Scriptures: The Bible and the Sacraments

6 –Week Training Session Schedule: Wednesdays – March 5, 12, 19, 26, April 2, 9

I will attend the pilot program (please check) _____ Wednesday afternoons 1:00 to 3:00 PM

Name_____________________________________________________ Phone_____________________________

Address____________________________________________________ Parish_________________________

For more information, see ...

Neurosis and the Gnomic Will

My thoughts have been very much taken up these past few weeks with the central role of detachment in the Christian life.

Part of what has informed my inner monologue has been my preparation for an upcoming psychology conference. The conference, which is scheduled for April in Phoenix AZ, is the annual meeting of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies and looks at the implications for psychology of the human person being created in the image of God. Besides looking forward to hearing some interesting presentations and research, I am presenting a paper on the understanding of the will in Karen Horney and Maximos the Confessor.

A central theme of Horney's work is that human beings are not free. We are rather internally conflicted and driven by compulsions. This dovetails well with Maximos's notion of the gnomic will:

The term 'gnomic' derives from the Greek gnome, meaning 'inclination' or 'intention'. Within Orthodox theology, gnomic willing is contrasted with natural willing. Natural willing designates the free movement of a creature in accordance with the principle (logos) of its nature towards the fulfillment (telos, stasis) of its being. Gnomic willing, on the other hand, designates that form of willing in which a person engages in a process of deliberation culminating in a free choice.

The tragedy of the gnomic will is that we imagine our choices are both grounded in, and the realization of our freedom. Instead of freeing us, our gnomic will increasingly narrows even our ability to decide between options: If I make the decision to write this morning, I can only do so at the expense of sleeping late and vice versa.

It is from the self-limiting character of the gnomic will that there arises in us, or so I would suggest, the overwhelming sense of what Horney calls our life of "inner conflict." Try as I might, I cannot by an act of will or through my deliberations, bring myself to a place of wholeness. Ironically, I find that it is through the exercise of the deliberative process of the gnomic will that I move further and further away from a life that bears any resemblance to wholeness.

In Our Inner Conflicts: A Constructive Theory of Neurosis, Horney undermines any naïve view that we are free simply because we are able to make choices between options. With great clarity and charity, she points our attention to compulsion that is the heart of the neurotic strivings that afflict us all. She begins by asserting that "Compulsive drives are specifically neurotic" and continues by arguing that these compulsive behaviors "are born of feelings of isolation, helplessness, fear and hostility, and represent ways of coping with the world despite these feelings; they aim primarily not at satisfaction but at safety; their compulsive character is due to the anxiety lurking behind" (pp. 12-13).

There is therefore no joy, or even in the strict sense pleasure, in my neurotic strivings only a rather fragile sense of being safe. This sense of being safe however is brittle resting as it does upon my ultimately futile attempts to embrace "contradictory attitudes towards others" (which in time grow and become as well "contradictory attitudes toward the self") and my own inner word of "contradictory qualities and contradictory sets of values" (p. 15).

My "freedom," much less of "wholeness," are illusory. This illusory sense of wholeness, ground as it is in my attachment to the decisions of my own (gnomic) will requires from me that I invest an "amazing amount of energy and intelligence" in my "more or less desperate efforts to 'solve' the conflicts, or more precisely, to deny" the existence of my inner conflicting attitudes, qualities and values in order to "create an artificial harmony" (pp. 15-16). Horney sketches out for us a number of different concrete ways in which I can strive to create this artificial harmony; while all of them are interest (and familiar) they can be subsumed under the rubric of the "idealized image" of the self.

To "solve his conflicts or, more precisely, to dispose of them" I create "an image of what [I believe myself] to be, or what at the time [I feel I] can or ought to be." Not unsurprisingly, this image "is always flattering in character" (p. 96). With great insight, Horney observes that to "the extent that the image is unrealistic, it tends to make the person arrogant, in the virginal sense of the word; . . . to arrogate to [himself] qualities [he] he does not have, or that [he] has potentially but not factually." Tragically, "the more unrealistic the image, the more it makes the person vulnerable and avid for outside affirmation and recognition" (p. 97) even as his arrogance tends to isolate him all the more for his neighbor.

And here then is the heart of the matter: My suffering flows from my attachment not simply to things, but to a self-image which, no matter how dynamic, open, or realistic, is an attempt to contain within myself a life of increasingly contradictory attitudes, qualities and values. No matter how accurate, I am attached to a view of myself that is the creation of my own gnomic will and (for this reason) intrinsically self-limiting.

Something must break the cycle of the gnomic will and the view of self that flows from its decisions—if I understand the convergence of Horney and Maximos correctly, my decision create my self-image, even as the self-image comes in time to guide (however erratically) my decisions.

More later.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Spirit of this Age: Consumerism & Belief in God

Anthony Sacramone, managing editor of First Things, recently interviewed Pastor Timothy Keller, senior minister at Manhattan's Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Keller has recently published a book, "The Reason for God, currently No. 18 on the New York Times bestseller list, Keller offers what one might call his summa: the meat of his preaching, teaching, and confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior for a world of unexamined materialist presuppositions, genetic determinisms, and endless digital cross-chatter." I thought in light of our recent conversation of Bishop Fulton Sheen, G.K. Chesterton and the spirit of this age, the exchange between Sacramone and Keller of faith and doubt might be of interest.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Above: Icon of the Holy Prophet Job

You've always been very careful, both in your preaching and toward the end of The Reason for God, to remind people that they should examine their motives for embracing the Faith, to make sure that Christ is not a means to an end but that God is the end. But how many times have you had someone come up to you and say, "I tried Christianity but it didn't work. I still felt lost, I still felt depressed, it didn't make sense of the narrative of my life, and so I gave up on it." What do you say to someone like that?

"Be specific." There's almost no good answer to that if you allow a person to stay at that level of generality: "It didn't work. It didn't really make sense of my life." And, of course, that seems to contradict the book: The book says it will make sense of your life. Once I find out what the particular problems are, I can fix it. I mean, there's no way even to answer your question because it's so general. I can tell you the kinds of things I usually hear when I ask, "Be specific." In many cases, it's a short-term disappointment. Which is, "I really was sure that God was calling me to do this, and every door closed." You can always go to the "Evil and Suffering" chapter, chapter two, which says, "If you can't see any good reason why God let something happen, does that mean there can't be any good reason why God let that happen? The answer is no, so why are you acting as if there can't be any good reason? That's the motive problem. In other words, you got into this faith in order for God to serve you, not for you to serve God."

A second area, if I say, "Please be specific," is that they feel that Christianity is too hard. For example, a lot of times I'll have a young man say, "I know I'm not supposed to sleep with girls until I get married, but I don't have any prospects and I just can't do it. I just can't go without sex." Or something like that. You know, Christianity's too hard. That's a much better argument. But then you can always say what Lewis says about "is Christianity hard or easy," in Mere Christianity . . . In some ways, Christianity is for sinners and for people who do fail, not for people who are good. And yet at the same time you are going to fall down. Everybody's going to fall down at various points. But if you're actually addicted, as it were—if you say, "Here's something I shouldn't do but I just can't stop," then there's an addiction going on, there's something going on. You need to get in touch with that. Even if you weren't a Christian, you shouldn't be violating your conscience. There's something else going on, there's something that's too important to you, you have to deal with your heart. You need counseling.

It's not something I would imagine you heard a lot in the sixteenth century, though: "It didn't work for me."

No. But that's what I mean by saying, usually it's a disappointment. And that's where I can come back and start to say, "If there's a God, then you should relate to him"—and I do talk about this in the last chapter—if there's a God, you should be going to him because you ought to go to him, not because it works for you. I think, when I was a younger man, if somebody said, "It doesn't work for me," I think the right answer, as you just alluded, is "What do you mean 'work for you'? You should be doing this because God is God and you're not. And he's the Lord and you're his servant. What are you talking about 'work for you'? You're being selfish, you're being individualistic, you're being a consumer" Now, even though that's probably true (laughs), I'll try to find out what the specifics are, and usually the person's got some real—the individualistic culture's created this victim mentality and this feeling like God's gotta be there to meet my needs. It's created that and it's the background, but many people have had real disappointments, real sadnesses, real failures, real—

There are also real promises in the gospels for the healing of one's life.

That's also why I don't throw the consumerist thing at people anymore . . . Don't forget Job. I think the point of the Book of Job was that the only way he could turn into somebody great was he had to be profoundly disappointed. The only way for God to use him was he had to suffer. So at a certain point you do have to counsel the sovereignty of God, but before you get there, you have to be pretty thoughtful, pretty sympathetic, because people see those promises and they want to be healed. I can tell people a lot of stories, but you'd have to give me specifics, and there's no reason to go there . . .

At some point you have to get back to this consumerist problem that they have with it. But you have to be very very gentle on the way.

And the consumerist problem hasn't been helped by certain ministries, the health-and-wealth gospel, and other bestselling authors who shall remain nameless.

Yeah. It's the background for people's legitimate—I think people in the sixteenth century were asking questions like, "If God really loves me, why have four of my five children died of dysentery?" Surely they were struggling with that. But the background of "if there is a God he ought to be meeting your needs"—our consumerist culture makes that almost unbearable. Almost unbearable. But it does irritate me to hear people say, "I don't believe in God because bad things happened to me."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Hospody Pomylui": Lord, Have Mercy

One of the great myths of Orthodoxy in America is that we cannot fulfill our evangelical mandate if we use Greek, or Slavonic, or Arabic, or Serbian. While I there is much to be said for using English as the base language of our liturgical life, we ought not to underestimate the importance of using Greek, or Slavonic, or Arabic, or Serbian as a way of reaching American inquirers to the Orthodox Church.

In light of this I offer the following video of the "Soul Children of Chicago" for consideration:

What the children are singing is "Hospody Pomylui!" or "Lord, Have Mercy!" in what I Ukrainian (the audio quality is not what I would hope--so it is a bit hard to make out).

A cute story from back in the day: I had a family of lapsed Evangelical Christians who were investigating the Orthodox Church. The parish I was serving at the time used a small amount of Greek in the Divine Liturgy. The youngest son in the family, then 7 or 8, was quite taken with the Greek phrase "Kyrie Eleison" or "Lord, have mercy!"

Well, on afternoon his mother told me that her son had been sing "Kyrie Eleison" all afternoon. She asked him what he was sing and he told her, "Mom, I'm sing 'Lord have mercy' in Greek" When asked how long he was going to keep singing this (he'd gone on for several hours by this point), he answered "Until it happens."

While the exclusive use of Greek, or Slavonic, or Arabic, or Serbian or any other traditional Orthodox liturgical language is rarely a good idea, we cannot limit ourselves exclusively to English (or in coming years, Spanish). The question of language is pastorally complex and we would do well to not artificially limit ourselves to only some parts of the Church's tradition.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Friday, February 22, 2008

For Consideration

"One way to make enemies and antagonize people is to challenge the spirit of the world. The world has a spirit, as each age has a spirit. There are certain unanalyzed assumptions which govern the conduct of the world. Anyone who challenges these worldly maxims, such as, 'you only live once,' 'get as much out of life as you can,' 'who will ever know about it?' 'what is sex for if not for pleasure?' is bound to make himself unpopular. ...

"To marry one age is to be a widow in the next. Because [Jesus] suited no age, He was the model for all ages."

— Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ

Hat tip: Dawn Eden, The Dawn Patrol

Thursday, February 21, 2008

"[Orthodoxy] is a Religion of Peace"; or, What Martyrs Do

While I understand the feeling, it was disappointing to me to see the report of this on CNN earlier today.

From CNN:

Angry demonstrators protesting Kosovo's independence from Serbia attacked the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade on Thursday, throwing rocks, breaking windows and setting fires.

Flames light up the facade of the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.

Serbian TV showed someone trying to set fire to the U.S. flag at the embassy, which was closed and unstaffed when the masked protesters attacked.

Riot police fired tear gas at the rioters and lines of armored vehicles were on the streets before the embassy perimeter was secured. A State Department official told CNN "things are under control."

Kosovo declared independence last Sunday and the United States was among the first countries to offer official recognition of its split from Serbia.

One charred body was found in the U.S. Embassy compound, embassy spokesman in Belgrade William Wanlund said. The only Americans at the embassy during the violence were Marines, who are all said to be accounted for.

Bratislaw Grubacic, chief editor of VIP magazine in Belgrade, said police reported 32 people injured, including 14 police officers.

Hat tip orrologion:
"When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it." (1 Corinthians 4:12)

A Mission With A Mission

After reading the different comments that recent posts have generated and thinking about things a bit more, I realized that I have failed to be clear about the idea of a missionary parish. So let me first ask forgiveness for any distress caused by my lack of clarity and express my gratitude for the patience of my readers and for the love of the Church and generosity toward me, that your questions and comments demonstrate.

Now to work.

The notion of a mission committed to the catechetical and spiritual formation of the laity is not, as Chrys points out, something that is contrary to the goal of any Christian community. Our commitment to Christ, as with our commitment to our spouse, our children, must be intentional. If it is not intentional, it does not exist. In this light, I would say that the project that I'm proposing is less programmatic and more attitudinal.

What I mean by this is that we can, and should, structure our communities around the idea of carefully, and systematically, not only explaining the Gospel, but helping people shape or form their lives by the Gospel.

If there is any credibility in the recent demographic studies of Orthodox communities here in U.S. this intentional formation of the faithful is either not happening, or is happening with scandalous infrequency. We need only look at the difference between the claimed membership in an Orthodox jurisdiction and its actual or effective membership to see that something is spiritual wrong in the Church. If some 75%-90% of the Orthodox faithful are not at Liturgy on any given Sunday morning, something is terribly wrong not only in parish life and ministry, but seminary education and even more fundamentally in our approach to the faith.

What I am proposing under the rubric of "A Mission With A Mission" is that we focus all the ordinary activities of the parish around helping people (1) come to know who they personally and uniquely are in Christ (their vocation) and (2) embodying or incarnating that identity in the concrete circumstance of their daily life (the life of Christian virtue). For the mathematically inclined among us: F= D + I where F = "formation," D = "Discovery of Identity in Christ," and I = "Incarnation of Identity."

How might this be done?

What I've done, and actually still do, in based on a variation of the standard three point sermon. In my own preaching, teaching and counseling, the three points that I touch on are pretty consistently these:

  1. What does the Church believe?
  2. What does that faith look like in practice?
  3. What are the different ways that we either undermine or foster the living of that faith in our daily lives?

So for example, in the Sunday sermon I might ask myself what aspect of the faith of the Church's do I see reflected in the Epistle and/or Gospel for the day? In answering this question I am guided not only by the text of Scripture itself, but also parallel Old and New Testament texts. In addition, I often find guidance in the hymnography for Vespers and Matins as well as the liturgical season. And of course, I take into account the concrete needs of the community.

In seeking to answer the second question, I again will look to the text of Scripture. But I do not limit myself to the biblical text as I try and describe the faith in action. I will draw from the history of the Church, the lives of the saints, as well as literature or current events. The goal here is to flesh out the faith so that—whether immediately applicable or not—my listeners have a sense of how the Gospel is embodied concretely in human life.

Third and finally, and what is for me the most challenging and interesting part of the sermon, catechetical class or counseling session: How can we put this faith into practice?

In answering this question I'm guided by the biblical and patristic notion that the spiritual life begins in the practice of the virtues. Interestingly for many of the fathers the practice of virtue begins not with doing good deeds, but in abstaining from sin. For this reason I am concerned here with articulating the obstacles to living the aspect of the faith that I've just described. What are the things we do that, for example, make it impossible for us to have the humility of the publican? This "negative" approach is complimented by a consideration of what one of my professors in graduate school called the "facilitating conditions" for living the faith. Basically, what are the habits of thought and action (virtues) that contribute to our living, to return to the above example, the humility of the publican in the circumstances of our everyday life?

In the applicative section I allow draw not only from the fathers, but also works on theological and philosophical anthropology. I also look at what I know from psychology and sociology. But above all, I am guided by what I know about the community or person. It is in the applicative phase where I think my own commitment to serve in truth and love the community or the person is tested. It is here, in my ability, or lack thereof, to guide the community or person in the life that Christ's called them to live, that I demonstrate (or not) my effectiveness as a pastor of souls.

It is this third applicative aspect that is really the heart and goal not only of the sermon, but also the whole of the parish's catechetical program, each and every single pastoral counseling session, our evangelical outreach. But it is also the work of every meeting of the parish council, the building committee and stewardship program.

It is this third, applicative, aspect that is really the "mission of the mission."

To accomplish this requires from us, personally and community, not only a commitment to the good of others, but also simplicity of life. While I will explain this in a later post, let me simply suggest that if I am really serving your good, then I need to remain detached from the pursuit of my own good. Creating as we have a parish life that seems at time to see the parishioner as almost the "property" of the parish this pursuit of the good of the person is very difficult. So often, and this is where material simplicity is important, the "mission" of the parish is subsumed under the goals of the building committee. After 5 years in western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio, I can't help wonder if we have not overemphasized the church building at the expense of the church community.

But that is for another essay.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Intentional Disciples: The Parish As a House of Formation for Lay Apostles

I've gotten a number of very good comments and questions in response to my "Immodest Proposal." Rather then deal with them in the comment box, I thought I would address them here.

Sherry W over at Intentional Disciples has an interesting post on "the parish as a house of formation for lay apostles." She begins by quoting the (Roman Catholic) "Deacon James Kennedy's thoughtful essay in Envoy":

Where real Eucharistic community exists, one sees fruit in bold public witness. If I think my Catholicism is private, I would be unwilling to risk my job, profession, or, in the case of politicians, an elected office, in order to stand up for what is true. Why should I risk all only to find that no one is there to help restore my life and pick up the pieces when my witness to Christ has been rejected and I am fired or lose an election. Barring negligence or fanaticism, it should be the rule of the Catholic community to support any layman spiritually, economically, and emotionally when authentic witness to the Gospel costs him or her dearly in the secular world. Without such a community rule, who would reasonably risk public sanction? The Pope informs us that "all the members of the People of God — clergy, men and women religious, the lay faithful — are laborers in the vineyard. At one and the same time they all are the goal and subjects of Church communion as well as of participation in the mission of salvation. Every one of us possessing charisms and ministries, diverse yet complementary, works in the one and the same vineyard of the Lord" (CL 55). So we need to first develop community through sacramental worship, charitable service, and formation in the Word of God and then send people forth to be leaven in the secular world
I think Deacon James does a much better job of putting into words what I have been trying to say here (and yes, I think that fidelity to the biblical and patristic witness would demand from us that we be ready to offer not only emotional and spiritual support, but economic support as well).

Sherry also quotes some of our discussion here. She points out that
Much as I resonant deeply with writers like Russell Shaw, James Kennedy, and Fr. Gregory, it seems from their writing that they are describing an ideal whose need they see very clearly - but which they either have not seen happen in real life or have seen only rarely (for instance, Kennedy's reference to the vibrant adult Sunday school in his parish).

To which I offered the following observations:

Your comments about what I'm describing are pretty much on target. When I was a mission priest in northern CA, the parish I pastored actually was structured along the lines I describe. In a part of the world where 75% of the adult population had NO religious affiliation, I received at least one new adult into the Church every month for almost 7 years.

In addition to those who came to Christ, that time the parish produced 3 seminarians, 1 monastic novice, and 3 iconographers. Members of the community were also instrumental in founding 4 other mission parishes.

What you and I and others have been talking about can be done (I'm looking forward to following the links you provided). I've seen it done, I've done it (thanks be to God!).

But again, your are right, the communities that do this are few and far between--and sadly even less so in the Orthodox Church.
Sherry concludes with links to several Roman Catholic parishes that are stand out examples of lay formation. These sites I think offer the Orthodox Church not only some interesting models of how to reorganize our parishes, but also maybe even potential partnerships.

Anyway, if you have not done so, please go over to Intentional Disciples and look around. There's much food for thought there.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Kosovo: Pandora's Box

In light of the recent US sanctioned declaration of independence by Kosovo, I thought the following essay by John Couretas at the Action Institute's Powerblog worth reading. I will confess my grasp of Eastern European politics and history leaves me unprepared to offer any substantive observations.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Nearly two years ago, in "Who Will Protect Kosovo's Christians?" I wrote:

Dozens of churches, monasteries and shrines have been destroyed or damaged since 1999 in Kosovo, the cradle of Orthodox Christianity in Serbia. The Serbian Orthodox Church lists nearly 150 attacks on holy places, which often involve desecration of altars, vandalism of icons and the ripping of crosses from Church rooftops. A March 2004 rampage by Albanian mobs targeted Serbs and 19 people, including eight Kosovo Serbs, were killed and more than 900 injured, according Agence France Press. The UN mission in Kosovo, AFP said, reported that 800 houses and 29 Serb Orthodox churches and monasteries - some of them dating to the 14th century — were torched during the fighting. NATO had to rush 2,000 extra troops to the province to stop the destruction.

All this happened despite the presence of UN peacekeeping forces. According to news reports posted by the American Council for Kosovo, Albanian separatists are opposing the expansion of military protection of Christian holy sites by UN forces. A main concern of Christians is the fate of the Visoki Decani Monastery - Kosovo's only UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Now that Albanian separatists have declared the Serbian province of Kosovo to be an independent nation -- and won backing from President Bush -- a chain of events has been put in place that EU lawmakers are already describing as a Pandora's Box.

Why? Because the secessionist move in Serbia is likely to kindle others in places like Georgia, Moldova and Russia (which now much entertain similar aspirations from places like Abkhazia, South Ossetia, or Transdniester). This explains Russia's opposition to the Kosovo breakaway, but it's not alone. Spain, which has contended with Basque, Catalan and Galician separatist movements for decades, refused to recognize an independent Kosovo, saying the move was illegal. Then there's Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus. Some Asian countries also view the Kosovo split as a dangerous precedent. Sri Lanka said the move was a violation of the UN Charter. Canada has officially remained mum on the question so far.

For a good balanced look ahead for Kosovo, see "After Kosovo's Secession," by Lee Hudson Teslik on the Council of Foreign Relations Web site, and the online debate between Marshall F. Harris, Senior Policy Advisor, Alston + Bird, and Alan J. Kuperman, Assistant Professor, University of Texas, LBJ School of Public Affairs.

But I am a skeptic, in case you were wondering.

In a recent Washington Times commentary titled "Warning Light on Kosovo," John Bolton, Lawrence Eagleburger and Peter Rodman argued that partitioning Serbia's sovereign territory was not in the best interest of the United States:
The blithe assumption of American policy — that the mere passage of nine years of relative quiet would be enough to lull Serbia and Russia into reversing their positions on a conflict that goes back centuries — has proven to be naive in the extreme.
Recognition of Kosovo's independence without Serbia's consent would set a precedent with far-reaching and unpredictable consequences for many other regions of the world. The Kosovo model already has been cited by supporters of the Basque separatist movement in Spain and the Turkish-controlled area of northern Cyprus. Neither the Security Council nor any other international body has the power or authority to impose a change of any country's borders.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the current policy is the dismissive attitude displayed toward Russia's objections. Whatever disagreements the United States may have with Moscow on other issues, and there are many, the United States should not prompt an unnecessary crisis in U.S.-Russia relations. There are urgent matters regarding which the United States must work with Russia, including Iran's nuclear intentions and North Korea's nuclear capability. Such cooperation would be undercut by American action to neutralize Moscow's legitimate concerns regarding Kosovo.
In "Let's Avoid Another Kosovo Crisis," Ruth Wedgwood, a professor of international law and diplomacy at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

Kosovo has been part of the territory of Serbia since before the First World War, and its ancient monasteries are iconic to the Serbs. Belgrade's government coalition is already in crisis on the issue.

It is a dangerous precedent to tear apart the territory of a member state of the United Nations. And the timing could not be worse. No one needs a Kosovo crisis, while NATO remains short of troops in Afghanistan and maintains 16,000 troops in this autonomous province of Serbia. A Kosovo blowup would provide an easy excuse for gun-shy European allies to reduce their Afghanistan contingents.
And what of the Serb Christians? Orthodox Bishop Artemije of Ras and Prizren issued the following statement on Jan. 31:

Should Washington and its followers make good on their current threats to recognize Kosovo, Serbia would never accept it. Not only Russia but many other countries, especially those outside of Europe, would reject recognition. Kosovo would never become a member of the United Nations. We would regard the international presence in Kosovo, including the mission now being considered by the EU, as an occupation force. We Serbs have suffered many occupations in the past and triumphed over them. If necessary we would survive this one as well. Despite any intensification of the terror to which we Christians have been subjected since 1999, my flock in Kosovo has no intention of leaving their homes.

I do not welcome having to direct these critical words at the United States. Serbs have always regarded America as a friend and continue to do so. Americans and Serbs were allies in both World Wars. We are not the ones who are pursuing a confrontation today. But it is impossible for America to profess friendship with Serbia while demanding the amputation of the most precious part of our homeland.

Mercy and Justice

The last two Sunday sermons (the Sunday of Zacchaeus and the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee) have focused on the theme of mercy and justice (you can hear these sermons on the parish web site here and here). My thesis, which I will continue develop this coming week on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, is that far from being opposed to one and other, mercy and justice represent two facets of what the "shalom" or the peace that comes from our right relationships with God, others and self.

As I outlined last Sunday, mercy is how I respond to my neighbor in his or her need. Mercy in this sense reflects my willingness to lift up my neighbor. Thinking about those times in life when we have experienced mercy, we see that, common to all of them, is a felt deficiency of one kind or another. The person who extends mercy to us does so precisely in response to our need. Likewise when we are merciful to others, for example when we forgive, we do so in response to a real lack either in the other person or in our relationship.

To help people understand justice, I asked them to think for a moment about when they have felt unjustly treated. Injustice is more than simply not getting what is due me it has as well the quality of denying me something I need to continue to grow and develop. One of the sins that cry to heaven, withholding wages due a worker, is so horrible because, like murder, it undoes or undermines the future. Injustice betrays our need for a hopeful future, which is to say that justice, grows out of, and completes, mercy.

But where mercy reflects my response to my neighbor's need, justice is concerned with his or her potential. A just relationship is one in which I commit myself to adding my neighbor in the realization of his or her abilities. The inter-dependence of mercy and justice as well as their centrality in the Christian life, or so I suggested in the sermons, are much misunderstood by many contemporary Orthodox Christians.

Too easily we dismiss the works of justice in favor of what we imagine to be the works of mercy. But mercy, responding as it does to human need, has a transitory quality. Once I identify and met my neighbor's need, I'm done. Justice, one the other hand, is open-ended and commits me to a rather more demanding relationship. Why? Because unlike mercy's commitment to make up that which is lacking either in my neighbor's life or between us, just requires from me the willingness to travel with him or her from "glory to glory."

Precisely because justice is a response to human potential, it has a more dynamic, and this demanding, quality. At what point can I really and truthfully say that I have fulfilled my commitment to help another human being grow more fully into his or her own unique likeness to the Thrice Holy God?

Starting as I did on the Sunday of the Zacchaeus, I also highlighted in the sermons that both the works of mercy and justice also make demands on our material wealth. Zacchaeus committed not simply his excess, but the substance of his wealth both to the care of the poor (that is, the works of mercy) and the restitution of anyone that he harmed (that is to say, the works of justice). So too I argued, we how are Christian must commit the substance of our lives to the works of mercy and justice. This of necessity includes, by the way, our material wealth.

Personally and communally, a life of mercy and justice requires from us first of all an attention to our neighbor not only in his or her need, but also in his or her potential. It is not enough to simply say no one around me is in need, is suffering a lack. I also must take positive action to help the person discover and develop their own unique gifts.

This in turn requires from me (and I hope to develop this more this coming Sunday) that I renounce envy and jealousy.

Too many Orthodox Christians, as I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, set mercy and justice against each other. While there is a certainly biblical and patristic witness that supports this position, I suspect that the "justice" that is condemned is not justice as I have articulated it here, justice as grounded in mercy. Rather what is condemned is an understanding of justice that is used to excuse, or worse blesses, our lack of a generous spirit. It is this deficient sense of justice that Christ condemns in the Gospel:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone (Mt 23.23).

Certainly there are some who appeal to an understanding of justice that is static and narrow. But it is also worth noting that there are also those whose understanding of mercy is sentimental, manipulative and debilitating of others. In both cases what is lost is the healthy balance; there is a necessary and in this life irreducible tension between mercy and justice as the two facets of the biblical understanding of shalom.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Thursday, February 14, 2008

An Immodest Proposal

Comments on recent posts (you can review them here and here) have been extraordinarily good and have provided me with more food for thought then I can quickly digest, much less respond to quickly. For this I say thank you.

These comments came to mind as I was reading Fr Richard John Neuhaus's "The Conversion of England." Neuhaus's comments are part of his review of a new book by Adian Nichols, O.P. entitled Realm: An Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England," in which Nichols argues that the Catholic Church should pursue actively the conversion, or if you prefer, reconversion of England to the Catholic Church. After all, as Neuhaus observes:

From a Catholic perspective, the Church of England is a schismatic form of the Church in England that should be restored to full communion with the bishop of Rome and those in communion with the bishop of Rome. In this ecumenical age, to be sure, this is not usually stated so bluntly. Father Nichols' candid reopening of these questions is, as he says, unfashionable.

In an interesting turn, Neuhaus contrasts the argument made by Nichols with that made a 150 years earlier by John Henry Cardinal Newman. As Neuhaus tells it "While many followed Newman into full communion [with the Catholic Church], he was extremely cautious about encouraging conversions that were not as thoughtful or driven by theological and moral necessity as his own. And he was sharply critical of those who attacked the establishment of the Church of England."

What was Newman's motivation?

This reluctance to press for conversions was a constant in Newman's thought, as was his view that the Church of England was, while not part of the one true Church of Christ, a valuable "bulwark" against infidelity. This was joined, as students of Newman know, with his distinctly uncomplimentary view of the leadership of the predominantly Irish Catholicism in the England of that time. He did not think that leadership was up to replacing the religious and cultural establishment rooted in the Church of England.

But as Neuhaus observes neither Newman's England, nor Anglican Communion of his time, exist anymore:

More than a century and a half after Newman, the circumstance is dramatically different in which Father Aidan Nichols makes his "unfashionable" proposal. It is very doubtful that the Church of England is today a "breakwater" against infidelity. Many view it as a source of infidelity, or at least of doctrinal and moral frivolousness that undermines fidelity. Nor is it, as Newman thought it was in his day, a guarantor of national cohesion. In today's England, there are more churchgoing Catholics than Anglicans, and more observant Muslims than either.

In addition, the worldwide Anglican Communion, once anchored in the Church of England and thought to be a compelling reason for its preeminence, appears to be on the edge of dissolution. Moreover, with large numbers of English converts, plus large communities of committed Catholic immigrants from Central Europe and elsewhere, Catholicism is increasingly viewed as the only candidate to lead in the evangelization, or re-evangelization, of England. If the English are ever again to be something like a Christian people, Father Nichols' proposal appears to be less unfashionable than inevitable.

Having traveled in England (as well as Scotland and Ireland) as an undergraduate and, later as an adult and an Orthodox priest, I am hard press to deny Fr Neuhaus's observations. I would apply also his observation to Europe generally. Having taught theology for two years at Duquesne University and served as a college chaplain for some ten years, I think the situation in the United Kingdom is applicable to most Catholic and secular college and university campuses. And lest you think I am on a polemical jag, I would also apply Neuhaus's concerns about England to Greece, Russia and most traditionally Orthodox countries and yes, even to the Orthodox Church here in North America.

In other words, it is not simply the Anglican Communion that is struggling with doctrinal infidelity and the "moral frivolousness that undermines fidelity." There seems to be generally state of spiritual exhaustion in many parts of the Christian community.

So what are we to do?

Alasdair MacIntyre in his book After Virtue calls for a new St Benedict, or if you prefer, a restoration of monasticism, as key to the renewal of the spiritual life of the Christian community. My own experience as a mission priest leads me to believe that there is a great deal of merit in MacIntyre's proposal. Monasticism with its focus on community life, shared work, liturgical prayer, asceticism, material simplicity of life, mutual obedience to God and each other, and above all conversion of manners, is a powerful tool for not only evangelism, but also the ongoing formation and reformation of both the person and the community.

Most powerful in this model is they way in which it lends itself to seeing a mission parish not as an end in itself, but as a school of charity. As a school of charity, the mission parish is concerned not with its own numerical growth, but with preparing men and women to undertake their own ministry within the Body of Christ. Practically speaking, there are things a small community is better able to do then a large one.

Borrowing from St Benedict and modeling itself on the Holy Rule, one can think of a mission parish not as a community that will grow into a full parish (though it might), but as a formation community concerned with forming missionaries. In this model the community intentionally remains small, and poor, in order to offer a "noviate" for lay Christians. These men and women would eventually leave the mission for other, more established parishes, for seminary or the monastic life.

What I am purposing is this: Taking seriously the concerned outlined by Nichols, Neuhaus, MacIntrye and others could we not as Orthodox Christians (and, Catholics, Protestants and Evangelical Christians could do this as well), establishes mission communities whose mission is not to grow, but to form missionaries, lay catechists, seminarians, monastics vocations and above all active lay Christians committed to the work of the Church in all areas of life?

Your comments and questions are, as always, most welcome.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

You're Not On Drugs

You are on the Lawrence Welk Show. Look at this clip of "one of the newer songs," which is pretty much the ne plus ultra of clueless squaredom. Ah one and ah two and ah...

Do wait until the very end of the video for Lawrence Welk's characterization of the song.

Hat tip: Rod Dreher.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Going Out On A Limb

Looking at the comment boxes for the last few posts, especially the post where I reference Bradley Nassif's interview, it seems that the nature and the practice of the priesthood as well as the character of men we ordain to the priesthood are topics of more than passing interest. This of course is as it should be—we should exercise great care and concern over those who we put in positions of authority in the Church.

I think we can all agree that Nassif's statement about some Orthodox clergy not having a living relationship with Jesus Christ is shocking. It is that and more. The real question, whatever might be the inadequacies of how he expressed himself, is this: Is he correct? Is it possible to become a priest in the Orthodox Church and NOT have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?

Even a cursory reading of the disciplinary canons that pertain to the clergy would suggest that, yes, it is possible for a man to be ordained and have no real relationship with Jesus Christ. It is also possible for a man, after he is ordained, to lose that relationship.

Some have sought ordination out of pride or ambition. While I hope less common today, it was not unheard of for a man to become a priest because his dad was a priest. Still others come to holy orders in an attempt to overcome a deep inner void or lack of a sense of their own personal self-worth.

None of these necessarily preclude the man becoming not only a good priest, but even a saint. As with marriage, the man most grow into the office he receives at ordination. I hope that, after almost 23 years of marriage, I am a better husband to my wife then when we were first married. Likewise I hope that, after 11 years, I am a better priest then when I was first ordained.

In marriage and in ministry growth is not simply a matter of learning new things—though there is plenty of that in both. There is also a necessary purification of heart and an ever deepening understanding and appreciation of that to which Christ has called me. For this reason even the best of beginnings must be transcended, moving as we do in our spiritual life from "glory to glory."

A bad beginning then does not necessarily mean a bad ending.

At the same time, so much of what we do not simply as clergy, and even more fundamentally as Christians, necessarily flows out of both divine grace ("that makes up that which is lacking"), and our own character. Yes, there is the example of Balaam's ass (Num 22.1-35). Or if you prefer there is response given to the Pharisees who demand that Jesus silence His support that, "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out." (Luke 19:40). So yes, through asses and stones, the Gospel can be proclaimed.

But this is not the whole of the story.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that the Gospel can be proclaimed with great profit by those motive by "envy and strife" and "selfish ambition" with the hope of "to add affliction." And "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice" (see for example, Phil 1.12-18). Great profit? Yes, but not for the unrepentant preaching who clings to his darker motives and allows them, often by neglect, to blot out the Light of Christ.

St Paul says the Church at Philippi:

Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation,
and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me (vv. 27-30).

The Apostle enjoins us to bring our lives into conformity with the Gospel. Again, the proclamation of the Gospel is not dependent on human character. Failure to grasp this was the downfall of the Donatists. But my salvation is very much dependent on my character.

While certainly no one who has posted on this blog has done so, to remain indifferent to brother or sister in Christ who we know cannot remain chaste, or sober, or be trusted with money or children or something told in confidence is, at a minimum, irresponsible. More likely it is cruel since, even if they hurt no one else, they are hurting themselves.

I cannot prevent simple human failure in myself, much less others. Nor can I prevent grievous human sinfulness. Any attempt on my part to do so is not only doomed to failure, it is also very likely a sin on my part. Why? Because sin is the misuse of our freedom. I cannot in any absolute sense prevent you from sinning unless I curtail in some way your freedom.

But if prevention in the absolute sense is impossible, what is left?

My response.

Thinking a bit more deeply about Nassif's words, as well as the universally insightful comments offered in the comment box, the concern that each priest has a living relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, is a moral and practical imperative because we love our spiritual fathers the clergy. Clergy will fail, even with the best of intention and education. How they, and we, respond to that failure will largely be determined by quality of the spiritual lives and character of those concerned.

If we fail to place the living, vibrant relationship of each member of the Church at the center of all we do then when the inevitable failures, in our clergy and in ourselves, happen, what resources do we really have?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Friday, February 01, 2008

Depression as an advantage?

Philip Dawdy over at Furious Seasons (which the author describes as "A blog about the crazy world of mental health and America"), has an interesting interview with Tom Wootten on depression as an advantage. Wootten is the author of The Depression Advantage (2007) and The Bipolar Advantage (2005). According to Dawdy, Wootten "has different ideas about how to address depression than does the rest of the Western world" and so he "recently interviewed him via email about his bold claim that depression is an advantage."

To give you an idea at what Wootten is getting at:

Depression is an advantage. What are you talking about?

How we choose to look at our experiences in life and how we react to them determines whether it is an advantage or a disadvantage. Depression is a very painful state that has a very real chance of killing you. Most people would say that it is the worst thing that ever happened to them. A few have chosen to use it as a catalyst that changed their lives while they gained power over it.

It is not the hardships we face that matter, it is what we become as a result of facing them. Some of the greatest people in history have said that depression is what made them great. The Depression Advantage is about facing our condition while accepting the possibility that we might gain from it instead of trying to hide from the experience. Avoidance leads to a diminished life where we live in fear that some day depression will return and we will not be able to handle it. When we learn from it we find that we gain power over it and it does not affect us the same as it used to.

Our first depression seemed impossible to survive, but as we experience deeper states we find that the level that first seemed impossible can now be managed very well. We can even help others because we understand it and can empathize with them. At least in lower levels, we gain an advantage over depression instead of it having the advantage over us. Taken to the extreme, Saint John of the Cross said that it was his "Dark Night of the Soul" that made him a saint.

Information on Wootton's integrative approach to depression can be found in the Success Center section of his website.

As I mention in my comment, both personally and pastorally I have found it of immense value to be able to integrate the darker moments of life into a wider context of meaning (what Wootten calls the "big circle'). As he says:
"Some people think that the problem is that we have wrong thinking. They propose that we catch ourselves thinking sad thoughts and replace them with happy thoughts, as if that is going to change the picture. It is the same as focusing on the two small circles. We will never fully understand our condition until we begin to focus on the big circle and find meaning in our experiences. As long as you think that sad thoughts are an illness you will not find the advantage of your condition.

"The example of our saints is that they got to a point that they were in the same state of oneness no matter what happened to their body or mind. Saint Francis was in incredible pain at the end of his life, yet had the ability to keep focused on the big picture. It is not that he was somehow separate from his experiences; he experienced them just as you and I would. But since he was focusing on the big picture, he was in bliss. Bliss is the state that is not affected by the duality.

"As our saints grew in understanding, they still experienced the pain, but from the perspective of bliss it did not affect them as much. That is why Saint Teresa said: 'All these illnesses now bother me so little that I am often glad, thinking the Lord is served by something.'

"It takes the perspective of extreme pain for some of us to see the truth of bliss. The Depression Advantage is that we have the chance to understand something that few ever will."

Surf over and take a look at Furious Seasons. Some of the things I agree with, others I need to think about. Having cut my theoretical teeth through my readings in the anti-psychiatric movement, I find Furious Seasons well worth my time.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

p.s., You can find my comments on Wootten in the comment section of the post.


Do the Orthodox "Know the Gospel"?

Over at The Path, there is an interesting post on an issue near and dear to my heart: the spiritual formation and discipleship of Orthodox Christians. Here are my comments on the post Do the Orthodox "Know the Gospel"?

First of all, thank you for this post!

I think that, even more pressing then bring new people into the Church is our retention of the people that we have.

Having listened to the interview (click here to listen: Is There A 'Revolving Door' In The Orthodox Church") with Dr Bradley Nassif (click on Dr Nassif's name to read the article he wrote on this subject of Word magazine) and reading over Matthew Gallatin's comments, I find myself leaning more toward the former.

I appreciate, and agree with, Gallatin that those who leave the Church "either didn’t understand, or were unwilling to shoulder, . . . the tremendous responsibility that comes with being Orthodox." But this it seems to me leaves a number of questions not only unanswered, but even asked. Specifically, how were those who leave catechized?

It is not unheard of for someone to be received after only a few months, or even weeks, after they approach the priest. How many times are people received without even any formal instruction in the faith?

Then there is the question of the community. It is one thing to welcome converts, it is another thing to actually integrate them into the community and nurture their growth in the faith.

In the early Church the catechumenate lasted years. It was proceeded by a period of inquiry and followed by a period of further instruction (mystagogy). Even assuming that all our clergy and faithful are personally committed to Christ, we can't neglect the fundamentals of a serious period of instruction for inquirers, catechumens and the newly illumined.

And this must happen within a community that is itself committed to integrating new members. This means that it is not simply converts who need to change, we need to change as well.

Many of those who were baptized as infants have for all practical purposes fallen away. Unreasonably we seem to think that parishes that have an uneven record of fostering a personal commitment to Christ in those born into Orthodox families are able to do so with adult converts.

Convincing someone of the truth of the Orthodox faith, in my experience at least, is relatively easy. it is much harder to take people through the often long and labor intensive process of being inquirers, catechumens and then provide them, as newly illumined members of the Church, with the spiritual formation that they need to grow into mature, committed Orthodox Christians who place Christ at the center of their lives.

Again, thank you for the post--it is a issue that, like you and many in the Church, I am very concerned with.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Great Catholic author coming to town

From fellow blogger Mike Aquilina of Way of the Fathers, I have received the following announcement. If you are in the area and can make the time, why not stop by?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

One of my favorite writers on early Christianity is Fr. Michael Giesler, author of the novels Junia and Marcus, both set in second-century Rome. They're great page-turners of the Ben Hur/Quo Vadis variety, and they deserve a wide audience. Fr. Giesler is coming to our town, and I hope you'll be able to meet him (and pick up his books) at one of his appearances. The dates and times follow.

8:30 p.m. — Lecture, "The Glory of the Early Christians: Family Life and the Gift of Celibacy," Gentile Gallery, Franciscan University of Steubenville

11 am — Mass at Aquinas Academy (2308 West Hardies Road, Wildwood, PA 15091)
12 noon – 2 pm — Booksigning in lobby of Aquinas Academy
3-5 pm — Booksigning at Kirners Bookstore (219 4th Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222)

Fr. Giesler holds a doctorate in sacred theology and an advanced degree in philosophy. In addition to his novels, he has published many scholarly articles.

Please spread the word! If you have questions, don't hesitate to ask me.

Tag! I’m It?

I've been tagged!

From: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the HIGHLY IMPROBABLE. New York: Random House, 2007, p. 123.

His big insight is that bank employees who sell you a house that's not theirs just don't care as much as the owners; Tony knew very rapidly how to talk to them and maneuver. Later, he also learned to buy and sell gas stations with money borrowed from small neighborhood banks.

Tony has this remarkable habit of trying to make a buck effortlessly, just for entertainment, without straining, without office work, without meeting, just by melding his deals into his private life.

Here are the rules:

Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. (No cheating!)
Find Page 123.
Find the first 5 sentences.
Post the next 3 sentences.
Tag 5 people.

I tag Irenaeus, Sherry W., Fr John W Fenton, Stephen Paul, Fr Tim Finigan.