Thursday, July 05, 2007

What's My Blog Rated?

Oh my, I guess I better clean up my blog!

Online Dating

Actually, if you think about it, how can we discuss the particulars of the Christian life and keep a G-rating? Why this rating? According to (who rate blogs as a marketing tool for a free online dating service):

"This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:
* pain (4x)
* sex (2x)
* hell (1x)"
Who would of guessed?

My thanks to and a hat tip to Alice C. Linsley of Just Genesis (whose blog is rated G by the way).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Thoughts on Yogi Bear

No doubt it is the psychologist in me, but I am always a least a wee bit suspicious when someone has "special rules" that only work in one area of life. For example, in families in which one ore more members are alcoholics, there are specific (if unspoken) rules about what families are allowed to speak about. More importantly, there are topics ("Mom's" or "Dad's" drinking) that are never discussed--or at least never discussed without risking one's place in the family.

Special rules tell me that in these circumstances I am no longer an ordinary human being--I'm better or my job is more important. Like Yogi Bear I can steal "pic-a-nic baskets" because, well, "I'm smarter than the average bear!" In other words, special roles reflect pride and the common human tendency to self-aggrandizement.

So what has this to do with the spiritual life?

St Maximos the Confessor reminds his monastic readers that they must not prefer one person to another based on virtue or its absence. We must love the good man as a friend he says, and the evil man "as an enemy and by this hopefully win him over as a friend." Concretely, Maximos says this means we must be willing to care for the bodily needs of others regardless of their character. To fail to do so means that we have "divided human nature."

Often we apply special rules to the spiritual life that simply don't work in any other area of human life. Take for example our need to be intentional in our Christian discipleship.
And yet, we are content to let people participate in the life and work of the Church who have no relationship with Jesus Christ, who's presence in the Church--and at the chalice--is was never chosen, but is merely assumed.

For too many Orthodox Christians faith is rarely chosen, but only assumed as part of a more general commitment to family or culture. If this isn't sufficient for marriage, or child rearing, or career, why do we think it is sufficient for our commitment to Christ?

We all understand that we don't, or at least shouldn't, simply simply drift into a marriage because it is just easier to go with the flow. Likewise, we wouldn't, or shouldn't, pick our spouse simply to keep peace in the family? Can we imagine someone saying to us, "I want to marry you not out of love, but to please my grandparents?" Can we imagine a husband turning to his wife (or wife to her husband) and saying "I don't really need to know you, to be intimate with you, it is enough that other people in my family have always had good marriages in the past."

Rightly we would say that this kind of decision making is simply absurd and reflect a rather toxic mix of immaturity and pride.

When I think that I don't need to make a conscious decision for Christ and the Gospel, I am saying that I ams simply too important to ask to be admitted into a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a rather curious kind of pride that simply assumes I'm in a relationship with Christ because of who I am, or what I've accomplished, or where my family came from. Again, apply it to marriage. Imagine a man saying to a woman: "Of course you'll marry me, my momma expects you to do so. Beside, we're an old and important family."

Just ain't goin' happen.

Look the bottom line is this: If I have not chosen to follow Christ, then I simply am not anything other than a nominal Christian. Unless I have decided to follow Jesus, my faith is faith in name only.

But a nominal faith is not a saving faith, it is not a sufficient faith and it will not transform me. This doesn't mean that God will not work through me--it just means that the works that God does through me will stand in judgment of me in the life to come.

While faith and vocation are not the products of human intellect and will, they are still acts of intellect and will. Faith is a gift that needs to be received and acted upon--it simply can't be assumed. If I have not chosen to follow Christ, then I'm not following Him.

It is time to follow.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Preview Event - Upcoming

Preview Event - Upcoming I'm experimenting with different ways of reaching out especially to Orthodox Christian college students and young adults who want to deepen their faith lives. One thing that has shown some promise is a weekly discussion group that focuses on helping come to know and practice the gifts that God has given each of us at Baptism.

The website at left is Upcoming is hosted by is one way I thought I might try to get the word out. Clink the link below and please let me know what you think.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Preview Event - Upcoming

Monday, June 25, 2007

"Mindless" folksy Orthodoxy....

“Mindless” folksy Orthodoxy is “a breeding ground for all kinds of sects,” says Metropolitan Kirill (Gundyaev)

The Moscow Patriarchate believes that the faithful’s desire to only observe Orthodox customs is a mistake, states Interfax-Religion, referring to the TV program “The Pastor’s Word”.

“Many Orthodox people today, by inertia, believe that the main task in their religious ‘podvig’ (feat) is fidelity to external religious traditions and customs”, said the head of the Department of External Affairs, Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk during the broadcast of “The Pastor’s Word” shown last Saturday on Channel 1.

“This mindless”, folksy Orthodoxy is “a breeding ground for all kinds of sects,” he stressed.

The bishop said that the goal of the Church today is to help people understand the essence of the Christian message, “that Orthodoxy is not folklore, not customs, not a museum – it is life.”

“If these people would learn the Christian message, they will be well protected from the devastating effects of various sects and pseudo-religious phenomena”, believes Metropolitan Kyrill.

He added that the more we know about our faith, the closer we are go God’s teachings in daily life, that the more we rely on Christian motivation in our actions, “we will be stronger and stronger when faced with pseudo-religious propaganda, whose ultimate aim is to destroy the faith in our people.”

Too cool for school...


With a hat tip to Fr. John Zuhlsdorf of "What Does the Prayer Really Say" and apologizes for any I may have offended, but being a fan of all things Cistercian and Trappist (I was educated by priests from both Cistercian and Trappist monastic communities), this was to cool to pass up.In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Yup, I Like to Listen to John Denver

Recently, I came across some compilation CD’s of John Denver’s music. Yup, that John Denver, the guy who sang “Thank God, I’m A Country Boy,” “Leaving On a Jet Plane,” “Take Me Home Country Road,” “Calypso,” “Rocky Mountain Him,” and “Annie’s Song.” I guess I should be, but honestly I am not in the least bit embarrassed to admit that I have always loved John Denver’s music. Right now, as I’m writing this, I’m listen to Denver singing “Fly Away” as duet with Olivia Newton John, another favorite singer from when I was a mere lad.

Every once and again in our spiritual life I need to reconnect with the gentler side of life. Too much gentleness and leisure, like too much toughness and discipline, leads to a lopsided spiritual life. Likewise, if I spend so much time focusing on spiritual matters that I lose sight of the common human experiences that God uses to slowly lead us to Himself. John Denver’s music does a think a good job of reminding me of the beauty of creation, friendship, and the ordinary, though by no means insignificant, love between a man and a woman. He also speaks of the darker aspects of human life, grief, loneliness, fear, and disappointment that I am too willing to overlook or minimize.

I have to always be careful that we not underestimate, much less hold in contempt, these ordinary human experiences. All of these can, and are, taken up by Christ into the life of the Most Holy Trinity and transfigured—deified as the Greek fathers were fond of saying. It is above all in the celebration of the Eucharist, when, in the Name of Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, I offer my life to God the Father and, miracle of miracles—He accepts that offering with all of my shortcomings and sins. And not only that: the Father transforms what is earthly and created in my offering into something Heavenly and Uncreated and returns the offering of my life to me in Holy Communion.

And when I receive back that offering transformed by the grace of the Holy Spirit, I receive not only my own life, but also the life of Christ. And in Christ I receive into myself, even as I am received, the whole Church, His Body. And in receiving Christ, Who in the Incarnation has freely united Himself to the whole human family when He took on our nature, I also receive humanity. And even this is not enough; since humanity is both microcosm and a macrocosm of the whole creation, in Holy Communion, creation itself becomes a part of me, even as I am a part of creation.

The challenge of the Christian life is living out the reality that in Christ nothing is really alien to me. Sympathy or pity for my neighbor, creation, and even myself, is easy since sympathy allows me to stand outside of all of these. But communion in Christ demands of me empathy—the willingness to actually suffer along with others. This means that I have to be able to find another person’s pain, and another person’s sin, in my heart—I need to allow their pain to be my pain and to understand that their sin is really mine as well.

On the Cross Christ accepts on Himself the pain of our, my, sinfulness. God in Jesus Christ does not simply pity fallen humanity; He doesn’t stand outside of the human family. No, it is on the Cross that God identifies with us, He makes our sinfulness, our shame, His own even at the cost of His own life.

To come back for a moment to John Denver, I think for me the delight of much pop music, whatever might be its artistic merits, is that it gives expression to the common elements of human life. Granted this is not often done with any great depth, but that is its charm and value.

When I was younger I was quite taken with being serious, I wanted to have serious conversations about important matters. That was (and is) all well and good, but it also reflected my own self-importance and lack of charity. I was zealous. But zeal, says St Isaac the Syrian, “is a lack of compassion for our neighbor in his weakness.” I was so zealous, that—after she actually convinced me of its importance—my wife had to teach me to make “small talk.” Far from being unimportant, small talk, like flirting, is the willingness to demonstrate to another human being that he or she is worthy of our attention, that they are interesting or beautiful. And this is without a doubt one of the most precious gift we can give one another human being.

St Maximus reminds us that we ought not to prefer one person to another based on their character. That is to say the significance and value of human life is objective—the thoughts of a philosopher, the struggles of a great saint, don’t make them f any greater significance in the eyes of God then the thoughts of a simple and illiterate man or the struggles of an ordinary husband or wife make them of less value to God. It is worthy noting that for most of His earthly life, Jesus was rather an ordinary carpenter. And it precisely because He was so ordinary, so “dead common” as our British friends might say, that Jesus was such a cause of agitation of the religious and secular authorities of His time.

If I can’t, or won’t, find God in the midst of the ordinary circumstances of life, I’ll never find Him anywhere else either. And what can I offer Him if I can’t, or won’t, offer to God my life as it is really is with all its ordinariness?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Radical Apologetics: the Dialectic of Opposition

Benedict Seraphim has an interesting post on his blog regarding the "dialectic of opposition" which he sees as the foundation of Evangelical Protestant theology. Let me let Benedict speak for himself:

One of the dominant concepts, if not the dominant concept, in the worldview and doctrines of Protestants is that of what is called the "dialectic of opposition." (Some might argue that this concept dominates most or all of Western Christianity as a whole, but that's for another debate at another time.) This concept, in Protestantism, posits an essential dichotomy, an either/or if you will, into the most fundamental of doctrines, resulting in the bifurcation of such things as Law/Gospel, grace/works, human libertarian free will/God's complete sovereignty and so forth. For Protestants, this "dialectic of opposition" is functionally absolute in these pairings. This is not simply a matter of distinction between essentially different things. After all, men and women are sexually distinct, but that distinction reveals an essential complementarity, not an essential opposition. So, for the dialectic of opposition, it is not the distinction that is the issue, but rather it is the reification of the distinction, a necessitating of a relationship of opposition between the things paired, and thus necessitating a disjuncture between the concepts/realities paired. If humans have libertarian free will then God is not completely sovereign. If it is of the Law then it is not of the Gospel. And so it goes down the list, pairing two concepts in opposition to one another, such that one is forced to make a radical choice between one or the other.

While he (rightly) acknowledges the biblical foundations of such language, he rather rightly observes that as used by many this dialectic

[For the] Orthodox this either/or setup, this dialectic of opposition, starts from an essentially heretical Christology. We're back to the wife-beating question. If Orthodox accept this framework, they either founder on the Scylla of Monophysitism or the Charibdis of Nestorianism. Orthodox must from the start deny the dialectic. The icon of Christ neither divides the human and divine natures in Christ, nor does it confuse them: it depicts the Person of Christ, in which are united the distinct human and divine natures, and which natures cannot be separated. But neither does the icon confuse the natures: What we see in the icon, is the Person, not the natures. Natures are not apprehensible by the senses. Persons are. (This is a very generalized summary of St. Theodore the Studite's defense, which builds on St. John Damascene's.)

I would certainly recommend Benedict's thoughtful analysis especially his defense of the doctrine of theosis or deification.

What caught my attention in Benedict's essay was an experience I had in my recent participation at the annual meeting of the International Society of Theoretical Psychology in Toronto. There were a number of paper presents that tried to position themselves as "transdisciplinary," a goal with which I am in fundamental sympathy.

Where I am not in sympathy is with the implicit use in many papers of the same dialectic of opposition that Benedict criticizes. Such a dialectic encourages us, for example, to see life a a "zero sum" game. By that I mean the very common idea that "my" success comes at "your" expense. Or, at a minimum, that "my" success in some way limits or makes less likely "your" expense. In economic terms, the dialectic of opposition sees wealth as static where (for example) free market capitalism sees wealth as something we can create by our own talents and hard work.

At its foundation the dialectic of opposition fails to take seriously the analogy of being (analogia entis) that sees all of the cosmos as in some way in correspondence or analogous to God. Some Orthodox theologians (for example, Protopresbyter John S. Romanides) dismiss the analogy of being out of hand. Others (for example, David Bentley Hart in The Beauty of the Infinite) have a more sympathetic view.

In simplest terms, the analogia entis looks at creation as revealing God precisely by being not God, or other than God. In Hart's language. creation is a gift of divine love and an invitation to enter freely into communion not only with God, and in God, with the whole creation, our neighbor and ourselves.

Often in our spiritual lives, or maybe I should say, in our everyday lives, we find ourselves thinking in oppositional terms. When I do this, I find myself wondering how am I going to "fit in." And invariably to "fit in" I need to cut something off and/or tack something on. It is no wonder that for many, the Christian life feels like a mutilation.

What makes all of this talk of "fitting in" so attractive is that it sounds very much like the language of conversion. But conversion is not "fitting in." Conversion is that change of heart that allows me to be who I am in obedience to who God has called me to be from all eternity, and this is a very different thing.

It is worth noting that the Orthodox service of baptism (like the Catholic and other Western Christian versions by the way) begins with prayers of exorcism. In these prayers, we ask God to reach down from heaven and take hold of the candidate, even as He took hold of the Hebrew children in Egypt, and redeem him from the father of lies. In and through baptism we are taken out the clutches of Satan and up into the life of the Holy Trinity--we are "made partakers of the divine nature" as St Peter reminds us (2 Peter 1.4).

St. Irenaeus says that those of us who are in Christ are like iron in fire; as iron takes on the characteristics of fire while remaining iron, we take on all the characteristics of the Uncreated God while ourselves remaining creatures. Our understanding of how we can be like God while remaining different from God is what the analogy of being serves.

If God and I are in some, fundamental, opposite to one another, then the more I become like God, the less I become like myself. But the patristic doctrine is just the opposite: The more I become like God, the more I become myself, and so (paradoxically) different from God. This difference is a real distinction, but it is not an opposition. Or, as Benedict puts it, but for many Christians (and as a psychological reality, I would include here Orthodox Christians), "it is not just simply that Creator and creature are essentially distinct, but that they are opposed: the divine nature is holy, the human nature is sinful."

In this oppositional model, I simply cannot become, holy without ceasing to be human. And so, "because of the dialectic of opposition which sets human nature and divine nature at odds," Benedict concludes, "either there is no unity between God and man or there is no unity between Christ and the rest of humanity."

It is this search for unity through analogy that is an essential part of our spiritual lives as Orthodox (and orthodox) Christians. In paper after paper that I heard in Toronto, the search was less for unity through analogy, then it was a search for a shared agreement that left everyone with only half (or less than half) a pie.

In Jesus Christ, God the Father through the Holy Spirit offers us life in abundance. But this comes to us as a gift which must be both received and acted upon. We must develop our own gifts and work to help others develop their own. To repeat language I used in an earlier post, the former is the work of gratitude, the latter of justice, but neither exists apart from the other and the outpouring of God's grace in Jesus Christ.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Challenge of Ethnicity in the Church: What St Paul Says

From today's epistle read:

The Reading is from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans 11:13-24

BRETHREN, I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to
the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order to make my fellow Jews jealous,
and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of
the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough
offered as first fruits is holy, so is the whole lump; and if the root is holy,
so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a
wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the richness of the
olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember it is not
you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say,
"Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." That is true. They
were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through
faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the
natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the
severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to
you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off.
And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted
in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from
what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a
cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted
back into their own olive tree.

For your consideration:

While I would be the first to admit there is much work to be done in making sure that those who are Orthodox Christians have actually been evangelized and discipline, Paul's words remind me that I have been grafted on to the Church by baptism, even as the Gentiles have been grafted on to Israel.

As I said yesterday, in looking at the Church and prayerfully reflecting on the need for renewal, we should not allow our zeal to blind us to our debt to those who have gone before us in the faith--even if they have gone before us by only a few years.

St Issac the Syrian says somewhere that zeal is simply a lack of compassion for our neighbor in his weakness. And is Isaiah the prophet we read that the Messiah will quench the smoldering wick or break the bruised reed.

It is to allow zeal to disguise, even from myself,y own lack of compassion and love of self. Certainly, I should continue work to renew the Church--but gently always seeking ways to extend the circle of renewal to others so that they too can come to know their own gifts. Gifts, I should always remember, that were bestowed on each of us at baptism not only for the glory of God, but for our own glory and happiness. As St Irenaeus reminds us: "The glory of God is man fully alive."

How can someone experience this new life if I, in zeal, kill him?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

To Know God

The always thoughtful, and thought provoking, Fr. Stephen at "Glory to God For All Things," has another very good post that is worth reading. I have included some of it below.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

To Know God


I have had some correspondence recently on the subject of knowing God. The knowledge of God, generally spoken of in a very experiential manner, is an absolute foundation in Orthodox theology. Nothing replaces it - no dogmatic formula - no Creed - not even Scripture - though Orthodoxy would see none of these things as separate from the knowledge of God. But the questions I have received are very apt. In a culture that is awash in “experience” what do we Orthodox mean when we speak of such things and what do we mean by such knowledge of God?

There are two Scriptural passages in particular that come to mind when I think of this subject. The first from the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8); the second, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure (1 John 3:2-3).

Obviously I equate “seeing” and “knowing,” as does the Tradition. In both of these verses the knowledge of God (”seeing God”) is tied to purity of heart. We do not see or know God because our hearts are darkened by sin and ignorance. Thus any knowledge of God that we have in this life begins as gift and remains as gift. However, it is a gift that is more fully received as our hearts are purified.

The importance of speaking of knowledge of God in this manner is to prevent two equally devastating errors. One would be to have a knowledge which is based only on the data of revelation, and only known as we know other data (like the multiplication table). As an Orthodox Christian I accept the teaching of the Church precisely because I am not pure of heart and I am not competent in and of myself to judge these things. I trust the saints and hierarchs of the ages, under the Holy Spirit, to have spoken truly of what they know and of what they have received.

The Orthodox “experience” if I can use such a phrase, is the confirmation in the heart of the truth we have received as we grow in grace and in purity of heart. But the truth of the faith must be confirmed in such a living manner or it simply becomes an historical item and the Church would be a collection of antiquarians and not the living temple of God. For my knowledge of God is also my life in God. Life, light, truth, knowledge - all of these have something of a synomymous character.

Read the rest: To Know God

Sameh Khouzam granted stay of deportation!

Sameh Khouzam granted stay of deportation!

I want to thank all of you who responded so quickly and signed our Petition to Save Sameh Khouzam!

Your voices have been heard!

In large part, thanks to your timely signatures and the efforts of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, Sameh Khouzam has been granted an indefinite stay of deportation! He can now stay in the United States and no longer has to fear the torture and even possible death that certainly would have awaited him upon arrival in his native Egypt.

I believe that your overwhelming support of Khouzam, a Coptic Christian, calling for him not to be returned to a regime with a history of brutality toward minority religions, helped sway the Middle District Court of Pennsylvania make a just and right decision.

As I wrote to you before, Mr. Khouzam left Egypt in 1998 under intense pressure to change his religion. He was detained by the Egyptian government and forcefully "encouraged" to convert from his Coptic Christianity to Islam. He escaped Egypt and fled to America--fearing for his life. After his departure, the Egyptian government informed United States officials that Mr. Khouzam was wanted for completely unsubstantiated crimes against a Muslim family. The United States intended to deport him.

Read more:

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dateline: International Society of Theortical Psychology, Conference, York University, Toronto

Thanks to my very kind wife Mary who lent me her notebook computer, I am able to check email and update my blog while I'm here in Toronto at the ISTP 2007 Conference meeting at York University.

I usually enjoy attending academic conferences. As I have gotten older, however, I find I prefer interdisciplinary conferences like the one I am attending more than single discipline events in either religious studies or psychology. In large part it is because my own thinking tends to be interdisciplinary and synthetic (of course when I was a boy this resulted in my being told to pay attention and learn to finish this before I did that).

But I digress . . . (something familiar to all who know me. See.)

As an undergraduate I was told that an academic discipline offers us a framework within which to see both the world around us and ourselves. All disciplines have their own strengths and weakness to be sure, but if we commit ourselves to a discipline it will shape our thought and our view of reality. For me the hard part was learning that I had to accept the discipline of an academic field of inquiry (in my case first psychology, then theology) before I could not only see the world through it, but go beyond it to make the various connections that enrich life.

We are none of us born in a vacuum. Rather we live within a web of relationships. These relationships are not only in the here and now, but reach backwards into our personal and shared history. They also reach forward into the as yet to be revealed future. A human being then is a nexus--point at which human history, the history of others and our own personal history converge. To out the same thing differently: I am not my own, I own a debt of gratitude to those who came before me and made my life possible. And I owe a debt, in justice, to those who will come after me and our vulnerable to the decisions, for good and ill, that I make.

To live between gratitude and justice is then a common human experience. And it is also I think the challenge that I am called to live as an Orthodox Christian. I did not create the faith--it comes to me from outside of me as God's gift pasted down from generation to generation by faithful (and at times not so faithful) Orthodox Christians. And what they did for me, I must do for those who come after me--I must pass on the faith.

But stepping back for a moment I realize that gratitude and justice--or if one prefers grace and law--are not opposed to one another. Rather they interpenetrate.

Without a spirit of gratitude for those who have gone before me, I have no faith to past on in justice. But if I fail to pass on the faith or fail to pass it on accurately, I not only fail to fulfill the demands of justice to those who cannot protect themselves from my dereliction, I also show a decided lack of gratitude for the sacrifices of my ancestors according to the faith.

And now back to my conference (where I am chairing a session and presenting a paper in about an hour)...

Having learned my academic disciplines of psychology and theology, I now work to establish connections between them both. In doing so I need to be careful least I sin against gratitude and justice in what I do. We forget sometimes that our lives as Orthodox Christians are simply an ordinary human lived in Christ. We are not exempt from the struggles and failures of the human family. Our task is very much like doing interdisciplinary (or now the NEW word, TRANSDISCIPLINARY) in academia--how can I bring about communion not only in the human family, but in my own life with all the different challenges and demands that it brings?

This challenge is the challenge of living a virtuous life. The virtuous person is not the one who does this or that good thing at the expense of other, equally, lesser or greater, good things. No, the virtuous person is the one who can find the point of balance among ALL the good things in his or her life. As I pointed out above, I can be just without being grateful--I cannot practice one virtue at the expense of others. Again, I must find balance in my life.

And this point of balance, precarious though it might be, is where happiness is found, is where communion is found, and no where else.

While, it is time to re-read my paper for the last time before I present. I finished it last night about 11.30 and only got it printed off this morning.

Pray for me, for my fellow presenter (an Muslim man presenting on the different forms of anger in Islam--I am looking forward to his talk with great joy) and for my listeners who, sadly,will have to listen to me.

In Christ our True God Who heals all our wounds and makes up that which is lacking in us,

+Fr Gregory

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Think Christian » Blog Archive » Christian education beyond Sunday School

Mark Galli in Christianity Today has an article on The Cost of Christian Education that questions the way we teach children about faith. Galli, drawing on an essay by Debra Dean Murphy, writes about how educational programs traditionally designed by the church are inadequate to fully teach children how to be Christians.

Murphy argues that in the industrialized West, education normally takes place within the structured environment of a classroom, where a teacher makes use of various tools and techniques to transfer content to pupils. Knowledge has been mostly considered a repository of neutral facts conveyed by an expert in teaching technique, and mastery of these facts is the goal of education.

Read more: Think Christian » Blog Archive » Christian education beyond Sunday School

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Coptic Christian faces torture and death due to religion! Request for help.

    Dear Concerned Friend,

I have never written an email like this, but the dire nature of the issue before us demands an immediate and resounding response.

At this moment, the United States is threatening to deport Mr. Sameh Khouzam back to Egypt at the request of the Egyptian government. Mr. Khouzam is a Coptic Christian currently held at the York County Prison in Pennsylvania charged with crimes against a Muslim family in Egypt.

Why does that matter?

First, to date, no one has presented one shred of credible or verifiable evidence to substantiate the charges against Mr. Khouzam.

Additionally, we are certain that if Sameh is deported he will face torture and probable death upon his return. The government of Egypt has a well-documented history of human rights abuses against its own citizens, particularly against religious minorities like Coptic Christians.

In other words, Mr. Khouzam is facing imminent torture and likely death simply because he is a Coptic Christian--a member of a religious minority in Egypt.

The Institute on Religion and Public Policy will not stand still and let this happen. But, we need your help!

To save Sameh from certain torture and death we need you to click here and sign our Petition to Save Sameh Khouzam immediately.

Sameh Khouzam left Egypt in 1998 under intense pressure to change his religion. He was detained by the Egyptian government and forcefully "encouraged" to convert from his Coptic Christianity to Islam. He escaped Egypt, however, and fled to America - fearing for his life. Afterward, the Egyptian government informed United States officials that Mr. Khouzam was wanted for completely unsubstantiated crimes against a Muslim family.

Mr. Khouzam has proven to be an upstanding member of his local community yet when he voluntarily reported to U.S. immigration authorities last month he was detained, imprisoned, and scheduled for deportation.

He is now set to be deported MONDAY, JUNE 18!

This travesty of justice condemns Sameh to certain torture and death upon his return to Egypt even though there is NO CONCRETE EVIDENCE he committed any crimes in Egypt.

I believe he is being persecuted because of his religious identity.

And the potential for violence against Sameh is real. In fact, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals found it is "more likely than not" he will be tortured upon his return to Egypt. Yet, for apparent political reasons, our government still intends to deport him.

That’s why I am determined to act to right this terrible wrong.

The Institute on Religion and Public Policy is poised to IMMEDIATELY deliver your signed Petition to Save Sameh Khouzam to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

But there is no time to waste. Sameh is scheduled to be deported THIS MONDAY!

And the U.S. Government simply will not act unless confronted by an overwhelming outpouring of outrage from its citizens!

That’s why I need you to click here and sign our Petition to Save Sameh Khouzam right now!

Your participation may help save Sameh’s life. But I need you to do more than just sign the petition.

I need you to forward this urgent, life and death petition to as many of your family members, friends, co-workers, co-religionists and others as possible. At the very least, please take a moment and immediately forward this appeal to at least 5 others.

Your few seconds of effort can make all the difference in rescuing Mr. Sameh Khouzam from the likelihood of torture, and possibly, death.

Thank you for caring about basic human dignity and the fundamental right to religious freedom. Thank you for signing our petition. Thank you for making a difference.

We at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy are delighted to partner with you to help preserve and protect religious freedom for all peoples.


Joseph Grieboski
Institute on Religion and Public Policy


Institute on Religion and Public Policy
1620 I Street, NW, Suite LL10
Washington, D.C. 20006
Phone: (202) 835-8760

The Institute on Religion and Public Policy is an international, inter-religious non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring freedom of religion as the foundation for security, stability, and democracy. The Institute works globally with government policymakers, religious leaders, business executives, academics, international and regional organizations, non-governmental organizations and others in order to develop, protect, and promote fundamental rights - especially the right of religious freedom - and contributes to the intellectual and moral foundation of the fundamental right of religious freedom. The Institute encourages and assists in the effective and cooperative advancement of religious freedom and democracy throughout the world.

“Comprehensive” Sex Education is Ineffective: Abstinence Works, Major National Study Shows

“Comprehensive” Sex Education is Ineffective: Abstinence Works, Major National Study Shows

By Elizabeth O’Brien

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, June 13, 2007 ( – One of the largest and most comprehensive studies of teen sex education, conducted by Dr. Stan Weed of the Institute for Research and Evaluation in Salt Lake City, shows why abstinence is the most successful method of preventing physical and emotional complications resulting from pre-marital sexual activity. The study (see followed the education and behavior of over 400,000 adolescents in 30 different states for 15 years.

The final report, entitled “Abstinence” or “Comprehensive” Sex Education? begins by pointing out the flaws in a national study on abstinence released by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Conducted in April 2007, this previous study examined the progress of teens who participated in four different abstinence education programs. The final report indicated that abstinence education was ineffective and that young adolescents should receive “comprehensive” sex education, that is, sex-education that teaches about various sexual behaviors and “safe-sex” methods.

After examining the Mathematica study’s methods, the Institute found several major errors that made the study non-representative of American sex education. First, says the more recent study, it took sample teens from “high-risk” sectors of the population, such as poor African or American single-parent households. During the study, young people received abstinence education in pre-adolescence, but then received no follow-up training during adolescence. They were also examined about their sexual activity several years after any learning might have taken effect.

Dr. Stan Weed told “Within the United States, sexual activity rates have been going down among teenagers for about the last 12 or 13 years, and that coincides with when the abstinence education started. Abortion, pregnancies and out of wedlock births rates have also been going down among teens during that same time period. However, pregnancy, abortion and out of wedlock births have been rising for the older age group, between 19-25, a group that has not been targeted by abstinence programs.”

Outlining these limitations and the report’s inaccuracies, Dr. Weed highlighted the problems that sexually active teens encounter and the failure of “comprehensive” sex education to remedy such issues. These include teen pregnancy, STD’s and poor emotional health. Sexually active young people are also more often physically assaulted or raped.

“Comprehensive” sex education also fails to explain the limitation of condoms, said the recent study, pointing out that “many consequences of teen sexual activity are not prevented by condom use.” Condoms are never a total guarantee against STD’s, and so there is no kind of truly “safe” sex outside of marriage. Secondly, despite 20 years of sex education, young people even fail to use condoms consistently. Most importantly, however, condoms do nothing to prevent the heartbreak, depression and low self-esteem caused by sexual activity.

The Utah Institute researchers also investigated previous major studies on “comprehensive” sex education and found that these programs had little impact on the behavior of teens during their education and no long-term effects whatsoever. In fact, “of 50 rigorous studies spanning the past 15 years, only one of them reports an improvement in consistent condom use after a period of at least one year.”

When evaluating abstinence programs, the Institute investigated both high-risk and moderate-risk students in programs such as Reasons of the Heart, Heritage Keepers, Sex Respect and Teen Aid. Students in these programs were far less likely to be sexually active and those who were reduced their sexual activity by a large percentage. In the Reasons of the Heart study, for example, researchers found that “adolescent program participants were approximately one half as likely as the matched comparison group to initiate sexual activity after one year. The program’s effect was as strong for the African American subgroup in the sample as it was overall.”

The most successful abstinence programs were those that emphasized the risk of pre-marital sexual activity. They showed how abstinence fully protects a young person from STD’s, teen pregnancy and emotional trauma. They underlined the importance of self-control and responsibility and gave students the positive goal of a stable and committed marriage towards which to work in future. At the same time, however, researchers also found that it was crucial to re-educate adolescents about abstinence each successive year.

Dr. Weed concludes, “Well-designed and well-implemented abstinence education programs can reduce teen sexual activity by as much as one half for periods of one to two years, substantially increasing the number of adolescents who avoid the full range of problems related to teen sexual activity. Abandoning this strategy…would appear to be a policy driven by politics rather than by a desire to protect American teens.”

These results are consistent with many other findings, including a 2005 study by Medical Issues Analyst Reginald Finger of Focus on the Family. He investigated over 7,000 people in the United States that indicated the many social and emotional benefits to remaining abstinent. (see


See Related Coverage:

Bush: Abstinence Only 100 % Effective Means of Preventing Pregnancy, HIV, STDs

Abstinence Alone Protects Fully Against HIV, Ugandan First Lady Tells Youth

Abstinence Education Works - New Report Offers More Evidence

A New Blog

Clement Ferguson writes: "I moved my blog over to blogspot where all the cool kids hang out. Would you please update the link on your site? Thanks!"

Sure thing Clement!

To give you an idea of what Clement and his blog are about, here's a bit from his latest post.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Tithing Our Time:

I know that I've really had to learn to organize my time lately, especially with getting ready for marriage in less than a month. But on top of this we have work (or school) and family and friends and cleaning and shopping and reading and, occasionally, time to relax. When balancing all these things, it's important that we place Christ first -- for if we lose track of our life rooted in him, we end up being bounced around all over the place. Our actions and even our desires will be like a yo-yo swinging up and down, and we will be overwhelmed by the chaos of our everyday lives. The Church Fathers often likened the Church to a boat traveling through stormy seas, and many early churches in the middle east can be found which have round windows in emulation of ships. Without putting Christ first, our time can really slip out of our hands, to the point where we feel that we don't have any time.

For us people out in the "real world" of work, we're often exhausted by the time we return home. And for those who haven't graduated yet, school places great demands on a student. Yet we must make sure that we encourage ourselves to understanding that God must come first. This is part of what must happen if we as individuals, and collectively as the Church, are to truly experience transformation.

For individuals, a comparison can be made with tithing. Tithing ensures that we give our firstfruits back to God in gratitude and that he is first and foremost in our mind and heart. It sacralizes the economic aspect of our life and ensures that we truly value our money: giving 10% of one's income necessarily means that one has to more closely examine each purchase and consider if it is really necessary or not. Furthermore, tithing ensures that we give out of gratitude and for growth, not just to meet the bare needs of the church.

Likewise, we must make sure that we are at the very least tithing our time to God, with us preferably laboring on the path to "pray without ceasing" instead of just meeting "spiritual needs." Do I feed and clean my body in the morning without nourishing and cleansing my soul through prayer? Do I labor many hours in video games and YouTube and Facebook without laboring equally in scripture and spiritual reading? Do I talk at length about this world without revealing to others the Kingdom through the Gospel? Do I examine and scrutinize my neighbor without investigating myself? I am guilty of all these things!

For the parish, while we must handle things like maintaining the building and celebrating important events, we must ensure that -- far more than tithing -- our parish life is centered on Christ. When we read St. David writing in his psalms of praying seven times a day, he is referring to the Liturgy of the Hours that was present in Judaism and which has been preserved by the Orthodox Church.

Can you imagine praying seven times a day, for 15 minutes to over an hour at each of these occasions? To do something like this -- something that certainly I don't do, something actualized for the most part only by monastics -- means that each day in our lives very visibly revolves around the worship and service of Christ. It means that we really have to focus in those moments of prayer, and we have to make those moments outside of that prayer purposeful because we recognize that our time is limited. By structuring time in this way, we ensure that we use our time wisely.

Since most of us aren't monastics and have numerous tasks that often prevent us from praying aside from morning and night, this means that we really have to prioritize. And we also have to remember that prayer is not an end in itself, just as life in "the world" is not an end in itself. We have to ensure that we're living a life that finds its life and joy in receiving God's love and pouring that love out. But if we don't make the effort to reorganize and restructure our time, then we can't really proceed further to using the grace of God to investigate ourselves and to open ourselves to be transformed into his likeness.

One thing that we must recognize is that tithing our time and tithing our money share one important aspect, an aspect central to all actions of love: sacrifice. It means to put aside ourselves and to take up what we must take up. It will be difficult at first. But as we progress, the things that we used to distract ourselves with seem like so little in comparison to the fulfillment and joy that God grants us when we bear this cross and thus open ourselves to be loved by him.

We Orthodox have the church calendar which assists us in sacralizing our time through a particular cycle of feasts and fasting periods. Furthermore, each day is guided by a number of readings from Scripture, and also celebrates the victory of a variety of Saints commemorated each day. The daily readings and the lives of the saints can be read on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese web site. Another useful tool for spiritual growth is the Prologue from Ohrid, which has detailed lives of the saints, readings, and meditations for each day. Try spending 15 minutes or so each morning reading from each of these resources, and see how it begins to transform not only your time but your faith. As you use the church calendar to transform your seasons, you will begin to transform your days, then your hours, then every moment of your life.

Also, for more information about the Liturgy of the Hours, its roots in Jewish worship, and its transfiguration in the light of Christ's Gospel, I recommend Father Alexander Schmemann's Introduction to Liturgical Theology.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Which Theologian Are You?

Tillich?!? I'm Paul Tillich? I demand an immediate recount!

Ah well, given the options, I guess it could have been worse.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

You scored as Paul Tillich.

Paul Tillich sought to express Christian truth in an existentialist way. Our primary problem is alienation from the ground of our being, so that our life is meaningless. Great for psychotherapy, but no longer very influential.

Paul Tillich


Karl Barth


John Calvin




Charles Finney


Martin Luther




J├╝rgen Moltmann


Friedrich Schleiermacher


Jonathan Edwards


Which theologian are you?
created with


There is a new blog out there: CatholiDoxies. The reason for the blog is, well, let the blogger speak for himself:

Welcome to CatholiDoxies! This blog is an attempt by your anonymous blogger, a frustrated Protestant Evangelical, to work through issues related to finding a home in either Catholicism and Orthodoxy. (You might know me by the handle "Irenaeus" on other blogs.)

The big philosophical question: how does one leaving Protestantism decide between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, when a major reason for one's frustration with Protestantism is the necessity and difficulty of having to decide, based on one's own reading of Scripture, what to believe and what confession/denomination/church to belong to?

For many folk the decision between Protestantism and Catholicism is becoming a no-brainer, given the 30,000 odd Protestant denominations and the inane ramblings of Martin Luther whose disturbed psyche started the mess we have in the West. Protestantism simply doesn't work; sola Scriptura doesn't function, because Scripture is not fundamentally perspicuous. And so on and so forth.

But once one comes to that point, how might one decide between Catholicism and Orthodoxy? Now the problem is interpreting and evaluating church history, not Scripture. So the formal problem is interpretation in general, whereas the material problem concern Scripture on one hand (the Protestant-vs-Catholic question) and history (the Catholic-vs-Othodox question) on the other.

So along the way, I look forward to discussing church history and Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant theology and practice, and I'll share some of my experiences, thoughts and reflections as I make what may be a long journey. I'd appreciate your thoughtful input at every turn.

I've weighed in on several of the posts on CatholiDoxies (which by the way is anonymous since if his spiritual struggles became know he would lose his job at an Evangelical college) and have found it to be quite helpful for me as I struggle with issues of lay spiritual formation in the Orthodox Church.

While the posts on both sides are always respectful, no punches are pulled. It is very good to see the Orthodox Church through the eyes of those who have recently entered into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Many of these folks seriously considered the Orthodox Church and their reasons for going West rather than East provide the Orthodox with serious food for thought.

Not unexpectedly a chief criticism is our close (and really uncritical) association of the Church with ethnicity. For many Orthodox Christians, the Church is simply an extension of their family rather the wellspring of grace from out of which the family comes.

Additionally people fault us for

  • our lack of engagement with the wider culture (especially here in America)
  • our tendency towards triumphalism and anti-Catholic polemics and
  • the disconnect between a beautiful tradition and the lack of serious evangelical outreach.

All of these are reasons that serious Christians look elsewhere.

Look, this isn't meant to set up and "Us vs Them" kind of thing--but we need to take seriously the possibility that people are walking away from the Orthodox Church because, well, of Orthodox Christians. Several months ago, on commented on just this topic to a brother priest. His response was to justify our shortcomings and then say that inquirers need to understand why we (Orthodox Christians) weren't doing our job.

My own view is this: If I want you to understand me and think well of me, than it is my responsibility to explain myself--but as part of that I need to take your questions, criticisms and misapprehensions of me seriously.

As Orthodox Christians we need to take to heart the reasons people do not see joining the Orthodox Church as a viable option. Yes, certainly some of the reasons people walk away have to do with their sinfulness--but "some" ain't "all" is it? If even a small part of why people walk away reflects my shortcomings then don't I have an obligation to at least consider changing?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pope-patriarch parley sought

via Report: Pope-patriarch parley sought - Topix

Report: Pope-patriarch parley sought

The Associated Press

The Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus is offering himself as a mediator to try to set up a groundbreaking meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the Russian Orthodox patriarch of Moscow, an Italian newsweekly reported on Thursday.

Cypriot Archbishop Chrysostomos II will be received on June 16 by Benedict in a private audience at the Vatican.

L'Espresso newsweekly asked Chrysostomos in an interview on its Web site about the possibility he could be a "mediator" to pull off the encounter, which had eluded the late John Paul II in his long papacy. Catholic-Orthodox tensions following the demise of the Soviet Union thwarted John Paul's dream of a pilgrimage to Russia.

"I asked to see the pope, and I thank him for the opportunity," the archbishop was quoted as saying about the mediator possibility. "We want to help him in every way to improve the relations between the two churches, because we are children of the same Father. I would be happy if he accepted the offer."

Asked if the conditions were right for Benedict to meet with Russian Patriarch Alexy II, the archbishop was quoted as saying: "Every moment is a good moment because the aim is that of doing what is best for both churches. It's clear that we're not talking about organizing a meeting in 24 hours."

He said first delegates would need to be exchanged, then theologians would have to prepare the meeting. "In other words, you have to prepare the event so it is a success," the archbishop said, pledging to "do all possible to have them meet."

The archbishop was asked if he had sounded out Alexy. "I am very close to him and I am a good friend of his. I think I can say that there aren't even problems for him. When you have good intentions, obstacles can be surmounted."

Chrysostomos contended that Benedict's being a theologian with good grasp of Orthodox theology would help the process of both the meeting and of reuniting the two churches which split apart nearly 1,000 years ago.

The Russian church accuses Roman Catholics of improperly seeking converts in areas that traditionally would be Russian Orthodox. The Vatican has rejected the proselytizing accusations, saying it is only ministering to Russia's tiny Catholic community of about 600,000 people in a country of 144 million.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Thoughts On Scandals in the Church

We rather naively assume that our experience of the Church in not only the ways things have always been, but indeed the way things are everywhere and forever one. On more than one occasion I have seen people walk away from the Church because they had been told that "things never change" in the Orthodox Church and that we do things "the same way, everywhere." Nothing can be further from the truth.

Diversity, within limits, is not only inescapable, it is essential to the health of the Church. We need to exercise great care that under the guise of defending Holy Tradition, we merely are seeking to validate our own personal experience and/or preference. I have told more than one parish that often "tradition" simply means what the oldest parishioner remembers being told by her grandmother was "the way things are."

Certainly we need to study the history of the Church--but we also need to study the so-called secular arts and sciences as well. These are not in themselves salvific, but they can be very helpful in deflating our egos and bursting our romantic bubbles about the Church.

As the recent scandals (pick your favorite) suggest, we have for too long assumed that simply because someone did good things, s/he was a good person. It is looking like that really hasn't been true and that often wicked people do good things in order that they might also do wicked things. What makes this more tragic still is that often people are so invested in appearing good, rather then being good, that they become unable to acknowledge their wickedness because they fear punishment and shame. Which is to say, it is not only the wicked who value the appearance of godliness--we all value the appearance over substance.

Putting on my psychologist cap for a moment, I have noticed that often in the Orthodox Church we use shame based language. Unlike guilt, which has an objective component, psychological shame is purely subjective and arise when we feel that our actions (whatever the moral weight of those actions) have caused us to be rejected. When we shame people we exclude them from the community, we withhold our love from, we say, in effect, "You are dirty and you make us dirty even by speaking to you."

Shame doesn't help--it only foster resentment and rage--and it is the fruits of shame that I think is driving much of the conversation about the current scandals. In other words, we come to the scandals already caring a burden of shame of feeling excluded and unloved by those with whom we pray and from who we receive the Gospel and Christ in the sacraments.

While not wishing to minimize the harm caused by people in the current scandals, the psychological fact is the response from people suggests rather strongly that people were hurt (shamed) well before we all formed our opinions about Fr Bob and Metropolitan Herman or Fr Nick and Archbishop Demetrios. These people are scapegoats for the many of us in the Church who are simply angry as Hell. It seems to me we risk punishing them not for what they may have done, but for what others have done to us.

When I was a grad student, one of my professors (a Catholic priest and a psychologist) pointed out that often people have a beautiful religious experience and then wrongly assume that this exempts them from the normal course of human development and often an evident need for psychotherapy.

May it not be so with us.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Steam Trek: The Moving Picture (Star Trek Parody)

Given the importance that it played in my life growing up, it is hard to resist a Steampunk inspired "Star Trek" parody.

Wikipedia says of "Steampunk" that it is

subgenre of fantasy and speculative fiction which came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often set in Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date. It is often associated with cyberpunk and shares a similar fanbase and theme of rebellion, but developed as a separate movement (though both have considerable influence on each other). Apart from time period, the main difference between cyberpunk and steampunk is that steampunk settings tend to be less obviously dystopian.

So, I present to you without further delay, "Steam Trek"!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory