Saturday, January 26, 2008

A SWOT Analysis for the Priesthood?

A few weeks ago one of the members of the parish I currently serve suggested that it would be helpful to do a SWOT Analysis focusing on the ministry of Orthodox priests.

"A what kind of analysis?" you ask. 'A SWOT Analysis," I answer.

Wikipedia, that online encyclopedia of, well, just about everything, says this about SWOT analysis:

SWOT Analysis, is a strategic planning tool used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a business venture. It involves specifying the objective of the business venture or project and identifying the internal and external factors that are favorable and unfavorable to achieving that objective. The technique is credited to Albert Humphrey, who led a research project at Stanford University in the 1960s and 1970s {using data from Fortune 500 companies}.

As I've thought about what such an examination of the priesthood might look like, I've been stymied as to how I might try and characterized the goals of the priesthood in a manner that lend themselves to any sort of strategic analysis. After all, the goal of the priesthood is the salvation of the human race.

Yes, we can try and break that down into steps, but even this lends itself to a rather broad range of skills that characterized Orthodox Christian priestly ministry. What reading I've done that focuses offers any sort of analysis of priestly pastoral ministry tends to assume, often unintentionally, a particular type of priestly service, specifically parochial ministry. Assuming that this is the norm for the priesthood (itself a debatable proposition), the first question that we might want to ask is this:

Is there a normative model of the parish? In other words, do we even have a model or touchstone parish against which we can evaluate not only the ministry of the priest, but the life of the parish?

The answer, I would suggest, is no.

After all when we say "the parish" do we proceed in our analysis based on the needs of a large, wealthy suburban ethnic parish?

Or, do we want to do our analysis with a small, relatively poor convert mission parish as our touchstone?

Or possible, we want to proceed with an eye towards the priest serving an older, graying community in decline?

And, to complicate matters further, who decides what needs are legitimate, and how do he, she or they, make this determination?

You no doubt are coming to see some of the challenges that face us when we undertake any type of analysis of the priesthood.

In my own ministry I have served all three of the communities I just described. While this gives me a fairly broad range of pastoral experience, I also realize that I have a fairly minimal understanding of parish life here in the US. Actually, if there is anything I have taken away from my pastoral experience is that there really isn't a "typical" (in the sense of normative) Orthodox parish in the U.S. One advantage that I might claim for myself is that—again because I've served in a variety of circumstances—I know that there isn't a typical parish and so I am on guard against generalizing my experience to the broader Church.

Especially when we turn our analytic attentions to a complex (and vague) social situation we need to be guard that we don't succumb to what psychologist call confirmation bias. In a nutshell, confirmation bias is the tendency we all have of only paying attention to (or to over valuing) evidence that supports our experience.

At the same time we often ignore (or minimize) evidence that disagrees with our preconceptions. Or, as I will tell people, the joy of being a psychologist is not that I am unbiased, but that I am differently biased, when it comes to parish ministry.

So where might we wish to being an analysis of the priesthood?

Let me suggest that where we might want to being is with a consideration of marriage and its relationship to priestly ministry. I would invite your comments on this as I work towards as further, and later, elucidation of the goals of a SWOT Analysis of the priesthood.

It might be very instructive for both clergy and lay leaders to think about the priesthood both as the fruit of marriage (which is the biblical model) and in relationship to its effects on marriage. Do we, for example, foster the kind of marriage among our clergy that the Scriptures say is the prerequisite for ordination?

I will offer more thoughts later, hopefully with your input.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Friday, January 25, 2008

13,000 +

Hey the blog broke 13,000 hits today! Thanks everybody!

If you could, please encourage people to take a look at the blog, maybe even leave a comment or two. I realize it is purely vanity on my part, but it'd be great to break 15,000 hits by the end of the month.

So what d'ya say? Want to help put me over the top?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

“Spiritual Ecumenicism, Empathy and Christian Unity”

One of the themes I am interested in addressing on this blog is what some call "spiritual ecumenism" or the reconciliation of divided Christendom through the mutual appreciation of the gifts found in different Christian communities. John Allen in his weekly online column makes a number of interesting points on just this topic as part of his coverage of events in Rome for the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Allen begins with a summary and analysis of Walter Cardinal Kasper lecture this past "Thursday afternoon at the Centro Pro Unione, in an event co-sponsored by the Friars of the Atonement along with the Lay Centre in Rome and the Vincent Pallotti Institute." While Allen characterizes the talk as the "by now become more or less his standard stump speech," there was also one (and I would say more than one) "striking note" in Kasper's presentation

According to Allen, Kasper drew an "explicit link . . . between ecumenism as largely intra-Christian effort, and ecumenism as a witness of reconciliation and peace to the broader world." At its best, ecumenical dialog between Christians bears witness to our own respective communities and the larger human family of what Kasper calls "eschatological shalom," or the lasting peace that comes as a free gift from God only. In Kasper's own words:

In a century which was one of the most dark and bloody ones, where two world wars cost the lives of millions, where two totalitarian systems and many dictatorships produced countless innocent victims, Christians stand up to overcome their centuries-old divisions, giving witness to the fact that despite guilt on all sides, reconciliation is possible.

For Kasper, ecumenical discussions over the last 100 years are "a light shining in the darkness, and a powerful peace movement." The evangelical and eschatological witness of ecumenicism, however, is not primarily a matter of modeling what might call good communication skills or an expression of an appropriate approach to conflict resolution. Rather, the power of ecumenical witness is grounded in "Spiritual empathy [the] inside understanding of a different and initially strange Christian and ecclesial form of life as well as an intimate understanding from the inside."

This empathy, this attempt at understanding Christians in other traditions, is not "a form of compromising doctrinal relativism." Far from it in fact. Understanding is impossible if one simply abandons "one's own identity in favour of an ecumenical 'hotch-potch.'" Real spiritual empathy for each other does not aim at finding "the lowest common denominator." Such an approach to ecumenicism results, at best, in the "spiritual impoverishment" of at least one side. And because they have denied their own gifts, the impoverished side also has effectively denied to its dialog partner the possibility of growing in how they understand themselves and their own tradition.

The goal rather of spiritual empathy is the "mutual spiritual enrichment" of those who seek to understand each other from within. In such an encounter, Kasper says, "we discover the truth of the other as our own truth. So through the ecumenical dialogue the Spirit leads us into the whole truth; he heals the wounds of our divisions and bestows us with full catholicity."

The standard by which we come to recognize an authentic spirituality of ecumenism according to Kasper is Pneumatological:

To think that the Spirit would not bring to an end and to fulfilment the work he initiated, would be pusillanimity. Ecumenism needs magnanimity and hope. I am convinced that, as long as we do all we can, God's Spirit will give to us one day this renewed Pentecost.

Later in the same article, Allen quotes Fr Nicholas Lossky, a Russian Orthodox priest serving in Paris. Fr Nicholas addresses in a more practical way what Kasper outlines theoretically.

Fr Nicholas is clear that the goal of ecumenicism is "the restoration, or the installation, of visible unity in a single Eucharist." I share Fr Nicholas's skepticism, however, of ecumenical prayer services that are simply a "mix and match" of elements from different Christian traditions. "For my part," Fr Nicholas writes, "I think it would be much more edifying to come together in a church and to participate there in the office of vespers of that church, whether it's Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Baptist or Pentecostal." Why? because it is only "In that way, [that] we truly learn the way in which the 'other' prays."

As I have said in earlier posts, I do not wish to minimize the importance of formal, theological dialog. At the same time, and especially on the grassroots level, ecumenical encounters must proceed along a path that allows for the mutual spiritual enrichment of Christians of different traditions. To be of value in this way, we must take seriously the ascetical task of empathy for one for another. As we search for such an empathetic encounter, we must guard against any form of relativism. Far from expressing a concern for the other, or a respect for our differences, relativism dismisses our differences and (in so doing) dissolves both our own uniqueness and that of our dialog partners.

In a marriage it is easy to lose sight of the fact that a disagreement is not about who is right and who is wrong in any absolute sense. Disagreements between husband and wife are, or at least should be, reflect their mutual attempt to discern together God's call for their shared life. Thinking about a divided Christendom in terms of marriage is helpful for me. In the Orthodox Church we have a service for the restoration for a marriage of those who have been divorced. It is a brief service, the central part of which is this prayer said by the priest:

Master, lover of mankind, King of the ages and Creator of all things, who destroyed the middle wall of enmity and granted peace to the human race, we pray and implore you, look on your servants, N. and N., pour your blessing upon them. Restore the peace that had been troubled and plant in their hearts love for each other. Bestow richly on them spiritual calm and life unassailed, so that, having lived out their days in calm of soul, they may enjoy your own good things and glorify you, alone God of love and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom belong all glory, honour and worship, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages.

We can leave for another day the difference in Orthodox and Catholic pastoral practice in the face of divorce. But for now, it seems to me that whatever other lesson we ought to draw from the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we ought to first mourn that, because of our own sinfulness, Christians remain divided. For this reason, we are like the divorced, but not as yet, reconciled couple. Following the example of those who reconcile after the tragedy of divorce, we must ask God to restore to divided Christendom "the peace that had been troubled and plant in [our] hearts love for each other."

Most importantly we should cling to the reality that God is All-Merciful and that, as the prayer above suggests, He longs to destroy "the middle way of enmity" between us and through us grant "peace to the human race." If we allow God to do so, we will pour out on us and our communities, "spiritual calm and life unassailed" so that we may live out our "days in calm of soul" enjoying together the many "good things" He has given us each in the other.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Harry Potter and Ministry Where the Music Doesn't Matter

S. M. Hutchens has a provocative post on Touchstone's blog "Mere Comments." In his essay, "The Helpful Discovery of Dirt in Potter's Field," he reflects on the recent Christian criticism of the Harry Potter novels. He writes:

I recently read yet another Christian complaint about Harry Potter. The critic's thesis was that Joanna Rowling is a "contemporary transgressive artist par excellence," who holds lightly to the canons of Judeo-Christian morality and of traditional children's literature in the west, the Potter tales being a catalog of rule-breaking, disobedience, lying, vengeance-taking, and whatnot, its final installation containing the revelation of the Snape-Dumbledore murder-suicide pact that insinuates euthanasia into the minds of children--not to mention that all of this is done in a pagan context by witches and wizards, no less.

My reaction was--yes--but did he miss something? Like the Point of it All?

One wonders just what kind of literature a person like this can read. Must everything be reduced to black and white, not only with unwelcome details smoothed over, but with tools that, by neutralizing elements the critic prefers not to see in his desire to define the work by the ones he finds obnoxious, guts it and renders invisible the message of the whole?

He observes that, whatever might be the moral flaws we see in Harry Potter, he is certainly a type of Christ and "Christian children who are old enough to read Harry Potter are old enough to understand the imperfections of heroes, and judge the flaws of literary characters." But for this to happen children must be "given the standards by which to render the judgments." He continues:

Shall we train their instincts to flee imperfect human beings rather than love and embrace them--not for the imperfection, but in spite of it--in hope of redemption, both of their imperfect selves and those they embrace? If we train them to flee, those who castigate our faith for making people who hate first themselves, and then by extension, others, are quite correct about our faith, but wrong in thinking it Christian.

Hutchens then turns his attention to Jesus Christ. He writes:

Given what we are shown of our Lord in the Gospels, I strongly suspect if he were accurately depicted by friendly and sympathetic eyes in accounts that did not have the status of holy scripture, and without the overlay of piety, we would see a good, but flawed, perhaps deeply and fatally flawed, man. He would not in fact have the imperfections we would lay to his account, but he would be far from measuring up to our expectations for a perfect man. He would not be prudent enough, respectful enough, humble enough, patient enough, pious enough, obedient enough, considerate enough, or kind enough to be God Incarnate (and only rarely are we visited by the capacity to admit that we secretly attribute the same flaws to God himself).

Even though we would notice prodigies of all these virtues in him, we would also see evidence of their lack in certain instances--of inconsistency. We would see his tragic end on the cross as heroic, perhaps, but it would not surprise us, given certain qualities we had observed--connected, perhaps, with persisting questions about the moral uprightness of his parentage. It is for this reason he can be represented to us, while imperfectly, in stories of imperfect heroes; it is why these stories lead back to him. It is because we are what we are, and Almighty God has regarded our low estate.

Thinking on this, I realize that the problem that many have with Harry Potter, and which many more of us have with those in positions of authority in the Church, or with humanity more generally, is really a Christological problem. It is not Harry Potter, or the bishop or the priest or the parish council or the people I met at church on Sunday that is my problem, but the with the uncomfortable truth that Jesus entrusts the Gospel to "imperfect heroes, or heroes we may easily assume share our imperfections, handsome princes though they may be."

During Liturgy this morning, I was blessed to have the presence of Deacon James Gresh (he and his family recently returned to the States after 5 years in China for the Deacon's job) and so had a bit more time to reflect during the service. I found myself lamenting my inability to get Orthodox liturgical music into my head. For whatever reason, I just can't quite ever learn the music that I've heard week after week for the last 15 years.

As I thought about this I began to realize that maybe, just maybe, I can't learn the Church's music because God has not called me to serve in those situation in which the Church's music is most important.

Thinking on this a bit more I began to wonder, how often do we limit our service to those situations where the "Church's music" is important? How often do we, do I, close my heart to the voice of Christ because I do not want to go to those place were the "music matters"? When I go place where the wealth of the Christian doesn't matter, I have to go without the security of my position in the Church and the concealing cloak of Tradition. When that cloak is taken away, what else is there to see but that Christ has called an "imperfect hero" or a "handsome," if flawed prince?

Certainly the Tradition of the Church, her music, her theology, her liturgy, is a great blessing. Too easily though we assume that Christ calls us to serve only in those areas where the Tradition is important, where, if you will, it is the music that matters, that is to say, where we are important.

But isn't this simply preaching to the choir? What do we read in the Gospel:

Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them. As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, "Follow Me." So he arose and followed Him. Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi's house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, "How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard it, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance." (Mark 2.13-17)

If Jesus followed what seems to be the mindset of many Orthodox Christians, it is doubtful that Matthew (or any of us) would be His disciple(s). Unlike us, Jesus did not limit Himself to where the "music matters" and so we have been admitted to the Heavenly Choir along with our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Failing to understand that I cannot limit the Gospel to those times and places where the "music matters" is to repeat the mistake of many in Israel at the time of Jesus. The Apostle Paul in Romans warns us of this. He writes:

I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For if the first fruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in." Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? (11:11-24)

Harry Potter evokes such harsh responses from Christian critics for much the same reason we want to only go to those places where the "music matters."

We have lost sight of the fact that the mission of the Gentiles is a mission to the wild olive branches, to those people and places where the music simply doesn't matter, at least yet. And it is a mission that has been entrusted by Christ to us who are imperfect heroes and handsome, if flawed, princes and princesses.

"It is no coincidence the keys to the Kingdom," Hutchens writes, "were delivered to the most robustly flawed of all Christ's disciples." When I limit my service to those places where the "music matters," I perform a bit of sleight of hand. I trick myself in to believing that, maybe, just maybe, in my case at least, Christ has not called a "robustly flawed" man to be His disciple. And maybe, just maybe, in my case, I can be that perfect hero, that handsome prince without flaws.

But, and again as Hutchens's astutely observes, when I do this I "sanitized" the Gospel according "to [my own] standards" and so will "never look like the Lord."

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Friday, January 18, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2008 (Luke 18:35-43): The Healing of the Blind man

Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, "What do you want Me to do for you?" He said, "Lord, that I may receive my sight." Then Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has made you well." And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God (Luke 18:35-43).

The more I try and ground my preaching in the words of the fathers, the more I come to appreciate the fathers as preachers, as pastors whose main concern is the healing of souls and bodies of the consequences of Adam's transgression. And what I am most struck by is not simply the reverence, but the fearless and even playfulness, with which the fathers approach the text of Holy Scripture.

Take for example St Ambrose in his Exposition of the Gospel of Luke (8.80). It does not concern him that, while St Matthew relates that Jesus heals two blind men, "Luke depicts one." He then proceeds to bring to the fore the other differences between the two Gospels: Where "Matthew depicts [the miracle] as Jesus was leaving Jericho (Mt 20.30), but Luke [depicts it] as he was approaching the city." Ambrose then says something that, to the contemporary reader at least, is nonsensical: "Otherwise there was no difference" between the two writers. For most of us the question of whether or not there were two blind men or one, and whether the healing happened as Jesus was leaving or entering Jericho is of great importance. If the Gospel writers can't agree on these rather simply facts, how can we trust them on the weightier matters that pertain to our salvation?

But these differences don't matter to Ambrose. Why?

Or maybe, a better question is why do they matter to me? What did Ambrose see that I'm missing? I'll tell you unlike me, Ambrose read the Scriptures with faith.

Contemporary readers want the Scriptures to be a newspaper, a history or science textbook. We want this because we fancy our "objective view" of history and current events. But what is it that we mean when we imagine that what we are saying is "objective"?

There is a curious pride in our attempt at a journalistic reading of Scripture. The contemporary notion of the objective observer whose view of the world is one not influenced by outside facts, is a view of the human person divorced from community and tradition. To say that I am "objective observer" is fundamentally different from saying that I am telling the truth. Objectivity (in the modern sense) is based on my separation from others—really my intentional isolation from them. It is only a consequence of my isolation from the human community, or so the thinking goes, that I am able to understand reality better then my neighbor.

And the sin is that I allow myself to believe that it is this insight born of separation that best serves the common good.

In other words, for the modern mind we are most fully human not through love and communion, but through separation and isolation. It is alienation not fellowship that is the defining characteristic of the contemporary view of the human person. This anthropological model holds that I know you best not when I draw close to you in love, but stand far from you. This is does not place dispassion (apatheia) at the center of human life, but indifference.

These notions are utter foreign to Ambrose and the Tradition of the Church East and West. The goal of human life is not objectivity modeled on the scientist in the laboratory, but our willingness to "proclaim the truth in love" (compare, Eph 4:15). This demands from me not simply an what I say be objectively valid, but also, and primarily, my subjective commitment to be for others as Jesus is for me and for the whole human community.

Think of this in terms of the Apostle Paul. His commitment is not simply to the truth of the Gospel, but also for the salvation of the Jewish people, of his people. So what does he say?

I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen (Rom 9:1-5).

No for Ambrose and for the fathers in general, we read Scripture not simply within the Church, as if the tradition of the Church existed objectively like a mathematical rule, but within the matrix formed by Christ's love for us and our own love for Him and each other. This is a love that, in its purest form, would forgo even my own salvation for the salvation of others.

It is the absence of this commitment that blinds me to the
truth of Scripture, the Gospel, and the life of the Church. And it is this blindness that keeps me from acting as I ought when called upon by Christ to do.

But if we, to borrow one of the petitions from the various litanies we hear in the services, remember "our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever virgin Mary," and "with all the saints, let us commit (or, "commend," or "entrust") ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God" well then things can be different.

Whether intentionally or not, when we try and rationalize or justify the differences in the Gospels, we do so because we have fallen into a trapwe have allowed ourselves to act as if human reason were separate from divine grace. Faith and reason are not separate; they mutual presuppose each other as the two wings by which we ascend to God in response to His invitation.

And through the exercise of a faith-filled reason and a reasonable faith, we begin to see that whether Jesus healed two men or one, whether He did so while he was on His way out of Jericho or His way out, or whether Matthew is recounting one event and Luke another, is simply not the point. Rather what matters is that "the Gentiles," those of us born outside God's covenant with Israel, have through "the divine blessing received the clarity" of faith. So Ambrose continues:

It makes no difference whether the Gentile people received the healing through one or two blind men since, taking the origin from Ham and Japheth, sons of Noah, they set out the two others of their race in two blind men.

St Cyril of Alexandria reminds us that the healing of our spiritual blindness, like the healing of physical blindness, "cannot be . . . by human means but requires, . . . a divine power and an authority such as God only possesses" (Commentary on Luke, Homily 126).

When we read the Scriptures we are like the blind man in the Gospel. When Jesus approaches him the blind man cried out and said, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." Meditating on this St Ephrem the Syrian (Commentary on Tatian's Diatessaron, 15.22) says that "The beggar's hand was stretched out to receive a penny from human beings and found himself receiving the gift of God!" We receive from God more than we can imagine, but because of our, my, lack of faith I do not know what it is that I have already in Christ.

According to Ephrem, "Christ did not say to him, 'It is your faith that has caused you to see,' in order to show that faith had given him life and then bodily sight." Faith is not what we see, but is a way of seeing. Faith is not objective (in the sense I used that word a moment ago) as much as it transformative. Faith does not show us new things, but renews our understanding of God, of self, of neighbor and the creation. Faith shows us that all that is, is held together in God and that it is divine love which unites creation.

And it is our love of God and neighbor that brings us into the great all encompassing communion.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Spiegel Online: Metropolitian KYRIL on Orthodox/Catholic Relations

SPIEGEL: Could you envision a reunification of the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church, which have now been separated for close to 1,000 years?

Kyrill: The division is a consequence of human sin. In this respect it resembles a divorce. The Christian West and the Christian East parted ways because they believed that they didn't need each other anymore. Reunification can only achieved through spiritual rapprochement. It doesn't matter how many documents we sign. Unless we have the feeling that we love each other, that we are one family, and that each member needs the other, it will not materialize.

SPIEGEL: When will the long-awaited meeting between Pope Benedict and the head of your church, Patriarch Alexei, take place?

Kyrill: Our relations have improved since Benedict became pope. He has stricken the issue of a visit to Moscow from the agenda. This sort of visit would not have solved any problems, but it would have provoked new ones. Many of the faithful in Russia mistrust Catholics. This is a legacy of the wars and of proselytization efforts in the 17th and 18th centuries.

SPIEGEL: Could you imagine the pope and the patriarch meeting in a third country, essentially on neutral ground?

Kyrill: It's certainly possible. The entire development in bilateral relations is moving in the direction of such a meeting coming about.

SPIEGEL: The fact that the pope is no longer Polish ought to make him more palatable to the Russians.

Kyrill: In this case, I would like to give you an official response: Nationality is unimportant.

SPIEGEL: Your Eminence, thank you for this interview.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Why the Orthodox Need Augustine and Augustanism (Part II)

For Augustine, and the theological tradition that is heir to his work,

justification is an event that recurs many times in life, beginning with baptism and repeated every time we truly repent of our sins and are forgiven—in contrast to the classic Protestant doctrine of a single event of justification that is closely connected with, if not identical to, a once-in-a-lifetime conversion.

Cary argues that, Luther, like Aquinas, understands justification as a "repeated event in which the righteousness of God [to quote Luther] 'is given to men in baptism and whenever they are truly repentant' (from his famous sermon "On Two Kinds of Righteousness," LW 31:297)." One this score, at least, Cary argues "that Luther is, . . . , not quite Protestant (cf. Pro Ecclesia, Fall 2005)," and I would suggest compatible with Orthodox anthropology. Like Aquinas, Luther teaches that

the first time one is justified is in baptism (which is itself a form of repentance) and then all subsequent events of justification are also results of repentance . . . consists of nothing other than a "return to baptism."

As I have alluded to in the past, I think that one of the great shortcomings of Orthodox Christian scholarship is our neglect of what David Tracy calls fundamental theology, or that area of theology that "deals with the most basic questions. How is God revealed in nature and human experience? Is the reality and nature of God, which Christian faith claims has been revealed, true?" Especially important here is comparative work in theological anthropology.

For reasons which are not clear to me, there is a curious indifference, and at times open hostility, to conversations about anthropology and psychology. Combine this with a generally lack of a sound intellectual formation in philosophy, and it not surprising at all that, like many contemporary readers of Augustine, Orthodox Christians are often blind to our own "hidden assumptions." Cary's observation about justification in Augustine and later Western theology is, I suspect, new information for many Orthodox Christians:

So when someone asks whether justification is an event or a process, the first thing to notice is what the question implicitly leaves out. Typically the hidden assumption is that "event" means a once-in-a-lifetime conversion, not repeated events of repentance and forgiveness. Indeed, typically the default position is assumed to be that justification is a one-time event, and the person asking the question wants to know whether justification might also involve a process stretching beyond the one-time event. So the first thing to say to such a question is that it takes for granted the novel Protestant view that justification is a one-time event, which is not even shared by Luther, much less by Aquinas or Augustine or any previous Christian theologian.

If Cary's essay on Augustine is any indication, while there are difference between Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics, and between Orthodox and Protestant and Evangelical Christians, the differences are not as absolute as we often assume. Again Cary:

Having clarified that point, you can say: yes, justification is an event, but one that happens many times in life, just like Aquinas and Luther teach. But it's best to leave Augustine out of this discussion. If you asked him whether justification was a process or an event, he'd be utterly baffled, since he shares none of the key assumptions lurking behind the question. If you wanted to give him a sense of what the 16th-century questions mean, you'd need to take a different approach. You could ask, for instance: when you pray for grace or forgiveness of sins, how do you know God will give it to you? Do you know? These are not the kind of questions Augustine actually asked, but they make good sense in an Augustinian context, and it was such questions that drove Luther to the doctrine of justification and the promises of the Gospel, which he first found in sacramental absolution.

Often I am told by my Greek friends that there are things in the liturgical tradition that can only be expressed in Greek. For this reason translation of the liturgical texts is not possible since translation would means losing some its theological richness. This is no doubt true, but it leaves examined the possibility that, as with the introduction of the term homousian, translation also brings with it the possibility of discovering a new richness in the tradition. Yes, there are some things that can only be expressed in Greek, but there are also some things which we may only be able to express in English. Likewise I think we must entertain the possibility that there are some things which only Augustine and his theological heirs, we able to give expression.

A vision of justification and sanctification ground in the sacraments, but sensitive to human psychology and our response to grace, is one of those things, or so it seems to me.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Why the Orthodox Need Augustine and Augustanism (Part I)

One of the areas of favorite themes of Orthodox anti-Catholics polemics is Western Christianity's dependence upon the thought of St Augustine and West's subsequent deviation from sound theological anthropology. Having first read Augustine in college some 30 years ago (where has the time gone?), I have always had trouble recognizing the Augustine I encountered in his Confessions, On Free Choice of Will, the City of God, On the Trinity, the First Catechetical Instruction and myriad sermons with the "other" Augustine who figures so prominently in Orthodox polemics.

What brought all this to mind was a post this morning on Pontificator of Eastern University philosophy professor Phillip Cary's essay on "Augustine and Justification." Cary is a well regarded Augustine scholar who has done much to help me come to appreciate ever more fully Augustine genius. In response to the charge that Augustine is the "father" of Western legalism, Cary (rightly I think) observes that:

To ask about Augustine's view of justification is already something of an anachronism. To begin with, Augustine does not make a distinction between justification and sanctification. Of course he speaks a great deal about righteousness (i.e. justitia) and holiness (i.e. sanctitas) but these terms are not related to each other the way the later Protestant tradition relates justification and sanctification. That distinction comes much later. Indeed, it's only beginning to emerge in Calvin himself (e.g. Inst. 3:14.9). What later Calvinists call sanctification, Calvin himself will often call regeneration or repentance (ibid. 3:3 passim), which can get rather confusing.

Unlike later authors, Augustine does not "distinguish between an event of justification and a process of sanctification." Rather in Augustine's mind, what would later be called "justification, so far as he discusses it at all, is not a particular event but the activity of God throughout our lives." While not exempt from criticism on other points, he articulates a catholic (i.e., "wholistic") anthropology that envisions the Christian life as "a journey, pilgrimage or road to God . . . , in which we grow closer to God by growing in charity." Righteousness (justitia) for him "consists in obeying the twofold law of love" of God and neighbor as ourselves.

Cary does an admirable and economic job of tracing out Augustine's view of conversion, justification and sanctification; he also distinguishes them from later medieval and Reformation era speculation on these themes. For Orthodox readers of Augustine, what is especially interesting is Cary's argument that, for example, Calvin's emphasis on conversion flows out of his "rejection of the Catholic side of Augustine" work. For Augustine, "justification is not an event but a process." It is only later, during the "middle ages [that] the term 'justification' came to be used to describe the outcome of penance—especially sacramental penance (cf. e.g. Aquinas, Summa Theologica III 85.6 ad 3 and I-II 113.1)." Again, while not exempt from Orthodox criticism, it is important to bear in that during the medieval era justification was understood in sacramental terms.

Yes, it is certainly the case today, that justification is understood primarily psychological terms, but it is only because it has become detached from its sacramental mooring. Augustine, Aquinas, and even Luther, or so I hope to show in my next post, had a much more holistic view of justification then what we find in much of contemporary theology. And I think that Orthodox thought would profit by taking seriously the insights of Augustine's sacramental spiritual psychology.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory