Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Responding to the crisis in Indonesia

From the IOCC website:

International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), a humanitarian aid and development organization based in Baltimore, Maryland, is issuing an emergency appeal for donations following the recent earthquake in Indonesia. IOCC’s response is part of its ongoing work in Indonesia and other parts of South Asia that were devastated by the 2004 tsunami. The organization provided airlifts of humanitarian supplies, construction of schools and clinics, and other assistance including the complete rebuilding of a village on the island of Nias in Sumatra.

IOCC will work with the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and South East Asia (OMHKSEA) and its other ecumenical partners to provide relief and assistance to those affected by this latest disaster.

Contributions to IOCC’s Indonesia Earthquake Response Fund may be sent to IOCC, “Indonesia Earthquake Relief,” P.O. Box 630225, Baltimore, MD 21263-0225. Donations may also be made online by clicking here or by calling toll-free 1-877-803-IOCC (4622).

Monday, May 29, 2006

Baptists, Orthodox, and lemon pound cake

"It's hard to hold a proper Southern Baptist dinner on the grounds without someone bringing a lemon pound cake..."

After an introductory sentence like that one, I was hooked. In this article, syndicated columnist and Orthodox Christian Terry Mattingly reviews a new book by Fr. John Finley entitled, Sacred Meals: From our Family Table.

According to Mattingly's review, "it's a book about cooking, of course, but it's also a memoir about the ties that bind his past as a Southern Baptist preacher's kid to his adult life as an Eastern Orthodox priest, composer and evangelist in Southern California."

Throughout the book, Fr. Finley relies upon the insights of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, of blessd memory, who observed that "Centuries of secularism have failed to transform eating into something strictly utilitarian... A meal is still a rite -- the last 'natural sacrament' of family and friendship, of life that is more than 'eating' and 'drinking.' To eat is still something more than to maintain bodily functions. People may not understand what that 'something more' is, but they nevertheless desire to celebrate it."

Add Sacred Meals: From our Family Table to your summer reading list!

Friday, May 26, 2006

With the Resurrection, everything has changed...

From a recent article by Fr. John Breck:

With the Resurrection of Christ, in fact everything has changed. Creation is renewed, death is overcome, life abounds both here and beyond, and, potentially at least, we can behold everything in the radiant Light of the paschal dawn. All that’s asked of us is that we take it seriously. All that’s asked is that we allow the Lenten pilgrimage to work its transforming effect on our conscience as well as on our waistline, to reshape our passions and intentions to conform with what we know God wills and wants, in our life and for our souls. That we enter Holy Week with a sense of awe and expectation, with fear and trembling before the mystery that unfolds in those few exceptional days. Then it’s asked that we welcome the paschal feast as a true foretaste of the heavenly Banquet, a real participation in the glorious victory of the Risen Lord.

That’s all. But that’s enough to allow God to change everything for us. It’s enough to enable Him to lift us out of the tedium of a hum-drum life, to grant us a sense of joy even in a crowded subway, or in a less than desirable job, or in a home too full of noise and fuss to allow us much sleep or real repose.

It’s enough to enable us to hear and to rejoice in the promise that ends and fulfills the Holy Scriptures: “Behold, I make all things new!”

Read it all on the Orthodox Church in America website.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

the art of being perplexed

Fr Anthony Ugolnik makes the following observation towards the end of an essay he contributed to Orthodoxy and Western Culture, a collection honoring Jaroslav Pelikan on his eightieth birthday:

"We need to be perplexed together. We need to rediscover the humility to be puzzled, the courage to engage the ambiguities and conundrums in our texts and look to each other to find the flashes and refractions of answers in places we least expect them. Orthodoxy, with its respect for culturally embodied expressions of the Truth, and its willingness to extend that embodiment to any culture, has the potential to quench the hunger not for the right answers, but for the Mystery, the Mysterion that will ever, and forever, engage us all."

As the father of three little girls, one of whom is severely affected by autism, I find this openness to perplexity strangely consoling. While I still hunger for the "right answers," my desire is firmly embedded within a Communion nourished by the Holy Mystery of Christ-Crucified-and-Risen. And that makes all the difference.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Bishop Hilarion on Liturgy

"All of our liturgical hymns are instructive, profound and sublime. They contain the whole of our theology and moral teaching, give us Christian consolation and instill in us a fear of the Judgment. He who listens to them attentively has no need of other books on the Faith." - St. Theophan the Recluse

In an address to the Kiev Theological Academy several years ago, Bishop Hilarion of Vienna explored the way that worship in the Orthodox Church forms us in the Orthodox life. His remarks are lengthy, but well worth pondering.

The address may be found here.

The photo comes from a news report posted on Directions to Orthodoxy

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Jaroslav Pelikan: Memory Eternal!

As reported on the St. Vladimir's Seminary website and by many other news sources, Jaroslav Pelikan, recognized by many as the foremost Church historian of our time, fell asleep in the Lord on Saturday, May 13, 2006 after a battle with cancer at the age of 82.

For most of his life Dr Pelikan belonged to the Lutheran Church, but in 1998 he and his wife Sylvia were received into the Orthodox Church in St. Vladimir’s Seminary Chapel. Members of Dr. Pelikan’s family remember him saying that he had not as much converted to Orthodoxy as "returned to it, peeling back the layers of my own belief to reveal the Orthodoxy that was always there."

In his life Dr Pelikan wrote nearly 40 books and over a dozen reference works covering the entire history of Christianity. Some of his most significant books are the five-volume “The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine,” “The Riddle of Roman Catholicism” and a multi-volume English edition of the works of Martin Luther. Not only was he the author of scholarly books, but he also wrote several best-sellers for general readers, including “Jesus Through the Centuries,” “Mary Through the Centuries” and “The Idea of the University: a Reexamination.”

In an interview in U.S. News & World Report (July 26, 1989), he shared these words, which provide profound insight into his perspective as a faithful Christian scholar: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.”

May his memory be eternal!

(gleaned from the St. Vladimir's Seminary website)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South

One of the greatest joys in my journey to Orthodoxy was meeting Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South. Our mission in Baton Rouge, Saint Matthew the Apostle, is privileged to be under his oversight.

Several years ago, a brief account of his life and ministry was published by Frederica Mathewes-Green in Christianity Today. The essay is posted with her permission.

Tex-Mex Orthodoxy
by Frederica Mathewes-Green
[Christianity Today - May 21, 2002}

It’s not a ten-gallon hat; the soft, tall cap of black cloth could have been tailored over a one-gallon milk jug. Fronted by a gold metal cross, the hat tops a Dallas clergy leader who looks more like mountain man than a televangelist. At age 78, Archbishop Dmitri Royster’ s face is deeply lined and a full white beard spills over his black cassock. He has done the work of the Lord all over the country, and now he’ s back where he started, in the great state of Texas.

When the archbishop was just a teenager in a small town near Dallas he was called Robert Royster. He and his older sister were "strong bible-believing Baptists, and very involved in our church," he tells Christianity Today. "But whenever they taught about the bible, we felt they were leaving half of it out."

Many an adolescent raised Baptist in Texas would tend toward the opposite conclusion — that he was being force-fed more bible than anyone could ask or imagine. But for the Royster kids there were mysterious gaps. "They just didn’t do a complete bible," Abp. Dmitri says. "The Eucharist, for example — we wondered why the Gospels called it the Body and Blood of Christ, and what St. Paul meant by saying people could eat it unworthily. And Baptism — we kept seeing St. Paul’ s statements about us being "buried with him in baptism.’ It sure sounded like more than just a symbol," he laughs.

After a couple of years of digging into old books and visiting churches the two were received into the Orthodox Church. Robert, then 17, received the name "Dmitri." The teens found worship at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church so powerful that they didn’t mind that it was all in Greek.
Language has never been a barrier to the archbishop. During World War II he served as a Japanese interpreter on the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and in later years has taught both Spanish and Greek. St. Seraphim Cathedral, where he’s now in residence, offers services for worshipers who speak Spanish, Russian, and Serbian as well as English.

Comfort with a range of cultures comes in handy. Although Orthodoxy is one world-wide church, waves of immigrants to these shores resulted in the establishment here of a dozen hyphenated-Orthodox bodies (Abp. Dmitri is in the Orthodox Church in America, an autonomous body previously administered from Moscow). These divisions are bureaucratic, not theological, and the archbishop is among those working to overcome them.

Yet Orthodox are not inclined toward unity with other Christian groups. They believe that Jesus intended to found a visible church, and that Roman Catholics broke from this body in the eleventh century, while Protestants later broke from them. Although Christianity is perceived as a European phenomenon, the lands stretching north, south and east from Jerusalem are historically Orthodox.

"There was an awful process whereby the Christian Church was condensed into a ‘western religion’," the archbishop said. "In this view, the persistence of Christianity in the east is like an annoying little holdover."

Since Orthodox believe themselves charged with preserving the original Christian faith, they are wary of theological mix-and-mingle. When Abp. Dmitri is asked about cooperation with other Christians in Dallas he is quick to say, "We are not ecumenist by any means."

Yet there are friendly relations among Orthodox and other Christians in town. Abp. Dmitri has been invited to speak at the Dallas Theological Seminary and other institutions, and representatives of various Christian organizations attend Cathedral events. Abp. Dmitri speaks fondly of a friend who is a leader in a mainline denomination and "trying to keep his church from going off the tracks." He’ s a regular at St. Seraphim, the archbishop says, and likes to say, "I come here when I want a real dose of the truth."

Seekers who come to St. Seraphim are often propelled by stresses within mainline denominations. "There is a weakness there, a denial of the divinity of Christ and of the integrity of the Scriptures," the archbishop says. He describes an incident when he was teaching Greek at a Protestant seminary. "I asked the class how many believed in the divinity of Christ. After I defined it — not just that Jesus was a divinely inspired teacher, but that he was truly the Son of God—not one student in the class would agree."

In terms of evangelizing in this melting pot, "We don’t target any individual group, because we have our hands full with those who come to us." Protestants, Catholics, and those of no faith all show up at St. Seraphim. Abp. Dmitri cites some figures: when he founded St. Seraphim as a brand-new priest, back in 1954, he had five or six people attend each Sunday; currently they see three hundred. "Right now we have 32 people preparing to join the church. Things are booming, and I quake to think what God will do next," he says.

In the land of mega-churches those figures are laughable. How can 32 new members be "booming," when a big place on the beltway might gain hundreds every week?

"I get the impression that in those churches all you have to do is say you accept Christ," he says. "But really becoming a Christian involves a whole change of life. You have to *follow* him. If there’s no follow-up, no accountability, that’s not likely to happen. People will just get carried away by the altar call and renew every year.

"They have these joyous meetings, but I get the impression it’s all up to the individual," the archbishop says. "The goal is to be nice people, but I’m not sure they’re any different from nice people of any religion. That kind of worship seems so empty to me now. But when we worship at St. Seraphim, we are actually participating in the fullness of the faith, the Kingdom of God here and now. "

June Vespers and Liturgy in Baton Rouge

Our next Vespers and Liturgy with a visiting priest will be postponed until July.

By God's grace, we're excited to announce that our mission has been given permission to meet weekly for "obednitsa," or "typika," a service which follows the basic pattern of the Divine Liturgy, omitting certain prayers and Holy Communion.

We are presently negotiating a location to lease for these gatherings. Check back on the blog for more information about place and times.

Exact dates for our visiting priest are being determined...

These are exciting developments; please remember Saint Matthew the Apostle Orthodox Mission in your prayers!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Commemorating Saints Cyril and Methodius

Saints Cyril and Methodius are venerated as "Equals to the Apostles" and "Enlighteners of the Slavs." As missionaries who traveled north into what were considered barbarian and pagan lands, they cultivated the Orthodox Faith in the mid-to-late ninth century, a period marked by political instability and (often violent) religious conflict.

With the help of their disciples and students, they devised a Slavonic alphabet and translated the books which were necessary for the celebration of the divine services: the Gospel, Epistles, Psalter, and collected services, into the Slavic tongue.

Troparion - Tone 4
O Cyril and Methodius, inspired by God,
You became equal to the Apostles by your life.
Since you were teachers of the Slavs,
Intercede with the Master of all
That He may strengthen all Orthodox peoples in the True Faith,
And that He may grant peace to the worldAnd great mercy to our souls.

Kontakion - Tone 3
Let us praise the two priests of God who enlightened us,
And poured upon us the fount of the knowledge of God by translating the Holy Scripture.
O Cyril and Methodius, as abundant learning has been drawn from this work,
We exalt you who now stand before the Most High,
Interceding with fervor for the salvation of our souls.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Wondrous Extravagance of Pascha

Several years ago, David B. Hart's brief essay on the Orthodox celebration of the Resurrection of Christ appeared in the "Houses of Worship" section of the Wall Street Journal.

The essay provides a moving reflection on the wonder and solemnity of Orthodox worship; you may read it by clicking here.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Making Disciples of All People...

The Orthodox Christian Mission Center has released a promotional video that highlights many of their ministries. It's available online by clicking here.

Choose your connection speed, and prepare for a magnificent immersion in Orthodox missionary efforts around the world.

"How can they call on one who they have not believed? And how can they believe in one of whom they have not heard? How can they hear without someone preaching to them, and how can they preach unless they are sent?"- Romans 10:14

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

"How to Read Your Bible"

One of the towering figures in contemporary Orthodoxy is Bishop Kallistos Ware, an Anglican convert to Orthodoxy and retired professor of theology at Oxford University. One of his early works, The Orthodox Church, is frequently cited as being among the best introductions to Orthodoxy available in English.

Several years ago, Bishop Kallistos authored a brief essay on the reading of Scripture. He begins by quoting Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk: "If an earthly king, our emperor, wrote you a letter, would you not read it with joy? Certainly, with gret rejoicing and careful attention. You have been sent a letter, not by any earthly emperor, but by the King of Heaven. And yet, you almost despise such a gift, so priceless a treasure... Whenever you read the Gospel, Christ Himself is speaking to you. And while you read, you are praying and talking to Him."

Following St. Tikhon and the larger Orthodox Tradition, Bishop Kallistos distinguishes four key qualities that characterize a faithful, Orthodox reading of Scripture: First, the reading should be obedient. Second, it should be ecclesial, or within the Church. Third, it should be Christ-centered. Fourth, it should be personal.

His essay is now available online here.