Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Regarding Roman Slaves

In pagan Rome slavery was not only a reality, but it was such a reality that no one considered that there was any alternative to a slave-owning society. It was just the way of things. We in our society have a very different view of the matter, and in no way do I wish to speak to America's moral issues with its history of slavery. Rather, for the purpose of further grasping the world in which the New Testament Church was introduced I think it is important to outline a couple of realities (taken from "A History of Private Life: From Pagan Rome to Byzantium," p.51ff):
  1. A slave was unquestionably considered an inferior being, and this according to fate's ordering (for free men could be sold into slavery, thus making them subhuman).

  2. A slave was a member of his master's family, whose relationship was defined by obedience. In the context of a slave's obedience the master would paternally love or punish.

  3. A slave was not a thing but a human being, for they were expected to be loyal and devoted.

  4. A slave was simultaneously a possession.

  5. Slaves fulfilled many different roles in Roman society, from the lowliest of manual labor to the heights of social and political position. Some were richer than free men.

  6. Slaves could not marry until later in Roman social development (it was new around AD 200). Their children were property of their master directly.

  7. Most artisans and traders were slaves or former-slaves, working either for their master's benefit or having gained through freedom through a business arrangement with their (former) master.

  8. Slaves slept near their master's bed or bedroom.

  9. A slave could be set free at any time by his master. If this was done while the master still lived the freedman was expected to pay daily homage to his former master (who had become his patron). If this was done at death through the master's will this would then reflect positively on the deceased-master's social reputation.

  10. A slave was usually called "little one" or "boy" no matter how old.

  11. A slave could practice his own religion. "Away from home a slave might well serve as the priest of some sect or even of the Christian Church..." (p.62).

  12. Romans looked down on slaves and their personal lives as if Romans were adults and slaves childish.

  13. A slave found identity through his master.

There is a lot more in the chapter beyond the above outline.

Reading about slavery in pagan Rome leads me to reflect on St. Paul's letter to Philemon. St. Paul begins by placing Philemon with him in the context of slavery (servitude) to God, a context which is made new from within by the very person and work of Jesus Christ whom Philemon and St. Paul are united to in the Holy Spirit. St. Paul also very wisely focuses on Philemon's goodness towards the saints, which will become the very thing that is tested once St. Paul presents Onesimus as a newly illumined saint.

St. Paul also makes another deft move: he speaks of Onesimus as his son. Adoption in Roman society was a common thing, but it was illegal to adopt a slave. However, this is not the sort of adoption to which St. Paul is referring, yet the force of the words is similar: Onesimus may be your slave deserving of harsh discipline (or maybe even death at the hands of the city executioner), but he is now my son - as you are. While Philemon is the paterfamilias of his own household (which includes Onesimus), holding supreme rule over everyone in the household, St. Paul here shrewdly reminds him that he is Philemon's paterfamilias in the household of God - the Church.

But St. Paul does not resort to threats, but instead appeals to love and respect. What is transpiring in this epistle is a classically Roman situation: Philemon is socially expected to uphold both the kindness AND the severity of the Master class vis a vis his slaves. Normally, though, in order to be lenient a master should not come up with the idea on his own, otherwise the severity mask is damaged. A slave like Onesimus was in serious trouble unless someone in the household should suggest leniency. Onesimus, the thief, turns not to anyone in the house, but to a faraway friend. Here Paul Veyne's treatment on the subject is appropriate (p.65),
Roman law did not regard as a fugitive a slave who fled in order to ask a friend of his master to beg indulgence of the latter. A master could be severe in individual cases without damaging the reputation for kindness of the master class as a whole. For clemency could be requested and decided only between peers. A slave who asked for clemency would have been regarded as impudent for having taken it upon himself to prejudge which of the two paternal masks the master would choose to wear.

St. Paul, in one sense, is treating Philemon as a peer ("fellow servant"), but in another sense reminds Philemon of his authority over him in the Church. Philemon's vocation as paterfamilias of his own household is recognized by St. Paul, and the Apostle approaches the issue in such a classically Roman way that Philemon's standing in society is not jeopardized. Philemon is both cooled by the Apostle and given an open door to leniency and kindness toward Onesimus.

In the end St. Paul continues the duality between being a fellow worker with Philemon (a peer) and expecting due obedience from Philemon (a master to a servant). He also throws in some weighty names, including two Gospel writers, to let Philemon know that, just as Philemon's slave problems are most likely known in the city where Philemon resides, so also Philemon's spiritual situation is known among the leaders of the Church. Given the opening and ending of the epistle, it is my private opinion that Philemon was a bishop.

Today we would expect St. Paul to lobby for the abolition of slavery. It was different then. As said above, slavery was so matter-of-fact that it was hard to conceive of not having slaves. Freeing slaves was not what the Gospel was about. St. John Chrysostom writes regarding the service of slaves, perhaps meaning Christian slaves:
Thirdly, that we ought not to withdraw slaves from the service of their masters. For if Paul, who had such confidence in Philemon, was unwilling to detain Onesimus, so useful and serviceable to minister to himself, without the consent of his master, much less ought we so to act. For if the servant is so excellent, he ought by all means to continue in that service, and to acknowledge the authority of his master, that he may be the occasion of benefit to all in that house. Why do you take the candle from the candlestick to place it in the bushel? [Homily on Philemon - Argument]
He goes on to emphasize that what is important is not removing slaves from servitude, but that through the circumstances of slavery each slave gives witness to the Gospel of Christ - specifically by showing obedience with love and affection, benefiting the household in the fear of God. At the end of this sermon St. John Chrysostom adds one more thing: that masters should not look down on their slaves (as was the absolute norm), but regard them after the fashion of St. Paul toward Onesimus. In this way, from this single example, we see that much of the harshness and dehumanizing aspects of slavery were nullified by Christianity's devotion to faith and love in Jesus Christ.

Our opposition to slavery today is more about the morality of all men being created equal and the expression of that in the creation of society. For the first Christians it was not in dispute that all men are created equal - but that equality was one of being in the image of God and being held in slavery to sin, death, and the devil. The witness of the Gospel did not demand the release of all slaves, but rather that the light of spiritual release from mortality, sin, and the demonic forces should be carried into all aspects of life - including slavery. Thus slavery's dehumanization should have been supplanted among the Christians on the societal level, and the personal dehumanization that each slave identified himself with was supplanted by communion with dignified, royal, Divine Humanity of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Daily Life in Pagan Rome

Currently I am reading "A History of Private Life: From Pagan Rome to Byzantium," edited by Paul Veyne. I found it on the shelf at the public library.

So far I have been reading through pre-Christian issues of birth, family, marriage, and right now slavery. All is very interesting.

For instance, abortion was a term that not only meant what it means today but also referred to contraception. Romans frequently turned out wanted children, fresh from the womb, exposing them to the streets and fate, where they usually died or otherwise were picked up by someone with compassion or a slaver.

Above all, without going into too many details here, the Romans seemed overly pragmatic in their daily life, to the exclusion of those emotional bonds we nowadays take for granted. The affairs of one's household, and even the makeup of one's house (wife, slaves, freedmen, clients) were all treated like a business venture, with the highest stakes being wealth (=social status) and manly pride.

It is interesting to note that near the same time that Christianity was making a splash the Stoics were either leading the way to a more moral Roman society or just riding the wave that effected the same thing. BC Roman society was utterly pragmatic and focused on outward duty; AD Roman society remained pragmatic, but introduced an element of inner moral consciousness that sought to give meaning to outward pragmatic duty.

For instance, marriage was made by two parties deciding they were married and living that way (though with a maiden her father is usually involved, as is a young man's father, for usually neither were free to act in their own right). There was no public ceremony, no legal document (except for the dowry), perhaps not even any witnesses. The couple might have a private ritual with a feast. It was a Roman man's duty (once he was at least age 14-16 and acknowledged by his father to be an adult) to marry and to people the society. Wives were basically servants and adult-children. However, when the Stoic morality began to take hold there appeared a moral impetus for husband and wife to live together as "friends" (which in the Roman sense meant being part of the inner circle, so to speak).

This is all to say that I am finding the whole topic interesting. This book is setting an interesting stage onto which Orthodox Christianity appeared. Hopefully, once I am farther in to the book, a fair comparison will be made between the Pagan Rome and the Christianized Rome. I am interested to get to the sections that describe religious life and Roman pastimes (like the Spectacles).

[It's interesting to note that the author of the particular section I'm reading seems rather hostile to Christianity. In one place he calls the Church Fathers "enemies of marriage."]

Monday, June 28, 2010

Plug: Beyond Justification

Here is a snippet from an excellent article by Valerie A. Karras entitled, Beyond Justification.
To the Orthodox, the Western Church’s convulsions over the nature of justification, and particularly the relationship between faith and works, are largely incomprehensible because the presuppositions underlying the debates are often alien to the Eastern Christian mind. The Christian East espouses a different theological anthropology from most of Western Christianity – both Catholic and Protestant – especially with respect to two elements of fallen human nature: original guilt and free will. The differences in these two anthropological concepts, in turn, contribute to differing soteriological understandings of, respectively, how Jesus Christ saves us (that is, what salvation means) and how we appropriate the salvation offered in Christ.

Therefore, we must examine these key concepts in Orthodox anthropology and soteriology, and their nexus in Christology, vis-à-vis their counterparts in traditional Western Christian theology. This will necessarily involve comparing different traditions’ definitions and understandings of some key theological terms: sin, faith, salvation. Two contrasts recur: 1) the juridical approach of much of the West regarding sin and redemption, or restoration, versus the more existential and ontological approach of the East; and 2) the Western tendency to define, differentiate, and compartmentalize, as opposed to the Eastern tendency to theologize apophatically and, when cataphatically, primarily in a holistic and organic fashion. At the same time, some current trends are bringing the Catholic and especially the Lutheran communions closer to an Eastern Christian approach in these important areas.

Read the full article.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Liturgical Vestments VI: the Subdeacon

Continuing a series I began last September but fell away from, I would like to take up again the vestments of sacred ministers in the Orthodox Catholic Church. Having explored various vestments used throughout, and having then further narrowed the discussion to the Priest and Deacon, I will continue by examining the Subdeacon. has a basic article explaining the role of the Subdeacon in the Orthodox Catholic Church; Wikipedia has a fuller explanation. Both articles seem to draw upon Slavic practices. The actual details of a Subdeacon's ordination, vestments, and service within the scope of Orthodox praxis are decided by one's Bishop.

To review the previous posts on this topic, click the Vestments category at the end of the post.

EDIT: Since this page receives the greatest amount of visitors out of all my posts, I thought I would update it. Last updated 17 January 2014

Eastern Rite

The Subdeacon is the highest of the minor orders of the Church, which are blessed with a different classification of ordination than that of the major clerical orders of Deacon, Priest, or Bishop. The distinction between the two classes of ordination may best be seen in the location of their ordination: the major orders receive ordination in the context of the Divine Liturgy of the Eucharist, while the minor orders receive their ordination outside of the Eucharistic context.

Other names for the Subdeacon are Hypodeacon or (in the Antiochian tradition) Deacon of the Lights. As this last name suggests, the Subdeacon has general responsibility for the care and lighting of the lamps in the church that he serves, as well as the candles of the Bishop when present.

The Subdeacon's role is an attendant to the Bishop. He looks after the Bishop's dikirotrikera and vestments, and generally provides the Bishop with all he needs during the Divine Services. When the Bishop is not present the Subdeacon serves in the altar with the servers.

The Bishop's Kairon with the Rt. Rev. Bishop ANTHONY (Michaels), Bishop of Toledo and the Midwest. Taken at St. John Chrysostom Antiochian Orthodox Church on 18 December 2011. This image may not be shared without express written permission.

There are no instructions for the Subdeacon to say vesting prayers for himself. The Subdeacon vests in the following:
  1. Sticharion - This vestment is known as the alb in the West (meaning 'white thing'); it is a variation of the baptismal garment. Its ornamentation beyond that of the simple white garment is an indication of the role of angelic service the wearer performs as a servant in the altar of God.
  2. Orarion - This vestment is tied around the waist, up over the shoulders (forming an X-shaped cross in back), and with the ends hanging down in front, tucked under the section around his waist.

Below are two examples of Subdeacon's vestments. The purple set I ordered from Katia Ogan. She does excellent work, and I certainly recommend her. The white set is one she is currently selling at the time I am writing this.

You will notice a slight variation in the length of the orarion. The white orarion is clearly shorter than the purple. In the Russian tradition the standard orarion is half as long as the standard Greek or Antiochian orarion. The Russians grant the use of the double-orarion as an award to recognized Deacons. The Russian Subdeacon's orarion is simply a single-orarion, while the Greek/Antiochian orarion is comparable in length to the double-orarion.

However, even in the Greek/Antiochian use there can be a distinction between the make of a Deacon's and Subdeacon's orarion. The Subdeacon's orarion can be slightly thinner, and adorned with only three crosses. It is very common, though, for Subdeacons to simply acquire a Deacon's set of vestments but omit the cuffs.

Western Rite

The Subdeacon in the Western Rite is more or less an assistant to the Deacon. At High Mass he reads the Epistle, holds the Gospel Book during its reading, and assists the Deacon with the preparation of the Oblations.

The Subdeacon vests with the following, saying the appropriate prayers:
  1. Amice - "Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that I may withstand the assaults of the devil."
  2. Alb - "Purify me, O Lord, and cleanse my heart, that being made white in the Blood of the Lamb I may come to eternal joy."
  3. Cincture - "Gird me, O Lord, with the girdle of purity, and quench in my loins the fire of lust, that with the virtues of continence and chastity I may abide in Thee."
  4. Maniple - "May I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow, in order that I may joyfully reap the reward of my labors."
  5. Tunicle - Clothe me, O Lord, with the tunic of favors and the garment of joys.

During the Creed at Solemn Mass, celebrated at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Church on 10 June 2012. The tunicle features one horizontal bar, while the dalmatic features two. The same pattern is followed on the front of the vestment. Image may not be shared without express written permission.

Also, a vestment-like item worn by the Subdeacon during the Eucharist is the Humeral Veil. The Subdeacon uses a humeral veil when carrying the chalice, paten, or other sacred vessels, which should be touched only by the Deacon or another person in major orders. Catholic Encyclopedia has an informative article about the origin and use of this "vestment."

The Subdeacon wears the humeral veil and holds the paten aloft during the first portion of the Mass of the Faithful. Taken at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Church on 10 June 2012. Image may not be shared without express written permission.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


While visiting my grandparents in Michigan this past week we drove by a (non-Orthodox) church that posted this on their sign:
Before you get angry remember half the people you know are below average.
Huh? Reduce anger by burning away humility - interesting method ... er something.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Nativity of St. John the Baptist (yesterday)

O Prophet and Forerunner of the coming of Christ, we honour thee lovingly but cannot extol thee worthily; for by thy birth thy mother's barrenness and thy father 's dumbness were unloosed; and the Incarnation of the Son of God is proclaimed to the world.

--Troparion, Tone 4

O God, let Your Church rejoice over the birth of blessed John the Baptist, for through him she came to know the author of her own birth, Jesus Christ, Your Son our Lord; who lives and rules with You .

--Postcommunion (Western Rite)

My family enjoyed Mass at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Church yesterday in celebration of the nativity of St. John the Baptist. We lost track of what day it was, so it was by chance we were available to attend. What a blessing!

Visit the Antiochian Archdiocese Web site for resources related to this Great Feast of the Church.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Fathers and Romans 7:14-25

I am reading some of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Romans right now. The volume editor is Gerald Bray, a professor of Anglican studies in Birmingham, AL. His personal theological views are more Western and Anglican, it seems, though he does a fine job presenting the various Fathers and writers of the early Church. This one section on Romans 7:14-25 is very interesting to me. Here is his own editorial commentary on the section:
Overview: In Romans 7:15 and the following verses Paul describes the plight of persons who know that they are sinners but who cannot escape from the sins they commit. Most of the Fathers believed that here Paul was adopting the persona of an unregenerate man, not describing his own struggles as a Christian. As far as they were concerned, becoming a Christian would deliver a person from the kind of dilemma the apostle is outlining here. Romans 7:22 would appear to create a difficulty for those who believe that Paul was describing an unregenerate person, but some of the Fathers resolved it by saying that the inmost self was the rational intellect. As far as they were concerned, any rational person would automatically take delight in the law of God because it is supremely rational. The difficulty comes in trying to move from theory to practice. The dilemma of unregenerate persons is insoluble apart from the grace of God given to us in Christ. This sets us free from the law of sin and death and allows us to serve the law of God as right reason dictates [pgs. 189-190].

The editor cannot help but plug his own theological views, as I suppose is normal. For me, as a former-Lutheran, I recognize the presupposition that the editor is running with. The Lutheran belief in the bondage of the will relies heavily on the point of view the editor espouses in contradiction to most of the Fathers. In fact, the Lutheran Confessions even misquote the Scripture in Formula of Concord, SD:17, adding to St. Paul's words "For I delight in the Law of God after the inward man," the words which is regenerate by the Holy Ghost. This is not in Romans 7 (which the Triglot mis-references as Romans 18:23 ??), but it reveals the viewpoint of Reformation-era theology and interpretation of Scripture. (It might be interesting to see if FC III could still be held together without this passage.)

Given that, it is of no small importance that the Orthodox Church has always maintained a different interpretation of Romans 7:14ff. This difference of interpretation causes huge stumbling blocks in the area of Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue and theological discussions. The Orthodox Church maintains the teaching of the majority of the Fathers, identifying it as the consensus of the Church. The Lutherans, in their confessions, hold to a view identified with St. Augustine, and in FC SD III:86 specifically reject Ss. John Chrysostom and Basil the Great when they teach the Orthodox view.

This was a huge discovery for me in coming to the Orthodox Church. I read it in Scripture, then checked my findings with various Orthodox people of a theological mind and found my suspicions confirmed: St. Paul is describing one under the law, not under grace.

But what about those Fathers who cite Romans 7:14ff to describe the Christian's struggle with actual sins? While grace frees us from the law, when we choose to serve sin - whose domination has been bound by the Strong Man - we are loosing sin's cords and making ourselves its slave again. That is, when we flee from Grace by our willful actions we are throwing ourselves back into the arms of death and sin. Only repentance can return us to God. This application of the passage is a secondary use of Romans 7:14ff, not the primary description St. Paul is giving in Romans. His primary purpose is to describe how it is for the man who has not yet been illumined, which then allows him to show how things are different for a man after his illumination (Romans 8).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Laser Reveals Ancient Icons

By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press

ROME (AP) — Twenty-first century laser technology has opened a window into the early days of the Catholic Church, guiding researchers through the dank, musty catacombs beneath Rome to a startling find: the first known icons of the apostles Peter and Paul.

Vatican officials unveiled the paintings Tuesday, discovered along with the earliest known images of the apostles John and Andrew in an underground burial chamber beneath an office building on a busy street in a working-class Rome neighborhood.

The images, which date from the second half of the 4th century, were uncovered using a new laser technique that allows restorers to burn off centuries of thick white calcium carbonate deposits without damaging the brilliant dark colors of the paintings underneath.

The technique could revolutionize the way restoration work is carried out in the miles (kilometers) of catacombs that burrow under the Eternal City where early Christians buried their dead.

The icons were discovered on the ceiling of a tomb of an aristocratic Roman woman at the Santa Tecla catacomb, near where the remains of the apostle Paul are said to be buried.

Rome has dozens of such burial chambers and they are a major tourist attraction, giving visitors a peek into the traditions of the early church when Christians were often persecuted for their beliefs. Early Christians dug the catacombs outside Rome's walls as underground cemeteries, since burial was forbidden inside the city walls and pagan Romans were usually cremated.

The art that decorated Rome's catacombs was often simplistic and symbolic in nature. The Santa Tecla catacombs, however, represent some of the earliest evidence of devotion to the apostles in early Christianity, Vatican officials said.

"The Christian catacombs, while giving us value with a religious and cultural patrimony, represent an eloquent and significant testimony of Christianity at its origin," said Monsignor Giovanni Carru, the No. 2 in the Vatican's Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology, which maintains the catacombs.

Last June, the Vatican announced the discovery of the icon of Paul at Santa Tecla, timing the news to coincide with the end of the Vatican's year of St. Paul. Pope Benedict XVI also said tests on bone fragments long attributed to Paul "seemed to confirm" that they did indeed belong to the Roman Catholic saint.

On Tuesday, Vatican archaeologists announced the image of Paul was not found in isolation, but was part of a square ceiling painting that also included icons of three other apostles — Peter, John and Andrew — surrounding an image of Christ as the Good Shepherd.

"They are the first icons. These are absolutely the first representations of the apostles," said Fabrizio Bisconti, the superintendent of archaeology for the catacombs.

Read the entire article.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Original Sin: an Excert from "Byzantine Theology"

The following is an excerpt from John Meyendorff's Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes. It is from the chapter on original sin and treats the translational issue at play in Romans 5:12.

The scriptural text, which played a decisive role in the polemics between Augustine and the Pelagians, is found in Romans 5:12 where Paul speaking of Adam writes, "As sin came into the world through one man and through sin and death, so death spreads to all men because all men have sinned [eph ho pantes hemarton]" In this passage there is a major issue of translation. The last four Greek words were translated in Latin as in quo omnes peccaverunt ("in whom [i.e., in Adam] all men have sinned"), and this translation was used in the West to justify the doctrine of guilt inherited from Adam and spread to his descendants. But such a meaning cannot be drawn from the original Greek — the text read, of course, by the Byzantines. The form eph ho — a contraction of epi with the relative pronoun ho — can be translated as "because," a meaning accepted by most modern scholars of all confessional backgrounds.22 Such a translation renders Paul’s thought to mean that death, which is "the wages of sin" (Rm 6:23) for Adam, is also the punishment applied to those who like him sin. It presupposed a cosmic significance of the sin of Adam, but did not say that his descendants are "guilty" as he was unless they also sinned as he did.

A number of Byzantine authors, including Photius, understood the eph ho to mean "because" and saw nothing in the Pauline text beyond a moral similarity between Adam and other sinners in death being the normal retribution for sin. But there is also the consensus of the majority of Eastern Fathers, who interpret Romans 5:12 in close connection with 1 Corinthians 15:22 — between Adam and his descendants there is a solidarity in death just as there is a solidarity in life between the risen Lord and the baptized. This interpretation comes obviously from the literal, grammatical meaning of Romans 5:12. Eph ho, if it means "because," is a neuter pronoun; but it can also be masculine referring to the immediately preceding substantive thanatos ("death"). The sentence then may have a meaning, which seems improbable to a reader trained in Augustine, but which is indeed the meaning which most Greek Fathers accepted: "As sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, so death spread to all men; and because of death, all men have sinned..."

Mortality, or "corruption," or simply death (understood in a personalized sense), has indeed been viewed since Christian antiquity as a cosmic disease, which holds humanity under its sway, both spiritually and physically, and is controlled by the one who is "the murderer from the beginning" (Jn 8:44). It is this death, which makes sin inevitable and in this sense "corrupts" nature.

For Cyril of Alexandria, humanity after the sin of Adam "fell sick of corruption."23 Cyril’s opponents, the theologians of the School of Antioch, agreed with him on the consequence of Adam’s sin. For Theodore of Mopsuestia, "by becoming mortal, we acquired greater urge to sin." The necessity of satisfying the needs of the body — food, drink, and other bodily needs — are absent in immortal beings; but among mortals, they lead to "passions," for they present unavoidable means of temporary survival.24 Theodoret of Cyrus repeats almost literally the arguments of Theodore in his own commentary on Romans; elsewhere, he argues against the sinfulness of marriage by affirming that transmission of mortal life is not sinful in itself, in spite of Psalm 51:7 ("my mother conceived me in sin"). This verse, according to Theodoret, refers not to the sexual act but to the general sinful condition of mortal humanity: "Having become mortal, [Adam and Eve] conceived mortal children, and mortal beings are a necessary subject to passions and fears, to pleasures and sorrows, to anger and hatred."25

Monday, June 21, 2010

Reality Under the Cross

From St. Mark the Ascetic, On Those who Think that They are Made Righteous by Works: Two Hundred and Twenty-Six Texts, Text 193:
He who does not understand God's judgments walks on a ridge like a knife-edge and is easily unbalanced by every puff of wind. When praised, he exults; when criticized, he feels bitter. When he feasts, he makes a pig of himself; and when he suffers hardship, he moans and groans. When he understands, he shows off; and when he does not understand, he pretends that he does. When rich, he is boastful; and when in poverty, he plays the hypocrite. Gorged, he grows brazen; and when he fasts, he becomes arrogant. He quarrels with those who reprove him; and those who forgive him he regards as fools.

The same work, Text 198:
When tested by some trial you should try to find out not why or through whom it came, but only how to endure it gratefully, without distress or rancor.

The same work, Text 201:
If Peter had not failed to catch anything during the night's fishing (cf. Luke 5:5), he would not have caught anything during the day. And if Paul had not suffered physical blindness (cf. Acts 9:8), he would not have been given spiritual sight. And if Stephen had not been slandered as a blasphemer, he would not have seen the heavens opened and have looked on God (cf. Acts 6:15; 7:56).

Sunday, June 20, 2010

East Meets West

The following is taken from the Web site for the Orthodox Constructions of the West, which site is hosted by Fordham University's Center for Medieval Studies. I thought the statements made about Eastern self-conceptions were an important alert, especially for converts from the West trying to determine what is certainly not Orthodox.

Orthodox Constructions of the West

Conference Aims

In preparation for the publication of Orthodox Readings of Augustine (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2008), the co-founding directors of the Orthodox Christian Studies Program were struck by ways in which Orthodox authors, especially in the twentieth century, had created artificial categories of “East” and “West” and then used that distinction as a basis for self-definition. The history of Orthodox Christianity is typically narrated by Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike as developing in the ‘East’, which is geographically ambiguous, but usually refers to the region in Europe east of present-day Croatia, Hungary and Poland. In contemporary Orthodoxy, ‘West’ refers not simply to a geographical location, but to a form of civilization that was shaped and influenced by Latin Christendom, which includes both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The “West,” thus, represents a cluster of theological, cultural and political ideas against which Orthodox self-identify. In other words, Orthodox self-identification often engages in a distorted apophaticism: Orthodoxy is what the “West” is not.

Given that much of the Orthodox world has until recently suffered oppression from the Ottomans and the Communists, one can read the creation of the “East-West” binary as a post-colonial search for an authentic Orthodox identity in the wake of such domination. After centuries of repression, it is not surprising that the Orthodox recovery of identity would take the form of opposition to that which is seemingly the religious, cultural and political “Other.” The question that the conference will attempt to answer is whether such a construction has as much to do with Orthodox identify formation vis-à-vis the West as it does with genuine differences. By creating this opposition to the “West,” do Orthodox communities not only misunderstand what Western Christians believe but, even more egregiously, have they come to believe certain things about their own tradition and teachings that are historically untrue? The importance of addressing these questions is not simply limited to the theological realm. There is evidence of anti-democracy and anti-human rights rhetoric coming from traditional Orthodox countries that have recently been liberated from communism, and this rhetoric often associates liberal forms of democracy and the notion of human rights in general as “Western” and, therefore, not Orthodox. In other words, the self-identification vis-à-vis the “West” is affecting the cultural and political debates in the traditional Orthodox countries in Eastern Europe. Insofar as this conference addresses the broader theme of identity formation, its impact is potentially far-reaching, as it hopes to influence the production of theological, cultural and political ideas within contemporary Orthodoxy.

The purpose of this conference is to explore how these artificial binaries were first created and, by exposing them, make possible a more authentic recovery of the rich Orthodox tradition that is unfettered by self-definition vis-à-vis the proximate other. It is also expected that the deconstruction of false caricatures of the West will impact the discussion on culture and politics throughout the Orthodox world, as well as assist in moving the ecumenical conversation forward.

Speakers and further information are listed at

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Church Music from the Future

I was reading an article on the Antiochian Web site entitled, "Authentic Church Music." One thing that struck me was the following:
Our Patriarch Ignatius IV commenting in his book The Resurrection and Modern Man on the Apocalyptic verse "Behold, I make all things new" emphasizes that God comes into the world from the future.[1] So, too, should our music, and iconography be made new from generation to generation, not in the sense of radical innovation or novelty, but new according to the renewal of the Holy Spirit in the Church. We must trust that the Holy Spirit will reveal the mind of the Church in every generation and in every nation as the faithful apply the great commission not only to the spread of the Orthodox faith in thought, word and deed, but also in Christian art.

Here Fr. John Finley refers to the eschatological nature of the Church and that which makes the Church truly Catholic. If the Church and everything about her as sacrament of the kingdom is determined by the in-breaking of the future reign, the eschatological kingdom, establishing it's rule in all the here-and-nows of history (through the cross, through the Eucharist), then her music must also be included.

Having come once from a Contemporary Worship / baby-boomer surfer party themed background, it is refreshing to find this belief, this expectation, this self-awareness. It is the eschatological outlook and self-understanding of the Church that drew me to her in the first place (there may be other things, but they all coalesce into this matrix). That liturgical music should so naturally find its home in this eschatological self-understanding brings me a comfort I've never known. Why? Because it is one of many things I've searched for without being able ever to describe it with words.

Some accused converts like me of becoming Orthodox just for smells and bells. No, I became Orthodox because I wanted to be a part of that eschatological in-breaking of Christ's kingdom that I saw so clearly in Holy Orthodoxy. I went and I saw and I believed (and I read Scripture and believed with certainty!) Did the music charm me? No. The theology behind the music and everything else did, because it is true, it is the shining brilliance of knowing the One who is True and Truth Himself through His cross and resurrection.

I know that there are many others out there like I used to be, people who are still Lutheran that are looking for this culture of the eschatological kingdom that breaks in to here-and-now as they battle it out against the threat of the spiritual erosion of the world's anti-sanctification into what should be holy ground. I can only pray they will one day see what my foolish heart was undeservedly blessed to see.

Here is some more from Fr. John Finley:
Just as an authentic icon makes visible for us, the invisible Kingdom of God, so too, authentic Church music makes audible for us the inaudible song of the angels around the throne of God.

And just as an icon of Christ or the Theotokos differs in style from nation to nation, and from one century to the next, so too, a musical setting of a hymn to Christ or to His mother differs in style from nation to nation and from one century to the next.

Because we respect the tradition of the Church, and because we know that no culture or no era stands in isolation from another in Church History, we seek to develop Church art in a living continuity with the past, realizing however, that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church to which we are united, is not simply the Church of the past, but also of the present and of the future.

Read the entire article...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Seeking the Peace from Above: Peacemaking and Conflict-Resolution in the Church

By Fr. John Mefrige

Reprinted from The Word, June 2010

Full article found on the Web site of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

The very words of Christ Himself proclaim, “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God,” but all too often we see the very children of the Church embroiled in destructive conflict and controversy. Who has not been to a Parish Council meeting or an Annual Parish Assembly where there has been conflict or controversy? Who has not experienced strong differences of opinions within families or with siblings? Who cannot say that they know people who have gone through messy divorces in their Church communities? As a matter of fact, a cottage industry has emerged on the Internet now populated with numerous websites and blogs specifically dedicated to exploring the question of just how we are dealing with conflict in the Church. Perhaps one might conclude generally that conflict is “normal” to the human condition, and, by extension, to the Church, and we just have to do our best to survive it. But the reality is that, all too often, conflict leaves in its wake a myriad of severed relationships and broken ties that ultimately do harm to the very members of the Church that produce it.

The truth is that, as a result of most conflict, the members of that body are left reeling, wounded and scarred on the floor of the arena of differing opinions. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people could simply decide to respond to conflict in a gracious and constructive way? Wouldn’t it be magnificent if, every time there was a difference of opinion in the Church or in any of our relationships, it could be worked out in a way that builds the relationship, rather than tearing it down? What I would like to suggest in this article is that conflict is not something to be avoided or suppressed, but that it is an opportunity for ministry. Yes! Let me say that again – conflict can be an opportunity to minister to each other and, through that ministry, glorify God in the process. We have the opportunity to harness the transformative power of conflict for growth and healthy change. This is no easy task, however, as evidenced by the many missed opportunities within our church families. To break free from a pattern of destructive behavior, we need to understand the way we react to conflict and the dynamics it produces, and get to the bottom of the issue that fuels the fire of destructive conflict.

The rest of the article is well worth the read...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Theologians of the Cross, Glory, and Orthodoxy

As I said in a previous post, I have on more than one occasion heard the charge leveled against Orthodoxy that it is a theology of glory, especially in connection with its ecclesiology. So I would like to take a quick look at that claim. Since my books are still packed away, I am going to rely on the outline of Luther's Theology of the Cross found on

I. Luther's Theology of the Cross (TotC) begins with a different language than Orthodox theology.

It is easy to talk past one another when our words mean different things and our assumptions are rooted differently. One of the basic differences between the Two Theologies in Luther's TotC is the claim that they work with different epistemologies. The question is whether the epistemology of Glory that Luther describes is the specific 'different epistemology' of the Orthodox Church.

Some observations:
  1. Luther assumes righteousness is that which can merit eternal life.

  2. However, in Orthodoxy righteousness and life are opposite sides of the same coin, received together.

  3. Luther assumes the issue is between the merit of works of the law and the merit of Christ.

  4. Orthodoxy assumes the issue is between man's bondage to sin, death, and the devil and the freedom of life/righteousness in Christ.

  5. The TotC grapples constantly with questions of merit.

  6. In Orthodoxy that Western concept of merit does not exist.

Thus Luther's TotC is insufficient in itself to critique Orthodox Catholic theology, because Luther's theology touches only upon Reformation-era theological problems and does not actually address the epistemological realities of Orthodox theology.

II. Having said that, it may seem still that there is enough in common between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy to level a critique against Orthodoxy using Luther's TotC.

Much of what Martin Luther wishes to discuss with his theses on this subject abides in the theological issues of the Roman Church. Orthodoxy and Rome appear to have much in common according to their theological conclusions, despite some important differences. Is this enough to still accurately and effectively criticize Orthodoxy as a Theology of Glory, that is, something deluded and puffed up with notions of its own righteousness? Let's see:

  1. The Theologian of Glory: humans have the ability to do the good that lies within them.

    Orthodox theology teaches that humans can do the good within them, and that this comes from being made in God's image; it is not lost by the fall. It is pleasing to God when humans do the good within them, for God put it there for that purpose. Orthodox theology does not teach that doing that good within them "saves" a person according to a system of merits. Doing what is good within a person is measured by God on the basis of His mercy in Christ, faith, and acting in accord with God's design for humanity. Lutheranism revolves around passivity; Orthodoxy around activity, for faith is something active through love in works.

  2. The Theologian of Glory: there remains, after the fall, some ability to choose the good.

    Orthodox theology teaches this very thing. Orthodox theology has never come to the conclusions about the Human Will that the Lutherans and Calvinists have; their conclusions are considered a false representation of Scripture derived from over-reliance on St. Augustine's overstatements. However, in the context of Luther's theses, the question is whether or not one has the ability to choose the good in order to supply merit towards his salvation. This concept is not at work in Orthodox theology. Merit in Western theology is a quantitative term denoting what man earns or deserves; in those parts of Orthodoxy where merit shows up it describes the strength of one's relationship with God in terms of repentance, faith, and love.

  3. The Theologian of Glory: humans cannot be saved without participating in or cooperating with the righteousness given by God.

    Orthodoxy says this, but not the way a Lutheran would naturally understand it. Since in Orthodoxy the righteousness given by God is a) not a created grace or habit or characteristic, b) but is itself the living righteousness of Christ shared with the believer through communion with Him, then c) the righteousness of Christ received is meant to be exercised, because it is the Divine Energies of God from outside of us imparted into us, not just a legal status both starting and ending outside of us.

    In Orthodoxy "to be saved" refers to receiving God's righteousness, and also to growing in God's righteousness through the active participation in that righteousness (i.e. faith), and also to being found on Christ's right hand when He comes again in glory, and it means other things, too. Lutheranism uses the term "saved" to refer to being declared not guilty by God, which will then result in the guarantee of eternal life.

III. However, to be fair, let us compare the other side of Luther's theology, namely that of the Theologian of the Cross:

  1. The Theologian of the Cross: humans can in no way earn righteousness.

    Orthodoxy teaches this. The righteousness of God is never earned, but bestowed by God's mercy, forgiveness, and loving-kindness despite our unworthiness and because of God's great love for mankind through Christ in the Holy Spirit. This righteousness is bestowed not like receiving a notice in the mail with presents to follow that help you to believe the notice, but rather like the father embracing his prodigal son in the Gospel and bringing him into to feast.

  2. The Theologian of the Cross: humans cannot add to or increase the righteousness of the cross.

    What is referred to here in the Lutheran context is the work of Christ by which He supplies to man His own righteousness in exchange for the punishment due to sinners. Orthodoxy is uncomfortable with this view of the cross, for Christ did not suffer eternal damnation on the cross, but rather made an end of the sins of the world by death, healed the wound of mortality, and delivered the world from bondage to its Pharaoh (the Devil).

    Having said that, Orthodoxy theology teaches that man is taken up into the self-offering of Christ on the cross through communion, as beneficiaries; we do not apply quantitative merit to Christ's over-abundantly quantitative merit (again, merit is an alien concept here).

  3. The Theologian of the Cross: any righteousness given to humanity comes from outside of us.

    To clarify, by righteousness is meant here that which avails before God for salvation. In Orthodox theology the righteousness within us due to our original creation is never something that can "save" you; only God can do that by healing our nature and freeing us and gathering us back into communion with Him. However that does not mean God is not pleased with a man who lives righteously according to what's in him. It just means, in Orthodoxy, that such works do not equate with going to heaven because a man somehow earned the right. That would be ridiculous. Works done according to the good belonging to our ontological basis in God's image speak to a man's faith and right relationship with God. As the Scripture says, "without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe He exists and rewards those who earnestly seek Him" (Heb. 11:6).

    In Orthodoxy "righteousness" that pertains to salvation always comes from outside of man, but it also enters into man as a facet of life in Christ. And the good that belongs to the image and likeness of God did not come from man, but has its source in God, specifically in creation. The issue at hand here is not so much whether man can supply his own good or righteousness - which neither Lutherans nor Orthodox would say - but what the exact nature of the fall is.

To conclude, let us observe the following:

  1. Luther works with a different belief about the effect of the fall upon the human capacities than what is Orthodox.

  2. Luther works with a different set of assumptions about what is needed for man's salvation than what is Orthodox.

  3. Luther works with a different concern than what Orthodoxy typically does, namely that man is seeking to justify himself before God by his own personal deservings.

Throughout Martin Luther's theses there runs a current that is very familiar to Orthodox spirituality, namely the expectation that in whatever good we attempt to do as servants of God we bring with it our sin. This corresponds with the Orthodox concern over the influence of the sinful passions in everything we do. The very aim of Orthodox spiritual warfare is to grow in dislike for oneself - i.e. to recognize more and more in ourselves that which is passionate and opposed to God and to despise that - and to grow in love and reliance on God in all things.

However, beyond this similarity, I must conclude by making an observation. Lutherans who like to levy the charge against Orthodoxy that it is a Theology of Glory are in no way saying anything of substance. Rather, it a way to stop conversation and avoid dealing with very real and important differences between Reformation theology and Orthodox Catholic theology. Orthodox Christians should take great care with Lutherans who try to shut down conversation with this accusation to get into the issues which offend the Lutheran, such as the true nature of the fall (corruption of mortality, not total depravity or its like), free will, God's focus in man's salvation (not His bruised justice, or the requirement of quantitative merits, but man's captivity and hurt and loss from God), the true nature of righteousness, and the role of the cross throughout all aspects of Orthodoxy as a constant dying and rising. This Lutheran critique, using Luther's Theology of the Cross, does not adequately address the epistemological differences between Lutheranism and Orthodoxy to be effective or adequate. However, it can be a good spring-board to further, more charitable and informed conversation.

Lutherans and Orthodox do not need to be enemies, though the Enemy would love to continue to foster hostilities between the two. It will take great care and patience in dealing with Lutherans, many of whom feel threatened by the exodus of their comrades into Holy Orthodoxy. In the end we should not expect to convert all Lutherans - though wouldn't that be a blessing! (a Lutheran would hope for the same toward us) - but we should hope to learn to appreciate each other and work together against our common Enemy with greater charity and understanding.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Theology of What?!

An interesting e-mail came across the Lutheran Looking East list the other day. One of the members was speaking with some Lutherans about Orthodoxy and ecclesiology. One of the Lutherans apparently made a comment I've heard before, a criticism of Orthodoxy: a unified Church is a theology of glory; it's a delusion. Pretty strong words, but also a fairly common point of view from Lutherans I've met. I offered the following comments:
I have heard the same answer from Lutherans about Orthodox theology: it's a theology of glory. First, this statement comes from unbelief, specifically in the area of what God gives and what God can do. Such people simply do not believe that such a Church that is entirely a sacrament of the kingdom can exist. They have determined among themselves that the decomposed ecclesiology they see around them is the best that anyone can do, and this is because they think an ecclesiology with any visible aspects outside one's own particular congregation is man's work. They don't believe, and they wrongly attribute to their own efforts what God Himself has promised to build. And in attributing it to their own efforts they have accounted it only possible of being flawed, imperfect, disturbed, and not to be dwelled upon if one can help it. Because if you dwell on it from the Lutheran point of view you get depressed. If you dwell on it from the Orthodox point of view you are likely to grow in faith in God. If anything in Orthodox theology is glorious, that is.

Christopher Orr had a much better comment than mine, but since this isn't Christopher's blog I'll let interested parties look up the thread on LLE.

There seems to be a misunderstanding about Orthodox ecclesiology that leads one to suggest that we hold to a theology of glory. The accusation suggests that rather than find God revealed under the weight of suffering and the cross, the Orthodox foolishly claim to have found God in what they can do and provide. In terms of ecclesiology this might mean that the Orthodox theology of a single united Church - a single communion fellowship people on earth can find that is The Church - is a notion that comes from worldly expectations, and is accomplished by what man finds in himself, rather than from the revelation of Jesus Christ and the self-revelation of God through the cross.

Poppycock. Ridiculous. A theologian of glory should expect our aim for unity around doctrinal purity and Holy Tradition to fall flat on its face, unless we compromise ourselves into utter meaninglessness, because that's how the world works. A theologian of the cross should expect that God will do what seems repugnant to the world, like maintain unity around beliefs that seem archaic and un-evolved and insulting to modern thought, like provide growth without huge mission efforts and despite tons of persecution with more martyrs in the past 100+ years than the Early Church. However, more should be said.

Orthodox theology of the Church is very deep and often mystical, but a few pertinent items can be highlighted. The Church is itself the Body of Christ, the same Body that was crucified on Golgotha for our sins, the same Body that was raised to Life, the same Body that is offered in the Eucharist. The Church is the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Eph. 1). The Church is the continuation of the Incarnation of Christ on earth, for those gathered into the Church through the Holy Spirit become united in the human nature of Christ, which He took from the womb of Mary Ever-Virgin without sin and freed from corruption and mortality through death on the cross. From top to bottom the Church lives by the cross: in the Liturgy, in theology, in spirituality, in monastic life, in our vocations, in everything. Calling Orthodox ecclesiology a "theology of glory" is like saying the Real Presence in the Eucharist is a theology of glory.

I would like to say a lot more about this topic, but I am out of time. However, if anyone wishes to comment, please do. As a help there is a lowdown of Luther's Theology of the Cross at Wikipedia. Perhaps I'll get to come back to this.

I will say that there are some aspects about Luther's Theology of the Cross that will make Orthodoxy seem like a theology of glory to the untrained eye. Some of it has to do with differing beliefs about free will, and some has to do with completely different understanding of terms. The presupposition of "merit" in Luther's theology also is a hidden stumbling block for discussion. Luther's theology is not beyond the need for serious critique.

With that I must say adieu, but maybe more can be said by others or later.

Unprofitable Servant? Here I Am!

It's been a while since I've posted to my blog in a regular fashion. Why is that? Most likely because sitting at the computer hurts my back! I have hereditary low back trouble, and sitting at the computer utterly destroys me. However, I have acquired a new chair. I have recently turned 32, and through the generous donations of family birthday gifts I was able to go out and purchase a chair that is suitable for my old-man-condition (i.e. my back trouble). It isn't as perfect as the one in the store seemed, but it's a whole lot better than the others I've had (so far).

My other chairs have been two: a wooden kitchen chair that is wonderful for anything but computer work (apparently), and a light olive colored desk chair on wheels that I picked up for free at a garage sale in Malvern, IA. I expected to pay $0.50 for it, but the guy in the old-storefront-housing-cars-and-various-junk told me to take it for free. Free is free.

Anyway, I've felt as if I should be writing or doing something constructive, so I dug out an old laptop that gets way too hot and have been doing some writing on that. I managed to finish a paper for my parish priest after a number of months - which he is still reading - and I've been working on some lengthy blog stuff (which is still not ready).

In the meantime, so as not to remain an unprofitable servant, I include the following picture as documentation of my continued existence despite my chronometric advancement and senescence.

In other words, I'm still here.