Posts tagged with: Orthodox Church

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, June 29, 2012

Fr. Hans Jacobse

On the Observer blog (and picked up on Catholic Online), Antiochian Orthodox priest Fr. Hans Jacobse predicts that the Supreme Court’s Obamacare ruling will, “by the middle of the next generation” lead those who worked for this program — or ignored the threat — to be “cursed” by their own children. “The children will weep by the waters of Babylon, unearthing old movies and books of an America they never knew,” Jacobse writes.

Antonio Gramsci, that great architect of the coming oppression was a shrewd man. He understood that the overthrow of the great liberal tradition would be a journey that would take generations. It would require a long march through the cultural institutions, overthrowing line by line and precept by precept those bedrock moral values upon which the freedom of men was first defined and later codified into law. Today the children of the great people of the Magna Carta, of English Common Law, the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution worship instead pleasure, safety, and wealth.

The God of Abraham has been forgotten, the same God who freed Abraham from the delusion of polytheism and the Israelite from the tyranny of Egypt, who gave man a Gospel from which insights into the nature and dignity man was drawn, and whose teachings unleashed a creativity that brought healing and light into a world in ways that would astonish the prophets and philosophers of old. And in that forgetting, we embrace a darkness the depth of which most of us do not yet perceive.

Read “The Republic is Finished and the America We Knew is Gone” on the American Orthodox Institute’s Observer blog.

See the response to this article by Fr. Gregory Jensen at AOI.

A roundup at Notes on Arab Orthodoxy paints a grim picture for Christians — and clashing Islamic sects — in Syria. It’s a gut-wrenching account of kidnappings, torture and beheadings. One report begins with this line: “Over 40 young men (including a couple of doctors) from the Wadi area, were killed by the bearded men who are eager to give us democracy.”

The article also links to a report in Agenzia Fides, which interviewed a Greek-Catholic bishop:

The picture for us – he continues – is utter desolation: the church of Mar Elian is half destroyed and that of Our Lady of Peace is still occupied by the rebels. Christian homes are severely damaged due to the fighting and completely emptied of their inhabitants, who fled without taking anything. The area of Hamidieh is still shelter to armed groups independent of each other, heavily armed and bankrolled by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. All Christians (138,000) have fled to Damascus and Lebanon, while others took refuge in the surrounding countryside. A priest was killed and another was wounded by three bullets.

Read “Things Get Worse in Syria” on the Notes on Arab Orthodoxy site.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Holy Monastery of the God-trodden Mount Sinai, Saint Catherine’s Monastery

The Egypt Independent has a fascinating account of the process underway now to digitize the first-millennium manuscripts housed at St. Catherine’s Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula. Writer James Purtill interviewed the librarian, a native Texan named Father Justin, about the task of preserving thousands of priceless books and the new library under construction, which he hopes to write about on the monastery blog when it opens.

Every morning [Fr. Justin] attends the 4:30 am service — which has not changed its liturgy since AD 550 — and then climbs six flights of stairs to his office in the east wing of the three-story administrative building forming the back wall of St. Catherine’s Monastery. He powers up the G5 and passes the morning making digital photographs of scripture written on papyrus, written on animal hide and written with ink made from oak tree galls. “It’s amazing, the juxtaposition,” is how he puts it.

A page that may have taken a bent-backed monk weeks to illuminate is clamped under the bellows of the 48MP CCD camera. Snap. Next page. It takes three or four days to do a whole book. There are about 3,300 manuscripts. (more…)

Blog author: aknot
posted by on Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The passing of Chuck Colson has generated a host of online commentary from both mainstream and alternative outlets. Here’s our compilation of recent Chuck Colson material:

Michael Gerson of The Washington Post on “the most thoroughly converted person” he’s ever known:

Many wondered at Chuck’s sudden conversion to Christianity. He seemed to wonder at it himself. He spent each day that followed, for nearly 40 years, dazzled by his own implausible redemption. It is the reason he never hedged or hesitated in describing his relationship with Jesus Christ. Chuck was possessed, not by some cause, but by someone.

CitizenLink has compiled a list of Colson tributes from influential Christian voices.

Monomakhos blog on Colson’s life on earth and in heaven.

Robert Crosby of Patheos: “From Watergate to the Pearly Gates:  Remembering Chuck Colson”:

Many people questioned the sincerity of Colson’s conversion during these early days, seeing his “newfound faith” as sheer opportunism, an effort to curry favor and avoid potential criminal conviction. One pastor said to him, “Colson, I believe in Jesus Christ and I want to know how we can know if you’re serious.”

Colson answered, “I guess the best way to tell you whether I’m serious or not is for you see what I’m doing ten years from now.”

Also on Patheos, Timothy Dalrymple recalls Colson’s legacy and his experience with Prison Fellowship:

When I think of Chuck Colson’s legacy, I will think of a living parable of how Christ’s grace redeems even those the world called unredeemable.  I will think of a man who found his vocation in the pit.  And I will think of a congregation in Trenton, New Jersey, and countless others like it scattered around the nation and around the world, inspired by a man who found his calling — and his new freedom — behind bars.

The Ruth Institute blog links to archived podcasts with Colson.

Al Kresta of Ave Maria Radio remembers Colson’s “public Christian witness.”

John J. Dilulio Jr. of The Wall Street Journal on “Chuck Colson and Second Chances” (requires online subscription):

Visiting prisons with him, watching him relate pastorally to prisoners, was an inspiring experience that never got old. Through his ministry, his second chance became a second chance for hundreds of thousands of others. When it came to treating incarcerated citizens, recent parolees, and all persons touched by crime, both perpetrators and victims, with Christ-like care and compassion, he was “ruthless.”

The National Review Online Symposium pauses to remember and reflect. Tony Perkins:

When you can look over the lives of great people, their efficacy in serving others is often in direct proportion to the degree that an event or events in life have humbled them and broken them from self-seeking ways. Going from the pinnacle of power in the office of President Nixon to the powerlessness of prison, Chuck found his purpose — knowing and serving his Creator.

Duane Shank of Sojourners remembers Colson and quotes Jim Wallis:

Chuck Colson and I met for the first time after he came out of prison. We found early agreement and a natural kinship on how Christians should minister to prisoners as Jesus asked us to in Matthew Chapter 25. I was impressed with how Chuck had allowed his own experience of prison and of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ to shape his new vocation which led to Prison Fellowship now the largest prison ministry in the world. It is for that prophetic ministry he will be most remembered.

The Becket Fund calls Colson “A True Champion of Religious Freedom”:

As the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, Colson brought his faith into the public square and refused to back down when his ministry faced lawsuits that alleged a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Russell D. Moore of Christianity Today on Colson, skeptical obituaries, and the “Conscience of a Hatchet-Man”:

When you read those who smirk and dismiss the Chuck Colson conversion, the Chuck Colson life, don’t get angry and don’t be outraged. Read a subtext that belongs to all of us: the fear that the criminal conspiracy we’ve all been a part of will be exposed, and just can’t be forgiven. Read the undercurrent of those who find it hard to believe that one can be not just pardoned, but “born again.” That’s indeed hard to believe. An empty grave in Jerusalem is all we have on which to base that claim, a claim that speaks louder than our own accusing hearts.

Brittany Smith of Real Clear Religion on Colson’s “Better Way of Life”:

Colson emphasized that the real answer in changing culture for the better is renewing the church, but it’s also giving others “an invitation to the wedding feast, to come to a better way of living. A better way of life. It’s the great proposal.”

James D. Davis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel goes “Beyond Watergate”:

This is the Colson who deserves to be remembered. A man who was changed and who brought about change. A man who found himself in something, and someone, larger than himself. A man who left prison, but continued to touch people in fellowship.

Peter Wehner of The Weekly Standard:

In my encounters with him over the years, I found Colson to be candid, encouraging, principled, a source of wisdom, a person of enormous integrity, and something of a touchstone. He understood the inherent tensions of being a Christian in politics and seemed to get the balance as close to right as anyone.

Orthodox Christian Chris Banescu honors Colson’s life on Catholic Online:

We lost an influential and great champion for Christ and truth. Charles W. “Chuck” Colson’s bright light is no longer in the world, but still shines on in eternity as a beacon of hope and faith for current and future generations.  His legacy and example will live on in the hearts and souls of many Christians – Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant – who were inspired by his strong faith, admired his clarity of thought and vision, and were reassured by his courage and conviction.

The above links only hint at Colson’s widely-felt influence. The Acton Institute remains indebted to Colson for his friendship and his model for Christian engagement in the public square.

 

On the Observer, the blog of the American Orthodox Institute, Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse looks back on the life and the legacy of Chuck Colson:

I heard him explain his experience in prison during one of his talks. It was the lowest point in his life where he had lost everything and began to question purpose, decisions, and direction. He was visited by a friend (former Minnesota Governor Al Quie) who shared with him how Jesus Christ came into the world to redeem man. Colson listened, cried out to God for help and, as his life would later prove, God heard him. His repentance was deep and lasting.

Prison opened his eyes not only to God, but the desperate conditions of other prisoners. He founded Prison Fellowship, an organization they helped prisoners while incarcerated, after they got out, and their families. The Russian Orthodox Church called on Prison Fellowship after Communism fell to help them build viable prison ministries in Russia.

Colson’s work grew to incorporate what he called teaching the Christian World View. He saw that decline in culture was moral in nature and that a return to the values and precepts of the Christian faith were the only hope for cultural renewal. This meant that he had to do the work of an evangelist. It also meant that a deep ignorance among Christians about their own history, the history of Western culture, and the viability of the Christian message in a relativist age needed to be addressed. That led to ecumenical outreach, and it was at one of his ecumenical events that I first met Colson.

I attended a conference with Christian leaders (cultural activists mostly) from all types of Christian communions; the first Orthodox priest ever invited to such a gathering. Most of us were not academics but more of what I call “rubber meets the road” types; people used to debate, interaction, dealing with crisis, and so forth. As such, the conference had a very practical, even edgy feel to it at times. All shared the conviction that the Christian faith has a public dimension and that we should not cede the public square to secularism. Christendom is, well, Christian and no amount of brow-beating, public scorn, the insecurity and impotence of liberal Christianity, or any other malady should stop us from boldly speaking out with intelligence and conviction.

It was there too that I first recognized how much that Orthodoxy has to give the culture. I saw that many Christians of other communions are waiting for us to step to the plate and make our contribution. They welcome us.

Read “Charles Colson: 1931-2012. May His Memory Be Eternal” on AOI’s Observer.

Shrine with relic of St. Dimitry of Rostov in Spaso-Yakovlevsky abbey in Rostov. Source: Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii Collection (Library of Congress). Wikimedia Commons.

Yesterday in First Things’ daily “On the Square” column, Matthew Cantirino highlighted Sergius Bulgakov’s theology of relics, recently translated by Boris Jakim.

Cantirino writes,

Even today, it must be admitted, the subject of relics is an often-overlooked one in theology, and especially in popular apologetics. To the minds of many the topic remains a curio—a mild embarrassment better left to old ladies’ devotionals, or the pages of Chaucer. Yet, for Bulgakov, this awkward intrusion of the physical is precisely what religion needs in modernity…. As he sees it, all relics take part in (and, in some sense, become) aspects [of] the greatest of all “relics,” the bread of the Eucharist. And it is for this reason, he notes, that altars include… relics at their core. Like the Eucharist, saints’ relics “are not corpses; rather, they are bodies of resurrection; and saints do not die.”

(more…)

This video (loads slowly, allow it to buffer for a few minutes before watching) is a very good 20-minute report on Syrian Christianity that offers a glimpse of what it’s like to have lived for centuries as a religious minority in a land dominated by Islam. Indeed, Arab Christians have been worshiping in some of these Syrian communities since the earliest days of the Christian faith.

While the report is from a Catholic viewpoint, produced in 2000 by the Catholic Radio & Television Network, it looks at the ways other Arab Christian faith traditions — such as the Orthodox Church — are working together cooperatively in very tough times.

The Barnabas Fund reports that the “city of Homs, the third largest in Syria, has now seen almost its entire Christian population of 50,000 to 60,000 flee.”

The number of Christians left in the city has reportedly fallen to below 1,000 after the strife between the troops of President Bashar Assad and anti-government forces reached its peak there last month. Christians have fled to surrounding villages, other major Syrian cities, and even Lebanon. Those who remain have spoken of a growing “atmosphere of fear”.

During the worst of the conflict, the opposition forces attacked churches and also occupied an evangelical school and home for the elderly, which were then shelled by the army. Church leaders have reported that Muslim neighbours are turning on the Christians, and that Muslim extremists from other countries have been coming to Homs to join the fighting.

Christians have also suffered kidnappings and gruesome murders. Some Christian families, unable to pay a ransom for their relatives’ release and fearing that they may be tortured, have been driven to ask the kidnappers to kill their loved ones at once.

The Orthodox Church, according to this report, is describing this as “ethnic cleansing”:

The Syrian Orthodox Church, which represents over half of Syrian Christians, issued a statement saying revolutionary fighters had expelled some 50,000 Christians from the embattled city of Homs. That figure is estimated to account for about 90 percent of the Christian community there. Hundreds more — including women and children — were slaughtered, according to charitable organizations operating in the area.

The Orthodox Church referred to the persecution as the “ongoing ethnic cleansing of Christians” by Muslim militants linked to al Qaeda. According to its report, the so-called “Brigade Faruq” is largely to blame, with Islamic extremists going door to door and forcing followers of Christ to leave without even collecting their belongings. Their property is then stolen by rebels as “war-booty from the Christians.”

Christians in Homs were reportedly told that if they did not leave immediately, they would be shot. Then, pictures of their bodies would be sent to the pro-Syrian-regime-change Al Jazeera — a media broadcaster controlled by the dictatorship ruling Qatar — with a message claiming that forces loyal to Assad had murdered them.

Also see, “New Martyrs of the East and Coming Trials in the West” by Srdja Trifkovic on OrthodoxyToday.org.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, March 30, 2012

From the first chapter, titled “Preparation for Lent,” of Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s Great Lent:

Christian love is the “possible impossibility” to see Christ in another man, whoever he is, and whom God, in His eternal and mysterious plan, has decided to introduce into my life, be it only for a few moments, not as an occasion for a “good deed” or an exercise in philanthropy, but as the beginning of an eternal companionship in God Himself. For, indeed, what is love if not that mysterious power which transcends the accidental and the external in the “other”–his physical appearance, social rank, ethnic origin, intellectual capacity–and reaches the soul, the unique and uniquely personal “root” of a human being, truly the part of God in him? If God loves every man it is because He alone knows the priceless and absolutely unique treasure, the “soul” or “person” He gave every man. Christian love then is the participation in that divine knowledge and the gift of that divine love. There is no “impersonal” love because love is the wonderful discovery of the “person” in “man,” of the personal and unique in the common and general. It is the discovery in each man of that which is “lovable” in him, of that which is from God.

In this respect, Christian love is sometimes the opposite of “social activism” with which one so often identifies Christianity today. To a “social activist” the object of love is not “person” but man, an abstract unit of a not less abstract “humanity.” But for Christianity, man is “lovable” because he is person. There person is reduced to man; here man is seen only as person. The “social activist” has no interest for the personal, and easily sacrifices it to the “common interest.” Christianity may seem to be, and in some ways actually is, rather skeptical about that abstract “humanity,” but it commits a mortal sin against itself each time it gives up its concern and love for the person. Social activism is always “futuristic” in its approach; it always acts in the name of justice, order, happiness to come, to be achieved. Christianity cares little about that problematic future but puts the whole emphasis on the now–the only decisive time for love.

Today marks the beginning of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church. Not simply a fast, it is a time for that true asceticism which, according to Fr. Georges Florovsky, “is inspired not by contempt, but by the urge of transformation.”

There is something of this true asceticism, even if imperfect and incomplete, at the basis of all human society. One must, even to only a small extent, renounce self-will to be a member of a family, a clan, or a tribe, not to mention a city, state, or nation. No community can exist or has existed without some semblance of this asceticism. Every member must deny some part of his or her self for a perceived common good in order to form any community, in order for society itself to exist.

Thus, asceticism is not and never has been reserved for monks in the history of the Church. As Florovsky notes, “Ascetical virtues can be practiced by laymen also, and by those who stay in the world.” Interestingly, Vladimir Solovyov even goes so far as to identify marriage as one of the first ascetic practices inasmuch as it constitutes a “limitation of sensuality” that results in increased “control of carnal passions.”

In a healthy marriage, the husband and wife likely find that the level of self-renunciation necessary to maintain family life extends far beyond the sensual as well. Indeed, during his address at Acton University this summer, Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America remarked,

Is there any greater ascetic than a young mother, a new mother, who has to get up at all hours, night or day, to feed the child, to change the diapers? That’s the image, that’s asceticism—it’s total self-giving in love. All real asceticism is self-giving in love.

On a personal note, my wife and I are currently celebrating the birth of our first child, and (to my wife’s credit) I can confirm the truth of His Beatitude’s statement. (Don’t worry, I change diapers too, but my wife deserves far more credit for “get[ing] up at all hours.”) According to Florovsky, through asceticism “a new hierarchy of values and aims is revealed.” Certainly, any other new parents would agree with me that having a baby literally changes one’s whole world. Suddenly things I used to value seem so insignificant.

Through marriage I was transformed into a husband. Through the birth of my son, I am now also a father. As Christians, both of the East and the West, embark on the ascetic, spiritual journey of Great Lent that culminates in the joy of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, I hope that all of us will also be spiritually transformed according to the likeness of Christ’s self-giving love.

My wife Kelly and our new little son Brendan.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Thursday, February 23, 2012

After 50-plus years of social unraveling, many reformers still see the “therapeutic model” as a cure for what ails American society. Or would a return to the classical virtues, as a means of healing first the person and then the culture, be the way of renewal? Rev. Gregory Jensen offers some thoughts in this week’s Acton Commentary (published Feb. 22), spurred by the reading of Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010. The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Overcoming the Merely Therapeutic: Human Excellence and the Moral Life

By Rev. Gregory Jensen

In Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (2005), researchers Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton argue that for many young adults in America, the spiritual life is understood in moralistic terms. But where orthodox (and Orthodox) Christianity focus on the necessity of “repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers …” — many teenagers don’t see it that way. They, Smith and Lundquist say, worship “something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he’s always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.”

My pastoral experience suggests that adherence to this model of the spiritual life is common not just among teenagers but also their parents and even their grandparents. Given Philip Rieff’s observations about the triumph of the therapeutic in Western culture, this should come as no surprise. Therapeutic and medicinal imagery are dominant in our culture. That Christians have uncritically, and in my view unwisely, adopted this language is unfortunate but again not a surprise.

This is not to reject the use of medicinal or therapeutic imagery in conversations about either the spiritual or cultural lives. These metaphors have deep biblical and even pre-Christian roots. No, the problem occurs when such imagery comes to dominate at the expense of other, equally valid, ways of speaking about human experience (as for example the juridical model of salvation).

This brings me to Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 (2012). Murray’s work offers a response to the increasingly unbalanced use of therapeutic imagery. His book is provocative but this is not a bad thing; it is a call to the reader to re-examine the cultural and personal foundations of human thriving and to see them as fundamentally moral undertakings.

Looking at the American scene, he singles out four virtues as essential both personally and socially for “the feasibility of the American project”: industriousness, honesty, marriage and religiosity. Until very recently (Murray not wholly arbitrarily indentified Nov. 21, 1963, as the “single day” that demarcates “the transition between eras”) these four virtues were the common cultural inheritance and personal project of the vast majority of Americans. Whatever were their differences in religion, education, wealth or geography, most Americans lived lives built on a respect for hard work, honesty, marriage and family life and religious faith.  Both social institutions (public schools being chief among them) and popular culture – Murray draws examples from movies and television — likewise supported the virtues that made American “civic culture” not only possible but “exceptional.”

Since November, 1963, however, American civil society has been “unraveling.” As a culture Murray says we are “coming apart at the seams — not seams of race or ethnicity, but of class.” More and more the historically key virtues of American civil society are only those of the new upper class. These same virtues are no longer forming the daily lives of the lower class, that is of working class or blue collar Americans. As a result we see two increasingly different Americas. But again, the difference is not racial or ethnic or even economic but social, a difference in the values by which members of both group live their lives.

The social problems facing Americans now are the fruit of this “cultural inequality.” Switching from descriptive social scientist to advocate, Murray says that we must do something about it:   “That ‘something’ has nothing to do with new government programs or regulations. Public policy has certainly affected the culture, unfortunately, but unintended consequences have been as grimly inevitable for conservative social engineering as for liberal social engineering.”

Instead of more “government assistance” we need a widespread cultural “validation of the values and standards” that once made American civil society so exceptional. How? Well, Murray says the “best thing that the new upper class can do to provide that reinforcement is to drop its condescending ‘nonjudgmentalism.’ Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn’t hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms. When it comes to marriage and the work ethic, the new upper class must start preaching what it practices.”

Murray’s book is about virtue and we know that the virtuous life requires balance. I can’t cultivate one virtue at the expense of the others. Temperance cannot matter to me more than Fortitude or Justice more than Prudence. St. John Chrysostom said that more priests have fallen from compassion than lust. This, or so it seems to me, is the pastoral analogy to Murray’s social critique. We have fallen because we have given ourselves over to an unwise compassion. True compassion suffers with others and so helps us understand how we can alleviate their pain. Unwise compassion is about sentiment; it is about feeling good about myself. True compassion comforts and ennobles the other person; false compassion is merely one more expression of my addiction to pleasure and my willingness to take my pleasure no matter what the cost to self or others.

When as Americans we talk about poverty, its cause and its consequences, we do so primarily not in moral terms — save insofar as some would advocate for the government to “do something to help the poor,” or to “win the war” on drugs or poverty or whatever — but medically, therapeutically.  But a medical model divorced from morality is not only ineffective but destructive. It is so because it is anthropologically unsound and so a gentle cruelty.

The traditional model of salvation assumes a personal commitment to the ascetical life. As classically understood in both the Christian Greek speaking East and the Latin speaking West (and even I would suggest among many of the heirs of the Reformation), the healing I am promised in Jesus Christ requires from me ascetical struggle. This is why today Roman Catholics and many Protestant and Evangelical Christians are celebrating Ash Wednesday and why next week Orthodox Christians will begin the season of the Great Fast. Asceticism does not add to the work of Christ. Rather it prepares me to receive again Jesus Christ and to deepen my relationship with Him.

Physical discipline does not exhaust the content of the ascetical life. In addition to spiritual disciplines such as fasting and almsgiving, asceticism has an intellectual aim; it teaches me to understand my desires in light of the Gospel. I need to repent of, and struggle against, those that are sinful. Important though repentance is, it is more important still that I come to see more clearly even my legitimate desires in light of what God wants from me.

Seen in this way, asceticism is an essential component of a life open in love to our neighbor. This is how we understand that our actions, if thoughtless, may impose a cost to our neighbor. This is how we will heal the human heart scarred by sin and so in turn the broken social ties that Murray identifies. In short, I cannot love you unless I am willing to lay aside even my otherwise legitimate plans and projects.  Whether in the physical, moral or cultural realms, real healing requires an understanding of both the ends of human life and the means appropriate to those ends.