Saturday, December 31, 2011

Circumcision of our Lord

In submitting to the Law of Circumcision, Our Lord signifies that He is the fullness and the completion of the Old Covenant. St. Paul says, in the Epistle Lesson read on the Feast: For in [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in Him, Who is the head of all rule and authority. In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ (Col. 2:9-11).
The Church Fathers explain that the Lord, the Creator of the Law, underwent circumcision in order to give people an example of how faithfully the divine ordinances ought to be fulfilled. The Lord was circumcised so that later no one would doubt that he had truly assumed human flesh, and that his Incarnation was not merely an illusion, as certain heretics (Docetists) taught.

Additionally, he received the name Jesus (Savior) on this day. These two events, the Lord's Circumcision and Naming, remind Christians that they have entered into a New Covenant with God.

Troparion (Tone 1)
Enthroned on high with the Eternal Father and Your divine Spirit,
O Jesus, You willed to be born on earth of the unwedded handmaid, your Mother.
Therefore You were circumcised as an eight-day old Child.
Glory to Your most gracious counsel;
Glory to Your dispensation;
Glory to Your condescension, O only Lover of mankind.
Kontakion (Tone 3)
The Lord of all accepts to be circumcised,
Thus, as He is good, excises the sins of mortal men.
Today He grants the world salvation,
While light-bearing Basil, high priest of our Creator,
Rejoices in heaven as a divine initiate of Christ.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holy Innocents

With apologies for posting this a day late -- I got in after midnight tonight.  On December 29, the Church commemorates the Holy Innocents.

December 29: Commemoration of the 14,000 Holy Innocents

Today we commemorate the 14,000 infants killed by Herod as St. Matthew recounts, "Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men." (Matthew 2:16 NKJV)

"When the King was born in Bethlehem, the Magi arrived from the East with gifts guided by a Star on high, but Herod was troubled and mowed down the children like wheat; for he lamented that his power would soon be destroyed." Kontakion

Read the account from The Protoevangelium of James (see verses 22-23).


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia

20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia

Commemorated on December 28
At the beginning of the fourth century, Emperor Maximian (284-305) gave orders to destroy Christian churches, to burn service books, and to deprive all Christians of rights and privileges of citizenship. At this time, the bishop of the city of Nicomedia was St. Cyril, who by his preaching and life contributed to the spread of Christianity, so that many members of the emperor’s court secretly became Christians.

The pagan priestess, Domna, was living in the palace at that time, but was able to obtain a copy of the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of St. Paul. Her heart burned with the desire to learn more about Christianity. With the help of a young Christian girl, Domna secretly went to Bishop Anthimus with her faithful servant, the eunuch Indes. St. Anthimus catechized them, and both received holy Baptism.

Domna began to help the poor – she gave away her valuables with the assistance of Indes, and she also distributed food from the imperial kitchen. The chief eunuch, who was in charge of provisions for the imperial household, discovered that Domna and Indes were not eating the food sent them from the emperor’s table. He had them beaten in order to find out why they did not partake of the food, but they remained silent. Another eunuch informed him that the saints were distributing all the emperor’s gifts to the poor. He locked them up in prison to exhaust them with hunger, but an angel supported them and they did not suffer. St. Domna feigned insanity so she wouldn’t have to live among the pagans. Then she and Indes managed to leave the court, and she went to a women’s monastery. The abbess of the monastery, Agatha, quickly dressed Domna in men’s clothing, cut her hair and sent her off from the monastery.

During this time, the emperor returned from battle and ordered that a search be made for the former pagan priestess Domna. The soldiers found the monastery where Domna had stayed and destroyed it. The sisters were thrown into prison and subjected to torture and abuse, but none o them suffered defilement. Sent to a house of iniquity, St. Theophila was able to preserve her virginity with the help of an angel of the Lord. The angel led her from the brothel and brought her to the cathedral.

Shortly thereafter, the emperor cleared the city square to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. When they began sprinkling the crowd with the blood of the sacrificial animals, the Christians started to leave the square. Seeing this, the emperor became enraged, but in the middle of his ranting, a great thunderstorm sprang up. People fled in panic, and the emperor had to hide in his palace for his own safety.

Later, the emperor went to the cathedral with his soldiers and told the faithful that they could escape punishment if they renounced Christ. Otherwise, he promised to burn the church and those in it. The presbyter Glycerius told the emperor that the Christians would never renounce their faith, even under the threat of torture. Hiding his anger, the emperor left the church, but commanded that Glycerius be arrested. The executioners tortured the martyr, who did not cease to pray and to call on the Name of the Lord. Unable to force St. Glycerius to renounce Christ, Maximian ordered that he be burned to death.

In 302, on the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, about 20,000 Christians assembled at the cathedral in Nicomedia. The emperor sent a herald into the church, told the faithful that soldiers were surrounding the building, and that those who wished to leave had to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. Anyone who defied the emperor would perish when the soldiers set fire to the church. All those present refused to renounce Christ.

As the pagans prepared to set fire to the church, Bishop Anthimus baptized all the catechumens and communed everyone with the Holy Mysteries. All 20,000 died in the fire. Among them were the abbess Agatha and St. Theophila. Bishop Anthimus, however, managed to escape.

Emperor Maximian thought that he had exterminated the Christians of Nicomedia. However, he soon learned that there were many more, and that they were willing to confess their faith and die for Christ. The emperor commanded that the regimental commander, Zeno, be arrested, as he was openly criticizing the emperor for his impiety and cruelty. Zeno was fiercely beaten and finally beheaded.
They also jailed the eunuch Indes for refusing to participate in a pagan festival.

The persecution against the Christians continued. Dorotheus, Mardonius, Deacon Migdonius, and others were thrown into prison. Bishop Anthimus sent them encouraging letters, but one of the messengers, the Deacon Theophilus, was captured. They tortured him, trying to learn where the bishop was hiding, but the holy martyr endured everything, while revealing nothing. They executed him and also those whom the bishop had addressed in his letters. Though they were executed in different ways, they all showed the same courage and received their martyr’s crowns from God.

For weeks, St. Domna concealed herself within a cave and sustained herself by eating plants. When she returned to the city, she wept before the ruins of the cathedral, regretting that she was not found worthy to die with the others. That night she went to the seashore, and, at that moment, fishermen pulled the bodies of the martyrs Indes, Gorgonius and Peter from the water in their nets.
St. Domna was still dressed in men’s clothing, and she helped the fishermen to draw in their nets. They left the bodies of the martyrs with her, and, with reverence, she looked after the holy relics and wept over them, especially over the body of her spiritual friend, the Martyr Indes.

After giving them an honorable burial, she refused to leave the graves so dear to her heart. Each day she burned incense before them, sprinkling them with fragrant oils. When the emperor was told of an unknown youth who offered incense at the graves of executed Christians, he gave orders to behead him. The Martyr Euthymius was also executed along with Domna.

Troparion (Tone 2) –
Blessed is the earth that received your blood, Agape, passion-bearer of the Lord,
and holy is the dwelling place which received your spirits.
You triumphed over the enemy in the stadium
and you preached Christ with boldness.
Since He is good, we pray that you beseech Him to save our souls.

Kontakion (Tone 1) –
Their souls strengthened by faith, the twenty thousand martyrs accepted their suffering by fire,
and cried out to You, the One born of the Virgin:
“Like gold, myrrh, and frankincense, the gifts of the Persian kings,
receive our whole burnt offering, O Eternal God.”

By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (


Monday, December 26, 2011

St. Stephen the Protomartyr

St. Stephen is the Patron Saint of our parish.  The first Christian martyr, he was stoned to death as described in the Book of Acts for confessing Christ.  He is commemorated on December 27, 2011, and we will celebrate his Feast day this evening.

Troparion of St. Stephen, Tone 4
Thou art crowned with a royal diadem for contests endured in Christ's name, O First and holy Martyr; thou didst put to shame thy persecutors and see thy Saviour at the right hand of the Father. Ever pray to Him for our souls.

Kontakion of St. Stephen, Tone 3
Yesterday the Master came to us in the flesh, today His servant departs in the flesh; yesterday the King was born in the flesh; today His servant is stoned to death for His sake. Hence the divine and first Martyr Stephen is made perfect.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mount Athos special on 60 Minutes

This was awesome when I watched it earlier this year at Pascha.  How awesome to have it repeated at the Nativity. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Troparion (Tone 4)
Your Nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shone to the world the Light of wisdom!
For by it, those who worshipped the stars,
Were taught by a Star to adore You,
The Sun of Righteousness,
And to know You, the Orient from on High.
O Lord, glory to You!

Kontakion (Tone 3)

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
Angels with shepherds glorify Him!
The wise men journey with a star!
Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A reminder this Christmas

Father Nathan Monk is the pastor of St. Benedict Orthodox mission in Pensacola, Florida.  My family and I have visited one of the sister parishes in Pensacola, St. Andrew the Apostle Antiochian Orthodox Church, but have never had the honor of visiting Father Nathan's parish.  We may have to rectify that the next time we are down that way.  Father Nathan is fighting against local ordinances in Pensacola dealing with the homeless, which would, if implemented, prevent homeless people from camping in public areas and some private areas within the city limits.  He is also quite notorious for an incident where he offered to purchase a homeless man some food, and the man sent his family to eat but told Father Nathan he would have to stay behind and hold the sign because the family would be evicted if he did not get another $50 before the day was over.  Father Nathan told him to go eat while he held the sign for the man.  The treatment he described by people passing by -- yelling, cursing, throwing things -- was so deplorable that it moved him to do something about it.

I chose this video instead of the numerous others on Youtube, because Father Nathan's message to the City Council is so powerful.  In my opinion, the money quotes are:

"This council would have arrested Mary and Joseph around this time of year for being vagrants. And maybe would have called the DCF and had the Christ child taken off."


"I think it's funny that so many people worship a homeless man on Sunday, and then you want to arrest him on Monday. We actually did. We crucified him, and I would consider it the exact same thing if this council goes forward with this."

Thanks be to God for the work this man is doing.  As we feast at the Nativity this year, please be sure to remember the poor.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What the media is doing to Ron Paul is criminal.

I apologize in advance for discussing politics on this blog -- it was not and is not my intention to speak on political matters except as they pertain to the Orthodox Christian Church.  I make an exception today because I just witnessed one of the most ridiculous and biased "news" stories I have ever seen.  This morning, George Stephanopoulos was doing a segment on the Presidential race, and the topic of discussion was Newt Gingrich's slide in the polls.  That's all well and good, but then they began talking specifically about Iowa and how Gingrich was sliding and Romney was gaining.

What they failed to mention was that in the last 2 polls out of Iowa, Dr. Ron Paul is leading.  He has a very good shot at winning.  They talked quite a bit about Sarah Palin, who isn't even running.  But they did not so much as mention Dr. Paul's name.  So why would that be?

I've heard people talk for quite a while about "liberal media bias."  I am going to posit that no such thing exists.  Rather, we have a corporatist plutocracy in this country that wishes to control our economy, our government and our media.  The notion that we have a free press is a cute story from a bygone era.  We now have a bought and paid for press pimping a bought and paid for government staffed by bought and paid for politicians.  Call this what you will, it is neither a Constitutional Republic nor a Democracy.

Dr. Paul believes in limited government.  Depending on your particular worldview, you may like that or dislike it.  But the one thing he believes in over all else is that in questions of whether the federal government ought to do something, the Constitution should control.  That separates him from every other candidate in the race and makes him a very, very dangerous man to the interests that currently wield the most influence in our country.  He will not prop up corporations with tax dollars.  He will not support the current military-industrial and prison-industrial complexes.  He will not support laws -- even if he agrees with them -- that exceed the role of the federal government outlined in our Constitution as he understands it.  And even if you disagree with where he draws those lines (as I do in more than a few instances), it is my opinion that this is a national discussion worth having.

I make no bones about my support for Dr. Paul.  I voted for him last time and I will vote for him again.  But I do not write to endorse Dr. Paul nor to encourage others to do the same.  I write to ask whether a system of government, economics and information that would ignore a candidate who is leading in the polls is a truly free society.  I write to suggest that unless and until we as Americans are willing to vote for someone other than whomever the media trots out and the two major parties endorse, we will continue to devolve into a banana republic with no real freedom and no real choice.  Please consider that when you make your vote in the upcoming primaries.

I close with this now dated statement from Jon Stewart about the media ignoring Dr. Paul.  Please note the language is colorful, so watch it at your own discretion.  But the message Stewart gives is worth hearing.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A week shy of a full year.....a reflection.

What a blessing to have been received into the Church at the Nativity.  A week from today (last night, to be specific) will be our one-year anniversary as Orthodox Christians.  It has been a year of learning, wonder, and joy.  Given that it is a season of joy that brought us into the Church, it's fitting.

A year has brought time for reflection, and I have to say that the decision to enter the Eastern Church has not been questioned.  Not once.  That is remarkable, because we were pretty much dyed-in-the-wool Lutherans, and while we were certain at the time we were making the right decision, I expected to have some lingering doubts.  I haven't, and I doubt at this point I ever will.  I firmly believe the reason for that is that the similarity between our very first Lutheran parish and this one is so striking in most particulars.  It is absolutely remarkable, to be honest.  A secondary reason is the things that are not similar are things that we really did not have great stumbling blocks with in the first place.  Orthodox understandings of the intercession of the departed Saints and the ever-virginity of the Theotokos were either close enough or functionally identical (respectively) to what we believed as Lutherans.  Regarding the former, I have always believed the Saints pray for us.  The only real difference is now I am bold to ask them to.

It is stunning to us how quickly this parish became "home."  The first Great Vespers service we attended was beautiful, but quite a bit of a culture shock.  I now cannot imagine having a service an other way.  The Eastern Liturgy is truly a thing of beauty.  Another wonderful byproduct of this consistent liturgical practice is the familiar rhythm of the Church year.  After going nearly 5 years without celebrating a Saint's feast, without celebrating a major festival with a communion service, without having the rhythm of life broken by mid-week services that were not your typical "Wednesday night" fare we get in the South, but rather an announced-the-Sunday-before "the Church will gather tomorrow night to celebrate the Feast of St. Ignatius," without being the only people in the entire parish to make the sign of the cross or bow during Christ's humiliation in the Creed -- after all of that we are finally at a place of peace again.  A place where the piety of the parish squares with the piety of the Church throughout time.  That is no small blessing.

The issues that divide Orthodox and Lutherans (as well as Orthodox and most Western Christians, to be fair) are still very real.  Nothing has deluded us into thinking those have gone away or that this is just some sort of "real Lutheranism," the sort of thing Dr. Luther might have come up with if he hadn't been hampered by circumstance and historical accident.  No, this is not Lutheranism and never will be.  But often, the differences are not what the Lutherans think they are, and I'm sure that's true vice versa in a lot of respects.  I do have to say, after spending 10 years as Lutherans, and now a year as communing members of an Orthodox parish, we are far closer than either side realizes.  I doubt the gap will be bridged, because the Orthodox will never let go of our ecclesiology without ceasing to be the Church and the Lutherans will never truly buy into it without ceasing to be Lutheran (the Lutheran Confessions speak directly against our understanding of ecclesiology).  Further, we tend to talk past each other a lot.  The Orthodox view of salvation is quite different from the Lutheran understanding, and different use of the same words compounds that problem.  Behind most accusations that the Orthodox are semi-Pelagian or the Lutherans are Manichean lies a simple word-concept fallacy.  That doesn't mean we believe the same things.  It just means we typically think the other party believes something they really don't, based on the other side using words differently than we do.  As I have told a good friend a few times, the road to salvation for Lutherans diverges widely from the road to salvation for Orthodox at many points.  But the gap at the end of that road is very narrow indeed.  The major differences I see now, a year down the road, are in the Orthodox understanding of the essence/energies and person/nature distinctions and in the Lutheran understanding of anthropology and the mechanism of the human will.  And these are related -- we would say Lutherans get anthropology and the human will wrong because they do not maintain these distinctions (Lutherans would say we get justification wrong because we adhere to free will -- I would say that's another word-concept fallacy in large part, and so it goes).

Our children continue to grow in the Faith, and that is perhaps the greatest blessing of all.  All three children understand the Faith better than they did a year ago.  All three have a piety they never had before.  And we are constantly reminded of the influence of the Church's piety on children as, for example, when our niece this morning began to make the sign of the cross every time our eldest did it.  We neither asked nor encouraged her to do it -- she is not Orthodox so it is expected that she participate in the service only in the most basic and polite terms -- standing and sitting where appropriate, not talking over the readings, etc.  And yet she picked up the piety on her own.  The Church sets a good example that children naturally follow.  Our children also have a better appreciation for poverty and human suffering, since the Church's fasting and prayer disciplines constantly remind them that we are to care for the poor and suffering, and their Patron Saints (two of whom are martyrs) remind them they could quite easily find themselves among them if they are given the grace to suffer for Christ.

There is a grounding in the life of an Orthodox Christian that keeps a certain balance.  Selfishness and greed are still passions we all struggle with, and yet it is in the struggling that we are reminded of how grievous these sins really are.  In Orthodoxy, we take sin seriously and strive to eradicate it from our lives.  That does not mean that we believe we actually accomplish that.  In fact, the greatest Saints in the Church are often quoted on their deathbeds as praying for more time to repent.  It seems the closer one gets to God, the more one realizes they aren't really close to God.  Not in any sense that one might feel safe or secure.  Sinners in the presence of God are always terrified.  The preaching of the Law in Orthodoxy is usually geared more to this eradication of sin than toward the "you're a sinner, you're forgiven" Law/Gospel model.  It would sound semi-Pelagian to a good Lutheran or Calvinist.  This is likely not the only place we Orthodox come across as Pelagian (or superficially Arminian).  But we are not.  We do not believe our lawkeeping is the cause of our salvation.  We believe, rather, that this is how salvation is played out.  Put another way, God does not save us because we keep the Law, but rather He saves us in order that we might keep the Law.  As Ephesians 2:8-10 states so expressly, "by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."  Or, as an Orthodox Christian once told me "you are not saved by your good works, but you will not be saved without them either."

I could go on and on.  The purpose of this post is to mark the approach of one year in the Church and to express our absolute delight at having found her.  What absolute joy to be in the Church, surrounded by our Holy Fathers, the martyrs and all the Saints and heavenly host.  What wonder to find ourselves looking back 2000 years and seeing our own Church's founding referenced specifically in Acts.  We are blessed.  As I write this in the evening, I will close with our evening prayer, which contains a slight variation of the wonderful and comforting phrase that I chose as this blog's title.

O Lord our God, if during this day I have sinned, whether in word or deed or thought, forgive me all, for thou art good and lovest mankind. Grant me peaceful and undisturbed sleep, and deliver me from all influence and temptation of the evil one. Raise me up again in proper time that I may glorify thee; for thou art blessed: with thine Only-begotten Son and thine All-holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Good night, and a blessed Nativity to all.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Penal Substitution quote from

On a thread over at, it was asked whether Collossians 2  teaches penal substitutionary atonement (that Jesus was "punished" on the cross for our sins), which then led to a wider discussion of the nature of atonement period. It was asserted that not only Collossians 2, but also Isaiah 52 - 53 and others, teach this concept.

Someone asserted:
He is the good shepherd, who lays down His life for His sheep.

He redeems us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.

The righteous suffered for the unrighteous.

Which prompted this absolutely awesome reply by Alveus Lacuna:

You're missing the subtlety.

Yes, there is substitution. He takes the place for us. He is the sacrificial lamb. His perfection and righteousness goes in place of our sinfulness.

What is in dispute is whether or not there is a penal satisfaction, meaning that somehow God had to be healed of His anger. We can speak of God's anger against us in a sense, but not absolutely, as God requires no healing. He is complete and perfect. Rather we are the ones that require healing, and as we are healed, then our position towards God is rectified. Instead of moving against God's presence in a way that destroys us, like something coming into the earth's atmosphere can burn it up if the resistance is too great, we move seamlessly into His infinite presence. Also think of diving into the water versus doing a belly-flop. I hope you get my meaning.

Anyway, God is unchanging. So properly speaking, there is a change in us, not in God. That's the whole difference in the way we talk about it versus many Reformed thinkers. The Son didn't die to help the Father stop being pissed off at us. Then it's the Son saving us from the Father instead of from sin, death, and the Accuser.

There's too much of a confusion of terms here: penal, satisfaction, substitution, atonement, blah blah blah. Here is something very specific that Orthodoxy teaches against, and that is the teaching that the Son somehow affects a change in the Father; that we must be saved from the Father.

Indeed.  You may view the thread HERE.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Holy Great Martyr St. Katherine of Alexandria

"The Holy Great Martyr Katherine was the daughter of Constus, the governor of Alexandria in Egypt, during the reign of the emperor Maximian (305-313). Living in the capital, Katherine received a most splendid education, having studied the works of the finest philosophers and teachers. Young men from the most worthy families of the empire sought the hand of the beautiful Katherine, but none of them was chosen. She declared to her parents that she would only enter into marriage with someone who surpassed her in reputation, wealth, beauty and wisdom. 

Katherine's mother, a secret Christian, sent her for advice to her own spiritual father -- a saintly elder pursuing prayerful deeds in solitude in a cave not far from the city. Having listened to Katherine, the elder said that he knew of a youth, who surpassed her in everything, such that "His beauty was more radiant than the shining of the sun, His wisdom governed all creation, His riches were spread throughout all the world ". The image of the Christ produced in the soul of the holy maiden an ardent desire to see Him. In parting, the elder handed Katherine an icon of the Mother of God with the God-Child Jesus on Her arm and bid her to pray with faith to Mary to show her a vision of Her Son.

Katherine prayed all night and was able to see the Most Holy Virgin who told Her Divine Son to look upon the kneeling of Katherine before Them. But the Child turned His face away from her saying that He was not able to look at her because she was ugly, of shabby lineage, beggarly and mindless like every person -- not washed with the waters of holy Baptism and not sealed with the seal of the Holy Spirit. Katherine returned again to the elder deeply saddened. He lovingly received her, instructed her in the faith of Christ, admonished her to preserve her purity and integrity and to pray unceasingly; he then performed over her the sacrament of holy Baptism. And again Saint Katherine had a vision of the Most Holy Mother of God with Her Child. Now the Lord looked tenderly at her and gave her a ring -- a wondrous gift of the Heavenly Bridegroom.
At this time the emperor Maximian was himself in Alexandria for a pagan feast day. Because of this, the feast was especially splendid and crowded. The cries of the sacrificial animals, the smoke and the smell of the sacrifices, the endless blazing of fires, and the bustling crowds at the arenas filled Alexandria. Human victims also were brought -- because they chose to die in the fire rather than deny Christ under torture. The Saint's love for the Christian martyrs and her fervent desire to lighten their fate impelled Katherine to go to the emperor-persecutor Maximian.  

Introducing herself, the saint confessed her Christian faith and with wisdom denounced the errors of the pagans. The beauty of the maiden captivated the emperor. In order to convince her and show the superiority of pagan wisdom, the emperor gave orders to gather 50 of the most learned men of the empire, but the Saint got the better of the wise men, such that they themselves came to believe in Christ. Saint Katherine shielded them with the sign of the cross, and they bravely accepted death for Christ and were burnt by order of the emperor. 

Maximian, no longer hoping to convince the saint, tried to entice her with the promise of riches and fame. Having received an angry refusal, the emperor gave orders to subject the saint to terrible tortures and then throw her in prison. The Empress Augusta, who had heard much about Katherine, wanted to see her. Having succeeded in convincing the military-commander Porphyry to accompany her with a detachment of soldiers, Augusta went to the prison. The strong spirit of Saint Katherine, whose face glowed with Divine grace, impressed the empress. The holy martyr explained the teachings of the Christians to the people and they believed and were converted to Christ. 

On the following day they again brought the her to the judgment court where, under the threat of being tortured on a wheel of spikes and nails, they urged that she recant from the Christian faith and offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. The saint steadfastly confessed Christ and she herself approached the wheel; but an Angel smashed the sharp tools, which broke up into pieces that hit pagans who were passing by.  Having beheld this wonder, the empress Augusta and the imperial courtier Porphyry with 200 soldiers confessed their faith in Christ in front of everyone, and they were beheaded. Maximian again tried to entice Saint Katherine, proposing marriage to her, and again he received a refusal. She confessed her fidelity to the Heavenly Bridegroom Christ, and with a prayer to Him she herself put her head on the block under the sword of the executioner and was beheaded."


St. Katherine is the Patron Saint of our daughter, Abigail (Katharina).  May her intercessions ever be with us. 

Let us praise Katherine the radiant bride of Christ, guardian of Sinai, our helper and supporter. By the power of the Spirit, she silenced the arrogance of the ungodly. Crowned as a martyr, she now implores great mercy for all.

Troparion (tone 5).

Friday, November 4, 2011

St. Raphael of Brooklyn

Tomorrow marks the feast day of Saint Raphael of Brooklyn. He was born in Beirut, Lebanon to Syrian refugee parents, and his route to America was somewhat circuitous in that he spent some time in Russia prior to being sent here -- by Czar Nicholas, II -- in 1895 in order to minister to the local Syrian Orthodox communities. In 1904 he became the first Orthodox bishop to be consecrated in North America. He was bishop of Brooklyn, New York until his death on February 27, 1915. He was glorified by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America in March of 2000, and is commemorated by the Church of Antioch on the first Saturday in November.

Troparion (Tone 3)

Rejoice, O Father Raphael, Adornment of the Holy Church! Thou art Champion of the true Faith, Seeker of the lost, Consolation of the oppressed, Father to orphans, and Friend of the poor, Peacemaker and Good Shepherd, Joy of all the Orthodox, Son of Antioch, Boast of America: Intercede with Christ God for us and for all who honor thee.

Kontakion (Tone 3)

Today the memory of blessed Raphael hath shone on us; For having received Christ’s call, he faithfully took up his cross and followed Him becoming a fisher of men. Let us cry aloud to him saying: Rejoice O Father Raphael!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Repose of St. John the Theologian

St. John is my patron Saint, chosen both because my first name is John and because I have always had an affinity for his writing and felt a particular closeness to him.  Though I chose him to be my patron, in a more realistic sense he chose me long before.  Tonight's service, as with all of the feast days which commemorate St. John, was therefore particularly special for me. 

Pray unto God for me, O holy Saint John, well pleasing to God, for I turn unto thee, who art the speedy helper and intercessor for my soul.

"O Apostle John, speaker of divinity, the beloved of Christ God, hasten and deliver thy people powerless in argument; for He on Whose bosom thou didst lean accepteth thee as an intercessor. Beseech Him, therefore, to disperse the cloud of the stubborn nations, asking for us safety and the Great Mercy."

-- Apolytikion of St. John the Theologian

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Guilt and innocence

Troy Anthony Davis was executed by the State of Georgia last night.  His crime was murder.  To the very end, he proclaimed his innocence.  An uncomfortable number of witnesses retracted their prior statements implicating him in the crime.  His case has garnered national attention as an example of either justice being served or an innocent man being put to death.

My view on the death penalty has soured quite a bit due to the fine work of the Innocence Project.  It seems to me that if we put as many innocent people on death row as we undeniably do, then we at least run the risk of putting innocent people to death but for the work of anti death penalty advocates.  And even given their work, we cannot say that everyone who receives the death penalty is guilty of their crimes.

Troy Davis, however, is somewhat of an exception to this view in my mind.  While I do think there is enough reasonable doubt in his case to at least commute the sentence, I am also aware that evidence was excluded by the exclusionary rule (and rightly so) which directly implicated him in the crime.  Mr. Davis' last words to the family of the man he killed were "The incident that night was not my fault.  I did not have a gun....I did not personally kill your son."  Given what we have seen from the remaining evidence, I think this statement is probably true on a technical level.  And yet Mr. Davis was there while a homeless man was pistol whipped and an officer intervened to stop it and was shot for his troubles.  In a legal sense, whether Mr. Davis pulled the trigger or not is immaterial.  If he is not a murderer in a direct sense, he is likely guilty of felony murder at the very least.

My problem with the Troy Davis case is not that I believe he is "innocent."  I think nothing of the sort.  My problem is we just executed a man where a lot of evidence indicates he wasn't the trigger man, and the trigger man is apparently still running around in society.  Some may think Mr. Davis' mere presence warrants the death penalty, and I suppose if we are going to have a death penalty, that is a reasonable position to take.  But I am unconvinced.  Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and even being too morally bankrupt or cowardly to intervene to stop a beating and murder, should not be a capital offense.  Putting my view simply, I am convinced Troy Davis is innocent of a capital offense.  But I do not think he is innocent.  He should be in jail.

But he's not.  He's now dead, killed at the hands of our justice system.  And the more I learn of how that system metes out its "justice," the less I think the death penalty is a good idea.  I don't have a particular moral or philosophical objection to it.  I just think we do it poorly in this country.  Thomas Jefferson once said "better that ten guilty men go free than for one innocent man to languish in prison."  If that is true, how much more is it true that it is better for an innocent man, or even a man who is guilty of something but not of the crime he is accused of, to languish in prison than to be put to death?

May God have mercy on Troy Davis' soul, and ours.  Lord have mercy.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New icon - St. Catherine of Alexandria

Abigail (Katharina)'s patron saint.  We got her this one for an early birthday present, since the previous one was tiny in comparison to the others.  We put the smaller one over her bed at her request.

Let us praise the all-lauded and noble bride of Christ, the godly Catherine, the guardian of Sinai and its defense, who is also our support and succour and our help; for with the Holy Spirit's sword she hath silenced brilliantly the clever among the godless;and being crowned as a martyr, she now doth ask great mercy for us all.   
-- Troparion for the Feast of St. Catherine

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Elevation of the Holy Cross

This Sunday, our priest mentioned something that I found fascinating.  As most people know, on September 13, 2001, workers at Ground Zero found a crossbeam from the World Trade Center in the shape of a cross.  It just so happens that the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America celebrates the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross on the evening of September 13 each year, although the Feast day is appointed as September 14.  The reason for this is perhaps a little controversial within the Church, but it amounts to this -- if a parish wishes to celebrate a Feast day in the evening, we do it with a Vesperal Divine Liturgy the night before, since Vespers is the first service of the following day (and Vespers the night of the Feast would be the first service for the day after the Feast).

As we celebrated this Feast tonight, it occurred to me how fitting it is that we celebrate the Elevation of the Cross on the same day the Cross was raised from the rubble at Ground Zero.  How absolutely appropriate that as we remember the 10th anniversary of the horrific events of September 11, 2011, we can only 2 days later remember the hope that sprang forth from the ashes this day 10 years prior.

The Feast of the Elevation of the Cross marks 2 events.  First, the finding of the Cross by the right-believing Empress Helena, Equal to the Apostles, and second the return of that Cross to Jerusalem from Persia by the Emperor Heraclius in 628.

By the mere planting of thy Cross, O Christ, the foundation of death did shake; for him whom Hades did swallow eagerly, it delivered up with trembling; for verily, thou didst reveal to us thy salvation, O holy One. Wherefore, do we glorify thee, O Son of God. Have mercy upon us.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Memory Eternal

Like most, I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news.  I was at the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission, getting a settlement approved.  I don't remember which case it was.  I don't remember which commissioner I met with to approve the settlement.  I only remember the secretary coming out and telling me and the other lawyers present that New York had suffered a terrorist attack.  Two planes had been flown into the World Trade Center.

The memories of that day and the days that followed are clear, but eerily distant.  I remember the oddness of going outside and hearing no planes overhead.  At all.  I remember the anger and the disgust, and my own personal sin -- the desire to see the people who planned this dead.  Their families dead.  Their countries destroyed.  I doubt I've ever been as resolute in wishing harm on other human beings as I was that day and in the weeks and months that followed.  These people were evil, and they deserved to die.  I conveniently overlooked the fact that if I was to measure myself by God's standard, I am evil too, and I also deserve to die.  I still pray for the grace to overcome my self-righteousness and forgive my neighbor.

The country has moved on in large measure, and we have returned to the polarizing bickering and senseless partisan fighting we had in the years prior to 9/11.  But it changed everything for me.  I am no longer content to speak of political "opponents" as if they were as evil as the terrorists, enemies who need to be stopped at all cost.  I am no longer inclined to view politics as a game where there are good guys and bad guys.  I am still critical of our government and the politicians who run it, but I refused from that day forward to engage in the kind of politics that views politicians as either moral giants trying to save the country (if they agree with me) or as despots bent on the destruction of our Republic (if they don't).  I fail in that quite frequently, but it is the standard to which I now hold myself.  I have refused to vote for more than one politician I otherwise intended to vote for on the sole basis that they lied about their opponent and painted them as an enemy of the Republic.  That includes the last two gubernatorial elections here in Georgia.

I also have a different appreciation for world politics.  I was ambivalent about Middle East politics on 9/10/11.  The only thing I knew about it was how we went over and mopped the floor with Iraq in the early 1990s, and before that how we bombed Libya into the stone age back in the mid '80s.  America!  **** yeah!  By 9/12/11 I was very much interested, and humbled.  I was no longer so arrogant to think we could afford to overlook both the radicals in the Middle East and, more to the point, our own policies that breed radicalism.  I became a much greater proponent of green energy and ending our dependence on foreign oil.  I also learned quite a lot in the years since about not only Islamic radicalism in the Middle East, but Christianity as well.  One thing I learned is that Islamic countries aren't the only ones that persecute Christians.  Another is that even under persecution, Christian communities still survive and do quite well in Islamic countries.  Our Patriarchate, for example, is currently located in Damascus, Syria. 

Our parish today did not have a "9/11 Service."  The Orthodox Church doesn't really operate that way.  We celebrated the appointed feast of the day, which is the Leavetaking of the Nativity of the Theotokos.  We did, however, include those who lost their lives on 9/11/01 in the prayers of the Church, and at the request of our Metropolitan we prayed the Trisagion Service for the departed. May their memory be eternal.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Nativity of the Theotokos

This is the day of the Lord; wherefore, rejoice ye nations; for behold the chamber of Light, the scroll of the Word of life hath come forth from the womb; the gate facing the east hath been born. Wherefore, she awaiteth the entrance of the High Priest. And she alone admitted Christ into the universe for salvation of our souls.

+ Doxastikon of the Feast, Tone 6

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Reading list...

Just a few books I'm planning to tackle over the next few months, starting with the one I'm currently reading:

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dormition of the Theotokos

In giving birth you preserved your virginity,
In falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos.
You were translated to life, O Mother of Life,
And by your prayers, you deliver our souls from death.
Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos,
Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions.
For being the Mother of Life,
She was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Troparion (Tone 4)
Come, you faithful, let us welcome the Transfiguration of Christ,
And let us joyfully cry as we celebrate the prefeast:
"The day of holy gladness has come;
The Lord has ascended Mount Tabor
To radiate the beauty of His divinity."
Kontakion (Tone 4)
Podoben: “Today You have shown forth...”
Today all mortal nature shines with the divine Transfiguration
And cries with exultation:
"Christ the Savior is transfigured to save us all!" 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Of dogs and salvation

“A dog is better than I because he loves and does not judge.”

-- Abba Xanthios

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Conversion Story (but not the one you think).....

A telephone call from a friend today prompted me to write this post. He asked me if I would mind sharing our story of how we became Orthodox in more detail. We'll eventually do that over lunch. But it occurred to me that while I have shared that story from the standpoint of a dissatisfied WELS Lutheran HERE, the WELS to Orthodox story doesn't really tell the whole story, or even most of it. Which is to say, by the time we became WELS Lutherans, my wife and I were probably 90% Orthodox already, though many of our fellow Lutherans, particularly in that WELS parish, were not even close to that number. The purpose of this post is to detail our conversion over 10 years ago to Lutheranism and how the 10 years that followed ultimately led us to Orthodoxy. While I have touched on the former very briefly HERE, what follows is a fuller explanation of that conversion and how it ultimately led us to the Orthodox Church.

My wife and I were both raised Southern Baptist. We were married in a small Baptist Church in Bremen, Georgia, the same one in which I was raised. We were both nominally Baptist at best -- we essentially went to Church on rare occasion and did not particularly pay attention to what our Church taught. You could say we were "Baptist by birth" but not really by doctrine. This was especially true when it came to such things as moderate drinking or listening to certain secular music. But it was what we knew, and it was where we were raised, and so we stayed Baptist for a time. While I was in law school, we attended a large Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi, and two things really bothered us. First, we seemed to only hear about what a great person the Pastor was -- liquor had never passed his lips (yes, that exact phrase was actually used from the pulpit), he didn't go out on the gambling boats, etc. Second, related to the first, we kept hearing how we just had to believe more and we too could eradicate terrible sins such as moderate drinking and recreational but non habitual gambling from our lives. It wasn't long before we became tired of hearing this week in and week out, and we quit going to Church altogether. It turns out Church with a bunch of Law and not much Gospel is not very edifying for sinners. Especially when the "Law" in question is made up out of pietist wholecloth.

This was not how we were raised, mind you. There are plenty of Baptist Churches out there that will speak the Gospel in some sense or another. The Church my parents attend is a good example of this. It is a non-sacramental Gospel. It lacks historicity and Patristic understandings of salvation. But at the very minimum you will usually get an acknowledgement that the Pastor and parishioners are sinners in need of salvation. The alter call is for people to not only dedicate their lives to Christ, but in fact to confess their sinfulness and need for the Savior. We just never got that where we attended.

After I graduated law school and began practicing law, a friend of mine went with me to New Orleans for the SHOT show. This is a firearms trade show, and my friend and I knew each other from the shooting community. He was a Lutheran pastor. We talked about Church while we were there, but on the way back he asked some hard questions. He was also a former Baptist, so he knew the language. We discussed infant baptism, the Lord's Supper, and all the other typical areas of distinction between Lutherans and Baptists, but two stuck out to me particularly. First, he asked me if I was a good person. I told him I try to be. He asked how often I went to Church, whether I truly loved God and kept His Commandments, etc. I had to confess I did not do any of these things nearly well enough to please God. Then, second, he told me about John Chapter 20, where Jesus said "receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." Then he absolved me. I had been told I was forgiven before. But that day, I believed it.

We ended up at a fine LCMS parish just around the corner from our house, and the Pastor literally lived in our neighborhood. I attended a Vespers service, and to be honest I was creeped out at first. The people were nice, but everyone chanted the service a capella, and the music was weird and medieval. But then they dove right into a Bible study (it was kind of a hybrid Vespers where we sang the first part of Vespers, had a Bible study, then sang the end of Vespers). I spoke to the Pastor for a long time that night, then went home and told my wife about it. She wanted to go the following Sunday.

Sunday was a different story. The Liturgy hooked us from the get go. There was an organ, and a choir, and the building was full, and the loudest people there were the ones who could sing. It was amazing. Very early in the service was a corporate confession of sins. The entire congregation spoke a general confession, and the Pastor faced the altar saying it with us. Then he turned around and pronounced the Absolution. I looked at my wife and we nodded. Here was a place for sinners like us. The Liturgy itself was beautiful, if still a bit off putting -- keep in mind we were raised on the very "Protestant light" worship style we eventually came to dislike. But the real key was how much Scripture there was in the service. It seemed as if every single portion of the Liturgy was pulled directly from the Scriptures, and then when you'd had enough of that, there were readings -- 3 of them -- and a sermon that focused on the readings! We began attending a Sunday School class on the Liturgy, and we attended Wednesday night Vespers and began to learn the Lutheran Confessions and the Scriptures that were so richly cited therein. We attended that Church for nearly 5 years before deciding we needed to move closer to family.

When we arrived in Georgia, we began attending an LCMS Church near our home. That parish used TLH as the hymnal, so it was by appearance more traditional than the one we came from (which used Lutheran Worship at the time). But our very first meeting with the Pastor raised red flags. We were told they were trying out contemporary worship there. My wife and I probably did not react as charitably as we should have. We had left this type of freestyle worship to become Lutheran. And we had been taught, rightly I still believe, that Lutherans maintain the historic forms of the Western Mass. But this Pastor had determined, for whatever reason, that guitar based, upbeat songs should be used, and began incorporating them in the Liturgy more and more frequently. This, in and of itself, is not so bad, but the songs used a more lightweight Protestant theology -- a lot about us and what we do, and very little about Jesus and what He has done. I once remarked to him that this use went against the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi (as we pray, so we believe), and he said "I don't believe that (lex orandi, lex credendi) is true." This came to a head when he started a Liturgy shortly after Easter with a "hymn" called "Let Our Hearts Burn Within Us." The LCMS has blessedly removed it from their website, but you can listen to it HERE. Suffice it to say, it was sappy, emotion-driven and hardly weighty in theology. It reminded me of the quote by Hank Hill "you're not making Christianity better, you're making rock and roll worse!" It was the embodiment of everything we thought was wrong with where this parish was headed. We never went back to that Church. It shut its doors a couple of years later after declining attendance took its toll. I'm convinced to this day that they had a vibrant Lutheran Church that they turned into a generic evangelical Protestant Church, and in the process ran off all the Lutherans. And as I've said a million times, Lutherans are horrible at doing evangelical style worship. It's like watching a polka band cover a hip hop song. It just doesn't work.

So from there, we joined a great WELS parish, and made a ton of good friends and generally had a very nice time. But there were gnawing issues. We missed the higher view of the Liturgy at our old parish, and we didn't like the fact that the Sacrament was only offered every other week, and never on Christmas or Easter or any other time visitors were likely to be present. The lectionary was sometimes eschewed, and more often when it was not, the sermon text was not from the day's readings, so we were getting a lot of sermons that did not deal with the readings of the day even when those readings were used. The piety of that parish was somewhat more "low Church" than what we were used to, so our oldest daughter fell out of the habit of making the sign of the cross and paying attention during the Liturgy. We still said our nightly prayers, but beyond that there was very little real catechesis going on that they couldn't get at a local Methodist or Baptist Church. A large part of that is my fault -- I was not particularly excited about the more Protestantized nature of the parish and did not take great pleasure in teaching my kids a historic catholic faith that wasn't really reflected outwardly in that parish. So I didn't. I take full responsibility for that. Another issue was that my wife no longer wanted to go to Church. Whereas I was content to "just go" and receive the Sacraments, she was concerned about herself and our children and how the lack of a strong piety and historic catholicity were affecting her and them. Eventually, she prompted me to look elsewhere.

She wanted another Lutheran parish. Unfortunately, pickins' are slim in these parts, and we had exhausted the best we had. If this parish where we loved the Pastor and had a lot of good friends who loved us and our children, and which was conservative and not too "evangelical" in style -- if this wasn't what we were looking for, any other Lutheran parish in the area was realistically going to be less so. I began considering our options and I saw three: Roman Catholicism, High Church Anglicanism, or Orthodoxy. High Church Anglicanism wasn't a real option. There were no parishes near us that fit that bill. That left two, and while as Lutherans, Rome was not as good an option as Orthodoxy, in the end there was an Antiochian Orthodox Church near our home, so we visited there first out of sheer convenience.

The rest, as they say, is history. We saw in that parish exactly the living, dynamic, historic, Gospel-centered Sacramental faith being lived out by the parishioners that caused us to become Lutheran to begin with. While no one would enter our parish and confuse it with a Lutheran parish, I have to say that the similarities are far greater than the differences. And the differences have turned out to be great blessings.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council

"On this Sunday, in the Holy Orthodox Church, we commemorate the 630 holy and God-bearing Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which convened in Chalcedon in 451 against the Monophysites.

The Holy Fathers were, once again, concerned with the nature of Jesus Christ. The false teaching arose that Christ’s human nature (considered by heretics as less perfect) dissolved itself in His divine nature (considered by heretics as more perfect): like a cube of sugar in a parcel of water. Thus, in that scenario, Christ had only one nature, the Divine. These false preachers were called Monophysites (“mono”, meaning “one” and “physis”, meaning “nature”), and they were led by Eutyches and Dioscorus. Monophysitism overemphasized the divine nature of Christ, at the expense of the human. The Fourth Ecumenical Council condemned Monophysitism and proclaimed that Christ has two complete natures: the divine and the human, as defined by previous Councils. These two natures function as equally perfect, without confusion, and are neither divided nor separate. The Fathers declared that at no time did they undergo any change.

By the intercessions of Thy Saints, O Christ God, have mercy upon us. Amen."

-- from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the West:

Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4, 1776

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Home, sweet home! Otherwise known as "the other side of catholicity"

My last post, like a few before it, was about the great benefit of catholicity in the Church.  The idea that when we travel (or, God forbid, move) we pretty much know what to expect in whatever Orthodox Church we end up visiting.

Having said that, after two weeks away from our home parish, it was awfully nice to be back.  Catholicity is wonderful, but home is home.  I've mentioned before how our parish "smells like a Church."  We had visitors to our parish today, and one of them walked into the narthex and the first thing he said was "it smells good in here!"

Yes, yes it does.

Familiarity is an interesting thing.  Everything about this parish was foreign to us when we arrived for the first visit over a year ago.  And yet, then and now, it felt like home.  Orthodoxy has been wonderful to us, and I don't mean this at all to suggest other parishes would not suffice.  In fact, if pushed to the wall, I could suggest several areas I actually prefer the piety and practice of other parishes I've visited, though they would be few (getting rid of the pews would be my first suggestion -- Lent was nice without them).  But at the end of the day, this one is home and likely always will be.  We cannot imagine being anywhere else. 

Orthodoxy is one big family, and without a doubt the relation is visible in other parishes we visit.  But they are still distant cousins and step-siblings.  It's nice to be back home with the immediate family again.  We missed y'all.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

My broken record - different, yet the same

I've blogged about this before and I doubtless will again, but it is a great joy to belong to a Church where the basic form of the Liturgy is the same no matter where I go.  We visited St. John the Theologian Orthodox Church in Panama City, Florida, and we plan to return on Wednesday for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

St. John is my Patron Saint, so it was a particular blessing to have his icon prominently displayed for veneration.  St. John's is a small Greek parish in Panama City, and meets in what was obviously at one point a Protestant Church.  It is quite small -- smaller even than our little parish in Hiram, Georgia, both in attendance and in the size of the parish building itself.  Most of the service was in English, but most of the hymnody was in Greek, and prominent portions such as the Lord's Prayer and the Trisagion Hymn were sung in both English and Greek.  As was the practice at the last Greek parish I attended, the priest at the end handed out the antidiron and offered a blessing in lieu of having the parish venerate the cross.  Unlike the last Greek parish I attended, the sermon was after the Gospel reading, as it is in our home parish.  We communed, and the priest and parishioners could not have been nicer.  We look forward to returning.

When I visit other Orthodox parishes, I am constantly struck by how trivial the differences seem and how utterly familiar the Liturgy is even when it is not done the same way we do it.  I shouldn't be, but I am.  One reason we left the Lutheran Church was the "to each his own" form of liturgical practice that is not at all what we were raised with, but was in fact prominent in our area.  There was no catholicity, there was no sense of oneness to the Church.  There was only what we do here, which was sorta-kinda like what they do down the road, but not in any real fundamental sense.  This is not to denigrate this -- certainly Lutherans are not alone in this typically Protestant worship mindset.  But it is not what we understood the Church to be.  It is not catholic.

This is also not to say the Orthodox Church walks in lockstep.  As melxiopp kindly pointed out the last time I blogged on this topic, there are in fact material differences in how some Orthodox parishes celebrate the Liturgy.  And without question, there is freedom for that in Orthodoxy, and there is also concern about an overuse of that freedom.  We are, in that, no different than anyone else.  The devil is in the details.  Other Christians have worship wars over whether to add a rock band, or a keyboard, or modern lighting and video screens.  We bicker over whether the curtain and the Royal Doors are shut, or how loud the prayers are spoken.  That is not to make light of these concerns, nor to be triumphalistic about the failings of others.  It is, rather, to say it is refreshing to have such uniformity, even as we could always do better.  As Lutherans, we were raised in the faith on liturgy, catholicity and tradition.  It's good to have all three again.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

St. John of Kronstadt on Good Works and Sin

"When the foolish thought of counting up any of your good works enters into your head, immediately correct your fault and rather count up your sins, your continual and innumerable offenses against the All-merciful and Righteous Master, and you will find that their number is as the sand of the sea, whilst your virtues in comparison with them are as nothing."

-- St. John of Kronstadt

Sunday, June 12, 2011


O heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who art in all places and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and abide in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O gracious Lord.

--from the Trisagion prayer

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council

The Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council are commemorated today.  The primary impetus for the council, held in the city of Nicea in 325 AD, was to address the errors of the heretic Arius.  Arius is best known for promulgating the heresy that there was a time when the Father was but the Son was not, a heresy continued to this very day by modern Jehovah's Witnesses.

Among the Holy Fathers at this council were Saint Athanasius, who was a young Deacon at the time attending the Council with his hierarch, Patriarch Alexander of Alexandria, and Saint Nicholas, the famed Bishop of Myra who is more commonly known for his connection with the Nativity.  Saint Nicholas is reputed to have punched Arius in the face, so angered was he at the heretic's teachings.  Since he called the Council, the Emperor, Saint Constantine the Great, was also present.

It is after this council that the Nicene Creed is named (though it is more properly known as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, since the Creed in its present form was not finalized until the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 359, which greatly expounded upon the Third Article dealing with the Holy Spirit).  The Faith as articulated at this Council and at Constantinople has, in large measure, united all of Christianity since, with the only real division being the filioque controversy wherein the Western Church added the phrase "and the son" to the Third Article provision dealing with procession of the Holy Spirit.  Leaving this controversy aside, the great uniting feature of the Creed as comprised at Nicea was in the Second Article, where the Council confessed that Christ is "of one essence with the Father. . . ."  The Greek word in the Creed for "essence," homoousion, has become a rallying point for all of Christendom over and against those who would make the Son to be something less than the Father.

318 bishops convened at Nicea, along with incalculable numbers of attending presbyters and deacons.  No small number of these arrived bearing the marks of their persecution, wounds inflicted prior to the Edict of Milan.  It was said at the time that "all the world follows after Arius."  These great men quelled the heresy and preserved the Apostolic Faith from one of the most pervasive heresies in the history of the Church.  It is fitting, then, to close this post with the Creed by which they did so (in its current, Niceno-Constantinopolitan form):

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made:  Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets; and I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.  I look for the Resurrection of the dead, and the Life of the world to come. Amen.