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.