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: