Sunday, April 29, 2007


It's been a long week.

Something governmental, on which and for which we had been waiting for some nine months or more, has finally arrived. First, the letter, early last week. And on Tuesday, the interview.

We are hoping and praying that all goes well.

And in the meantime, I doubt I will be posting, and I doubt I will sleep much.

- V.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Random strange thought

I got to thinking today...

There is a big difference between a compulsive jerk and a convulsive jerk.

- V.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Orthopraxy, Not Orthodoxy

It turns out that what I am seeking is orthopraxy, not orthodoxy. As a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church, I am confident that that which is taught and that which I believe is orthodox as well as Orthodox.

Orthodoxia: Right belief. Right praise.

What I seek is right practice.

I don't think I am alone in this search. My brother, a Baptist pastor, is devouring books on the holiness movement of the Puritans, on the theologian John Owen ... and this is part of the same need, I think. He wants to be holy, and he wants to know how to get there. We live in a culture where moral absolutes are dead, where the Church (or church) can and will no longer teach us how to live. It wouldn't dare.

This theme is not going to disappear lightly. I have been thinking about this for months, if not years, and I am dissatisfied. [At the end of this post I will offer a solution, but it is a weak one.] I know too many converts who glory in their knowledge and in their Orthodox Christian wisdom, and too few that actually desire to embrace Holy Tradition and live a radically Orthodox life, not merely a Protestant or Catholic one in Orthodox vestments. And I know too many priests who are unwilling to tell people how to live their lives ... too gentle? too pastoral?

Sheep are herded away from danger, away from the wolf and cliff, back into the flock. Even they have an orthopraxis, if you will. Where is the small dog yapping at my heels and nipping my flank to keep me from danger, to show me the right path to walk?

In the weeks since I posted on this theme, I have heard from and I have talked with numerous people.

Les of Whippleshire tells me that I should become the book I seek, the book that teaches this aforementioned orthopraxy. This is well and good, but it hardly serves to help me here and now. Another friend asked me if my discernment wasn't good enough. Well, no. It took Israel from the time of Moses to the time of John Forerunner to prepare itself culturally for the reception of Christ. It took Rome and Greece untold thousands of martyrs for the land to become fruitful enough to embrace Christianity. It took Russia hundreds of years to become fully Orthodox, to establish a working orthopraxy for tsar, boyar, peasant and serf. Can I replicate 3000 years of history in the 50 years or so I have left to live? Can I suffer deep enough, pray powerfully enough, read thoroughly enough, understand myself and God well enough, and yet remain humble enough to gain the wisdom of the Church in one short lifetime? Again, no.

I don't mind becoming the book I seek, but I want the Church to be the hand that writes the pages.

Les, whose thoughts I always appreciate, then takes the issue over to his own blog, where he too wrestles with it. He gives it a uniquely Catholic spin, and points the finger at the unfortunate tragedy of the post-industrialized hyper-technological anti-pastoral rat-race that is modern "civilization". True enough, but tangential. More pertinently, he writes:

But this is the paradox, is it not? We know we are saved by grace yet we find comfort in parameters. Even the “free” Evangelical falls into this practical way of living often without even realizing it. It is natural for us to desire freedom and at the same time we desire authoritative boundaries. The problem with boundaries is that if we don’t set them ourselves, sooner or later we will see them as someone else’s boundaries and begin to chafe against them. In the Protestant world this usually results in a new denomination. Dissension and fragmentation has been raised to an art form, if not a virtue. Yet in practice, the layman defers to an authority, despite the fact that ultimately his theological position is that the Scripture is his only authority.
We need more than an open field. We need to have some parameters. I am not a "free Evangelical" like my brother, but I see him struggling with the same pastoral landscape without a pastor to pastor us.

Les makes the intriguing claim that part of our problem in trying to live rightly is that our culture is post-Christian as well as post-lapsarian. That orthopraxy stumbles upon the scandal of a world that displays banner-like the tattered remnants of Christendom but is militantly and aggressively anti. The problem with this diagnosis is that, accurate as it is (and it is woefully so), the Orthodoxy that I know has no orthopraxy to stumble with. That I struggle to find the border between field and forest, that my co-religionists and I are confused between canine and lupine, between the flank-nipping safety of what is right and the moral confusion of all that is secular and predatory.

We need catechesis.

Happily, I found this, which is part of a larger series by Fr. Jonathan Tobias [thanks, Lifespark, for the reference] - I urge one and all to read the entire series, and this article in its entirety:

[...] In the most important ways, the Christian ethos typified by the Beatitudes is the adult culture into which our youth must be assimilated. That maturational process of spiritual assimilation is precisely the catechetical work of what is known as “youth ministry.” At least, it should be.

But there are other concerns and “folk-ways” that are not addressed explicitly by the Beatitudes, the Apostolic Witness, or the corpus of Holy Tradition. I am thinking here, in particular, of what a common culture really ought to offer – concerns that are as basic as what to wear and what (and how) to eat … how to celebrate feasts and how to observe the fasts … how to celebrate truly happy events and how to mourn at tragedies … how to become an adult, and make the transition from passionate teenage to wise adult. Moreover, a common "adult" culture ought to identify who should lead, and how they ought to be followed.

[...] Our memories (whether accurate or not) of the Byzantine Empire or Tsarist Russia do not contain the DNA by which we can clone an alternative to pop culture. Neither can the monastery be used as a model for such an alternative culture: many well-meaning Christians attempt this, but it is not right. Monastic spirituality is for all of us, but not its typicon. I hate to bring up this disappointing news, and I’m sure there will be some who will take umbrage, if not offense. But the fact remains that these ideas are not “real cultures” – they are romantic ideals, but they do not provide what a culture needs to provide.

And yet, at the very moment I dismiss the ghosts of Great Empire and contravene the appeal of the skete, I immediately hasten to suggest that there is a providential reason why God brought to America the great mass of Orthodox people when He did.

One can argue that after a thousand years of uninterrupted progress, the advance of Western Civilization lurched to a grinding halt in 1914, right before the Great War. [...] It was the time when the adult culture of the West all but disappeared, and wisdom fled into ivory towers, old wives’ tales, and little houses.

It was in this season, in these decades, that God brought to America the Orthodox people who were not only Orthodox, but were people from intact adult cultures – cultures that still knew how to fast and feast, how to mourn together and dance in groups, how to marry and embrace adulthood and old age as a good and not regrettable thing.

I suggest here, in not so many words, that God brought these same people not only to bring Orthodoxy to America, but also to bring their culture.

So for us “youth ministers,” I suggest these things [...]:

  1. We must catechize simply and clearly from doctrine.
  2. We must criticize culture sharply, while encouraging youth to enter adulthood.
  3. We must utilize our own ethnic culture as a Divine gift – even for those of us transplants who are “grafted in” to these ethnicities – which can replace and complete that which is lacking in today’s pop culture. It will have to be an ethnic culture as transmitted primarily in English, for that is the only way in America that an ethnic culture should survive.

For myself, this means that I look to the Carpatho-Rusin culture as a providential storehouse of wisdom and folkways for my parochial young. For others, that would mean the use of Greek culture, or Russian, or Serbian, or Syrian, or Ukrainian.


Youth ministry requires an Orthodoxy unashamed, and an embrace of the ways of naši ludi ["our people" --- V].

What Fr. Tobias tells us in one of the omitted portions is that we are all youth, that our culture is youth enshrined, and that this catechesis is necessary for one and all.

A catechesis from doctrine - excellent.

A sharp criticism of our culture - I think our Churches are terribly weak on this point.

A plundering of the storehouse of wisdom and folkways from ethnic culture to replace and complete pop culture - and here I mourn. Here, at the crux, the climax of his post, I realize that I am still without a tutor.

Here is the solution, but it is a weak one (at least for me, as I must needs re-personalize this post). For it requires second- or third-generation Orthodox immigrants who are still practising their culture and their Orthodoxy and it requires access to these people. Where I live, the second generation threw off their Orthodoxy and became Protestant or non-practising and there is no third generation.

[Still to come, Boutique Orthodoxy.]

- V.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

On St. Basil

The Scrivener (Ian Dalrymple) is another blogger who is well-worth the read.

Articulate and erudite, his blog is still waters running deep, eddying slowly far to one side of the hustle, bustle, flow and surge of the streams of Internet thought.

In a short series, Scrivener compiles three stories having to do with that prince among Saints, St. Basil the Great (or St. Basil of Caesarea, for my Roman friends) :

1) Cappadocian Follies
2) Speaking Truth to Power, 4th-Century Style
3) The Art of Snaring Pigeons

I can only hope that you, my gentle reader, enjoy these posts as much as I did.

Further commentary would be superfluous.

- V.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Anti-Rant

I wanted to do a rant. I've been thinking a couple themes over, and I was prepared to write. I had the time, I had the inclination, I wasn't overly fatigued from work.

But then Cho unleashed himself upon Virginia Tech.

There are greater tragedies in this world - I think of the vast numbers that were killed in the tsunami, or of the horrific wars being waged in various parts of the world. Darfur and Baghdad come to mind.

These horrors seem part of the unnatural nature of the world, however; we expect wars and rumours of wars, we expect disasters like fire, flood, and famine.

Cho's actions touch home much more vividly, I think, than war or desolation. They touch home because they are unexpected, too unnatural even for our fallen unnatural world ... because they rip asunder a shroud to unveil a yawning abyss and a malevolent foe, the Enemy of our race, whose alien psychic presence is revealed in one man's demoniacally murderous nihilism.

I refer you to two excellent articles on this theme, by Fr. Jonathan Tobias:
Free Speech a la Glock and Non-conventional psyche

In light of Virginia Tech, modern self-expression gone mad, and a world in which dark angelic powers are newly re-revealed, I need a hiatus from ranting. I need to build something, I need to create something, I need to affirm and reaffirm the good, the beautiful, and the true, I need to rebuke the devil and turn my face towards the hills from whence cometh my help.

- V.

[Edit: Ochlophobist's post on Cho & Virginia Tech is also very good, and well worth the read. -V.]

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Paschal Impressions


Ringing the bell, long, vigorously. Tired arms, thinking "Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!" with every toll of the bell.

E telling me, excitedly, the baby was moving at "Christ is Risen!" before the front doors.

The lights, burning full and bright. A blaze of Paschal glory.

Matins & Liturgy

People, more people. A surge, steady like time, ticking towards the Holy Eucharist.

"As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Alleluia!"
E telling me that our baby was moving really vigorously during the baptismal hymn - kicking wildly or dancing maybe. "The baby is looking forward to their baptism as much as I am," she says, her eyes aglow, her hands caressing her pregnant belly.

The angel cried to the Lady full of Grace: "Rejoice, rejoice O ye Virgin! Again, I say rejoice! Your Son is risen from His three days in the tomb. With Himself He has raised all the dead. Rejoice, rejoice, O ye people. Shine, shine, shine O New Jerusalem! The Glory of the Lord has shone on you! Exult now and be glad, O Zion! Be radiant, O Pure Theotokos, in the Resurrection, the Resurrection of your Son!"
The joy of the Paschal Theotokion, my favourite hymn of the liturgical year. The bell singing out with us as we proclaim the words "Shine, shine, shine".

Taking comfort in the words of St. John Chrysostom, who urges all who have come to the feast not to fear, whether arriving in the first hour or in the eleventh.

Shouting back the refrain:
Indeed He is risen!
Il est vraiment résuscité!
Voistinnu voskrese!
Alithos anesti!

Indeed, Christ is risen!

Blessing of the Baskets

And then, the meat, the cheese, the alcohol. Father going about, splashing us from his hyssop aspergillum. Spontaneous sharing from the baskets. Tired, happy faces.

A general exodus, and then, a tumble towards bed and sleep.

Joyous Pascha!

- V.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Great and Holy Friday

I've been thinking about Judas Iscariot.

Last night we read the 12 Gospels of the Passion of our Saviour, and, as I have done from time to time, I reflected on which character I would be most like if Now and Then were conflated and Christ were crucified before me.

In the past I have generally ended up wondering whether I would flee immediately (like most the apostles), flee but then follow at a distance (like St. Matthew), follow Christ into the courts of the High Priest but then deny him (like St. Peter), follow Christ right through His Passion (like St. John), or whether I would be the closet believer (like St. Joseph of Arimathea or St. Nicodemus) who showed up and revealed myself as a disciple at the end.

I have never given much thought about the thirteenth person at the Lord's Supper - unless, coming to an awareness as to how my sins were a betrayal and my "devotions" a Judas kiss, I compared myself with he who betrayed Christ to His enemies.

Until I stopped musing over the act of betrayal itself, and I asked myself why Judas betrayed Christ. What I see scares me a little, because it takes Judas from an archetype of evil and a caricature of sinfulness and makes him a simple sinner within the realm of possibility of any one of us: all that is needful is a dominant Passion and a tendency to despair.

Judas, the evangelist tells us, was a thief from the beginning and regularly took money from Jesus and His apostles. His Passion was a love for money.

I can see him now, it dawning on him that Jesus was not the Christ he had been expecting, not the Messiah that would kick the Romans back to Rome and free the Jews from yet another Gentile occupation. I can see Judas, angry, bitter, falling rapidly - easily, how easily - into his dominant Passion, money ... looking for a way to get money, speeding up an "inevitable" confrontation between Christ and His enemies. Getting 30 pieces of silver for a simple introduction, he might think. Or maybe he didn't care - it was money.

Afterwards, he tried to undo what he had done, horrified at the criminality of his action, only to be informed that the deal was closed, the consequences irrevocable, Christ's blood on his hands. And Judas went out, despairing, and despairing he hung himself.


I don't know about you, but I struggle with at least one besetting Passion; I know how easily a moment of weakness, unhappiness, rebellion can translate into a moment of triumph for the demons and a moment of bondage to the Passions. Addicted, enslaved, prone to crack along a given faultline of sin, I tumble into the ease and comfort of my native sty.

Then comes the moment of insight, of self-awareness, where the depths of depravity are realized, and the impact I have had on those around me is felt, and I perceive my distance from a Holy God...

... sometimes I despair and sometimes I "repent", my repentance despair in religious clothing, and sometimes - how rarely - I truly repent.

My dominant Passion isn't money, but if Christ were here and I were tempted by my pet sin? Could I guarantee that His presence in the flesh would ensure any better behaviour than now? I doubt it.

Mix in a little despair, and I can see an outcome for me not unlike that of Judas.

And that is a scary thought.

- V.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


We've just digitized the ultrasound image we have of our baby... and the digitized picture looks just as blurry, indistinct, and open to interpretation as the original.

But we are delighted to have a picture, any picture of our beloved baby. Naturally, we would have preferred clarity (and features and distinguishable gender) .

So like proud papas and mamas all over the world, we wanted to show off our baby.

Tricky to figure out what's what, isn't it? Well, we've had more time and much more inclination to decipher it, to bring clarity to the unclear. Here's our take on the blurs:

Now, I'm not too sure whether this is the triumph of sight over ultrasound, resolving a poor resolution... or if this is the triumph of wishful thinking, of fantasy over reality.

Personally, I think our baby looks like E.

- V.