Friday, January 30, 2009

Angry God? - The Mind of the Church

My thanks to Fr. Stephen Freeman for his post, Loving an Angry God.

Here are some gems gleaned from that post and its subsequent discussion:

St. Anthony the Great:
God is good, dispassionate, and immutable. Now someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not change, may well ask how, in that case, it is possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good and showing mercy to those who honor Him, and as turning away from the wicked and being angry with sinners. To this it must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to be offended are passions; nor is He won over by the gifts of those who honor Him, for that would mean He is swayed by pleasure. It is not right that the Divinity feel pleasure or displeasure from human conditions. He is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united to Him, but if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him. By living in holiness we cleave to God; but by becoming wicked we make Him our enemy. It is not that He grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us and expose us to demons who torture us. And if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him to change, but that through our actions and our turning to the Divinity, we have cured our wickedness and so once more have enjoyment of God’s goodness. Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.

St. Basil the Great:
But one may say, if God is not responsible for evil things, why is it said in the book of Esaias, ‘I am He that prepared light and Who formed darkness, Who makes peace and Who creates evils’ (45:7).” And again, “There came down evils from the Lord upon the gates of Jerusalem” (Mich. 1:12). And, “Shall there be evil in the city which the Lord hath not wrought?” (Amos 3:6). And in the great Ode of Moses, “Behold, I am and there is no god beside Me. I will slay, and I will make to live; I will smite, and I will heal” (Deut. 32:39). But none of these citations, to him who understands the deeper meaning of the Holy Scriptures, casts any blame on God, as if He were the cause of evils and their creator, for He Who said, “I am the One Who makes light and darkness,” shows Himself as the Creator of the universe, not that He is the creator of any evil…. “He creates evils,” that means, “He fashions them again and brings them to a betterment, so that they leave their evilness, to take on the nature of good.” (Quoted by Fr. Stephen)

St. Luke the Evangelist:
But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Luke 6:35 (Quoted by Fr. Stephen)

St. Isaac of Syria:
[A compassionate heart] is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons and all that exists. At the recollection and at the sight of them such a person’s eyes overflow with tears owing to the vehemence of the compassion which grips his heart; as a result of his deep mercy his heart shrinks and cannot bear to hear or look upon any injury or the slightest suffering of anything in creation. This is why he constantly offers up prayer full of tears, even for the irrational animals and for the enemies of truth, even for those that harm him, so that they may be protected and find mercy. He even prays for the reptiles as a result of the great compassion which is poured out beyond measure — after the likeness of God — in his heart. (Quoted by Bill Tickel)

St. Isaac of Syria:
That we should imagine that anger, wrath, jealousy or the such like have anything to do with the divine Nature is something utterly abhorrent for us: no one in their right mind, no one who has any understanding (at all) can possibly come to such madness as to think anything of the sort about God. Nor again can we possibly say that He acts thus out of retribution, even though the Scriptures may on the outer surface posit this. Even to think this of God and to suppose that retribution for evil acts is to be found with Him is abominable. By implying that he makes use of such a great and difficult thing out of retribution we are attributing a weakness to the (divine) Nature. We cannot even believe such a thing can be found in those human beings who live a virtuous and upright life and whose thoughts are entirely in accord with the divine will — let alone (believe it) of God, that He has done something out of retribution for anticipated evil acts in connection with those whose nature He had brought into being with honour and great love. Knowing them and all their conduct, the flow of His grace did not dry up from them: not even after they (started) living amid many evil deeds did He withhold his care for them, even for a moment.

If someone says that He has put up with them here (on earth) in order that his patience may be known — with the idea that He would punish them there mercilessly, such a person thinks in an unspeakably blasphemous way about God, due to his infantile way of thinking: he is removing from God His kindness, goodness and compassion, (all) the things because of which He truly bears with sinners and wicked men. Such a person is attributing to (God) enslavement to passion, (supposing) that He has not consented to their being chastised here, seeing that He has prepared them for a much greater misfortune, in exchange for a short-lived patience. Not only does such a person fail to attribute something praiseworthy to God, but he also calumniates Him.

A right way of thinking about God would be the following: the kind Lord, who in everything He does looks to the ways of assisting rational beings, directs thought concerning judgment to the advantage of those who accept this difficult matter. For it would be most odious and utterly blasphemous to think that hate or resentment exists with God, even against demonic beings; or to imagine any other weakness or passibility, or whatever else might be involved in the course of retribution of good or bad as applying, in a retributive way, to that glorious (divine) Nature. Rather, he acts toward us in ways He knows will be advantageous to us, whether by way of things that cause suffering, or by way of things that cause relief, whether they cause joy or grief, whether they are insignificant or glorious: all are directed towards the single eternal good, whether each receives judgment or something of glory from Him — not by way of retribution, far from it! — but with a view to the advantage that is going to come from these things. (Quoted by William)

St. Maximus the Confessor:
On God’s wrath:
The wrath of God is the painful sensation we experience when we are being trained by Him. Through this painful experience of unsought sufferings God often abases and humbles an intellect conceited about its knowledge and virtue; for such sufferings make it conscious of itself and its own weakness. When the intellect perceives its own weakness it rejects the vain pretensions of the heart.

The wrath of God is the suspension of gifts of grace — a most salutary experience for every self-inflated intellect that boasts of the blessings bestowed by God as if they were its own achievements.

On God's judgment:
By a single infinitely powerful act of will God in his goodness will gather all together, angels and men, the good and the evil. But, although God pervades all things absolutely, not all will participate in Him equally: they will participate in him according to what they are.

All, whether angels or men, who in everything have maintained a natural justice in their disposition, and have made themselves actively receptive to the inner principles of nature in a way that accords with the universal principle of well being, will participate totally in the divine life that irradiates them; for they have submitted their will to God’s will. Those who in all things have failed to maintain a natural justice in their disposition, and have been actively disruptive of the inner principles of nature in a way that conflicts with the universal principle of well-being, will lapse completely from divine life, in accordance to their dedication to what lacks being; for they have opposed their will to God’s will. It is this that separates them from God, for the principle of well-being, vivified by good actions and illumined by divine life, is not operative in their will.

On God’s justice:
God is the sun of justice, as it is written, who shines rays of goodness on simply everyone. The soul develops according to its free will into either wax because of its love for God or into mud because of its love of matter. Thus just as by nature the mud is dried out by the sun and the wax is automatically softened, so also every soul which loves matter and the world and has fixed its mind far from God is hardened as mud according to its free will and by itself advances to its perdition, as did Pharaoh. However, every soul which loves God is softened as wax, and receiving divine impressions and characters it becomes "the dwelling place of God in the Spirit." (Quoted by William)
- V.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


I don't agree much with Stephen (his blog is here), but despite our differences (and they are significant) there is that which we may agree upon ...
  • That there is absolute Truth, and that that Truth is the Lord Jesus Christ. We may disagree as to how that Truth has been revealed: through Scripture as interpreted by the Puritans, or through Tradition as written by the Bride and Body of Christ, the Church. [Fr. Stephen Freeman addresses the concept of the Church as epistle, as Scripture itself.]
  • That we need to be transformed by that Truth - we need to become like Christ. Again a disagreement as to how: my friend believes that that transformation is effected without his will; Orthodox teach that we participate in that transformation.
  • That those people who teach otherwise are false shepherds and ear ticklers; that they are heretics preaching a false gospel ... they are leading people away from Truth (the Person of Christ) into error and damnation. And so I am therefore of like mind with Stephen in his criticizing (here and here) of the Emergent Church.
I must confess that I have not paid much attention to the Emergent Church (hereafter EC), regarding it as a Protestant phenomenon and problem. And it does stem from Protestantism, and it is primarily Protestants who are seduced by it. When I have encountered the EC, I have quietly noted that it was far from Orthodoxy, but inevitably disagreed with Protestant reasons (besides the very elementary ones listed above) for dismissing it. But in a more in-depth reading on this movement, I grew very disturbed to find that it touches upon Orthodoxy.

It needs rebuke from an Orthodox standpoint.

A Brief Sketch of the Emergent Church

The EC self-defines as a post-modern church. It does not believe in separations (exclusivity) but in bringing all into one fold (inclusivity). It does not like to condemn sin, unless it be those [orthopractic] sins of omission: failing to care for the poor, the sick, the downtrodden. It speaks of the Love of Christ. It cares about the environment. It likes to borrow spiritual practices to create a pan-spirituality. And it calls itself a "generous orthodoxy", claiming the heritages of disparate and incompatible beliefs.

It likes the mystics: the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, the musings of Thomas Merton; it appropriates Hildegard von Bingen, St. Seraphim Sarovsky, St. Francis of Asissi, Thomas à Kempis, Brother Lawrence, the Desert Fathers. It builds a mosaic image of the Church by bringing together all traditions in a strange amalgam that is everything and yet nothing.

And it is not afraid of image, icon, prayer rope or rosary, the Jesus Prayer, chant, incense, candles, crossing oneself, participating in sacraments ... nor for that matter is it afraid of Buddhist asceticism and prayer, or other pagan innovations.

A Vox Clamanti Response

I know that I am a postmodern. I respond to anecdotes and the experiential ... I am not content with word or text alone. My tastes are wide-ranging and may touch on persons of other beliefs whom I admire (eg. George MacDonald, St. Francis of Asissi, Mother Theresa, C.S. Lewis). And yet there is one frequently-recurring tenet of postmodernism that I reject emphatically: relative truth. My sampling of the world's smorgasbord of thought and experience can only be acceptable insofar as these things pertain to absolute Truth - I may read contemporaries George MacDonald and J.M. Barrie but Barrie's doctrines of childhood, while amusing, have less to do with Truth than MacDonald's expositions of simple godliness.

I am disturbed by the EC's appropriation of things Orthodox. This is not reverence or respect for Orthodoxy, but a fundamental rejection of it. The external trappings of Orthodoxy - the so-called "smells and bells" - are part of a complete package that offers a theological reasoning for all it does. Its traditions do not float independent of its teaching, and very frequently its traditions require discipline, mentoring, and a firm grounding in prayer before they are taught.

The acquisition of these traditions by those who don't believe in or care to learn their undergirding theology is an insult at best and a negation of Orthodoxy at worst. But then, what else can we expect of those who reject Christ (who is Truth) but that they also will reject His Bride?

Roger Oakland, one part of whose 6-part discourse Stephen offers on his blog, makes a serious error in his critique of the EC. It is not a return to Roman Catholicism that he should fear, no matter how much the Emergent Church may use her (or Orthodoxy's) externals. No matter what one may claim about her errors, Rome still believes in an absolute Truth and as such points to Christ. The central problem with the EC is a nihilistic denial of Truth which is a denial of Christ. The Enemy unmasked.

There is another word for this denial of an absolute Truth. It is called syncretism and it is a major heresy. Unlike the syncretism of the WCC-type ecumenists which avoids theology and positive assertions of Truth as the (admitted) source of division, this EC is a new syncretism with a newly-manufactured theology to defend its old - abyss-old - nihilism.


Pilate asked rhetorically, "What is truth?" His was the wrong question. He should have asked, "Who is Truth?"

Christ is Truth. The only Truth and the only reality. And He is the Way, the only Way to salvation, and the Church is His body. And He is the Life ... the Life of the baptised Christian, the Life that conquered death and the grave, the Life that creates and recreates the Church every minute of every day, the Life of the eighth day.


Analogy 1 It is one thing for men to argue over the shape of the sun. There is, of course, a right answer. Someone will be right, and someone will be wrong. But it is something else entirely for a man to claim that there is no sun (or square and round and ringlike, which amount to the same thing).

Analogy 2 Or, alternatively, this could be compared to a classroom where the question is asked, "What is 2 + 2?" There is one answer, and many wrong ones. But everyone who answers with a number believes that there is a correct answer, and therefore has the opportunity and the reasoning capability, no matter how wrong he might initially be, to correct himself. For the person who answers "blue" or "butterfly", on the other hand, before he can engage the question he must first repent of his decision to treat mathematics like poetry.


I had a friend in whom I see the fruition of the EC. In her room she would quietly play Gregorian or Tibetan chant while burning incense or smudging sweetgrass at an altar that combined an icon of the Pantocrator of Sinai, an icon of the Horned God, a statue of Buddha, and an earth goddess idol. She was happy with it, because it reflected her spirituality, but I could never decide whether she was worshipping herself or the Great Deceiver.

- V.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Evolution, Historicity, and Ghost Writing the Bible

From Orrologion. I have left his post intact.

- V.


The Editor's Prophecy

I've got no problem accepting that all of the events in the Old and New Testaments literally, historically happened, 'really'. If one is going to believe that the ever-existing Creator of the Universe decided to not only take on human form, but become a human being consubstantial to us, well then, it isn't hard to believe in all sorts of other things. Same with belief in miracles.

That being said, I think the consensus of the Church over the past 150 years has been that there is no necessity to believe in young earth evolution. This is likely due to the fact that the Genesis and other 'violent' accounts in the OT have been viewed primarily as types and allegories in the East for centuries and centuries prior to Darwin, even if a literal, historical reality to the events was assumed, as well - the 'higher' and 'more spiritual' meaning of these texts was always beyond that of the literal and historical.

The Church has also seemed to accept in a pretty nonplussed way modern critical methodologies and at least some of the results arrived at along this spectrum.

How does one 'square the circle', so to speak, given the fact that so many of our liturgical and patristic texts explicitly or implicitly accept the historicity of the events and persons mentioned and the traditional, single authors (e.g., Moses wrote the Pentateuch, only one Isaiah, Paul wrote Hebrews, etc.)?

I think there is a difference between the historicity of the events described and the reality of the person of the prophet/author describing.

There is also in Orthodoxy - and therefore also in the Church's precursor, Israel - a long history of 'secrecy'. Humility is honored. Saints will feign madness, they will not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. Joseph will seem not to know his brothers. There are many examples.

It is my contention that many of the authors of the biblical texts may in fact be compilers and editors. They may also feign their identity leaving themselves either anonymous or pointing to a greater light than themselves, out of humility. St. Xenia of Petersburg wore her husband's clothes and would only respond to her husband's name - she was taking on the ascetic endeavor (podvig) of foolishness-for-Christ's-sake quite literally in her husband's name and on his behalf.

Similarly, sometimes humble, anonymous prophets may have pulled together writings and tales written or told by others (explaining the different 'tones' or 'vocabulary' within a work) to their own prophetic end. What is historical is the editor's prophecy, though the building blocks of that editorial creation may or may not be historically 'true'. What is most important, and this is agreed on by the Fathers, is that the typological and allegorical meanings of the Scriptures are the most important.

Our only question is whether the historical is also 'true' - and, it should be noted, historical is different than literal.

Christ literally spoke of birds of the air and flowers of the field, as to whether he was referring of specific, historical birds and flowers is a different question; Christ literally spoke of a poor man named Lazarus and a rich man, whether these were real historical men that experienced the things Christ mentioned is a different question.

(Many of the arguments against 'fundamentalist' and 'literal' readings of Scripture are in fact arguments for the use of typology and allegory and against assuming the literal reading is historical. Much of the confusion is (purposefully?) due to a conflation of these distinct arguments.)

It seems to me that historicity can be left to science, archaeology, etc. and a case can be made either way. It doesn't really matter in the same way it doesn't matter whether Shakespeare's Macbeth acted, thought and spoke like the historical Macbeth. An editor/prophet is making a different point - just like many of the posts here do not reflect my own thoughts and words though my editorial intent would push one toward a certain way of viewing the world - by using the building blocks available to him. When Macbeth speaks, we do not say Macbeth-S when referring to the character in Shakespeare's Macbeth and Macbeth-H when referring to surviving documents written by the historical man. We simply say 'Macbeth'.

It's not good to constantly be winking at the audience and reminding them that you're really just an actor and not 'really' _______. Neither does a metaphor remain a metaphor if it is explained - that's called a simile.

- Christopher Orr

Hell & Subhumanity in Art

Two experiences stand out in my mind. I was once asked to accompany a friend to an exhibition on Picasso (I went). And once I ingested (over the course of a morning) a massive tome on Salvadore Dali.

Both were slow descents into Hell.

Kinds of Art

I find that there are four types of art for me.

1. There is the art that is so beautiful that it is a physical pain. I have only felt this with something I have seen in person, never yet in a book or on a screen. In these cases the only thing to do is to walk away, sit down, and then come back. ... I sometimes imagine that the holiness of God is akin to this painful beauty that can only be appropriated in small doses.

2. There is the art that is good and wholesome, that grows on me and becomes increasingly dear, valuable. Like a friend, a fine wine, a well-brewed beer, a Cuban cigar, or a much-read book, I need to adjust to the flavour - roll it on my tongue - before it is revealed. The flavour gives it the depth and richness that makes it worth coming back to.

3. There is the art that is the equivalent of musack - it is a background noise that becomes annoying when it is the focus of attention. When I saw Renoir in person, I was surprised to find that his paintings were to me bland, without sustenance. I moved on.

4. And then there is the art that is wrong. It can be sensed immediately as wrong or even evil (as in the case of Bacon's Study After Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X). In others there may be an initial piquance or cachet (like college dorm Dali prints) that masks the perversion beneath. In my journeys through the massive output of both Dali and Picasso, the flavour soured and the spell quickly lost its charm as their art spoke their hells for them.

Fr. Seraphim

Fr. Seraphim Rose spoke of art like this last category, art that came out of Nihilism, art that came out of the lower depths, art that taught a subhumanity.
And in fact such an image has quite recently been portrayed; it is the image of contemporary painting and sculpture, that which has arisen, for the most part, since the end of the Second World War, as if to give form to the reality produced by the most concentrated era of Nihilism in human history.

The human form, it would seem, has been rediscovered in this art; out of the chaos of total abstraction, identifiable shapes emerge. The result, supposedly, is a new humanism, a return to man that is all the more significant in that - unlike so many of the artistic schools of the 20th century - it is not an artificial contrivance whose substance is hidden behind a cloud of irrationalist jargon, but a spontaneous growth that would seem to have deep roots in the soul of contemporary man. In the work, for example, of Alberto Giacometti, Jean Dubuffet, Francis Bacon, Leon Golub, Jose Luis Cuevas - to take an international sampling - there seems to be a genuinely contemporary art that, without abandoning the disorder and freedom of abstraction, turns its attention away from mere escape toward a serious human commitment.

But what kind of man is it to which this art has returned? It is certainly not Christian man, man in the image of God, for no modern man can believe in him; nor is it the somewhat diluted man of the old humanism, whom all advanced thinkers regard as discredited and outmoded. It is not even the man disfigured and denatured in the earlier Cubist and Expressionist art of this century; rather, it begins where that art leaves off, and attempts to enter a new realm, to depict a new man.

To the Orthodox Christian observer, concerned not with what the avant-garde finds fashionable or sophisticated, but with truth, little reflection should be required to penetrate to the secret of this art: there is no question of man in it at all; it is an art at once subhuman and demonic. It is not man who is the subject of this art, but some lower creature who has emerged (arrived is Giacometti's word for it) from unknown depths.

The bodies this creature assumes (and in all its metamorphoses it is always the same creature) are not necessarily distorted violently; twisted and dismembered as they are, they are often more realistic than the figures of man in earlier modern art. This creature, it is clear, is not the victim of some violent attack; rather, he was born deformed, he is a genuine mutation. One cannot but notice the likeness between some of these figures and photographs of the deformed children born recently to thousands of women who had taken the drug Thalidomide during pregnancy; and we have doubtless not seen the last of such monstrous coincidences.

Even more revealing than the bodies of these creatures are the faces. It would be too much to say that these faces express hopelessness; that would be to ascribe to them some trace of humanity which they most emphatically lack. They are the faces, rather, of creatures more or less adjusted to the world they know, a world not hostile but entirely alien, not inhuman but a-human. The anguish and rage and despair of earlier Expressionists is here frozen, as it were, and cut off from a world to which they had at least the relation of denial, so as to make a world of their own.

Man, in this art, is no longer even a caricature of himself; he is no longer portrayed in the throes of spiritual death, ravaged by the hideous Nihilism of our century that attacks, not just the body and soul, but the very idea and nature of man. No, all this has passed; the crisis is over; man is dead. The new art celebrates the birth of a new species, the creature of the lower depths, subhumanity.

- Fr. Seraphim Rose.
From here, recently shared in the blogosphere by Daniel Matsui here.

The "Artists" in Question

Alberto Giacometti

Jean Dubuffet

Francis Bacon

Leon Golub

Jose Luis Cuevas

- V.

And the New Patriarch is ...

His Eminence Metropolitan KIRILL of Smolensk and Kaliningrad.

Image from LA Times.

He will be enthroned on Sunday.

Many God grant him many years and much wisdom.

- V.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Your Creepy Thought of the Day

... brought to you by the letter Y.

As in why, oh why did I have to read this gem?

We face a choice. We could allow this crisis to start a retreat from globalisation.

As some want, we could close our markets - for capital, financial services, trade and for labour - and reduce the risks of globalisation, but that would reduce global growth, deny us the benefits of global trade, and confine millions to global poverty.

Or we could view the threats and challenges we face today as the difficult birth pangs of a new global order, and our task now as nothing less than making the transition through a new internationalism to the benefits of an expanding global economy, not muddling through as pessimists but making the necessary adjustment to a better future and setting new rules for this new global order. (Found in various places - here is one source.)
- British PM Gordon Brown.
I like the phrases "a new global order" and "a new internationalism" best.

Somewhere out there, there is a man, a woman, a family packing up the house to move permanently to the cottage, the mountains, the bomb shelter. I almost wish I were moving with them.

- V.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A New Patriarch

The Russian Orthodox Church (or the Moscow Patriarchate) is electing its new patriarch this week.

Patriarch Alexiy II, a hierarch who was widely respected in the Orthodox world, died last month. We pray that the Lord would remember him eternally, and we pray also that his successor would be God-annointed and -appointed. The MP has the largest number of Orthodox of any jurisdiction (165 of 220 million total), and its leadership is not based in a hostile territory, nor it is sweating under scandal - it is uniquely placed to speak the voice of authentic Orthodoxy to the world, without constraint or moral taint. And many Orthodox have come to expect that voice from the MP.

We would like to see that continue. We would like to see a godly man upon the patriarchal throne, a man of humility, but not an innovator or a "modernizer".

The council of bishops has narrowed the options to three men. We do not know the characters of any of the three, only what Reuters and others see fit to print, but God knows, and we pray that His will be done. From Reuters:

[In order, left to right:]
  • Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk, a 59-year-old head of the church's economic affairs widely regarded as the traditionalists' favoured candidate, polled 32 votes.
  • [Metropolitan] Kirill [of Smolensk and Kaliningrad], the church's 62-year-old top diplomat who raised hopes of a rapprochement by meeting Pope Benedict in the Vatican in December 2007, won 97 of the 197 valid votes cast.
  • Belarussian-based Metropolitan Filaret [of Minsk and Slutsk] had 16 ballots. The 73-year-old cleric has good relations with the large Catholic community in Belarus and is also close to President Alexander Lukashenko, accused in the West of crushing democracy.
Voting in the final round could differ dramatically from the first ballot because it will be held in the church's Local Council -- which unlike the Bishop's Council includes laypeople and monks.
[Bulleting, editing, reordering mine.]

- V.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Disaster Strikes Ottawa

I have friends in Ottawa, the (currently) frigid capital of Canada, and I thought I would take a moment to share their pain with you.

It doesn't appear that their situation is getting much play outside of Ottawa itself - at least, my search for news articles found nothing from outside the city - but the people of Ottawa are experiencing an unnatural disaster. Namely, a bus strike, now in its 46th day.

This is a grim kind of ascesis, an ascesis made abuse because it isn't voluntary.

It seems that bus drivers want more money, or to keep their current scheduling. It seems that the city wants to save money, or to bully the drivers into worse hours. It depends on who is doing the talking. But I don't think many people in Ottawa care anymore what either the bus drivers' union or the city says - they just want their city back.

Let me put this into perspective. Ottawa has frequently been called the coldest capital of the world. I don't know enough to dispute it, but we'll take it as assumed that it is cold. I do know that there was a nasty cold snap a couple weeks ago where the mercury dipped below minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. And then there were a couple snowstorms where a foot of snow fell.

Meanwhile, the poor and the destitute have to walk, or stay at home.

Meet Anna Kraisingerova. She is 59, and she walks 6 hours to and from work, 18 km (11 miles). Happily, her story is now known, and there has been an outpouring of kindness.

But there are those whose stories do not yet have a happy ending.

Meet businessmen who are losing a third of their business.
Meet store owners who have no business.
Meet Burmese Christians who have no Church.

This bus strike is inhumane.

- V.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Also on 40

Elsewhere in Scripture, we find the number 40 used differently. It highlights the unfolding revelation of God: God revealing Himself to humanity.
  • Moses fasted 40 days on Mt. Sinai, while meeting God.
  • Elias fasted 40 days before arriving at Mt. Horeb, where he would meet God.
  • Jesus Christ fasted 40 days (after His baptism), but before the tempting and the beginning of His ministry ... where humanity met God made flesh.
These incidences - the two pivotal Old Testament moments and Christ's fast in the desert - seem to address the other side of Lent. Not Lent as the suffering before rebirth, before salvation, but Lent as preparation to meet God.

- V.

On Holy Childbearing

A pregnancy lasts 40 weeks.

I was recently made aware of the resonance (?) between the 40 weeks of pregnancy, the 40 years the Israelites spent in the desert, the 40 days that the flood was upon the earth, and the 40 days of Lent.

Did God arrange pregnancy to resemble these other, or these other to resemble pregnancy?

But look at this:
  • The flood was "40 days upon the earth" before those that were saved could walk the renewed earth.
  • Israel suffered 40 years before crossing the Jordan into Canaan.
  • A woman suffers 40 weeks before the breaking of waters and a child is birthed into new life.
  • The Church suffers through the (nominal) 40 days of Lent before descending into the tomb with Christ and emerging into Paschal new life.
This connection between pregnancy and salvation (the world's, Israel's or ours) seems to be what St. Paul is driving at when he says a woman may be saved by childbearing. Not that all will - nor will all benefit from Lent. But for the one that correctly appropriates Lent, Lent is salvific. So too with regard to pregnancy and childbearing.

- V.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Put Not Your Trust in Obama

As I look to the American scene, I see hope bordering on hysteria.

After the darkness of the past eight years, the wars* (and rumours of wars**), the panic-inducing state of endless emergency, the anthrax terrorism, 911's scar upon the American psyche, the ubiquity of evil titans like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden ... after the unending trauma that was Katrina ... after the constant embarrassment of a president who wavered between puppet and buffoon (albeit with a down-home charm) ... and after the recent series of economic body blows pointing to an almost unprecedented economic disaster ... America wants a saviour to rescue her.

But Barack Obama is a man. Despite the resonant timbre to his voice or the polished orations, he is only a man who cannot possibly begin to achieve all that is hoped of him.

The danger lies in our giving a man too much power, whether in our hearts or in reality: investing in him the ability to correct our world's ills, or handing him the power to do as he sees fit to attempt the same. As Whippleshire points out, today is not the inauguration of a president, but the annointing of a god-king, a Caesar.

We need to remember the words of the Psalmist:
Put not your trust in princes,
In sons of man,
In whom there is no salvation.
America does not need a mellifluous orator, breathing words of hope. She needs a bracing slap - a dash of cold water. She doesn't need ear-ticklers, but prophets.

She needs secular prophets like Wendell Berry or Ron Paul.

But she needs Christian prophets most of all:
She needs another St. Elias, prophet to Jezebel, prophet to the Baal-worshippers.
She needs John Prodromos, out in the desert
calling for repentance.

- V.

* Afghanistan, Iraq
** Venezuela, North Korea, Iran

Edit: A similar post [What's Worse than a US President "Everyone" Hates?] can be found at Sentire cum Ecclesia (and duplicated at Orrologion).

Friday, January 16, 2009

Vaccination as a form of religion

Ochlophobist recently touched on vaccination in response to posts* here.

In the course of the debate which followed, he had a couple things to say. These really need their own post (hence this one).

On vaccination being an utopian idol:
One of our kids' doctors uses the phrase, "for the health of the herd." That is an abstraction which I find demonic. I am not going to partake of a "medicine" which was made from murdered babies for something so abstract as the health of the herd.
I've heard a lot recently about the need to vaccinate in order to provide "herd immunity". If you thought the guilt engendered by the decision not to vaccinate your beloved son was bad, try bearing the guilt for all the now-doomed sick and immune-compromised in society.

I couldn't articulate why it was I didn't think much of the argument, other than that I do not like being manipulated by guilt in general.

But here Ochlophobist strikes to the heart of the matter. "Herd immunity" is an idol, not unlike the Moloch of Palestine and Carthage. Presumably the Phoenicians had good reasons to sacrifice their children - health, welfare, the good of the state - but the fact remains that at bottom, the issue is child sacrifice, infanticide. Here in the 21st century, our issue is that these [anti-viral] vaccinations are "medicines" made from murdered babies.

On the trustworthiness of the medical/pharmaceutical industry:
... my doctors, like the doctors of nearly everyone I know who has made the same decision my wife and I have, tell us we should not believe these extremist things we read on the internet, and not trust them, they are full of misinformation. The amount of information provided, should one just follow the links in the various posts linked to our quoted here, that come from official government sources hostile to the anti-vaccination voices, speaks volumes, in my opinion. But then we get told that one must have a graduate degree in bio-chemistry to understand these things - hogwash. It is not that complicated in terms of the outline of the science [...], and the gravity of the moral aspect is rather uncomplicated. [...] [G]iven any knowledge of the outright lies and perverse misinformation pharmaceutical companies have engaged in since WWII when they took on their role in the military-industrial fascist-capitalist complex, right up to the present, and given that various government agencies are in bed with the pharmaceutical companies, why on earth would I be inclined to believe what they have to say on the matter? It would seem highly imprudent to me to assume what they say to be true.
  1. They assured us that mercury in vaccines would not hurt us, and that the voices against it were unscientific and alarmist,
  2. ... until they said that they were pulling it, and that evidence did suggest the toxin was having ill effects on children.
  3. They then assured us that virtually all of the vaccines with mercury were out of circulation,
  4. ... until that was shown to be wrong and they said that with certain vaccines, the supplies at hand included a percentage containing mercury that is not exactly knowable, which is as far as they would go after investigators pressed them on continued mercury in vaccines.
I only mention one example with regard to pharmaceuticals and vaccines, but what of the many, many, many examples to be found of pharmaceuticals distorting, falsifying, covering up, politically manipulating, and so forth? Who in their right mind would trust these institutions with regard to anything they say? And it has been quite well documented that the federal government has been the lap dog of these companies so many a time, the same should be said of their "determinations" with regard to public health issues. [Bulleting mine.]
And, as has said elsewhere, the ignorance on the use of aborted fetuses for the production of vaccines is very prevalent in the medical community. When it gets right down to it, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists all place their faith in their own industry. They do not read the product monographs, so this is a blind trust. Kind of like a religion. (I refer you back to the comments about idolatry.)

I am reminded of a conversation E. and I had with our son's paediatrician. She was the head paediatrician for my son's ward, so hers were no Walmart credentials. One of the initial points I made in objection to vaccination was that B. had a high likelihood of serious allergies. We didn't know what exactly, but the very early onset of eczema made it all but inevitable. I said that we did not know if there was anything present in the vaccines to which he might be allergic.

She pooh-poohed our concerns, telling us that we had nothing to worry about, insisting that she would vaccinate her child under our circumstances.

Well, one of the vaccines on B.'s schedule contained attenuated virus propagated in egg yolk. The product monograph warns doctors that the vaccine is contraindicated for children with egg allergies. Now this was exactly the kind of thing that I had suspected might be present - our concern was therefore a valid one and her dismissal insulting in retrospect.

Eggs are not an uncommon allergen either (Canada lists the 9 most common allergies as peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, milk, eggs, seafood, soy, wheat, and sulphites). So her lack of attention to this detail can only be credited to the same reason she didn't know that aborted fetuses were used: she had Faith in vaccination and so she hadn't read the monograph.

- V.

As an addendum, let me note that B. turned out not to be allergic to eggs. From this vantage point, I can say the vaccine likely would not have harmed him. But he was allergic to milk, sulphites, and likely soy. Our worries had validity. Taking the vaccine would have been playing Russian Roulette with the life of our son - never mind that we would have won, Russian Roulette is still a game of chance and the act of an idiot.

* Our related posts are:
On Vaccination, "What Ever Happened to Baby WI-38?", and Why are our children so sick?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Telekinesis, or The Unopened Bottle

I sat at the table, staring intently at an unopened bottle.

My lovely (and very pregnant) wife walked by.

"What are you doing?" E. asked.

"I am staring intently at an unopened bottle."


"So that it will open," I said.

She stood for a minute, watching me as I stared at the bottle. Her bewilderment grew visibly. Finally, she reached across and opened the bottle.

I grinned at her.

"See?" said I, "It works every time."

- V.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Imminent Apocalypse in Evangelical Circles: World Change and Apathy

Ideas have consequences.

By way of example, modernism, the belief that things can and will get better by dint of modern technology and ingenuity, has paved the way for the slag heap, the tailings ponds, the endless barrels of nuclear waste, the mountains of short-lived computers and cell phones, the forever plastic.

My forays into the problems of pollution and neoconservative bellicosity have brought me into contact with an impenetrable and implacable enemy, an idea. Few ideas have as horrific consequences to the world as the evangelical belief in an imminent Apocalypse: specifically, global war and unchecked polluting of the planet.

[I am not knee-jerk anti-evangelical. Most Orthodox and Catholics also believe that these are the end times, and of that number many belief the Apocalypse to be imminent. I wish I could share the blame here (equal opportunity bashing), but I don't find the same attitudes coming out of the liturgical communities in response to an imminent Apocalypse. They seem to use it as a catalyst for an exploration of interior landscapes and for a trimming of their wicks, here and there a hysterical "the Beast is nigh!", but I don't see the same "if ... then" causality outside evangelical Protestantism that I see in her.]

There are two sides to this, and they usually involve the same people.

The world changers

This group tries to change the world in order to bring about the Apocalypse. Typically not fearing the horrors preceding the Eschaton because of a faith in a Rapture, they hope to speed up God's schedule. Their interpretation of future events is based on a narrow, literal reading of Revelation.

It was Protestant Zionists (like George Eliot) who began to advocate the need to "return" Palestine to the Jews, based on their reading of Scripture. It was evangelical support for Zionism (as well as world guilt) that caused the West to create the state of Israel*, and it is a continued evangelical support for Israel (in part based on a perceived need to sustain this precursor to the Apocalypse, in part based on a misunderstanding of Israel's place in salvation history) that gives the U.S. the mandate to buttress the state of Israel uncritically. Naturally, well-placed American Jews as well as neoconservative government strategists want Israel to continue to have the U.S. behind it, but although political heavyweights their numbers are by no means enough to justify unrelenting Congressional support. It needs the vast numbers of self-identified voting evangelicals to provide this justification.

Now I am beginning to see a new and troubling trend: evangelical support of reckless international belligerence on the grounds that "there will be wars and rumours of wars." Regrettably, this becomes an easily self-fulfilled prophesy. I will never be able to understand the hypocrisy of Christian warmongering, but there you have it. The evangelical voting block threw its weight behind the Republican incursions in Afghanistan and Iraq, supported an Iranian war, and is willing to discuss war with Russia and/or China. What kind of madness is this? It is the madness of those expecting not to live long who yet do not expect to live through the disasters to which their positioning may lead.

Please don't get me wrong. I do not believe evangelicals to be singlehandedly responsible for the continued existence of Israel or for the West's current wars. If evangelicals had that kind of power, abortion would long since be made illegal. But while they may not be able to alter America's culture of death and the unapologetic selfishness that permits abortion, they can certainly cease supporting the annihilation of others. And I suspect that without evangelical support of war there would be insufficient political capital to permit the democratic waging of war.

* Of course, it is the creation and continued existence of Israel that is the primary catalyst for Muslim anger at the West, and their subsequent insurgencies and acts of terror. It is not a "hatred of our freedom" that impels them but an abiding resentment for Western meddling.

The indifferent

This group drives me crazy, probably because I count members of my own family in it. This group fails to act in an ecologically sound manner because the Apocalypse is coming and, hey, the world is passing away in any case.

While the rational Christian, no matter how apocalyptic their mindset, can see that the phrase "end times" is sufficiently vague to allow for considerable liberty of interpretation, there are many Christians who are unwilling to take any action to save or preserve even a small portion of this world on the ground that this world is not going to last anyhow. To me, this is like soiling one's bedsheets or refusing to change soiled bedsheets on the grounds that the cleaning lady will be coming. Uh, when exactly? As someone with an apocalyptic turn of mind, I am willing to believe that the horrors of Revelation will unfold within my lifetime and Christ will return before I die, but I am equally willing to believe that the "end times" will continue another two hundred years before their final resolution.

A Christian ecology needs articulation, where the world is recognized as the qualified good that it is, and treated with the reverence and respect that should be accorded the work of God's hands. Unfortunately, I doubt that Christians will have much impact in this arena while the significant majority of North American Christians are completely apathetic.

- V.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Why are our children so sick?

One of the blogs that I (intermittently) watch is Barbara Loe Fisher's Vaccine Awakening. Fisher is co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center (here and here). She began a grassroots campaign for informed consent after her son experienced vaccine injury (in his case, convulsion, shock, and brain inflammation hours after receiving a DPT shot). While she doesn't critique [antiviral] vaccines on the basis of fetal cell use, she does advocate informed consent across the board, which dovetails with our primary concern (that we not profit from the death of infants*).

However, there is much also to be said about critiquing vaccines from a medical standpoint. Here is a gem from her most recent post:
The argument that more vaccination will equal better health is an argument that is getting harder to make as one in two Americans suffers from chronic disease and America plummets to 39th in infant mortality while 25 percent of all children are suffering with learning disabilities, ADHD, severe allergies, autism, asthma, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disorder, rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic immune and brain disorders. The question that doctors and public health officials fear most is:


- V.

*For a longer post on fetal cell-lines, read this.

"What Ever Happened to Baby WI-38?"

The following is not my work. It is by a blogger who went by the tag of Scrivener. Sadly, Scrivener has left the blogosphere, and his blog is no more.

In the interests of preserving a post of seminal importance to the Orthodox (or other conservative Christian) parent, I have taken the liberty of reproducing this text in full. Should Scrivener object, he is welcome to let me know.
What Ever Happened to Baby WI-38?

My wife and I have opted our children out of certain portions of the recommended vaccination schedule. This has made for some difficult conversations in the doctor’s office, and will likely complicate matters when it comes time to send them to school. But we have our reasons.

Here’s one: several of the most popular vaccines contain human tissue cultures originally obtained from aborted babies.

Unless you’re in the habit of reading vaccine inserts and researching this kind of thing, this will be news to you. It sounds a little too gruesome to be true. You may be inclined to disbelieve me. I wanted to disbelieve it. But though it’s not an article of common knowledge (even among health professionals), it’s quite true, and it’s never been a secret. This is public information and easily verifiable.

In order to produce a live-virus vaccine, one must first cultivate the disease one hopes to immunize against. Some viruses are more easily propogated in a laboratory setting than others. Easier ones are often produced in a cellular culture derived from chicken egg whites. Other viruses more difficult to propogate are only reliably cultivated in actual human tissue cultures.

Vaccines developed by Merck and GlaxoSmithKline for Rubella, Hepatitis-A and Varicella (Chicken Pox) are developed in a culture of human diploid cells taken from the lungs of two babies aborted in the 1960s. In both cases, the abortions were legally performed (in Europe) and the babies were healthy.

One of these was Baby WI-38. What is commonly referred to as the “WI-38 cell culture” was derived from a female fetus aborted at 3 months gestation in 1961. Diploid cells harvested from her lungs have been cultured and reproduced in American laboratories for the past 35 years as a efficacious, human medium for cultivating the infectious agents needed in the manufacture of live-virus vaccines.

In the UK, the MRC-5 cell culture was developed along similar lines, from human diploid cells harvested from the lungs of a male fetus aborted in 1966, also at about three months of development.

As I’ve mentioned, this is public information, available to anyone who cares to know. Here, for instance, is the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control page discussing the issue. And here is another pro-vaccine resource that discusses it in greater depth. On the other side of the aisle, here is a page produced by an anti-abortion group providing information on the vaccination question. And here is a website produced by an anti-vaccination group that describes the questionable ingredients (including human diploid cells) contained in a whole host of common vaccines.

We navigate perilous intersections when our principles cross paths with concern for the health and safety of our children. I know what it’s like to fret over your child's well being. We all want our children to be protected. And certainly there are real health benefits to vaccination. I don’t pretend to judge parents who choose to use these vaccines in hopes of protecting their children from disease. But I wonder if there isn’t a price to pay.

Isn't it curious anti-abortion groups don’t make more noise over this issue? Is it ignorance? Hypocrisy? Resignation? Sure, WI-38 and MRC-5 were only two unborn babies (out of millions aborted every year), and they were not aborted explicitly for the purpose of creating cell lines for use in vaccines. But can we enjoy the “benefits” of abortion without weakening our condemnation of its legal practice? Abortion, in Christian circles, is often referred to as a “holocaust” on a par with the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jews of Europe. But would you feel comfortable condemning Hitler’s crimes against humanity while at the same time employing the body parts of the first few gas-chamber victims as talismans to ward off danger, no matter how effective?

This isn’t going to change unless we start making an issue of it. Drug companies and vaccine manufacturers will not spend money on research to find better ways of producing these vaccines until they decide it has become financially or politically expedient for them to do so. So research this for yourself. Talk to your doctors and pediatricians about it. Contact your elected representatives. Call or write the vaccine manufacturers to complain (contact information is found on the last link above).

The horrifying truth is that, in our desire to live healthier lives, tens of millions of Americans (and tens of millions of others worldwide) have been injected with leftover bits of medically murdered, unborn babies.

That’s what happened to Baby WI-38.

- V.

Friday, January 9, 2009

When War is Profitable

Last lines from a recent movie:
While private gunrunners continue to thrive, the world's biggest arms suppliers are the U.S., U.K., Russia, France and China.*

They are also the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
What happens when the brokers of peace are those who quietly profit from war?

Who will be the peacemaker then? And what then is the U.N.?

When Christ said "blessed are the peacemakers" it was not because they would be ideally positioned to fuel war.


This one shouldn't have surprised me, but it did.

- V.

* According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), in 2000 the biggest arms exporters were the U.S., Russia, Germany, U.K., and France (source). In 2007, SIPRI records that the biggest arms exporters were the U.S., Russia, Germany, Netherlands, and Ukraine.

Sola Fide and other Reforming Thoughts

I got to thinking about Ephesians 2:8-9 the other day. These are the verses commonly quoted in defense of the Reformation's Sola Fide.
For 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. (Eph. 2:8-9)
And a passage occurred to me as a refutation to the doctrine of Sola Fide. Not St. James' memorable perfect inversion:
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? [...] For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:14-22, 26)
Not that, but this:
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:13)
Naturally, and somewhat unfortunately, this line of thought led me to the Reformation. Unfortunate, because I must of necessity inflict my thoughts on you, my heretofore faithful reader.

Sola Fide is one of the most famous cries of the Reformers. Here is the complete list, the five pillars of Protestantism, as it were.
Sola Scriptura! [Only Scripture is the standard.]
Solo Christo! [By Christ's work only are we saved.]
Sola Gratia! [Salvation is by [God's] grace alone.]
Sola Fide! [Justification* is by faith alone.]
Soli Deo Gloria! [All is to be done for the glory of God alone.]
*Because justification is by no means a word in popular parlance, I offer the following definition, from The Catholic Encyclopedia:
justificatio; Greek dikaiosis.)

A biblio-ecclesiastical term; which denotes the transforming of the sinner from the state of unrighteousness to the state of holiness and sonship of God. Considered as an act (actus justificationis), justification is the work of God alone, presupposing, however, on the part of the adult the process of justification and the cooperation of his free will with God's preventing and helping grace (gratia praeveniens et cooperans). Considered as a state or habit (habitus justificationis), it denotes the continued possession of a quality inherent in the soul, which theologians aptly term sanctifying grace.
Please note that I don't find this much more helpful than you do. says that justification [by faith] is "the act of God whereby humankind is made or accounted just, or free from guilt or penalty of sin". This is better.


I have noted repeated queries posted on this blog as to the position of Orthodoxy on several tenets central to Protestant theology. This is mildly frustrating, as it is akin to a journalist asking a nomad from the Moroccan hinterland what he thinks of Jennifer Aniston's latest dress. I mean, we aren't talking the same language any more - the obsession of the one isn't even on the radar of the other.

But it goes beyond the bridges of language, distance, and lack of familiarity. The nomad, even if he could understand what an actress was, who Ms. Aniston was, and what role fashion plays in the West, he probably couldn't care less. Why? Because he has to live, find water, and feed his goats.

Similarly, your average Orthodox is rather preoccupied with trying to fast, trying to pray, and trying to give alms as asked him by his Lord. Or maybe just trying to love God and his neighbour. When he wants to learn theology, it generally doesn't touch on the five solas of the Reformation, or how justification differs in the minds of 16th century Protestants and Catholics. Figuring out the nature of God, trying to understand the mystery of the Incarnation ... these are usually enough.

So I don't have much in the way of answers. Here is what I can say, based on my limited knowledge (more experienced theologians are welcome to cut in):
  • Orthodoxy is most emphatically not the negation (or reassertion) of a series of bullet points. It cannot be understood by comparing it to the priorities of either Protestants or Catholics. It is not defined in contradistinction with any other body. Orthodoxy is, as best as I can say it in a single sentence, the maximalist, poetic response of many nations to the salvation from death, sin, and the devil offered them by Christ their God, and it is the simultaneous repentant running towards God by those who are being saved by Him.
  • Sola Scriptura? The standard for Orthodox is Holy Tradition, from the oral traditions collated by Moses in the Pentateuch through the unfolding revelation of God to the Jews as found in the rest of the Septuagint, to the unrecorded words and deeds of Christ and His apostles, the Gospels (and Acts) that were written to record some of these words and deeds, and further yet through the letters of St. Paul - last of the apostles - to the letters and then councils of the early Church. This is an unbroken Tradition that continues to this day. St. Vincent of Lerins famously said this of Holy Tradition: "quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus credituni est." True Tradition is what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all. ... Holy Writ (and the 7 Councils) get pride of place within this Tradition, but as it is Tradition that has given us the Scriptures, it is not the Bible that interprets Tradition, but Tradition interprets the Bible.
  • Solo Christo? By Christ are we saved, but we must labour with Christ. Colossians 1:24 speaks of something lacking in the afflictions or suffering of Christ, a horrifying concept to a Reformer, I would think. Hasn't Christ done all the work? Orthodox understand this to mean that we need to participate, to share in the suffering of Christ. This strikes to the heart of the matter ... our salvation is not complete unless we assent to it. (A helpful analogy might be the physician. For healing, it is not enough that we believe in medicine or that we go to a physician, but we must take the treatment he prescribes.)
  • Sola Gratia? I have heard it said that Orthodox do not ask what is God's grace, but who is God's grace. Answer: Jesus Christ is the Grace of God, period.
  • Sola Fide? See St. James' letter, above, for a very Orthodox understanding of faith and works. Referencing my quotation from I Corinthians, one might argue that "the greatest of these", love, is the source or wellspring for the works mentioned by St. James.
  • Soli Deo Gloria? And while "all must be done for the glory of God alone" sounds really good, it also sounds very grandiose, and where matters of theology come into play, may detract from the very earthy and practical commands to love, to give, to serve, etc. My personal opinion.
  • That addresses the five pillars of Protestantism. As for predestination, double-predestination, etc., these are not doctrines that have ever occurred to Orthodox. Instead, Orthodox tend to see these doctrines as the extreme end of some iffy teachings by a suspect theologian (Augustine of Hippo), and the logical source of atheism. I refer the interested reader to this post and to this speech (credit: Les of Whippleshire).
- V.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Christ is born!

The day has dawned white and wintry. Bundled Orthodox weave their way through the drifts to an annual appointment with a newborn king. It is a point in time (January 7th, according to the civil calendar) and a point in place (the white, domed church upon the hill) that will take them out of time, out of place, to a cave in Bethlehem about 6 B.C. And because this liturgy is also the gateway to th' eternal, they will be lifted up into the heavens where there is neither time nor place, but the ceaseless singing of the angelic choir. "Holy, Holy, Holy."

Here, in our home, our clothes still lie neatly folded. Illness, pregnancy, and unintentioned vigil have struck here, and we have missed our appointment.

But though we couldn't journey also to the City of David to offer David's Lord our gifts of incense and open, contrite hearts, we may still say with joyfulness:

Christ is born!
Le Christ est né!
Hristos razhdayetsia!

- V.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


... one night last week I was reading on the futon mattress in the older girls' room, with my oldest next to me, who was holding hands with her sister in the crib next to her, which is how they go to sleep. I could hear the distinct sounds of breath from the older two, and feel the littlest one breathing on my chest, the eight lungs in the room remembering God's pneumatic gift to Adam.

From the Ochlophobist.

- E.

Single Issue Voting

While the frenzy that marked the recent crowning of Obama reached ever higher pinnacles of man-worship, I found myself unhappily canvassing my friends for their pick. "Unhappily", because I felt it wasn't much of a choice (and still don't), but I kept at it regardless ... in hopes that someone could give me a reason to prefer one over the other.

I knew that Obama was a Democrat, and I'm no fan of Democrats. Their social agenda frequently feels like the unofficial and Heaven-damned policies and pleasures of Babylon. And yet, a perusal of the actions of recent Republicans reveals them to be from the same species of person-hating and war-mongering international thuggery that marked Alexandros, Adolf, di Buonaparte, and Iosif. Who knows, maybe Cyrus, Sargon, and Xerxes too.

I wanted a reason - a good reason - to prefer one over the other. Something better than my horror at what Bush Jr. has unleashed on the world and a consequent knee-jerk reaction to McCain, Bush's successor. But time and again, I found my (conservative) friends whole-heartedly embracing McCain. And time and again, I was confounded by their resolve to reduce their decision-making process to a single issue.

Naturally, this single issue refers to abortion.

Abortion is a horror and a travesty. In the year 2000, 857 000 children were legally aborted in the US (source). Like the Carthaginians and the other Baal-worshippers of old, for the sake of insignificant gains in this life Westerners have chosen to sacrifice their children upon the altar of Moloch. It is the ultimate parody of the Gospel: reaping life now in order to suffer at the Last Judgment; laying down another's life for oneself.

And yet, and yet.

... There are more than a single issue at work in the world today, and some of them involve issues and consequences no less horrific than abortion. I mean war. I mean the elimination of freedoms. I mean yet more war. And I mean rendering ourselves up for ridicule (Christian adulation of Sarah Palin jumps to mind) in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christians, where Christianity rarely reflects anything of the Gospel of Christ.

... The [alleged] proponents of pro-life policies (the Republicans) sponsor at the same time some heinously pro-death policies.
  • Since 2003, between 90 000 and 98 000 Iraqi civilians have been killed (s) - total deaths probably exceed a million (s). And who knows how many will eventually die from the decision to employ depleted uranium in American missiles.
  • Since 2001, between 9 000 and 27 000 Afghani civilians have been killed (s) - I don't know total deaths.
  • From 2001-2006 374 people were executed in American jails (s).
I don't know what other American-sponsored deaths have occurred in the years of Republican power (and many of the figures above can and will be debated). The point is that the Republicans have bloody hands. Choosing to vote for them because they oppose abortion sounds good, but it is likely to be no more than a sop to Christian conscience. A Republican government has not been shown to reduce our infant mortality, but it certainly has raised world mortality.

... I see two consequences to single issue voting. Neither of them is the desired outcome of abortion outlawry.

First, this forces Christians to bed down with the proponents of death: the military industrial complex, warmongers, apologists for capital punishment. It forces them to side with Big Pharma, Big Business, Big Agriculture, the enemies to the little man, the individual, the family.

Second, this leads, and I think inevitably, to a cynical manipulation of an often unreasoning body of people who will accept any idiot so long as he (or she) mouths the right words. A chilling but timely reminder: it wasn't atheists or leftist social engineers that elected Hitler to power, but conservative Lutheran Christians.

- V.

Monday, January 5, 2009

And furthermore...

There is a theology (a Western doctrine) that happens to get under my skin more than any other. I have grown up with it; it was absorbed into me with every moment I lived as a Protestant, and offers to me the strongest proof of atheism that I can imagine.

I was fortunate - at least, I consider myself fortunate - to have met through his books one George MacDonald, a man who could not abide said soul-destroying theology and who lost his job as pastor because of it. I never heard his sermons, but I devoured his fantasy, I ate up whole his romances, and in so doing I absorbed the antidote to the above poison.

Faithful readers to this blog will have noted that I do not like proof-texting or the point-by-point arguing of a thesis. I am much more comfortable dealing with ideas. Here is one other who in similarly dealing with ideas expresses with eloquence how I feel also.

But why do men hate God? They hate Him not only because their deeds are dark while God is light, but also because they consider Him as a menace, as an imminent and eternal danger, as an adversary in court, as an opponent at law, as a public prosecutor and an eternal persecutor. To them, God is no more the almighty physician who came to save them from illness and death, but rather a cruel judge and vengeful inquisitor.

You see, the devil managed to make men believe that God does not really love us, that He really only loves Himself, and that He accepts us only if we behave as He wants us to behave; that He hates us if we do not behave as He ordered us to behave, and is offended by our insubordination to such a degree that we must pay for it by eternal tortures, created by Him for that purpose. Who can love a torturer? Even those who try hard to save themselves from the wrath of God cannot really love Him. They love only themselves, trying to escape God's vengeance and to achieve eternal bliss by managing to please this fearsome and extremely dangerous Creator.

Do you see, then, that Western theology teaches that our real danger and our real enemy is our Creator and God? How can we have faith in someone who we detest? Faith in its deeper essence is a product of love, therefore, it would be our desire that one who threatens us not even exist, especially when this threat is eternal.
- Archbishop Lazar Puhalo.
- V.