Wed, January 18, 2006

Reading the Bible

The Come Receive the Light radio broadcast for January 7, 2006 featured Father Thomas Hopko speaking about how to include Bible reading in your day. Father Thomas is a wonderful speaker and he gave many good suggestions: read the scriptures regularly, keep the readings short so it can be done, don’t read when you’re likely to be tired. He also discussed the merits of various translations and the differences between reading and studying the word. I highly recommend you listen to the broadcast (Real) (or listen to the MP3).

I especially enjoyed his retelling of a story from the desert fathers:

Our topic today is not so much Bible study, it’s Bible reading, what was called in the old roman church — the old early Orthodox church in the latin version — lectio divina. That’s where you just read it to read it. You spend five, ten minutes with it a day and you just read it.

There’s a story in the desert fathers, how one fellow would be listening — they weren’t reading in those days because they didn’t all have books — but he was listening every day to the reading of the Scripture in the gathering of the brothers (in the synaxis).

So he comes to the old guy one day and he says to him, “I’m leavin’. This is a waste of time.”

And the old guy says, “Why?”

He said, “Because I can’t remember anything. I go in there and I hear this and the minute I go out and I can’t remember anything.”

The old man says to him “Well I tell you, before you leave, do something, okay? Do this: Get two buckets and put them by the door of your cell. Every day at the prayer of the hours you go to the spring and you fill up one of the buckets with water and then you pour the water out. But every day the same bucket. You fill it up and you pour it out.”

So the guy says, “Okay.”

So after a year the old man comes back and he said, “Did you do what I told you?”

The guy says, “Yes.”

He said, “Well, let’s look at the buckets.” So the buckets are sitting there and he says, “What’s in them?”

He says, “Nothing. They’re both empty.”

Then the old man says, “Why is one of them very clean and very nice and the other one is just filled with spiders and cobwebs and dust and dirt?”

The young guy says, “Well obviously, father, the clean one is the one that I filled up and poured out the water every day.”

The old man said, “There’s your answer: they’re both empty.”

In other words, the word of God has to pass through us and cleanse us. But sometimes we may not retain it. And John Climacus said the same thing, he said “The remembrance of the word of God is not done by the brain, it’s done by the behavior.”

So I think we need just to read it — just expose ourselves to it. And I would even say to people if you don’t understand something, let it go. Just let it go. Cling to the part that you do understand. And of course if you’re reading gospels and not maybe letter to the Romans or some Old Testament book might be tough, but the psalms and the gospels they are pretty straight forward … and we’re familiar with them. But we just need to keep repeating and repeating.

Fri, November 19, 2004

Embracing America’s Christmas Culture

As Orthodox Christians begin the days of fasting in preparation for the Christmas, a time sometimes called Winter Lent, the culture in America seems to go into overdrive with crazy feasting and partying. Why is it that McDonald’s has to bring back the McRib this time of year!? Every time I turn around it seems there’s another thanksgiving meal and Christmas party.

I’ve tried to look at this hustle and bustle and ever-present Christmas decorations as a welcome reminder of the season. While the chaotic lights and light up snowmen are missing the reason for the season, they do bring a smile to my face. It’s especially pleasing to hear the delight in the voice of my children when they see Christmas lights as we drive around town. Truly, we should practice our fast with a joyful heart. Perhaps these lights can remind us to be of good cheer as we ponder and prepare for the birth of Christ.

As I stopped by the grocery store the other night I heard the jingling of a bell — a welcome sound reminder of Christmas. The Salvation Army bell ringer reminded me without saying a word that I should be giving alms while I fast. As I reflected on it afterward I remembered that the bell ringers start almost the same time as the fast, usually the week before Thanksgiving. What a good time for the up front reminder that there are those in need. The bell’s sound got me thinking that Orthodox churches often use bells to call us to prayer. When I hear bells this time of year, I’ll be reminded to pray and give alms.

Sat, August 28, 2004

Transcript of Our Mission on the Radio

As I mentioned earlier, Father David spoke about our mission on the Come Receive the Light Radio program in July. Here’s a transcript of the segment (from 2:36 to 8:36 in the program) that featured Saint Athanasius Orthodox Church:

“The Orthodox church is to us the last hope for Americans who hunger for classical Christianity in all of its power and all of its fullness.”


Announcer: Reverend David Rucker is the priest in charge at a relatively new church planted just outside Lexington, Kentucky in Nicholasville and, as the directions on their website say, only a couple of blocks from the Dairy Queen. [chuckles] Sounds nice to me. Church growth is a primary emphasis for the Orthodox church in the twenty-first century and Father Rucker shared his passion for expanding the church in a phone conversation recently with Emmy.


Host Emmy Louvaris: What was the motivation for planting an Orthodox church in Nicholasville, Kentucky?


Father David: Ah, well, Emmy, first of all we didn’t plan on planting that first OCA parish in Kentucky. The work here was a surprise to us. I think it was the fruit of what God was doing in our own personal lives. We were on a pilgrimage and we found out where we were going and then we stubbornly stuck to it and others seemed to appear almost out of nowhere who decided that they wanted to go there too. The Orthodox church is to us the last hope for Americans who hunger for classical Christianity in all of its power and all of its fullness.

I’m reminded of this every week by those learning the faith in our parish—the catechumens or inquirers who visit our services:

One Sunday a man came up to me after the Sunday morning liturgy and he began to interrogate me in the back of the church in the narthex. He said “How long has the Orthodox church existed?”

I told him that this was the church of the apostles and it went all the back to the book of Acts.

He looked at me sternly and he said “Well, how long has the Orthodox church been in America?”

I said, “Well, the first missionaries came to Alaska in the late 1700s.” And then I began to really get nervous because as a missionary my instincts were kicking in and I thought I knew where he might be going.

And then he asked, “Well, would you please explain to me why this is the first time I have ever had the opportunity to hear what I’ve heard this morning about God. This news about the incarnation, the death, the resurrection, and the ascension, all that God has done to have communion with me.” He said, “I’m over 50 years old. Why hasn’t anyone told me this before?”

[Sighs] I have to say that my answers were pretty lame. And really I, I just, made some excuses that morning and then I went back to my study and I sat for a long time.

You know, this is why we’re planting a mission church. In fact, we’ve just welcomed back our first short term missionary from Romania even though our parish is just two years old as an OCA parish. We’re committed not only to being a mission but to being missionaries—the entire church. And this is the nature of the church. As Archbishop Anastasios likes to say this is the very DNA of what it means to be church.


Emmy: So tell us about your vision for the mission.


Father David: We’re not interested in building a mega church. We like being a local community and even a walking distance church, if possible. And so our vision is not only to plant the mission here just south of Lexington in the heart of the bluegrass, but already on a map in back of my desk we have pinpoints, and we’d like to work with all of the Orthodox churches — the other four orthodox churches, we only have five in the whole state of Kentucky serving nearly 3 million people — our hope is to work with our other churches and to plant new churches in other parts of the state and we have our eyes on those areas.

And then, aside from numerical growth and all of that, which is good and a healthy sign of a healthy and a growing church, we’re really committed to the spiritual formation and serving in the lives of each one of our families and our people. We have wonderful foundation stones here at Saint Athanasius Orthodox church. Of course that’s what it’s about: the priest can’t do anything alone. The priest and the people along with their bishop form the orchestra that plays the music of God. So we have a grand vision here — nothing which could be accomplished in our lifetime, [chuckles] but I don’t guess anything worth doing could ever be accomplished in one lifetime.


Emmy: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for all that great information.


Father David: Yes, Emmy, please pray for our work here in Kentucky. And we ask all of your listeners to, too, for the work, this work. Please visit us, if you can. We’re in the heart of the bluegrass of Kentucky just south of Lexington in Nicholasville. To find out more you can call us at (859) 881-8144 or visit our website at AthanasiusOCA.org. We have a very full schedule of weekly services, and we have guests at every service. All are welcome, especially Orthodox Christians who visit us—they’re a tremendous encouragement to mission work. So plan your vacations and that sort of thing to stop in and encourage a mission in your area.


Announcer: That’s a great recommendation. Again, that was Reverend David Rucker of Saint Athanasius Church in Nicholasville, Kentucky and their website is AthanasiusOCA.org. And the phone number once more is (859) 881-8144.

Thu, August 12, 2004

A Church on a Hill

After prayerful consideration, the members of Saint Athanasius Orthodox Church agreed to pursue purchasing property in Jessamine County. We plan to buy at least 7 acres of a large hill that is about 5 miles southeast of Nicholasville near Chrisman Mill Vineyards. I put together a page with lots of pictures of the hill if you want to look at it.

When I first heard about the property I was somewhat skeptical. I guess I always thought our church would move to somewhere in the city near a major road when we were large enough. I never pictured going to church out in the country on small roads. The idea of a church within walking distance of our homes has also been a dream of many of us and this seemed a step away from that.

Under the appropriate direction of our mission council, we spent the Fast of the Apostles in prayer about the land. I drove past the hill several times and had the chance to stand on top of it near the cemetery and watch the sun set. I began to get excited — I could see a church there.

So many different things changed my mind about the hill that it’s hard to identify all of them. I had been looking at pictures of Orthodox churches in Alaska and noticing that while some of them were not much to look at on the outside, they were all obviously Orthodox and many had cemeteries next to them. The Saint Alexander Nevsky Chapel is a typical picture. Father David explained that prayers take on a whole new dimension when you have a cemetery. Father Theodore mentioned that it’s a russian tradition to build churches on hills.

The hill itself is beautiful and deceptively large. Walking around on it, I got a strange sense of it being a special place. The current owner says he treats it like holy ground—God’s land. It certainly makes an impression on you. After being shown the land, someone from the UK school of architecture commented to Father David “if you’re going to travel to church, it should be to a spirtual place” and that visiting the hill had been that, even without a church there.

I think what really sold me was the realization that it wasn’t really far from Nicholasville, only 5 or 10 minutes. I used to drive all the way into Lexington to go to church; I’m sure I can drive a few miles into the country.

Sun, July 25, 2004

An Iconographer? Me?

 Over a year ago I heard about the Six Days of Creation Icon Writing Workshop presented by St. Andrew Orthodox Church and considered attending. Due to my seeking the opinion of others and general procrastination and because the workshop quickly filled up, I was not able to participate last year. I was able to attend the public lecture series last year and I still contemplate them. Thankfully, St. Andrew is hosting the Icon Writing Workshop again this year and I signed up and was accepted.

It’s with quickly beating heart and trembling hands that I realize the day is upon us. Registration and the first evening session is today and during this next week I’ll be working on an icon. As I contemplate the idea of conveying the holy saints I realize my unworthiness. I’ve never painted an icon; this will be my first. I hope to use the artistic skills God has given to me for his glory.

I did a quick sketch of Saint Paul during the fast of Saints Peter and Paul earlier this year., The sketch reassured me that I can still draw. I have much to learn. I include it here not because it is particularly worthwhile—it isn’t. It is also unfinished as an icon as it is lacking label text. I thought I’d put it up anyway so we can see my starting point.

Today after common meal at church, Father David read a prayer for me and blessed me and my hands. It is very humbling. I ask for your prayers.

A Prayer for Blessing an Ikon Painter

Lord Jesus Christ our God, remaining uncircumscribed in Your divine nature, You deigned to be circumscribed in recent times when, for the salvation of mankind, You were ineffably incarnated by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Theotokos, Mary.

When You impressed the imprint of Your immaculate visage on the holy towel, and through it healed the disease of Abgar the Governor, You enlightened him to recognize You as our true God.

Through Your Holy Spirit, You granted Your godly apostle and evangelist Luke the understanding he needed to portray the form of Your most unblemished mother as she carried You in her embrace when You were a child, and she said “May the grace of Him Who was born through me be with these images.”

So now, Master, God of All, enlighten and grant understanding Yourself to the soul and heart and mind of Your servant Timothy and direct his hands to blamelessly and excellently portray visible likenesses of You and of Your most immaculate mother and of all Your saints, to Your glory and the splendor and beauty of Your holy churches, for the forgiveness of sins of those who worship in them, and who devoutly kiss these images, referring honor to their prototypes.

Rescue him from every diabolical assault as he makes progress in Your commandments, through the intercessions of Your most immaculate mother, of the holy and illustrious evangelist Luke, and of all Your saints. Amen.

Fri, July 23, 2004

Our Mission on the Radio

In the previous post I was going to mention that our mission was featured in this week’s Come Receive the Light radio broadcast. It’s the episode that features Dr. Aristeides Papadakis discussing his book on the Papacy. The radio program is not carried by any stations in the local area so I frequently listen to the archived programs online. If you have RealPlayer, you can listen to the program. The interview with Father David about our mission is near the start of the program.

Orthodox Missions

As part of St. Athanasius Orthodox Church, a mission parish in Kentucky, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a missionary. Planting a church is hard and rewarding work. The challenges of limited resources help make us extremely thankful for unexpected gifts. I marvel at the way other Orthodox parishes have supported and encouraged us.

Missionary work is not new to Orthodoxy, although historical circumstances have seemed to limit it in this part of the world. The more I learn about the Orthodox mission work in Alaska, the more I am amazed by the deep respect demonstrated for the Alaskan people. I hope that as part a mission in Kentucky we are also acting out this love and respect. I pray that we can communicate the Gospel well.

I believe we have been uniquely prepared for this mission work. Before we were received in the Orthodox Church in America, we were a mission church in the Evangelical Orthodox Church. In the EOC, we talked about and tried to live as an “Intentional Orthodox Eucharistic Community.” We have pondered and examined every one of those words and the combination of them as we together strive to love God more. (See Reader Gideon’s comments, for example.) When we were received in the OCA, we started talking about and acting on the idea that “those that join us are given to us by God for our salvation.” God knows what we need even when we do not. I believe these two ideas work together.

As we look at buying land (more on that in the future), it is good for us to consider what it means to be planting a church. The Antiochian Orthodox Church in the UK and Ireland has a terrific article called Planting New Parishes – How to Do It. Good words to read. Be sure to read the diversion about St. Nicholas of Japan and Orthodox Christian Mission, especially if you have never heard the wonderful story of this saint. Of course, if you want to really study Orthodox mission practice, you should get the book Eastern Orthodox Mission Theology Today by James J. Stamoolis.

At one point I believe we were a bit afraid to be treading on the toes of the other Orthodox parishes in Lexington. I believe it was Basil that expressed that we shouldn’t fear that since we are working on a parish in Nicholasville, Kentucky. It is that our vision was too small. Why wouldn’t we want an Orthodox parish in every city and community?

I hope we practice the Orthodox Approach to Mission and continue in our praying and seeking God and manifesting the Body of Christ. Lord have mercy.

Fri, June 18, 2004

Orthodox Bumper Stickers

The Onion Dome, a parody/humor site recently held a contest to decide the slogan to use on an Orthodox Bumper Sticker. Here’s some I found amusing:

  • Eastern Orthodox: The only Church with the word “Easter” in its title.
  • You might be orthodox if…
    …you’re 15 and you have Varicose veins!
    …you have rug burns on your forehead for 50 days out of the year.
    …you have the words “consubstantial”, “hypostasis” or “filioque” in your vocabulary.
  • My Church wrote your Bible.
  • Horn Broken, Listen for Anathema
  • You think that’s religious fundamentalism? I’ll show you religious fundamentalism.
  • Orthodoxy — Ancestors you can’t remember are part of our Church
  • Wisdom! Let us attend… to the road!
  • When in doubt, cross yourself.
  • Have you kised your Mother’s Icon today?
  • Your Mother Church — keeping the “Ma” in “dogma.”
  • Orthodoxy: If It Aint’ Broke.…
  • Orthodoxy: Pro-Life, Pro-Christ, Pro-Baklava!
  • Honk if you know what this means: IC XC NIKA
  • Being Saved
  • Universality, Antiquity, Consent
  • Orthodoxy: It’s a very narrow road
  • 51% Atkins-Friendly
  • Not so Close! I may need to do prostrations.
  • Orthodoxy: It’s like Ethnicity without the color!
  • “Uh … smoking, please.” Orthodoxy
  • The Orthodox Church: Not Only Standing for the Truth, But Never Sitting Down Either
  • Orthodoxy: Faithfully maintaining the tradition started at the Tower of Babel.
  • I’m so Orthodox I don’t even change my oil.
  • FILI-NOT-OKAY
  • Orthodox Christianity: Not New, Not Improved
  • Orthodoxy Is My Doxy
  • Orthodoxy: Putting the FUN back in ‘fundamentalism’!
  • In case of rapture, can I have your car?
  • I (heart) Theotokos
  • Fish Sticks have NO BACKBONE!
  • Orthodoxy: Kickin’ it old school since 33 A.D.
  • I’d rather be censing.
  • Eat my antidoron.

Thu, June 17, 2004

Salvation in Now, Voyager

In this week’s installment of the “popcorn blog” project, we’ll examine salvation themes in the movie Now, Voyager (1942). Where last week we looked at salvation as a decisive turning point for almost every character—choosing good when it mattered—in this week’s movie we see ongoing choices—for healing, and for good.

Sadly, the only copy of the film I was able to locate was an ancient videotape that was in pretty bad condition. I could usually hear the sound, but the screen often descended into dancing patterns of lines and scratches. Rewinding and tightening the tape seemed to help, but it was a struggle. The second playing was a bit better, but I feel spoiled by the digital clarity of DVDs. I hope the others participating in the “popcorn blog” fared better. Speaking of others, be sure to read Huw Raphael’s comments (and part 2) about the movie.

The movie revolves around the transformation of Charlotte Vale, and to a lesser extent, Jerry Durrance and his daughter Tina. We first meet Charlotte at her mother’s house because Dr. Jaquith has come to see her. We learn that she was a “late child” and that her mother essentially controls her. Her mother calls her “my ugly duckling.” Charlotte has suffered under her mother and never been allowed to break out and grow up. She carves beautiful boxes in her room, but they are kept locked away. Like Charlotte herself, no one seems to appreciate her work until the doctor—Charlotte’s niece, June, makes fun of Charlotte as well the boxes when the doctor shows off the one he was given. Like Charlotte, the boxes are things of beauty that are hidden and damaged by her mother.

Charlotte’s story goes through these stages:

  • Imprisonment
  • Breaking free
  • Healing
  • Recognizing truth
  • Love

Imprisonment

Charlotte’s mother is clearly controlling of her daughter, a grown adult woman. She picks Charlotte’s clothes, makes her wear “sensible shoes,” and dictates what she must do. When Charlotte dared to seek out love as a twenty year old on a voyage, her mother interfered and found fault with the man so that Charlotte stays alone. Charlotte lives behind locked doors and it seems she never leaves the house. Her family (other than her mother) is concerned about her mental state.

Breaking Free

Without the help of family members and a concerned doctor, Charlotte might never have escaped. She is allowed to go to Cascades, Dr. Jaquith’s “hospital” and starts to find herself. A supportive community is important for Charlotte and it helps her get on her feet. Still, she needs to do the hard work herself and we see her transformation throughout the film. We also see this connection between community and personal action in Orthodoxy.

There are several important symbols used in the film. When Charlotte meets Jerry for cocktails she wears an elegant dress and wrap. She’s gone from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan. She suffers some embarrassment that her “wings are borrowed” when Jerry discovers the note pinned to her clothes, but the point is made that they suit her. There’s the added symbol of the butterfly—she’s broken out of her cocoon and is on her own. Early on Dr. Jaquith tells Charlotte that he helps patients by giving them road signs: “Not that way; this way.” We’re reminded of this when Charlotte and Jerry are thrown together as they take an unmarked shortcut road. Immediately after this, Charlotte has to learn to find her own road.

Healing

Salvation is about healing, about restoring relationships and bringing things back into their proper place. Charlotte admits that healing begins for her when Jerry takes an honest interest in her. “You were my first friend and then you fell in love with me and I felt proud.” Her choice isn’t perfect, however. She falls for a married man — “with eyes wide open,” no less — and struggles with the impropriety of that to some extent. This was also something that bothered me while watching the film. I somehow wanted a better, more perfect relationship for her. It’s good to watch how the imperfect leads to something redemptive as she helps Jerry’s child, Tina.

As with her breaking away from her mother’s home, her healing is facilitated by others’ help. Jerry plays an important role in her learning about love. Dora, the nurse, also helps her with her mother. Dr. Jaquith plays a new role as a confidant and helps keep her on the path.

Recognizing Truth

Part of healing is being able to identify and live in reality instead of desiring illusion. The biggest challenge for Charlotte is to go back home and interact with her mother once more. Remarkably, she is able to set good boundaries “I stick to my guns, but don’t fire” and strives to be considerate of her mother, despite the previous years with her. I fully expected a large fight, but instead she “doesn’t want to be disagreeable or unkind.” Despite her mother’s attempts to manipulate and to critique her, Charlotte stays mild. She is no longer afraid. We even catch a glimpse that they may enjoy being together as she arranges flowers. Her mother admits that Charlotte now does what she wants, which is a big step.

Charlotte is also able to make friends with others. She wrestles with marrying Eliot, but they eventually both are able to admit that it truly wouldn’t work out. She doesn’t want to quarrel with her mother and when she finally admits the truth that her mother didn’t want her, her mother is so shocked that she suffers a heart attack and dies.

Love

Throughout her healing process, Charlotte is learning to love. The final chapter of the movie is her meeting and helping Tina work through similar challenges. Instead of closing herself up, Charlotte embraces the pain of not being able to marry—she tells the doctor that it is over with Jerry—and focuses on giving to others. Although her love for Tina is not entirely selfless, her heart goes out to her and she genuinely desires to help her. Jerry even is confused by her giving and doesn’t want her to have to do this, but recognizes that Charlotte’s motherly behavior has made Tina her child.

Charlotte has been healed. When she gives up on marrying Eliot she tells herself “You’ll never have a home of your own, or a child of your own.” By the end of movie, she’s been given the home she lived in all those years and is helping to raise Tina.


Tina asks, “Why are you so good to me?”
Charlotte responds “Because someone was good to me once when I needed it.”

Charlotte’s healing makes it possible for her to love Tina. In Tina we see a minor replaying of Charlotte’s life and a similar transformation. When one is saved, others can be as well.

Wed, June 16, 2004

Popcorn salvation

DrBacchus commented on the “popcorn blog”:

It’s hard to find any half-way decent movie that is not about salvation.…

Strangely, it is the movies that are not about salvation–that is, the movies that have unexpected endings–which are often the more intrigueing ones, and the ones that make you think about your assumptions of what salvation actually is.

Because maybe, just maybe, they are about salvation after all.

This is what makes the “popcorn blog” exciting to me. Although watching movies for specific themes can be disingenuous—DrBacchus warns it might be “a whole lot of hooey”—salvation is a theme that is prevasive. It goes to the heart of how we behave and what motivates us. Aren’t all the great epics about this? And if this project turns out to be a bit “hokey” I’m sure it won’t be the first (or last) time for this blog.

I have to agree with him that movies such as Unbreakable, Unforgiven, and The Shawshank Redemption, can get us to examine salvation, repentance, and forgiveness in ways that traditional Good versus Evil movies do not. It often looks different than we expect.

Wed, June 09, 2004

Salvation in Casablanca

I’m participating in the “Popcorn blog,” a summer film study project suggested by Huw Raphael. Each week we’ll watch a movie and discuss salvation in it. There’s a list of the others who are also participating in it this week if you want to read additional commentary.

We start our excursion with Casablanca, one of the highest rated and most loved films of all time. The winner of the academy award for best picture for 1942, many of its lines are known even by those who haven’t seen the film. I’ve watched Casablanca several times. This time I watched the DVD Special Edition two disk set based on the 1992 re-release.

It’s late while I’m writing this, but since it was “due” yesterday, I’ll just keep at it and get it done.

Sam: You ever going to bed?
Rick: No!
Sam: Well, I ain’t sleeping neither.

What is attractive about Casablanca is that all the main characters (other than than the obvious villains, the Nazis) are good at heart. When we watch movies we get to participate in the lives of the characters. We get to suffer as they stumble and hurt. When the characters do something noble or courageous, we get to enjoy that feeling.

The primary characters in the film each experience or practice salvation in one way or another. For purposes of discussion, I’ll define salvation as being delivered from evil or destruction. This is often evidenced by the characters recognizing the right thing to do and having the courage to do it.

The plot of Casablanca revolves around a love triangle and a war. Rick, the club owner, has had a brief romance with Ilsa in Paris. We later discover that Ilsa thought her husband Victor Laszlo was dead at the time. She has hurt Rick by breaking up with him by letter and then by reappearing with her husband at his club.

Rick

It’s clear that Rick has been badly hurt by Ilsa and has lost the joy that we see in the flashback to Paris. Perhaps from this hurt, Rick is stuck and cannot act. We never do discover quite why Rick is in Casablanca, but the location seems a sort of self-imposed physical prison; it symbolizes his moral state of exclusive self-interest. His own statements show his only loyalty is to himself: “I’d stick my neck out for nobody.” “The problems of the world aren’t my problem—I’m a saloon keeper.” Capt. Renault says much the same: “Rick is neutral about everything.”

Rick is only saved when he can break out of his wallowing in self-pity and recognize who he is. “I’m a drunkard,” he admits as a joke that hits the truth. Although Ilsa later calls him a coward and weak, by that point we’ve already seen flashes of his true heart.

His confrontation with Ilsa in his drunken state and her condemning him for it outside the Blue Parrot the next day wakes him up to who he wants to be. “I could have told the Rick from Paris, but not the Rick who looked at me with such hatred.” This is his turning point. He helps the couple win at the roulette wheel. He gives the okay for Victor’s instructions to the band to engage in “political speech.” (What a terrific scene.) When his club is closed he tells Karl that all staff will stay on salary.

His nicest act is to not only recognize that Ilsa needs to be with Victor and to help them escape, but to tell Victor about their relationship and that it was over “years ago.” We can tell he has been set free when he admits to Renault “I could use a trip.”

Capt. Renault

As prefect of police, Renault theoretically has power, but serves the Nazis. Until the end, we’re not clear whose side he’s on. He and Rick apparently respect each other and their dialog hints at an apparent game they are playing together (even aside from their bet.) Renault seems to “get” Rick and yet Rick surprises him. “It seems love has triumphed over virtue,” Renault says right before Rick turns the tables and it turns out the virtuous choice is made after all. We heave a sigh of relief when he saves Rick by ordering “Round up the usual suspects.”

Ferrari

The keeper of the Blue Parrot, Ferrari seems to be all about the financial reward. He demonstrates a selflessness—he can’t possibly profit—when he points Victor and Ilsa toward Rick for the papers.

Victor

Victor is the stereotypical super good guy, the hero who will save the world. Yet without Rick’s help, his work wouldn’t be possible. Although he may have doubts about Ilsa’s faithfulness while he was in prison, he is willing to forgive her.

Ilsa

Ilsa chooses to return to her husband when she finds him alive in Paris. She probably thinks that by avoiding seeing Rick again, she can lessen his hurt. I found it interesting that her farewell letter ended with “God bless you.” She wants to do right and tries to be truthful with Rick when she encounters him again. Perhaps recognizing her own emotional turmoil “If you knew how much I loved you — how much I still love you,” she begs Rick to think for her and for all of them.

In the end, Ilsa accepts her duty to her husband and recognizes that some causes are bigger than her individual desires. I believe the WWII generation understood this need to sacrifice for the good of the nation and world. Ilsa also receives Rick’s rejection of her with less apparent pain than when she did it to him. “We’ll always have Paris,” recognizes the good times, as well as what is right, something Rick has finally learned and understood.

Thu, April 29, 2004

Dickens from an Orthodox Perspective

In looking around for an article about women and orthodoxy (more on that in the future) I ran across Russian Pickwickians: Dickens from an Orthodox Vantage (PDF reader needed). Judging from the size of his Dickens collection, I suspect Dr. Bacchus will enjoy it. The article discusses reading Dickens to children, how Dickens presents salvation and Christian happiness, and finding real life people like Dickens characters.

As a father, I’ve been humbled and touched by the church’s prayers for protecting the holy innocence of children, so this quote particularly struck me:

You don’t often see the innocence of young souls, which is still apparent in many Russian girls (and boys). There is a depth of untainted purity here, particularly in the Orthodox.. Young people in the West can be shy and perhaps even modest, but this is completely different. It is so deep and striking when you first see it. You think to yourself, “There really are girls like that, straight out of Dickens.”

There is a lack of innocence “in the air” in the West that affects even young children. Television and an undiscerning adherence to popular standards simply destroy it. There are many sincere Christians who lead moral lives, but you don’t often see the deep unselfish purity of the Lizzie Hexams, the Agnes’s, the Sonia Marmeladovas. Dickens knew girls like that, which is why he wrote so successfully about them. The critics say they don’t exist because we don’t see them anymore.

I see it daily in church in Russia, but not so often in Europe or America. I’ve seen such pure-heartedness among the Amish in America, and, sometimes in young Ethiopian immigrants, rarely in Greece, but otherwise, only here.

Wed, April 28, 2004

The End of the Crusades

Christ is risen! Indeed, he is risen!

It was a long and hard Lent, and I was glad to have time off for Holy Week and Pascha. We were privileged to have not one, not two, but three priests celebrating the Resurrection with us in our little mission. It was a joy to watch a grandfatherly priest playing with our children and blessing them. As a convert to Orthodoxy I sometimes find myself overly serious and so concerned with doing things “correctly” that I miss the joyfulness and beauty. Perhaps someday we will be able to be as comfortable and at home in the prayers as our children and those who have grown up in the church.

Christians have an added reason to rejoice this Pascha—healing has begun between the East and the West. In a visit to Greece in 2001, Pope John Paul II formally apologized for the involvement the Roman Catholic church had in the sacking of Constantinople in 1204. On April 13, 2004 — the 800th anniversary of that terrible event — Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I accepted the apology. “The spirit of reconciliation of the resurrection … incites us toward reconciliation of our churches,” he said. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is recognized as “first among equals” among Orthodox patriarchs.

Perhaps surprisingly for many in the West, for which the Crusades are a faint memory, for the Eastern Orthodox they have been painfully recalled. And no wonder—when you read the account of the sack of Constantinople you cannot help but wonder how Christians could do this to other Christians. After the attack, the city and Great Church were subject to days of looting, during which many of its precious treasures were removed or destroyed.

In his apology, the Pope said:

There is a need for a liberating process of purification of memory. For the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us the forgiveness we beg of him.… Some events of the distant past have left deep wounds in the minds and hearts of people to this day. I am thinking of the disastrous sack of the imperial city of Constantinople, which was for so long the bastion of Christianity in the East. It is tragic that the assailants, who had set out to secure free access for Christians to the Holy Land, turned against their own brothers in the faith. The fact that they were Latin Christians fills Catholics with deep regret… To God alone belongs judgment, and therefore we entrust the heavy burden of the past to his endless mercy, imploring him to heal the wounds that still cause suffering to the spirit of the Greek people.

During a liturgy attended by Philippe Barbarin, the Archbishop of Lyon, France, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said “The spirit of reconciliation is stronger than hatred. We receive with gratitude and respect your cordial gesture for the tragic events of the Fourth Crusade.”

Wed, February 18, 2004

Icons: Theology in Color

Karl posted some notes from a recent lecture by Fr. John Chryssavgis. Josh took issue with it and critiqued the idea that icons convey theology. Instead of writing a long comment Karl responded on his blog. Something struck me when I read Karl’s notes and I’ll get to that in second, but first I’ve been thinking about what Josh wrote.

From Karl’s notes:

Faces in icons are always frontal—the eyes always look out, look forward toward us, inviting us inward. They are alive and present. Icons show us that we must face the world with our eyes open.

Josh responded:

Of course, the most dangerous possible way of doing theology is proving things from human inventions. Karl will probably retort that the Holy Spirit has inspired and guided EO icon painting, but of course, this is an a priori assumption that has little or no foundation anywhere except the idea that the EO communion is infallible. It bears no material difference from the Roman Catholic doctrine that the Holy Spirit gradually reveals new articles of faith through the papacy. The main difference is that RC’s have a more consistent source of authority—how do you know which sources in the EO tradition are sources of new divine revelation? This is, of course, an argument for sola scriptura, since nothing is more subjective than proving something from your own creation, whether it is writing or icons. I might as well start making theological statements with my own blog as an authoritative source. The fact that Easterns paint icons a certain way doesn’t prove anything about God or heaven.

Josh leans on scripture as an authoritative source and rejects the icons, but I’d say his concerns also apply to the scriptures. The scriptures and the icons developed through the Holy Spirit working in the church. The canon of scripture was decided by the church. It’s not like they dropped out of the sky already intact and created by God.

Josh later writes:

If I want to know about the eternal perspective of reality, I’m not going to look at a painting some guy painted, no matter how holy he may or may not be. He’s not infallible. I’m going to go to the Gospel.

What makes the scripture preferred? Why shouldn’t we say this:

If I want to know about the eternal perspective of reality, I’m not going to read some book some guy wrote, no matter how holy he may or may not be. He’s not infallible. I’m going to go to the icons.

Icons have been called “theology in color” and teach us truth. As with scripture, we must read them with care, and check that we are understanding them in accord with the teaching of the church. They are certainly worthy of study. Saint John of Damascus said if a pagan asks you to show him your faith take him before the holy icons.

And now to the point that struck me when I read Karl’s notes. Faces in icons point outward in direct response to the Old Testament scripture. “No man looks on the face of God and lives.” (Ex 33:20). Moses, hidden under a cleft in the rock, sees only God’s back (Ex. 33: 21-3). In contrast, through the incarnation of Christ, we now know his face. With an open gaze, he invites us to know him. The depiction of the saints in the icons does the same: they invite us to know God as they themselves do.

Sat, January 31, 2004

Short memories

In my journey toward Eastern Orthodoxy, I am surprised and increasingly saddened by how much I did not know about the Church, despite my Christian heritage. I was raised in the Wesleyan-Armenian (Methodist) tradition. My grandfathers were pastors and my parents were active in the church, teaching sunday school, serving as treasurer, singing in the choir, being part of the pastor’s “cabinet”. Others in our family served as missionaries and Christian leaders and teachers. A love for God surrounded me and taught me as I grew. There is no question about who we loved and desired to serve.

Given all this, it has been troubling to learn not just how I was separated and skewed from the Orthodox faith, but how many Protestant denominations are presently teaching or acting in ways that are frustratingly opposed to their own doctrines and history.

Today’s Protestants when learning about Orthodox practice often struggle with the idea of using the sign of the cross and with calling priests “Father.” I recently discovered that not using these is a relatively recent innovation.

In his book, Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith, Fr Peter explains how the sign of the cross has been used from the early centuries of the church. He notes that Martin Luther, who is called the Father of the Protestant Reformation, exhorted his flock to use the sign of the cross. He continues:

Astonishingly, it was not until the seventeenth century, at the time of King James, that a small group of Puritans began writing and speaking against the use of the sign of the cross. Reacting to the ills of the medieval Roman Church, they believed it to be a human invention which catered to superstition. These same English Puritans, who significantly influenced the North American continent, deserted one of the most powerful and cherished weapons of the entire history of the Church.… Today, many American Christians have been deceived by the actions of a vocal minority and have become ashamed of the glory of the cross signed on their breasts.

From the earliest times, Christian practice has been to call spiritual directors “Father” or “Mother.” In an article in The Christian Century, David L. Holmes discusses the question Are ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ Appropriate Titles for Protestant Clergy? He writes:

Protestants would undoubtedly reject both titles. “A wall goes up whenever I hear clergy addressed as ‘Father’ and ‘Mother,’” a Protestant churchwoman recently told me.

Such opposition, however, is ironic in the context of church history. For American Protestants regularly called their clergy “Father” 200 and 300 years ago, and some continued to do so a century ago. And during the same years, Protestants addressed venerated women in their churches as “Mother.”

He then describes various ways that Americans used “father” and “mother” for church leaders. Significantly for me, he notes that “American Methodists, for example, referred to John Wesley not only as ‘Mr. Wesley’ but also as ‘Father Wesley.’” He also shows that missionary pioneers were often called father, including Francis Asbury. Apparently an anti-Roman backlash led to the change in terminology among Protestants: Prior to the rise in Irish immigrants coming to the U.S. in the 1840s, Roman Catholic non-monastic priests were mostly called “Mister,” “Monsieur,” or “Don.” Irish Roman Catholics called all priests “Father.”

Although these are minor examples of differences in practice, it makes me wonder how many other beliefs I took for granted as long-held Protestant dogmas were actually recent changes. Lord have mercy.

Thu, January 22, 2004

What’s a Name Day?

Today the Orthodox Church remembers the holy apostle Timothy. For some unknown reason I’ve been anticipating this day for almost a week. Since early childhood I’ve been aware that Timothy is a biblical name. My knowledge of this special day for remembering him is new. What a gift to have the name of this holy martyr, whose name means “one who honors God.”

Troparion for Timothy, Tone IV
O master of goodness renowned for moderation, you were robed in the purity of conscience that befits a priest. Drawing forth ineffable truths from that chosen vessel, Paul, you preserved the faith and completed a course equal to his. O holy martyr and hierarch, Timothy, beg Christ, our God, to save our souls.

Kondakion for Timothy and Anastasius, Tone I
Let us all faithfully sing the praises of Timothy, Paul’s holy disciple and companion, and the wise Anastasius, too, let us honor, as a star that rose over Persia, that by their prayers the Lord will heal the maladies of our bodies, as well as the brokenness of our souls.

Sat, January 17, 2004

Laura’s Front Porch

One of my favorite blogs to read right now is Laura’s Front Porch, written by Laura Nee, a new catechumen in the Orthodox church. Her struggles and successes with her children during the liturgy sound so familiar that at times I just have to laugh and sometimes cry.

I first found her blog a number of months ago and remember reading back some entries about how she got interested in the Orthodox church. In October last year she wrote that she and her husband Jim were investigating Orthodoxy pretty seriously. As with so many of us converts Bp Kalistos Ware’s book The Orthodox Way helped them along the path. I believe they actually started back in September reading Becoming Orthodox by Fr Peter Gillquist.

When we seek him, God gives us the desires of our heart. Reading “It’s getting spooky” Part I and Part II, I can’t help but rejoice at how God had been drawing them. Although new and different to them, Orthodoxy clearly feels like a kind of homecoming for them. As Laura put it once, it feels like an old fuzzy blanket you’d would wrap yourself into…ahhh. When they were received as catechumens a few weeks ago, she wrote “Jim and I become catechumens today in the Orthodox Church. I am excited, but not overly so. It feels like the natural thing to do…so off we go!” God bless you!

Mon, November 24, 2003

Russian Orthodox Seek Unity

After a recent visit by an official delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Alexy II expressed his hope for reunion.

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia broke off after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. It was founded in 1920 by Russians fleeding Bolshevik rule. It severed all ties with the Russian Orthodox Church after Patriarch Sergiy pledged the church’s loyalty to the communist government in 1927, a move the Patriarch made to save the church from complete ruin.

The spirit and tone reportedly present in the meetings was described as “fraternal love”. Both groups voiced their desire to establish communion in prayer and the Eucharistic communion.

This meeting prepares the way for Russian Church Outside of Russia Metropolitan Laurus to visit early in 2004. It is is expected that official agreements will be signed during that meeting.

Sat, November 22, 2003

Sensitive inaction

The other day I left work and went out to grab a little lunch. As I drove back to my office with my “to go” order and turned into Lexington Green, I noticed a man standing on the median facing outgoing traffic and holding a cardboard sign. I couldn’t tell what was on the sign—I only saw the back of the man and sign—but I immediately thought that it probably said something like “Need Food.”

I recognized that especially during fast periods, such as the present Nativity fast, we should give alms. “I should go back there and give him my food,” I thought. “I don’t need it. I should at least go see what he needs—perhaps I can help.”

“But it’d be inconvenient to go back there,” the argument came. “I’d have to turn around twice and maybe he just is looking for a ride somewhere.” So I didn’t bother to do anything. Needless to say the meal wasn’t very satisfying. I chastised myself for only wanting to give when it was convenient or easy. Real love and charity is often messy.

“May the poor eat and be filled and may they who seek the Lord exult in him, and may their hearts live forever!”

I spoke with father about this and he pointed out that the poor are always around us. He encouraged me in growing a sensitive heart and to pray for another chance to give. He also suggested I remember this stranger in my prayers.

Lord have mercy. Show me and this man your loving-kindness.

Fri, October 03, 2003

Akathist

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been praying an Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children. I was unfamiliar with akathists until Fr. David talked about this one with me and we prayed it together. The original akathist, the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos was composed by St. Roman the Melodist, in Constantinople, before his repose in 556. Akathist, from the word “akathistos”, literally means “not sitting” and it is normally prayed standing. Akathists are composed of alternating long and short stanzas. Each short stanza is called a kontakion and each long stanza is called an ikos. The format has become popular and many different akathists have been composed, including those to Christ, the cross, saints, and the one I mentioned to the Theotokos, nurturer of children.

The prayers in this akathist ask the Theotokos to raise our children. I was speaking with sockmonk about this hymn the other day. He expressed what I’ve also been feeling: that in praying this akathist he feels like he is building a relationship with the Theotokos.

This is wonderful set of prayers for those that have children or godchildren. I know that too often I don’t pray for them like I should. It’s helpful to have these prayers so we can contemplate both what we want for them and for ourselves.

I was stopped short by Ikos 5 of the akathist that prays the beatitude for my children:

Raise my children to be poor in spirit, that they May inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
Raise my children to weep, that they may be comforted.
Raise my children to be meek, that they may inherit the earth.
Raise my children to hunger and thirst after righteousness, that they may be filled.
Raise my children to be merciful, that they may obtain mercy.
Raise my children to be pure in heart, that they may see God.
Raise my children to be peacemakers, that they may be called the sons of God.
Raise my children (names), O Lady, to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.

So often it becomes obvious whether I really believe something when I’m trying to teach it to my children. As a father, I had to ask myself whether I really wanted my children to weep (or mourn). For that matter, do I really want the rest for them? Yes, I do. Lord, have mercy.

Thu, October 02, 2003

O Mary, Mother of God, save us!

One struggle Protestants have when looking at Orthodoxy is with how the church views the saints and most particularly the Virgin Mary. Most Protestants have a category for hearing stories about those that have lived the Christian faith well and have clearly loved God. Missionaries, prominent evangelists, and church leaders and founders are often highly regarded in this way. We can be encouraged by reading stories about these wonderful godly men and women. But when the Orthodox start talking about praying with the saints, praying to the saints, or asking Mary to save us, all sorts of alarms go off and it gets uncomfortable quickly.

I got to the point where I was convinced of the truth of Orthodoxy and knew that there was an pretty important point here, but at the same time, I knew that I just didn’t get it and wasn’t sure I liked it. I could understand saying that the saints pray with us. If I believe that they are alive in Christ then that’s not such a hard thing to believe. But pray to them? Ask them to save us? And why especially prayers to Mary?

Two things have helped me to appreciate this a little better: I’ve recently read Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith by Fr. Peter Gillquist and I’ve been frequently praying an Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children. I honestly can’t say which has helped more. I should point out that my struggle with praying to the saints was not because I thought Orthodox Christians worship Mary or the saints. It’s very clear that worship is reserved for God alone. We venerate and honor the saints (and each other).

We honor Mary as the prototype Christian. Mary is called Theotokos, or God-bearer, because she held in her womb that which the entire universe cannot contain — for the nine months she carried Christ inside her in his humanity, he was at the same time fully God. We honor her not just for giving birth to Christ, but for her yes to God. The Orthodox believe that Mary had a choice and continually turned toward God. As Christians we also want Christ to be born in us and to turn toward him, so we recognize her as a model of how we should be.

We honor Mary as our mother. As Eve was the mother of the human race, so Mary is the mother of the new race. Mary gave birth to and raised Christ, the Son of God. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, Mary becomes the mother of all who would be saved. Jesus, on the cross, saw his mother and said “Woman, behold your son!” and then to Saint John, “Behold your mother!” (John 19:26,27). We are also called the sons of God and called to be like Christ (1 John 3:1-3).

We know Mary wants our salvation. It is clear that Mary yielded her will to God and therefore desires that we be saved. But can she save us? Can we save others? As Fr. Peter notes, the answer from scripture is a resounding yes.

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16).

The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (James 5:15).

We cannot save alone—Christ said “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Yet we can participate: “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7). Clearly Mary was a important part of our salvation for she carried and gave birth to our savior.

Obviously this is a partial discussion of the reasons we venerate Mary. I glossed over many of the reasons that were less of a struggle for me: that she was the greatest woman who ever lived, her ever-virginity, that honoring her always reminds us of the incarnation, and that the church has always venerated her as she herself prophesied: “all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:46-48).

It’s interesting to write this on and after the day of the feast of the Protection of the Theotokos. The feast commemorates a miraculous appearance of the Theotokos during which she spread her veil over the people as a sign of protection and a russian fleet set to attack Constantinople was destroyed.

Thu, September 25, 2003

Christ was always on safari doing good

Church historian Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan was recently featured on the National Public Radio (NPR) program “Speaking of Faith” to talk about the publication of his latest work, Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition. The five-volume collection Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition, of which Credo serves as the introductory volume is already being hailed as surpassing all other works of its kind. Many expect that it will be considered the standard resource because it supercedes Philip Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom collection first published in 1870.

The christiancreeds.net website for Pelikan’s collection has fascinating information, including sample chapters and creeds. I was tickled by the wording of the featured Masai Creed and at the same time struck that its unique phrases are true. When Christianity is properly inculturated, all other cultures gain and see the truth in a new light.

Fri, April 18, 2003

So different

I’ve just got to say that I found Katie’s recounting of the conversation amusing, perhaps because it is so familiar. If you take a step back—it’s not so hard for me to do as a former Protestant—Orthodox practice does sound unbelievably intense and mind-numbingly outside the realm of any other Protestant experience. There is something refreshing about hearing other Orthodox Christians describing the same struggles, the same challenges, and the sobriety (and tiredness) of the end of lent. One of the things I’ve grown to love is how Orthodox Christians repent together and fast together. Yes, it’s hard… yes, the conversations can get old… but you’re not alone.

Sat, March 29, 2003

All Saints of North America

In looking up more information about Xenia Pokrovsky after reading about the upcoming Icon Writing Workshop in Lexington, I found a site that shows the Synaxis Of All Saints Who Have Shone Forth In North America icon that she wrote in 1994 for Metropolitan Theodosius. The site has closeups of the saints faces and events depicted. Unfortunately the scans are not the sharpest, but it’s still a nice resource to this beautiful icon. There’s also a somewhat clearer version that includes nice closeups of St. Raphael of Brooklyn.

I’d previously seen the Synaxis of Saints Who have Shone Forth in North America icon by the hand of Diane Plaskon Koory, which appears to be quite similar, but with a broader color palette.

It’s wonderful to look at these icons of the founding and forming of the church in North America.

By the way, work on the High Bridge Rail-trail, lenten services, and some extra hours at my day job have led to the recent lag between postings. More on all of those later.

Sun, March 16, 2003

Orthodox blog

James pointed me to a very interesting blog, St. Stephen’s Musings. I haven’t read that much from it, but the debate and discussion about open and closed communion practices have been fascinating.

Surprisingly, I found out that Simeon also has a blog. Ah… more good readin’.

Anticipating death

I’ve observed that those, especially Christians, suffering from terminal illnesses will often make a genuine effort to resolve broken relationships and to seek forgiveness from others. This is a way of preparing for death. I suspect the closer you are to death, the clearer you can see how precious life is.

Participating in Forgiveness Sunday vespers last week and contemplating the experience, I’m struck that this is how we should be. Every evening before going to sleep, we are reminded to prepare for our death. In the evening prayer of Saint John Damascene, our bed is compared to a coffin. We should live every day as though it were our last and spend our time in repentance.

I pray that this practice of forgiving those in my parish will help me learn the harder task of forgiving others and doing it more frequently.

I found the article Of Death and Dying to be helpful and challenging.

Wed, January 15, 2003

I can hear you

Basil writes some thoughts on acoustics in orthodox churches and mentions an excellent article by Reader David Nelson. I found this nice HTML version of the same article, Acoustical Guidelines for Orthodox Churches. Acoustical design can significantly impact Orthodox worship. Without proper care, the clarity of the speech and chanting will be lost and noise will be a distraction.

I’ve found it fascinating to read similar articles about the importance of acoustics in the Jewish Synagogue and find that most of the same design requirements apply.

Synagogue Acoustics: “Shema Yisrael (Hear, Israel) strongly implies that acoustics is fundamentally important to the design of Synagogues.… A pleasant sound and good speech intelligibility are blessings that will make the experience of the worship service more enjoyable, and create a precious opportunity to hear the human voice partaking in that most human activity, prayer.”

One thing I hadn’t realized is that electronically amplified sound is not permitted in the Orthodox Synagogue on the Sabbath. This has led to innovative solutions such as the Acousto-Fluidic Sound Augmentation that may produce better sound: “An interesting advantage of acoustic augmentation over electronic amplification is the fact that the entire process occurs at the speed of sound rather than at the speed of light. In our system the sound travels through the sound pipes at the same speed as the voice in air so that the sound coming out of a speaker arrives at the same time as the spoken voice or the outputs of nearer horns and, as a result, there is no bothersome echoing. Using an electronic system one has to specially design in time delays to prevent echoing. Consequently the acousto-fluidic system provides a very natural sound and rendition.”

Silence is Golden: “Some times we don’t want to hear everything. Imagine if you could hear and understand every conversation at your office. It would be terribly distracting. But when we do want to hear every little thing—at a religious service, in an important meeting, at a play, or at a concert—background noise is critical. During a lecture or sermon, any audible sound not made by the speaker is noise; during a performance, any audible sound not created by a performer is noise.” This general article about accoustics identifies many sources of noise. Ones that will most affect us at St. Athanasius are traffic noise, air conditioning, and buzz / hum from lights.

Sun, October 27, 2002

Participation in worship

A week ago I had the opportunity to visit St. Anne Orthodox Church (OCA) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The beauty of the chanting during the service surprised me, as I had visited months ago and hadn’t been as impressed. Perhaps the larger 10-15 member choir helped the sound fill the church. Perhaps it was just that the music was more familiar to me now that we’ve been using more of it at St. Athanasius. Whatever the reason, the chanting certainly helped me worship.

It struck me as I was listening to and singing some of the hymns that I had room for people not saying or doing anything in particular during a service. As a Protestant (Methodist/Wesleyan technically, but close enough) convert to Orthodoxy, I had carried along this need for “active participation”. It wasn’t a conscious thing, just an uncomfortable feeling that everyone should be doing the service together. In some of the more traditional methodist services, there’s an unstated rule that said you better stand and at least pretend to be singing along during the hymns. And everybody knows you need to bow your head when someone leads in prayer. I guess I’d just carried this along with me when I became orthodox. I don’t think this was about judging others’ behavior, just a kind of expectation that people would participate in the same way.

So there I was, worshipping God in the middle of an orthodox church and I suddenly realized it really didn’t matter what I or anyone else was doing. It was okay if some people weren’t singing; the choir was voicing our prayers. I know some people can’t sing well or are uncomfortable doing it. Fine. Let them pray. It was alright if some crossed themselves and others did not or if they did it differently. It just hit me that there’s a great freedom in worship. It is so hard to describe what participation looks like.

Mon, September 30, 2002

Find a saint by name bookmarklet

Chris asked me for a bookmarklet that searches the OCA website for a saint by name. I wrote one and added it to my bookmarklets page. This returns much nicer results than the one Basil wrote. Looks like he didn’t find the search box on the OCA Feast and Saints of the Church Year page, which is more difficult to find than it should be. It appears that his just does an OCA site search, which may be more generally useful.

Sun, September 29, 2002

The Phoenix as Christian Symbol

I’ve enjoyed that the phoenix was chosen as the name for the new browser project. The phoenix myth and the whole “rising from the ashes” idea is fairly commonly used as a metaphor for bringing new life or rejuvenation. Did you know that the phoenix has been used as a Christian symbol of the resurrection since the first century?

In a typical version of the myth, the phoenix is said to have been an eagle-like bird with beautiful red and gold plummage that lived in Arabia. Only one phoenix existed at a time. Every 500 years, as it felt its life drawing to an end, the phoenix would build a nest of frankincense, myrrh, and other sweet smelling woods. When its time was completed, it would set its nest on fire (or the sun’s rays would ignite it) and the bird would be consumed in the flames. Three days later, the phoenix would rise again from the ashes, restored to youth to live out another 500 years.

In another version of the legend, a worm crawls from the ashes and matures into a phoenix. The phoenix’s first task is to embalm the bones of its parent in a ball of myrrh and then carry this to the temple in Heliopolis (the City of the Sun) in Egypt to be buried.

In ancient Egypt, the phoenix, or bennu, was associated with the daily cycle of the Sun and the annual flooding of the Nile. The Romans used the phoenix symbol on their coins to represent both rebirth and the imperishable existence of the empire.

Clement of Rome in the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians makes the earliest known connection of the tale of the phoenix to the fact of the resurrection. Clement writes:

Do we then think it great and remarkable for the Maker of all things to raise up again those that have piously served him in the assurance of a good faith, when even by a bird he shows us the mightiness of his promises? For he says in a certain place, “Thou shalt raise me up, and I shall confess unto Thee;” and again, “I laid me down, and slept; I awaked, because Thou art with me;” and again, Job says, “Thou shalt raise up this flesh of mine, which has suffered all these things.”

After Clement of Rome’s epistle, the phoenix story was widely applied in the church as a symbol of apotheosis. Think about the story as you hear the baptismal hymn:

Awake, awake O sleeper,
Arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you. (Ephesians 5:14)

Wed, September 11, 2002

To be remembered

Death is a painful reality of this world. Sometimes it sneaks up on us and catches us by surprise. Other times we see it coming in the slow darkness falling over loved ones as they struggle for each breath in their last months with us. Either way, death shocks us. It feels terribly wrong, like we were never meant for this.

A year ago, the horrible events of a morning brought a day where we desperately wished for the routine, the typical. But the routine was gone, obliterated by the ever-present images, voices, and commentary. We stared at the massive flames, the crashing planes, and the sight of people falling or jumping to their deaths. In my office, we tried to work, if only to distract ourselves. We spoke in hushed voices of stunned disbelief.

We learned that people had come to our country, lived in the midst of us and our freedoms, and abused them in order to hurt others. The questions came: What kind of person would think to do this kind of evil? Why would they want to hurt us? How can we help those in need?

It’s a paradox: in the midst of seeing this tragic hatred unleashed, we also saw beautiful sacrifice and love demonstrated. It seems to me that this is always the choice we face. Expressed the most simply, we can use our freedom to love or to hate. And our choices can greatly impact others.

In response to the death and destruction, we pray and mourn, and care for those that have lost their family and friends. In the funeral hymn of the Orthodox Church we sing “Memory Eternal” As James Ferrenberg explains, this is not just to remind us, but that Christ will remember those who have died. As they were being crucified together, the wise thief begged Christ to remember him when he came into his kingdom. Christ replied that he would be with him in Paradise. Memory Eternal!

Mon, September 09, 2002

Orthodox news… with a twist

Wayne Olson recently posted an article from The Onion Dome. If you’re Orthodox, this is fun.

Mon, September 02, 2002

What’s in a name?

It’s okay “Mr. Basil”, I know that Basil isn’t your last name.

Sat, August 31, 2002

Happy new year!

After weeks of work cleaning, building, painting, and moving, we held our first vespers service tonight in the new space for our church. Although we barely had the icons up in the santuary and many still need to be hung in the nave, praying there was beautiful. “Now as we come to the setting sun and behold the evening lights, we praise God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!” Vespers was timed perfectly: as we prayed, the sunset transformed the interior of the church in a wash of changing colors, a deep orange and then crimson. It feels so appropriate and good to be starting out in this wonderfully almost four-times larger space at the beginning of a new ecclesiastical year. As our new metropolitan, his beatitude, Herman, reminds us, the church year is about the mystery of our redemption. With every year, we learn a little better what it means to repent and be saved. Praise God for his goodness to us over this past year.

O designer and creator of all that is, in your power you arranged the seasons and the times. So now, bless this year we begin through your goodness, give all your people lasting peace, and by prayers of the Theotokos, save us.

Enthroned on high, O Christ, our God, you are the designer and creator of all things, whether visible or hidden from our sight, of day and night, of the seasons and the times. Bless this year we now begin, and preserve your people from all evil, O most merciful Lord.

- Troparion and Kondakion for the New Year by New Skete Monastery

Tue, August 20, 2002

Fooling for Christ

What if you found a portal to a parallel universe? What if you could slide into a thousand different worlds, where it’s the same year, and you’re the same person, but everything else is different? A world where Weird Al Yankovic is known as Apologetix and spoofs well known songs with Biblically-inspired lyrics? What if you’re already there?

Wow, I miss (whisper it) sliders.

Happy Birthday

I can’t believe you’re two already. God grant you many years, Quincy James.

Sat, August 03, 2002

Now that’s a censer

Apparently some catholics also appreciate the smells and bells.

The same blog led me to a page expressing hopes for unity between the Catholics and Orthodox. I am saddened to hear that some Orthodox have behaved so poorly in online forums. I know it is extremely difficult to judge the tone and intent of people in written communication especially email, so I hope much of this is simply misunderstanding.

Wed, July 31, 2002

Building good infrastructure

It looks like Dean Peters of the Heal Your Church Web Site that I mentioned earlier has heard from BibleGateway about XML support. It appears they somewhat missed that providing an API is different than providing XML-based markup for the scriptures. Of course, they already provide a kind of API through the query string interface. See my Bible Gateway bookmarklet.

Dean, who appears to be keeping busy like I am, has also launched Blogs4God, which is building a list of Christian bloggers.

Fri, July 26, 2002

Does technology make the church?

Notes from the Cave (via The Shifted Librarian) suggests that Gen-Xers are evaluating churches based on their use of technology:

Today I had a good conversation with Matt and his wife, Kim, about the unique perspective that Gen-Xers have on church. In particular, Gen-Xers expect far more use of computers and electronic communications such as e-mail, instant messaging, and yes, even PowerPoint.

One of the things that Matt said that really stood out is that he and his wife checked to see whether our church had a web site, and if it didn’t that would have told them a lot about our church. The lack of a web site might have caused them to not come to our church.

The conversation inspired many thoughts. One would be, wouldn’t it be cool if churches provided mail servers, message forums, online chats, and web server space for weblogs–tools to extend their community into cyberspace? When a person joined the church they would be given an email address. They would be provided the webloging tools to contribute to the community by providing their own content….

Another thought I had would be to set up the entire church with a wireless LAN. When I say entire church I mean even the sanctuary. Then I would set up an internal web server (effectively building an intranet within the church) and put as much information on that server as I could.

All of this is pretty easy to put together, but these ideas also raise an issue. What is needed here is the coordination of this technology in a manner that supports the mission and vision of the church. Corporations encountered this problem ten years ago, and the solution was the Chief Information Officer. I think that real insightful churches looking to meet the needs of Gen-Xers and just plain grow would create their own Chief Information Officer position….

The label doesn’t matter, but the spirit does. The point is that churches today have got to start using technology as a means to reach out to their membership and communicate with them in ways that make sense to the membership.

Um, yeah. The church I attend, St. Athanasius Orthodox Church (OCA), might be looked at as backwards technologically. We still burn oil lamps and beeswax candles and celebrate liturgies that date from the earliest years of Christianity. My priest is fond of pointing out how “earthy” and real Christianity is and how our modern technologies have gotten us so far away from that. This is particularly evident in how distanced we are from death.

On the other hand, my journey to the holy Orthodox church was greatly helped by technology, particularly the many orthodox resources available online. We are blessed with a number of technologically adept members in our parish and could easily set up some of the systems suggested. But I’d have to ask why. It’s missing the point if you’re going to be surfing the web (or intranet) during prayers. I mean, would’t it make more sense to cut down on the distractions? I agree that it makes sense to use modern communications tools (the printing press, phone, email, irc, instant messaging, web sites) to be able to communicate to church members about church events. But that just seems obvious and natural.

Some church websites are downright evil

It doesn’t matter what kind of site you’re making. Bad design is still bad design. I found an Orthodox Christian, now attending a Baptist church, who rants about icky religious websites and makes some good points about the Divine Liturgy and Greek Orthodoxy not being about Greek culture along the way. It’s not a one-time thing, either. Go see what he has to teach about how to Heal Your Church Web Site. He suggests that church and religious websites need to get on the ball and catch up with current technology. He says that the online Bible sites should have XML-RPC mechanisms in the works, if not already released. I’m definitely going to be spending some time reading this site.

Mon, July 22, 2002

A New Metropolitan

The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America have elected His Eminence, Archbishop Herman of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania as the new Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America. God grant him many years! Metropolitan Herman succeeds His Beatitude, Metropolitan Theodosius, who is retiring after 25 years of service due to health concerns.

Wed, June 19, 2002

Orthodox America

The patriarch of Antioch has granted autonomy to the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America (AOA). The news story notes that this comes on the eve of the key national congresses of both the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). There are many signs that the AOA and GOA are interested in working together with the OCA as an autocephalous church. (The OCA has been autocephalous for more than 30 years.) In a June 2001 interview, Metropolitan Philip of the AOA makes it clear that he has been thinking about autocephaly for a while. An autonomous AOA seems to be a step in the right direction.

Mon, May 13, 2002

Pope via SOAP coming soon?

The pope talks about the Internet as a new forum for proclaiming the gospel:

The Internet causes billions of images to appear on millions of computer monitors around the planet. From this galaxy of sight and sound will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? For it is only when his face is seen and his voice heard that the world will know the glad tidings of our redemption. This is the purpose of evangelization. And this is what will make the Internet a genuinely human space, for if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man.

I suspect the pope is speaking at least partially figuratively, but thankfully there are already many icons available that show the face of Christ.

The essence of the Internet in fact is that it provides an almost unending flood of information, much of which passes in a moment. In a culture which feeds on the ephemeral there can easily be a risk of believing that it is facts that matter, rather than values. The Internet offers extensive knowledge, but it does not teach values; and when values are disregarded, our very humanity is demeaned and man easily loses sight of his transcendent dignity.

There’s a certain irony to posting comments like this to a blog (and in quoting the pope in the Orthodox Christianity category for that matter).