Sunday, July 14, 2013

Should the Byzantine Liturgical Calendar Be Updated?

"From time immemorial the ecclesiastical hierarchy has exercised this right in matters liturgical. It has organized and regulated divine worship, enriching it constantly with new splendor and beauty, to the glory of God and the spiritual profit of Christians. What is more, it has not been slow - keeping the substance of the Mass and sacraments carefully intact - to modify what it deemed not altogether fitting, and to add what appeared more likely to increase the honor paid to Jesus Christ and the august Trinity, and to instruct and stimulate the Christian people to greater advantage.

The sacred liturgy does, in fact, include divine as well as human elements. The former, instituted as they have been by God, cannot be changed in any way by men. But the human components admit of various modifications, as the needs of the age, circumstance and the good of souls may require, and as the ecclesiastical hierarchy, under guidance of the Holy Spirit, may have authorized....All these developments attest the abiding life of the immaculate Spouse of Jesus Christ through these many centuries. They are the sacred language she uses, as the ages run their course, to profess to her divine Spouse her own faith along with that of the nations committed to her charge, and her own unfailing love."

--Ven. Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei §§49-50

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Beyond Salvation, or, Why to Evangelize the Baptized

"It follows that the separated Churches and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church."
--Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio §3

As the extra ecclesiam nulla salus doctrine is currently understood, we do not despair of the salvation of the non-Catholic baptized.  We acknowledge that the Spirit works through those aspects of the Faith they share in common with the Church.  The Church has the fullness of the faith: this cannot be denied.  When other Christians break away from the Church, they deny different aspects of this fullness; however, they hold on to some parts of the Faith, some vestiges of the Church, and these are enough to bring salvation.  (I refrain from discussing those who do not baptize, who baptize invalidly, or who have too deficient an understanding of the Faith.)  Those aspects of the true Faith that those outside the Church still hold did not originate in them but in the Church: the Church is still the one channel of salvation's waters, as willed by Christ, though some have divided the stream and only drink from certain rivulets.  Though they do not receive the fullness of the Faith, what water of truth that they receive (which always has its source in the Lord and its first riverbed in the Church) is, in general, enough to grant salvation.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

St. Joseph in the Eucharistic Prayers

Though I don't know if I've ever just reposted something, I think this is a fantastic event for the Roman liturgy: the addition of the name of St. Joseph by Pope Francis into all the Eucharistic Prayers, not just Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon), into which his name was added by Pope Bl. John XXIII.

For more information, see Fr. John Zuhlsdorf's post.

St. Joseph the Betrothed, pray for us!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Seminal Holy Week

In some way, liturgically, each week we celebrate Holy Week anew.

The most obvious way this principle is seen is in the liturgical celebration of Sunday, the Lord's Day, the Day of the Resurrection.  Disregarding feasts, Sunday liturgies (in the widest sense: I am not solely referring to Eucharistic Liturgies) are more festive than the liturgies throughout the rest of the week.  "Every Sunday is a little Easter," I have heard it put frequently.  This is why, during Lent, Roman Catholics popularly partake of whatever food or activity they fast from (or "give up") throughout most of the Forty Days.  Every Sunday we celebrate Pascha.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

O Blessed Sabbath!

As we celebrate the Sabbath (still the Greek term for Saturday) each week, how should it draw our minds to Christ?

The Sabbath began as a day of rest, the day on which the Lord "rested" from His work of creation.  In memory of that, it became the Lord's Day, the day when the Jews were likewise called to rest from their work.  Though now Sunday, the Day of the Lord's Resurrection, has taken the place of the Sabbath as the Lord's Day, our day of holy rest, we know that Saturday was originally the day of rest.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Poem on Christ's Sword and His Peace

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword."
--Mt 10:34

Since today's Gospel reading (Mt 10:32-11:1) contains Christ's statement that He brings a sword, and since we frequently call Him "Prince of Peace," I thought today would be a good day to post a poem attempting to reconcile this seeming contradiction in Christ.

He brings peace, yet gives a sword: 
How to reconcile these? 
But one man who's divinized 
will be a sign of conflict: 
Yet a people divinized 
will be truly a race of peace. 
Thus peace He gives to each man 
and 'til ev'ry man has peace 
swords will come on peaceful men: 
from a man goes peace to men.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Will Monasteries Save the World?

 It is hard to doubt that monasteries (and I mean this in a wide use of the term: any community (or even person) who lives apart from the world and prays for the world) have been a key aspect of the Church for millennia, at least since the time of St. Antony the Great.  Monasteries began as hermits who lived near each other and had some community.  Eventually this expanded into communities who lived and prayed together.  In the West, this then expanded into the different religious orders, while in the East the forms of monastic life stayed more or less has they were in the early centuries of the Church.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Octoechos

The Octoechos or "the Book of Eight Tones" (lit. "Eight-Tone") is a liturgical book used in the Byzantine Rite.  It is the book of propers for Matins/Orthros and Vespers each day of the week and for Sunday Divine Liturgy.  Its use is roughly equivalent to times of "Ordinary Time" in the Roman Rite: it is the book used when the two movable seasonal books (the Triodion for Great Lent and its preparation and the Pentecostarion for Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost) are not being used.  It is used in conjunction with the Menaion (the book of immovable feasts, such as Nativity, Theophany, Dormition, and saints' feast days) and the Horologion (the book of the basic texts of the Divine Office/the Hours). 

The only free version of the Octoechos I have found on-line is a copy from the Monastery of the Myrrhbearing Women, a women's monastery of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in Otego, NY, as adapted for Canada and posted as a PDF on the website of the OCA Archdiocese of Canada.  For my own use, I formatted the text to be used on a Kindle (with nested table of contents), and the webmaster of the Archdiocese of Canada graciously gave me permission to post this formatted file so that others may use it.

Below is the link to my AZW3 file (the current Kindle format) of the Octoechos.  The names of the different sections of each hour are those used in the Horologion of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton.  I use the Greek spelling of different liturgical terms (such as sticheron) rather than the Slavonic spelling (stich) just as a personal preference.  If anyone would like this file in another format (such as the older Kindle format or ePub), please let me know via a comment or e-mail, and I will try my best to make it available.

I hope this document is useful for you, and I hope that it leads you deeper into the prayer of the Church through the sublime liturgical poetry of the Hours.

The Byzantines and the Jesuits

 Fr. Steven Hawke-Steeples, S.J., a Ruthenian Jesuit liturgist

Throughout the world, but especially (I think) in the Americas, the Jesuits are heavily involved in the lives of Byzantine Catholics.  This is not to say that other Roman religious orders do not play a role (after all, His Grace Bishop John Kudrick of Parma was originally a Third Order Franciscan), but I see the Jesuits having a predominantly large role among Roman Catholics assisting Byzantine Catholics.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Mystery of St. John the Theologian


"The beholder of ineffable revelations * and recounter of the highest mysteries of God, * the son of Zebedee, * who set down in writing the Gospel of Christ, * hath taught us to theologize * concerning the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

 The harp of heavenly songs played by God, * the recorder of mysteries, * the divinely eloquent mouth, * doth beautifully chant the hymn of hymns; * for, moving his lips as though they were strings, * and using his tongue as a plectrum, * he prayeth that we be saved. 

Proclaiming with thy thunderous tongue * the hidden word of divine wisdom, * O beloved of God, * thou ever criest out, continually moving thy lips: * In the beginning was the Word! * And thou instructest every man in the knowledge of God. "
--Stichera at the Lamp-Lighting Psalms at Great Vespers for St. John the Theologian

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"Shoots of Salvation Out of Perdition"

"And they took hold of him and brought him to the Are-op′agus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you present? For you bring some strange things to our ears; we wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. So Paul, standing in the middle of the Are-op′agus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything.  And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’"
--Acts 17:19-28 (Epistle Reading for the Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Pascha)

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Few Thoughts on Self-Esteem

"For the highest of human tasks is for a man to allow himself to be completely persuaded that he can of himself do nothing, absolutely nothing."
--Søren Kierkegaard, "Man's Need of God Constitutes his Highest Perfection," Edifying Discourses, Vol. IV

"For it is not the man who commends himself that is accepted, but the man whom the Lord commends."
--2 Cor 10:18

In modern psychology, self-esteem is the big fad.  If we do not feel like we are perfect, if we don't feel like we can do everything, we are considered as broken and in need of fixing.  We supposedly cannot function in the world without being puffed up with self-esteem.  Pseudo-psychology says the same thing: by believing in how awesome we are, we draw good things to ourselves.  (Just think of The Secret and the "law of attraction.")  Yet how true is this drive to self-esteem?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Kingdom and the Battle

"Thy Kingdom come. By this sweet word we obviously offer God this prayer: Let the opposing battle front be broken and the hostile phalanx be destroyed. Bring to an end the war of the flesh against the spirit and let the body no longer harbour the enemy of the soul. Oh, let them appear, the royal force, the angelic band, the thousands of rulers, the myriads of those who stand on Thy right hand, that a thousand warriors may fall on the front of the enemy! Strong, indeed, is the adversary, formidable, yea, invincible to those bereft of Thy help. Yet only as long as man is fighting alone; when Thy Kingdom comes, the pangs and sighs of sorrow vanish, and life, peace, and rejoicing enter instead."
--St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Lord's Prayer III

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Deer and Serpents

"As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God."
--Ps 42:1

"Listen to something else that is to be observed in the deer. It kills serpents, and after killing the serpents its thirst is inflamed all the more intensely. Having killed the serpents, it runs to the brook more speedily than ever. The serpents signify your vices. Destroy these wicked serpents, and you will have greater longing for the fountain of truth."
--St. Augustine of Hippo, On Psalm XLI,I §3

God Gives the Growth

"I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth."
--1 Cor 3:6

This verse is really all that can drive my work on this blog.  I see no fruits of my labor: a few views here and there, mostly from image searches (which is strange, considering that almost no images have ever originated from me).  I have no stories of people affected by my posts, whether conversions or renewals of faith.  I plant, I sow seeds, I water...yet I can cause nothing.  All of the many, many hours that have gone into this blog feel wasted.  It seems like I am a failure as a Christian: I have not seen conversions happen from my efforts, I have not seen renewals of faith.  I do not go out an speak to random people on the streets like extroverts do: my best work is done inside, alone.  My God-given gifts are more book-based, yet they seem like God-rejected gifts, for they seem to do nothing.  All of my work feels like it's for naught.

Yet I continue to work.  Why?  Is it for some sick sense of masochism, that I like seeing all of my hours wasted on work that I know to be fruitless?  No: it is because I trust in God.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The "Kiss of Love" and Conjugal Chastity

"Greet one another with the kiss of love."--1 Pet 5:14.

The "kiss of love" (ἐν φιλήματι ἀγάπης, with the kiss of love), is something that all Christians are called to give each other, according to St. Peter. While it is a common idea that we do not need to give each other a literal kiss if it is not a common practice in our culture, the idea of showing Christian love to each other in a physical expression still exists today, especially in the liturgical "kiss of peace" that has been brought back in the Roman Sacred Liturgy of the past century and which is often reserved to hierarchs in the Sacred Liturgies of the Eastern Churches. The "kiss of love," though, could, in a less literal way, be interpreted as applicable to specific groups of Christians as well, and that is what I wish to discuss here.

God Is Light

"The highest light is God, unapproachable and ineffable, neither grasped by the mind nor expressed in language. It illumines every reason-endowed nature. It is to intelligible realities what the sun is to sense-perceptible realities. To the extent that we are purified it appears, to the extent that it appears it is loved, to the extent that it is loved it is again known."
--St. Gregory the Theologian, Oration 40.5

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Prayer Rule of the Theotokos

The Rosary is a well-known prayer in the Western Christian tradition, and I have often heard the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos, composed by St. Romanos the Melodist, described as the Byzantine equivalent.  However, there is actually a prayer much closer in style to the Rosary in the Byzantine tradition: the Prayer Rule of the Theotokos.  This rule was, according to tradition, revealed by the Theotokos in the 8th century, and it used to be prayed by all Christians; over time, however, it fell out of use.  St. Seraphim of Sarov and his spiritual descendant St. Seraphim Zevzdinsky began to revive this practice, and Philip Rolfes, blogger at The Master Beadsman and maker of prayer ropes for various traditions (Rosaries, Komboskini/Chotki, Mequtaria, etc.), compiled information on various forms of this rule (see this post and the following four for his work).  He also created a system for praying only 5 mysteries a day rather than the full 15 that the original version of the rule calls for, with each day matched to the 5 mysteries that are most appropriate for it.  Blogger Seraphim at Reeling but Erect did some work creating some alternate opening and closing prayers for the rule as well.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Beauty of Cleaning the Church

"Everything to do with the church is like an inner fire enkindling us, and looking after it is the best work of all. The humblest job, be it only to clean the floor of the house of God, is a nobler work than all the others. Everything you do in the house of God should be done with love and reverence. You must do nothing trivial there, only necessary duties. For where else could you find greater joy than in the place where our Lord is dwelling, surrounded by cherubim and seraphim and all the heavenly spirits!"
--St. Seraphim of Sarov

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Victory of Christ in Us

"Let us award the victory to Christ in his struggles. Let us erect our own trophies for Christ's warfare. Let us not soil the tunic of faith which grace has woven. Do not dishonor the gift which you have received from Christ. Recognize the Giver and protect the gift. If you were guarding a pearl or royal purple, would you not exercise custody until death? But now you are not merely entrusted with custody of pearls, or royal purple, or property; the Lord's body itself has been entrusted to you. More than that, I say you have become the body of the Lord, you are a member of Christ. Put on Christ, in Paul's words: You have been baptized in Christ, you have put on Christ (Gal 3:27). Do not betray Christ's members. You have become the dwelling place of the Spirit and a member of the King of the heavens. Let us, then, honor the gift with virtues! Let us practice temperance; let us exercise generosity. Let us practice almsgiving. Let us shake off the poison of lack of faith; let us avoid guile, the devil's friend; let us hate lies, the weapon of our enemy. Let us imitate the blessed Paul who after his baptism preached Christ whom he had persecuted beforehand. Let us imitate the Ethiopian eunuch who was baptized along the road and himself became a road to baptism for the Ethiopians. Let us multiply the talent of grace, so that we may hear the longed for voice of our Lord, saying: Well done, good and faithful servant, you were faithful over a few things, I will place you over many. Enter into the joy of your Lord. To him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen."
--Basil of Seleucia, "The Christian Combat," §8

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Theology of the Martini

Last night, my fiancée and I, both for the first time, had a martini.  When I asked her what she thought of it, she made a comment that my overly-theological mind immediately connected to Pope Bl. John Paul II's Theology of the Body [TOB], which I have been studying this semester.

She said that she liked the first taste and the last taste of the martini, but not the middle taste.  She liked the taste when the martini first touched her taste buds, she disliked the burning sensation that she called the "pre-aftertaste," and she liked the aftertaste.  Upon hearing this, my mind immediately went to the three ages of man discussed in TOB.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Spiritual Fruit of This Life

"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace."--Rom 8:5-6 

                                                                        "Yea, my King," 
I began—"thou dost well in rejecting mere comforts that spring 
From the mere mortal life held in common by man and by brute: 
In our flesh grows the branch of this life, in our soul it bears fruit. 
Thou hast marked the slow rise of the tree,—how its stem trembled first 
Till it passed the kid's lip, the stag's antler; then safely outburst 
The fan-branches all round; and thou mindest when these too, in turn 
Broke a-bloom and the palm-tree seemed perfect: yet more was to learn, 
E'en the good that comes in with the palm-fruit. Our dates shall we slight. 
When their juice brings a cure for all sorrow? or care for the plight 
Of the palm's self whose slow growth produced them? Not so! stem and branch
Shall decay, nor be known in their place, while the palm-wine shall staunch 
Every wound in man's spirit in winter. I pour thee such wine. 
Leave the flesh to the fate it was fit for! the spirit be thine!"

 --Robert Browning, "Saul," XIII, ll. 147-160 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Byzantine Hours Kathisma Chart

In the Byzantine tradition of the Hours (the Divine Office), the basic psalmody in each hour is static, except for changes during Great Lent.  However, monastic tradition included variable psalmody readings that result in praying the entire Psalter at least once a week (depending on the time of the year).  These readings are exceedingly long and rarely prayed in their fullness, except possibly in monasteries.  However, they still provide a pattern of shared psalmody for the Church.

I put together this chart not so much for use in the Hours (though the readings can be prayed there) but for personal use, so that one can pray along with the Church.  I myself will often only pray parts of each reading, maybe a stasis or two, but it is still immensely fruitful, first of all because it is the Word of God, second because it is a tradition of the Church. 

God Eludes Our Knowledge

"Let imagination range to what you may suppose is God's utmost limit, and you will find Him present there; strain as you will there is always a further horizon towards which to strain. Infinity is His property, just as the power of making such effort is yours. Words will fail you, but His being will not be circumscribed…Thus our confession of God fails through the defects of language; the best combination of words we can devise cannot indicate the reality and the greatness of God. The perfect knowledge of God is so to know Him that we are sure we must not be ignorant of Him, yet cannot describe Him. We must believe, must apprehend, must worship; and such acts of devotion must stand in lieu of definition."
--St. Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity II.6-7

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Necessity of Quiet

"For do not suppose that because the righteous were in the midst of men it was among men that they had achieved their righteousness. Rather, having first practised much quiet, they then received the power of God dwelling in them, and then God sent them into the midst of men, having acquired every virtue, so that they might act as God's provisioners and cure men of their infirmities." 
--Abba Ammonas, Letter XII

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Be Sealed With the Gift of the Holy Spirit: A Theological Reflection on the Sacrament of Confirmation

 An attempt to give a theology of the Sacrament of Confirmation based in the formula of the essential rite of the Sacrament, using Scripture, liturgical texts, the writings of the Church Fathers, the documents of the Magisterium, and canon law as sources.

How to Read the Gospel

"When reading the Gospel, do not look for pleasure, for ecstasy, for brilliant ideas; look for the unerring sacred truth. Be not satisfied with a mere sterile reading. Try to practice its commandments. The Gospel is the book of life and it must be read by life…When you open the Holy Gospel to read it, remember that it will decide your fate in eternity. We will be judged according to that book. According to our relation to this book on earth, we shall receive as our lot either eternal beatitude or eternal perdition."
--Bishop Ignatius Bryanchaninov

Monday, April 22, 2013

Life is Love

"What then may life be more fittingly called than love? For that which alone survives and does not allow the living to die when all things have been taken away is life--and such is love. When all things have passed away in the age to come as Paul says (1 Cor 13:8,10), love remains, and it alone suffices for life in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom is due all glory for ever. Amen."
--Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, Book VII, §15

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Forgotten Church

The title is harsh, yes, and the spur may be merely reactionary, and I do not really think anyone will read this (nor do I think anyone will read most if any of my posts), yet it is an attempt at least, and it may possibly reach someone.

The Eastern Church exists.

This is the first point to know.  I've written about it before, many times, and it may be too much of a pet case of mine, but I think it is something important: Latin is not the Church's only language.  The Pope is the head of the Church, but not all of those he serves have Latin as their original liturgical language.  Not all Catholics follow the Code of Canon Law, and that is perfectly allowed by the Church.  Not all Catholics have to go to Mass on Sunday.  Not all Catholics pray the rosary to honor Our Lady.  There are some who have Greek or Arabic or Aramaic or Syriac or Slavonic as their liturgical language: there are some who follow the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches: there are some who go to the Divine Liturgy or Qurbana or even Vespers for their Sunday obligation: there are some who pray the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos.  There are some who have icons instead of statues, who fast forty days before the Nativity of Our Lord, who would be utterly lost in a Low Mass for its lack of chant.  There are Eastern Christians, there are Eastern Catholics, there is an Eastern Church.  They are not second-rate Catholics, they should not suffer in dhimmitude.  They are heirs to the apostolic faith, defenders of it against heretics throughout the ages.  They are true Catholics, and yet few seem to know they exist.  I have had many people be confused when I mention that I am planning to become an Eastern Catholic: they think I am rejecting the Pope.  I most certainly am not, and there are many, many others as well.  There are the Orthodox Churches, of course, yet sometimes Catholics barely know they exist either.  We know all about the countless Protestant denominations, we know how to lead a Passover seder, we know the tenets of Islam, we are even up to date on the teachings of Scientology, yet we do not know our brothers and sisters of the same apostolic faith.  This should not be so.

Take Up Your Pallet: The Sunday of the Paralytic Man

Christ is risen!  Christ, the Risen One, is the One we should imitate as St. Peter did.  The other Prime Apostle wrote, "Imitate me, as I imitate Christ," yet the same words could be placed in the mouth of Peter.  For he very much did imitate the Lord: as the Lord healed the paralytic, so did Peter, and as the Lord commanded him to take up his pallet and walk, so did the Prime Apostle.  All miracles occur through the power of Jesus Christ, for "Jesus Christ heals you," but He may heal through His disciples, through those inflamed with His Spirit, inflamed with Him.  Have we not heard stories of countless saints, the testimony of the Spirit's working in the past, saints who healed many through their prayers and their blessings?  Have we not heard of many icons and spots of grace that have healed?  The chapel in Czestochowa has walls gilded with crutches, and the pools at Lourdes bestow healing on many.  Yet all of this is only through Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity Incarnate.  It is through the indwelling of the Trinity in the saints and in the Theotokos that these healings occur, that indwelling that sanctifies even their relics, their images, the spots where they appear.  All those who follow Christ in His healing work do so through imitation of Him and even more so through divinization by Him.

Monday, April 15, 2013

"These Words Which I Command You This Day Shall Be Upon Your Heart..."

"These words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
--Dt 6:6-9

"It would indeed be strange that the Jews should have the law written in a book hanging from their hands so that they might always remember the commandments, and we did not impress indelibly in our memory the words of a faith which is so much higher. Owing to the fact that immediately after having received the Divine order Adam met the Demon and was easily overcome by him because of his lack of meditation and contemplation of that order, it is imperative that in all this time you should continually meditate on the words of the Creed so that it may be strengthened in you and deeply fixed in your mind, and so that you may love your religion without which you cannot receive the Divine gift, or if you receive it, you cannot keep it and hold fast to it."
--Theodore of Mopsuestia, Liber ad Baptizandos II.II

Saturday, April 13, 2013

How to Discuss the Eastern Church: A Grammatical Primer

"To count the terms used in theology as of primary importance, and to endeavor to trace out the hidden meaning in every phrase and in every syllable, is a characteristic wanting in those who are idle in the pursuit of true religion, but distinguishing all who get knowledge of the mark of our calling...The beginning of teaching is speech."
--St. Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit I.2

I've often written here of the need to reclaim the Church's bipulmonary nature, that is, the fact that she has two lungs, as Pope Bl. John Paul II loved to say, the West and the East.  I've recently realized that just having people mention the Eastern Church is not enough (though it is certainly a great start): people must also know what they're talking about in regards to Eastern Christianity.  One of the greatest aspects that needs to be cleared up is simply the matter of terminology.  Thus I here attempt to give a quick grammatical primer on terms that are often jumbled up by those sincerely wishing to do justice to the Church's bipulmonary nature.  My goal is not to condemn those who inadvertently misuse language, but to instruct them and call them on to the correct use.  Why does this matter?  Because laziness with language, even if unintentional, feels somewhat like a lack of caring for the Eastern Church.  I might be too sensitive, but I hope this primer will help either way.  Any incorrect information given here is strictly due to my own faults.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Silence and the Witness: The Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women


Christ is risen!  Christos voskrese!  Χριστός ἀνέστη!

"They said nothing to any one, for they were afraid."  These are the last words we have just heard from the Holy Scriptures: are they not puzzling?  On a day we celebrate those women who loved Our Lord so greatly, those women who were called to proclaim the glorious truth of His Resurrection, why do we end with words that deny their role?  They were called to go and tell the disciples, and yet instead they are mute.  The Apostle to the Apostles does not seem to act so today.  Why is this?  Why does the reading seem to contradict the feast?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bones, Flesh, and Muscles

A term I have come across when reading Orthodox writers is "ossification."  Literally, the term relates to the process of creating bone or of other parts of the body's becoming hard as bone through disease.  Figuratively, it refers to taking the Church's tradition and hardening it to the point where it is immobile, where the Church becomes a museum frozen in time, a sepulchre of faith.  While I only recall hearing this concept discussed among the Orthodox as a warning among themselves to not take tradition too far, I think it could also apply to many Catholics who attempt to do the same thing.  Ecclesial ossification is thus the hardening of the Church's tradition so that no change or growth can ever occur, a hardening that results in a Church that is no longer even alive.

On the opposite side, there is a tendency which I will call "dermification" (although "epidermification" might be more scientifically accurate).  Literally (as defined in a definition created solely by me), dermification is the process of the creation of skin or of other parts of the body's becoming temporary and becoming a substance that is sloughed off regularly (hence why "epidermification" might be more accurate).  Figuratively, it refers to taking the Church's tradition and making it weak enough that it can be tossed out as old and promptly sloughed off.  It means living only for that which is symbolic of rapidly-changing skin, that is, the latest trend that is being tested in the Church's practice.  All tradition and all new ideas are equated, and the only goal is to keep the Church "updated" and "relevant," thus sloughing off the old ideas like old skin and putting on the new skin until its time to pass.  I think there are many Catholics who do this as well, trying to view all Church practice, traditional or new, as something that should change with the times.  Ecclesial dermification is thus the striving to make the Church's practice always "relevant," always "up with the times," to the point of treating tradition as old skin to be sloughed off, leading to a Church that is ephemeral and transitory, lacking in any roots.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Paschal Fast

"Beloved, even if the fasting is over, let the piety remain.  Even if the time of the holy quarantine has gone by, let us not put aside the memory of it.  Let no one feel displeasure as this exhortation; for I do not say it to impose on you another period of fasting, but because I wish you both to relax and to display now a more exact kind of fasting—but the true one.  For it is possible for one who is not fasting to fast.  How is this?  I shall tell you. While on the one hand we are taking food, let us, on the other, abstain from sin.  For this is the fasting which helps us, and it is with this fasting in view that we abstain from food, so that we may more easily run in the course of virtue.  Therefore, if we wish both to take proper care of the body and to keep the soul free from sin, let us take heed and act accordingly."
--St. John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instructions V.1 

St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, pray for us!


Saturday, March 30, 2013

"Gone the light the world once knew; gone is the Light that was mine": The Lamentations at the Tomb

Today, on Holy and Great Saturday, we remember our Lord's burial in the tomb and at the same time His descent into Hades to free the just souls.  The Byzantine tradition for this morning, the Jersualem Matins (Orthros), includes a service known as the Lamentations at the Tomb, a set of hymns of lamentation interspersed with the verses of Psalm 119/118, the psalm in praise of the law of the Lord.  The English text of the Matins can be found at the Metropolitan Cantor Institute, and below is an English recording by the Boston Byzantine Choir, a pan-Orthodox choir based in Cambridge, MA.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Martyrdom of Lazarus

By the witness of Lazarus, the Good News was spread, and the Church grew, even before the Passion of Christ.  He was a great witness, and thus a martyr, as the word originally means.  How great was his witness?  Great enough that the Jews wished him dead again, for many, many were converted by his witness to the wondrous works of God.

That is truly what Lazarus' testimony was, for we do not see him preaching in the Gospels.  Instead, just by the fact that he received this astounding blessing from our Lord—that God did not let the righteous remain in Sheol—he converted many, leading them to believe in Jesus Christ.  He was not the only to be a witness, a martyr, to the wondrous works of God.  Is not the Bible, in some sense, such a witness?  It begins with the wondrous, marvelous creation of all things by the Lord, and it ends with the expectation of that wondrous event to come, the Coming in Glory of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  The historical books, the Books of Reigns and Kings, the Book of Judges, and all the others, tell the story of the Lord's love for His people Israel and for all mankind.  They tell of His marvelous works, works that are marvels even if they do not seem so at the time.  The First Ode tells of these works: Horse and chariot He has cast into the sea!  The Psalms tell it too: He has defeated Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, the king of Bashan.  All creation, too, joins in the praise of God's wonderful works, for all the earth tells the glory of God, and from His works we come to knowledge of Him, the Creator.  For this reason the Three Holy Youth call on all of creation to bless the Lord, declaring His mighty deeds.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

An Ecumenical "St. Matthew's Passion"

To commemorate Passion (or Palm) Sunday tomorrow, here is the first movement from a setting of St. Matthew's Passion in Church Slavonic by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, who attended Pope Francis' inaugural Mass last week.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pope Francis' Words to the Faithful in the Plaza de Mayo

Because I want to use what skills I have to help others, I decided to translate the words Pope Francis sent to the faithful gathered in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires today, watching his inaugural Mass.  The Spanish can be found here.

"Dear children, I know that you are in the plaza.  I know that you are praying and making prayers, I need them much.  It is so beautiful to pray.  Thank you for that.

I want to ask you a favor.  I want to ask you that we all walk together, that we protect one another, protect each other, do not harm each other, protect, protect the life of one another.  Protect the family, protect nature, protect the children, protect the elderly; that there not be hate, that there not be fighting, leave to the side envy, do not bad-mouth anyone [Trans: the phrase the Pope uses is a colloquial one, literally meaning "do not take the leather to anyone"].  Dialogue, that among yourselves the desire to protect will live.

That the heart will be growing go closer to God.  God is good, He always pardons, He understands, do not have fear; He is Father, go closer to Him.  That the virgin bless you much, do not forget this bishop who is far away but loves you much.  Pray for me."

[One grammar construction gave me some difficulties, because, from what I know, it can be either "that such-and-such happen" or "may such-and-such happen."  I went with the former translation, but that may be incorrect.]

Monday, March 18, 2013

Pope Francis, Healer of Schisms

 Pope Francis (then Cardinal Bergoglio) with Catholicos Karekin II of the Armenian Apostolic Church

This title is merely a hunch I have, a hunch drawn from some bits of evidence.  Day by day I seem to be growing in the conviction that our newly-elected Holy Father Francis will be the one to begin healing, permanently, the schisms of the Church. 

It is clear to see that Pope Francis has an ecumenical heart, from his encounters with the Jews (including his recent book of interreligious dialogue, Sobre el cielo y la tierra) and his warm relationship with many Argentine Protestant leaders.  Not only that, but he has experience of the Eastern Church, being ordinary of the Eastern Catholic Churches in Argentina while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

True Franciscan Poverty (Or, Why We Don't Have to Melt Down Our Tabernacles)

Like much (if not most) of the Church right now, I am stunned at Pope Francis' humility.  Such a self-effacing man is a Godly wonder to behold, especially in such a prominent role in the Church.  His camaraderie with all, his conversational sermons and speeches, and his life of humble poverty are a beautiful example for all.  He truly reflects his papal namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, the Poverello.

The only main complaints I have heard about our Holy Father are from some people who are called "traditionalist" Catholics, meaning they have a great love and devotion for the traditions and practice of the Roman Church as lived prior to the Second Vatican Council, and their love is concentrated in an even greater way on the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite and also the prime music of the Roman Rite, Gregorian chant.  Their fire for the Sacred Liturgy is a wonderful thing, and their desire to protect the Liturgy and keep it reverent and holy is a blessing for the Church, even if some take the devotion to the point of excessive criticism of those who gain more spiritual growth from the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.  Some Catholics of this mindset are concerned that Pope Francis will denigrate and degrade the holiness and reverence of the Sacred Liturgy and especially in the Extraordinary Form.  In addition, some of them are concerned that Pope Francis, in his humble poverty, will strip the Church of her beauty, particularly her liturgical beauty.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

To Remain in the Unction: Pope Francis' Homily at the Chrism Mass of 2012

To give an example of the preaching of our new Holy Father, what follows is my English translation (Spanish original here) of the homily given by Pope Francis when he was merely Cardinal Bergoglio at the Chrism Mass in Buenos Aires on April 5, 2012.  I apologize for any bad translation on my part:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The (Possible) Motto of Pope Francis

Although I am not certain, it seems that the motto of our newly-elected Holy Father, Pope Francis, will be his episcopal and cardinatial motto, Miserando atque eligendo.  According to a post on a website dedicated to Argentinian Heraldry, the motto comes from a homily by St. Bede the Venerable on the calling of St. Matthew.  The Archdiocesan website of Buenos Aires gives the relevant passage from the Venerable Bede's Homily 21 in Spanish:

Jesús vio a un hombre, llamado Mateo, sentado ante la mesa de cobro de los impuestos, y le dijo: "Sígueme". Lo vio más con la mirada interna de su amor que con los ojos corporales. Jesús vio al publicano, y lo vio con misericordia y eligiéndolo, (miserando atque eligendo), y le dijo Sígueme, "Sígueme", que quiere decir: "Imítame". Le dijo "Sígueme", más que con sus pasos, con su modo de obrar. Porque, quien dice que está siempre en Cristo debe andar de continuo como él anduvo. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

How to Partake of Food, or, A Heavy Belly Clouds the Soul

 As this is a time of penance and fasting when more attention is paid to how and how much we eat, I thought posting some words from St. Gregory of Sinai (1265-1346), a great Eastern monk and saint, on the effects of eating and how much we should eat.  I am not posting for his definite diet (though the limited bread and water is interesting to consider) but more for his principles, such as how the belly affects prayer, how each such determine his own course of holy eating, how the ill should not have restrictions, how to refrain from gluttony by the three degrees of eating, etc.

"What shall I say about the belly, the queen of the passions?  If you can deaden or half-deaden it, do not relent.  It has mastered me, beloved, and I worship it as a slave and vassal, this abettor of the demons and dwelling-place of the passions.  Through it we fall and through it—when it is well-disciplined—we rise again....

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Vichnaja Pamjat' on the Dies Irae (Eternal Memory on the Day of Wrath)


In the Byzantine Christian tradition, today is an All Souls Saturday.  Instead of the one Feast of All Souls in the Roman Church, the Byzantine Christians have 5 main All Souls Saturdays (depending on the exact tradition, there may be more), one during Meatfare Week (one of the pre-Lenten weeks), three during Lent itself, and one on the day before Pentecost.  Today is the 2nd All Souls Saturday of the year, and to help inspire others to join in that prayer of vichnaja pamjat' (eternal memory) for those who have fallen asleep, I have decided to post a bit on one of my favorite pieces of music: Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem (which I have written some about before).

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Gems From the Treasury: January 14-18, 2013

Glory to Jesus Christ!  This week's quotes on Gems From the Treasury came from Book III of St. Clement of Alexandria's Stromateis (Miscellanies).

1/14/13: "We are not to live amorally. We are, so far as possible, to purify ourselves from passions and lusts, and take care of our soul."--III.42 (5)
1/15/13: "It is impossible for those who are still under the direction of their passions to receive true knowledge of God."--III.43 (1)
1/16/13: "Ignorance of God is displayed by one's living."--III.43 (1)
1/17/13: "The tree is known by its fruits, not by its flowers...True knowledge is discerned from the fruits of behavior, not from the flower of theory."--III.44 (2)
1/18/13: "Better to be healthy than to be ill and talk about health. Better for there to be light than to be chattering about light."--III.57 (4)

Next week's quotes are from the Enzira Sebhat, or Harp of Glory, described as "An Alphabetical Hymn of Praise for the Ever-Blessed Virgin Mary from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church."  In some senses, it seems to be an Ethiopian equivalent to the Byzantine Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos, although the structure is very different.

St. Clement of Alexandria, pray for us!

Nota Bene: All the quotes from St. Clement of Alexandria are from the translation of Books I-III of the Stromateis by John Ferguson for the Fathers of the Church series published by the Catholic University of America.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Gems From the Treasury: January 7-11, 2013

Christ is baptized!  This week's quotes on Gems From the Treasury come from the Proslogion (Proslogium) of St. Anselm of Canterbury.

1/7/13: "I will long after Thee in seeking Thee, I will find Thee by loving Thee, I will love Thee in finding Thee."--Proslogion I
1/8/13: "[My soul] is both darkened in itself, and dazzled by is both obscured by its own insignificance, and overwhelmed by Thy infinity."--Proslogion IV
1/9/13: "If there are many great delights in delectable things, what and how great is the delight in Him Who has made these delectable things."--Proslogion XXIV
1/10/13: "Love the one good in which are all goods, and it sufficeth....There, there is whatever ye love, whatever ye desire."--Proslogion XXV
1/11/13: "I pray, O God, to know thee, to love thee, that I may rejoice in thee...may I at least advance...until that joy shall come to the full."--Proslogion XXVI

Next week's quotes are from Book III of the Stromateis (Miscellanies) by St. Clement of Alexandria.  Though this section of the work is heavily centered on discussing marriage (with, for instance, Chapters 1-53 of Book III refuting various heresies that disparage the body, marriage, or the marital act), the quotes I am selecting are more general quotes about living the Christian life, particularly in the moral realm.

St. Anselm of Canterbury, pray for us!

Nota Bene: All the quotes from St. Anselm's Proslogion come from the edition of his Basic Writings translated by S.N. Deane and published by Open Court Classics.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Gems From the Treasury: December 31, 2012 - January 4, 2013

Christ is baptized! This week's quotes on Gems From the Treasury come from different Byzantine liturgical hymns during this Nativity season.

12/31/12: "Your Nativity, O Christ our God, has shed the light of knowledge upon the world....O Lord, glory to You!"--Troparion of the Nativity (December 25)
1/1/13: "You fulfilled the Law by accepting to be circumcised in the flesh...Glory to Your goodness, O Word!...Glory to Your ineffable condescension!"--Troparion of the Circumcision (January 1)
1/2/13: "The Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent in Essence...For to us is born a New Child, who is God from all eternity."--Kontakion of the Nativity (December 25)
1/3/13: "[David, Joseph, and James] offer their hymns of praise, for the crown of glory of their relationship with Christ fills them with joy."--Kontakion of the Sunday after the Nativity (December 26-31)
1/4/13: "Make ready, Zebulon, and prepare Nephtali!  And you, Jordan River, stop your flow and receive...the Master coming to be baptized."--Troparion of the Forefeast of the Theophany (January 2-4)

Next week's quotes come from St. Anselm of Canterbury's Proslogium (Proslogion).  Though this work is more well-known from putting forth the eleventh-century saint and philosopher's famous ontological argument for the existence of God, it also contains beautiful words relating to the Christian's relationship with God, since St. Anselm's starting point for his work is faith (fides quarens intellectum, "faith seeking reason/intelligence," as he famously described his method).

St. John the Forerunner, who baptized Christ in the Jordan, pray for us!

Nota Bene: All the quotes from Byzantine liturgical hymns used this past week come from The Horologion published by the Melkite Eparchy of Newton's Sophia Press, pp. 884-889.