Sunday, October 24, 2010

Anti-Abortion Ads in Washington DC

She said yes.
       If you haven't heard of it by now, there have been (graphic) anti-abortion TV ads running in Washington DC. You may not be surprise to learn that everyone is shocked. However, not at the ad, in as much that the ad ran in Washington DC! Nevertheless, these ads are run by Missy Smith's campaign for the House of Representative's seat in DC, a Republican candidate, not surprisingly, and an ideological negative for DC's culture.

Whatever you think of politicians, this is a worthy banner to follow in politics. These are ads that should have been run decades ago by many politicians and parties. They expose abortion for the true horror and murder that it really is. It's difficult to hide behind concepts and distant ideologies, when you are confronted with reality. If you want to take a look at these photos, follow this link. WARNING: These ads are NOT for the faint of heart.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Seven Sacraments

In my next series of posts, I will be discussing the Seven Sacraments held by the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, and even some Anglicans (Anglo-Catholics namely).

The first question is: What is a Sacrament?

According to St Augustine (386-430 AD), the Sacraments are outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification.    (Catechismus concil. Trident., n. 4, ex St. Augustine, "De Catechizandis rudibus")

What does all that mean? It means that, like the Church, we have external symbols and ceremonies that have been given to us from God for our own spiritual fulfillment. We need to be fulfilled because we are spiritually broken creatures in need of God’s grace.

But Sacraments are not merely signs, and neither do they merely signify Divine grace, but by their Divine institution, they “cause grace in the souls of men”. Sacraments are not merely things sacred, for there are many good things in that are sacred and full of the goodness of God. Sacraments, by their Divine power, give grace to our broken spirits, removing sins and bringing us closer to God.

The Roman Catholic Church has defined three necessary things for a sacrament to be valid: an outward sign, the inward grace, and divinely instituted by God. Why do Protestants fail to recognize the Sacraments given to us? Because lacking Sacred Tradition, Protestants generally fail to see sacraments as anything but something sacred. They do not recognize that sacraments ‘cause Divine grace’ in the human soul, and are ‘nothing but memorials of Christ and badges of Christian profession” (The Zwinglian theory).

Between the Apostolic churches that keep to Sacred Tradition, there are seven Divinely instituted Sacraments. These sacraments are Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist (Holy Communion), Marriage, Anointing of the Sick, Confession, and Holy Orders (Ordination).

Taken from the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) website, the seven sacraments are described as follows:

The Orthodox baptize infants as well as adults as the new birth into the new life of Christ. Baptism is understood and celebrated as the person's participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. It is the person's Easter as he is born again into life eternal.

Chrismation (or confirmation) is the "sealing" of the new life in Christ by the life-creating Spirit. In Chrismation the person receives the "seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit" in order to have the power to live the new life in the new humanity of Christ. In this sense, chrismation is the person's personal Pentecost just as baptism is his Easter.

Holy Communion is the "sacrament of sacraments" in that it is the banquet of the Kingdom of God, the fulfillment of every other sacrament. In Holy Communion we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Eternal Passover Lamb, Who makes us alive and holy with Himself. Through Holy Communion we become sons of God the Father, together with Jesus, filled with the "communion of the Holy Spirit."

Marriage in Christ allows our human love to become divine and unending. There is no "until death do us part". The point is just the opposite. Christ comes to our human love, frees it from sin and grants it everlasting joy in His Kingdom of love.

By our anointing of the sick in Christ's name, we consecrate our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ and we are healed by Him; if not for more time in this world, certainly for an eternity in the Kingdom of God. Thus by anointing with oil in Christ's name, our wounds become the way to Life and not to Death.

In confession, the sacrament of repentance, we come to Christ and receive His divine forgiveness. We are allowed once more to enter into Holy Communion with Him in the Church. We are reinstated into that life which we received in baptism and are renewed with that power which we were given in chrismation.

The one sacrament within the Church which guarantees the identity and continuity of the Church in all times and places is the sacrament of priesthood, the "holy orders," as they are called. The priesthood exists within the Church as the sign of the certain presence in the community of Christ Himself. Christ is not absent from the Church. He is present as its head and is manifested in the Body through the ministry of the priesthood. Thus the mystical life of the Church is fulfilled.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Homosexuality put in the proper perspective.

In response to a conversation I had, I decided to write a little about homosexual orientation. Since this is one of the problems I had with The Episcopal Church, it is something I feel strongly about. I could not condone being in a church that accepting behavior that has clearly been defined as sinful and immoral. However, that is not to say having homosexual desires excommunicates oneself from the Church.

I found an article posted by an Eastern Orthodox priest that clearly sums up the view point of the Christian faith. Since he puts the words together better than I ever could, I posted the whole thing here for you.

Here is some (changed) correspondence I have written privately and to another list. It touches on the church's teaching on homosexuality, and any other difficult to eradicate sin.
The clear teaching of the church is that any sexual impurity is a serious sin. This includes homosexuality, adultery, fornication, and other things even worse. When does this sin separate us from God, and cause our guardian angel to flee from us? The answer is equally clear: when the sin is not repented from. If one is living a continual, habitual lifestyle in which sexual impurity plays a major role, and this person is not struggling to correct himself, he is estranged from God. The temptation to be sexually impure is not a sin. None of our temptations ARE sins. Neither are our passions (but they are are probably the greatest source of our temptations). One man may be inclined to be covetous, another easily angered, another may be attracted sexually to other men, etc. Our crown is won by doing battle with these passions, and "winning the kingdom of heaven by violence". This scripture means that we must struggle, fast, pray, and do everything within our power (with the help of God), to humble ourselves, and to uproot our passions, with great labour and toil. If a man is not struggling to do these things, he is not gaining the kingdom of heaven.
The church does not believe that the act of committing a sin kills a man. The man's disposition before and after is what determines his fate. Does he say "Blessed art Thou O Lord, teach me Thy statutes"? If he does, he will lament any transgression from God's law, especially those that are very obvious and grevious. He will struggle against his passions, and will try to amend himself. When he falls, he will get back up. He will not wallow in his sins, and make excuses.
Someone once told me that "homosexuals are children of God, no more sinful than myself." This is an extremely misleading statement, although elements of it may be true. Whether anyone is more sinful than myself, a poor sinner, I cannot say, but I do know that a homosexual is an obedient child of God only if the above conditions are followed. A homosexual who makes excuses for this sin, and does not struggle against it (notice: I did not say that he must never fall) is estranged from God.
Some people object on a visceral level when they hear homosexuality referred to as an "abomination". This language is quite scriptural, but it often offends people who have bought in to the pluralism and relativism in our society. Many arguments can be made that prove that the practice of this sin is unnatural, and leads to spiritual, moral and physical ruin more quickly than many other sins. I don't want to even mention these things, but the informed christian knows what I am talking about, and can easily find the scriptures and canons to prove this. Homosexuality is a serious sin, the habitual practice of which will cause a man to be estranged from God, even more than some other sins, because of it's effect on the soul of the sinner. This sin, and any sin for which an excuse is made, and which is not repented from is in some sense an "abomination", because of it's effects on the soul. The temptation to be homosexual is not an abomination, but the habitual, unrepentant practice of this lifestyle is an abomination. In a like manner, fornication between members of the opposite sex is also an abomination.
There is a side effect to fornication between members of the same sex that is not present in the "natural" variety. Because it is so clearly proscribed in scripture and church tradition, and the physical acts in it are never blessed by God (unlike heterosexual relations), some have been forced to make up incredible stories to justify their activities. This has lead to heresy in other areas. One look at the suffering Episcopalians can show this. They are riddled with lesbian ministers, who are even preaching a kind of "Goddesss" worship. On the list, we have seen outright fabrications about a church service, which is either completely made up, as Nick has postulated, or has been twisted in a very evil, dishonest way.
Many homosexuals say things like "You don't realize how much emotional and spiritual suffering I have gone through, because, through no choice of my own, I have discovered in myself a homosexual orientation. I was born this way".
Christians understand about the emotional suffering. Sin causes suffering. This is no different than alcoholism, drug use, cleptomania, or any other _sinful_, _abnormal_ condition. We all suffer because of our sins. Homosexuals suffer more that most, since many cannot even comprehend that their sexual ACTIVITY (not ORIENTATION) is a sin.
As for "choice", the christian view is that a man may have a homosexual orientation (actually, this is a passion), and still be God pleasing. If he wars against this passion, as much as he would against blasphemy or anger, or any other inclination that, if acted upon, would be a sin, then he will be a great God pleaser. If he caters to this passion, and satisfies it in blasphemous carnal relations, then he is far from God.
A devoutly religious person who regularly engages in homosexual relations, with self justification, is an oxymoron. The terrible problem is that these people, in the spirit of this age, are being convinced that their actions are not really a sin, just as women are being told that an abortion is not murder. How can a man or woman repent, if it is not "politically correct" to do so, and if they are being barraged with information which is designed to keep them from recognizing their sin?
Any man can change - he can stop being a drunkard, or liar, or homosexual, or blasphemer, or pagan, or anything else, with God's help.
>Their only choice is to embrace themselves as they are or live a life of > misery and deceit ...
We should never condone MORE unchristian conduct for our poor brothers who are mired in this deadly sin. If a man is drowning, throw him a rope, don't push him farther in! A man can please God, even if he falls prey to his homosexual passion, if such an unfortunate one is honest with himself, and God (Who sees everything anyway), and repents bitterly of his misdeed, and attempts with all of his soul to never again repeat the episode. This cycle may occur again and again, and only God may know if the man truly recognizes his sin, and is sorry. Anyone can know is a man does not recognize his sin if he is puffed up with self-justification, and knows all the currently fashionable euphemisms to justify his conduct.
>If you had any idea how painful this experience is ...
Hell is more painful than anyone can imagine. All sin leads to it, whether or not it is called "sin", or "lifestyle", or "orientation".

The Church, Tradition, and the Bible

Sola Scriptura is the belief that the Bible is the only necessary source of God’s Word and Salvation. The problem is, where did the Bible come from? The Church was founded in 33 AD when Jesus Christ ascended into heaven. Before he left, He gave His authority on Earth, guided by the Holy Spirit, to the Apostles to maintain His word and bring people to God.

With this authority, the Apostles spread to the world setting up jurisdictions of churches. A paper from the Coptic Orthodox Church (Oriental Orthodox) helps give perspective to that early spread of Christianity:

       (Dividing the) Apostles into three groups in addition to St. Paul regarding their field of preaching. The first group includes St. Peter, St. Andrew, St. Matthew and St. Bartholomew. St. Peter preached in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1). St. Andrew preached in Scythia (Russia and so he is the intercessor of the Russian Church), Besporan Kingdom and the Barbarian Lands to the east of the Black Sea (Now within Russia), Turkey and Sebastpolis, Colchis, Apsaros, Trebizond, Amasia, Nicea, Nikomidea to the south of the Black Sea and finally he attained the crown of martyrdom in Greece.   St. Bartholomew preached in the Besporan Kingdom, India, Yemen, and Armenia. St. Matthew preached in Persia and Ethiopia.

       The second group includes St. Thomas, St. Thaddeus, and St. Simon the Patriot. St Thomas preached in Odessa, and India. St. Thaddeus preached in Bakr Lands (Iraq) and Odessa where he healed her king Abgr. St. Simon preached in Babylonia, and Syria. The third group includes St. John and St. Philip where they preached in Asia Minor.  St. Paul preached in Damascus, Syria, Tarsus, Antioch, Cyprus, Asia Minor in Antioch of  Pasadena, Derba, Galatia, Ephesus, Greece in Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Peria, and in Western Europe in Italy and Spain and finally attained his crown of martyrdom  in Rome (Romans 15:19-24, 1 Corinthians 15:10 and 2 Corinthians 11:32). 

The Twelve Apostles

Matthew 16:16-20
[16] Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. [17] And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. [18] And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. [19] And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. [20] Then he commanded his disciples, that they should tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ.

John 21:14-17
[14] This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to his disciples, after he was risen from the dead. [15] When therefore they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs.
[16] He saith to him again: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs.
[17] He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me? And he said to him: Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. He said to him: Feed my sheep.

Matthew 18:18-20
[18] Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven. [19] Again I say to you, that if two of you shall consent upon earth, concerning any thing whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father who is in heaven. [20] For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Orthodox Priest reading the Gospel

God’s Church is not just anyone gathered together speaking the name of God. God left a Church on the Earth, lead and spread by his Apostles, and succeeded by the institution they created. This institution is the hierarchy of Bishops (the successors of the Apostles), the Priests/Presbyter (the Bishop’s assistance in administering Graces), and the Deacons (the Priest’s assistant in maintaining the community).

Matthew 7:21 
[21] Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.

What did the early Church look like? Before the fourth century, the early Church consisted of groups of followers, lead by a priest. In their gatherings, they preached the Gospel read from Scripture, heard confessions and celebrated the Eucharist.

But, the New Testament hadn’t been written, yet! Their scripture was the Old Testament in the form of the Septuagint (sometimes abbreviated LXX). The Septuagint was written in the 3rd Century BC as a 39 book Greek translation of the Jewish faith from various disputed Hebrew texts. The tradition says, the twelve tribes of Israel sent six scholars each to separately translate the Hebrew text and keep only the books that contained the Word of God. When they emerged, all the individual translations matched, birthing the collective Jewish Bible. The Septuagint, which was quoted in the New Testament by the Apostles, was replaced in the 2nd century AD by Jewish Scholars who wanted their scripture written in Hebrew, and also to remove or modify some ‘ambiguous’ text that prophesied Jesus as the Messiah. One of the more prominent of these translations is called the Masoretic Texts.

It is from these translations that the ‘Apocryphal’ texts were removed. These same translations confused St Jerome, in 382 AD, when he translate the Greek New Testament into the Latin Vulgate for the West, and Martin Luther, in 1522,  when he translated his own version of the New Testament. In both cases, they mistakenly left out the extra books, however in St Jerome’s case, the error was identified by the Church, while with Martin Luther’s, his New Testament was created to support his differing views, in which case he also inadvertently used the Masoretic Text as its basis.

It wasn’t for centuries after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, until the undivided Church determined which books were divinely inspired. This moment is recognized as the Council of Carthage in 419 AD (after the Latin Vulgate created by St. Jerome in 382). Over at Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries, an eye-chart of councils and Church Fathers can be found, showing a consensus of the accepted New Testament books of the Early Church over a period of centuries.

The "Cave Church of St Peter" believe to have been dug by St Peter himself.

From here we can see that the Church wasn’t created from the Bible, but instead, the Bible arose out of the Church and its Traditions.

This is also how we can determine the proper exegesis of the Bible. The Church’s Traditions and the consensus of the Early Church Fathers show us the true interpretation of its contained Word. Also, it is the Traditions of the Church that, never contradictory to the Bible, give us those things which provide Grace as instituted by Jesus Christ, as well as fulfill our faith. These things include the Sacraments of the Eucharist, Confession, and Baptism, as well as the Communion of Saints and the belief in the Theotokos (God-bearer) the Ever-Virgin Mary.

2 Thessalonians 2:14
[14] Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle.
1 Timothy 3:15
[15] But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

To believe in Sola Scriptura, is to find a man's love letters to his wife long after they have both passed from this world. And having read them, believe to understand the full relationship between the two without knowing anything about the actual individuals. The Scriptures are literally the God’s ‘love letters’ to his bride ‘the Church'.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Resisting the Gnostic impulse

Gnosticism may seem like something left for the history books, however the same pattern of thought is still ripe and well. This article from Sacramentum Vitae highlights the continued threat of Gnosticism and the desire for that sacred knowledge.

Gnosticism is a perennial impulse. I don't mean all the mythic confabulations that the bewildering variety of Gnostic sects spun during the first three centuries C.E.  I mean a tendency they all had in common. Like the Devil himself, it is deadliest when unrecognized.

To expose that for what it is, however, we need to excavate the two notions that the ancient Gnostics all shared. The first was that the universe as we observe and experience it is evil. It is a prison from which only a few inmates, able to recognize and accept enlightenment about their true situation, have any chance of escape. Second, and on most of the ancient accounts, the world was created by an errant demiurge of some sort who keeps sparks of the divine, our true selves, imprisoned in our bodies. Accordingly, the task of those who want salvation is to escape the clutches of matter altogether and rejoin that ineffable, purely spiritual Pleroma ("fullness") from which the Demiurge had the ill grace to devolve. It all sounds like an elaborate fantasy to most of us today who have heard it at all. And ultimately, that's just what it is. But it actually sprang, and in some forms continues to spring, from a perennial tendency I recognize even in myself: cosmic cynicism.

By 'cosmic cynicism' I mean the attitude which naturally springs up when we disbelieve that the "cosmos," that vast, more-or-less ordered whole we experience, is the product of a Love and a Reason that are one. The cosmos or "universe," in the scientific sense of the term, doesn't care about what we tend to care about most—such as love, goodness, and beauty. Nowadays, of course, many of those who find the universe morally or spiritually wanting tend to be atheists or agnostics. Like most of us, they see much apparently pointless suffering and lament how "the innocent" suffer at least as much, if not more, than the villainous. That fortune and deserts do not seem to coincide is the hard truth motivating believer and unbeliever alike to raise "the problem of evil" as an objection to classical theism. And those who find that objection decisive conclude that, if the universe is created at all, its creator must be immoral, foolish, or both--certainly not the all-perfect God of classical theism. That's what the Gnostics concluded; yet, thanks to the historic monotheistic religions, most moderns don't buy the sort of metaphysics that allows for and requires an errant demiurge. So today's cosmic cynics generally conclude there is no creator in any sense at all. The universe is just a brute fact, brutal in its indifference to our most cherished, sentimental pieties. Humanity is just an evolutionary experiment, probably doomed, and certainly not worthwhile in any objective terms save those of Dawkins' "selfish gene." That is now considered the "enlightened" point of view by most of the culture's clerisies. It's the new Gnosis, sans the old myths and metaphysics.

Yet how much success would a man have if he tried to induce a woman to marry him by pointing out that their genes, together, have a real good shot at beating out many others in the struggle for survival? Not much; and we can't even imagine a woman proposing to a man in such terms. We need our sentimental pieties, if that's what they are, in order to find life worth affirming. But the Gnostic naturalists urge us not to imagine that Reality cares a whit, or is even capable of doing so. And even those of us, the majority, who aren't really naturalist in our philosophy can't help worrying that some version of naturalism might be true. After all, most scientists are naturalists, and science is the most successful form of intellectual inquiry we've ever come up with. Scientists are today's bearers of "enlightenment." So as we go on being human, indulging our sentimental pieties, many of us can't help being at least a tad cynical about it as we take our cues from the enlightened.

That kind of cosmic cynicism, which we might call "tough-minded despair," isn't just modern. In fact, it has always been with us. One finds it in such ancient philosophers as Democritus and Lucretius, and I suspect that their attitude was more widespread than the written record indicates. But the Gnostics had much larger followings than such thinkers. That's because most people have never been able to believe that the universe is just a brute fact which neither requires nor admits explanation in terms of something beyond it. There must be some sort of story behind it, even if the self-styled experts tell us otherwise. Or so most people have always thought. So we might see Gnosticism properly so-called as cosmic cynicism combined with a metaphysics that at least purports to explain why such an ultimately futile setup as the universe came to be.

But when we look at Gnosticism that way, it becomes clear almost at once that the impulse behind it isn't limited to either Gnosticism properly so-called or to secular, metaphysical naturalism. The largest Eastern religions—Hinduism and Buddhism—don't seem to value this life all that much either. For them, the goal is to attain nirvana by escaping the universe, understood as an endlessly cycling wheel of death and rebirth—and we do that, roughly, by accumulating good karma. "We gotta be good here so we can get outta here." That's the same impulse as the one behind Gnosticism. The Christian notion that creation is a positive good, freely created in love by a personal God, whose aim is to unite it to himself through the divinization of his rational creatures, is not really what we get in Hinduism, Buddhism, or in most other religions originating East of Iraq and west of Hawaii. The largest of them incorporate a cosmic cynicism. The Universe is something to be left behind, not elevated and transformed, when we reach whatever our goal is supposed to be. It's just maya, illusion: the Self's hiding from itself.

One even finds cosmic cynicism in the Bible, from the mouth of Qoheleth. Ecclesiastes got included in the canon largely because it's a kind of reverse preparatio evangelica for the Messiah. But it only works that way when messianism becomes apocalyptic and universal—which is just what we find in Judaism as it approached the time of Jesus of Nazareth. Ultimately, the only antidote to cosmic cynicism is the belief that the Universe is both rational and good, because the Reason that created it has a reason based in Love for doing so. That belief was the engine behind the development of modern science, which began in the Christian Middle Ages.

For most of us, though, belief in the goodness and rationality of the cosmos comes only by faith through an authority that transcends human reason. We're pretty cynical about authority these days. And that's the other main reason it's so hard to resist cosmic cynicism. We accept the authority of scientists, more or less, because science works, more or less, in a way that observation and common sense enable us to appreciate. But the things of the spirit? If there is such a thing as "spirit" at all, we seem to face only competing authorities about what it is and what, if anything, it's for.

That is why, I believe, Newman was right to argue that in the end, the only choices are Catholicism and atheism. That choice is not logically exhaustive, but I am convinced the future will show it to be existentially so. Among human beings, only the bishops of the Catholic Church, united with the pope as their chief, claim to be given authority by a God who can neither deceive nor be deceived to say what God has revealed. If there is no such authority, then we cannot know what God has specially revealed, and hence we can maintain no lively sense that God, even if he is Reason in some sense, is Love. We can have only opinions about what various people have said, written, and done about God, assuming there is one. And in the era of postmodernism, we are as cynical about opinions as we are about everything else.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Portrait of the Gospel

The following is an analogy of our relationship between us and God. The author is an Oriental Orthodox who has managed to create an excellent illustration our dependance on God and the synergistic efforts necessary to recieve His salvation.


As I watch my wife breastfeed our infant daughter, I see a beautiful portrait of the Gospel. Our little baby is completely dependent upon my wife to feed and nourish her. My wife has everything our daughter needs for sustenance and growth. If my wife does not feed her, our infant will not survive. Yet our daughter must struggle to receive the milk from her mother's breast. I witness our little girl labor to latch on and nurse. I see her exert tremendous energy and effort to receive the life-giving nourishment she needs. But my wife initiates the feeding, cradling our daughter in her loving arms and coaxing her to drink the vital sustenance from her nurturing bosom. I observe a profound oneness that occurs between mother and child during the nursing process- a mystical cooperation that results in our baby's physical and emotional development and growth.

Similarly, God initiates and provides everything necessary for our salvation; but we must "latch on" and struggle to avail ourselves of the spiritual nourishment we desperately need. Our spiritual efforts do not earn us God's love any more than my infant daughter's efforts to nurse earn her the love of my wife. God loves us unconditionally; and He is ever reaching out to us, coaxing us, cradling us, calling us to exert all of our energy and strength in the effort to receive His divine nourishment. Our Lord never withholds His love, His mercy, or His grace. He offers it freely to all people, unconditionally and unmerited. But divine love is only received with the same faith, effort, and struggle of an infant child who is completely dependent upon its mother's suckling sustenance.

As with mother and nursing child, the Gospel is a synergistic cooperation between God and man. We are completely dependent upon the grace of Christ, His Cross, and His Church. But this spiritual dependence involves striving, effort, cooperation, and struggle on our part. Certainly, when our efforts fail and we grow weak in our striving, the unconditional love and strength of God will preserve us- just as a loving mother preserves and protects her infant child. But although our redemption is freely given to us by God, we must cooperate and struggle to avail ourselves of its salvific grace.

I have never seen my wife happier than during the moments when she has nursed one of our infant children. And I have never seen my children more content than during those moments when they suckled from my wife's breast. In analogous fashion, God is never more glorified than when we cling to Him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. And we are never more at peace than when we strive with all of our being to be at one with our God.

There is profound poignancy in the simple endeavor of a mother nursing her infant child. And through this vital act in the cycle of life, God provides a clear portrait of the mystical work of salvation. We are little children, completely dependent upon our heavenly Father. But we must struggle with the faith, innocence, and effort of a newborn infant who clings with all of its essence to the vitality of its mother's bosom. Certainly, this is what Our Lord meant when He said,

"Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter into it." [St. Mark 10:15]

"Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of Heaven." [St. Matthew 18:3]


Gebre Menfes Kidus

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why Orthodox may not be for me.

Though I find Orthodox theology easy and pleasing to the soul, one of the reasons I have a difficult time with it, is for fear of this story.

Meet Katherine and Edward

Katherine (30) and Edward (29), have been happily married for three years. Katherine is a psychotherapist, with Protestant roots, who entered the Greek Orthodox Church about five years ago. Edward owns his own bicycle shop. He refers to himself as a “non-practicing Roman Catholic.” He attends Katherine's church periodically. They have no children.

When asked to describe some of their interfaith challenges, Katherine began to offer some background information. “I first heard about Orthodoxy while attending a workshop on spirituality. Even though the workshop leader was not Orthodox, he spoke with admiration about Orthodoxy, and his remarks piqued my curiosity.” She pauses, overcome by some emotion, then continues. “I tried many types of faith experiences that didn't seem like a good fit. But with Orthodoxy, it was different. Almost from the beginning, the information that I read about the Orthodox Church made me feel like I had finally found a home.”

Listening attentively, Edward responds. “That's true. My wife loves her Faith, and I respect that about her. But, I'm different. I feel more comfortable with God on a mountain trail, or when I'm fly fishing one of the local trout streams. I'm not very religious. I go to church occasionally with Katherine because I know she appreciates it.”

“That's also true,” Katherine remarks. “And at first, that was so hard for me. We almost didn't get married because my faith meant so much to me. And Ed's faith was so, well -- nominal. Only after a great deal of personal struggle, and some guidance from my pastor, did I finally consent to accept his proposal. And I'm glad I did, because I feel as though that's what God wanted.

After another pause, Katherine continues. “And it’s not been easy for many reasons. But one of the hardest things was finding a place for myself in the Orthodox Church, then getting married, and trying to cultivate my own religious development while also helping my husband to adjust. He was really put off by all the emphasis on culture, and the unfamiliar rituals. For a long time, he questioned me about it. But over time, we kind of got over this, and we’re now attending together on a more regular basis.”

Another pause, then Katherine again continues. “I guess the liberal amounts of English that are used in our church, along with the genuinely warm and welcoming atmosphere towards newcomers, helped us find a home here, and have kept us both coming back. I know this is a Greek Orthodox Church, but I don’t come to church because I'm interested in becoming Greek. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I come because I love Orthodoxy. I would come even if a good part of the liturgy were done in Greek. But, I know that it would be really hard for Ed, so I'm glad there is a lot of English used here.”

Ed nods in agreement, then adds, “Ed nods in agreement, and adds, "I probably wouldn't be here talking with you if Katherine's Church didn't use as much English. As silly as it sounds, this made a big difference for us. English makes me feel more comfortable. It also helped me crack what I call the cultural barrier, so I could begin meeting some of the many wonderful people who come here. And even though I'm definitely not ready today. Who knows, when the kids arrive, I might even consider becoming Orthodox. But that's still a good distance away."

I could easily see myself with this problem, except perhaps with greater difficulty. The change in culture won't affect just me. I fear my conversion would lead to spiritual death, if I did not have a home with like mind.

Marriage and Divorce

My wife asked me today about our fate if I was to become Catholic and she was to remain Protestant. Well, for Catholics, since we were both married in a church, our marriage would be considered valid.

I found this FAQs from the USCCB about marriage, if you have any other basic questions on the topic.

If I was to become Orthodox, the entry would be a bit different. The Orthodox often require a small ceremony as a recognition of the marriage. But usually still accept the marriage of an Orthodox to a non-Orthodox.

What about divorce? (knock on wood)

Prompted from the words of Jesus in Matthew 19, the two churches have two widely different methods to handling divorce in a world where "no man shall separate".

Most have heard Catholics don't accept divorce. This is true. Unless there is some ability for the couple to prove they're marriage was never valid (annulment), they are required to remain married. In the US, many complain abuses in overuse to the practice of annulments, saying just about anyone can make a case. This leaves doubt in the confidence of the Catholic Church's ability to protect the sanctity of marriage.

The Orthodox often practice an allowance of divorce in the case of infidelity. Does this mean the Orthodox don't respect the will of God? Not really. While they acknowledge the succeeding marriages will result in the individual's technical adultery (due to their previous marriage still being sacramentally valid), the Church accepts it as a lesser of two evils for the sake of human weakness. In effect, looking the other way.

Which one is better? I'm not sure. They both hold marriage in a high place and though different takes on divorce, only allow it in extreme circumstances. Personally holding marriage high, I find both approaches to God's word acceptable. Though, perhaps when practiced correctly, the Roman Catholic approach is more scriptural.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Where I'm coming from...

Growing up, I was raised Episcopalian. Originally from a fairly high-church, albeit not Anglo-Catholic, Anglican parish I have been instilled with an admitted nostalgia for the Anglican liturgy. It doesn't help that I married a woman who, though not Anglican, is herself an Anglophile.

In college, I have the typical reaction in wanting more out of my faith. I was attending a more low-church on-campus Episcopalian church that was ripe with university liberalism. So despite my desire, my faith waned in and out. I explored pagan religions for a little bit, too, when I was in college, but ultimately found them hollow spiritually. Eventually, toward the end of my college years and a few years after, I was somewhere between universalist, agnostic, and atheist.

A little over a year ago, I was sent overseas for work and had more time to examine myself, my life, and my spirituality. I feeling those desires again, I started looking into every Christian denomination... ever. The majority of which resulted in my knowledge base of Christian thought, theology, and history.

My initial reaction was to go with what appealed to me emotionally. Quickly, my values, though always leaning conservative, became more so, as well as my desire to feel what I thought to be the presence of God. Being surrounded by Mormons, I started exploring their faith. I found many things in their lifestyle and faith I found appealing, though after exploring it deeply, I found ultimately my attraction to be based on the Mormon 'burning bosom' feeling, i.e. "if I feel the Holy Spirit, I will know it to be true". Trying to reconcile the Mormon faith with a basis in reality, I was unable, and quickly resulted in my disillusionment with LDS.

From that experience, I have learned to delve deeper into history as my 'reality anchor' into Christian thought. No longer willing to accept 'good feelings' as my basis for theology, I have found myself with what I believe to be 'true Christianity'.

I am now stuck between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox (Orthodox Catholic). I firmly believe, both by spiritual experience, and more importantly by historical and theological soundness, that one of these holds the fullness of the Christian faith.

This blog is my daily arguments, discoveries, and thoughts on this journey.

Deum Quaerens is born.

Deum Quaerens is my personal thoughts in blog form. Literally "in search of God", Deum Quaerens will be were I leave a chronicle of my personal search for God and my faith's journey.

Perhaps, you'll get something out of it, as well.