Autumn in New York

Just after Labor Day in NYC is a special time for me. It’s when I moved to NYC in 1983 – taking all my stuff and going to NYU, moving into the fraternity house at 3-5 Washington Place. NYU was suffering from a housing shortage and some fraternities (especially those with many members who didn’t need housing…) found themselves renting out rooms to incoming students. I was lucky enough to have my housing problem solved by the Nation’s Oldest Continually Active Fraternity… the Gamma Chapter of Delta Phi. Delta Phi was so old that fraternities only needed two letters. For a few weeks things will be confusing because I was a “Boarder”: neither a brother of the fraternity nor a pledge. We’ll cover that in another p0st, but it’s important to know I’m a boarder for a while. My first weekend in NYC was the beginning of the San Gennaro Festival. A few boarders – two were named “Joe” one with long, blond hair, and one with dark, curly hair and a beard, one was named Jordan, this guy Russ, and myself all traipsed off to the Feast. I think the in-house brothers didn’t want to be bothered with us. This was my first outing in NYC. I had been there before, of course: several times in my late teens, but suddenly I lived there! In a way that I couldn’t quite describe, I had “become” a New Yorker – although no one would say that to me for another decade. We walked down Broadway. I cannot begin to successfully describe the emotions! Leaving 3-5 and turning right, we walked past the Unique Boutique, truly a sartorial experience for a small town boy from the South, then past Tower Records – 4 solid floors of records and this new thing, the Cassette Tape in the basement. Going down Broadway we passed Canal Jeans – whose checkerboard logo was the mark of cool and cheap. Further on we got to Canal Street itself – a crazy jumble of street sellers and open store fronts, all selling “electronics” as we called ‘em then and various hardwares: speakers, boomboxes, interesting light fixtures for black lights – which one used to use to entertain people on drugs in one’s bedroom…. seriously! Right on Canal and across to China Town (that’s another post) and then south to Little Italy on Mulberry.

Just the strings of lights, alone… it was like a County Fair (minus the rides and all the animals had been slaughtered already and were grilling…) run by Italian Grandmothers. I still remember how I watched one Nonna in a black dress drop dough from her hand, tightly clenched either by age or just managing the recipe, into the hot oil to make Zeppoles: hot puffs of fried dough covered in powdered sugar, served up in a bag through which the grease was soaking. The purpose of this was to mark you: you would naturally get oil from the bag on your shirt, and you would, naturally, drop sugar from the pastry as it made its way to your mouth. It would land on your shirt and adhere to the grease. This was, like ashes in lent, a mark of you having performed the duties of a pious pilgrim. At the heart of the Festival was a Statue of the Saint covered in Ribbons to which the faithful pinned money. A happy Protestant, I found this all very confusing – but Italian Catholicism was about to take over my life in all sorts of ways since it was the dominant religion of that part of NYC in those days. I pinned a dollar to the saint and got a pin with the Saint’s image on it… I’d love to have that pin anymore, just as a mark that I was there. (I used to be a pin collector.)

Looming over all of lower Manhattan at this point in our history, were the Two Towers of the World Trade Center. They were always there… no matter where one went, you’d turn a corner and there they were. I wanted – for a decade – to catch a photo of the full moon next to the Towers looking under the Washington Square Arch but in those days to take a picture required something called a camera… and film. And timing. And you had to pay to get it developed. And then the towers came down, which also happened at this time of year. I had forgotten my first weekend in NYC until I sat down to write this essay. Nearly everything has been overshadowed by those Towers now.

We made it back to the Fraternity house in one piece (or, rather, five pieces, as there were five of us) having survived our first night out in NYC. It was not too exciting by standards we sat later, to be honest, but there was a tapped keg of beer at the house and it was free – even for us – so we played a drinking game and I fell off my chair laughing… but that’s a good story for another post. I think I’ve promised two or three already.

I find myself wondering though: 15 years after Pearl Harbor, we had destroyed Japan and helped them rebuild. We had forgiven them – and they had forgiven us. And we had even already fought a war with Japan against China who had been our ally in our war against Japan. In less than 15 years the world changed that much. What are we missing? What skill whereby we forgave the Emperor and the Generals and all the people have we forgotten now? We’ve become, I think, a different people than the nation that so magnanimously won the 2nd World War. It would be fun to blame that on the 80s or the 90s, on Reagan, Clinton, or Bush, but the reality is we are a democracy: what comes to pass comes up through the ranks. We, as a nation, have forgotten something because each of us, as persons, have forgotten it. I don’t know what it might be, that we have lost. But I am happy to explore what I remember in the hopes of finding it.

And that’s news from Lake Woebegone… ‘s neighbor to the far East, where everyone was pushy and everyone has an opinion, where a good cup of coffee with butter bagel in the morning, a hot dog for lunch and a slice of pizza for supper were all the same price: $1.

The Rovin’ Dies Hard

There are so many threads to this tapestry, it’s hard to know where to start this post.  I’ll begin with my own family: beginning with the first William Richardson in America. I share his name – Donne Huw William Richardson – and I had the “William” even before I changed my name in 2000.  William Richardson was on the boat with William Penn. I highly suspect he wasn’t a Quaker – but that other sort of non-conformist: a Roman Catholic. I suspect this because one of his family members – also a William Richardson – was a Martyr under Elizabeth the First. Anyway, William didn’t stay in Pennsylvania he moved southward and his descendants gave us Richardson town and county Tennessee, and later a line of Richardson towns ending in Texas. There was another clan of the same family that moved northward from Tennessee and ended up in Manitoba. From thence came my Grandfather. He was my grandmother’s third husband (pretty adventurous for the 1930s). They met and married in Michigan after he had spent a large part of his life moving – having served in the US army on the Panama Canal and in San Francisco.  He was also a rail-riding hobo. He tried settling down in Michigan, but then they started to rove: Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, Georgia again, Georgia a third time, Florida, back to Georgia… In all that moving my mother was born, and a mobile home was acquired when she was around ten. The home moved too, until it was sold after I was out of college.  My family – Mom, Dad and kids, however, kept roving. In 12 years of public education, I attended 9 different schools. My Amazon profile says Atlanta, Acworth, Wurtsboro, NYC, Hoboken, Astoria, SF, Asheville, Buffalo, and SF, but I think, off the top of my head, I could add at least 10 other locations to that list.

I tried Benedictine Stability for the last six months but – for reasons unrelated to stability – this was not a good fit. In fact, I was the 3rd postulant (plus one monastic) to depart in the last couple of years, so there may be other needed lessons.  But while I was there we’d drive – 300 miles to church and back on Sunday!  And I’d sit in the car and listen to the wheels on the road and come near to crying.  For that is, really, where I’m at rest: on that road; a dark night on a highway, trucks as far as the eye can see and a lone car – or two – and all things moving.

There was another William Richardson.  He was a sailor.  But he ended up staying in one place for the entire second half of his life: he got off his ship, married a local girl, and became one of the the first gringos in San Francisco and the founder of Sausalito… also he became Roman Catholic.

And he stopped right there on the Bay.  You know: my grandfather the hobo stopped there too.  And it is home for me.  Something is there that is no where else. I made fun of my friends in Buffalo for knowing every bush and every window-full of gossip.  And when she was in SF with me, my friend Sare made fun of me: because that’s how I am there, knowing every window-full of gossip.  Just ask the people at Zoosk who got exposed to my knowledge of SF trivia in a scavenger hunt – with limericks! 
What got me started thinking about this was a friend on Twitter who wondered about kids not having a one-place-home to go to.  And I began to wonder if he was being realistic or just nostalgic.  Most of my IRL friends fall into one of two groups: people whose parents are in still one place – but they, themselves, are not; or people whose parents – and them as well – are all mobile.  In most cases, the mobility will not be as great as my family’s, but the concept of “hometown” is missing from a lot of lives. It usually only means (as on Facebook) the place where you were born – where you may have spent a couple of days in the hospital.  I will allow that the older you are the more stability seems to be involved, the younger folks being more mobile.  But many people my age and younger – and especially in their 20s – seem to be much more mobile these days than people that were in their 20s when I was in my 20s.  
Compare: almost all of my Mom’s classmates from HS are still in the town where she graduated.  Only many-but-not-all of my classmates are still in one place.  And most folks I know in their 20s have no such “pool” of former classmates all in one place. Yes, there can still be a Class Reunion – but everyone will travel from quite a ways away. To be certain, the ones trapped in one place tend to be the trackable ones. And the ones that move around are hard to keep in touch with – I have had, at various points, five friends from college living in SF. Apart from the time when one let me crash in his house for a few months, I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen these friends since 1997. This also can vary by location: NYC is highly mobile, Buffalo is not mobile at all – although people like me may pass through.

Roots and connectedness and weavings are traditional descriptors of human society. But increasingly (I’m 52 now) I feel as if my life is less a woven tapestry than it is a line on a map, or a journey in process: a through-hike on a very long trail. Dare I say, life can be like a labyrinth. I have few folks, beyond immediate family, that stay in my life, although some stay for a decade or more. Rather than the uprooted tree at the top of the post (which will, most likely, die) a more descriptive image for my life is found in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home (1985).  She calls this open spiral the Heyiya-If:

The point of it is both the coming together of the lines and their interplay in the open space: nothing is tied down. It is in that open space that dancing happens, that learning happens that changes both parties if they stay together for a while or if they do not stay together very long at all.

I don’t have much of a point more than to wonder if there is a point… we’re working out our salvation: some can do that in one place, and some rove.

Relevant Beauty

I’ve noticed in younger Orthodox Churches (I’m thinking of new missions, etc), both Eastern and Western Rites, a tendency to imitate the decorating styles of “the Old Country” – even when there is no Old Country.  We imitate their art and their architecture as if it were the only way to do things.  I just wonder why we do this.  There are ways to do things, modern ways of understanding beauty, both East and West… why do we cover our walls in imitation of someone else’s culture?  Yes, I know that at one time even western rite parishes (in Orthodox England, etc) were all covered in art, but now we think of beauty differently.  Our idea of honoring God with beauty needn’t at all imitate Tsarist Russia or Ottoman Greece and the Levant: unless our ideas of beauty are not good enough.

Catholic Monastery in France
Orthodox Church in Denmark

I love both these spaces in their ornate simplicity.  Our churches needn’t be Overstimulating Media Screens.

 Just sayin…

Counting Sundays

Warning, Church Geek Rant ahead.

At one time, the Sundays after Easter were counted (in the west) as X number of Sunday after certain feasts. “After Pentecost”, “After Apostles” (the feast of Peter and Paul on 29 June), “After Laurence” (Feast of St Laurence on 10 August) and “After the Angels” (St Michael and All Angels on 29 September).  Advent being the next season was, in some places, the Sundays “After St Martin” on 11 November.  In some places it was the 4 Sundays before Nativity.  This was a lot of counting!  It was regularized in Rome, at least, to Sundays after Pentecost sometime before the 15th Century.  In much of Europe it was regularized to “Sundays after Trinity” – being the first Sunday after Pentecost.  In the time before the Reformation and the Council of Trent, many local churches also had their own calendar and their own cycle of Bible readings, called a lectionary.  One of the more famous of the period (but only so famous in our day) is the Sarum Lectionary, being the the use of the Salisbury Cathedral in England.  They counted Sundays after Trinity. This is important because it provides one of the sources for modern Western Rite liturgical calendars and readings.

At the Council of Trent the Roman church did things to her liturgy.  First: she suppressed almost all the local variations and ordered all Roman Catholic churches to use the same liturgy. Second: she ordered all churches to follow her tradition of counting Sundays after Pentecost.  This might sound like a matter of merely counting different (Pentecost is one Sunday before Trinity, so just add one) except for the next item. Third: she moved the collects in one direction in time and Gospels were moved in the other direction.

This means that what the prayers and readings said, formerly on (eg) the fourth Sunday after Trinity is now broken out and said on the third, the fourth, and the fifth Sundays.

Where this comes home, as it were, is in our Western Rites (ROCOR and Antioch, New Calendar and Old): because the After Pentecost counting happened after the Reformation, the Anglican tradition – and thus the Rite of St Tikhon – following the Use of Sarum Cathedral, still uses Sundays after Trinity. The difference between the Tikhon liturgy and those who use the Liturgy of St Gregory (based on the Roman Rite) is not just a difference of one Sunday.  If one is inclined (as I am) to build connections and meditations on the liturgy based on its component parts, you get a different mosaic from Tikhon than you do from Gregory.

This Church Geekery is compounded by the fact that almost all WR liturgical materials are produced for both sets of communities.  You cannot simply subtract one (or add one) to transpose between liturgies.

End of Rant.

This is all new, no?

A comment on the previous post:

It’s only been since the 70’s that many Christians became involved in politics.

This idea was also put forth in the classic discussion of post-9/11 America, The Power of Nightmares. That work offers the (I think correct) opinion that American Neo-Conservatives, and the “religious right” share rather a lot in common with Radical Islam. It fails, I think, in holding the idea that both Muslims and American Christians stayed out of secular politics until the 1970s and that only the political manipulations of the secular right lured Christians into activism.

Although I think it’s true that Reagan was the first Candidate in modern political history to run, as it were, on a religious ticket, Muslims and Christians have been in politics since, well… since before there were Muslims.  The Council of Nicea, although a good thing, was summoned by an emperor – not by the Church – for political reasons: the struggle of the true faith against the Arians was causing political dissention in the Empire.  Constantine called the Bishops together to end the public dissention over the matter of the Son of God being divine or not in order to keep peace in his kingdom.

In American History there were clergymen who signed the Declaration of Independence.  Despite the entirely secular tone (“nature’s God”?) of the Declaration, someone managed to get “Year of our Lord” included in the Constitution.  Most of the 13 colonies had state churches and this held true for a while after the Revolution. Massachusetts had a state church until 1834!  The Civil War was fought by clergy and churches on both sides: what do you think the Battle Hymn of the Republic is? Most US Churches split geographically and took up allegiances as appropriate. Emancipation was a religious enterprise; as was the Temperance movement in the early 20th century.  The passage of the 18th Amendment in 1920 was a action pushed by progressive Christians to save families being destroyed by alcohol.  It was seen as part of the social gospel that also gave rise, eventually, to ideas about welfare and insurance.  Most American Churches have stood with the country in the World Wars and in Korea and Viet Nam.  WW2 was seen as a fight for Christian Culture against Nazi paganism by both Churchill and FDR. There are rather famous anecdotes about Cardinal Spellman turning in altar boys who were draft dodgers.  Churches were up in arms about the social uprising of the 60s.  But a new thing began to happen: some groups, in order to be “relevant”, reached out to the social activists.  ECUSA did, certainly, but the “Jesus People” movement was all about “hippie church”.  Baby Boomers began to make religion to be about praise music and a lack of social convention.

As this started to happen, older folks felt driven out of their churches by rock music and clergy in casual clothing. The Catholics had Vatican Two and guitar masses… the parents of Boomers all around were squeezed out.  It didn’t take long before the morality of the wider Boomer culture was also creeping into the Churches: ordaining women, approving various non-marital sexual expressions, etc, all in the name of “social justice” and “relevance”.

What Jerry Falwell and Ronald Reagan did was, effectively, use each other for their own ends.  Ronald Reagan, veteran of WW2, revitalized his own generation by using religious language and hearkening back to a time when one didn’t need to “vote religiously” because the entire culture was covered with a Christian veneer. There were Nativity Scenes everywhere at Christmas, there were Christian flags carried by Boy Scouts in every parade.  The whole country looked and felt Christian, no matter what was going on under the surface.  But the 60s and the 70s stripped away that veneer.  President Carter, a Baptist Sunday School teacher, confessed to having “lusted in his heart”.  In the 70s you could freely lust in the open.

So, no: I don’t think Christians playing politics is a new thing. Nor is the idea that some politician (from Lincoln onward) is going to do the moral thing and fix the country at all new.  Many elections have been pushed as a “Come to Jesus” moment. And the American Gov’t is often seen as God’s Tool on the national and international stages.

Unfortunately, the idea of Ceasaropapism plays out fully in American Protestantism.  Although there were exceptions (Spellman and the Kennedy clan first and foremost) most Catholics stayed out of it all and with good reason: throughout much of American History the members of the Roman Church have been held at arm’s length by the Protestant majority.  Kennedy and Spellman were both examples of selling out one’s religion to buy into political power.  They are the same sort of person as modern Evangelicals who get behind a political candidate only because of the issue of abortion – without wondering about his or her stance on social care or poverty.  It was this same buying into mainstream political power that led huge number of Greek Orthodox Christians to be supporters of the Democratic Party without asking questions about its anti-Christian platform planks, just as it was the cold war that made many Serbian and Russian Orthodox into unquestioning Republicans.

The writer then wonders..

Maybe it wouldn’t be that difficult to direct our focus back more fully to where it should be.

Since many of the “convert boom” of Protestants coming into Orthodoxy were in the reactionary parts of their denominations – the parts ‘triggered’ by Reagan and Falwell – it is understandable that they would bring their politics with them. Like Constantine’s sword arm – they hold these parts out of the waters of baptism for fear that they would have to give them up. I doubt it would be easy to get them to give up these ideas. They are married to the idea of having a Christian Country led by the right sort of president.  By this they mean, really, a Christian veneer glued and stapled back on society so we all act right in public and so that their kids won’t ask them embarrassing questions in public.  “Mom, why are those two men kissing?”

To this, this series of posts invites them not to baptize their politics and bring their phobias, guns, and hawks in to the church, but rather, come fully into the Kingdom, leaving that demonic crap outside.

No King but Jesus – Part 2 of 2

Christ is the king of all mankind by natural right – because he is our Creator – and by acquired right – because he is our Redeemer.  He is King (as Creator and Redeemer) even of those who refuse to acknowledge him as such, or those who do not yet know him as such.  Regardless of the source of the image above, the teaching is Orthodox, yes? That the Church should be filled with Royalty as a Court around a King makes perfect sense: the Church is the Kingdom of God on earth.

More directly, the Church is the Body of Christ: the presence of Christ on Earth.  This is not a mystical saying; that is, this is not some sort of vague, spiritual wooji-wooji. It is literally true. The Church is the Body of Christ in exactly the same way as the Bread of the Holy Mysteries is.  The latter constitutes the former.  It is through partaking of “this bread which is truly Thine own pure Body, and… this cup which is truly Thine own precious Blood” the Church is the Body of Christ, conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Blessed Virgin, crucified under Pontius Pilate, buried by Joseph, and on the third day risen from the dead gloriously after harrowing hell and now reigning at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  He is the King of all Creation.  It follows that the Church should both celebrate and manifest his Kingship in all the places where she may be found.  She is his body. She is his presence on earth.
Let us now return to the Feast of Christ the King.  In both her Eastern Rite and her Western Rite, the Church’s teaching is most-clearly laid out in her Liturgical Texts, which include the Bible. As noted before, both the Russian Synod and the Antiochian Synod have approved this feast for their Western Rite Communities.  Here we see part of what the Church teaches about the Kingship of Christ.  First, for those who are unfamiliar with Western liturgy, let me explain the uses various parts of the text.

The Introit is sung at the very beginning of the service.  It lays out the theme for the rite.  This one is taken from the Revelation to St John and Psalm 1 (5:12, 1:6):

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive powers and divinity and wisdom and strength and honor. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.
Ps. 1. Give to the King, O God, Thy judgment, and to the King’s Son Thy justice.
V. Glory be . . .

The Collect, the prayer for the day, is the “collection” or summing up of the theme. It is said near the start of the Mass. In many ways it is rather like a prose troparion or kontakion.

Almighty and everlasting God, who has willed to restore all things in Thy beloved Son, the King of all creation, mercifully grant that all the families of nations scattered by the wound of sin may become subject to His most gentle rule. Who liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

The Epistle (Colossians 1:12-20):

Brethren: Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.

The Gradual (from Psalm 71) and the Alleluia (from Daniel) are sung between the the two lessons.  They are the same as the Prokeimenon and Alleluia in the Eastern Rites.

He shall rule from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.
V. And all kings of the earth shall adore Him, and all nations shall serve Him. 

Alleluia, alleluia! V. His power is an everlasting power which shall not be taken away; and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. Alleluia!

The Gospel  (St. John 18:33-37)

At that time, Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

The Offertory verse (here Psalm 2:8) is sung as the gifts of bread and wine (etc) are brought to the Altar, as it were, at the Great Entrance.

Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the Gentiles for Thy inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for Thy possession.

And then over those gifts a prayer is said in silence by the Priest, because of that silence it is called the Secret.

To Thee, O Lord, we present this Victim, offered for man’s reconciliation. Grant, we beseech Thee, that He whom we now immolate in this sacrifice may Himself, Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, grant to all nations the gifts of unity and peace. Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

As priest and people receive the Holy Mysteries, a Communion verse is sung (Psalm 28:10, 11):

The Lord shall sit as King forever; the Lord will bless His people with peace.

After communion the priest prays the Postcommunion prayer for the day, as a final restatement of the theme:

Having received the food of immortality, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that we who are proud to fight under the banners of Christ the King, may one day reign in the eternally with Him in heaven. Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.

In classic three-point sermon style, the liturgical texts of the day first “tell them what you’re going to tell them” in the Introit and Collect; then “tell them” in the Bible lessons with psalm texts (and the addition of a homily); and finally, in the Communion and Postcommunion actions, “tell them what you told them”.

Taking those points, by highlighting parts of the liturgical texts, we may parse out a bit of a sermon:

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive powers and divinity and wisdom and strength and honor. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. He is the King of all creation, under whose rule all the families of nations scattered by the wound of sin may become subject. 

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. 

My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. 

God will give Thee the Gentiles for Thy inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for Thy possession: grant to all nations the gifts of unity and peace.  

The Lord shall sit as King forever; the Lord will bless His people with peace and we who are proud to fight under the banners of Christ the King, may one day reign in the eternally with Him in heaven.

It still has in it that claim “not of this world” which we have understood to mean “not of this world system”. That assumption is solidly backed up by the other texts: which clearly speak of both spiritual and worldly kingship.  Jesus is King, here and now, of this world.  It’s the world-system that gets it wrong.

To tie this back to the Caesar/Pope topic: it really doesn’t matter who is the highest authority around: Jesus is King. The Roman Church says the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth – a claim disputed by the Orthodox – but the Church is still the Kingdom of God on Earth.  The Eastern Churches say that Jesus is the head of the Church and refuse to give cede any of his authority to a bishop, ok: but – the Church being the Kingdom of God on Earth – it seems the Orthodox are willing to cede all his royal authority to whomever happens to be head of govt in their country.  Be it the Emperor imposing Iconoclasm, the Empress restoring Icons, the Tsar talking away the Patriarch or the Communists giving him back.  Jesus may be head of the Church, but this guy here has a crown on so “do whatsoever he tells you.”

It’s stranger in countries that have some form of democratic governance.

Once upon a time, one didn’t notice the policies of the party to whom one was speaking: that person was King or Dictator for life and either was or wasn’t a member of your church.  In “historically Orthodox” countries, however, that method no longer works. The entire world sees you interacting in an uncritical manner with the wrong sort of people and, even, getting gains for your church from such interaction.  But how long will that last?

When I was working at the Episcopal Church Center in NYC, the Presiding Bishop was considered the President’s Pastor.  I remember several trips to Washington when the Presiding Bishop, Ed Browning (may his memory be eternal) would visit the President. There was a wonderful picture of the two of them sitting in the Oval Office, laughing.  I think it was in Time Magazine.  But then the Iraq war broke out.  There was a line in the sand and lots of sabre rattling, but we knew when the real attack was coming: our chaplains in the field were alerted early, they told their bishop – he told Ed Browning (who had been his roommate in college, actually).  As Ed related to us the next morning, he called the White House almost instantly and was put through to the President who said, “What do you want? Talk to Barbara, she’s the religious one.”  And he hung up.

The Problem with the Secular rulers, even through they may be in power by God’s grace: you can’t trust them when you’re going to bring them an uncomfortable Gospel.

What would happen if the Patriarch ever told Putin about Peace? Could he tell Putin about the poor? Generally, emperors never like being told they’re wrong. We’re witnessing this in the US now, but really: who told us that “Justice of the Peace” or “County Clerk” was a title for Christians?  What gave us the idea we could not only be officers of the state, but could expect that state to honor our moral choices around sex or women’s health? How did we imagine that the state would allow us – as officers of the state – to be citizens of the Kingdom of our God? Amid all the whines of “persecution”, I hear the state say, “Oh, come, now, it’s only a pinch of incense.”  And I hear people who claim to follow Christ who are quite willing to turn the rest of us over, like Judas did to his Lord.  But it’s the delusion that we can – at all – trust the state that is the real problem.

Certainly some will wonder if I’m not preaching theocracy or “Christian Reconstruction”. But Christian Tradition, including the Bible, makes clear two things about the secular authority: Firstly it is placed there by God for the doing of specific things (keeping civil order, punishing evil doers, etc).  Secondly, the secular authority, being mortal men,  is also subject to God – as are all men. And in those ways in which its dictates deviate from God’s revelation, the Church has the authority to tell her people to do otherwise. The Church has the final say on moral issues: if the state falls short, that’s the state’s problem. But Christian people must follow their King. Not the local Alpha Male or Female says otherwise.  In the final judgment we will not be able to say “I was only following orders”.

We have a king, we have rules that are not of this world: love, forgiveness, feeding the poor, not taking revenge…The question is why don’t we act like it? Why do we so willingly cave in to whomever is the strongman or strongwoman on the block?  Why don’t we have no king but Jesus?

What would it be like to pull out of the politics and really live life as citizens of the Kingdom?  That’s an adventure for the next posting.

No King but Jesus – Part 1 of 2

In December, 1925, Pope Pius the Eleventh made a new feast for the Roman Catholic Church: that of Christ the King.  That this is a new feast is evident.  No such thing existed prior to 1925.  The back-story of the feast is one that reaches only 200 years back from 1925, so it’s clearly post-schism.  That said, the Holy Synods of the Russian Orthodox Church and of the Antiochian Orthodox Church have both allowed this feast to be celebrated by their Western Rite communities, thus signifying that, while it was “new” there was nothing contrary to the teaching of the Church in its celebration.  Mindful that many American Orthodox clergy and laity think they know better than their Bishops on these matters, I will dismiss any objections to this feast out of hand as contrary to the mind of the Church. When exploring the concept of Christ’s Kingdom-not-of-this-World, this feast of Christ the King constitutes part of the teaching of the Orthodox Church, and so should be explored.

Caesaropapism. There a word for you! Essentially it takes (almost) all the powers we non-Catholics like to accuse Rome of wrongly giving to the Pope, and gives it all to the Byzantine or Russian Emperor. This – Caesaropapism – is, for example, why the Eastern Church is so lenient on divorce and remarriage: because the Emperor wanted it so, so the Church caved. The Emperor once changed the liturgy of the Church and we still sing the hymn he stuck in there. Almost all of the heresies that took over the Eastern Church, from time to time, had the support of the Emperor. When Iconoclasm took over the Church it was with the support of the Emperor. When it was finally banished by the Church, it was because icons had the full support of the Empress.

In time, however, Constantinople and all the Patriarchs of the East, came under the control of the Caliphate, a Muslim Emperor. His political style – and the currying of his favor – became the modus operandi of the Orthodox Church. Don’t rock the boat and we’ll all get along. This M.O. played out in Russia and in other parts of the Orthodox world. The Russian Emperor (Tsar) changed the music of the Church; and for a long time, the the Tsar changed the governance of the Russian Church as well! Tsar Peter the Great removed the Patriarch in 1721 and caused the Russian Church to be governed by a council. It was not until after the Revolution in 1917 that the Communists gave the Church permission to have a Patriarch again! The oddest part of that story is that in both cases the Church listened to the “CeasaroPope”, asking no questions about the reasons or politics behind the decree; she listened and made changes accordingly.  In the Modern World, the same style plays out.  No politician would (yet) dare to attempt to change the liturgy of the Church (viz, the marriage issue) but we still see the same wimpish currying of favor:

The West has answered the political question in a different way.  One might coin a new word and call it:  “Papalocaesarism”. The Pope of Rome took on the functions of the Roman Emperor. Although there were times when the Papacy came under the control of local secular government, overall the trend was the reverse of the Byzantine east: a strong Pope dominating (or at least fending off) secular rulers. It’s not all cut and dry in this regard – the fight between Henry IV and Gregory VII didn’t end at Canossa, but rather continued on for a while. Ultimately, however, it was a form of Caesaropapism that took over the West. The Caesaropapists of the West – such as Henry VIII and the German Princes, and the wealthy businessmen of Holland – caused or fully-supported the Reformation: it is much better, when possible, to have a Church under state control! Martin Luther finally reversed the defeat of Canossa. Rome, herself, became her own kingdom, ruling from within the Vatican even when the rest of Italy was under different rulers. This created a different sort of political climate for the Roman Church’s meditations on political questions.

Starting from the same theological place as the East – that the Church was Christ’s Kingdom on earth – the Romans came to see the Hierarchy of the Church as a ruling class, pro se: the Royalty of the Kingdom.  Where Christ is the one and only King, the clergy formed, as it were, the royal court, etc.  Bishops and Cardinals are referred to as “princes of the Church” because, in a real way, they are princes of the Kingdom.  (This, too, is echoed in the East where the liturgical robes of a Bishop are essentially the robes of a Turkish prince – even in Russia and other parts of the Orthodox Church that never came under the Muslim yoke.) In God’s kingdom, secular rulers were only lay people.  Kings and Queens of the world may have their place in the world, and even their own special places in Church, but it was not as a special class of clergy.

There is a story in the Golden Legend that highlights this. This text, compiled in the 13th Century by Jacobus de Voragine, is sort of like the Synaxarion of the East, to which is added various pious customs and legends. Rather than the Synaxarion, it is more like the Prologue of Ochrid, in that it is more like pious reading.  The story concerns St Ambrose and the Emperor Valentinian.  Once, after the Emperor had committed a great sin, Bishop Ambrose of Milan denied the Emperor entrance to the churches until he repented and was reconciled to God and man.  By the Power of God, the Emperor was unable to enter any of the Churches, and so he repented.  The text then relates:

When the emperor was reconciled to the church he stood in the chancel. Then said to him S. Ambrose: What seekest thou here? He answered: I am here for to receive the sacred mysteries; and Ambrose said: This place appertaineth to no man but to priests. Go out, for ye ought to be without the chancel and abide there with other. Then obeyed the emperor humbly and went out. And after, when the emperor came to Constantinople, and he stood without with the lay people, the bishop came and said to him that he should come into the chancel with the clerks, he answered that he would not, for he had learned of S. Ambrose what difference there was between an emperor and a priest. I have found a man of truth, my master Ambrose, and such a man ought to be a bishop.

For our purpose here, we needn’t be concerned with the veracity of the story, but only to note that the teaching of it shows the difference in place for royalty in the West.  I think it is interesting to note that the text also indicates that the West, even in 1260 when the Golden Legend was compiled, seemed to think the East had a different (and perhaps wrong) understanding of the place of the Emperor.  Although in the West no less than the East, the King is appointed by God in the West he is only another layman in God’s Kingdom.

From the latter part of the 1700s and into the 20th Century, this mindset – Church as Kingdom of God on Earth – was met with a rising tide of Secularism.  It started in France where they were beheading clergy long before Muslims got into the act, but it spread through Europe and the rest of the “enlightened” world.  Popes met this with a series of statements and decrees.  Eventually it was discerned that “secularism” itself was only part of the problem. The over-arching issue was labelled “Modernism”; which was seen as a pan-heresy, to use a term some Orthodox will recognize.  Modernism includes everything from the theory of evolution, to the idea that Christianity is only one path among many – all to the same place, to the concept that each person or school’s ideas are equally valid, etc. All of which can be seen by the reader to be the very foundations of our contemporary society and culture.

Pope Pius the Tenth gave a full description and resounding rebuttal of this package of codswallop in his letter Pascendi Dominici Gregis; preceded by a Syllabus, Lamentabili Sane, which last is more of a listing rather than a discussion. In Modernism, Pius X saw that “the number of the enemies of the cross of Christ has in these last days increased exceedingly, who are striving, by arts, entirely new and full of subtlety, to destroy the vital energy of the Church, and, if they can, to overthrow utterly Christ’s kingdom itself.”  That same Pope, to counteract the teaching of this pan-heresy within his jurisdiction, required of all his clergy and teachers at all levels, to swear the “Oath Against Modernism“.  While this defence utterly failed, the Oath also makes it clear what are the enemies of the faith. One passage is crucial for us in our conversation about the Kingship of Christ and the politics of this world:

I also condemn and reject the opinion of those who say that a well-educated Christian assumes a dual personality-that of a believer and at the same time of a historian, as if it were permissible for a historian to hold things that contradict the faith of the believer, or to establish premises which, provided there be no direct denial of dogmas, would lead to the conclusion that dogmas are either false or doubtful.  

In other words: the idea that a Christian must (or even can) hold a public face as of a critic or disinterested observer of the faith while, at the same time hold a private face conforming to the teachings of the Church is entirely anathema.  In his public actions we are to see a Christian’s faith. If we do not see such actions in his public life, they are void in his private life too. The Roman Church saw (maybe still sees) this as a problem. How can a man claim to be Roman Catholic and yet officiate at a gay wedding? How can a woman claim to be Greek Orthodox and yet vote for pro-abortion laws in the US Senate? How can either party claim to be a faithful member of her church and yet claim to be an “ordained woman”? How can a Church claim to be Christian and not attempt to correct such actions on the part of her (not-so-very) faithful members?

This is where we are today, I think, as Orthodox.  We have no Caesar, and so we are pretty much willing to let anyone make any political claim they wish. If, on top of that, they wish to claim to be Orthodox, we’re ok with that, too. Thus, despite centuries of clear teaching on Christian charity and the role of Gov’t, the Acton Institute claims that all real Christians should be libertarian capitalists, and they do it at an Orthodox Seminary and no one has the power to cry foul.* Senator Olympia Snowe can vote for abortion and be an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarch. The head of the Greek Church in the USA can bless both the Democrats and Republicans in convention without challenging them on their anti-Christian policies.

It’s only a pinch of incense, after all.

* To be fair, the Acton folks, along with the IRD and other Cultural Warriors on the right are doing this in other denominations too, but I’m talking about the Orthodox here. 

Why bother?

A presidential election always brings out the worst in my internet: partisanship, not the least.  There is also rancor, name-calling, anger, hatred, false witness, calling evil good, and murmuring. We can add in the rest of the list from Galatians 5, if we include the politicians themselves: “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.” Against these, St Paul contrasts the “Fruit of the Spirit”: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”  There is no law against these things, but they do put the Christian at variance with the general climate of the Election Cycle and, truth be told, in times past it was these very things that got Christians killed: they might not be illegal, but they can sure be annoying.  Have you ever tried to be the voice of reason in a barfight?

Christ says his Kingdom is “not of this World”.  We – especially in America or other parts of the “first world” – hear that to mean “My Kingdom does not have a physical mailing address on this planet.”  That is not only true of people who claim to follow Christ.  Nonbelievers of all sorts will cite that passage whenever Christians seem to get “too political”.  “Didn’t Jesus say his kingdom was ‘not of this world’? What are you doing in politics?”  Christians will use the same argument when talking to another Christian of the “wrong” political stripe:  “Why are you a member of thus-and-such political movement?  Jesus said, ‘Not of this world’!”  Finally there are those who – and I have counted myself in this camp from time to time – take “Not of this World” as a permission to stand “above it all” not wishing to be mixed up in all the partisanship, one gets all holy and stuff, standing aloof.  I’ve held that position pretty much since college.  I’ve never voted in a Presidential election and only three times have I voted locally.  My argument has been “yeah, this isn’t working, why bother?”  Consider this post the beginning of an examination of that POV.

Jesus’ phrase, as recorded in John in Greek, is:

Ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμὴ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου.
To parse that out in word-for-word: “the kingdom the of-me not is from-among the cosmos this.” The important words seem to be “kingdom” βασιλεία, of course, and also “from-among” ἐκ and “cosmos” κόσμου. As Pilate realized in his reply to Jesus: Jesus used the word “Kingdom” βασιλεία, so, in fact, there is a Kingdom.  Jesus is claiming kingship of one sort or another.  But of what sort? The answer lies in that word, “cosmos” κόσμου.

Yes, Cosmos means “universe” or “this entire everything”.  But that is not it’s primary meaning.  We hear “Cosmos” today and we’re waiting for this:

In a very real sense, Dr Sagan’s version is useful:  Jesus’ Kingdom is not from-out-of this universe in these 100 Billion Galaxies of 100 Billion Stars.  But that’s not what Jesus means by “Cosmos”.  Such a thing “this physical world” is the 4th definition for the word, noted, in Strong’s as “very rarely so in Greek writings until after the age of the Ptolemies”.  Jesus seems to be using κόσμου in the primary sense of his culture: “Order”. As it was in Greek writings from Homer down, an apt and harmonious arrangement or constitution, (again, from Strong’s).  Jesus is saying “My Kingdom – very real it certainly is – has nothing at all in common with your conception of ‘Kingdom'”.

What that means is – secular issues aside – we cannot say “We have no obligation to this world”.  What we have is no obligation to this worldly system. (St Paul commands us to pray for those in authority: but we know that, over and over, our prayers for those in authority in ancient Rome were – rightly – deemed to be seditious.  As I said, these things might not be illegal, but they can sure be annoying. )

Point of fact, despite my previous political aloofness, I don’t think we have an obligation  – or even permission – to ignore all this.  However, I don’t think we have permission to get involved according to the rules of this κόσμου.  Our obligation  – the command given – is to follow the rules of our kingdom.  But, forgive me my past sins and errors, it seems clear that we should be involved.

In a future post, I will make a little essay towards the truth of what we should be doing.  In closing, for now, a meditation from 1980 on what sort of Kingdom this is.

Tolkien on the Eucharist

Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. . . . There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death.

By the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste—or foretaste—of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.

The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise.

Frequency is of the highest effect.

Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals.

Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your Communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children—from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn—open-necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them).

It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people.

It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand—after which our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.”


One day, Fr T said unto me “I have solved the problem with the Epiclesis!”  For those not in the know, the Roman Canon is lacking an epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Ghost over the gifts).  This is because the Roman Canon is older than the Constantinopolitan idea of the need for such things.  When the Russian Church examined the Roman Rite, they requested an explicit epiclesis be inserted and it was done.  However Fr Overbeck, who had petitioned the Russian Church for a Western Rite,  was not that familiar, I think, with Byzantine tradition: he used the Epiclesis from the Anaphora of St John Chrysostom, the most-heard Byzantine Liturgy.  Following him, everyone has used that Epiclesis.  If Overbeck had used the Anaphora of St Basil liturgy rather than St John’s, the insertion would be of a more harmonious effect.  Thus ruminated Fr T over coffee one morning and, having little to do today, I decided to take the Roman Canon (as translated by Miles Coverdale) and add to it a Basilian Epiclesis.  I think it is, in fact, much more harmonious.

The Roman Canon
Most merciful Father, we humbly pray thee, through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. He joins his hands and, making the sign of the cross once over both bread and chalice, says: and we ask, that thou accept and bless ✠ these gifts, these presents, these holy and unspoiled sacrifices.
With hands extended, he continues
We offer them unto thee, first, for thy holy Catholic Church: that thou vouchsafe to keep it in peace, to guard, unite, and govern it throughout the whole world; together with thy servant N., our (Senior Primate/Metropolitan/Patriarch) and N., our Bishop and all the faithful guardians of the Catholic and apostolic faith.
Commemoration of the Living
Remember, O Lord, thy servants and handmaids [N. and N.] He prays for them briefly with hands joined. Then, with hands extended, he continues and all who here around us stand, whose faith is known unto thee and their steadfastness manifest, on whose behalf we offer unto thee, or who themselves offer unto thee, this sacrifice of praise; for themselves, and for all who are theirs; for the redemption of their souls, for the hope of their salvation and safety; and who offer their prayers unto thee, the eternal God, the living and the true.
United in one communion, we venerate the memory, first of the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord Jesus Christ; of Joseph her spouse; as also of the blessed Apostles and Martyrs, Peter and Paul, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Thaddaeus; Linus, Cletus, Clement, Xystus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian and of all thy Saints: grant that by their merits and prayers we may in all things be defended with the help of thy protection.
[Through Christ Our Lord. Amen]
With hands extended, he continues
We beseech thee then, O Lord, graciously to accept this oblation from us thy servants, and from thy whole family: order thou our days in thy peace, and bid us to be delivered from eternal damnation, and to be numbered in the fold of thine elect. [Through Christ our Lord.]
Vouchsafe, O God, we beseech thee, in all things to make this oblation blessed, approved and accepted, a perfect and worthy offering: that it may become for us the Body and Blood of thy dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
He joins his hands.
Who the day before he suffered, On Maundy Thursday he says: Who the day before he suffered to save us and all men, that is today, He takes the bread and, raising it a little above the altar, continues: took bread into his holy and venerable hands, He looks upward and with eyes lifted up to heaven, unto thee, God, his almighty Father, giving thanks to thee, he blessed, broke and gave it to his disciples, saying: He bows slightly. Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you. He genuflects, shows the consecrated Host to the People, places it on the paten, and again genuflects in adoration. Then he continues Likewise, after supper, He takes the chalice, and, raising it a little above the altar, continues taking also this goodly chalice into his holy and venerable hands, again giving thanks to thee, he blessed, and gave it to his disciples, saying: He bows slightly. Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me. He genuflects, shows the Chalice to the People, places it on the corporal, and again genuflects in adoration. Then with hands extended, the Priest says:
Wherefore, O Lord, we thy servants, and thy holy people also, remembering the blessed passion of the same Christ thy Son our Lord, as also his resurrection from the dead, and his glorious ascension into heaven; do offer unto thine excellent majesty of thine own gifts and bounty, the pure victim, the holy victim, the immaculate victim, the holy Bread of eternal life, and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.
We implore thee and call upon thee, O Holy of Holies, that by the favor of thy goodness thy Holy Spirit may come upon us and upon the gifts now offered, to bless, to sanctify, and to show this bread he blesses the bread ✠ to be the precious Body of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, and this cup he blesses the cup ✠ to be the precious Blood of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, he blesses both ✠  shed for the life of the world. Making the change by the Holy Spirit
The people respond: Amen! Amen! Amen!
Vouchsafe to look upon them with a merciful and pleasant countenance; and to accept them, even as thou didst vouchsafe to accept the gifts of thy servant Abel the Righteous, and the sacrifice of our Patriarch Abraham; and the holy sacrifice, the immaculate victim, which thy high priest Melchisedech offered unto thee. Bowing, with hands joined, he continues We humbly beseech thee, almighty God, command these offerings to be brought by the hands of thy holy Angel to thine altar on high, in sight of thy divine majesty; that all we who at this partaking of the altar shall receive the most sacred Body and Blood of thy Son, He stands up straight and makes the sign of the cross upon himself, saying may be fulfilled with all heavenly benediction and grace. [Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.]
Commemoration of the Dead
With hands extended, he says Remember also, O Lord, thy servants and handmaids, [N. and N.], who have gone before us sealed with the seal of faith, and who sleep the sleep of peace. The Priest prays for them briefly with joined hands. Then, with hands extended, he continues To them, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, we beseech thee to grant the abode of refreshing, of light, and of peace.
[Through the same Christ our Lord.]
The Priest strikes his breast with the right hand, saying To us sinners also, thy servants, who hope in the multitude of thy mercies, With hands extended, he continues vouchsafe to grant some part and fellowship with thy holy Apostles and Martyrs; with John, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicitas, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia and with all thy Saints, within whose fellowship, we beseech thee, admit us, not weighing our merit, but granting us forgiveness; He joins his hands and continues through Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom, O Lord, thou dost ever create all these good things; dost sanctify, quicken, bless, and bestow them upon us; He takes the Chalice and the paten with the Host and, lifting them up, sings or says By whom, and with whom, and in whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end.
The People respond:  Amen.