From the Royal Hours for Nativity

Today he who holds creation in the hollow of his hand is born of a Virgin.
Today he who holds creation in the hollow of his hand is born of a Virgin.
Today he who holds creation in the hollow of his hand is born of a Virgin.

He who in his being cannot be touched is wrapped in swaddling clothes as a mortal child.
God who of old established the heavens in the beginning now lies in a manger.
He who rained Manna on the People in the desert is fed at his mother’s breast.
The Bridegroom of the Church calls the Magi to himself.
The Son of the Virgin accepts their gifts.

We venerate thy birth, O Christ
We venerate thy birth, O Christ
We venerate thy birth, O Christ

Show us also your divine Theophany.

Ducking Out.

I had a friend back east, a pastor in a “mainline” denomination who had engaged me to talk about Orthodox spirituality in an Adult Sunday School class. Now, I’ll be honest, my friend whom I love and pray for always is an Alpha Male who does not gracefully yield his teaching space. So, while I was there to talk about Orthodoxy, I spent some good part of the class responding to his comments which were, I will be honest, probably what most of his liberal mainline congregants were thinking. Yet they were coming as more interruptions rather than discussion… I blew most of them off. One, however sticks with me.

In discussing the Jesus Prayer, my friend commented “I never say that prayer because I don’t want to internalize all that.” My initial reply was “that’s the point”. But I had missed his point. “No I mean that stuff about being a sinner begging for mercy.” Now, to be fair, the Jesus Prayer comes in several edits – long and short. The Greek text in the image above (and on the ring I wear on my hand) does not have the “Sinner” bit. The longer one I favor is, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy and, through the prayer of thy most pure mother of (your patron saint) and of all the saints, save me, a sinner.” “Jesu-Mercy” is the shorted one I know.  But variations on the theme were not the point.

It is such a Christian common-place: we are all sinners.  What was he even talking about? How can you conceive of a Christianity where we are not sinners? What is even the point? I smiled. Did this mean that everything I was saying – predicated on the most basic of Christian doctrines – was being missed?  The answer is yes, I fear so. If we’re not sinners, God doesn’t need to incarnate, Jesus isn’t God, the Church is a social justice movement and Orthodox Spirituality (western or eastern) is totally meaningless or, else, just “spiritual but not religious” tools that can be picked up by anyone to any purpose (other than the intended one – to save sinners, of whom I am first). What might the Alpha Male Pastor have thought of Orthodox Communion prayers!

This even came to mind yesterday when my Twitter Feed and Google Plus light up with comments about Phil Robertson, the Patriarch of TV’s Duck Dynasty who, it seems, actually reads the Bible and can quote it. I am more than certain that he and I would disagree on a whole host of theological points so much that we might both ask if the other is even Christian at all. I am also rather certain that, when it comes to sex, Mr Robertson fails – as do most straight folks I know – to have enough imagination to include all the possibilities of same-sex expression. But on one thing he and I agree. The Christian teachings (scripture and tradition) is quite clear about this: sex outside of the bonds of Holy Matrimony is a sin.  We will agree, perhaps, in a second and third place: all sins are equal, being sins that all divide us from God; and all of us are sinners. Some version of the word “Sin” was used 4 times there and liberal mainliners might stress out a bit much reading it.

“I don’t want to internalize all that.

That line came up so many times yesterday, couched in terms such as “homophobia”, “hatred” and “bigotry”. The modern world has no defense against the term “sin” other than rejection of the category. You can’t say someone is a sinner without hating them, right? Certainly enough hatred has been spouted by christian leaders at various categories of person, but Phil Robertson hasn’t done so, as far as I can see.  What he also didn’t do is the blasted thing that many members of the BLT/GQ community do: the assumption that action equals identity. For most members of the Queer Community, Action-as-Identity is expressed this way: “I feel this and so I act on it, if you say I can’t act on it, you are denying my very person.” Phil, however, never said word one about gay people: he was clear “homosexual behavior” iis the problem.

We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?

He does seem to fall into the error of equating it all with a choice – just make a choice for something else and it will all go away. Now, I don’t believe homosexuality is a choice. Actions however, are a choice. I don’t believe in Ex-gays, nor do I believe in sticking some unfortunate woman with my sexual misfirings in the name of “passing”. But we can bicker about reactions later.  Here, I want to ask, did anyone writing comments actually read the damn article? It’s rather mild and enjoyable compared to the way everyone’s been making it out.  Even the writer – who starts out with that urban elite attitude that makes me want to punch him – seems sympathetic at the end. And he can shoot.

So what’s the problem with sin? Well… the reactions of sexual active Queer folks to being called sinners by Robertson is exactly the reaction of Capitalists to being called sinners by the Pope.  It’s the same whinge Satan made first, “Yer not the boss of me!”  Each of us – Capitalist, Queer, whatever – is stuck insisting I’m the boss of me and no one else. Referring to the Owner’s manual only makes it worse, so we rewite the manual and leave out the rough parts. In the end it’s a matter of faith – not fact – because if there is no judgement, it’s all good and if there is… well… we’ll all know too late. The writer admits: what’s surprising about this? We put self-described Bible-thumpers on TV. Who should be shocked when they thump?

“Hollywood has run upon the kingdom of God, and there’s a rub there,” said the Duck Commander, a tenacious personal evangelist who has brought hundreds of souls to new life in the Ouachita River. “Well, we have to be as harmless as a dove and as shrewd as a snake in the way we deal with them.” – 

See more of this interview here

The reaction of various members of the queer community to religious types shouldn’t be news. They don’t like being called sinners.  Quelle Supris. What’s infuriating about this is the story Phil tells, of A&E editing out religious references (yes: not all). It’s not reality tv, it’s virtual reality TV that lets everyone watch and see what they want.  It’s not surprising either, mind you: We don’t want white trash on TV we want well-trained respectable Uncle white trash. We don’t want Christians, we want House-Christians.

M-B typing thoughts

Some people in my social circles just had their Myers-Briggs Types done, along with a consultation with an MBTI therapist… and I’ve been doing some self examinations (I have an MBTI coming up in the new year).

I usually think of myself as an Introvert b/c when the party is over (and I may have had a really good time at the party) I need down time, alone time and peace and quiet.

But lately I’ve noticed that being left alone… in the house, in the office, etc… is entirely bad news for me.  I stop being happy, I stop being upbeat and even, when contacting people in that alone-state, I just get all grumpy.

I still would rather go to a party or the mall or the street and just observe – rather than interact – but I’d rather have people about.  I’d rather work in a coffee shop than at home.  I may not want to “Socialize” but I do need to be social.

I think that’s extroversion, in the M-B model.  I think. On the other hand, the fact that I prefer the inner monologue, even when at the mall, may be introversion.  Not sure.  What I do know is that left alone with my inner monologue doesn’t seem to be very healthy.  Granted: asking the question is probably a sign of introversion anyway.

Old Calendar Readings – 1 Advent

Trying something new here: readings as assigned on the Old Calendar.  Again, these are for MP and EP in the Rite of St Tikhon. As far as I know, these are not authorised by ROCOR’s WR Vicarate.  But if you want a set of daily readings on the Julian Calendar, here they are!

Dates are on the Old Calendar / New Calendar

  1. /15 Dec  Sunday I AdventMPEP – Martyrology
  2. /16 Dec Monday – MPEP – Martyrology
  3. /17 Dec Tuesday – MPEP – Martyrology
  4. /18 Dec Wednesday – MPEP – Martyrology
  5. /19 Dec Thursday St Nicholas BCMPEP – Martyrology
  6. /20 Dec Friday St Ambrose BCDMPEP – Martyrology
  7. /21 Dec Saturday Conception of BVMMPEP – Martyrology

Daily Readings 14 – 21 Dec AD 2013

The Daily Offices for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Rite of St Tikhon. The readings are as assigned by the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate supplemented with other devotional material. Each MP/EP link will take you to a complete office, needing only the daily psalter or, for MP, the Martyrology link.

  1. Saturday Conception 8va (Advent Feria) – MPEP – Martyrology
  2. 3rd Sunday of Advent  (Octave Day of the Conception) – MPEPMartyrology
  3. Monday Advent Feria VI O Sapientia (St Eusebius of Vercelli, BM) – MPEP – Martyrology
  4. Tuesday Advent Feria V before Nativity O Adonai  – MPEP – Martyrology
  5. Ember Wednesday Advent Feria IV before Nativity – O Radix – MPEP – Martyrology
  6. Thursday Advent Feria III before Nativity – O ClavisMPEP – Martyrology
  7. Ember Friday Advent Feria II before Nativity – O Orient MPEP – Martyrology
  8. St Thomas the Apostle (Ember Day Advent Feria O RexMPEP – Martyrology

O Rex – 6th Advent Meditation

 Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

 King of the Nations, and the one they desired, keystone, who makes both peoples one, come and save mankind, whom you shaped from the mud.

Making both people one…

There is a lot of “us vs them” in the world. Admittedly Christians have often played a part in this.  However the Church Fathers kept trying to overcome this – from the time of St Paul: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus, he says in Galatians.  Some of the Fathers go so far as to say that, in the economy of salvation, “human nature” is one – including all humans (including Christ) and that any time we speak of individuals, we are creating a false image. Neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all, says St Paul, again, this time in Colosians.

Christ is all.

So in both verses – and in our Advent verse today – the common division is Jew/Gentile. “Neither Jew nor Greek”, neither “circumcision nor uncircumcision”, facis utraque unum making “both one”.

Many people imagine that “making both one” imagines it to mean “keeping them divided”, on the one hand, or “erasing them” on the other. In the first camp – keeping them divided – are those Christians who say God is still doing something with the Jewish Covenant and we should leave them alone, not evangelize them, nor worry about them in the divine economy, together with those who, in ecumenical charity, may or may not be Christian or Jewish, but take on the “all are equally right/wrong” attitude to religion. Also in this camp are those who reject Jesus outright.

 In the other camp – the erasing them camp – are those who say becoming Christian means erasing one’s selfness. If I become a Christian, I am no longer a Jew; or, we must get rid of all Jews by “making them Christians.” These two sides of the same coin are missing the whole point. Christ does not erase either Humanity or God in the incarnation. Rather he makes both one in a mystical union. Likewise, he does not erase Male and female in marriage, but again, makes both one in a mystical union. Humanity becomes one in Christ without losing the distinctive features of our individual selves. We are not Buddhists: all is not erased in Christ, all is joined in a United Kingdom of the Cross.

King Christ is all.

This is why the Creed of the Church, the Symbol of the Faith, lists “oneness” as a mark of the Church: those who put themselves outside of the Faith of the Church by rejecting Christ or his teachings are breaking the oneness of humanity by creating a new “us vrs them” that is to Crucify Christ all over again.

Daily Readings 7 – 14 Dec 2014

The Daily Offices for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Rite of St Tikhon. The readings are as assigned by the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate supplemented with other devotional material. Each MP/EP link will take you to a complete office, needing only the daily psalter or, for MP, the Martyrology link.

  1. Sat St Ambrose of Milan BCD (Advent Feria, Vigil of the Conception of the BVM) – MPEP –  Martyrology
  2. Conception of BVM (2nd Sunday of Advent)MPEP –  Martyrology
  3. Mon Conception 8va (Advent Feria)  – MPEP –  Martyrology
  4. Tue Conception 8va (Advent Feria, St Melchiades, P.M.) – MPEP –  Martyrology
  5. Wed St Damasus I, P.C. (Conception 8va, Advent Feria) – MPEP –  Martyrology
  6. Thu Conception 8va (Advent Feria) – MPEP – Martyrology
  7. Fri St Lucy, V.M. (Conception 8va, Advent Feria, St Herman of Alaska, C.) – MPEP – Martyrology
  8. Sat Conception 8va (Advent Feria) – MP – EP – Martyrology

O Oriens – 5th Advent Meditation

 Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

 Dawn, splendor of eternal light, and sun of justice, come, and shine on those seated in darkness, and in the shadow of death.

Dawn… it’s the slow realization of the light.

There’s a prayer in the communion preparations of the Western Rite that says, Tibi, Domine, plagas meas ostendo, tibi verecundiam meam detego. “Lord, I show my wounds to Thee and uncover my shame before Thee.”

What does the light uncover in you? Whatever you are hiding from the light, that will be the death of you.

Modern psychology speaks of our shadow side or our darker self as if it were a good thing to confront and live with.  Christianity, however, wants to make us all children of the light – sons of the Father of Lights in whom there is no shadow.  Orthodoxy would go so far as to say that the shadow is what gets burnt up by our God who is a “Consuming Fire”.

Remember, what you are hiding: that will be the death of you.

What is it that gets revealed by the Divine Light? What is it that you throw away to burn?

This is the Orthodox Sacrament of Confession, the holy mystery of Reconciliation.  What you expose no longer kills you: it dies.  But you die, too, a little bit. That part of you that was living, if you will, with a cancerous growth, a parasite dies as well.  This might be a time when “parasite” is the most literally correct word: it comes from Greek roots meaning “along side” and “food”.  A “parasite” is something that we are feeding with our own food – other than our real self.  The parasite is the thing that is eating us: a false self.  Our sinful nature is not really us.  What we do does not define who we are.

What do you bring to the light?

Advent Soup & Frybread

For Orthodox of both eastern and western rites, the period leading up to Christmas is a time of abstaining from animal products.  Fish may be ok, shellfish too, but meat, dairy and eggs are right out.  So we find other things to do.  These two recipes have become mainstays for me this season, already: and I’m surprised I never thought of them before.  Both allow for a lot of variation and so I’ve added notes to each.  Salad goes nicely with them.

Ramen Miso
We will start with the soup.  You see the ramen packs above, that’s what we want – but throw out the flavour packets. It’s all salt and some other crap.  It’s totally pointless: what we want is the noodles.

Bring two or three cups of water to a boil.  To this add some miso paste: follow the instructions on the package, mine says 1 tbl per cup of water.  Then add one extra serving – so for two cups of water, I add 3 tbls of miso.  YMMV.  Then add the noodles and simmer until tender. Salt and pepper for taste.

That’s it.  Miso soup with ramen.

It’s also very boring.  So:  try adding diced up tofu, seitan, or tempe.  This can be flavoured anyway you want.  Try adding veggies!  I’ve found that a bag of frozen mixed veggies works just fine here. As does leftover Chinese food diced up. Stir fry something or add it raw and simmer until done. Greens are good, bok choi rocks. Last night I had it with box choi and mushooms.  This works really well for two servings: one for supper and one to take to the office.

This one is a little more complex but very tasty.

Combine 2/3 Cup self-rising flour with 1/2 tbl of NRG Egg Replacer powder. Whisk the dry ingredients together and stir in about 2/3 cup of water.  You want a very stiff dough and, depending on the flour and the weather, you may not need all of it, but you don’t want it runny: a well mixed cookie dough is about right.

Heat up a couple of tbls of olive oil or canola oil in a deep frying pan for which you have a lid.  You’re going to want about 3 inches above the bread – so pick wisely and do so before you have hot oil!

Place the dough in the oil and spread it out a little. It should start frying instantly. Add the cover and then get a couple of tbls of water.  Carefully spritz the water around the bread and cover instantly. DANGER Water and Hot Oil is a volatile mix.  Be very careful.  What you are doing is setting of a mixed cooking method of steam and fry.

In about three or four minutes the bread will rise up be easy to flip over with a turner.  Cover again and cook until done (another 3 or 4 mins).

DANGER there is still hot oil here…

Slice, spread some vegan butter spread on top and nom away.

Variations that I’ve tried so far this year: instead of water I added almond-based “winter nog” and some sugar got a wonderful fried dessert product.  I’ve mixed the bread with 1/3 cup self-rising flour and 1/3 cup self-rising cornmeal and had fried corn bread!  Instead of water I’ve added veggie broth – very savoury bread!  I’ve also made it with mushroom broth. One failure though: I tried it with cranberry sauce. Just don’t do it.

O Clavis – 4th Advent Meditation

 Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit, claudis, et nemo aperuit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
 Key of David, and sceptre of the house of Israel, you open, and no one shuts, you shut, and no one opens: come, and lead the prisoner from jail, seated in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Every day, riding to and from work in North Carolina, I’d pass a Baptist church. The reader board carried some version of, “If you died tonight, where would you wake up?” One that sticks in my memory every year at this time said, one one side, “Grandma got run over by a reindeer.” And the other side said, “Yes, but where will she spend eternity?” It’s a macabre question, don’t you think? “Are you saved?” is short hand for “If you died tonight, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” God only cares about your soul when your dead.

Jesus, however, seems to have a different take in the scriptures. He restores people, not just bodily, but also socially: he touches lepers, an act that makes him ritually “unclean” in his person; he eats with sinners, more “uncleanness”. Jesus heals gentiles and Jews, complimenting the faith of the former, condemning the lack of thanksgiving in the latter, but never “unhealing” anyone. When Jesus “only” heals someone of bleeding, paralysis or even death, he is restoring them to communion with their friends and neighbors who imagine such illness to be a judgement from God. Take a look at the Ger’asene Demoniac (in Luke 8:26ff). Jesus casts “Legion” out of the man, and the family find him “sitting clothed and in his right mind”. The man wants to go with Jesus, but Jesus says no, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you” (Luke 8:39). Go restore communion, which, by the way, is going with Jesus.

In all these things – illness, demonic possession, death – Jesus restores the communion of persons. We are in bondage, kept in isolation cells: locked each within our own self, unable to engage in communion. And, in a real sense, that lack of communion is death. This is the jail from which Jesus calls us and while, yes, I believe the Warden in this universal prison is Satan, he needs no minions as screws: we each do his bidding daily, denying communion, one with the other, in so many acts; creating division, one from the other, in so many confrontations. Any human who creates an “us” and a “them” has done Satan’s work for him, locking not just a few but all of us in yet another cell. Eventually any issue grows from “good students” and “bad policeman with pepper spray” into supporters of one side over the other and – especially in today’s media-rich environment – everyone in the world is asked to take sides. I can create a new prison just by posting on Facebook or Twitter. Jesus wants to take humanity out of our us-and-them problems. This is not a life-after-death issue, but a here and now issue. It is a life and death issue now. Every us-and-them is a little death undergone by all of humanity.

Truth of the matter is, however, that we like things this way. That’s what Faith is: letting God describe reality and living there, not making it up yourself.  One of my favourite writer/philosophers, the late Robert Anton Wilson, speaks of “reality tunnels”: constructs created in the human brain by religion, politics, science, etc. His end goal seems to be to liberate humanity from all such constructs.  Even the ones created by language, sex, and other things that can’t be erased.  For all that I can disagree with R.A.W.’s end point, his starting point is very Christian: our human reality tunnels keep us from seeing the real reality: God’s.  Blessedly, unlike R.A.W. Christians have a deity who claims to have described (and created) this real reality for us, with a purpose.  Now… of course, that’s only another tunnel in R.A.W.’s worldview.  But in today’s verse, other tunnels are the jails from which we need to be liberated.  We sit in darkness as long as we let culture or our perceptions of political issues keep us from communion in God’s reality.

Locked off from such communion, we die in this world, now.  Not later: not eternity. But now.