Sunday, March 30, 2014

Terry Mattingly: Death of an Orthodox missionary — in America

When major religious leaders die, it’s traditional that public figures — secular and sacred — release letters expressing sorrow and sending their condolences to the spiritual sheep who have suddenly found themselves without a shepherd.
This is precisely what Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios Trakatellis did, acting as chairman of the assembly of America’s Eastern Orthodox bishops, after he heard about the death of Metropolitan Philip Saliba, the leader of the Antiochian Orthodox Christians in North America for a half century. His letter was kind and gracious, but contained a hint of candor that spoke volumes.
“For more than 15 years I have had the opportunity and privilege to work closely with Metropolitan Philip,” wrote Archbishop Demetrios, noting that the Antiochian leader served as vice-chairman of the assembly of bishops. Metropolitan Philip was a pastor to his people, but he also “passionately supported a common witness to our Orthodox faith in the world. It is well known that he spoke his mind openly on a number of important issues and would often challenge inactivity surrounding serious issues, which he felt Orthodoxy could address in unique and important ways.”
That’s one way to put it.
Metropolitan Philip, who died March 19, was more than an advocate for Orthodox life and faith. He was more than a pragmatic strategist who helped his flock grow from 66 parishes to 275, while opening youth camps and a missions and evangelism office.
The Lebanese-born archbishop was also a fierce advocate of Orthodox unity in the United States, to whatever degree possible among Greeks, Arabs, Russians, Ukrainians, Romanians, Serbians and others. After living his adult life in this land, he made the controversial decision in the mid-1980s to embrace waves of evangelical converts (I am one of them). These converts affected all levels of his church including, as much as anywhere else, seminaries and, thus, at Orthodox altars.
That was the backdrop to the symbolic moment when Archbishop Demetrios surprised Metropolitan Philip by asking him to make some off-the-cuff remarks at the 2004 Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Church in New York City.
“I reminded him that when I speak, I tell it like it is,” said Philip, when I interviewed him for an “On Religion” column soon after that event.
Rather than speaking in Byzantine code, Metropolitan Philip bluntly addressed the delegates as Americans, not Greeks. He said he thought it was time to challenge ecclesiastical ties that continued to bind their churches in the new world to those in the old. Then he marched straight into a minefield, bringing greetings from the Antiochian Orthodox delegates who, a few days earlier, had unanimously approved what many Greeks have long desired — a constitution granting them more control of their church in North America.
“I told them that if I could sum up this new constitution, I would begin with the words, ‘We the people,’” he told me. “We cannot ignore this truth — Americans are infested with freedom. We cannot ignore that our churches are in America and we are here to stay.”
A press aide for the Greek archdiocese noted: “It would be accurate to say that he received an enthusiastic response.”
Part of the problem was that Philip was intentionally calling to mind the 1994 gathering in Ligonier, Pa., when America’s Orthodox bishops boldly declared: “We commit ourselves to avoiding the creation of parallel and competitive Orthodox parishes, missions, and mission programs. We commit ourselves to common efforts and programs to do mission, leaving behind piecemeal, independent, and spontaneous efforts ... moving forward towards a concerted, formal, and united mission program in order to make a real impact on North America through Orthodox mission and evangelism.”
That effort failed. Two decades later, Metropolitan Philip left instructions that he was to be buried at the Antiochian Village camp near Ligonier, where young people will visit his grave for generations to come.
“This faith was to remain the best-kept secret in America because of our laziness, we Orthodox, because we have been busy taking care of our little ethnic ghettos,” said Philip, during one of the first rites ushering an entire evangelical congregation into his archdiocese.
“It is time that we let this light shine. America needs the Orthodox faith. I said to the Evangelical Orthodox in these past Sundays, I said, ‘Welcome home.’”

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Confess, Repent, and Find Healing: Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent in the Orthodox Church

          When we encounter a problem in life that it is beyond our ability to fix, we learn something about ourselves.  When pains, sorrows, and struggles simply will not let up, the reality of our situation and of our own limitations sets in.  Whether it is our own health or that of our loved ones, broken relationships or stressful times at work, school, or with friends, or problems on the world stage that threaten to impact us all, life’s struggles can open our eyes pretty quickly to how weak we are before the challenges that we face.  
            If you feel that way today or ever have in your life, you can begin to sympathize with the father of the demon-possessed young man in today’s gospel reading.  Since childhood, his son had had life-threatening seizures and convulsions. With the broken heart of a parent who had little hope for his child’s healing, the man cried out, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”  Christ’s disciples had lacked the spiritual strength to cast out the demon, but the Lord Himself healed him. 
            Despite his imperfections, the best example of faithfulness in this story is the unnamed father who openly confessed that he could not solve his own problems.  He told the truth about himself in acknowledging his weak faith.  Even as Christ stood before him, he had doubts.  He said to him, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us.”  And then all that he could do was to cry out with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” 
            And in doing so, he became a model for us all in how to make an honest confession before the Lord, bearing his soul and asking only for mercy.  If we need a reminder about the importance of taking Confession this Lent, we have it in this man.  The point is not that he had broken a law of some kind, but that he had learned by experience that he had fallen short, that he had much room to grow in his relationship with God.  It was precisely this humble acknowledgement that opened him to receive the mercy of the Lord.  Though surely in a less dramatic way, the same will be true for each of us when we take Confession this Lent.        
            Too often, we keep our weak faith, and the sins that result from it, a secret even to ourselves. We do not want even to think about how we have fallen short of sharing in the blessed life of Christ, much less to say out loud how we have sinned as we stand before the icon of the Lord.  But there is a great, freeing power found in speaking the truth about our brokenness and asking in humility for His forgiveness and healing.  When we acknowledge that we have not lived or believed as we should have, we put ourselves in the place of humble repentance like the prodigal son, the tax collector, and the father of the demon-possessed young man.  We do not attempt to justify ourselves, but beg only for mercy and strength to move forward in life.  If you have not done so already this Lent, open yourself to the healing of Jesus Christ by taking Confession before Palm Sunday.  Receive His forgiveness through the hand and words of an unworthy priest and trust in the mercy of the Savior for people like you and me.       
            Perhaps the spiritual disciplines of Lent have given us a new awareness of our need for greater strength in the Christian life.  Why do we so often welcome distractions when we set out to pray?  Why do anger and frustration rear their ugly heads when we fast from food or something else to which we have become too attached?  Why is it so hard to forgive and otherwise to mend strained relationships?  These are symptoms of the fact that we do not have perfect faith, that we are not yet fully healed from the diseases of our passions, that we do not yet love God or our neighbors as we should.
            Some learn these truths about themselves because of their weakness before the crosses that they bear daily due to illness, poverty, family strife, or other problems.   That was the case with the father in today’s gospel reading.  Others learn them through periods of spiritual struggle like Lent.  But however the eyes of our souls are opened, we probably will not like what we see there.  The question, then, is what will we do?  There is plenty in our culture and in our own thoughts and activities that we can use to distract ourselves from accepting the truth and finding healing.  It is easy to live in a fantasy world where we repress or otherwise ignore painful realities. 

            How tragic it would have been for the father in today’s reading to have done that, for then presumably his son would never have been healed.  How tragic it would be for any of us to refuse the spiritual healing that Christ promises when we cry out in with the true humility of repentance, like that father, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”  In these last weeks before Palm Sunday, now is the time to find freedom and healing for our imperfect faith and personal brokenness through the Holy Mystery of Confession.  Now is the time to stop suffering in silence and isolation and to repent from the depths of our hearts.  When we bear our souls to Him, we will gain new insight on why He went to the cross for us and conquered death for us in His glorious resurrection on the third day.  Humble repentance: There is no better way to prepare for the agony of Golgotha and the unspeakable joy of Pascha.   

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Orthodox Prayers for Peace Between Russia and Ukraine

rublev-angels-at-mamre-trinity1In Russia, Ukraine and the contested area of Crimea, passions have been running high for months, leading to many deaths and injuries. Honest and well-informed observers offer very different perspectives on what is happening and what the causes are. The injustices are many on all sides.
Without taking sides, one thing Orthodox Christians can do is pray with fervor that more bloodshed can be avoided. To help parishes and individual believers with resources for prayer, we are providing several links.
As this page develops we will try to provide helpful information that furthers understanding of the events taking place in the region to help bridge the gap through better understanding.
* * *
Special Petitions for the Increase of Love: On February 26, the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion, issued a statement encouraging the clergy of the Eastern American Diocese to add further petitions for the increase of love during the Divine Liturgy on Forgiveness Sunday. The petitions may also be used as part of a moleben that can be served upon completion of the Divine Liturgy. A special service “For the Increase of Love” can be found in the Great Book of Needs or by following the links below:
A short sermon by Fr Sergei Ovsiannikov given at the Moleben for peace held March 4 at St Nicholas of Myra Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam:
A selection of prayers for peace:
Articles of special interest
Russia, Ukraine and the Church: A Lenten plea for peace
What happens when different parts of a church (and in this case, a church which generally believes in obedience to earthly power) find themselves on opposite sides of a looming conflict? Over the centuries, the Orthodox church has found ingenious ways of preserving the spiritual bonds between its fractured sons and daughters while accepting that in earthly affairs, they were deeply divided. During the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, Russia’s Orthodox church was happy to let its small but vigorous outpost in Japan pray for a Japanese victory; no religious ties were broken in the process. Bear all that in mind when contemplating the latest religious moves in Ukraine…. >> read the rest:
An album of photos of the peace demonstration in Moscow that took place Saturday 15 March 2014:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Let Us Persevere like His Eminence, Metropolitan Philip Saliba in Taking Up our Cross: Homily for the Third Sunday of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church

          I am sure that most of us have already heard the sad news that our Father in Christ, His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP, fell asleep in the Lord earlier this week. Funeral services will be in New York in a few days.  We will remember him in our prayers for the departed in our services for the next forty days and we should also remember him in our daily prayers. 
            On this third Sunday of Great Lent, we are halfway through our penitential journey and reminded of the need to persevere to the end.  That is certainly what Metropolitan PHILIP did, serving as bishop since 1966 and leading the Antiochian Archdiocese in ways that greatly strengthened and expanded the presence and unity of Orthodox Christianity in North America.  His leadership was a key factor in the formation of mission parishes like St. Luke and in welcoming so many converts, of whatever religious and ethnic backgrounds, into the Church.   Ordained as a deacon sixty-five years ago, our departed Father in Christ shaped the Orthodox Church as we know it in ways too numerous and profound to describe in a homily.  Suffice it for now to say that his long ministry impacted the faith journeys of all of us here today in ways of which we are probably not even aware.  We should all thank God for richly blessing us through him.  
            I know that Lent may seem like a long, difficult period of intensified prayer, fasting, generosity, forgiveness, and reconciliation, but it is actually only a few weeks of spiritual preparation to follow our Savior to His cross and empty tomb.  If we want to become the kind of people who can persevere in faithfulness for however many years the Lord chooses to give us, then we need to prepare in order to take up our crosses, die to our self-centered desires, and follow Him. As Metropolitan PHILP and other steadfast Christians know, the really hard challenges are not following fasting guidelines or making it to a few extra services.  They are found in crucifying the habits of thought, word, and deed that lead us to worship and serve ourselves instead of God and neighbor.  They are found in learning how to offer even our broken relationships, deep sorrows, personal weaknesses, and pains of body and soul to the Lord as opportunities to grow in obedience, humility, and self-sacrificial love for the sake of our neighbors and the fulfillment of His gracious purposes for the world that He created.
            If you are like me, you need the intensified spiritual practices of Lent to help you gain the strength necessary to take up the crosses in your life.  If you are like me, you need to acquire a new perspective on the daily circumstances in which you find yourself, on how you have learned to think about and treat the neighbors you encounter every day.  If you are like me, you need to die to living according to the familiar conventional ways of life in the world as you know it.  In other words, we all need to follow Jesus Christ to the cross, dying with Him to how sin and corruption have taken root in each of us so that we may rise with Him to the new life of the Kingdom.
            As we see in great examples of perseverant faithfulness like Metropolitan PHILIP, that is not done in an instant, but over the course of a life.  No matter how old or young we are, now is the time to look to the trophy of the cross for inspiration and hope.  Remember that we do not go to the cross alone.  No matter what we are tempted to think at times, our Savior is no stranger to temptation, suffering, pain, and death. He sympathizes with our struggles because He endured them.  He was literally nailed to a cross, died, was buried, and descended into Hades in order to bring the joy of life eternal to corrupt, weak, imperfect people like you and me through His glorious third-day resurrection.  And in order to follow Him to the joy of Pascha, we must likewise take up our crosses, which we do one day at a time by learning to obey God a bit more faithfully in the small details of our lives.  Giving more attention to the Lord and the needs of our neighbors, fighting our addiction to self-centered desires, confessing our sins, and doing our best to reconcile with our enemies, these are all ways of gaining the strength to take up our crosses and follow Jesus Christ into the heavenly joy of His glorious resurrection.  He is our hope and our salvation.

            May God grant our departed Metropolitan PHILIP paradise as His good and faithful servant, and may He grant us all a blessed remainder of Lent as a time of preparation for the many challenges in faithfulness that surely lay ahead in our lives.  We need not worry or cower in fear about our struggles, for our Savior has turned those challenges into opportunities to share more fully in the victory over sin and death that He worked through His cross and empty tomb.  As did our departed Father in Christ, let us all persevere in following Him.    

Friday, March 21, 2014

Memory Eternal! St. Vladimir's Community Remembers Metropolitan Philip

20 March 2014 • Memory Eternal! • Virginia Nieuwsma
Metropolitan Philip, speaking in the auditorium which bears his nameMetropolitan Philip, speaking in the auditorium which bears his nameL to R: Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, Metropolitan Philip, and Fr. Cyril StavrevskyL to R: Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, Metropolitan Philip, and Fr. Cyril StavrevskyMemory Eternal! The entire community of faculty, staff and students at St. Vladimir's Theological Orthodox Seminary (SVOTS) mourns the loss of our Board of Trustees Vice President and Vice Chairman, His Eminence The Most Reverend Philip (Saliba), Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of All North America of the Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. The Metropolitan, a member of the class of 1965, reposed in the Lord on Wednesday, March 19, 2014, at the age of 82 after a brief illness. Campus clergy immediately scheduled a memorial service for Sayidna Philip in Three Hierarchs Chapel for March 20.
Reflected SVOTS Chancellor/CEO The Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield, "Sayidna Philip's long episcopacy leaves behind many achievements, but speaking as a convert priest who entered Orthodoxy through the Antiochian Archdiocese, I believe his simple phrase 'welcome home' to converts, is the greatest of his legacies."
St. Vladimir's Dean The Rev. Dr. John Behr remembered the Metropolitan's leadership in Orthodox education. "It is with great sadness that I heard of His Eminence Metropolitan Philip's falling asleep in the Lord. He was an inspirational leader who had a great love for St. Vladimir's Seminary ever since his student days here, and who, besides serving on our Board, inspired us and gave us wise guidance in our recent curriculum reforms. He insisted that all our students were thoroughly prepared in pastoral and practical affairs, asAddressing former deans and faculty membersAddressing former deans and faculty memberswellCommencement, 1977, with Patriarch Elias IV of AntiochCommencement, 1977, with Patriarch Elias IV of Antioch as in academic matters. He was also always very kind and engaging with me personally; I will never forget the warmth with which he spoke of his education in England and the passion for literature and learning generated there."
St. Vladimir's has enjoyed a warm, reciprocal relationship with the Antiochian Archdiocese under Metropolitan Philip's leadership, which began with his consecration to the episcopate in 1966. Currently, six members of the Archdiocese serve on the Seminary's Board of Trustees; 167 Antiochian alumni clergy, and over 300 alumni total, minister throughout the world; fifteen Antiochian seminarians attend St. Vladimir's; and all eight Antiochian bishops in North America either have graduated from St. Vladimir's or have taught and mentored seminarians.Meeting with Metropolitan Tikhon and Bishop Nicholas at the OCA Chancery, Syosset, NYMeeting with Metropolitan Tikhon and Bishop Nicholas at the OCA Chancery, Syosset, NY
The Metropolitan visited the Seminary's Yonkers campus many times over the course of his tenure as Board Vice President, most recently when in 2008 he delivered one of the keynote addresses at the conference Rome, Constantinople, and Canterbury: Mother Churches?, which was titled "Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council." In May 1981, the Board of Trustees awarded him a Doctorate of Divinity honoris causa at Commencement, and in 2002 he returned to St. Vladimir's to dedicate The Metropolitan Philip Auditorium, located on the third floor of the John G. Rangos Family Foundation Building.
"I remember Metropolitan Philip fondly when he served in Cleveland, my home city," said Alex Machaskee, Executive Chair of the Seminary's Board of Trustees. "I have always considered him a friend and a pillar in the Orthodox Christian world. His support of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary has been very much appreciated."
Updated information regarding his memorial services may be found on the Antiochian Archdiocese Website.

An Appeal to Fox Sports: Stop Mixing Messages about Christianity with Inappropriate Images

            As a Baylor alumnus and sports fan, I was pleased to read a story on the Fox Sports website about men’s basketball coach Scott Drew’s profoundly Christian priorities for his players.  He actually said after a rough patch in the season, "We may not win another game this year, and I may be a horrible coach…but if any of these guys leave without knowing Christ, that will be the real loss."  The sincere Christian commitment of the coach and the players is truly remarkable.
Truly disappointing, however, is the fact that Fox Sports put on the very same webpage pictures of cheerleaders (not from Baylor) in revealing outfits and immodest poses.  How sad that the network presents this story of faith in a way that is contradictory to the faith itself.  To uphold Christian commitment while appealing to lust and objectifying women reflects at the very least a serious misunderstanding of the sort of life to which followers of Jesus Christ, such as Coach Drew and his players, commit themselves.  
 Better not to publish articles about a religion than to insult that religion by promoting it in such a degraded way. Fox Sports should not denigrate the faith of Coach Drew and his players by adorning their impressive story with inappropriate, contradictory images.  Whatever happened to simple decency?

Comments by Dylan Pahman: "Fr. Philip LeMasters on Orthodoxy and Partisan Politics"

Dylan Pahman
by  on FRIDAY, MARCH 21, 2014
Forgotten FaithToday at Ethika Politika, I review Fr. Philip LeMasters’ recent book The Forgotten Faith: Ancient Insights from Contemporary Believers from Eastern Christianity.
With regards to the book’s last chapter, “Constantine and the Culture Wars,” I write,
… LeMasters does a good job in acknowledging the line between principles of faith and morality on the one hand, and prudential judgments that may not be as clear-cut on the other. He does not give the impression of advocating any specific political program; indeed, he explicitly disavows such a project:
Religious groups that are strongly identified with politics risk becoming so entangled in debates shaped by interest groups that their distinctive witness is obscured. To give the impression of being merely a political party at prayer is a good way to make people think that the church has little to say to the world that the world does not already know on its own terms.
He does not use this as an excuse, however, to disengage from political life.  He only highlights that in applying the teachings of the Church to our present, political context, we ought not to expect any concrete embodiment of our ideals, and we should be wary of any person or group that makes such a claim.
This is a point, I believe, worth dwelling on. It is one reason that the subtitle of Fr. Michael Butler and Prof. Andrew Morris’s recent monograph Creation and the Heart of Man is “An Orthodox Perspective on Environmentalism” not “The Orthodox Perspective on Environmentalism.”
Political problems require strong principles to guide policy recommendations, to be sure, but the reality we live in falls far short of the New Jerusalem. There needs to be space for critically discussing the best prudential means for living out our shared principles in any given context of our fallen world without charging one side or the other with heresy for not living up to one’s own political views.
And the danger is no small one. As Fr. Philip writes,
[T]o align the faith closely with particular political parties or partisan movements is to risk substituting the calling to theosis with that of being a certain kind of citizen, voter, or activist. In the current cultural climate of the US, there are potential dangers to a close affiliation of Eastern Christianity with the stereotypically liberal, moderate, conservative, or libertarian movements of American politics. The faith does not fit perfectly with any such orientation; likewise, the Church is not a political party. The Body of Christ ultimately pursues the Kingdom of God, not merely a different arrangement of the kingdoms of this world. Its social vision is not the product of twenty-first-century America or the collection of interest groups that comprise our political movements, but grows from ancient and diverse sources that do not line up squarely with any worldly ideology. Orthodoxy’s social and moral concerns are in tension with much popular political opinion of whatever stripe.
Read my full review at Ethika Politika here.

His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP: Memory Eternal!

On the Passing of Metropolitan Philip

The Archdiocese communicates with a heavy heart as we struggle with the news of the falling asleep in Christ of Metropolitan Philip. May his memory be eternal!
We express our sincerest appreciation to our Father in Christ, His Beatitude Patriarch John X for his pastoral care and love. His Beatitude was in continual contact with us, and with Metropolitan Philip during his hospital stay, and showed his love and concern for his spiritual children in North America. For this, we are most grateful. May the memory of Metropolitan Philip be eternal, and may God grant many years to His Beatitude Patriarch John.
The schedule for all events associated with the falling asleep of Metropolitan Philip is available here. All events will be held at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn, New York unless another location is specified. His Beatitude Patriarch John has told us that he intends to be with us for the funeral and the Sunday Divine Liturgy.
Attached you will find letters from His Beatitude Patriarch John X, both the Arabic original and an English translation in two parts (Letter to Archbishop JosephPatriarchal Decision).
Both letters appoint Metropolitan Silouan of Buenos Aires and all Argentina as the Patriarchal Vicar until such time as a new Metropolitan is elected by the Holy Synod of Antioch. The Patriarchal Vicar is responsible for the administration of the Archdiocese until a new Metropolitan is elected. Archbishop Joseph will serve as the Locum Tenens of the Archdiocese. Archbishop Joseph will arrive in New Jersey on Friday March 21, and Metropolitan Silouan will arrive on Monday March 24.
Effective immediately and until the election of a new Metropolitan, all clergy of this Archdiocese are instructed to commemorate His Beatitude John, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East during divine services as follows: Great Entrance “Our father and Patriarch John and our bishop (name), the Lord God remember them in His Kingdom always now and ever and unto ages of ages”. Also during the Great Entrance, the first name that is commemorated among the departed will be His Eminence Metropolitan Philip as follows “Our father and Metropolitan Philip”.
The remembrance of Metropolitan Philip will be done for 40 days, which ends on Sunday April 27. For the Great Ektenia “Our father and Patriarch John and our bishop (name), for the venerable priesthood, etc.”.  After the Megalynarion “Among the first be mindful O Lord of our Father and Patriarch John, and our bishop (name),whom do thou grant unto thy holy churches etc.”.
There is still much to do, and many details to be worked out.
Please continue to check for further updates.
May his memory be eternal!
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"A Guided Tour of Eastern Christianity" Primarily for American Protestants: A Review of The Forgotten Faith

By  | March 21, 2014
Book information: Philip LeMasters, The Forgotten Faith: Ancient Insights for Contemporary Believers from Eastern Christianity(Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014), xii + 152 pages.
Forgotten FaithIn his introduction to The Forgotten Faith, Fr. Philip LeMasters, an Antiochian Orthodox priest and convert from Protestantism (“Baptist to Presbyterian to Episcopalian”), provides essential context for understanding how the book is meant to be read. “The origins of this book,” writes LeMasters, “are in brief informal talks that I have given to visiting classes from Abilene Christian University, Hardin-Simmons University, and McMurry University, which have come to St. Luke”—his parish—“in order to learn a bit about Eastern Orthodox Christianity.” He continues, “Those institutions are, respectively, Church of Christ, Baptist, and United Methodist, but their students come from a wide variety of religious backgrounds.” Thus, while he writes, “I have attempted to find points of contact to enable any reader to understand why the members of our Church believe, worship, and live as they do,” remembering that his visitors come from Protestant institutions and that Protestantism is a part of his own spiritual background proves essential to rightly reading The Forgotten Faith, which in this light offers a helpful introduction to American Orthodoxy for interested Protestants.
As a convert myself with an Evangelical upbringing and Reformed theological education, I can sympathize with the tone of the book. There was a time when it might have been just what I needed, in fact, to assuage any worries I may have had about Orthodoxy. Today, LeMasters’s concerns are not my own, however, and this subjective reality certainly colored my reading. That said, no doubt many would find the book to present the Orthodox Church in a refreshingly accessible and attractive light.
The book breaks down into the following chapters:
  1. The Burning Bush: God Is Who He Is
  2. Salvation, Sex, and Food
  3. Mary: Don’t Be Afraid!
  4. Football, Liturgical Worship, and Real Life
  5. Fools, Monks, and Martyrs
  6. Constantine and the Culture Wars
Throughout, LeMasters does not present arguments so much as observations—the book is not a treatise but, as indicated above, a sort of guided tour of Eastern Christianity. Fr. Philip has a gift for presenting this foreign faith in terms of food and football—everyday pastimes to which the average Texan (like Fr. Philip himself) could easily relate.
Further, it may be better to say that the book is “a guided tour of Eastern Christianity” as appropriated by former American Protestants. Rather than a weakness, I find this to be a strength. One could complain that “cradle” Orthodox from other countries might find the faith LeMasters describes to be equally foreign, but it reflects a certain strand of Orthodoxy in the American context, one that represents a significant, concrete reality that continues to attract converts today. “It is worth noting,” writes LeMasters, “that many of the Orthodox priests in America, and a majority in some branches such as our Antiochian archdiocese, have entered the Church as adults on similar spiritual journeys. In American Orthodoxy today, our family fits right in.” The Forgotten Faith gives a fascinating glimpse into the perspectives and concerns of such converts.
Among the book’s other strengths, I actually found the fifth chapter—by far the most bizarre and likely the least attractive to the book’s intended readers—to be the most interesting. In it, LeMasters highlights the 6th century Eastern saint Symeon the “holy fool.” St. Symeon and those “fools for Christ” like him throughout history embody a sort of Christian continuation of the Cynic tradition of Greek philosophy, the most famous adherent perhaps being the eccentric Diogenes of Sinope. LeMasters gives an excellent sampling of the unique discipline that St. Symeon embraced:
Symeon began his ministry of prophetic folly by dragging a dead dog by his belt as he entered the city of Emesa (the present-day city of Homs in Syria). The very next day, which was a Sunday, he disrupted a church service by throwing nuts at the burning candles; he then ran to the pulpit and threw nuts at women in the congregation. When he was chased out of the church, Symeon turned over tables belonging to pastry chefs … He was nearly beaten to death for this disruptive behavior …
On some Sundays, Symeon actually wore a string of sausage around his neck like a deacon’s stole; he would eat sausages all day, dipping them in mustard from a bucket that he carried. These actions were likely highly offensive to the sensibilities of the established Christian community….
Perhaps it is merely a sign of my own weakness (or perversity), like watching a train wreck for the entertainment value, but I find St. Symeon’s story to be both comical and inspiring. On the one hand, as Fr. Philip points out, St. Symeon did these things knowing how off-putting they would be—a prophetic witness against the idolization of even good customs and mores. On the other hand, St. Symeon and other holy fools, however disturbing some details of their lives may be, give me hope that there is a place in the Body of Christ for even the most eccentric members of society, a special calling for which they alone are perhaps uniquely suited.
The introductory orientation of the book does have its drawbacks, however. Fr. Philip’s final chapter, for example, “Constantine and the Culture Wars,” touches on such a wide variety of social concerns—abortion, same-sex marriage, poverty, war, healthcare, and so on—that the content comes off too shallow given the seriousness of the subjects at hand. Furthermore, the flow feels a bit erratic, jumping from one subject to the next with no break in the text or clear transition, following a mysterious sort of ADHD associative logic. Lastly, and most unfortunately (says the editor), the book contains many typos, especially in this last chapter. The quality and readability of the book would have greatly benefited from the eye of a careful copyeditor.
That said, LeMasters does a good job in acknowledging the line between principles of faith and morality on the one hand, and prudential judgments that may not be as clear-cut on the other. He does not give the impression of advocating any specific political program; indeed, he explicitly disavows such a project:
Religious groups that are strongly identified with politics risk becoming so entangled in debates shaped by interest groups that their distinctive witness is obscured. To give the impression of being merely a political party at prayer is a good way to make people think that the church has little to say to the world that the world does not already know on its own terms.
He does not use this as an excuse, however, to disengage from political life.  He only highlights that in applying the teachings of the Church to our present, political context, we ought not to expect any concrete embodiment of our ideals, and we should be wary of any person or group that makes such a claim.
In the end, I would recommend The Forgotten Faith for those Protestants looking for a tour of American Orthodoxy in terms they can understand and that address their concerns. More broadly, it is an interesting icon of one particular instantiation of Orthodoxy in the West, one that includes many academics—such as Fr. Philip—whose work, deeply informed by this once-forgotten faith, continues to influence the state of scholarship on theology, philosophy, history, and other disciplines. While LeMasters’s book is not for everyone, it offers a brief and accessible introduction to one variety of convert spirituality within American Orthodoxy today and accomplishes his modest goal: “to reflect a few rays of light from the East that I hope my readers will find interesting and beneficial.”

Monday, March 17, 2014

"A LENTEN PLEA FOR PEACE": Russia, Ukraine, and Orthodoxy

What happens when different parts of a church (and in this case, a church which generally believes in obedience to earthly power) find themselves on opposite sides of a looming conflict? Over the centuries, the Orthodox church has found ingenious ways of preserving the spiritual bonds between its fractured sons and daughters while accepting that in earthly affairs, they were deeply divided. During the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, Russia's Orthodox church was happy to let its small but vigorous outpost in Japan pray for a Japanese victory; no religious ties were broken in the process. Bear all that in mind when contemplating the latest religious moves in Ukraine.
Last week, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the country's largest religious structure, responded to the country's dramatic political change by appointing a new acting leader. As Imentioned in an earlier posting, the cleric is question is a declared friend of Russia who enjoys the approval of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, under whose ultimate spiritual authority he serves. Metropolitan Onufry is also, of course, an office-holder in the Ukrainian capital and the things he says will inevitably take into account of the new climate in the earthly affairs of that city. And yet, with due allowance for all those conflicting pressures, there was something poignant about the appeal (link in Russian) he made over the weekend for the avoidance of conflict between the two Slavic nations. In a message to Patriarch Kirill, he said:
Today Ukraine is without exaggeration undergoing the gravest moment in her modern history. After three months of socio-political crisis, bloody clashes in the centre of Kiev and the deaths of dozens of people, we find ourselves facing yet another trial which is no less grave. On March 1 statements were heard from office-holders in the Russian Federation about the possible despatch to Ukraine of a limited contingent of Russian troops. If that happens, the Ukrainian and Russian peoples will find themselves drawn into a confrontation which will have catastrophic consequences for our countries. As the locum tenens of the Metropolitan See of Kiev I appeal to you, Your Holiness, to do everything possible so as not to allow bloodshed on the territory of Ukraine. I ask you to raise your voice for the preservation of the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state. At this grave hour we raise our fervent prayers to Our Lord Jesus Christ that He, through the intercessions of his most pure Mother, should protect from confrontation the fraternal peoples of Russia and Ukraine.
In response, Patriarch Kirill declared that he would indeed do everything in his power to prevent civilian deaths in "a land so dear to my heart". He offered an analysis of the unfolding drama which both converged and diverged with that of the Ukrainian prelate.
These events are rooted in the internal political crisis [of Ukraine], and in political forces' inability to tackle problems in a non-violent way. Our flock is made of people of various political views and convictions, including those who stand at opposite sides of the barricades. The Church does not side with any party in the political struggle...The blood shed in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities is the fruit borne by the seeds of hatred which the conflicting parties allowed Satan to plant in their hearts..."
Wearing a more political hat, Patriarch Kirill also contacted Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine's stand-in president, and voiced concern over the treatment of ethnic Russians in the country; the acting leader, a Baptist as it happens, duly responded that there was no ground for concern.
The bishops' messages were exchanged at the beginning of Lent, a time when Orthodox Christians are supposed to engage in a rigorous effort at self-examination and repentance. The fasting season begins with a ceremony in which Orthodox Christians beg forgiveness of one another for any wrongs they have committed. Whatever political expediencies may lurk in the background, the season lends extra moral weight to the prelates' appeal for peace. The sub-text of both episcopal texts is that their common flock can still belong to the same spiritual community even if they are citizens of different states that are locked in conflict.
07 / 03 / 2014
Source:  The Economist