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Topics - J. Thomas Shelley

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Your Turn / Fear Is Deadlier Than Viruses
« on: November 23, 2021, 04:19:59 PM »


The most famous words of Franklin Roosevelt, America's longest-serving president, were, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

One wonders if any world leader would or could say that today. We live in the Age of Fear.

All of my life, I thought love and hate were the two most powerful human emotions.

But owing to recent events, I have changed my mind.

I now understand that for most people, fear is the strongest emotion.

In fact, I've come to realize that it is possible to get people to do anything if you instill enough fear in them. Specifically, irrational fear.

Fear of COVID-19, for example, is rational. But media and governments induced irrational fears. That's why millions of healthy people stayed indoors for a year or more, why a vast number of people wore masks while walking or sitting alone outdoors, and why so many parents did not allow their young children to play with other children for a year or more, even though the COVID-19 mortality rate among children was considerably less than the flu's mortality rate among children.

All of this was caused by irrational fear. It turns out that fear is not only more powerful than love and hate; in most people it is more powerful than reason. And when it is, it is far more destructive -- to the individual and to society -- than rational fear.

What is rational fear? When a soldier fears going into battle, that is rational. Soldiers cannot allow fear to control their behavior, but their fear is not irrational. If a mugger points a gun at you, it is rational to feel fear. If you are diagnosed with cancer, it is rational to experience fear.

Rational fear is not necessarily a bad thing. It is irrational fear that does the most harm -- to yourself, to others and to all of society.

The Salem witch trials of the 17th century exemplified irrational fear leading to evil: the killing of women who were believed to be witches.

You would think that the Enlightenment of the 18th century, with its focus on reason and science, would have led to a great lessening of irrational fear.

It hasn't.

To cite a number of examples, an unknowable (but not small) number of Americans -- usually among the best educated -- prohibited their parents from seeing their grandchildren, either because the grandparents or the grandchildren were not vaccinated. They did this despite the fact that the number of young people infected with COVID-19 was close to zero and despite the fact that there were extremely few cases of children infecting adults. Sweden kept its schools open for all students under the age of 16 throughout the pandemic, and studies have since confirmed that the risk to Swedish teachers of infection by students was extremely low. Such is the power of irrational fear.

To take another contemporary example, many people have decided not to have children because they fear that a warming planet represents an "existential threat" to life. Now, it is rational to be concerned about climate change, but it is irrational not to have children because of it. And it gets even more irrational. Their parents often support this decision, despite their deep yearning to be grandparents.

Irrational fear is also a major source of hatred. People hate what they fear. It was Germans' irrational fear of Jews -- people who made up under 1% of the German population -- that led to the unique evil known as the Holocaust.

Given the awful power of fear, what can you do to be less fearful?

The first thing you must do is determine whether your fears are rational or irrational.

And that can only be accomplished by thoroughly studying the issue -- whatever it happens to be: global warming, a pandemic, racism or any other divisive subject.

For example, black people are told to fear white police because white police are racist and want to do them harm. This is largely an irrational fear. It is well-documented that in any given recent year, the number of unarmed black Americans killed by police is under 20 -- nearly all of whom posed serious threats to the lives of the policemen who killed them.

Another example: Credible scientists and other experts who acknowledge that global warming is taking place, but contend that it is not an existential threat to life, are dismissed as "anti-science" and their views suppressed. Read them, and many of your fears will be allayed. (You might even decide to have children.)

Most fears are stoked by governments and their allies in mass media and in Big Tech, who in turn suppress contrary opinions. Therefore, please understand that when you hear only one opinion, and that opinion is designed to make you afraid, there is a good chance that your fears are irrational.

Determining whether your fears are rational or irrational is one of the most important things you will ever do. The quality of your life and the life of your society depend on your making that distinction.

Your Turn / Thanksgivingtide, A.D. 2021
« on: November 19, 2021, 02:56:16 AM »
American Thanksgiving Day this year coincides with the 25th of November; the Feast of Catherine the Great Martyr on the Orthodox calendar and the Commemoration of the Hymnographer Isaac Watts on the LBW calendar.

Here is a little gem by Watt:

a paraphrase of Psalm 95

Isaac Watts

Come, sound his praise abroad
   And hymns of glory sing
Je-ho-vah is the sov’reign God,
   The un-i-ver-sal King.

He formed the deeps unknown;
   And gave the seas their bound;
The wat’ry world are all his alone
   And all the solid ground.

Come, worship at his throne
   Come, bow before the Lord;
We are his works, and not our own;
   He formed us by his word.

To-day attend his voice,
   Nor dare provoke his rod;
Come, like the people of his choice,
   And own your gracious God

Your Turn / Some Eastern food for thought on Live-streaming services
« on: October 30, 2021, 03:14:28 PM »

Streaming the reality of shadows: pros & cons of Livestreaming our Services
—Fr. John Memorich

There once was a man who had a mouse in his house. He had a mousetrap, but no cheese to use as bait. As the man sat in his kitchen reading a magazine, he noticed an advertisement with a picture of cheese. Chuckling to himself, he cut out the cheese and placed it in the mousetrap under the sink hoping that the mouse might think it real. The next day the man got up, went into the kitchen, and checked the mousetrap. Low and behold he had caught something: a picture of a mouse!

These are certainly extraordinary times for Christians of all denominations, with everyone being forced to stay away from their churches because gathering together in the Name of Christ is such an important element to our Christian ethos:“For where two or three are gathered in my Name, there I am also”(Matt. 18:20). Yet churches have found a way to gather, albeit in a virtual realm.

Since this pandemic began, most churches scrambled to meet the needs of parishioners by livestreaming said services, even if only a mere handful could be in the church to perform them. Although this is in no way ideal, it was considered by many to be the best way maintain continuity, to keep in touch, share the faith, and at least seemingly worship together as a congregation.The use of this technology does have positive merits, even outside this quarantine situation. It allows those unable to attend regularly to view the services, such as those who are in nursing homes, are shut-ins, or who are homebound because they no longer drive, etc. Thus, to them, the livestreaming of service is their only means of participating in corporate services.

For the most part, this effort has worked well under these extreme, extenuating circumstances.  Yet  somewhere  deep  inside,  livestreaming  our  services  is  still somewhat unsettling to me. Not to the point of wanting this practice to cease (most parishioners are now asking that we continue streaming even after the fact, for the sake of those who are at home or sick), nor would I ever criticize any parish for doing it as part of their ministry. Heck, Archangel Michael is leading the OCA in streaming technology by having eight cameras situated throughout the church! Even a friend of mine who works for NBC Sports wrote to thank us for all our efforts and the “fine quality of our production;” and you can’t get any greater praise than from someone who is in the business!And as an interesting aside, since we have three cameras situated behind the altar, this has allowed everyone the opportunity to witness what before they could not, offering them a much greater appreciation and understanding of the liturgics of the liturgy by “seeing” what the priest does as the liturgy unfolds at the altar.

However, I do feel that there is a downside to this tact; a darkness, like the back corner behind stoves where demons lurk in Russian Fairy Tales. Obviously, live-streaming our services is perhaps the best we can do under the circumstances –and it is certainly being done with the purest of intentions, but I wonder how this is and/or will affect our sense of worship...if we’re not catching a “picture” of worship instead of the real thing.

Since I cannot visit anyone in person, I am being forced to make pastoral visitations with parishioners over the phone. Almost all of them who have the technology and wherewithal are viewing our services. Yet it is in “how” they are viewing them that concerns me. Everyone is certainly happy to see the church, watch the service, listen to sermon, and be “soothed and comforted” by my voice; but when asked what they are doing during the service, I receive answers which literally run the gamut of conduct.

Some families dress up for the live-streaming, others stay in pajamas or sweat-clothes. Some light candles and incense by their television and surround it with icons, others do not. Some families fast, others watch with a cup of coffee in their hand. Some families stand and try to “participate” as they would in church, others simply sit on the couch and watch; a few even admitting they just view services while in bed!

Perhaps the worst element to come out of this situation is what I have coined as,“Services Surfing.”For in talking with parishioners throughout Great Lent and Bright Week, many admit to watching some of our service, then click on to so and so’s services, and then over to another parish’s service, and so on. Upon first hearing this I was immediately taken aback and realized those parishioners, although good-minded, were viewing Sunday and Holy Week services as if they were watching the Browns play the Steelers; and then wanted to check on the Vikings-Green Bay game, before switching to see how the Bears were doing against the Lions!

This is where the livestreaming of worship starts to merge into the shadows of darkness. This is where I realized that people were NOT experiencing virtual Liturgical Worship as real worship; for even by that very definition there needs to be a physical synaxis (gathering) of the people; a “one-mindedness,” if you will. Thus, we are back to Plato’s Cave, watching the shadows of divine reality rather than experiencing the reality of the Divine!I have no real answers to this unique [problem] as it came upon us so suddenly, nor do I have any hard, fast rules. As stated, we are all just trying to do the best we can do under forced circumstances. Still, I would like to see our hierarchy discuss this important issue and offer their own sage council and advice. However, in the meantime, I would like to make the following pastoral suggestions to my own flock entrusted to my care:

1.That although we are forced to be at home and merely watch services remotely, we should still treat this time as “God’s time” by preparing adequately and participating properly.

2.That persons should dress for the occasion as if they were normally attending church. Perhaps one need not go to extremes to dress formally, put on make-up, worry about jewelry, matching handbags and shows, yet there is something to be said about “setting apart” that time of worship from the rest of the week and giving God your best –even in how you dress and act.

3.That you follow the guidelines of posture during services just as you would in church: standing, sitting, bowing your head, blessing yourself, etc. This promotes continuity to you and especially your children, as well as reminding us of the important times and components that make up our liturgical worship.

4. I feel utter sorrow and pain in my inability to minister to my flock fully and physically, and to spiritually feed them from the chalice. However, during this time I think it advisable for parishioners to try and fast as you normally would prior to services. Even if you cannot receive the Eucharist, your fasting becomes apodvig–a kind of ascetical effort and sacrifice during these trying times of separation from the church. Obviously, there are exceptions due to age, illness, and medications, but one should follow the routine set between them and their Father Confessor.

Please  note  that  there  is  a  vast,  precarious  cavern  between “worship  and  entertainment;” one  that  can unknowingly become a great temptation. Therefore, everyone watching the live-streaming of liturgies, etc., should watch ONE service at a time and participate fully in THAT service (and hopefully it is your own home parish you are watching if they have that ability).Service Surfingand/or trying to catch three or four sermons while missing out on the rest of the liturgy utterly defeats the purpose of these extreme efforts. Give all your attention to that one service and then, afterwards, you may virtually visit, watch, and participate in as many services as you wish

Your Turn / "When you give alms...." A.D. 2021
« on: March 18, 2021, 06:58:11 PM »
This week many of us received (or will shortly receive) the $1400.00 per person stimulus checks.

An appropriate Lenten offering might be to donate at least 10% of this unexpected money to the local congregation, a seminary, Lutheran World Relief, etc.

Your Turn / Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, A.D. 2021
« on: January 17, 2021, 08:20:44 PM »
The Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity has begun, with tonight's Vesperal anticipation of the Feast.

In the West, the Octave begins with The Confession of St. Peter on January 18 and closes with The Conversion of St. Paul on January 25.

For new calendar Orthodox, the Octave begins with the Commemoration of Sts. Athanasios and Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, on January 18th and closes with the Commemoration of St. Gregory the Theologian on January 25.

There is, at first glance, a cognitive dissonance with beginning a period promoting Christian Unity by commemorating two Patriarchs who engaged fiercely against the heretics.  Athanasios was a champion of orthodoxy against the Arians; Cyril an equally staunch defender against the Nestorians and Seballians (the latter two denounced in the Confession of Augsburg).

In short, the Patriarchs sought unity within orthodoxy, not some mushy "let's hold hands and sing Kum-by-yah" coexistence with those who would deny the divinity of Christ, and, by extension, the naming of His mother as Theotokos.

+ + +

This year, of course, the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity is overshadowed by American national disunity.   The nation's capital has been turned into an armed has nearly every State capital to a greater or lesser degree.

In this terrible context, the 9th Ode of the Katavasias of the Meeting (Presentation) of the Lord takes on a new layer of meaning, a greater urgency, and a deeper longing:

Ode ix. Katavasia. Mode 3.

Theotokos, as the hope
of us Christians, one and all,
guard and shelter and protect
those who put their hope in you.

O believers, come let us perceive
a type in the law, and the shadow and the letter.
 Every male that opens the womb shall be holy to God.
So the unoriginate Father's firstborn Logos and Son,
who is the firstborn of the Mother who knew not man, we magnify.

"Guard, shelter, and protect"

"Preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States"....SO HELP US GOD!

Your Turn / God is our refuge and our strength...
« on: January 06, 2021, 05:27:37 PM »
Prayer posted on FB by my Bishop, Metropolitan Savas of the Greek Metropolis of Pittsburgh:


Let us pray to the Lord.

Lord of the Powers, be with us,
for in times of distress, we have no other help but you.
Lord of the Powers, have mercy on us.

O God, our help in time need, who are just and merciful, and who incline to the cries of your people,

Look down open us and have mercy on us, and deliver us from the trouble that now besets us, for which we acknowledge we are deservedly suffering.

Deal with us not according to our iniquities, but according to your manifold mercies, for we are the work of your hands, and you know our weakness.

Grant, we beseech you, your divine grace, and endow us with patience and strength to endure our tribulations with submission to your will.

To you, our only hope and refuge, we flee for relief and comfort, trusting in your love and compassion, that in your good time, you will deliver us from this unrest, and restore to us your peace, when we shall rejoice in your mercy and praise your holy name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Your Turn / Homily on the Nativity of Christ
« on: December 22, 2020, 07:38:26 PM »
From Bishop Thomas Joseph, Diocese of Oakland, Charleston, and the Mid-Atlantic, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America:

Homily on the Nativity of Christ

If any man be devout and love God,

                  Let him enjoy this fair and radiant natal feast!

If any man be a wise servant,

                  Let him rejoicing behold the birth of his Lord!

If any has labored long in preparing,

                  Let him draw near, "for all is now ready"!

If any "has bought a field",

                  Let him today approach the Sower.

If any has "bought five yoke of oxen",

                  Let him with thankfulness flee to his Master's crib.

If any has "married a spouse",

                  Let him have no misgivings

And make haste to the Bridegroom.

Come "poor and maimed"!

Come "blind and lame"!

For the Lord, who prepares the banquet

                  Compels you to draw near!


He displays his glory to him who comes at the last hour

                  Even as unto him who has drawn near since the first hour.

And he welcomes the last, and serves the first.

                  And from the one he accepts honor, and from the other he accepts gifts.


And he both commands the deeds,

                  And welcomes the worship, And honors the adoration,

                  And praises the offering.


Wherefore, enter you all into the Nativity of your Lord;

                  And receive your King,

                  Both the Gentile and likewise the Jew.

You rich and you poor together, hold high festival.

You sober and you heedless, honor the day!

Rejoice today, both you who have prepared,

                  And you who have ignored.

The Cave is made paradise; adore you all with joy!

The fatted calf is born; let all draw near and behold!


Enjoy you all the feast of faith;

Receive you all the riches of loving-kindness.


Let no one bewail his low estate,

                  For the Universal King has been revealed.

Let no one weep for his iniquities,

                  For pardon is born in the manger!

Let no one fear death, for the Savior's birth begets our liberty.

The Uncircumscribed Word is bound in swaddling clothes to set us free!

By condescending to be born, Divine Radiance illumines the earth.

Light comes to shine in the darkness, which shall not overcome it!


And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:

A virgin, said he, would bear a Son,

                  And call His name Immanuel.

The universe rejoices for the Lord has sent Word!

It rejoices for to us a Child is born!

It rejoices for to us a Son is given!

It rejoices for the government shall be upon His shoulders!

It rejoices for of His peace there shall be no end!


The earth received a baby, and met God face to face.

The Virgin's womb became more spacious than the heavens.

It received He who is, who came to be that which he was not.


O Herod, behold your King! O World, behold your Lord!


Christ is Born; darkness retreat!

Christ is Born; ox and ass keep watch!  Magi come to worship!

Christ is Born, choirs of angels rejoice!

Christ is Born, all of creation is renewed!

Christ is Born, and not one creature remains untouched!

For Christ, being born in the flesh,

Is become the first-born of all creation!

To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

Your Turn / Archiepiscopal Encyclical: Feast of Christmas
« on: December 19, 2020, 07:34:19 PM »
Encyclical on the Feast of Christmas

December 25, 2020

Τὶ σοι προσενέγκωμεν Χριστέ, ὅτι ὤφθης ἐπὶ γῆς ὡς ἄνθρωπος δι' ἡμᾶς; (Στιχηρόν Ἰδιόμελον)

What shall we offer You, O Christ, You Who have appeared on earth as human for our sake? (Special Sticheron)

To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America,

Beloved Brethren in the Lord,

In this darkest time of the year, we have have arrived at the turn of time, when the brightest Star that ever shone arises in our hearts to guide us to the Cave in the City of David. We have all faced so very much this past year, and the little Child of Bethlehem calls to each of us to come unto Him and witness His vulnerability for our sake. He descended from Heaven to be incarnate within the womb of a young Virgin, and entrusted Himself to an old man whose mind was full of doubts. We too, have our innocence and our doubts, just like Mary and Joseph. But as they were faithful to the words of the Angel, God still speaks to us and tells us that He is our God, and His mercy endures forever.

This Christmas, one that is full of challenges and difficulties, of despair and even loss, let us remember Mary and Joseph and their journey to Bethlehem of Judea. They went to be obedient to the law of Caesar, but they witnessed the birth of Grace and Truth (John 1:14). They were deprived of shelter, but they made a home with the creatures of the earth and entertained the Magi of the East. They saw wonder in the eyes of the Shepherds and head the echoes of the songs of Angels. Theirs was a time of gifts in the midst of humble paucity.

As we arrive at the Cave and behold the One Who condescended to be laid in a Manger, let us contemplate our own journey of faith, and this time of the gifts that we may bring. The hymn above continues: “Each of Your creations that You fashioned offers thanks to You: the Angels, their hymn; the heavens, a Star; the Shepherds, their wonder; the Magi, their gifts; the earth, the Cave; the desert, the Manger; and we offer the Virgin Mother. O God before all ages, have mercy upon us!”

My Beloved Christians, even in the midst of this pandemic, we can offer ourselves to God with the same love and devotion that the Ever-Virgin Mary offered herself. When we offer Her in praise, we are in fact offering ourselves, because we are of the same flesh and bone as she, full human beings that are called to bring forth God in the world. As you celebrate this Christmas of 2020, I pray the Lord will shine in your hearts as did the Star in the sky, and guide you to a blessed and prosperous New Year.

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!


Archbishop of America

Your Turn / The Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist
« on: October 17, 2020, 11:36:25 PM »
The Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist is one of the rare, blessed days  universally commemorated by Orthodox and Western Christians alike on the 18th day of October...the nuances of New Calendar/Old Calendar and Western transferals to Monday notwithstanding.

It has been six years since this Feast last fell on a Sunday.  For Orthodox Christians there is no conflict between Sunday as the weekly Resurrectional Feast and the Commemoration of a Saint, for the Resurrectional hymns are meshed with those for the Saint like a pair of gears.

Eleven years ago was my final time to preach on a Sunday celebration of the Feast of St. Luke.  What follows is an after-the-fact reconstruction of a sermon preached first literally embracing an embossed metal lectionary (Gospel Book) cover...and ending by embracing another writing...obviously there were many details omitted from this framework/outline.

Lectionary cover....the book of the Gospels

At the center, Jesus Crucified, Jesus Risen---the heart of every Gospel.

At the corners, each Evangelist, each portrayed with another character.

Matthew with human--genealogy extending to David, then Adam

Mark with lion--begins with the roaring cry of John the Baptist “REPENT”

John (Taffax helicopter) a whole different plane, weaving together in unique ways--the Eagle.

Which leaves Luke, portrayed with an Ox--not bull-headed, but because the story begins and ends in the temple, the place for sacrificing an ox for REALLY big sins.

Begins with the annunciation to Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, at the hour of incense, rope tied around his ankle lest God should smite him dead.

Ends with “continually in the temple, praising God.”

And for Luke, the praise of God conveyed through the marvelous canticles of the opening chapters, the canticles of the Church’s daily prayer and Eucharistic gathering, such as “Glory to God in the Highest”.

And there is one song which ties so much of Luke's Gospel together from Buryl Red’s Celebrate Life canatata...In remembrance of me.

In remembrance of me, eat this bread
In remembrance of me, drink this wine

A Gospel set at table--Simon the leper, eating with tax collectors--”fling a feast” for the prodigal--and guess what happens to the fatted calf in ordre for that feast to take place-we’re back to the ox again.

In remembrance of me, pray for the time that God’s own will is done.

Cast in prayer....often the notation “while He was praying”--as on the Mount of Transfiguration. Detail NOT included by Matthew or Mark.

In remembrance of me, heal the sick

Luke the Physicians (Colossians 4:14)--a special concern for the healing miracles and details of the ailments.

In remembrance of me, feed the poor

1:3 verses deal with wealth and poverty:  Poor Man Laz’rus and Rich man Dives

In remembrance of me, open the door and let your brother in, let him in.

Eating with outcasts and sinners...

In remembrance of me, search for truth
In remembrance of me, always love
In remembrance of me, don’t look above, but in your hearts for God.

This was the part that always troubled me.  Search for truth, always problem
Not even “don’t look above” for that conveys the words of the angels at the Ascension in Luke’s second book, the Acts of the Apostles--”don’t look above--this Jesus who was taken from you shall return”.

But “look in your heart”?  I fear my heart, for I know that it is a divided heart.  Part yearns for God, but part seeks my own pleasure and need and desire.  But to look in your heart, that is a very Lukan phrase.

For Luke offers us another--different--sort of writing.  The Church of the East never speaks of “painting” an Icon but of “writing” and Icon.  Luke is believed to have written the Icon of the Madonna with child, when both he and Mary the Mother of our Lord were living in Ephesus--that same community of faith to which St. Paul wrote the Epistle with the name “Ephesians”.  And he wrote it of her who “pondered all these things and treasured them in her heart” so that she points to Christ. 

This is our highest calling--to point to Christ, Jesus Crucified, Jesus Risen.

Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth!

At the third to final paragraph I had picked up a very large Icon of the Virgin of Smolenska....briefly covering the Gospel book, returning the Icon to its stand before the final two lines.

Your Turn / The Dormition of the Theotokos
« on: August 09, 2020, 05:12:28 PM »
Moving a few posts/exchanges from "We Are Not Quite Back..."

The Great Feast of the Dormition will fall on a Sunday in 2021....prepare now!

Regarding the Dormition - help me with Orthodox tradition/dogma on the topic, connecting to Repose vs. Assumption, and the earlier/earliest traditions in Ephesus and if those changed in Orthodoxy over the centuries.

Dave Benke

The Greek title for the August 15 Feast is Kisminis Theotokos which literally means "the falling asleep of the Theotokos".

Orthodox belief is that Mary, like all humans (other than Enoch and Elijah) died a natural death.  As she approached death, the Apostles who had been scattered about in mission were miraculously transported to her bedside.  After her death these chosen ones took her body to tomb.

But Thomas, "the twin", was delayed in arriving.   When he came to Ephesus he told the others that, just as with Our Lord's Resurrection, he would not believe unless he saw with his own eyes.  So they went to the tomb and opened it, whereupon it was discovered to be empty and they realized that her body had been carried into Heaven.

So, yes, Orthodox belief does have an element of Assumption; but the Assumption is understood in Roman Catholocism is a 20th century innovation, dogmatized just seventy years ago.  The key difference is that Orthodox believe that Mary truly died and that her physical removal was a secret, non-public miracle.

I find this interesting.  If the apostles were miraculously transported to Mary's bedside, is there any reason given why Thomas was delayed?  Was it said to be purposeful on God's part, so that they would have a reason to open the tomb to find it empty?

I personally believe that God acts purposefully; Thomas' delay was for the purpose of opening the tomb but also to draw a parallel between his initial reaction to word of Our Lord's Resurrection and his reaction to learning of His Mother's dormition.

This Feast is an affirmation of the resurrection of the body, and it is indeed proper and right that she who was the first repository of the body of Christ and the ark of the New Covenant should be the first fruit of the general resurrection of mankind.

Your Turn / Baptism: Ecclesial or "private" ?
« on: July 31, 2020, 11:48:55 PM »
Antiochian House of Studies (A.D. 2015)
Liturgical Theology 1 Question 1

Is Baptism a “private” or an “ecclesial” event?  How is Baptism connected to the Eucharist?  Does the contemporary Orthodox practice to which you have been exposed make this clear?

   From the very beginnings of Christianity, Baptism was a public and ecclesial event.   Indeed, even before the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension Baptism was anything but private.   The Synoptic Gospels begin the public ministry of Jesus by placing him elbow to elbow and shoulder to shoulder with those who had sought out John the Forerunner for Baptism in the Jordan river.   While this baptism of resentence for the forgiveness of sins was clearly not the same as Christian Baptism, the Sacrament must be  considered in that context.

   Next, the Sacramental action must be examined.   In its most basic form--let us imagine an emergency Baptism being administered by a layman--the candidate receives water (ideally by immersion but not necessarily) with the words “the servant of God N___ is Baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.   Even in this simplest form there is a two-fold community:   The community of ecclesia as embodied by the layman Baptizing; and the community of the Holy Trinity.    When the newly Baptized is able to receive the Eucharist (upon recovery, in this extreme example) reception of the Body of Christ is again two fold:   In receiving the Mystery of Communion the fullness of the Divine being comes to dwell bodily within the recipient.  Christ, who imparts His Body and Blood imparts the fullness of His Body:   His universal Body of the living Church as well as all of every time and every place who have ever belonged to that Body.   The Communion is the community of the Saints, ecclesia in the largest and grandest and fullest possible measure.

   The connection between Baptism and Eucharist is evidenced in the very earliest post-Apostolic writings.   In his Apology, Justin Martyr makes clear that the Eucharist is the meal of the Baptized, and only for the Baptized:  “this food is called among us Eukaristia , of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.” (Apology, ¶ LVXI)  As a side note, it is astounding, indeed, almost incomprehensible that this standard for admission to the Eucharist from antiquity is now undergoing serious debate by The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as they consider redefining “Eucharistic hospitality” to mean the Communing of all people who present themselves at the Chalice, Baptized or not.

   Justin’s description of Baptism strongly implies that the Mystery was celebrated with the gathered community:  “As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them.  Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated.”  (Justin ¶LVI).   As with earlier text of the  Didache Baptism is preceded by a period of prayer and fasting.  “And before the baptism let the baptiser and him who is to be baptised fast, and any others who are able.”  (Didache  ¶7)  But for Justin this time of fasting is undertaken by the entire community, not merely the candidates.

   The connection between the assembly of the Catechumens and the assembly of the faithful becomes less certain in the Apostolic Consititutions attributed to Hippolytus. describe Baptism as occurring at a location outside of the church building;  “When  they come to the water, the water shall be pure and flowing, that is, the water of a spring or a flowing body of water”  (¶21:2).   The assembly is enumerated as consisting of the catechumens and the clergy (Bishop, elders, and Deacons), but no mention is made of the laity nor of sponsors.  Following Baptism by submersion and anointing Hippolytus describes the assembly processing to another venue: “Then, drying themselves, they shall dress and afterwards gather in the church” (¶20:21) for the oblation.  Following the prayer of Chrismation,  “From then on they will pray together will all the people.” (¶20.29).   The text then describes a Eucharistic assembly attended by all the faithful.

   Did the entire assembly of the faithful accompany the Catechumens to the place of Baptism and witness the Mystery?  Or did they remain in vigil and prayer in the church awaiting the arrival of the newly illumined?   If the latter, did clergy remain with them to lead and direct their prayer, or were they left to their own devices?   While Hippolytus does not explicitly mention either scenario, his description of order in the church makes it extremely unlikely that the faithful would have assembled without their clergy.

   The nearly contemporary Catechetical Lectures on the Christian Sacraments are silent regarding the ecclesial vs. private setting of Baptism.   The lectures are divided into sections pertaining to the pre-Baptism exorcism, the Baptism itself, and the Chrismation.   A new section then begins concerning the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, followed by a description of the Euchasistic anaphora.   The text does not indicate whether Baptism occurred during the same service nor even the same day as the Eucharist; only that Baptism occurred “in the evening”(I.1).  It would be an importation of modern Western liturgical practice to assume Cyril was referring to Baptism taking place on the eve of Pascha, even though his description of the Sacrament (“O strange and wondrous mystery, we did not really die”) is replete with Paschal imagery.

   But if we look beyond the plain word of the text and consider its context in the great tradition, it becomes apparent that Baptism was administered in the context of Pascha.  Preceded by lengthy (perhaps three years) of catechesis, the preparatory process was most certainly ecclesial as it involved the teachers or catechists who were held in high esteem.

   Moreover, Baptism at Pascha brings to the Mystery a dimension that surpasses being “merely” ecclesial.   Fr. Schmemann cautions that an ecclesial understanding of Baptism can lead to “ecclesiolotry”.    The Paschal vigil is a celebration of Resurrection and of restoration, most especially the restoration of creation through the Crucified and Risen Word-made-flesh.   The “stuff” of creation, the primal elements of fire, water, air, and earth become integral parts of the church’s proclamation as she gives and receives the light, returns to the lavra of regeneration, hears the words of the kerygma, and finally tastes and sees the goodness of the Lord through the bread of earth becoming True Bread come down from Heaven.  In the context of the Paschal vigil Baptism is truly cosmological.

   Would that modern Orthodox practice reflected the fullness of the Mystery!

   As a recently enrolled Catechumen in the Orthodox Church, regrettably, I have been exposed to few celebrations of the Mystery of Baptism.   Despite attending Greek and Antiochian Orthodox weekday liturgies for  three and five years respectively I have only witnessed three Baptism: Two on successive years on Holy Saturday morning; and one in the early afternoon of a Sunday following the Divine Liturgy and coffee hour.   All of these were in the Antiochian jurisdiction.   In all except the Sunday afternoon Baptism the general congregation was not informed in advance that the Mystery would be celebrated.

   This basic failure at a minimum, to inform, much less to invite and encourage the congregation’s attendance does little to foster an understanding of Baptism as incorporation into the Body of Christ, or, more precisely, into discerning this Body as being more than the simply the Sponsors and invited family and friends.     Were it not for the presence of an already assembled congregation for the Liturgy of St. Basil on Holy Saturday even those Baptisms would have borne the appearance of being essentially private events.

   The Baptisms I witnessed all had an unmistakable connection to the Eucharist.   In the case of the Holy Saturday Baptisms the newly Baptized received their first Holy Communion at the Communion of the Faithful during the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil.  The Sunday afternoon Baptism also included Communion, of course, but this was from the Reserved Sacrament and administered only to the newly Baptized.  This practice does little to show the intrinsic connection between the Mystery of Baptism and the Sunday assembly, and the holy meal by which that assembly is uniquely identified as Christian.  In this instance the Communion--which by institution as well as entomology is meant to be communal--was also privatized.

   Having spent twenty-five years in the ministry of the Lutheran church, formed and shaped by the liturgy of the 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship and its ancillaries I count myself deeply blessed for having been able to celebrate the Mystery of Baptism in the manner for which Fr. Schmemann expresses deep yearning, yet simultaneously deeply saddened that such opportunities are rare (but not unheard of) within Orthodoxy.  Of the ninety-three Baptisms over which I presided,  twenty-one were during the Paschal Vigil. .All but five occurred within the Sunday Eucharistic liturgy..   Of the five anomalous celebrations three were in other church buildings so as to be able to use a font capable of Baptism by full submersion.  Only one was held in a private home (which, just a half century ago, was rather standard Lutheran practice) and  that was solely to allow the Baptism to be within earshot and view of the infant’s terminally ill grandfather.

   Placing Baptism within the Sunday liturgy undoubtabely helps to foster a deep respect and appreciation--indeed, an outright love--for this Mystery among the faithful.   The depth of this love was best articulated when a Seminarian assigned to the parish, as a part of a class project, asked many individuals “if the church were on fire, and you could remove just one item, what would that be?”   The overwhelming majority of those questioned replied, “the Font.”

   As a side note, the writing of this paper, occurring within a few weeks of my family’s pending Chrismation, has caused me to investigate the circumstances of the Baptism of each member.  Our only child was Baptized in a Eucharistic liturgy on a Sunday afternoon in an ecumenical setting adjacent to an international chaplaincy conference.  My wife my was Baptized on Easter Sunday in a gathered congregation.   As for me, I had known that I was Baptized on the 11th day of September--a date which has come to carry an overwhelming deluge of the sufferings of the Body of Christ--but I had been unsure as to whether this had been private or within such liturgy as the Methodist Episcopal Church followed in 1960.  It was an immense relief to discover a bulletin stating “Sunday morning”; not that Baptism outside of the liturgy would have been invalid, but that it would less than ecclesial.  The deficiency would not have been for me but for the community deprived of being able to witness the lavra of rebirth.

   Nearly one year ago I was delighted to learn that Metropolitan SAVAS has granted permission for the St. Matthew’s Greek Orthodox Mission in Blandon, Pennsylvania, to celebrate the Mystery of Baptism during the Sunday liturgy.   I have frequently observed how the York, Pennsylvania Greek community bears great similarity to how that same county’s Lutherans were almost precisely one hundred years ago.  In the early 20th century, Lutherans were struggling (and frequently dividing) over whether the liturgy and sermons should be in the ancestral tongue or in the language of their “new” homeland....even though in many cases the German Lutherans had been in America for 160 or more years.   I am now discovering that there are other parallels as well:   In those same pre WWI years Communion  was received infrequently (no more than four times per year), and Baptism was normally performed privately in the home.

   This small step--albeit in one specific mission parish--by the Greek Metropolis of Pittsburgh is nevertheless a positive sign that Baptism may yet be restored to its historic place in the fullness of the assembly of the faithful and thus better show forth that this Mystery incorporates--embodies--the candidate into the Body of Christ. 

My heart is heavy this day for many reasons, not the least of which the news imparted on the now-locked Prayer Request discussion.

The Fourth Day of July is the Commemoration of Andrew of Crete, Author of the Great Canon

Andrew of Crete, Author of the Great Canon

His Great Canon of Repentance is sung, one quarter at time, on the weekdays of the first week of Great Lent.   The entire Canon is sung on Thursday evening of the fourth week of Great Lent, interwoven with the vita of St. Mary of Egypt.

The Second Ode of the First Quarter seems well suited for all that this day has brought:

Attend to me, O God my Saviour, with Thy merciful eye, and accept my fervent confession. (Proverbs 15:3; Psalm 33:15)

Refrain:  Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me!

I have sinned above all men, I alone have sinned against Thee. But as God have compassion, O Saviour, on Thy creature. (1 Tim. 1:15)

Having formed by my pleasure-loving desires the deformity of my passions, I have marred the beauty of my mind. A storm of passions besets me, O compassionate Lord. But stretch out Thy hand to me too, as to Peter. (Matthew 14:31)

I have stained the coat of my flesh, and soiled what is in Thy image and likeness, O Saviour. I have darkened the beauty of my soul with passionate pleasures, and my whole mind I have reduced wholly to mud.

I have torn my first garment which the Creator wove for me in the beginning, and therefore I am lying naked. (Genesis 3:21)

I have put on a torn coat, which the serpent wove for me by argument, and I am ashamed. (Genesis 3:4-5)

The tears of the harlot, O merciful Lord, I too offer to Thee. Be merciful to me, O Saviour, in Thy compassion. (Luke 7:38; 18:13)

I looked at the beauty of the tree, and my mind was seduced; and now I lie naked, and I am ashamed. (Genesis 3:7)

All the demon-chiefs of the passions have plowed on my back, and long has their tyranny over me lasted. (Psalm 128:3)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

To the Holy Trinity: I sing of Thee as one in three Persons, O God of all, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Spotless Mother of God, only all-hymned Virgin, pray intensely that we may be saved.

Attend to me, O God my Saviour, with Thy merciful eye, and accept my fervent confession. (Proverbs 15:3; Psalm 33:15)

Your Turn / Augustana Numerology, A.D. 2020
« on: June 23, 2020, 11:52:44 PM »
Preparing to celebrate the Nativity of the Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist John on June 24 I could not help but recall that this Feast caused a delay in the adoption of the Confession of Augsburg.

That Confessional document was presented and signed on the following day, June 25, A.D. 1530.

Which makes this the 490th anniversary.

490 is the product  formed by Jesus' high bar of forgiveness, "seven times seventy times".

Perhaps there is something to be heeded and applied in these bitter and tumultuous times.

Perhaps we might spend more energies focusing on the 21 Articles held in common

Which happen to be evenly divisible by seven.

Your Turn / It is all about love....
« on: April 24, 2020, 10:23:51 PM »
The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Commemoration of Cyrial & Methodius, Apostles to the Slavs
14 February AD 2010

Dear Esther:

It is all about love, this day.

Certainly Hallmark and every retail florist and almost any restaurant (a bit fancier than Wendy’s) isn’t about to let us forget that!   Displays of confections and plush toys and shiny balloons make the celebration of human love of Valentine’s Day inescapable.

Yet what little we know concerning the life of Saint Valentine (who is, after all, more mythological than historical) reveals that he was all about love:  First and foremost, love for his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; second, love for the people of God entrusted to his care.   Supposedly, his first love was so great that he suffered imprisonment, later martyrdom for his faith; his second love was so strong that along that final journey--from prison--he would send notes of encouragement signed, ”your Valentine.”.

It is all about love, this day.

The missionary Bishops Cyril and his brother, Methodius, were filled to overflowing with the same love of God which led them to love neighbors that they had never met.   They were sent as missionaries to the people of Moravia (yes, the ancestors of the Moravian church); and found that in order to teach the Gospel to the people it was first necessary to create a written alphabet.  Their “Cyrillic” alphabet became the basis of the written languages of much of Eastern Europe--including the Russian which is used in the title space of these Icons.   Cyril undertook this work with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength--just 50 days after completing that work, and presenting it to the Bishop of Rome he entered into Life on the 14th day of February.

It is all about love, this day.

What kind of love inspires people to give--to use the words of the 16th President whose birthday was fleetingly remembered two days ago--”their last full measure of devotion”?    It is a love unshaken by death; grounded in Christ, the Son of the living God.   It is a love that has glimpsed the dazzling beauty of Resurrected life.  It is a love that is established in faith and built up in hope--filled with a sure confidence that sufferings of this age are as nothing when compared with the glory that is to be revealed in Jesus Christ.

Such confidence and trust filled Moses the law-giver when he was privileged to glimpse the glorious land promised to his patriarch forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; although he knew that, according to God’s command, he must now depart this life even as people made ready to depart from Moab.

It is all about love, this day.

Departure and death are closely interwoven with the festival of the Transfiguration.    Certainly because the two appearing with Jesus on the holy mountain are two who did not experience a normal death:  Moses, buried by God in Moab in a grave unknown; and Elijah, taken up in a whirlwind with the chariots of fire.  And most especially because the subject of the conversation between the representatives of the Law and the Prophets is Jesus’s own departure, which Luke the Evangelist tells us “was to take place at Jerusalem”.

Said Leo the Great concerning this feast, “The great reason for this transfiguration  was to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of his disciples, and to prevent the humiliation of his voluntary suffering from disturbing the faith of those who had witnessed the surpassing glory that lay concealed.”    Out of love for Peter and James and John, Christ allows them to see that His coming Passion would not be God’s final word for Him, for them--for us.

It is all about love, this day.

Esther, your arrival at this congregation came in a season of departure.  You arrived with two tow-headed youngsters on the Sunday when we blessed seeds for their departure into the soil; a celebration that was bittersweet in that year of our Lord 1997 because just three weeks before (and just  two days apart) we had planted in God’s garden the holy seeds of the resurrection in the persons of two faithful, farmer-neighbors Lester Shaffer and Wilmer Glatfelter.

About a year later I saw a deeper dimension of your love on the morning of our first-ever Memorial Day liturgy.   To be precise, I did not see that dimension until long after we had been bade to “go in peace” and “serve the Lord”--for as I was locking the church door and heading to my car I noticed that you and Bill were showing Jenn and Will every Veteran’s grave in both Cemeteries.  I was so moved that I wrote about that experience a year later in this parish newsletter--and thousands have read of that day through the posting of that newsletter article on the web site of

It is all about love, this day.

Esther, your gifts for teaching the young were nurtured first within your own family.    I hope I can always remember the time that your parents were attending a Fire Police meeting far away, and you asked me to help with the evening milking.   You insisted that I get to Zeigler’s Church Rd in time for supper; and before we tucked in to pork chops with horseradish Will led us in a grace that began “Hush little rooster.....”

That is when I began to notice you with an eye for this ministry in the Church of Jesus Christ.

You began to serve in many wonderful ways; Choir, Council, Council Secretary, Christian Education Co-Chair.   

And then, during the meeting held three years ago envisioning our future; you asked a good question--which only served as further evidence of God’s call on your life--”why are there only three Deacons”?

It is all about love, this day.

The answer to the question is found in today’s Feast, in following the pattern set down by Jesus Christ.   While He was surrounded by great crowds, He had chosen just twelve Apostles; and, even within that Apostolic circle He had chosen three (no more, no less) to be witnesses of great things kept from all the rest.  It was only  Peter, James, and John, who witnessed the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law; it was only Peter, James, and John who witnessed the raising of the daughter of Jarius; and it was only Peter, James, and John who witnessed the glorious Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor.

Through their witness, the faith of the others--and through their witness, the faith of all who follow Christ was to be strengthened.  To continue the reflection of Leo the Great:  With no less forethought he was also providing a firm foundation for the hope of his holy church.  The whole body of Christ was to understand the kind of transformation that it would receive as his give.  The members of that body were to look forward to a share in that glory which had first blazed out in Christ their head.

It is all about love, this day.

And it is not about us.   Or more precisely, it is only about us insofar as we are, in the words of St. Paul, “slaves for Christ’s sake”.  And Esther, you have lived that all your life, following the good examples of your parents Nelson and Judy; your Aunt Barb of blessed memory, and, as I have come to learn, the example of Grandpa Milton in serving county and community with no regard for self.

So then, let us pray with John Henry Newman:

   Stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as thou shinest;
   so to shine as light to others.
   The light, O Jesus, will be all from thee,
   None of it will be mine.
   No merit to me,
   It will be thou who shinest through me upon others.
   O let me thus praise thee, in the way which thou doest love best,
      by shining on all those around me.
   Give light to them as well as me;
      light them with me, through me.
   Teach me to follow forth thy praise, thy truth, thy will.
   Make me preach thee without preaching--
      not by words, but by my example and by the catching force,
      the sympathizing influence
      of what I do--
   By my visible resemblance to thy saints,
      and the evident fullness of the love which my heart bears to thee.


Your Turn / Welcome back, but what the HACK?
« on: March 22, 2020, 02:41:44 PM »
DNS "unable connect" and other error messages are occurring with increasing frequency on this forum.

Glad to see it up and running especially in such critical times for communications, but one has to wonder about the techno-gremlins.

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