20101202 Armor of God and Lots of News

Shownotes for 20101203


Ephesians 6:11. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

Review of last week.
Angels are powerful and awesome, but do not cling to the glory due them. Their glory is trumped by their humility. Their humility is not a consequence of weakness, but flows from the never-ending source of their strength: the love of the Lord. In fact, it was Christ Himself that demonstrated the ultimate combination of power (omnipotence!) and humility (complete kenosis).

We are called to this same combination of power and humility. Not to be humble out of weakness, a victim who suffers, stumbling from one distress to another. This is not the “meekness” Christ exhibits, and it is not the meekness we are called to live. No: we are called to be strong. But we are not to rejoice in this strength, but rather in the ability it gives us to love without restraint.

[Consider using the tremendous difference between the fall of Satan and the condescension of Christ to elucidate the difference between pride and humility]

But this combination is REALLY HARD. How do we get the power we need to make it happen? How do we acquire a love so strong that it remains constant even in the face of humiliation? An answer to this question comes from today’s epistle: you get that power by putting on the whole armor of God: the girding of the loins, the breastplate, the boots, the helmet, the shield. And don’t forget the sword!

You need the complete package in order to benefit. Picking and choosing will leave you weak and vulnerable. Without the entire kit, you will not be able to sustain love against the principalities and demons of the air (probably not even against the first hint of a slight offered to you by a colleague or the first inconvenience of traffic). In fact, not only won’t you be able to continue to wield love amongst the throngs of apathy and hatred the world sends against you; not only won’t you be able to defeat the enemy in spiritual combat: to paraphrase the vernacular, you will get your rear-end handed to you. You will get rrrrnnt. You will get yourself hurt. You may even get yourself killed.

It is, of course, true that the Church is a hospital as much as it is an armory and training center, but perhaps it might be useful to think less of Landmark Hospital in well-to-do-Woonsocket (much less of the posh ones in Providence, Worcester, and Boston) and more of a MASH unit during the Korean War (speaking of which, I wonder if Hawkeye and Honeycutt will need to be called back to service pretty soon!). We certainly will stitch you up so you can get back into the fight, but if you don’t put on all your armor and use your sword, you’ll just end up right back here, again and again, until you eventually put yourself in the wrong third of the triage room (if you make it back to the hospital at all).

This is why it worries me that so many Christians pick and choose what pieces of the armor to wear and whether or not to even carry the sword.

As you probably know, I spend twenty years as what is sometimes referred to as a “weekend warrior.” I was a part-time soldier. But the thing about it was that while I only drilled a few days a month, I was expected to keep myself prepared for combat all the time. So while I only got paid part-time, I had to be battle-ready around the clock (and calendar). Not everyone saw the need. There were strong temptations for us skip some of the things we were supposed to do. Let me give you some examples. Such a soldier might say things like this:

  1. “Conditioning is hard. I hate calisthenics and running. As a soldier, all I really need to be able to do is shoot. I’ll just skip all that exercise, spend a little time on the firing range each week, and I’ll be fine.” Really?! No, you won’t. You’ll get hurt. You may even get killed.

  2. “Battle armor is heavy. I’ll just ditch it and make sure I maneuver well. I’ll move fast, be really brave, smart fight, and I’ll be fine.” Really?! No, you won’t. You’ll get hurt. You may even get killed.

  3. “Squad training, unit drills, and tactics are a waste of my time – it’s boring, it doesn’t focus on what I need, and I have other things to do. Plus no one listens to me or carries their own weight. I’ll just skip it and focus on my own skills and I’ll be fine.” No, you won’t. You’ll get hurt. You may even get killed.

An unconditioned soldier can’t hang and ends up as a casualty. A soldier without body armor, no matter how brave or how fast, gets taken out by mortars, stray shrapnel, and snipers. Battles and wars are not won by heroes – no matter how honed their individual skills – but by units. Teams that have not leaned how to work together will be the weak link in any defense and ineffective in any offensive action. The “Army of One” is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as an independent soldier; you cannot be a good soldier unless you are part of a healthy team.

To summarize: a soldier cannot pick and choose from the armor he is given to wear: the whole package is required.

The armor of God for the Christian is the same: the entire kit is designed to work together. Skip one piece and you will end up getting hurt. As Christians who do not live full-time at the Church, your situation is similar in some ways to that of the “weekend warrior’s:” you really need to be battle-ready all the time, but you are tempted to cut corners. As such, you might want to say things like this:

  1. “Spiritual conditioning (asceticism) is hard. I hate fasting, tithing/sacrificial giving, and saying my daily prayers. As a Christian, all I really need to be able to do is serve others. I’ll skip the conditioning and spend a little extra time each week helping someone who needs me – an invalid parent, children, the homeless, whatever – and I’ll be fine.” Really? No, you won’t. You’ll get hurt. You may even get killed.

  2. “This armor is heavy. Letting go of grudges, loving my enemies, and going to Confession weighs too much. I’ll skip all that, be brave and fast, avoid bad people, and keep from doing anything wrong and I’ll be fine.” Really? No, you won’t. You’ll get hurt. You may even get killed.

  3. “Coming to church is a waste of my time. The services are boring, they don’t meet my needs, and I have other things to do. Plus no one listens to me or carries their own weight. I’ll just skip it, keep God in my heart, focus on being good and I’ll be fine.” Really? No, you won’t. You’ll get hurt. You may even get killed.

Just as with soldiers, an unconditioned Christian cannot hang and quickly ends up as a casualty. As for the weight of our armor, there are mean people everywhere and no one can be so fast and smart as to completely avoid mistakes: you have learn to let go of grudges, love your enemies, and repent of your sins in order to survive. And just as the “Army of One” is an oxymoron, there is no such thing as an Christian apart from the Church – you cannot be good unless you are part of a community.

These things may be hard, they may be heavy, and they may seem dull, but you need them all. And it’s not because if you skip this that or the other thing you no longer be in good standing with God’s Holy Church: it is because if you skip anything there is absolutely no doubt … you will end up getting hurt.

As I said, this is a hospital and we will be happy to stitch you up (once again, this is assuming that you make it back to Church at all… many casualties never do), but we’d rather use more of the time we have together making you even stronger, not just repairing the damage caused by your hard-headed stupidity.

Have no doubt about it: this is a time of war, and you must prepare yourself accordingly. You must be strong in order to be humble. You must be strong in order to love. You must be strong in order to survive.

So stop complaining and looking for excuses and get serious. Put on the whole armor of God.



Fr. Vasily Vasilich wanted everyone to know that he will be collecting beards for baby-faced priests through Theophany.

Some positive feedback about the last podcast – thank you! To clear up some of the questions you’ve sent: as far as I know, there is no Testament of David; there is NO EVIDENCE that he was singing about zombie berserkers in Psalm 26: 1-2; the Prophet Zechariah did NOT write about a zombie apocalypse; and while Enoch 1 and Jubilees are “real”, they are not useful or true enough to be included in our canon of scripture. Stargazer is a likable, but misinformed, conspiracy theorist: he finds (and makes up!) data that supports his ideas. As for Fr. Vasily Vasilich, he is a parody of himself (the pompous old world priest who sees all variation from his preferences as being displeasing to God). It’s also fun to hear him tease baby-faced priests.

Q: How are things going in the URI mission? What do you do?

A: Still doing well. The overhead is low, so it is easy to sustain. Have not managed to attract any students (Orthodox or otherwise). We pray the Typika/pro-liturgy and then eat/talk for about an hour.

Q: Where did you get your explanation of Psalm 81/82?

A: There are basically three different ways this Psalm is used (and the different translations of “sons of God” are the clue as to which one the translators prefer);

  1. One is to treat the “assembly of the gods” and the “sons of God” (which are synonymous in the Psalm) as the Israelites (and their leaders) who had transgressed. This is a common Protestant reading.
  2. Another is to treat them as the members of the Church. This is Fr. Reardon’s interpretation and that of the Orthodox Study Bible, as described in the notes for that Psalm.
  3. Another is to admit that Hebrew monotheism is not what we assume it to be: it can tolerate the existence of other deities. Our Orthodox Study Bible (and more literal translations) almost do this, but lessen the impact a bit by referring to these deities as “angels”. This is fine when we use “angel” as a very general term… but angel is really a job title (messenger), not a class.

This third understanding is reinforced by the clear parallels between this passage and the others that talk about the fall of the “angels” (or whatever). There is some temporal ambiguity: the modal understanding is that the angels fell before man was created. Treating Psalm 81 as literal (i.e. non-allegorical) means accepting that there were deities (or whatever) of ambiguous status roaming the earth and interacting with the Most High. I don’t have a problem with this because it matches similar situations in the Old Testament. For instance, it helps make sense of God’s conversations with Satan in Job and of Eve’s talk with him in the garden.

Don’t get wrapped around the axle about this. Orthodoxy is pastoral: we have different exegeses from the Fathers because exegesis is more than translation and explanation: it is bringing the Truth of the Gospel to people when and where they are. Some exegesis is completely dogmatic because there is only one pastoral way to interpret them; but many others are not, and as long as we don’t leave the reservation, those called to teach have some freedom. As Fr. Thomas Hopko put it in a recent podcast (on Bible translations): the Orthodox play (or dance) with Scripture. You will also notice this in the hymns of the Church (especially the longer and more poetic ones from Vespers and Matins).

There is one more piece of mail, but I went ahead and moved it to the Vol’ya moment at the end of the show. So you’ll just have to wait.

Send me your questions and comments! father.anthony@yahoo.com or call (401) 405-1116.



Local News:

  • Update on my redneck hot-tub (my secret to surviving the New England Winter)
  • Some nifty new shoes from Sockwa. Field test and review of the Amazon Kindle (is it really the sign of the apocalypse?).
  • Great noodles that have no calories (and no flavor… but you can change that yourself!).

Crunchy News:

Technology and Science News:

  • One of the reasons not to completely remove the presence of commercials (at least via television) has been removed: NFL Game Rewind. You can’t watch it “live” – but who cares! It’s the WHOLE GAME of EVERY GAME. Now if there is one for the PGA, my life will be complete :-). I don’t get a PLN on Sunday afternoon anymore (a PLN is the perfect complement to both football and golf), but try to turn Monday into one big PLN. This will certainly help!
  • This is a great time to get a back-up drive. I got a 2TB My Book for Mac for like $80!
  • NASA raised expectations too high, promising a big announcement regarding exobiology. Alas, the SETI receivers remain quiet… but they did find out that life is more insistent than expected (it can use arsenic in its DNA). Could it be that life is an outpouring of the love that is at the very foundation of everything?

  • I’ve talked about wikileaks before, but it is worth pointing out just how detrimental this is to the status quo. If we clamp down on things (voluntarily or involuntarily), then our security and intelligence services will be even less effective. This is okay AS LONG AS WE DO NOT CREATE SITUATIONS THAT DEMANDS EFFICIENCY FROM THEM. This should be an impetus to create a genuinely conservative (i.e. risk averse) foreign policy, but we’ve certainly missed other opportunities for that now, haven’t we?
  • Facebook really brings out the worst in some people. There is no doubt that it reinforces egoism, but there are other temptations that are just as dangerous. ABC News’ report “Facebook Infidelities: Cheaters Caught Online” does a pretty good job describing how it can lead to adultery and divorce. Is anyone surprised by this? So few people build up the self-control required to maintain their chastity – it ends up being held up only by circumstance (i.e. lack of opportunities). In a traditional society, that might work most of the time, but Facebook changes that completely. The answer is to either build up self-control (fasting, daily prayer, forgiveness, tithing) or opt-out of social media altogether. I’m guessing most people will choose neither.
  • Facebook got a Church of England bishop into trouble when he posted a complaint about the “nauseating tosh” that surrounded the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton and wagered that the union would last about seven years. Remember, Vladyka Pete, all those people are not REALLY your friends – and your wall is NOT a private forum!

Health News

Religious News:

  • Is the Cold War back? Not just the problems with the new START Treaty, or even Putin’s interview with Larry King about WikiLeaks. Unfortunately, the distrust runs deeper – affecting perceptions of religious toleration (debate about most recent US finding on religious freedom in Russia) and agitation (Dn. Professor Andrey Kurayev accuses the US of funding Orthodox schismatics in Moldova… likening them it to our support of the mujhihadin in Afghanistan/Pakistan). But I don’t think Russia needs our help fomenting problems among the fringes of Orthodoxy. It will be interesting to see how the Moscow Patriarchate (and the Russian government) deals with pluralism. The half-life of totalitarianism in the mindset of the elite may be pretty long.
  • What makes a group a “hate group”? The Southern Poverty Research Center has designated some fairly mainstream evangelical Protestant groups as “hate groups” for their stance against homosexuality. Where is the line? According to them, you are safe if you claim that homosexuality is incompatible with biblical teachings, but not if you cite allegedly shoddy research claiming that it is unhealthy and dangerous. This seems like a reasonable standard in the abstract, but its application cannot help but be political. There is very little unambiguous/incontrovertible evidence anywhere in sociology. This basically gives the SPRC the self-justification it needs to damn any group that touts research whose results they don’t like.
  • Speaking of the temptation to confuse steadfastness for antipathy: there is a great temptation to fear that people will our equate confidence in the unique salvific quality of Orthodoxy for judgementalism and pride. That is one of many reasons Orthodox are tempted to buy into the hyper-ecumenical idea that religions are all valid expressions of the same thing. Fr. Maximos takes on some of this nonsense in his series of “Personal Reflections” on the Branch Theory. If you want more things to stiffen up your spine, you can visit the good folks at the Orthodox Christian Information Center.
  • Don’t fret, Father, some folks here don’t like my eulogies either! Check this out: at the funeral of crime author Philip Carlo, Tony Danza “angrily interrupted the priest, claiming he was talking too much about God” and not talking enough about the deceased. According to a witness, he walked right up to the priest and said angrily, ‘Excuse me, but this is not about you. It’s supposed to be about my friend, and if you can’t do that, maybe you should let someone else speak!’. Thanks for the theology lesson, Tony, but if you invite a priest to a funeral, you should expect to hear about God. Sorry if you expected something different.
  • From the materialists: it seems that evolution led people to worship of anthropomorphic gods because they expect to get something in return (and people are so stupid that they do this even when they don’t!). Has anything set the serious study of religion back more than the deterministic approach to evolution? Can you think of any other reasons why people might contribute more to a god than to the weather? [I actually like this article, I just think that the explanation would have been better with a more nuanced understanding of religion/belief… there are tons of books written by brilliant people on this topic (to include those on the differences between religion and magic), but “hard science” has no need to build on anyone but Darwin et al].
  • And speaking of materialism being the beginning and end of all knowledge, I wish I could be strong enough to believe this They Might Be Giants tune was parody. Like Constantinople, I guess we have to blame the Turks. Seriously though, the new atheists are staying on message: science is real, religion is just fun fantasy – no more to be taken seriously than fairy tales. They must know the danger, especially when it comes to anthropology (and here I include all the sciences that study mankind, from biology to psychology to sociology, to economics, to political science): science can only describe what there is and how it gets there. But they want to use anthropology to make NORMATIVE statements. But how can anthropology – something that only looks at existing evidence – describe the ideal from which we have fallen? It is only an appreciation for the perfect that allows us to make normative statements, and this perfection cannot be extrapolated from a Godless materialism. In other words, this approach cannot help but justify sin and its consequences. But the yearning for something greater is part of who we are, and so we will always seek to push science – if this becomes out worldview – past acceptable limits. But the honest scientist will recognize what is going on and admit that he has smuggled his own ideas of what is good/better/best – that is to say, his “faith” – into his analysis. And then we can point out that his faith is incredibly anemic compared to the True Faith that we know and use.
  • And in other news that combines science and faith, USA Today reports that Christian Smith, a sociologist at Notre Dame is conducting a well-funded Science of Generosity Initiative. He shares some facts about giving that are generally accepted and well-known: people who are religious tend to give more; people with less money often give more; generosity is good for your health; holiday giving is often strategic; people who plan donations give more than those who don’t; and lastly, guilt isn’t an effective motivator. Think about THAT when your parish decides how to manage its giving (better yet, refering back to the bit on the limitations of anthropology, just stick to the giving as a sacramental act).
  • The bishops of the OCA just released an official statement describing their understanding of the OCA’s autocephaly. It’s mix of strength and humility is virtuous. This is nothing new – Mp. Jonah has spoken of their autocephaly being kenotic before. FWIW, my own bishops (well, the two that were active then) demonstrated this same kind of virtuous kenosis in 1994 under very similar circumstances (the autocephalous UOC-USA went under the omiphor of Constantinople in part to allow her union with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America, to be allowed to work more closely with the other Orthodox in America, and to more effectively assist the healing of schisms in Ukraine). I love it when bishops take the high road.
  • Lastly, you just HAVE to check out Fr. Joseph Hunycutt’s pictures from the Hierarchical Liturgy His Grace, Bishop Basil celebrated with Fr. Joseph, Fr. James Early, Dn. Meletios Marx, and Dn. Michael Fulton. The theme is “who stole the bishops crown!?” Now THAT is funny. I don’t care who you are.


Vol’ya (Freedom) Moment

From the mailbag.

Q: Why are you serving in the Ukrainian Church? Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in the American Church? If almost everything is done in English, what is the difference between a Ukrainian parish and an OCA parish? (Yes, I really do get this question; almost always it comes from people OUTSIDE my diocese).

A: Our diocese is NOT comprised of parish embassies operating in a foreign land: it IS an American Church. So there is a real sense in which I am as comfortable serving in it as I would be working anywhere else. Moreover, as a priest, I go where God sends me. At first, I thought of myself as a bit of a missionary. I was serving in the tradition of Cyril and Methodius (i.e. a foreigner serving other people in their culture and language)… but that is not really the situation in the parish I serve. Like our diocese, it is a parish whose roots are Ukrainian (broadly defined) and whose Christian culture is comprised of Ukrainian elements, but her people are completely Americanized (this is not pejorative). That is to say, they have assimilated in every portion of their life: how could they not? They live, work, shop, etc. in America, among Americans. There is no Ukrainian ghetto here to support an isolated subculture. Even the parish itself is heterogenous. Part of my challenge is to teach people in this situation how their “Ukrainian Orthodox” parish life is connected to the rest of their “American Orthodox” life. For at least a couple of generations, that connection was not clear – and we lost many people. This happens when you continue to insist on serving in a language no one understands and demonize assimilation into the surrounding culture – a culture many of whose elements they have come to love – as being a betrayal of faith…

Our parish – and our diocese – possessing as it does the fullness of the faith – has only one goal: to bring people closer to perfection and unity through the mysteries of the Church. When the best way to do that is in Ukrainian, then we use Ukrainian, when it is in Portuguese, we use that, and when it is in English, we use that. The same goes for cultural referents: we try to keep the distinctly Ukrainian ones energized and relevant (and thus useful for salvation), but as new cultural referents (memes) become available and prominent in the lives of the faithful, we bless and use those, too. Even (and perhaps especially) if these new memes are American (because our people LIVE in America and need to learn how to be sanctified HERE).

To get back to your question: yes, in some abstract way, serving in a parish whose people had the same background might be easier: but where’s the fun and challenge in that? Salvation requires living outside your comfort zone – serving in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church helps me do that… and my serving in it provides opportunities for Ukrainian Americans to do the same!

Your question about the OCA and the UOC in America is a good one, especially given the similarity of the roots: the ethnic members of the OCA may consider themselves Russian, but they often came from the same part of the world (and many of the OCA’s earliest parishes were former Byzantine/Ukrainian Catholics, just like so many of ours were). In generally, the two would be thought to have a lot in common. So once language (Ukrainian and Slavonic/Russian) is removed, what “memes” remain that separate the two culturally? This might require a whole show at some point, but the differences remain substantial. Let’s go ahead and throw in the ROCOR just to provide some additonal leverage. Why don’t the OCA and the ROCOR just go ahead and merge? If Moscow is serious about American autocephaly, why bring the ROCOR under themselves? Shouldn’t their first action, once Communion was established and authority established, have been to release them to the OCA? Of course not, and those two groups are more similar in many respects than the OCA and the UOC! As with the ROCOR and the OCA, in addition to the unique cultures, there is a lot of history that must be forgiven and forgotten before we can even comfortably work towards and enjoy administrative unity. Just as the ROCOR decried the OCA’s legitimacy and denounced its practices, for many, many years, the OCA decried the UOC’s legitimacy and denounced its practices. Regardless of the intent, this has caused real harm. So – perhaps like the Hatfields and the McCoys there are negative things that that separate us… and these things are best forgiven and forgotten. They have no place in America, and grudges have no place in Orthodoxy.

What about positive things… things that are beneficial and should be held onto? This is a matter of a degree, but the UOC is sobornopravno: it empowers parishes, the laity, and priests to the maximum possible extent, allowing them more opportunity to find and express those gifts/charisms that God has given them. This comes out of the Ukrainian culture: I daresay that it was always more liberal in the old sense of the word than Russia. Ukraine’s equality was one of freedom, it came from the bottom up… Russia’s tended to be more one that was imposed rather than celebrated (a stereotype, I know). The comparison of the Ukrainian Sich and the Russian mir – even in their romantic expositions – is instructive. The “Russians” from Ukraine that founded the parishes of the OCA may have been from the same place as those that founded the UOC, but they accepted the less liberal Russian identity and model as their own (see statement two here). The Ukrainians who founded the UOC completely rejected that model. So one group accepted the imperialism of Moscow while the other intentionally opposed it. Even were the musical and gastronomical traditions the same (and they certainly overlap!), the cultures that have developed around and been informed by this different attitude towards freedom and imperialism are very different. Over time, these differences may well lessen (we already have some parishes that have converged to this point – and it should be noted the OCA is “conciliar” and was influenced by many of the same liberal currents as the UOC… it is certainly closer to us than the MP or the ROCOR) – but until then, even this short list of positive cultural elements that differentiate the two are worth preserving (and the full list is much longer – the things that the Western Ukrainian immigrants have sought to preserve are unique and beautiful… similar to things in neighboring areas, but not the same. Ditto for Ukrainian/Russian traditions!).

Just to make sure you understand: we have much in common (including the Most Important Thing… the One Thing Needful) and we should encourage cross-pollinization, especially in areas that only have one OCA/UOC parish. I am certainly comfortable in OCA parishes: their music and traditions are very familiar (I cannot say this about Greek and Antiochian parishes – although I love worshipping in them, too!), and I know this is true of the people I serve. We have parishioners that used to belong to OCA parishes – the only thing that sets them off (and keeps some such from joining our parish) is the remnant of Russophobia that occasionally turns up (positive Ukrainian nationalism is less of a problem, but it is often inseparable from anti-Russian attitudes). The mirror of this in OCA parishes is the bit of Russophilia that occasionally turns up (as when Kyiv is referred to as part of Russia and Voldomyr as a Russian prince). FWIW, another interesting approach is to compare the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox and the Ukrainian Orthodox here in America. And while you can set up a continuum of these four “sister diocese” in America: the Carpatho-Russians, Ukrainians, Russians of the OCA, and Russians of the ROCOR, you begin to notice how you really need more that one dimension to map their similarities and dissimilarities (although putting them in this order on a continuum does describe several things, such as similarity of music tradition, attitude towards assimilation, and average distance from Moscow).

FWIW, none of these things stand in the way of administrative unity, much less our joyful Communion.