20110128 The Sacramental Ontology of Beauty


Opening Lesson:

“Beauty will save the world.”  
Prince Myshkin (recounted by Hippolyte) in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot.

One of the things that leads truly rational and open-minded people to reject pure materialism and atheism is their superficial and patently absurd explanation of the many blessings that flow into creation from her uncreated Creator.  These blessings include things like beauty, holiness, morality, and love.  Today I would like to begin the podcast by talking about the sacramental ontology of beauty.  The Vol’ya moment will consist of a similar treatment of the ontology of holiness.  Both are set within the context of Theophany.

The Sacramental Ontology of Beauty


Mail Call!

Question:  [Paraphrase of e-mail]:  what did the UOC-USA do with all the priests that were ordained by His Beatitude Metropolitan John Teodorovich before his own ordination was “corrected”?  The question came about because the writer follows the venerable Indiana listserv on Orthodoxy where the question was originally raised.  It may be worth reading the whole thing and his follow-up.  

Answer:  [Note:  someone from the UOCC pointed out that Metropolitan Ilarion “re-ordained” at least some of the priests Mp. John had previously ordained]. 

It is lamentable that there is so little charity among us; especially among Christians.  We are so quick to stir up trouble over things long gone… as if there were not enough real things destroying our souls here and now.

There was much done over the first hundred years of Orthodoxy here (and during the revolutionary period in Ukraine and Russia) that must be repented of and forgiven.  It was a frontier, and things happen on the frontier that would not (should not!)  be allowed in areas that are properly civilized (America was, of course, civilized, as were Ukraine and Russia – I hope you see the point of the comparison).  Lord willing, the Episcopal Assembly of North America will correct these things (and the coming “Great Council” will take care of the rest); this is, at least, their charter.

There is one point of fact that the writer has wrong: most of the parishes of the UOC-USA from that generation did not come from the Metropolia (I know of none that did, although there may be some), they converted from Ukrainian Catholicism (which is why so many of our parishes are right across the street from a Ukrainian Catholic one, often with the same patron.  Such is the case here).  As you know, many Ukrainian & Byzantine Catholic parishes went to the OCA, many went to the Carpatho-Russians, many went under Bishop John Teodorovich (the UOC-USA), and many stayed under the Pope of Rome.

Getting closer to the point:
I doubt that many Uniate priests or parishioners were re-chrismated, re-ordained, etc. when they converted from Greek Catholicism to Orthodoxy (there was no universally practiced standard then any more than there is now; see * below).  And the Mysteries they celebrated afterwards were certainly valid.  It’s not ideal, but bishops must exercise economia when it is pastoral expedient for people’s sanctification. Having been given some glimpses of the difficult issues involved, I find it best not to judge bishops or any other pastor who is operating within his calling/charisma/ordinaiton.

As the writer points out, Bishop John’s ordination was corrected when the new immigration (of validly ordained clergy, to include Bishop Mystyslav) came over after WWII.  It is worth noting that the situation was not fully resolved in many people’s minds until the 90’s, when the Ukrainian Orthodox outside Ukraine went back under Constantinople (it is also worth noting that the more nationalistic parishes refused this and went instead to the questionable “Kyivan Patriarchate”).  I reckon in some people’s minds, it will never be resolved.  Sigh.

But more to the point of the writer’s complaint:  I seriously doubt that the priests Bp. John had ordained were reordained.  As I said before, such things are generally left to economia / the mercy of God.  They are priests of the Orthodox Church and the Mysteries they celebrated and continue to celebrate are valid (although even this question becomes less relevant over time… it has been quite a while now).

A bit of an aside:  While the “Ukrainian problem” was real (the first bishop of the Ukrainian Autocephalist Orthodox Church really was not canonically ordained), the situation is made worse by quite a bit of anti-Ukrainian propaganda that folks have spread over the years (most notably, the Moscow Patriarchate, the OCA, and the ROCOR).  This is usually based on the absurd assumption that there is no unique Ukrainian expression of Orthodoxy, and (less importantly) that all deviations from the Russian way are the result of Uniate innovation and influence.  This bit of nonsense gets blended in with real history, the interpretation of canon law,  revisionist history, and raw emotion to create quite a nasty bit of wickedness that really polarizes Orthodoxy/Orthodox believers (Ukrainians are not blameless; they often overcompensate with the sort of xenophobia decried int he original letter).

As a pastor, I can tell you that it is hard enough cleaning up the messes made during the “frontier days” of Orthodoxy here and in Ukraine without people coming in and causing more trouble!  At some point it would be nice to just focus on learning to love God and our neighbor.

One more point:
It bothers me when people treat canons in a fundamentalist and black and white manner, refusing to forgive, grant charity, and accept the decisions of the bishops who lead the living Orthodox Church.  I am not speaking here of the original ordination of Metropolitan Wasyl Lipkiwsky, but of the use of economia, especially when it comes to pastoral matters.  The logic of the writer’s case is obvious and compelling: there is no grace outside the Orthodox Church, therefore every Mystery celebrated by clerics who have separated themselves from the Orthodox Church is ephemeral and must be “corrected” at some future point.  So the ordination of priests conducted outside of canonical Orthodoxy would need to be corrected in order for them to serve valid Sacraments.      

But this is where his logic breaks down: the ordinations (and their previous Sacraments) were corrected through the blessing of economia.  When I wrote above that I doubted that “many Uniate priests or parishioners were re-chrismated, re-ordained, etc. when they converted from Greek Catholicism to Orthodoxy”,  I was being deliberately imprecise.  I doubt that many were ordained deacon by the laying on of hands by a bishop and then ordained priest at a later date by the laying on of hands by a bishop.  Rather, their previous ordinations (and Baptisms/Chrismations) were corrected through “vesting” and concelebration with a bishop.  This is still practiced in similar situations in some Orthodox Churches.  As I said before, the normalization of conversion practices is one of the tasks of the Episcopal Assembly and the coming Great Council.  Until then, let’s practice just a wee bit of charity.

This, in part, what the bit about beards was about.  There is a verse from scripture that seems to imply that men should wear their hair short (or go bald!); there is also a canon that discourages Christians from “adorning and arranging their hair … by cunningly devised intertwinings” in such a way that would “bait unstable souls”.  One traditional interpretation (the modal one among most Old World Orthodox) is that priests shouldn’t style or trim their hair and beards.  This is fine, but turning such an interpretation into an opportunity to condemn beardless clergy is silly (forgive me, but this is true even if some saints have done it).  It is as if such people believed that the priests trimmed their hair and beards in order to “bait unstable souls”!  [for Russians, the situation may be different: their “Stoglav” Council (which is NOT authoritative for all Orthodox!) forbid all Orthodox men from shaving or trimming their hair (this was, of course, later changed in Russia by the Petrine and Nikonian reforms; although clergy were still able to wear long hair and beards).  Local Churches can do as they’d like!].

Ours is a serious faith, for serious people, and we sin when we trivialize it by turning something important (modesty, clergy dress and the like) into something dogmatic.  Speaking of a serious faith, let me introduce the newest section of our podcast:


News from the Onion Dome (News and Commentary that Isn’t and Never Will be)

“Buried and Broken Branches of the One Tree: using orthopraxis to determine the percentage grace of heterodox confessions”, by  

[Summary of an article that appeared in Volume 13, Issue 1 of the peer-reviewed academic journal “Nous: a Journal of the Fifth Rome”]

One of the biggest challenges facing Orthodox Christians living in multi-confessional societies is figuring out how to relate to heterodox Christians and heterodox Christian institutions.  Unfortunately, there are no set guidelines on how to do this.  Part of the problem comes down to determining how “Orthodox” these other confessions are.  We have developed a unique methodology that allows bishops, priests, and laity to quantify the Orthodoxy of various heterodox creeds.  This will give them the information they need to make sense of this difficult gray area… (page 23)

[the article dismisses two approaches: the historical and the dogmatic.  Basically, the historical method uses the years since the group left Orthodoxy as a guide; it is dismissed because some groups – like the Copts – split off early but remain closer than the results of later schisms.  One researcher suggested multiplying this by the number of schisms between Orthodoxy and the confession under consideration.  The dogmatic one is a determination based on the proportion of tenets the groups shared, weighted by the importance of the tenet to the confession.  This was dismissed as unwieldy and subjective.  The authors claim that their method determines the degree of dogmatic convergence objectively and measurably: it looks at how Orthodox bishops and priests treat various confessions across a spectrum of Mysteries/Sacraments.  This creates a matrix from which can be derived specific measures of each confessions “grace”.   Here is a sample of their findings for two Confessions:

Scores are out of a possible 10, with 10 being fully accepted and 0 being not accepted at all.  Note that the numbers are based on the most liberal accepted proactive among canonical clergy.  Future efforts might average based on all Orthodox clergy.  We chose the most liberal practice because it shows the minimal threshold for convergence.

Greek Catholic Church

  • Baptism:  10 (the Baptism of converts is not repeated)
  • Chrismation:  7 (some clergy chrismate Catholics on the forehead only)
  • Eucharist: 0 (although there are rumors that some priests allow them to partake, especially at Pascha)
  • Confession: 0 
  • Unction with Oil:  0
  • Marriage: 1 (a few marriages are accepted as valid by Communion)
  • Ordination: 8 (clergy are often accepted through “vesting”)
  • Funeral Rites: 5 (some clergy concelebrate at memorial services; some serve Orthodox memorials for Greek Catholics).
  • Prayer Services: 5 (some clergy concelebrate at moleban prayer services)
  • Liturgical Publications:  8 (some clergy use Greek Catholic materials in worship)
Orthodoxy Score of Greek Catholics:  44% Grace

Episcopal Church
  • Baptism: 10 (the Baptism of converts is not repeated)
  • Chrismation: 0
  • Eucharist: 0
  • Confession: 0
  • Unction with Oil: 0
  • Marriage: 0
  • Ordination: 0
  • Funeral Rites: 2 (some Orthodox wills serve full memorials for Episcopalians)
  • Prayer Services: 1 (some Orthodox attend Ecuminical prayer services)
  • Liturgical Publication: 1 (a small number of Episcopal/Anglican works are used)
Score of Episcopalians:  14% Grace

[The paper goes on to describe several other Christian groups in this manner.  It concludes with this interesting observation:]

The simplest way for the Orthodox to deal with the heterodox would be to follow the teaching that heterodox Sacraments have no grace.  Some groups claim to do this, but if practice is the mark of belief, then it is clear that this is not generally accepted.  As our findings show, few groups received a zero in every category.  In practice, Orthodox clergy do believe that there is some sort of grace in heterodox group practices that allows economia to correct them completely.

And then there is this gem from Russia

“Schism in Nyetakmesto over the Patriarch’s Puppy”
On January 11, Interfax reported that some children visited His All-Holiness Patriarch Kirill in the State Kremlin Palace and gave him a Polish Mountain Sheepdog.  On January 12th, Bishop Tikhon of Nyetakmesto-Suzdal declared that this was proof of Patriarch’s apostasy.  “It is uncanonical for Orthodox clergy to have dogs: they are unclean animals.  The only approved pet for Orthodox clergy is the cat.  This is Orthodox Tradition.”  This is not the first time Bishop Tikhon has accused his Patriarch of such things.  Two years ago, he expressed his outrage over the reunion of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR).  As he said at the time, “There are many so-called ‘converts’ who have joined the ROCOR since the time of the exile.  These are not Russians and thus have no place in the Russian Orthodox Church.  Americans are godless by definition.  They have turned their souls over to Satan.  Moreover, many of them and the convert “clergy” CIA agents seeking to infiltrate into the heart of our sacred Motherland.  Their presence without our Holy Russian Church is an outrage!”

The Onion Dome investigated the bishop’s claim about the canonical prohibition on clergy owning dogs; while there are believers who share this opinion, we could find no support in the canons of the Orthodox Church.  There may be Orthodox priests in the USA who are affiliated with the US Intelligence Community, it does not seem as though any are seeking assignment in Russia or to new immigrant parishes.  They may be really good actors, but converts – especially converts to ROCOR – seem to be pretty genuine in their dedication to Christ’s Church (and, at least among ROCOR converts, often to Russia herself – or at least the golden dream of her).  We will continue to investigate this important issue.


News from the Real World (and the blogosphere)

Paranormal News

  • This is a bit old, but I had to cover it: “Witches threaten Romanian taxman after new labour law“.  Witches, astrologers, fortune tellers, embalmers, car valets, and driving instructors are listed as “self-employed” in the new British labor laws and thus subject to taxation.  Now some of the witches are responding with curses.  Others, however, appreciate the legitimacy that recognition grants; “it means our magic gifts are recognized and I can open my own practice” one witch said.  I reckon the pain of taxation beats the way British regimes of the bygone days dealt with witchcraft!
  • I wonder what else was in the shed?! “NJ police: Man seeking ‘portal to hell’ stabbed 2“.  A brave, quick thinking neighbor suffered stab wounds as he rescued the women.  I have not heard yet whether it was Dungeons and Dragons, video games, or talk radio that “made him do it”.
  • Apaper describing “strong evidence for extrasensory perception” is set to be published this year in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  The paper made it through the usual process of peer review, but many researchers are upset that the results used conventional measures of statistical significance as proof of ESP.  Because they know that there is no truth to paranormal research, they use its acceptance as proof that standards are too low.  While I don’t like the idea of people moving the goalposts when the opposing team gets to close to scoring, they do have a point: too much research (and here I include mainstream political science, my old discipline) gets published that describes an effect that is ephimeral at best.
  • From the paranormal “self promotion” department: I was the guest on Paul and Ben Eno’s show “Behind the Paranormal” on Monday, 1/24.  They brought me back on because I had addressed the possibility of demons repenting and being saved.  A woman wrote in to say that a demon has been working against her daughter (to include possessing her) for two years, and that it tried to use her prayers about whether she should pray FOR the demon against her.  I was happy because it gave me a chance to clarify something that may not have been clear: we are NOT taught to interact with demons.  The whole spiritual life is designed to limit their influence on us.  This freedom comes by working to become immune to temptation.  Demons are the best of con-men, and we are their marks.  Engaging with them is senseless because it invites them into our lives.  Even if they can, theoretically, be saved (and I hope they can) it is the rare person who has the calling to work with them on this.  Our best witness to them as to all evil is to stay good ourselves. I thank Paul and Bed (and the good folks at WOON 1240 / ON Worldwide) for letting me back on.  I enjoyed it so much that I am going to talk to the owner about the possibility of having my own show.  What do you think?  My wife thinks her husband has enough on his plate, thank you very much (and it is always smart to listen to your Pani!).
  • The November/December 2010 edition of Touchstone Magazine had an article, “Dead and Back Again; How Accounts of ‘Near-Death Experiences’ Have Challenged My Faith” by Marilyn Preverthat deals with some interesting issues.  She begins by summarizing the modal NDE: soul released, see the room, tunnel, light, light guide, deep peace and understanding, etc.  Then she brings up the “two kinds of worry” these create for her: she worries that they might be true, and she worries that they might not be true.  
    • Are they true?  Neuropathologists are mixed: they point out the kinds of events that can create these kinds of experiences, but wonder how any such thing can take place when there is no visible brain activity (this one isn’t hard for skeptics to deal with, IMO: once you come out, your mind populates your “memories”.  This is common in other areas of brain activity such as dreams and eye-witness accounts).  She is right on when she dismisses the debunkers who point to our ability to generate such experiences “artificially” – this offers no more leverage against NDE’s than does pornography and masturbation against the sanctifying union of flesh in marriage.  I am a skeptic – I think most numinous encounters are “false positives” based on mechanical prelest (ala Graziano) and imagination (ala Archbishop Lazar Puhalo).  Just because we believe in the “power of love” and the ontology of the spiritual, doesn’t mean we need to accept everything that spiritualists say or reject everything that the materialists say.   While private revelations are ALWAYS suspect, there is enough evidence (and we should have enough humility) to admit that there may occasionally be something real going on.  
    • So what does that say about our faith?  Marylin rightly says that if all (or even a certain subset) of these are true, then our religion is wrong and the pan-ecuminicists and thereputic deists are right: God loves you just the way you are and favors no particular religion over any other.  How do we deal with this?  Once again, it comes down to the fallibility of any private revelation, even when their are lots of them.  Tradition is more than the modal account of spiritual life: all accounts – even the ones offered by saints – must be rejected, accepted, or re-interepreted in the light of the revealed Truth of Orthodoxy.  People (even saints) may be convinced that their experiences were real (this is the whole point of Graziano’s analysis!), but they could still be completely mistaken.  As Marilyn finishes her article (Corinithians 2:9) “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the hearts of men, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
Science News:
  • “Mindfullness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density” by James Carmody et al. published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.  We told you to expect more of this sort of thing as scientists describe more and more about the process and result of spiritual activity.  [As an aside: when I taught undergrad social statistics and methodology, you could set the teacher’s monitor up so that it could make sure that students were keeping up with the in-class exercise on their own computers (kind of the modern way to make sure that students are paying attention).  Perhaps brain imagine will become so cheap and easy that the priest (who in Orthodoxy cannot look to see if folks are engaged or not) could have a monitor on his HUD that showed how much numenosity each parishioner was experiencing at various points in the service.]  I thought this was interesting because it went beyond simple description to the kind of data that would lead even materialists toward prescription: mindfullness (which can easily be corrected into nepsis) has measurable benefits.  We knew this – and have practiced it for centuries without the need for neuroimaging.  Now we need to make sure that the Orthodoxy – and not just the various spiritualist religions and movements – offers safe and traditional forms of such ascetic training.  The problem is, you can tell people this, but one visit to an Orthodox parish will show them that it is rarely practiced.  I speak surely only of myself, of course; but if inquirers came to your parish, would they see people seeking enlightenment through ascetic discipline?  We must be able to show them how the other things we do – and especially the things that look “ethnic” fit into this pursuit.  Of course they can and historically have – but do they now?  Or has the cart been separated from the horse?  If so, it is time to hitch it back up.  And not just to attract inquirers!
  • We’ve talked about oxytocin before; Nicholas Wade of the New York Times a little bit more information on it in his article “Depth of the Kindness Hormone Appears to Know Some Bounds”.  Let me quote from his introduction; “Oxytocin has been described as the hormone of love.  This tiny chemical, released from the hpothalamus region of the brain, gives rat mothers the urge to nurse their pups, keeps male prairie voles monogamous and, even more remarkable, makes people trust each other more.  Yes, you knew there had to be a catch.  As oxytocin comes into sharper focus, its social radius of action turns out to have definite limits.  The love and trust it promots are not toward the world in general, just toward a person’t in-gourp.  Oxytocin turns out to the the hormone of the clan, not of universal brotherhood.  Psychologists trying to specify its role have now concluded it is the agent of ethocentrism.”  The finding is still preliminary, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it is correct: so many psychological and sociological mechanisms are tainted by the effect of the fall.  Under ideal (Edenic) situations, they encourage our sanctification, but in this world their effect is ambivalent.  As for the effects of oxytocin, the fact that the temptation of ethocentrism grows in correlation with our love of neighbor just underscores the importance of Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan (“but who is my neighbor?”) and His command that we “love our enemies”.
  • It is often quipped when men are found guilty of having perpetrated heinous crimes, that the act alone is proof of their insanity: that, all things being equal, no rational and “sane” person chooses to do terrible things.  And when even a good person gives into the temptation of circumstance, or is forced to do terrible things, or even does something terrible by accident – it does damage to their soul.  This is the basis of Orthodox Psychotherapy: sin does damage to the human person and to his society.  What does it mean when modern medicine and psychiatry ignores this truth?  What happens when it normalizes terrible things?  Here is a difficult example; “Study: No higher mental health risk after abortion“.  What would you say about a society that creates people that do not suffer after making the “difficult decision” to abort a child?  The study is not really as general as the news hyped it to be: the measure of “mental health risk” is how many people sought counseling after an abortion.  It is even more remarkable how this finding is being compared IN THE SAME ARTICLE (NPR did this too) to the high levels of mental health problems found after the birth of live babies.  The implication?  Having babies is worse for you than aborting them.  If this is accurate, then our society is in deep, deep, trouble.  Too many of our people are much more interested in dong what is easy than what is right.
Cultural News:
  • Then we have this wonderful title from the New York Times; “The Happy Marriage is the ‘Me’ Marriage“.  The article itself isn’t as bad as the title suggests: it notes that healthy marriages are ones in which each of the partner grows into a better person.  We believe this, noting that this happens when each of the couple submits themselves to one another, the health of their relationship, and to God.  Marriage is a Sacrament because it is created for the sanctification and betterment of its participants.  But the article does not admit to the wonderful juxtaposition of selflessness and “self-expansion” (their term).  Here is how the author summarizes things; “The notion that the best marriages are those that bring satisfaction to the individual may seem counter-intuitive.  After all, isn’t marriage supposed to be about putting the relationship first?  Not anymore.  For centuries, marriage was viewed as an economic and social institution, and the emotional and intellectual needs of the spouses were secondary to the survival of the marriage itself.  But in modern relationships, people are looking for a partnership, and they want partners who make their lives more interesting.”  Wow.  So instead of “both – and” we get “either – or”.  I’m afraid that Christians are going to have to start using a different word when we talk about marriage.  There’s no other way to keep my head from blowing up.  It makes me wonder why people get “married” at all anymore, given how little it really means.
  • Which brings us to another article that shows how big the problem is; Nicole Hardy’s “Single, Female, Mormon, Alone.”  This is a well-written and engaging story about a woman who never gets married – despite tremendous religious and social pressures to do so – because she just doesn’t need a man.  It ends with her accepting this situation (no problem there – not everyone is called to marriage!) and, having already bought toys from a sex shop, visiting the gentle people at Planned Parenthood so that she could finally “have an IUD instead of children; … intellectual and spiritual freedom;… write poems and finally live inside [her] body; … for the love of God, feel a man’s hands on [her] before [she died].”  Is this what we do to the women in our Church?  Do we give them a loving and viable alternative to marriage?  Is celibacy the equivalent of stunting someone’s development?  A punishment imposed on successful women in a world of functionally ineligible bachelors?  After reading this, I was happy to see that not everything is tragedy and loneliness for unmarried and successful Orthodox women, not just in the witness of dear friends, but also spelled out for everyone at Demetra’s blog; The Quiet Revolution.  Check it out and let her joy, wonder, and gratitude renew you.
Crunchy (weight gain/loss) News
  •  The news had two culprits behind our weight epidemic.  The first is one we have discussed before (60 Minutes show): poor sleep habits.  Here is what researchers found; “Among the children who got the recommended amount of sleep (9.5-10 hours), the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular problems was nil… but as the amount of sleep became less organized, the risk for obesity increased… Kids who had the shortest and more disorganized sleep schedule had more than a fourfold increase in the risk of being obese… [they] also had increased risk for cardiovascular problems and pre-diabetes.”  They suggest that the effects can be ameliorated with extra sleep on the weekends, but why not just put them to bed on time?  Mothers and fathers need to stop being so selfish and become parents to their children.
  • The second culprit is less convincing, but fits in nicely with the “crunchy” theme: “Central Heating May Be Making Us Fat“.  You see, being cold burns calories; ideally you find that sweet spot (around 60 degrees in light clothing) where you are cool but not shivering.  This burns about 100-200 extra calories a day.  That’s about a pound a month!  If we won’t turn down our heat to “save the planet”, maybe we’ll do it to lose weight!
  • Of course if we’re not willing to lose weight because it will improve our quality of life, our longevity, and make us better stewards of creation… maybe we’ll do it if the government pays us!  When the government gets involved in health care, this kind of thing begins to make sense: a pound of prevention beats a ton of cure.  One program in the UK paid people about $700 if they hit their weight loss target and maintained it for up to 24 months (sic).  I reckon we’ll eventually end up taxing extra weight by the pound the way the Russian Tsar, Peter the First taxed beards by the inch!
Church and Religious News
  • The Russian Orthodox Church is often the subject of our criticism (as are the various Orthodox Churches in Ukraine and throughout the world, BTW).  Often this is done tongue in cheek, as for instance, when we note that Russian Foreign Minister promises to work closely with the Russian Orthodox Church in the “strengthening of Russia’s position and authority on the international scene” (something that evokes bad memories in the mind of this retired “Cold Warrior”).  Sometimes it is more serious, as when its leaders defend an imperialist ideology with beautiful theology (see anything Patriarch Kirill says about Ukraine and the “Russian World”).  But there are three things coming out of Russia that shed a lot of light.
    • The western world needs the Orthodox witness, and while some Orthodox Churches are, either by circumstance or choice, unwilling to provide this; both Constantinople and Moscow are willing to step up and speak the truth.  Whereas Constantinople does it from a position of moral authority (and little else, at least in the world’s eyes), Moscow augments this with power and strength (which, alas, often reinforces stereotypes).  One of the voices of Moscow (head of the Information and Publishing Directorate of the Synodal Youth Department Hieromonk Dimitry) “believes Russia has all opportunities to become a leader in the epoch of globalization…Russia has something to say in the epoch of globalization. We can conduct globalization on our conditions as in fact globalization is a market of ideas, a market of values and we have something to offer.”  It is also great to see Moscow working with other witnesses for tradition – like the Vatican – on this.  
    • While the Moscow Patriarchate is working with the Foreign Ministry and the Vatican to help save western civilization from the challenges of secularism and militant Islam, it is also working to protect the people of Russia from the terrible effects of hedonism.  In a spat that got more than the usual liberal demonization into outright misrepresentation and lies, another of Moscow’s spokesmen called for a national discussion on modesty – and perhaps even a sort of “no shirts, no shoes, no babushka, no service” dress code.  Let me share my friend Professor Nikolai Petro’s critique of the western coverage of this exchange.
    • Lastly, a representative of the Moscow Patriarchate demonstrates objectivity and humility in dealing with the history and future of Orthodoxy in Russia.  Rather than romanticizing the past and perpetuating the myth of a perfect “Golden Russia”, one of Moscow’s leaders exposes the difficult truth: the faith of Russians has been and currently is superficial.  For over a hundred years, atheism has come all too easy for them.  His warnings – derived from his historical analysis – are worth quoting (and taking to heart – and emulating); 
      • “At the present time our Church is struggling to find its new identity in post-Communist and post-atheist Russia. There are, it seems to me, two main dangers. The first is that of a return to the pre-revolutionary situation,when there was a State Church which became less and less the Church of the nation. If, at some stage in the development of society, such a role would be offered to the Church by the State, it would be a huge mistake to accept it. In this case the Church will be again rejected by the majority of the nation, as it was rejected in 1917. The seventy years of Soviet persecution were an experience of fiery purgatory for the Russian Church, from which it should have come out entirely renewed. The most dangerous error would be not to learn from what happened and to return to the pre-revolutionary situation, as some members of the clergy wish to do nowadays.  
      • The second danger is that. of militant Orthodoxy, which would be a post-atheist counterpart of militant atheism. I mean an Orthodoxy that fights against Jews, against masons, against democracy, against Western culture, against enlightenment. This type of Orthodoxy is being preached even by some key members of the hierarchy, and it has many supporters within the Church. This kind of Orthodoxy, especially if it gains the support of the State, may force Russian atheism to withdraw temporarily to the catacombs. But Russian atheism, will not be vanquished until the transfiguration of the soul and the need to live according to the Gospel have become the only message of the Russian Orthodox Church.
  • And in the last piece of news, this past Saturday we marked the 25th anniversary of His Eminence Archbishop Antony’s episcopacy.  He has led his diocese through an incredible period of time, and I am personally grateful for his courage, his love, and his support.  If it were not for him, I do not see how I could have become a priest for the UOC-USA (nor is it easy to imagine how I would have been ordained at all!).  First, he had the courage to help guide an isolated Church into mainstream Orthodoxy.  It isn’t easy for cradle-born, ethnic Ukrainian Orthodox to understand (much less appreciate or sympathize – so please forgive me if I am too bold and ask too much from our mutual love for one another), but most converts are wary of joining groups that are not considered canonical – we converted into Orthodoxy and if we wanted excuses and explanations apologizing for a group’s lack of acceptance by most of the Orthodox world, we would have accepted similar excuses and explanations from the Protestant groups so many of us left.  As a historian, I was willing to accept and defend the canonicity of the post-WWII UOC-USA, but putting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (at least in the diaspora) back under Constantinople removed all doubt.  In addition to providing an inviting home for converts to Orthodoxy, this subordination allows our archdiocese to better support our people and the Church’s greater mission, to include the unification and normalization of Orthodoxy in both Ukraine and the USA.  Second, at a time when there must have been great temptation to focus the UOC-USA’s energy on defending and shoring up its atrophying base he gave a priest and his Pani Matka, a team with the charisma and talent that could have turned around the decline of even the most moribund cathedral, the blessing to start a mission from absolute scratch (St. Nicholas, where I was mentored and ordained).  Third, he pastored, mentored, and supported an enthusiastic convert with no Ukrainian roots to pursue a vocation in service of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church he loves so much.  That convert quickly joined him in that love and, eventually received ordination to both the deaconate and priesthood at his hand.  You cannot imagine the appreciation, admiration, and love that I have for him, his ministry, and the people he serves.  Many Years, Master!
Vol’ya Moment


  1. Hi Father! I read the article you mention about the Mormon girl. There is an abnormal(or 'normal' to Post-Modernism) level of emphasis on the carnal approach to sexuality, and it has an overall tone of despair.

    Also, the dialogue she had with a man who told her that her problem is she doesn't need a man because she can provide her own material needs of life is a clear illustration of the carnal view that man is just another animal. According to Christ, a man's role in the blessed state of marriage is to be like Christ, to LOVE his wife as Christ loved the Church. I suppose that the providing of material goods is on small part of the results of this love among other deeper and salvific things… It is so ridiculous to exclude women from marriage because they don't 'need' a man for their physical well-being. My question is, what about spiritual well-being? As God said, it is not good for man to be alone, and that includes woman too. Our salvation comes through our living within a community blessed by God, most commonly one of marriage or one of monasticism. The ones who live celibate in the world are the exceptions, and even they have to find opportunities to live in and continually serve in community on a regular basis, but in a very self-sacrificing way, which is a great challenge. NOT living and serving within a community makes us self-centered and desirous to fulfill our physical desires, which is seen clearly in this woman's life. Further, it makes one want the 'easy' way of life without the responsibilities–as the woman makes clear in the article that she never wants children, yet wants to feel a man's touch before dying. At the end of the article, I felt very negative, but thankful that truly, life does not have to be this way. Thanks for posting the link to my blog post, I hope that it gives people more encouragement!

  2. Well said, Dr. D!
    It really is a depressing article because it shows how good people are settling for something so carnal and finite. The point about children brings up another dimension to this: even folks who “marry” decide not to have children, usually for pretty selfish reasons. I don't know what it takes to get people to look up and see the many blessings that pride and this culture are leading them to forsake.
    Fr. Anthony