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Archive for November, 2005

None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See

From the UK Times this article: Fifty babies a year are alive after abortion.

A GOVERNMENT agency is launching an inquiry into doctors’ reports that up to 50 babies a year are born alive after botched National Health Service abortions.

The investigation, by the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health (CEMACH), comes amid growing unease among clinicians over a legal ambiguity that could see them being charged with infanticide.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which regulates methods of abortion, has also mounted its own investigation.

Its guidelines say that babies aborted after more than 21 weeks and six days of gestation should have their hearts stopped by an injection of potassium chloride before being delivered. In practice, few doctors are willing or able to perform the delicate procedure.

For the abortion of younger foetuses, labour is induced by drugs in the expectation that the infant will not survive the birth process. Guidelines say that doctors should ensure that the drugs they use prevent such babies being alive at birth.

In practice, according to Stuart Campbell, former professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at St George’s hospital, London, a number do survive.

“They can be born breathing and crying at 19 weeks’ gestation,” he said. “I am not anti-abortion, but as far as I am concerned this is sub-standard medicine.”

There’s a crease in the conscience there. Maybe the light of truth will one day shine through it.

The number of terminations carried out in the 18th week of pregnancy or later has risen from 5,166 in 1994 to 7,432 last year. Prenatal diagnosis for conditions such as Down’s syndrome is increasing and foetuses with the condition are routinely aborted, even though many might be capable of leading fulfilling lives. In the past decade, doctors’ skill in saving the lives of premature babies has improved radically: at least 70%-80% of babies in their 23rd or 24th week of gestation now survive long-term.

Did I really read that part in bold print? Do they not see the inherent contradictions?

Abortion on demand is allowed in Britain up to 24 weeks — more than halfway through a normal pregnancy and the highest legal limit for such terminations in Europe. France and Germany permit “social” abortions only up to the 10th and 12th weeks respectively.

Doctors are increasingly uneasy about aborting babies who could be born alive. “If viability is the basis on which they set the 24-week limit for abortion, then the simplest answer is to change the law and reduce the upper limit to 18 weeks,” said Campbell, who last year published a book showing images of foetuses’ facial expressions and “walking” movements taken with a form of 3-D ultrasound.

The Department of Health was alerted three months ago to the issue of babies surviving failed terminations. In August clinicians in Manchester published an analysis of 31 such babies born in northwest England between 1996 and 2001.

“If a baby is born alive following a failed abortion and then dies (because of lack of care), you could potentially be charged with murder,” said Shantala Vadeyar, a consultant obstetrician at South Manchester University Hospitals NHS Trust, who led the study.

A systematic investigation of data collected through the CEMACH indicated that there are at least 50 cases a year nationwide in which babies survive abortion attempts.

“First sight of our data suggests this is happening,” said Shona Golightly, the agency’s research director. She said official confirmation of the figures would be available next year.

It is not known how many babies who survive attempted abortions go on to live into adulthood.

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For Proverbs 31 See My Wife

[Note: I clearly created a misunderstanding. Anna is not pregnant again. I've re-written the post. Geez. Can I screw up or what?!]

My wife. God love her. What an amazing woman. Get ready to hate her.

She’s a mom . . . of two; with stair steps less than two years apart. She keeps our house running: shops at the grocery store and Target; researches most purchases online before buying a product (especially bigger ticket items); runs Sofie to storytime at the library, Gymboree and French classes (and procures the scholarships for these activities without which we couldn’t do them), as well as to play group and the Church’s mom’s meetings and outings; pays–er, I mean, juggles and pays–the bills; does laundry and the dishes; and bakes.

That’s not the whole list, of course, but you get the picture. Don’t hate her yet? How ’bout this?

Our Christmas shopping is nearly done, and nearly all the cards are addressed and stamped and waiting for messages and signatures.

Yep, she’s a wonder woman.

I’m in awe.

And love.

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[Note: I have, since 2002, read Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim's biography each year. Beginning sometime in the autumn, in September or October, I read a chapter or two most everyday. In 2002, my first exposure to Fr. Seraphim was through the first edition of his biography, authored by Hieromonk Damascene Christenson, Not of This World. In 2003, shortly after the release of the new edition of the biography and again in 2004, I have read Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works. Having read both, there is a clear difference between the two. Many of the controversial parts, involving largely the words, recollections and later behavior of Fr. Seraphim's monastic brother, Abbot Herman, have been excised in the new biography to be replaced by much fuller and richer accounts of Fr. Seraphim's own word and works. This year, however, I decided to go back and re-read the original edition of the biography. Rather than write a review of it myself, I decided to allow Fr. Seraphim's spiritual son Hieromonk Ambrose (Fr. Alexey) Young's words to measure the first edition of the biography, Not of This World.]

Hieromonk Ambrose (Alexey) Young’s review of Not of This World.

Without doubt, the late Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) was a most remarkable American convert. He was a contributing editor for Orthodox America and editor of The Orthodox Word; he was also the author of many books, and the translator and/or editor of many other works, in both English and Russian. In addition, he wrote scores of articles on a wide variety of church subjects, and composed services to four saints. His death in 1982, at the early age of forty-eight, brought this prolific career to an abrupt close. Those who were privileged to know Fr. Seraphim personally, as this writer did for more than twelve years, also saw something of Fr. Seraphim “the man”: the spiritual director, the monk, and-in his last few years-the priest and confessor. His brilliant and even splendid intellect was combined with a rare soul and a peaceful outward personality that was self-effacing, quiet, still-a personality that, frankly, loathed controversy and conflict. Especially would he have disliked the controversy generated by his biography.

Many of us-his spiritual children and his readers-had long wished for a biography of Fr. Seraphim. Some, assuming that such a work would be only a straightforward account of his remarkable life and thought, were asked to share our personal memories for such a study. Last summer [1993--cdh], Not of This World: The Life and Teachings of Fr. Seraphim Rose, was published. And, indeed, the biographer, Fr. Damascene (Christensen) has managed to integrate a massive amount of material. He narrates Fr. Seraphim’s life skillfully, and we learn many things about Fr. Seraphim-especially his pre-Orthodox life-that we did not know before. This, in spite of the fact that Fr. Damascene himself hardly knew Fr. Seraphim, and was only baptized at the time of Fr. Seraphim’s death. The book is also filled with photographs that help to make the man and his times come to life. Not of This World is, however, both a treasure and a disappointment, a joy and a sadness, an inspiration and a scandal. The purpose of this review is to examine these contradictions.
(more…)

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The Simple Joys Parenthood Offers on Days Off

For probably another ten or fifteen years the singular joy of sleeping in on days off, vacations and holidays is gone. ‘Course Anna insists that if I get up at 4:30 or 5:00 on weekday/workday mornings and 6:00 or 6:30 on days off/vacation/holiday mornings then technically I have slept in.

I beg to differ. (And in any case, this is from the one who does sleep in till nine or ten when I’m home in the mornings! Oh well, she’s a tired momma and needs the rest.)

So, a daddy learns that sanity requires taking pleasure in other things that being home in the morning affords.

Here, then, is my greatest days-off indulgence: Staying in my jammies till noon and sippin’ coffee all morning.

(So, um, if you come by our house unannounced on such a morning, you’ve been forewarned.)

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Breakfast Time is Daddy-Daughters Time!

I’ve always loved breakfast. To the best of my knowledge, as a kid I never missed one. At our home, breakfast was good stuff. None of that sugary, chocolate-covered, rainbow-flavored crap. We’re talkin’ real, honest to goodness breakfast, just like God ordained in creation. Mom or Dad, depending upon Dad’s shift schedule, would make us the day’s menu: Oatmeal–often with raisins and cinamon; eggs (sometimes scrambled with cheddar cheese) and bacon; pancakes; Malt-O-Meal; cracked wheat–man, it just don’t get better’n that. Yes, we also had boxed cereal, but once again, this was the good stuff: Wheaties, cornflakes, Grape-Nuts . . . you get the picture.

Then there was the whole cereal-box-reading ritual of breakfast. My sisters and I, when we ate boxed cereal, would each have our own boxes, usually, but not always, the box out of which our respective cereals had come. Occasionally, we were a box or two short, so the box(es) would have to be passed around the table. Sometimes minor disputes arose over who got to read what box, or read what box first. But given the o-dark-early nature of these repasts, there was not a lot of energy devoted to such conflicts.

Well, now I’m a daddy. And I must confess, I love making breakfast for my daughters. Yes, that’s daughters, plural. Delaina has reached the rice-cereal milestone. So, what’s on the menu? What do you think? Oatmeal and raisins for Sofie and me. Gerber rice cereal for Delaina.

There’s no box reading yet, but occasionally I will read the Scriptures for the day. We always pray before the meals: O Lord Jesus Christ, bless the food and drink of Thy servants, for Thou art holy, now and ever and unto ages of ages. It’s a short prayer, and Sofie now reminds us to hold hands and say “Our Father” (which is her term for praying, even when we don’t pray the “Our Father” specifically). In fact, one morning I had prepared Sofie’s breakfast, we prayed and then I busied myself fixing my lunch, and then my own breakfast. When I sat down, Sofie reached out her hand for me to hold it and said, “Daddy? Our Father?” So we prayed again.

Delaina, for her part prays by simply smiling and cooing.

I still love breakfast time.

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Over on the Grace-Centered Message boards I frequently visit, there’s been a thread initiated by some anti-fundamentalists over age of earth issues, specifically a critique of young earth creationism. It’s been very entertaining to watch the two main protagonists (or antagonists as the case may be) swagger through the posts on the thread with what I consider to be a bad case of o’erweening braggadocio.

The person who initiated the thread is very much in line with the definition of an internet troll. Try as I might I just could not resist feeding the trolls. Thus the thread has grown to an astronomical nearly 300 replies (at the time of this post here on my own blog). That’s what happens when you feed trolls.

Part of my inability to resist that troll-feeding urge is the thread initiator’s dogged and blinkered unwillingness to admit that his argument is fallacious. Here is his argument, which he calls the “Goliath of GRAS”:

Major premise:

If God’s word (the text) says
everything began over a period
of six days, is interpreted by some to mean it was six 24-hour days occurring a few thousand years ago, and there is empirical evidence that things are actually much older than
a few thousand years, then the
interpretation of the text by some is wrong.

Minor premise:

God’s word (the text) says everything began over a period of six days, is interpreted by some to mean it was six 24-hour days occurring a few thousand years ago, and there is
empirical evidence that things are actually much older than a few thousand years.

Conclusion:

The interpretation of the text by some is wrong.

He then goes on to claim:

Before trying to criticize the logic of the above, I would just first have you note that the logical construction of the argument has been rather thoroughly vetted. The argument has survived all attempts to destroy its validity.

Perhaps. That is, until now.

I have written to him my demonstration of the fallacious equivocation of his argument:

P1: Whether or not the earth was created in six 24-hour days is irrelevant to the age of the earth; or, cosmological origins of the universe are not necessarily essentially connected to questions about the age of the universe.
P2: Your argument (Goliath of GRAS) explicitly utilizes terms and concepts in your premises that have no necessary connection to age of the earth positions (specifically in your argument, young earth): namely, six-24-hour-day creation.
P3: Your premises establish equivocation into your argument by juxtaposing a specific creationist account (six-24-hour-day creation) of cosmological origins with a specific position on the age of the earth (young earth).
P4: Your conclusion further establishes this equivocation, for it is not clear what is wrong about the interpretation you are criticizing; is it the six-24-hour-day creation or the young age of the earth, or both?
C: Therefore, I have conclusively demonstrated once and for all that your argument as it stands is an invalid argument in that it suffers the fallacy of equivocation. Since your argument is invalid the truth of your conclusion cannot be guaranteed.

Part of the, perhaps untoward, pleasure I derive from such encounters is the pulling back of the curtain on self-proclaimed great and mighty Oz’s.

Update: I’m a sadist

The chest thumping by the argument intiator and his confederate continues apace, so I made my critique a little more direct and clear:

As part of the cleaning up process from my devastation of the Goliath argument, let me clarify those things regarding logic that the argument initiator and his confederate seem not to grasp.

First, I have demonstrated that the so-called Goliath commits the fallacy of equivocation. A fallacy of equivocation occurs when a word or phrase is used bivalently, that is to say, with two different meanings in the argument.

That equivocal word in the argument is the word “interpreted” (from the P1 and P2) and “interpretation” (from the P1 and the Conclusion). Specifically, what is equivocal about it is that its contents mean one thing in the premises and another in the conclusion.

Let’s look at the premises again and replace some terms with “x”, “y” and “z” to demonstrate to everyone what I mean.

P1: If God’s word (the text) says X, is interpreted by some to mean it was Y [and] Z, and there is empirical evidence that things are actually non-Z, then the interpretation of the text by some is wrong.

“x” = “everything began over a period of six days”
“y” = “six 24-hour days”
“z” = “occurring a few thousand years ago”
“non-z”= “much older than a few thousand years”

Please note that I have inserted an “[and]” into this premise. Why? Because the specifics of the origins of the earth, or cosmos (six-24-hour-day creation) are irrelevant to questions of the age of the earth. And, in fact, both the argument initiator and his confederate agree that cosmological origins are irrelevant to this discussion.

The argument initiator insists on inserting this irrelevant fact into his premises for reasons that I can perhaps guess at but which, nonetheless, remain unclear.

What is clear is that he has not–and I happen to think, cannot–justify the joining of both those terms in a single term (“interpretation”) while only disproving one aspect of the term (i.e., young earth age).

The same weaknesses occur in the second premise.

P2: God’s word (the text) says X, is interpreted by some to mean it was Y [and] Z, and there is empirical evidence that things are actually non-Z.

“x” = “everything began over a period of six days”
“y” = “six 24-hour days”
“z” = “occurring a few thousand years ago”
“non-z”= “much older than a few thousand years”

So, by the time argument initiator comes to his conclusion, he effectively sweeps up Y into his conclusion along with Z.

C: The interpretation of the text by some is wrong.

But notice, the only thing that argument initiator claims to have proven wrong in his argument is Z: the earth is only a few thousand years old.

So his conclusion banks on an equivocal use of the term(s) “interpreted”/”interpretation” to effectively claim the disproving of two aspects of an interpretation, one having to do with cosmological origins, the other having to do with earth age. But, in fact, the argument initiator has not disproven the cosmological origin aspect of the interpretation he is working with, and therefore his conclusion is invalid.

It is for this reason that his entire argument is invalid and his conclusion cannot be guaranteed.

Goliath still remains on the ground with a big stone of Truth lodged between his beady little eyes.

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Orthodoxy and Closed Communion

In an article, Koinonia and Eucharistic Unity (pdf file; may require subscription to journal server), Peter C. Bouteneff makes some cogent points as to why Orthodox do not practice open communion.

The issue of eucharistic sharing continues to burn in the hearts of Christians who are yet disunited; as well it should. The Eucharist—as rite, as event—is both intensely corporate (ecclesial) and also deeply personal. It is a sign and builder of unity between Christians; at the same time, while a gift of God, it is an act of personal devotion in which the total self is given and the divine is received. The inability of all people who confess Jesus Christ as God and Savior to participate together from a common cup is something that is impossible to take lightly. The pain of division is felt in proportion to the extent to which one experiences a degree of unity among Christians, a unity despite differences at the level of both doctrine and practice which are often very serious. This something that unites us despite our divisions is what those who participate in the ecumenical movement have come to call koinonia. . . .

Orthodox and Protestants approach doctrine in different ways. To say that Protestantism, post-Schleiermacher, gives a profound importance to perception and feeling is a stereotype, but one with a grain of truth. In any event one would be well grounded in saying that Protestants emphasize scripture over doctrine, for doctrine, unlike scripture, is seen as a limited, human construct. This is not to suggest that Protestants do not hold strictly to their respective confessional documents. But there are fewer tenets which are put into the category of dogma, or nonnegotiable truth. One of the clear signs of this fact, to an Orthodox believer, is the quite wide theological diversity that exists within some of the Protestant families, about which I will have more to say below. Another indication is the fact that intra-Protestant church union and church fellowship agreements of recent decades have been enabled in some instances by a certain suspension of doctrine and practice, notably in the areas of ministry and succession. To Orthodox sensibilities, this shows that koinonia has triumphed over dogma.

Orthodox are less apprehensive of dogma. This is partly because scripture and dogma, or more broadly scripture and tradition, are seen as contiguous: scripture arises out of tradition and forms a part of it, and the totality of tradition is seen as not merely human but a living dialogue, taking place within the church, between human persons and the Holy Spirit. Orthodox have also been more inclined to subject perceptions and feelings to the mind (I also have more to say below about the Greek word nous), and especially to the “mind of the church,” as expressed through the scriptures and the rest of the church’s tradition.

It seems to me that somewhere within this dynamic lies a significant portion of the bewilderment, and even offense, which characterize our different approaches to eucharistic sharing. Many Protestants express their puzzlement at why the Orthodox do not just lay aside some of their proscriptive teachings on the basis of a koinonia that is plain for anyone to see. Similarly, Orthodox are perplexed at the apparent facility of Protestant eucharistic sharing, amazed to see some of the steps taken in order to achieve church agreements (e.g., as mentioned above, in issues of ministry and episcope). And it appears that little can help this mutual bewilderment, other than to name it for what it is, and continue trying to understand each other.

The koinonia we know (which is both real and imperfectly realized) and its reflection in the sacramental life of the churches come into sharp focus in the relationship between baptism and the Eucharist. This relationship is rich on many levels. The Orthodox see these two sacraments as inextricably linked; some even speak of the two (together with chrismation or anointing) as virtually one sacrament. When we baptize and anoint, whether a forty-day-old infant or a forty-year-old adult, the next immediate sacramental action is the Eucharist. Baptism and Eucharist are linked also in that the one is a prerequisite for the other: in order to receive the Eucharist in our church, one needs to be a baptized Orthodox Christian. The Eucharist is a sacrament of the baptized, a sacrament of those who have entered into the life in Christ and into the faith of the church through the ages. Moreover, it is the sacrament of those who have entered into a specific community of faith—by this is meant not only the community of the parish, but the community of the church with which that parish incarnates and identifies.

Given the connection between baptism and Eucharist, the question is quite justly raised, and is the subject of contemporary ecumenical study: if the churches recognize each other’s baptism—in other words, if we believe that we share a common baptism— why do we not share in the common eucharistic fellowship? What is different between baptism and Eucharist, other than the simple fact that the latter one is repeatable and the former is not, which justifies an apparently different perception and discipline? The answer to that question lies within the areas of recognition, ecclesiastical identity, and ecclesiastical unity.

First, one needs to explore the nature of the recognition of common baptism, for it would be entirely erroneous to say that we recognize a common baptism among all Christians. Here it must be acknowledged that within the Orthodox Church there is a certain variety of views on baptism performed outside its canonical boundaries.” There are Orthodox communities who, following a strict Cyprianic approach (adopted in the early third century and not retained with any consistency since then), rebaptize all who enter the Orthodox Church, no matter whence they have come. Yet the mainstream position, so far as it is testified, for example, by Orthodox service books (euchologia), follows rather the approach of St Basil’s late fourth century Canonical Epistle, which prescribes entry by baptism only for those, such as Manichaeans, Gnostics, or Marcionites, with a radically different conception of God.

But even this abstention from rebaptism does not indicate recognition of a common baptism. Yes, for most Orthodox churches, baptism performed with water and with the invocation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (thus named) is understood as an entry into life in Christ, whether performed at the hands of a Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox priest. Therefore converts from other churches (baptized as described above) are not rebaptized but, depending on the tradition from which they have come, are received with one or more of the following rites: an Orthodox confession of faith, a renunciation of previous error, the rite of anointing with chrism. What these rites of entry indicate is that baptism outside the Orthodox Church is indeed recognized as a real and effective entry, but—and this is significant—one which requires a completion. It is thus a partial recognition, based not only on the conviction that God does not turn away from the request made in all faith, but also on the impossibility of affirming with certitude that, through a baptism outside the Orthodox church, one has entered into precisely the same reality, not to speak of the same community of faith.

As is well known, we Orthodox identify our church with the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. We further hold that there is but one church of Christ, and that there is no division within this body, but only from it. And yet there are different extents of separation. As the dictum goes, we know where the Holy Spirit is, but we do not know where the Holy Spirit is not. So here again, while acknowledging a certain range of views from exclusivist to inclusivist, most contemporary Orthodox theologians who have considered the question from within the canonical Orthodox churches acknowledge sacramental reality outside the canonical boundaries of their church. This holds for both baptism and the Eucharist, and not by virtue of a simplistic notion of oikonomia.

If one looks closely, the understanding and pastoral practice surrounding baptism outside the Orthodox Church is thus in fact quite the same as for the Eucharist. In both cases there may (or may not) be a recognition of sacramental grace. But in neither case would one concelebrate the rite, for there is the crucial question of ecclesiastical identity involved: into which church, into which faith community is this a baptism? And while of course Christ is the ultimate minister of the Eucharist, who is its earthly minister? Moreover, in neither case would one consider the rites performed according to different confessions as interchangeable.

The Eucharist is bound together with ecclesiastical identity. Shared or concelebrated Eucharist would be indicative of a unity that in fact does not exist, testifying to a confused ecclesiastical identity. The same thing could be said about concelebrating baptism (could one call it “baptismal sharing”?). Such a rite would simply make no sense until we are visibly one church. If baptism signifies entry into the church through entry into a particular faith community, a joint baptism into churches which are yet divided would be a completely schizophrenic exercise.

Having thus set out the dogmatic, however imperfectly, I turn now to what I have referred to as the phenomenological. As convinced as one may or may not be by the Orthodox positions on the church and the sacraments, the question still follows: Are the differences in our faith and life not mere details? Are we not, finally, one in Christ? The walls of division surely do not reach heaven and do not touch eternity. Then why can we not, at least in special cases, set the strict teaching aside and receive together from one cup, at the eucharistic celebration, which, as the eschatological rite par excellence, is the very real foretaste of heaven and of eternity?

This question comes both from the mind and the heart, perhaps especially from the heart. It is important to state once again that an honest and sensible person of any confession asks this question with earnestness; no such person is immune to the pain stemming from the impossibility of partaking together in the eucharist. I recall how Alexander Schmemann, who was very close to my family, talked with us on his return from the enthronization ceremony of Pope John Paul I. There was an enormous celebration of the Eucharist, at which all the Roman Catholic clergy were communing, but from which he had to abstain. “I felt like the lowest worm,” he said. The question, the challenge of why we cannot share, comes out of a longing ultimately to share in the Eucharist.

When Protestants ask Orthodox why they do not share the eucharist, I often sense not only pain but a sense of outrage. The conviction seems to be that what is really at the root of Orthodox inability to share across the confessions is finally closed-mindedness, closed-heartedness, sectarianism, and triumphalism. That assumption, while understandable in the face of the insensitivity with which we Orthodox often present our views, is in itself very sad and painful to behold.

A related approach goes thus: “We invite you Orthodox to share in our Eucharist. Why can you not accept? And further, why can you not invite us too? Clearly this is not our problem but yours. We are open; you are closed. You exclude us.” Using the categories set out above, one can say that this approach represents a spurning of the dogmatic in favor of the phenomenological. It assumes that no teaching about the church, no understanding of the Eucharist, is important enough to justify forbidding us to share, on the basis of koinonia, if not human graciousness. At the same time, it also shows how very differently we understand what the Eucharist is in the first place. And it is on the level of the radical difference in what we mean by the whole concept of Eucharist and church that we need to approach this issue, rather than on the level of accusations of exclusiveness, elitism, or closed-mindedness. . . .

The Orthodox position on the Eucharist is such that intercommunion and eucharistic hospitality are completely foreign concepts: there is eucharistic communion where there is shared ecclesiastical identity; these are of a piece with each other. If we are in communion with a church, we are of the same church, for, as it is often said, Eucharist constitutes the sign, the crown, of an existing unity. . . .

So let us ask the question again: is the Eucharist a sign of unity or a builder of unity? There need not be any confusion on this matter: we ought simply to admit that it is both. True, the Orthodox, particularly in the context of inter- Christian relations, stress the character of the Eucharist as sign or mark of an existing or achieved unity. At the same time, it is undeniable that in partaking in the Eucharist within the Orthodox church, we also experience a building up of unity between us, as persons and as local communities. But there is only one appropriate context for this unitive function of the Eucharist, namely a clear, expressed bond of already-existing unity—that is, membership in the same church. An analogy can be drawn with a similarly intense, unifying phenomenon: sexual union. Sexual union is not only the sign of unity between persons, it also builds that union. But if we view this rightly, it is something whose unitive fruits we enjoy and are given properly to realize only from within a specific permanent covenantal relationship, namely, marriage. . . .

In some ways, “dogmatic” and “phenomenological” are just fancy words to designate the mind and the heart. Some may then think that what has been said can be summarized as “you either follow your mind, obeying the teachings of the church, or your follow your heart, and lay aside these teachings.” But this potential divorce between mind and heart is ultimately in itself a distortion, something artificial. The mind, after all, especially if we consider it in terms of the way the Greeks understood nous, is the self-transcending element of the human person; it is the seat not merely of the academic exercise but also of prayer, of intuition, of intercourse with God. If we listen to the church’s great teachers on the life of prayer we know that the mind and the heart are to work as a unity.

Furthermore, the teachings of the church are not true because they are dogmas. If we are persons who believe in the holy church—as we confess in our creeds—it is the reverse: they attain the status of dogma precisely because they are true. Seen this way, respect for the doctrine of the church is not the submission of the mind to an arbitrary authority, but a free obedience of the whole person to the church, which he or she confesses as holy and true.

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Colossians 2 and the Nativity Fast

A friend contacted me privately to ask me about these verses that are assigned from the lectionary today:

If then ye died with Christ from the elements of the world, why, as if living in the world, do ye subject yourselves to regulations–”Do not touch, neither taste, nor handle,” which things are all for corruption in the using–according to the injunctions and teachings of men, which things indeed are having a reputation of wisdom in self-devised worship, and humility of mind, and unsparing treatment of the body, not showing any honor for gratification of the flesh? If ye then were raised with the Christ, be seeking the things above, where the Christ is seated at the right of God. Be minding the things above, not the things on the earth. For ye died, and your life hath been hidden with the Christ in God. (Colossians 2:20-3:3)

Knowing, as he does, that the Nativity Fast begins today, he asked me how Orthodox reconcile these verses from Colossians with their fasting practices.

Given that Pentecost is a movable feast, and thus the enumeration of the weeks after Pentecost will vary each year when one reaches the Nativity Fast, it is surely serendipitous that these are the verses with which we begin the Fast this year.

My reply, slightly edited, was the following:

For Orthodox who coordinate their fixed feast/fast days with the civil calendar, today is, indeed, the beginning of the Nativity Fast. (Orthodox who follow the Church’s calendar for fixed feast/fast days will begin their Nativity Fast in about two weeks on the 28th.) You rightly note the items from which one is to abstain during this time–though as a matter of pastoral economy, the personal rule of each Orthodox will vary according to the direction and counsel of his or her spiritual father and of their own prayer and reflection. Generally the sick, elderly, pregnant or nursing mothers, or perhaps persons with other serious concerns (such as, perhaps, eating disorders) are generally gently encouraged not to maintain a strict fast, for health reasons, or in some cases they may positively be forbidden to fast. In such cases their spiritual father would doubtless have discerned that to adhere to a fast would harm their health or might even damage them spiritually. The practice of fasting is not a magical charm toward instant maturity in the faith.

But how does one reconcile the Orthodox fasting practices with this text in Colossians.

First of all, our Lord himself said, “When you fast . . .” not “if you fast . . .” implying quite distinctly that his followers would fast. And, indeed, we see this of the early Christians in Acts, when St. Paul and St. Barnabas were set aside for their ministry in 13:2-3; and when St. Paul and the Churches he had planted installed their presbyters in 14:23. St. Paul mentions that the foregoing of sexual intercourse in marriage is to be accompanied with prayer and fasting in 1 Corinthians 7:5, and he also references his own frequent fastings (2 Corinthians 6:5; 11:27), though in context, these are likely involuntary fastings (being without food due to persecution, hardship or circumstance). In fact, St. Paul mentions the rough treatment he gives his body so that he not be disqualified from the prize of salvation (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).

So, clearly, however we may want to handle Colossians 2, we need to do so in the context of these verses.

Thus, I would say, in short, that Colossians 2 does not forbid fasting, but the wrong sort of fasting. If we look again at the text, we see that the wrong sort of fasting is that which has a reputation for ethelothreskeia–that is, “self-willed worship.” And note, also, that it is according to the traditions of men and not that which has come down to the Church from Christ and his apostles. In other words, ethelothreskic fasting is the sort of fasting in which we focus on the self and on external appearances and reputation. Christ demanded that our fasting be in secret and not for a show, but ethelothreskic fasting is all about reputation, honor and appearance, the self-satisfaction that comes from self-mastery. It does not focus on the things above, on our life which is hid in Christ in God. True fasting, as we know from Isaiah, is to care for the widow and the orphan, and is done secretly.

Most of all, Christian fasting is not self-directed. It is received from the Church through her ministers. One does not settle on a fasting rule on one’s own, but always under the direction and authority of one’s priest or spiritual father, who, as a spokesman of the Church, binds and looses.

So, not all fasting is wrong or unhelpful for our growth in Christ. Only that which is self-directed and self-gratifying.

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Domesticating Men

According to an article in the Harvard Gazette, Marriage lowers testosterone:

A man’s testosterone levels drop significantly when he holds an infant. Even holding a baby doll can decrease levels of the male virility hormone.

Married men, whether fathers or not, have markedly lower testosterone levels than single males, according to one of the first studies of how the hormone changes when men marry and become fathers. Results of the study, done by a team of Harvard University anthropologists, increase our knowledge of human biology and may have implications for so-called “male menopause.”

Researchers have long suspected that levels of the hormone largely responsible for fighting, competing, and mating decrease when men settle down and start a family. Other studies have shown that testosterone begins to decline shortly after marriage, but surges upward when unions end in divorce.

“It makes sense,” notes Peter Ellison, professor of anthropology. “Lower levels of testosterone may increase the likelihood that men will stay home and care for their wives and kids, while decreasing the likelihood they will go out drinking with the guys and chase other women.” . . .

Go ahead, play that marriage “emasculates” men card. There. Feel better. If one thinks parenting is “women’s work” then let’s do a comparison between a “man’s day at the office” and a “woman’s day with the kids.” I can tell you this: I’ll take one of the twelve hours days of hard labor at my late grandfather’s farm than an eight-hour day chasing rug rats and saying “No” three hundred and forty-three times for the exact same request.

Furthermore, we are designed to be parents. It is the norm. It is most good and pleasing to be normal.

“These results suggest that testosterone levels involve a trade-off between mating and parenting efforts,” says Gray. “Single men invest only in mating, while fathers decrease their mating efforts in favor of parenting.” . . .

Not sure about this “mating vs. parenting” thing, but I do know that I have absolutely no time–and no energy whatsoever, let alone any inclination–to go “skirt chasing.”

So, does this decrease in testosterone become the equivalent of menopause?

If testosterone levels flatten out at age 60, does that mean males undergo a menopause? “No,” answers Ellison. “Male testosterone lessens with age but there’s no discrete end. No cliff that it falls off as when women use up their finite supply of eggs. For men in places like Boston, the testosterone drop is greater because the starting point is higher.”

One physician puts it this way: “Men don’t have menses to pause.”

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My absolute favorite living classicist, Victor Davis Hanson, has allowed National Review Online, for which he is a regular columnist, to excerpt chapter 10 from his recently published book, A War Like No Other, an examination of the Peloponnesian War and its effects. The excerpts are in five parts.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

It’s darn good stuff, folks. Go to it.

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