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Archive for November, 2008

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Nativity Fast

Each year brings a cycle of return. This is now my second Nativity Fast as an Orthodox Christian. There were five such fasts as I made my way toward the Orthodox Church. No two have been the same. Each, especially the last two, have carried significant sorrows as well as wonderful joys.

I think I’m coming to a point in which I wait for what God will bring, working to accept it all, with, as is appropriate for us in this time of year, thanksgiving.

A blessed Fast to all ya’ll.

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No Greater Love

For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. (1 John 3:20)

There is no sin that surpasseth the loving-kindness of God.
–St. Spyridon of Tremithus (Saint Spyridon of Tremithus: Life, Miracles, Liturgical Service, and Akathist Hymn [St John of Kronstadt Press 1997], p 21)

In three day’s time, on the Gregorian calendar, we will begin the Nativity Fast, a forty-day preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ. And as is typical of the Orthodox Church, we prepare to prepare. We begin to elminate or store away meat, egg and dairy products as we abstain from these during the fast (that is to say, those who can abstain, do, but not pregnant or nursing mothers, children and others whose health would be negatively affected by such abstentions). We clean our homes, eliminating or giving away items no longer needed, reducing the dust and dirt and clutter of our physical environment as we also reduce the dust and dirt and clutter of our hearts and minds. Already I’ve attacked some of the rooms in my apartment, and will need to get down to the storage area and also work on the girls’ bedroom/playroom.

The seasons of fasting in the Orthodox Church, as in other churches, are designed to lay bare before our own eyes all the darknesses of our hearts, all the sins of word and thought and deed that we commit, including the sins of omission (the failure to do the things we ought). In the Orthodox Church, however, this rigorous inventory is not meant for self-condemnation and hopelessness. It is meant, rather, for healing. Although juridical metaphors are not absent from the Orthodox Faith, the primary metaphor Orthodoxy uses for communicating the life we have and are to live in Christ is that of the hospital and physician. We are ill, desperately ill, and in mortal need of healing. And in God’s love and mercy, through our union in Christ, we are given that healing. We confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (i.e., of Confession), not in an attempt to feel as much guilt and shame and despair as we can–though we frequently do feel these things–but so that we can bring forth out of our hearts and souls all the infectious and diseased matters for cleansing and healing.

(more…)

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Election of OCA Metropolitan

According to the AFR website, Bishop Jonah has been elected Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America!

Axios!!

Many years!!

From the OCA website:

Bishop Jonah of Fort Worth Elected Metropolitan of All America and Canada

Posted 11/12

PITTSBURGH, PA [OCA Communications] — On Wednesday, November 12, 2008, His Grace, Bishop Jonah of Fort Worth was elected Archbishop of Washington and New York and Metropolitan of All America and Canada at the 15th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America.

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah was born James Paffhausen in Chicago, IL, and was baptized into the Episcopal Church. While still a child, his family later settled in La Jolla, CA, near San Diego. He was received into the Orthodox Church in 1978 at Our Lady of Kazan Moscow Patriarchal Church, San Diego, while a student at the University of California, San Diego. Later, he transferred to UC Santa Cruz, where he was instrumental in establishing an Orthodox Christian Fellowship.

After completing studies at UCSC, James attended St. Vladimir’s Seminary, graduating with a Master of Divinity degree in 1985 and a Master of Theology in Dogmatics in 1988.

He went on to pursue studies towards a Ph.D. at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, but interrupted those studies to spend a year in Russia.

In Moscow, working for Russkiy Palomnik at the Publishing Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, he was introduced to life in the Russian church, in particular monastic life. Later that year, he joined Valaam Monastery, having found a spiritual father in the monastery’s Abbot, Archimandrite Pankratiy. It was Archimandrite Pankratiy’s spiritual father, the Elder Kyrill at Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, who blessed James to become a priestmonk. He was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood in 1994 and in 1995 was tonsured to monastic rank at St. Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, PA, having received the name Jonah.

Returning to California, Fr. Jonah served a number of missions and was later given the obedience to establish a monastery under the patronage of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. The monastery, initially located in Point Reyes Station, CA, recently moved to Manton in Northern California, near Redding. During his time building up the monastic community, Fr. Jonah also worked to establish missions in Merced, Sonora, Chico, Eureka, Redding, Susanville, and other communities in California, as well as in Kona, HI.

In the spring of 2008, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America elevated Fr. Jonah to the rank of Archimandrite and he was given the obedience to leave the monastery and take on the responsibilities of auxiliary bishop and chancellor for the Diocese of the South.

Bishop Jonah’s episcopal election took place on September 4, 2008, at an extraordinary meeting of the Holy Synod of Bishops. Earlier in the summer, his candidacy was endorsed by the Diocese of the South’s Diocesan Council, shortly after Bishop Jonah had participated in the diocese’s annual assembly.

Bishop Jonah was consecrated Bishop of Forth Worth and Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of the South, at St. Seraphim Cathedral, Dallas, TX, on Saturday, November 1, 2008. Consecrating hierarchs included His Eminence, Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South, Locum tenens of the Metropolitan See; His Grace, Bishop Tikhon of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania; His Grace, Bishop Benjamin of San Francisco and the West; and His Grace, Bishop Alejo of Mexico City and the Exarchate of Mexico.

Metropolitan Jonah will be installed by the OCA’s Holy Synod of Bishops at St. Nicholas Cathedral, Washington, DC, on December 28, 2008.

May the Lord bless His Beatitude, Jonah, newly-elected Metropolitan of All America and Canada with many years of fruitful service in His Holy Vineyard.

Eis polla eti, Despota!

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Ancient Faith Radio is podcasting the 15th All American Council of the OCA. Click on the link to listen/download the podcasts.

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Eis polla eti, Despota!

Archimandrite Jonah elevated to Auxiliary Bishop:

On Saturday, November 1, 2008, Archimandrite Jonah (Paffhausen) was consecrated Bishop of Forth Worth and Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of the South, at St. Seraphim Cathedral, Dallas, TX. Consecrating hierarchs included His Eminence, Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South, Locum Tenens of the Metropolitan See; His Grace, Bishop Tikhon of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania; His Grace, Bishop Benjamin of San Francisco and the West; and His Grace, Bishop Alejo of Mexico City and the Exarchate of Mexico.

Bishop Jonah’s episcopal election took place on September 4, 2008, at an extraordinary meeting of the OCA Holy Synod of Bishops. Earlier in the summer, his candidacy was endorsed by the Diocese of the South’s Diocesan Council, shortly after Bishop Jonah had participated in the diocese’s annual assembly.

His Grace, Bishop Jonah was born James Paffhausen in 1959 in Chicago, IL, and was baptized into the Episcopal Church. His family later settled in La Jolla, CA, near San Diego. He was received into the Orthodox Church in 1978 at Our Lady of Kazan Moscow Patriarchal Church, San Diego, while a student at the University of California, San Diego. Later, he transferred to UC Santa Cruz, where he was instrumental in establishing an Orthodox Christian Fellowship. After completing studies at UCSC, James attended St. Vladimir’s Seminary, graduating with a Master of Divinity degree in 1985 and a Master of Theology in Dogmatics in 1988.

Later, he spent a year in Russia, where he was introduced to monastic life. While in Russia, he joined Valaam Monastery, having found a spiritual father in the monastery’s Abbot, Archimandrite Pankratiy. It was Archimandrite Pankratiy’s spiritual father, the Elder Kyrill at Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, who blessed James to become a priestmonk. He was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood in 1994 and in 1995 was tonsured to monastic rank at St. Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, PA, having received the name Jonah.

Returning to California, Fr. Jonah served a number of missions and was later given the obedience to establish a monastery under the patronage of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. The monastery, initially located in Point Reyes Station, CA, recently moved to Manton in Northern California, near Redding. During his time building up the monastic community, Fr. Jonah also worked to establish missions in Merced, Sonora, Chico, Eureka, Redding, Susanville, and other communities in California, as well as in Kona, HI.

This year, Fr. Jonah was elevated to the rank of Archimandrite and given the obedience to leave the monastery and take on the responsibility of Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of the South. In addition to his archpastoral duties, Bishop Jonah will also serve as the diocesan chancellor.

“A number of faithful have asked about specific changes in administration that will come about with the advent of Archimandrite Jonah,” Archbishop Dmitri wrote in an Archpastoral Message dated September 5, 2008. “Indeed, as both Auxiliary and Chancellor his duties will be quite varied, his schedule undoubtedly demanding. Archimandrite Jonah will work directly with me in helping to administer the Diocese of the South. He will in turn work closely with the chancery staff, deans, parish priests and faithful to facilitate our missionary efforts in the South.”

May the Lord grant the newly consecrated servant of God, His Grace, the Right Reverend Bishop Jonah of Fort Worth, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of the South, many years of fruitful archpastoral service in His Holy Vineyard, the Orthodox Church in America.

Photos from the consecration

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On the Priesthood of All Believers

I’d seen in my blog’s tracking stats, that a three-year-old post, Open Theism and the Essence-Energy Distinction, has been getting a bit of traffic recently, so I re-read it, and while doing so it occurred to me that definitional divine simplicity impacts the biblical doctrine of the priesthood of all believers creating a distortion that rejects the Church’s traditional understanding of that doctrine, and resulting, in some cases, in a radical egalitarianism which distorts the doctrine it seeks to preserve.

The general Protestant emphasis on the priesthood of all believers seeks to correct a clericalism which divides the Body of Christ into subsets of the empowered and disempowered. Anywhere such a clericalism arises it should be most vigorously resisted. It should go without saying that the Church’s traditional understanding of the sacramental priesthood is not this sort of clericalism, but is, in fact, precisely the fulfillment of the priesthood of all believers. But while it should go without saying, unfortunately it cannot, for the reaction to clericalism which is the Protestant emphasis on the priesthood of all believers unfortunately starts from and reinforces the very distortion it seeks to correct.

Let me attempt to explain what I mean.

The Protestant critique starts with an understanding that arises from a distortion (clericalism), from a dialectic of opposition: the two subsets, clerical and lay members, of the Body of Christ, are conceptually opposed to one another, one is either a priest (clerical) or one is not (lay). The two cannot be the same thing. Further, the priest (clerical) has the sacramental power (to bind and to loose), to which the lay person is subject. Other binary oppositional modes can be added: a priest can only be male (and in the West unmarried).

But unfortunately, the Protestant critique does not overcome the distortion. Rather than reject the dialectic of opposition, it continues it by then rejecting all distinctions. The priesthood of all believers then becomes the absolute sameness of all believers. Galatians 3:28 is not far behind. In other words, one of the problems with this Protestant view of the priesthood of all believers is something like definitional divine simplicity: there is only one essence (the priesthood of all believers), with no distinctions (office, sex, and so forth).

Unfortunately, rather than resolving the problem of clericalism, it raises new issues. A creeping reductionism begins to take over, which ultimately resorts in minimally a distortion of, and maximally an eradication of, personhood. Being a priest among other same priests funnels into a focus on functionality: who does what. And that distorts vocation into a reflection of qualities rather than a reflection of personhood. What are we to do, rather than who are we to be?

To speak a little more technically: this distorted resolution of a distortion is a failure to distinguish between essence and person, a failure to make distinctions (or, rather, distinctions become merely nominal). To say it in perhaps more familiar terms: just as we distinguish between the Persons of the Trinity (and they are real distinctions, not just modal names) but assert one and the same essence, just as we distinguish between God’s creating and God’s being Creator, so, too, the biblical doctrine of the priesthood of all believers asserts a common “essence” if you will (priesthood), but also asserts real distinctions (laity, deacons, priests, bishops, monastics, married, male and female, and so forth). This is why, in traditional Christianity, a husband and wife are priests in their own home, but do not serve the Eucharist in the gathered assembly. This is why, in traditional Christianity, the sacramental priesthood offers the Eucharist, but does not do so without the prayers of the laity.

This radical egalitarianism, which a distorted emphasis on the priesthood of all believers brings, also demeans and diminishes the priesthood of all believers by failing to account for the Holy Spirit distributed gifts of the Body: it makes the ministry of Christ’s Body all one thing. But such reductionism is pagan, not Christian.

This is also why, in traditional Christianity, some ministries are limited to some members of the Body: only males may be Eucharistic priests. Though from a distorted perspective, this appears to diminish and demean: and if all were of one essence without distinction it would indeed be so. But because we do have distinctions which matter, this limitation becomes not something that diminishes and demeans but something that actually preserves personhood. The reductionism that is radical egalitarianism always ultimately diminishes the person, because it fails to account for or preserve the important distinctions which God has created and which distinctions themselves have been redeemed. One does not perserve the personhood of woman by denying to her the important distinction of gestation and childbirth. Indeed, the radicalism that diminishes this unique and important creational and specifically redeemed distinction ultimately depersonalizes each woman in particular, and womanhood as an aspect of personhood. That only males may serve as priests is not, ultimately, a diminishing of women, but is, rather an elevation of them as persons, just as it is also an elevation of men as persons. The Virgin Mary could not as a woman offer the Eucharist in any of our Liturgies, but one hardly considers the Mother of God diminished by that distinction: from her womb by the Holy Spirit she gave us Him who is our Eucharist. Indeed, her motherhood elevates us all.

The fundamental concept of divine definitional simplicity is more than just a philosopher’s or theologian’s game. It is a radical distortion of the understanding of God, and therefore of all reality. It not only impacts our Trinitarian understandings, it impacts our Christological understandings, our understandings of ministry, and, ultimately our understandings of what it means to be persons. It is perhaps not too bold to say that traditional Christianity starts from Persons and then moves to essences. It starts from the Person, Jesus of Nazareth, and then moves to wills and natures. It starts from believers in particular, saved as persons, and then moves to the priesthood of them all.

The Incarnation puts the exclamation point on the assertion that Christianity is an embodied Faith. Any model of ministry which cannot handle the distinctions inherent in an embodied Faith cannot be, it seems to me, a Christian understanding of the priesthood of all believers.

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In a previous post, I cited some ancient Christian teaching regarding the mind and the spiritual battle waged in the arena of thoughts. I want to return to the topic again, this time with some personal reflections.

The past three months in particular have been a rather specific engagement with the notion of spiritual warfare of the mind. Life itself, of course, for the Christian is a matter of continuous warfare, as St. Paul notes in Ephesians 6:12. And that warfare begins first in the mind. As Jesus himself notes, the sin that one does begins first with the thought of it, the dwelling on it in one’s mind (Matthew 5:28). This is why the Christian must be so very careful what he puts in front of his eyes: on the TV, books and magazines, movies; and what he listens to with his ears: talk radio, conversations and music. For what his mind is engaged with will be what he does with his mouth, his hands and his feet.

But not only must the Christian guard what goes into his eyes and ears and into this thoughts, he must also guard to what thoughts he pays attention. Memories of past sins which come to his attention, or thoughts which do not give place for God’s love and providence. The dwelling, for example, on depressive thoughts is for some a most difficult battle. (Here, of course, I am speaking strictly of thoughts of hopelessness and depression. I do not touch on the biochemical component to depression which requires a different sort of therapy.)

As Solomon exhorts (emphasis mine):

My son, give head to my word and incline your ear to my words, that your fountains may not fail you; guard them in your heart; for they are life to those who find them and healing for all their flesh. Keep your heart with all watchfulness, for from these words are the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:19-22 SAAS)

Or, in the more familiar King James rendering:

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

This spiritual warfare of the mind is absolutely crucial if one is going to live a mature Christian life. Nearly the entire first volume of the English translation of the Philokalia is about nepsis or watchfulness of thoughts, the guarding of one’s heart.

As Father Anthony Coniaris writes:

Logismoi, thoughts, come to us from both God and from Satan. The church fathers tell us that the best way to discern whether the thoughts come from God or from Satan is to remember that the thoughts that come from God generate peace and joy, whiile the logismoi that come from Satan cause anxiety and turmoil.

Mother Maria said once that she thought she had only one appearance of Christs in her life. It was when she was particularly depressed one day. Christ appeared to her and said, “Maria, take it easy. Relax. It ain’t what you think.” Thoughts that come from Satan cause much turmoil. Then Jesus comes sand says, “Relax. It ain’t what Satan made you think.” Satan will almost always present the worst case scenario. (Confronting and Controlling Thoughts, p. 41)

One of the problems with depressive thoughts is not simply the depths of sadness and paralysis that comes upon one, but that it diminishes one’s faith in God and his loving Providence. I can speak from personal experience here: when one posits the worst case scenario one misses the fingerprints of God that are all over one’s day to day living. A loved one will encourage one to make some connections. Those connections will open new resources and renewed ties. Suddenly what had felt as though the horizon had shrunk to the four walls of one’s room, now stretches that horizon to the immeasurable limits of the Kansas prairie. What had felt impossible to face and a foregone conclusion, now opens up many avenues of response and the realistic hopes of pragmatic and favorable ends. When the present strictures had felt confining and diminishing, now suddenly it seems an exercise, a discipline, the moments before the victory (even if that victory may not be precisely how one imagines it).

This deliverance from such thoughts is always supernatural, but it is usually a synergy. That is to say, one practices watchfulness and does not let such depressive thoughts take hold in one’s mind and heart. But it is also the case that the deliverance is always divine. And that is especially the case when such warfare feels beyond one’s capability. The rescue and relief can be as sudden as the joy on morning’s awakening, when one’s heart is filled with divine songs.

The wonderful thing about such deliverance is the seemingly limitless possibilities. All doors seem open, all bridges remain unburned, but too there are many clear pathways to the future. Even if some of them are painful, they are, too, bittersweet. The years the locust have eaten will be restored, the blessings of Job will come, that which was lost will be restored. And even if that restoration is with new goods and different ends, the joy will be as strong and real.

It is when one is free of the control of one’s thoughts, when one disciplines all thoughts by the remembrance of the God in whom we live and move and have our being, the God who sees all our moments, our sins and virtues, and with all he is works to draw us to himself if only we will be drawn, then one will see clearly. Then one can face whatever task is required, however impossible it seems, and know that the Resurrection follows the Cross.

Glory to God for all things.

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