Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Apostles on Slavery

From time to time, we hear that St. Paul, as a victim of the cultural conditioning of his day, endorsed slavery. A morning or afternoon with a Bible, a concordance, and a good cup of tea will suffice to dispel this slander of the Holy Apostle. (Okay, coffee will work as well as tea, almost!)

The passage upon which this alarming notion is based is Ephesians 6:5-9. Let’s examine, though, what it actually says.

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.

And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.

Of course, it would be politically incorrect today to urge slaves to obey their masters. But notice, that’s not exactly what St. Paul says. He says, “masters according to the flesh”. Not according to the Spirit, that is, not according to the higher order of things. This and virtually every sentence of this passage tell us he does not mean to support slavery. He goes on to say, “not with eye-service, as men-pleasers,,,” – in other words, explicitly not for the sake of the any man, including the master, not for his benefit, not, that is, in support of slavery – “but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart…” for Christ’s sake then, rather than for that of any earthly master.

What? Is this what Christ wants? Certainly. We recall His instruction: If anyone compels you to walk a mile with him, walk two. What Christ wants is for us to show meekness, forbearance, love, longsuffering, goodwill. (Guess what else it shows if, when forced to walk a mile, you walk two? Freedom, that’s what! It shows you walked both miles, not only one, voluntarily.) The same principle applies to being slapped in the face; you are to turn the other cheek, to show both your goodwill and that you suffer the abuse of your own free will. Christ means this literally, as I discovered once when I did slap back, with disastrous consequences, the least of which was my two broken fingers. So St. Paul continues, “with goodwill doing service as to the Lord, and not to men…” Not to men. It’s nothing to do with upholding slavery. It's more to do with showing forth Christ's own attitudes, with being a good witness to Him, maybe even with saving the master.

For the Lord’s sake, he says; but then St. Paul goes on to say how his counsel is also for the good of the slave himself: “knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same again from the Lord…” the same, multiplied. And then he makes a point of adding, perhaps for the sake of the master, “whether he is a slave or free.”

Next he explicitly addresses the masters: “do the same things to them”!!! Do all these same things to your slaves as I’m telling them to do to you! Do you see how this sabotages the whole structure of slavery? “Give up threatening…” Threat is the very essence of slavery. Slavery won’t work without threats. Finally, St. Paul completes his undermining of the institution of slavery by reminding the masters that they, too, are slaves to their Master in heaven, Who pays no attention to any earthly status of slave or free.

If we say St. Paul approved of slavery, we shall have to level the charge against St. Peter, as well, for he writes a similar thing:  (1 Peter 2:16-24)

18 Slaves, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. 19 For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. 21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:

22 ​​“Who committed no sin,
​​Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;

23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.

But then, of course, St. Peter goes on to urge all of us to submit to each other. (1 Peter 5:5)  All of us.  Because this is what love does.  This is what humility does.

St. Paul, far from endorsing slavery, preaches equality among all who are in Christ:

Galatians 3:26-28 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 3:10-11 you have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new [man], which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, slave [nor] free: but Christ [is] all, and in all.

But if anyone is still in doubt what the Holy Apostle thought of slavery, here’s a hidden gem for you, hidden due to the usual, poor translation of one word:

1 Tim. 1 8-10 …law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for the sexually immoral, for homosexuals, for slave-traders, for liars, for perjurers, and for any other thing contrary to the sound doctrine according to the glorious gospel…

It’s that word, “slave-traders” that is often translated as, “men-stealers”, so we miss the impact of it; but the Greek means those who capture and/or abduct men to sell them as slaves.

So rest assured, it takes an egregious misreading of St. Paul (or St. Peter) to conclude that he ever supported slavery.  He actually condemns it.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Lottery Dreaming

The lottery for tonight is up to something like $540 million, last time I checked.  A quarter of that will have to be paid by the winner in taxes, so let's say you'd get to take home $395 million  What would you do with it?

Well, let's see...

10 million each to my son and daughter-in law, my daughter and son in law, my sister, my brother, and my brother-in-law, husband of my deceased sister. One million in trust for each of my 5 grandchildren. We’re up to $55 million, so far, leaving $340 million.

So, say $200 million to the Church and $40 million to other charities, leaving $100 million for us.  Hmm...

A home on the windward side of Oahu, but not in any of the other places I've dreamed of (Tahiti, Majorca, Corfu) because a luxury hotel would afford all the amenities and service plus none of the headaches of home ownership.

No yacht because we're just not interested.

Jet would be good for bypassing security checkpoints, being able to take more luggage and without losing it, not putting up with delays or connecting flights, having actual beds on board, having good stuff to watch instead of trash...

No sports cars, but a new Cadillac or Lincoln every 5 years or so.

Maid service every week.

A year's supply of food and other necessities for ourselves and our neighbors in case of hard times, the way the Mormons do, plus someone to rotate the stock, donating to a food bank the stuff due to expire within the next 6 months.

My guess is that the Lord in His lovingkindness, is going to preserve me from winning the lottery - even if I decide, in the next couple of hours, to buy a ticket.

How about you?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Can You Imagine the Uproar if it were the Star of David?

h/t Matushka Constantina at Lessons from a Monastery

19 March 2012, 14:24
Russian church parishioner in London resigns after being banned from wearing cross

London, March 19, Interfax - A parishioner of the Russian Assumption Cathedral in London had to resign after being prohibited from wearing a cross.

"This morning I talked to a woman who was forced to take off her cross at work a week ago. She preferred to resign. And the cross was not even visible! The woman asked to be allowed to wear it, promising to attach it to the body with duct tape to keep it from accidentally slipping from under her clothes, but they said it's not allowed," Archpriest Mikhail Dudko, the cathedral's sacristan, said on Facebook.

He said the position of the British government, which opposes freedom to openly wear crosses, is understood by local authorities as "a total ban" and people with poor knowledge of the language and life in the UK "have virtually no chance of defending their rights."

According to earlier reports, the British authorities intend to defend the legality of the ban on public wearing of crosses in the UK in the European Court of Human Rights.

The Strasbourg court will try lawsuits involving the religious discrimination against four Christians from the UK, who have lost their cases in British courts.

The Russian Church earlier expressed surprise about the loyalty of the British authorities, who have banned wearing crosses at work, to other symbols, for example, gay symbols.

"This decision made by the British parliament is certainly alarming, especially given the existence in modern European society of other tendencies aimed at liberating human instincts," Vladimir Legoyda, the head of the Synodal Information Department, told reporters. He said he was surprised by the fact that public demonstration of affiliation with gay culture is considered normal in the UK while the wearing of crosses is not. Among the examples of double standards Legoyda named the British authorities' stance on Sikhs, saying that even London police officers are officially allowed to wear turbans, which are Sikh symbols.

Among the four cases to be tried in Strasbourg is a claim filed by a woman who was suspended from her job with British Airways several years ago for refusing to take off her cross, which she wore on top of her uniform.

The other claimants are Shirley Chaplin, who had worked as a nurse for 30 years before being fired for wearing a cross at work, Lillian Leidel, an official with a London civil registry office, who was subjected to disciplinary punishment for refusing to register a gay marriage for religious reasons, and Garry McFarlane, a resident of Bristol, a former employee of a firm providing confidential consultations to gay couples, who was fired because he had difficulty working because of his religious beliefs.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Holy Baptism, Part 07: The Chrism

...and Other Rites

Chrismation is the passing on of the gift of the Holy Spirit. And just as we believe incorporation into Christ and forgiveness of sins and rebirth are bestowed via water, so we believe - and experience! - the gift of the Holy Spirit coming to reside in us is bestowed via the holy oil. Not that the water or the oil itself does anything, but that the Holy Spirit sanctifies them and works these wonders in and through them.

Holy Chrismation began, in the Apostolic Church, as the laying on of hands. Specifically, the Apostles laid their hands on new Christians. (Acts 8:13-17) When, however, the Church began to grow too big for them to continue doing this in person, the Apostles, according to the tradition of the Orthodox Church, began sending around a special holy oil called chrism, which they themselves had prepared, with which to anoint new Christians for the receiving of the Holy Spirit, Who Himself is the inner anointing. Thus, St. John says (1 John 2:27): “...the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in Him.”

Today, chrism is prepared at the Ecumenical Patriarchate roughly once every ten years by bishops from every jurisdiction and distributed to all the churches. (That’s if I’ve understood correctly, but I have been told different things on this, so if I’m mistaken, somebody please correct me.) The recipe is based upon one ordained by God in the Old Testament:

The LORD said to Moses, “Take the finest spices: 12 pounds of pure, liquid myrrh, 6 pounds of sweet smelling cinnamon, 6 pounds of sweet [sugar] cane, and 12 pounds of cassia [inner bark of cinnamon], according to the standard weight of the sanctuary, and a gallon of olive oil. And you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. (Exodus 30: 22-25)
To this basic recipe are added, today, enough more ingredients to make up to 57 in all. And to the new batch of chrism is added the leftover chrism, to forge another link between all who are going to be chrismated with it and all who have been before.

The new Christian is anointed with the holy chrism on the forehead, eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, chest, hands, and feet. Holy oil is for the anointing of kings. Holy oil is for the anointing of priests; in the Mystery one becomes a member of Christ’s “royal priesthood”. (1 Peter 2:9) The very word, “Christ”, from the same Greek root as “chrism”, means The Anointed One, as does also the Hebrew word, ”Messiah.” The chrismated person now shares in Christ’s own anointing. As each part of you is anointed, the priest says, “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” and the people respond, preferably loudly, “Seal!”

Now comes the dressing in a clean, white robe. The priest says, “The servant of God (Name) is clothed with the garment of righteousness, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Then the people sing: ”A robe of divine light bestow upon me, O You that for vesture array Yourself with Light; and bestow many mercies, O Christ our God, Who are plenteous in mercy.”

Hear are pictures of my own baptism and chrismation in a Russian church; in the latter, my hair is wet and clearly I am already dressed. The Greek rubric, however, calls for the new robe to be given after the chrismation. The priest also puts a cross pendant (given by the godparent, usually) around your neck. It may have lain three days or more upon the altar before this occasion.

We are not finished yet. There’s quite a bit more to go, Ali, before your party begins.

The newly-illumined is given a lighted candle, and with the priest and the godparent(s), now proceeds around the baptismal font three times, the choir meanwhile singing, “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia!” This little procession is a vestige of the earlier custom of bringing the newly-baptized into the church, or into the sanctuary, at least, from the narthex or from another building.

Next come the Scripture readings, the Epistle...

and the Gospel...

..and after these, the priest takes a sponge and wipes away the chrism from the person’s forehead, eyes, ears, etc., saying, as he does so, “You are justified, you are illumined" and "You are baptized; you are illuminated; you are anointed with the Holy Myrrh, you are hallowed; you are washed clean, in the Name of Father, and of Son, and of Holy Spirit. Amen.” He wipes it away because it is to be disposed of in a reverent manner, and not, for example, to be wiped away later with tissues that are thrown into the trash.

Now the new Christian offers his or her first gift to Christ, and it is the gift of his body, that is, of himself. (Romans 12:1) The symbol of this, the symbol of ones strength, is his hair (Jude 16:17). Amid numerous prayers, the priest snips four locks of hair, front, back, and over each ear, in the shape of a cross. (Not to worry; he takes too little to affect your appearance.)

After all this, you are “churched,” a custom stemming from the Old Testament practice of presenting all male children in the Temple at the age of 40 days. The Church presents both males and females to the Lord and to the Church.

Are we finished yet? Maybe, maybe not. It depends upon the custom of your local parish. You may now be given already-consecrated Holy Communion before the final blessing.

Or you may simply be blessed and will receive Holy Communion for the first time the following Sunday. In that case, you will be the first to receive, and you will carry the same lighted (and possibly decorated) candle you were given in the course of these Holy Mysteries.

NOW it’s time for the party to begin; and now, there’s very, very much, a downright bewildering array of things, to celebrate!

Here are some baptisms I've gleaned for you from Youtube, for your viewing and listenig pleasure. Questions welcome.

Holy Baptism, Part 06: Receiving the Holy Spirit

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord together in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4)

The twin Mysteries of Holy Baptism and Holy Chrismation are like book ends. They are reciprocals of one another, which is why they are administered together. Whereas Holy Baptism plants us into Christ, Holy Chrismation plants the Holy Spirit of God into us, so there is now a mutual indwelling, after the model of the Holy Trinity: “I in You,” as Jesus said in His prayer to the Father, “and You in Me.” Whereas now the devil, who formerly had been operating from within us, is cast out, so now the Holy Spirit, Who formerly had been operating outside of us, comes to live deep within. (It’s no use, Jesus taught, to cast out a demon and leave an empty place; he will return with seven more demons to re-occupy it. Matthew 12:44-45) As Baptism is the believer’s “personal Easter”, so Chrismation is the believer’s “personal Pentecost”. Whereas Holy Baptism is a unifying Mystery, Holy Chrismation is a diversifying one. The “tongues as of fire” were divided, “and one sat upon each of them”. Together, the two Mysteries render us all one, yet each distinct. We are formed after the model of the Holy Trinity: one, yet many. Unity and multiplicity are at the same time combined and transcended.

What does it mean to receive the Holy Spirit? Just as “renouncing satan” is widely misunderstood, so is “receiving the Holy Spirit.” It doesn’t mean you suddenly blurt out a lot of nonsense syllables (though at Pentecost, they did begin to speak in other, very real, languages) or that you keel over, pass out, or grovel on the floor barking; all of these are the bizarre products of mass psychology, even of mass hypnotism, a form of emotional manipulation. Nor does being filled with the Holy Spirit involve an emotional orgy. Rather, it is a sober business.

It means, for one thing, that now your own, Spirit-filled heart can recognize Truth when you encounter it, just as John the Baptist, still in his mother’s womb, leapt, recognizing the Lord in a manner pre-verbal yet deeper than words. (This infant recognition, too, has implications for infant baptism. Infants know. They do not know that they know, but they are aware. That is, their spirits know before their minds do.) When the Holy Spirit resides within you, the Truth feels to you like your own self-expression, your own self-realization, and that is why your heart leaps leaps for joy, just as the babe in Elisabeth’s womb leapt in joyful recognition of Truth Himself. “My sheep,” said Jesus, “know My voice.” For the same reason, our hearts also shrink instinctively (as it were) from falsehood. Before our minds can put words to what is wrong, the Spirit of Truth within us catches error’s odor. In such ways are fulfilled what Jesus says: “…when the Comforter is come, Whom I will send to you from the Father, [that is] the Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father, He shall testify of Me.” (John 15:26) And again: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth...” (John 16:13) The Spirit testifies of Christ and leads us into truth and these are two ways of describing the same thing, since Christ is the Truth and the Truth is Christ.

How does the Bible fit in with all this guidance from the Holy Spirit (other than bearing witness to it)? The first thing we need to say is, the Bible is essential for the Christian life. You can barely understand the Christian faith, and never make much progress in it, without the Holy Scriptures. What happens when the Holy Spirit comes to live inside you is that, as you are feasting your soul and mind on God’s Word, such portions of it as are most needful to you at the moment provoke the response we have been describing as a joyful leap of the heart. You recognize the Scriptures’ Truth for yourself rather than simply and only because you are told “This is true.” Another way of saying the same thing is, the Holy Spirit reveals the truths of Scripture to you first-hand, directly, in Person. You encounter countless marvelous truths in the Bible, but their being in the Bible is no longer the main reason you believe them. It’s as Job said, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You.” (Job 42:5) Now you have it not only from the text, but more than that, straight from the Source. To reverse an old Jewish saying and Job’s metaphor, From God’s lips to your ears. From God's lips to your heart, rather.

An extremely important guideline to remember always and everywhere is that the Holy Spirit will never “reveal” to us anything that conflicts with the Spirit-inspired, Holy Scriptures. He is not a spirit of confusion or contradiction. And a corollary to this is that the Holy Spirit, interpreting those divine writings for us, will never “reveal” to us anything that contradicts what He has revealed to our fathers and mothers in Christ. Today there is a widespread assumption in some denominations that somehow we today are more sophisticated, less culture-bound, more knowledgeable, more scholarly and therefore wiser than our forbears. We understand the Gospel better than they. It’s a seductive thought; it’s flattering; but it isn’t true. The Holy Spirit, Who guided them, was the same then as He is now. Just because we can talk more than the ancients about the structure of a Gospel or the genre of an Epistle doesn’t mean we know better what it is supposed to mean in the life of the Church, how to live it in our lives. The way the Holy Spirit interpreted it among our ancestors in the faith will not differ from the way He interprets it for us today. That is why we pay so much attention to the consensus of the Church, not necessarily at any particular given time, but over the whole course of her history. “No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20)

A third implication of having the Holy Spirit within us instead of outside us – and here is where things get trickier – is that He tells us things not in the Holy Scriptures: “Go here” (Acts 9:11), “Don’t go there” (Acts 16:6-7), “Say this” (Luke 12:12) and “This is what is going to happen” (John 16:13). The greeting of Elisabeth (Luke 1:24-45) and Mary’s hymn in response (Luke 1:46-77), Zechariah’s prophesying (Luke 1:67-79) , Simeon’s revelation that he would not die before he had seen Messiah (Luke 2:25-26) are all examples of new revelations not contained in Holy Scripture – although certainly in line with it.

We know that to follow these inner promptings is an undertaking full of pitfalls simply from observing how many people are led in how many different and conflicting directions by attempting it. It is quite common to hear religious people say things like, “And God told me to take that particular parking spot,” or “Then I knew God was showing me He wanted me to have that scarf” and other such unlikely things, usually having little or nothing to do with anything spiritual.

The key to avoiding delusion here is humility, and in this context humility, for the Orthodox Christian, involves two specific elements. The first is, because the very thought that God should speak to us is so seductive, we should maintain enough hard, cold realism never to consider ourselves worthy enough for God to say anything to us at all. And the second element of humility is to recognize that we need the affirmation or correction of others. That is why we have spiritual fathers or mothers, wise and experienced and Christ-like people who are further along the Path than we are, who can give us the benefit of their insight. We are never to accept anything “revealed” to us as from God without the agreement of our spiritual elders. This is also why we keep in close communication with one another, because every single one of us has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. If we are not humble enough to submit ourselves to the counsel of others, it’s a sure sign we’re deluded and the more we are convinced we are right, the greater the probability of our being dead wrong.

Even trickier to deal with - and people who cannot tolerate ambiguity hate this - is the fact that the Holy Spirit can and does also sometimes guide the Church in matters of faith and practice without direct resort to the Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures bear witness to this fact and once again, the Scriptures must not be contradicted. At the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), it was the Holy Spirit directly (verses 28-29) Who prompted the Church’s decision that Gentile Christians need not observe the entire Jewish Law. This decision can certainly claim to be a correct interpretation of Scripture, can certainly claim to be derived from Scriptural principles. But the issue had never arisen in the Old Testament, so there was nothing specific written to address it. It was prompted by the Holy Spirit.

Today, again new issues arise concerning which the Holy Scriptures have no direct instructions. For example, Orthodox Christians in immigrant countries, especially America and Australia, are trying to discern how they ought to unify the various strands of Orthodoxy that arrived in the country, each with its own parishes, clergy, and bishops. What to do in the United States, to make one jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox, the Serbian Orthodox, the Antiochian Orthodox, etc., etc.? It is becoming a scandal to have several bishops for one single territory.

This type of corporate discernment, because it involves the setting aside of so many human passions and rising above so many human weaknesses, tends to take a long, long time. It may even take centuries for consensus to be achieved, as it did when the Church was trying to decide what the proper role of icons ought to be.

To set aside the promptings of our own minds and bodies and to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit instead is indeed the very essence of the Christian life, the very meaning of a “spiritual” life. The goal is not to fulfill the Law, but to be in sync with the Holy Spirit (Who obviously will never prompt us to do any evil). As St. Paul writes (Galatians 5:16-25):

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Now the works of the flesh are clear, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

Another very important thing it means for the Holy Spirit to reside within us has to do with assurance. If the Holy Spirit so to speak germinates in us and sprouts and begins to grow, well, that's the same as saying immortal, eternal Life is taking root in us. If we find ourselves in a shared life with God now, how much more hereafter. The Spirit within us is both pledge and foretaste, as Strong's Concordance says, of blessedness to come. That is why St. Paul calls the Holy Spirit in our hearts the “earnest” of our salvation; "earnest" as in pledge, guarantee, deposit or down payment. When I was a girl, you put down “earnest money” when you bought a new house, and took out a mortgage for the rest.

Ephesians 1:13-14 You also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in Him, were sealed in Him with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption [full payment] of the purchase, to the praise of His glory.

But the same word here rendered "earnest" or "pledge" or "guarantee" also and especially means betrothal. This is what St. Paul means above all when he writes, "[He] has also sealed us, and given the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts." (2 Corinthians 1:22) and " … God, Who also has given to us the pledge of the Spirit". (2 Corinthians 5:5) The pledge is Christ's promise to you of marriage. You are now, in Holy Chrismation, betrothed to Him. It is a promise He will never break (although He will not force you never to break it off).

There is more to say about this Mystery, but this post is too long already.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Holy Baptism, Part 05: The Water

The candidate having been enrolled, named, exorcised, having renounced satan and professed his faith in Christ, having been entrusted to the care of a guardian angel, stripped and anointed with the “oil of gladness” is now prepared for the actual baptism. It remains now to prepare the water. “Unless a man is baptized by water and the Spirit,” said Jesus, “he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Symbolism of Water

Water is a symbol so ancient its origin is lost. Water, to Christians, recalls some epic events in salvation history. The first of these is creation itself. In the very first two verses of the Bible, we read: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and empty; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Now, holy water is to be used in a re-creation of the persons baptized in it.

Water reminds us of Noah and his family being safely brought through the flood. That story is in Genesis 6, 7, and 8. For some fascinating modern research on this topic, see this post on Alice Linsley’s blog, Just Genesis.  She has made that Book one of her fields of expertise.

Water also calls to mind the Israelites’ escape from Egypt’s army, when God, through Moses, parted the sea and the children of Israel passed through it. When Egypt’s chariots pursued Israel, the sea came tumbling back into its place and all the Egyptian forces were drowned. That story is found in Exodus 14.

(And by the way, if all this is meaningless to you because you don’t know these stories, you are the victim of our deplorable modern system of “education”. You are missing pieces foundational to all of Western civilization – and Islamic civilization, as well,  You have been deprived of things so basic that for 2,000 years, virtually everybody knew them, even illiterates. Do read up!)

Water recalls the time when the Israelites, wandering around in the desert of Sinai, had no water, and the people criticized Moses and said, Were there not enough graves in Egypt, that you brought us out to this place to die? But God guided Moses, who struck the rock with his stick, and water gushed out of it, enough water for all the tribes of Israel. (Read the whole story in Numbers 20: 2-13. It’s also in Exodus, but there’s more detail in Numbers.)

Concerning these events, St. Paul writes:

...I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food [he means manna], and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things happened in order to be an example for us…(I Corinthians 10:1-6)
(In addition to the point St. Paul is making, this verse has some other interesting aspects. One is that the Apostle is here making one of his allegories: “that Rock was Christ.” Another is that the spiritual rock following them is nowhere in canonical Scripture; St. Paul is affirming a Jewish tradition. A third point of interest is that although these Israelites had received a type of baptism, still God was not pleased with them, and this, too, is to be an example for us.)

Perhaps most of all, water, for Christians, reminds us of Jesus’ own baptism in the River Jordan, when His holy body, descending into the waters, hallowed them, together with all the waters of the earth (since all H20 on this planet intermingles eventually).

Sanctified Water

No ordinary water will do for Holy Baptism; ordinary water would not be able to do anything more than wash the body; but what we need washed is both body and soul. Now, in a series of symbolic gestures and prayers, the Church blesses the water.

Wait, wait! Can material things, such as water, have spiritual effects? If the Holy Spirit is residing in them and using them, then yes; this is well-known among Christians. We think, for example, of the hem of Jesus’ garment (Matthew 9:20 and 14:36), St. Paul’s handkerchiefs and aprons (Acts 19:11-12), St. Peter’s shadow (!) (Acts 5:15-16), and Prophet Elisha’s bones (Kings 13:21), through which the pre-incarnate Word even brought a dead man back to life.

So we pray and ask the Holy Spirit to come into the baptismal waters. “And you believe He does?” one may ask. Yes, of course we do. (And if you don’t, why not?) Now the water is invested with the powers of God: to wash away sin and all its effects, to incorporate us into Christ’s own Body (which, risen and glorified, is now capable of accommodating all of us), to drown and bury the person we used to be and bring to birth the new person in Christ, to confer our new identity as Christians, that is, little Christs. Now all is ready for a person to be born “of water and the Spirit”.

Immersion in Water

We baptize by total immersion, and the fact that baptism was done this way from the very beginning is so far beyond dispute that to belabor the point would be useless. The very word, “baptize”, in the original Greek, means to dip, to immerse totally. "Living water” is the ideal for baptism, meaning running water, as in a river or a stream or a fountain, but most baptisms are performed indoors in standing water. In unusual or emergency situations only, pouring water over the head and body of the person is acceptable, providing every centimeter of him gets wet. In normal situations, though, to baptize was and is to dunk. You can read more here.

Does that mean if you were only sprinkled or had water poured on the back of your head you are not really baptized in God’s sight? I do not know. I don’t know if your denomination even expects or intends to have happen the things I have been describing, much less whether God actually does them. I can only bear witness concerning what does happen in this Mystery in the Orthodox Church.

The priest immerses the catechumen in the Spirit-filled water three times, saying, “The servant of God,  [Christian name], is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Notice, he does not say, “I baptize thee…” This is because while it is the priest doing the dipping, it is Christ Who is baptizing. The priest applies the water, Christ applies the immortal new Life. The priest plunges the person into the water, Christ plunges the person into Himself, into His heart. The priest washes the body; Christ’s Holy Spirit washes away the sins. The priest gives the new name; Christ gives the new identity. The priest says the words; Christ bestows the salvation. The priest does in a figure what Christ does in reality. The priest does not stand in Christ’s place, but alongside Christ, administering in visible form what Christ is administering invisibly.

Does this mean Christ did not do all these things for the person already when he first came to believe and repented? Well, the sins are forgiven, of course. A new and wonderful relationship begins, but not yet the relationship Holy Baptism normally initiates.  But “normally” is the key word. In abnormal circumstances, well, put it this way: if a person believed, repented, and intended to be baptized but died in the meantime, we would consider him “baptized by desire”, as the thief on the cross was. There is also “baptism by blood” if you are martyred for Christ before your planned baptism in water. Norms, let us note carefully, are not the same as laws.

The new Christian, clad only in water and oil, arises from the font and is received by his godparent, who steps forward to wrap him in a large, white towel or sheet, which the newly-baptized (usually) continues wearing as he or she receives the next Mystery immediately following: Holy Chrismation.  This will be the topic of the next post.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Holy Baptism, Part 04: Infant Baptism

Everything I have written so far on the Mystery of Holy Baptism has kept nagging at me to explain how any of this could possibly apply to an infant. It therefore seems good to digress long enough to set forth the Orthodox view on this contentious subject.

It seems to me there shouldn’t really be any contention, as Baptism is what, in the New Covenant, replaces Circumcision in the Old Covenant, and circumcision was performed on male babies only 8 days old.  I think, in some denominations, it may have to do with the desire for purity of the Church:  only believers should be allowed to join.  But of course there has never been any perfect Church any more than there was ever a perfect Israel, nor even any perfect local church.  There has always been the mixture of wheat and tares, which only Christ can separate in the end (and not before).

In any case, certain questions do arise concerning infant baptism. So I was poking around the Internet looking for material on it when I came across this, by Jordan Bajis, on the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. As it is definitely better than anything I could write, I hereby let myself off the hook and commend this article to anyone curious about, interested in, or scandalized by the baptism of infants.

Oh, but one more note, first.  Yes, we do dunk babies, head and all.  One need not be alarmed; their reflex reaction is to hold their breath.  The immersion doesn't harm them.  Some priests, though, being afraid or unwilling to alarm the parents, only sit the baby in the water and pour the water over the rest of the child.

(Jordan Bajis, by the way, has written a book entitled Common Ground:  An Introduction to Eastern Christianity for the American Christian, which I enjoyed greatly.)

Infant Baptism
By Jordan Bajis

"Should I be baptized again?" Many renewed Orthodox Christians have asked themselves and others whether they should be baptized as adults. I readily understand why this question is asked, for I myself must admit that I did not always feel comfortable about the Orthodox Church baptizing infants. I asked myself several other questions as well: "How can an infant 'believe and be baptized'?" "Where in Scripture does it show an infant being baptized?" "Is not the baptizing of infants the reason why the contemporary Orthodox Church has a need for renewal and re-evangelization?"

These questions were so significant to me that I refused to actively support or encourage the practice of infant baptism until I was able to get some satisfactory answers. On one occasion, I even rejected the honor of being the best man at a close friend's wedding unless he was willing to absolve me of the accompanying responsibility of being the baptismal sponsor for his first child. Only after he agreed to my request did I consent to become his best man.

Knowing that as a committed Christian I could not refrain indefinitely from making a decision on this matter, I embarked on an intensive study of Scripture and early Christian history. I resolved that I would not finish my study until I had settled the issue in my mind and in my heart. Surprisingly, the area was much more complex than I first envisioned it to be. I must admit that at the outset, it looked as though the argument for infant baptism was about as valid as the theory that the earth was cigar-shaped. However, I uncovered many facts that are usually unknown to the common layman and which I think will prove helpful for those who are now in a doctrinal dilemma similar to the one I was in previously. I can now say, after having looked into the arguments of some of the most respected scholars on this subject, that there is a very strong case for the baptism of infants of Christian parents.

Before I begin to share some of the things I discovered, I think it is important to note that, although I have dedicated months to the thorough study of this subject, I do not pretend to be a theologian, professor of Church history, or Greek scholar. I am not an expert on the subject; I am a student of the subject. It is also important to note, however, that the evidence and arguments I produce here are mainly, not my own but rather a synthesis of research and conclusions distilled from several noteworthy scholars. It is not my purpose to be overly technical, to illustrate the minute peculiarity of each counter-argument's counter-argument, or to take the reader back to study the original documents in order to discuss grammatical controversies surrounding the texts. It is not that I consider these types of investigations unimportant, but I simply restrained myself from doing this because I do not think it is very profitable for the average layman. The scholars are much better qualified than I to define and explain these more exacting details, in any case.

Given this preface, let me get to the point of the article. How is it that I can now recognize infant baptism as a valid practice whereas before I was highly distrustful of it? I will record a number of reasons for this below in as straightforward and direct a way as I know. Some facts will require a bit of explanation, but many will consist of only a sentence or two. At the close of the list, I will offer some concluding thoughts and insights about infant baptism. I have categorized the evidence supporting the practice of infant baptism into three main sections: Scripture, History, and the Fathers of the Early Church. I recognize that each argument may not be able to stand on its own, but taken together, they present a conclusive picture.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Holy Baptism, Part 03, the Stripping

...and the Anointing with Oil

"So they undress my baby completely, and I’m thinking, it’s cold; we’re in a big cathedral; I don’t know if this is the right thing to do... And then they take holy oil…This baby, my baby, they take holy oil and they rub oil all over her. And I turned George and I said, “Are they going to stick a lemon in her butt and some rosemary, and  - I mean, what’s going on? - Ali Wentworth, amusing Jay Leno and atheist Bill Maher

It is a very well-documented fact that for at least the first four hundred years of Christianity, candidates for Holy Baptism, whether, men, women, or children, came to the holy font stark naked.  You even had to remove all cosmetics, ribbons, jewelry, hairpins, etc.  (Jewish baptisms had also been in the nude, so there's no use supposing nude baptism was an innovation of some fallen-away, post-apostolic church.  No, it was so from the beginning.)

In the Mediterranean culture, where people were used to seeing one another naked in the public baths, nudity offended people's sensibilities much less than it would now, and of course the Church made suitable provisions for modesty.  The baptistry (place where Holy Baptism was administered) was set apart from the general assembly, often in a separate little building on the church grounds.  When there were whole groups of people to be baptized (the night beteween Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday being then, as now, the favorite time), the children were baptized first, then men, and women last, each being clothed in a white robe before being taken into the assembly.  Also, there were deaconesses to assist with the women, although they were not permitted to perform the actual baptizing. 

Today, the Church makes exceptions to the rubric for the sake of avoiding scandal; she allows adults to wear swimsuits, usually white.  (You do have to test your white swimsuit in the shower beforehand to see whether it turns transparent when wet, and if it does, you may like to sew in an extra lining.)  Babies and very young children, however, are still baptized completely naked.  The stripping takes place after the candidate has renounced and spat upon satan and has accepted and bowed to Christ (see Part 02 of this series).

The rites of the Church make at least semi-nudity a practical necessity.  You are about to be anointed "with exorcised oil from the topmost hairs of your head to the soles of your feet,"  as one early Church Father put it.  (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, circa 315-386, Catechesis Mystagogica II.3)   After that, you are going to be immersed three times in water.

Again, today, in the case of adults, the Church concedes the point about modesty and departs slightly from the rubric, especially as there are no longer deaconesses to anoint women.  Thus, today you are likely only to be anointed on the forehead, eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, chest, hands, and feet. 

(A deaconess, by the way, was not simply a "female deacon".  Deacons and deaconesses each had different, if sometimes parallel, sets of duties in the Church.)

But beyond the practical necessity imposed by the all-over anointing and the total immersion, there are multiple spiritual reasons for the nudity, involving a whole array of rich imagery and powerful symbols.

We come naked and barefoot before Christ because sin has stripped us bare.  Sin has taken away our dignity, our claim to any standing before God, and to some extent, has eroded away our very humanity.  We are naked just as Adam and Eve found themselves naked after they had sinned.

We come naked before Christ in acknowledgment that we are nothing and we have nothing to offer Him (unless He may be pleased with our love, gratitude, and loyal obedience - and He is).  In the words of the old evangelical hymn, "Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to His Cross I cling."

Proclus of Constantinople (Archbishop of Constantinople from 434 to 446) writes in his Catechesis Mystagogica:
You appear naked, as one coming from the foe, stripped of your garment by your enemies.  Your bare feet give testimony of your poverty...In this you may know how He enriches your nakedness with His grace, how He puts on you with the chrism the scent of good deeds, how with the oil He makes you to shine to He clothes your body with shining garments...
Nudity is the condition of a slave on the auction block.  We come naked and unshod before Christ in recognition that we have up to now been slaves of satan. 

We come naked before the Cross, upon which the God-man, in utter humility, graciously condescended to allow Himself to be naked for us, who are about to become incorporated into Him.

We come naked to Christ because we are about to die with Him, die to our old lives and our old selves, and to be buried with Him.  Jesus was buried naked, with only a shroud wrapped around Him.

But more than that, perhaps the most obvious symbolism of the nakedness is that we are about to be born.  The baptismal font is both tomb and womb, the Church's womb, from which emerge the naked, infant children of God and co-heirs with Christ.  We are about to die with Christ and then be re-born, that is, born  into our new life, which is Christ's own glorious, resurrected, immortal Life.

"Do you not know," asks St. Paul, "that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?"

Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, just so we also should walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.  For whoever has died has been freed from sin.  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him,  knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.  For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:3-11 
A symbol less obvious today is that we come to baptism naked because we are about to beome athletes for Christ.  In the ancient world, athletes competed in the nude. (The Greek word for naked is gymnos, from which we get our English words gymnasium and gymnastics.)  We are committing ourselves, in baptism, to a life-long contest against satan, against every manner of vice, sin, and shortcoming we encounter in ourselves. This is all-out war!

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run this way: not with uncertainty. I fight this way: not as one who boxes the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (St. Paul, I Corinthians 9:24-28)
Again, in Hebrews (12:1), we read:  "... let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily besets [us], and let us run with patience the race that is set before us."

There is some bridal imagery going on here, too, reminiscent of Prophet Hosea.  It is the unfaithful, unlovely, disgraced and naked bride whom Christ is espousing and making holy and beautiful.  St. Paul writes, "I espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ." (2 Corinthians 11:2)

And we come naked to the baptismal font because we are about to be clothed with Christ. As the holy Apostle Paul says, "For all of you are the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Gal. 3:26, 27

St. Cyril of Jerusalem sums it up (Cat. Myst. II.2): 
Immediately upon entering, you took off your tunic.  And this was the icon of the old man which you put off with his deeds.  Having stripped, you were naked, imitating in this the nakedness of Christ upon the Cross.  And in His nakedness, He stripped the principalities and authorities [St. Cyril means demons] and afterwards paraded them publicly in his triumphal procession.

Oh, the wondrous thing!  You were naked in the sight of all and not ashamed.  Truly you bore the image of the first-formed Adam, who was naked in the garden and not ashamed.
St. John Chrysostom (347-407) has his own summary (in Sermons upon the Epistle to the Colossians, II.2):

Then [in the Old Testament days] it was slave toward master, but now, friend toward friend...Then there was nakedness, now there is nakedness.  But then the nakedness was a consequence of sin; now there is no sin.  Rather, now we strip to become freed from sin.  Then, he [Adam] put off the glory that had been his; now he [man] puts off the old man, and before he descends into the water, he puts it off just like a garment.
Immediately after the candidate is undressed, he or she is anointed with oil.  St. Cyril of Jerusalem explains the meaning of this anointing:

Then, when you were stripped, you were anointed with exorcised oil, from the very hairs of your head to the soles of your feet, and were made partakers of the good olive tree, Jesus Christ.  For you were cut off from the wild olive tree and grafted into the good one, and were made to share the fatness of the true olive tree.  The exorcized oil therefore was a symbol of the participation in the fatness of Christ....   (Cat. Myst. II.3)
The image of the athlete has already been mentioned; besides competing in the games naked, the ancient athlete rubbed himself all over with olive oil.  It made him shine and it made him too slippery for, say, a wrestling opponent to hold onto easily.  St. Ambrose of Milan says, "You are anointed an athlete of Christ."  (De sacramentis 11.2.4)

St. John Chrysostom adds: "He [the priest] causes your whole body to be anointed with that olive oil of the spirit, so that all your limbs may be fortified and unconquered by the darts which the adversary aims at you."  (Sermon on the Epistle to the Colossians, 2.3)

And in another place, he tells his catechumens:
So then, in your case these thirty days [before you are to be baptized] are like some wrestling school, both for exercise and practice: let us learn from now already to get the better of that evil demon. For it is to contend with him that we have to strip ourselves, with him after baptism we are to box and fight. Let us learn from now already his grip, on what side he is aggressive, on what side he can easily threaten us, in order that, when the contest comes on, we may not feel strange, nor become confused, as seeing new forms of wrestling; but having already practiced them among ourselves, and having learned all his methods, may engage in these forms of wrestling against him with courage. (St. John Chrysostom, First Instruction 4)

* * *

All this, dear Ali Alexandra, is what is going on.  Rather, this is a small hint of the many-splendored significance of the preliminary rites you have seen.  It's a great pity (especially given who your father-in-law is) that you were not more carefully instructed in the marvelous things in which you participated.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Holy Baptism, Part 02: Renouncing satan

...and other rites preliminary to Holy Baptism

In her interview with Jay Leno, Ali Wentworth (the American wife of George Stephanopoulos) quipped, "...and I renounced satan, which I was on the fence about before, but I did."

Of course that was meant to be funny. Sure, if satan is some comic book personification of evil, who wouldn't renounce him? Nobody is on the fence about that; well, almost nobody. Yet the wisecrack shows very little understanding of what it means to "renounce satan". In fact, most people don't do it. Most people are at best dimly aware of any need to do it. Most people think of satan as just a piece of antiquated mythology.

The truth is, we simply cannot get around satan (with a small “s” to avoid showing any respect) and maintain any intellectual or moral integrity, since he is not merely an item of Christian belief, but of the experience of millions of people over thousands of years. Both the Old and the New Testaments bear witness to this experience (otherwise known as God’s revelation in history), and so do all the Fathers of the Church, and the saints and ascetics down to the present day. The witness is unanimous, of prophets, patriarchs, apostles, martyrs, and saints, and of Christ Himself.

But if anyone cannot bring himself to believe in satan, let him go forth to wage spiritual warfare himself. Struggle to learn never to judge anyone. Try weaning yourself from enslavement to all the various bodily pleasures and comforts. Strive for sexual purity. Learn to forgive and deeply love your enemies. Try taming your tongue. Try praying with full attention, or even really praying at all. Do these things (or even just one of them) not for a few days or a few weeks, but for months, stretching into years. Do this and you find that your enemy is not at all abstract, that you are fighting against intelligence, enormous cunning, and huge subtlety. You will find out there is purpose in your adversary, and that purpose is to destroy you; first your character and then your whole self. Do this and then come back and tell us whether there is any better description of what you have found yourself up against than “satan”. The more you struggle to cultivate your spirit, the more accurate you will find “satan” as a portrayal of your opponent in the fight

Put another way, if there is no satan (and if there are no demons), there may as well be! In effect, there are. The experience is the same.  Only those without experience in spiritual struggle have not learned this.

So what does it mean to renounce satan? It involves giving up your former way of life, the kind of life Ms. Wentworth's book so gleefully details. More specifically, to renounce satan means to stop living for ourselves, stop doing (and thinking and feeling and saying) everything for the sake of own little selves and to start living for - and with - God, to start living the Life He lives, the life of Love. Renouncing satan involves having at last - and usually with horrible clarity - understood how destructive to ourselves and others were certain of our behaviors (such as drunkenness, promiscuous sex, greed, etc.) that before had seemed so harmless. Renouncing satan means no longer aligning our lives with evil, no longer siding with it, but turning away from all this and declaring total war upon it. But worse than our past behaviors even - far worse - is the sort of person we now recognize ourselves to be, to have indulged in such things. The most profound aspect of "renouncing satan" is to reject being that sort of person, his pawn, any longer.

Now it is impossible to turn away from your life unless you have the prospect of a better life to turn toward, or to repudiate the person you have been up to now unless you have before you the solid and realistic hope of becoming a new person. And that is why, in the Orthodox baptismal rites, the formal and public reunciation of satan is followed immediately by the formal, public acceptance and bowing before Christ (both of which, informally and privately, have usually taken place months earlier).  Christ gives you a new life; Christ makes you a new person.

Both of these, the renouncing of satan and the embracing of Christ, are part of the ceremonies preceding the actual baptism. These ceremonies first make you a catechumen, which is a long, fancy Greek word for "hearer", or as we would say, an inquirer into the faith. You are enrolled in the Church, not as a member, but as a seeker.

Sometimes, this part of the initiation is performed not immediately before Holy Baptism, but when a person first expresses his desire to become an Orthodox Christian. In my case, the priest brought me to Vespers the same evening, announced that I was to be made a catechumen, and gathered all the church folk around me to sing the responses. I was baptized nine months later.

The Priest divests the one who comes to be illuminated of robes and shoes and faces him (her) eastward, barefoot and dressed in a single garment, hands down. Then, breathing thrice on his (her) face and signing him (her) thrice on the forehead and breast, the Priest prays for blessings, protection, and illumination for the catechumen, whom he names for the first time with the person's new, Christian name.

Second among the preliminaries to Baptism, after you have been made a catechumen, comes the triple exorcism, three long and somber addresses to the devil, solemnly and sternly commanding him to depart, plus prayers to God.  (Just about everything in this part of the ceremonies is done three times, a reference to the Holy Trinity.)  The point is that the forces of evil, after being driven out of us, can no longer influence us from inside ourselves, but only from outside, from which position their influence is much, much weaker.

The exorcisms are often a source of much relief for the inquirer, whose struggles have intensified since his or her decision to become an Orthodox Christian.  Inquirers often don’t believe you when you tell them they are now going to need a lot of extra prayer and a lot of friends rallying around, because now satan and his demons are going to get very serious with them. The nearer they draw to Holy Baptism (or Holy Chrismation, if they are converts received by this rite alone), the more they believe it. They say, ruefully, “You warned me! You told me this would happen, and it’s happening!"

After the Third Exorcism, the Church prays for the catechumen to be assigned a guardian angel. 

Then comes the renouncing of satan we have been discussing, together with the embracing of Christ.
The Priest turns him (her) that is to be baptized to face westward, unclothed except for one garment, barefoot, hands upraised. The Priest then says thrice: Do you renounce Satan, and all his works, and all his worship, and all his angels, and all his pomp?

Each time the Catechumen (or the Sponsor if the person to be baptized is a child or a foreigner) answers and says: I do renounce him.

Again the Priest asks him (her) that is to be baptized: (3 times)  Have you renounced Satan?

And the Catechumen or the Sponsor answers (3 times): I have renounced him.

After the third time, the Priest says: Then spit upon him.

And this being done, [yes, we do!] the Priest turns the Catechumen to the East with lowered hands, and repeats the following three times: Do you join Christ?

The question is answered three times: I do join Him.

Again the Priest asks three times: Have you joined Christ?

Catechumen (or Sponsor):  I have joined Him.

Again the Priest asks: And do you believe in Him?

Catechumen (or Sponsor): I believe in Him as King and as God.

Here the catechumen or godparent recites aloud the symbol of faith, the Nicene Creed. After the completion of the Creed, the Priest asks thrice: Have you joined Christ?

Catechumen (or Sponsor): I have joined Him.

Then the Priest says: Then bow before Him and worship Him

Catechumen (or Sponsor) bows down, saying: I bow down before the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; Trinity One in Essence and Undivided.

Priest: Blessed is God Who desires that all people should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the Truth; both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen. Let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord have mercy.

So far, then,
* The person has been enrolled in Christ's holy Church as a catechumen (seeker).
* The catechuman has been named with a Christian name.
* The  catechumen has been freed from the indwelling of the devil.
* The catechumen has been formally entrusted to the care of his guardian angel.
* The catechumen has publicly and formally renounced the devil.
* The catechumen has publicly and formally accepted and professed his faith in Christ.

Does it really seem too much rigamarole, considering how many wonderful and holy things have already taken place just in the first few minutes of these rites?  But these are only the preliminaries; there is a whole wealth of spiritual treasures yet to come.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Holy Baptism, Part 01

The central meaning of Holy Baptism is that it, together with Holy Chrismation, brings us into the Church.  Therefore, to have any understanding of this Mystery, it is necessary first to understand something of what the Church is  (and, ideally, what she is not, but that would take another whole series of posts).

And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23)
Most heterodox definitions of the church seem to begin with words similar to these: “The church is the assembly of those who…” An Orthodox definition of the church (insofar as she can be defined) begins and ends, as does everything in Orthodoxy, with Jesus Christ. The Church is Christ – and all who have been incorporated into Him. More specifically, if we compare the Church with a body, Christ is its Head, the rest of us are the other parts. The Church herself is the whole body, Head and members. The principle “Member” is the head, is Christ himself; the rest of us are included as part of Him.

The Apostle writes that the Church is "the fulness" of Christ. How can this be? Is there anything lacking in the God-man? Isn't that very idea blasphemous?

This diagram, which I hope will be helpful, is nevertheless flawed.
In reality, Christ cannot be circumscribed, and neither can the Church
and neither can any human being, since each possesses a soul. 
Still, I hope it illustrates how the Church can be "the fulness" of Christ,
although Christ is never lacking in anything whatsoever. 

The Church is Christ’s “fullness” in the same sense that any body is the “fullness” of its head, the extension of it, by which it operates in the world. Christ is “filled out” by us the way a tree is filled out when all its leaves have appeared and none is missing. He is “filled up” as a sheepfold is filled up when all of its sheep have come home and none is lost. The sheepfold itself lacks nothing to be a perfect sheepfold; but its purpose is completed when it is containing the sheep.

Other metaphors the Church uses to describe her relationship with Christ include the bride and the Bridegroom, who become “one flesh”. The Church is the unspotted bride of Christ. (Ephesians 5:27) Jesus Himself uses the simile of a vine: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” (John 15:5) There really is no way to tell where a “vine” ends and its “branches” begin.

The fact that Head and Body, Bride and Groom, Vine and Branches are all metaphors should not be construed to mean they refer to something unreal. On the contrary, like every Christian metaphor, they refer to something infinitely more real than any words can express. The intimacy bwetween Christ and Christians is infinitely more real than any of the Church's metaphors are able to convey, immeasurably closer than the intimacy between husband and wife or vine and branch or head and the rest of the body.

This communion is to be understood in an absolutely realistic sense. We mean it so realistically that we cannot quite say such things as that the Church is created by the Word, or subject to the Word, for the Church is nothing other than the Living Word. The members indeed are subject to their Head, but the Church as a whole, being Christ’s body, Head and members, is subject to no text. For the same reason, we do not say such things as that the Church is always in need of reform. Christ is never in need of reform! His members are, but they are Church only secondarily, in a derivative fashion, because of being joined to Christ. It is not us, but Christ Himself who constitutes the Church. The Church’s institutions are usually if not always in need of reform, but the Church herself is not an institution. She is the Body of Christ, animated by the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and nourished by His Flesh and Blood. She is Christ’s continuing incarnation on earth.

The communion we share with one another and with Christ is not, however, to be understood in any secular sense. That is, it is not a unity the way an earthly club is, working for common values or goals, although the Church does that, too. It is not a mere unity of intention, as when a group of people such as Boy Scouts decides to consider its members all one and proclaims that they are.  Neither is it an emotional unity, as in a platoon of soldiers.  It is not a body the way the student body of a high school is, merely by virtue of constituting an organization. It is not mere esprit de corps as shared by supporters of a football team and it is not merely a moral unity, as in the pro-life movement. It is not even the unity a family may feel, based upon common heritage, genes, and upbringing. Christian communion is infinitely more than any of these or all of these combined. It is a communion of being. It is a communion in the image of the Holy Trinity, in which there are multiple persons but only one essence. It is a communion constituted by Christ Himself, the same Christ dwelling in each of us. It is the unity He prayed God to give us:

…that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17:21-23)
The unity of the Church is the communion of a single life shared amongst all, that is, Christ's Life. Christ is wholly present in each member and is being lived out (with varying degrees of success!) by and in each. In this communion, each Christian, to me, is myself with a different face. (And so is even each non-Christian, in some less full sense.)  It is a communion which grows as we grow in Christ’s life, all of us more and more recognizing in ourselves and in others the very same Life, the very same Christ, although manifested uniquely in each of us.

Yet this intense communion we share with one another is by no means anything that swallows up our own personhood. Rather, we Christians share the same kind of communion we encounter in the Holy Trinity, in which the Persons remain distinct and unique, while being fully one and inseparable in their being (their essence). In the Church, as in the Holy Trinity, unity and multiplicity are mysteriously combined and transcended.

Such supernatural unity with Christ and with one another is not just a road to salvation but already is salvation itself, or at least the beginnings of it. If you are united with Christ, this miracle is indeed salvation!  One is saved, in the first place, from living any other life but Christ’s. One is saved from living a life separate from God’s life or the lives of other individual people.
It is therefore redundant, a tautology, to say Holy Baptism is necessary for salvation.  Jesus told Nicodemos, "Most assuredly, I tell you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."  (John 3:5)  Does this mean no unbaptized person will ever be saved?  We cannot say for certain, because God's judgments are ultimately unsearchable.  We always remember the thief on the cross, who through his faith was saved without water Baptism.  (We also bear in mind that not everyone baptized by water and the Spirit will necessarily be saved.  In John 15:2, Jesus says, "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away..." )  But normally, at least, Holy Baptism is the entrance into salvation.  This Mystery is the normal way ordained by Jesus by which He grafts us into Himself and thereby into His Church.  Holy Baptism is the beginning of the Christian life, a fruitful life, a life of faith, lived both for Him and in communion with Him. 

Of course all this raises numerous questions (such as, "What about infant baptism?"), answers to which will have to await future posts in this series. 


More Scripture passages about what the Church is:

Guarantor of Truth:  I Tim.. 3:15  but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

Even the angels in heaven learn from the Church:  Eph. 3: 10  that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.

See also Fr. Stephen's excellent post about the Church in her weakness.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Is your TV watching you? Latest models raise concerns

Samsung’s 2012 top-of-the-line plasmas and LED HDTVs offer new features never before available within a television including a built-in, internally wired HD camera, twin microphones, face tracking and speech recognition. While these features give you unprecedented control over an HDTV, the devices themselves, more similar than ever to a personal computer, may allow hackers or even Samsung to see and hear you and your family, and collect extremely personal data.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Catch-up and Preview

We've just returned (last night) from a short vacation at the beach, at the Outer Banks, to be specific. Poor Demetrios had overworked his brain, trying to get the second portion of his book written, and needed a rest. So we did a lot of resting in a quiet hotel in the off-season. We went around to all our old haunts, our favorite places between Corolla and Cape Hatteras. We poked around in antique shops and art galleries. We dug for fossils in a fossil pit. We toured around the North Carolina Aquarium, which we hadn't done for years. We walked on the beach in the morning and at sunset. We finally found the place to get some good food, even given our Lenten restrictions: the Black Pelican.  Besides great food at prices only slightly higher than the crummy food and including lots of vegetarian fare, it comes with a rich history and a moving "Legend of the Black Pelican".  (Click the link to read all about it.)  The first thing you encounter upon entering the restaurant is a sign, "The Wright Brothers Were Here". 

Our favorite store, Michael's (the glass shop in the Tangers Outlet Mall) is gone. It had sun catchers, marbles, glass jewelry, glass figurines, bags of tumbled rocks, kaleidoscopes, plus fossils and geodes and all sorts of wonderful things.   :-( 

Oh, well, eventually everything there will be gone.  What the nor'easters and hurricanes don't pick off, the rising sea level (a projected 4-5 feet within 20 years) will.  Plus, the islands are drifting inexorably west.  One just has to make the most of the here and now.

On arriving home, I found a good friend had posted this video on FB, thinking it hilarious.  I must've been in a bad mood or something, because I found it sad, making fun of Holy Baptism. 

As a result, I'm planning to post a multi-part series on the Mystery of Holy Baptism, what it means, what it accomplishes, and some of its many, rich layers of symbolism. I won't have time to begin working on it before Tuesday, but shortly after that, the first post should appear. Please pray I may write it well.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Congress Approves Drones Over US

See also here and here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Invisibility Cloak -- whee!

Yes, invisibility cloaks do exist.  The technology, as you can see, is not yet perfect, but it's pretty doggoned good!  What fun!

You can even more or less hide a car with it, as shown in this Mercedes ad. What fun!

Yes, what fun, until you think a bit longer. It's only fun in (or over) the hands (or tanks) of the good guys.

The Pheasant, the Queen, and the Loyal Detective

Recently, when we had to spend the morning at a bookstore to keep warm when our power went out in a snowstorm, I was thumbing through a new biography of Queen Elizabeth II when I came upon this little story I just have to share with you. 

It seems that when royal hunting parties go out to shoot birds, the Queen assigns herself the role of picking up the dropped birds (and/or expertly directing her dogs to go fetch the ones far away).  On one such shoot, a wounded pheasant cock flew out of a bush and straight into the Queen, knocking her over and leaving some of its blood on her clothing.

A nearby detective, seeing the fall and the blood, assumed the Queen had been shot.  He threw himself on top of her to shield her and then proceded to give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

The Queen's later observation on the incident was:  "We got to know each other rather well!"

She promoted him.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Excerpts from the Akathist Hymn to the Most Holy Mother of God...

... which we chant, together with Small Compline, on Friday nights in Lent.  Here are some of the passages that struck me as ones I'd like to share with you.

More exalted than the heavens, O immaculate Maid, rejoice as the one who carried earth's Foundation painlessly in your womb.  Rejoice, O murex who dyed in your own virgin blood the divine robe worn by the King of angelic hosts. 

Lady, truly you gave birth to the divine Giver of the law Who erases freely everybody's record of lawlessness.  Incomprehensible depth and height unspeakable, O unwedded Maid, rejoice.

Fiery chariot of God the Word, O rejoice, Lady, living garden of paradise, which in its center contains the tree of life, the Lord Whose deliciousness gives life to those who eat with faith, who were subject to decay.

From you has dropped the refreshing Dew, undoing polytheism's fever, and we therefore say to you, Rejoice, fleece that was wondrously bedewed, O holy Virgin, which Gideon foresaw.

Bride of God, Rejoice, who carried in your womb the Healer of the human race.  Rejoice, o mystical Rod, who caused to blossom forth the Flower that will never wilt away. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Extraterrestrial Life?

Like everyone else, I'm fascinated by the idea of intelligent life existing elsewhere than on this one planet.  I've no idea what that might do to Christian thinking, but that doesn't worry me a bit.  Truth can always handle newly-learned facts.  It would be so, so cool to find "brothers and sisters" from some other planet!

Some astronomers are trying to tell us that with the billions of galaxies and untold numbers of planets, it's inevitable there will be life on some of them.  But guess what?  If we go by pure chance, we may as well forget about any life as we know it existing elsewhere, much less intelligent life.  It takes more than a planet simply being the right distance from its sun.  It has to be the right size, and tilted at just the right number of degrees.  That sun also has to be the right size and the right age.  That planet also has to have a moon of the right size and in the right place.  It has to have neigboring planets bigger than it is, to deflect away from it the larger asteroids, but not so much bigger as to swallow up the planet in question, nor knock it too far off a regular orbit.  The planet has to have a molten core and it has to have plate techtonics, for reasons I forget.  It has to have enough volcanic activity to make an atmosphere, to shield life from the deadly radiation of its sun - but not enough volcanism to blot out the light of the sun.  There are dozens more conditions necessary for life as we know it, some of which which I've listed in previous posts, here and here .  And the chance of any one of these conditions being right is, in many cases, unimaginably small.  Never mind you have to have them all combined.

The key phrase here is "life as we know it".  Some may like to argue that perhaps our minds are too small, our imaginations too limited, to grasp the nature of the life that is surely out there.  One such person gave as her example the weird life forms discovered not so long ago in the very deep sea, where light virtually does not penetrate.  How can there be life without light?  It's a pretty good example, because these creatures (if memory serves) take their energy and minerals from the earth's hot core instead of from the Sun, a phenomenon previously unimagined.  However, these are still variations of "life as we know it". 

Even if we move to the realm of fantasy and think of things like the Medusa or faun or cyclops, these are still imaginary recombinations of known life forms.  Take a human upper half and put a fishy lower half on it and you have a mermaid.  Put a man's head and torso on a bull's body and you have a centaur.

Life as we do not know it would be, for example, ghosts.  But ghosts supposedly originate right here on earth.

Angelic life?  How can there be life without a body?  Without size or shape or dimension or temperature or weight or velocity or color, no eating, no drinking, no reproduction, so that each angel is sui generis?   Now there, truly, is an example of life as we do not know it!  But then nobody supposes angels originate from any specific planet. 

In any case, all of these examples are firmly outside the realm of science, whether because they are pure fantasy or because they are pure spirit. Any life as we do not know it is by definition strictly unscientific. 

So science must confine itself to pretty much variations on life as we do know it.  And the chances for that are so small that  if we read anywhere that "science tells us" there must be life out there, it doesn't.  It just doesn't.  Scientists may tell us that, but not on the basis of science. 

Of course if we want to step outside the very narrow confines of science and the scientific method, then things change.  If we want to acknowledge God, then we are no longer stuck with pure chance. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Back to Life

Finally I'm almost back to normal after a chest-and-head bug that has had me mostly in bed for 10 days now.  I didn't feel like blogging; didn't even feel like knitting, and that should tell you a lot!  I'm still dragging and my abdominal muscles are sore from having done the equivalent, in coughs, of a thousand sit-ups, but my cough is mostly gone, sore throat no longer sore, head no longer drippy, and the nausea has receded.  Thank heaven!  How wonderful, to be able to draw a clear breath!

Meanwhile, my prodigy of a godson has written an extensive review of a book by a Lutheran pastor.  The book is, A Lutheran Looks at ... Eastern Orthodoxy, by Robert Koester.  I have to say, Subdeacon Benjamin (Harju) is an awesome theologian!  His insights are deep, his gift for expression is great.  He holds back nothing, yet keeps his tone irenic.  If you are interested in a comparative look at these two traditions, Lutheranism and Orthodoxy, this is a must-read.

You can find the first installment (of 5)  here; then to find subsequent installments, scroll up.