Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

"May he who, for the sake of our salvation, was born in a cave and lay in a manger, Christ our True God, through the prayers of his most pure Mother; of the holy, glorious, and all-laudable Apostles; of our Holy and God-bearing forebears; of the holy and righteous ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna; and of all the Saints, have mercy on us and save us, for He is good and loveth humanity. Amen." - Blessing at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy for the Nativity of Christ, Byzantine Rite

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Blog and Call to Prayer

(Phiro tip: De Cura Animarum)

I am adding a link to another blog on the right: "In Caritate Non Ficta", written by Philip Gerard Johnson. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Johnson was serving as an officer in the Navy until he was diagnosed with a brain tumor which is apparently inoperable. He has also been discerning a call to the Roman Catholic priesthood, of which he speaks here and he is scheduled for a needle biopsy on January 7, 2009.

Please keep Philip in your prayers and have him remembered at the altar. Visit his blog and leave a comment, letting him know that you are praying for him.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Shack

Well, so much for agendas. When Advent began, a couple of weeks ago, I had laid out a plan for Advent blogging, focusing on the readings for the Sundays of the season. Life intervened, and here we are. It is almost the Third Sunday and I have yet to complete the post for the Second Sunday, concerning the “Announcement” to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, or Mother of God, of the impending birth of the Messiah. I had also intended to write posts about St. Nicholas (December 6) and perhaps some other Saints and manifestations of Saints, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose commemorations fall during the Advent season.

There is still hope for accomplishing some of this, but it is fading. In the meantime, a little book has come my way, something between a long short story and a novel, called The Shack, and it seems good to me to comment on it.

In The Shack, a middle-aged man, Mack, directly encounters the Triune God, who shows up in order to heal Mack of “The Great Sadness”, a chronic depression which has enveloped his life since his young daughter, Missy, was abducted and presumed killed while Mack and his children were on a camping trip a couple of years before. During this encounter with the Trinity, he experiences much that is healing, including being shown where his daughter’s body lies, and many of his questions are answered. In returning to his normal life, Mack, by revealing the location of his daughter’s body, is able to help the authorities catch the serial killer responsible for his daughter’s death, and he is also able to bring some measure of healing to his family, especially his older daughter, Kate, who feels responsible for Missy’s disappearance and death.

The author, William Paul Young, aka “Willie”, although somewhat younger than me, has a religious background similar to what I experienced as a young man, and some of the causes of pain in his life are apparently very similar to mine, in terms of both the consequences of his own behavior and the behavior of others; therefore, I strongly resonate with his practical understanding of God as Love, God as a Divine Community who always acts in love, even when that Community is angry at humans for the damage they are doing to themselves, each other, and the planet. And I actually know someone, a woman, who had a similar experience, not with the Triune God per se, but with Christ and His Blessed Mother. The results, for this woman, are also very similar to those in Mack’s life: positive both for herself and for those around her. So, even though this book is presented as fiction, this aspect is quite believable to me. There is also much about the theology which is very, well, Orthodox, concerning the nature of God and the Divine desire to be in relationship – communion – with all humans, for humans to share the Divine Life “face to face” and the role that Jesus, both fully God and fully human, plays in making this possible and actual. Given this, and given that this book can be a word of hope to people who are seriously hurting and may even be a salutary wake up call to people coming out of certain religious backgrounds, I am reluctant to critique in any way, but I feel I must.

The book, of course, is a story of an extraordinary encounter with God; thus, it might not be expected to deal so much with the ordinary means by which we experience the Divine. Unfortunately, however, words several times put into the mouths of the Divine Persons specifically reject the cornerstone of these ordinary means of encountering God: “no ritual”. Thus, for example, while there is an incident in the book in which Mack consumes bread and wine given him by the Divine Persons, it is explicitly stated that he eats and drinks “without ritual”. And, under other circumstances, things are purposely changed up, done differently than before, because there is “no ritual”.

For me, this is extremely problemmatic, and not just on an abstract level. You see, I do encounter the Triune God, the God "of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," every time I celebrate the Eucharist, every time I participate in any way, and I know I am not alone in this. The Eucharist – and the other Christian Mysteries – have been healing forces – healing encounters – with “the Great I Am”, for me not only on a routine, theoretical basis, but especially when I have been at my lowest, when, frankly, suicide has presented itself as a viable option. Yes, I’ve been there: it is not simply that I have a professional interest in defending the Mysteries. If I had not encountered the Love which is God in these Mysteries, I would not have embraced the historic, Apostolic Christian Faith, let alone become a priest.

There IS ritual and, as it turns out, the reasons for this have a great deal to do with the way humans are created. Thus, since we are, after all, made in the image and likeness of God, this must also have something to do with the communal love which is the Divine Nature, the eternal dance of mutual submission – kenosis – which the book rightly highlights. We certainly see ritual in created nature which itself “declares the glory of God”. Consider the repetition: day succeeds day; month follows month; season follows season; year follows year. We could also multiply examples from human interaction: however, the basic point is simply that there is no relationship without ritual, and ritual is a means, an extremely basic means, by which we initiate and reinforce relationships. Therefore, I would invite Willie and all of his readers to begin experiencing relationship with the Divine in those rituals which God has given us precisely for that purpose, especially the ritual of the Eucharist, in the context of a Church, a Christian community, where the Apostolic “Rule of Prayer” has been preserved.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"Yes, but is it bread?"

A post by Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod writer at Getreligion, discusses an article (with video) in the Boston Globe, featuring The Cavanagh Company, a Rhode Island-based firm that makes unleavened hosts for the Eucharist, as used in Latin Rite Roman Catholic Churches as well as Anglican and Lutheran congregations. Cavanagh, “the Microsoft of altar breads,” apparently has an 80% market share.

First, let me make clear that neither I nor the ACCA are inherently opposed to the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist. We take the view that bread, any bread, whether leavened or unleavened, is valid matter for the central celebration of the Christian faith, while also noting that for our Armenian brethren, both Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic, unleavened bread is normally used to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Pluralism is proper here, at least between Rites, in that the use of leavened bread is rooted in one sort of symbolism, unleavened in another, and both are informed by the Gospel: Christ is free of “the leaven of the Pharisees” while at the same time, He is the new leaven which causes “the whole lump to rise”. I also have to say that I am impressed with the Cavanagh family’s development of technology which allows them to mass produce a product that is edible, reasonably bread-like, and largely crumb-free, which is always a concern with altar bread. It is not easy to make such unleavened bread. Believe me, I’ve tried, and the results have not been edible. Futher, unleavened bread is a great deal easier to work with once it is consecrated, especially when it comes to the reservation of the sacrament.

One bit of irony, however, has to do with the idea that Cavanagh communion bread is “untouched by human hands” prior to its being used to celebrate the Eucharist. Consider the prayer with which the bread is offered, in the contemporary Roman Rite, during the “Preparation of the Gifts”:

“Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation, through your goodness we have this bread to offer which earth has given and HUMAN HANDS HAVE MADE. It will become for us the bread of life.” (Emphasis added)

The bread and wine are means by which, in the Eucharist, we Christians offer ourselves, our world, and our work to God. This is why, in Eastern Christian circles, it is normal for the Eucharistic bread (leavened in most Eastern Christian traditions) to be made by a priest or by a member of the congregation. I myself make leavened eucharistic bread for use on special occasions. Further, there are still Western Rite convents and monasteries which make unleavened altar breads. For these monks and nuns, this work is both ministry and means of support, and it certainly involves "the work of human hands". Another institution which makes these breads is St. Michael's Bakery, in the Netherlands. Started as a school for the deaf in early 19th Century, it now provides occupational therapy to those in need. St. Michael's altar breads are available in the United States here (from a company which also sells Cavanagh breads).

Another bit of irony in this article has to do with the attitude apparently taken by members of the Cavanagh family to their product: “no reverence”. “Until it’s consecrated by the priest, it’s just bread,” they say. The problem here is that bread, any bread, is potentially the Body of Christ. Therefore, it, and by extension, all food, is to be treated with a certain amount of deference, especially bread which is being made specifically for the Eucharist. Contrast this attitude to that of a Russian immigrant women, once employed in a fine restaurant. She left this job shortly after starting because she was required to dispose of bread left uneaten by the patrons. “I have to throw away the Body of Christ!” All bread is potentially the Body of Christ, all wine His precious blood. This is directly related to the Christian giving of thanks, not just in the Eucharist, but before consuming any food or drink.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

First Sunday of Advent and Commemoration of St. Andrew

One of the ways in which the ACCA manifests the Western Christianity in its DNA is by the fact that it celebrates Advent as a season which is only four weeks long as opposed to the six weeks which are the general norm for the Eastern Christian rites. However, like our more mainstream brothers and sisters of the West Syriac rite in the Indian Orthodox Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and the Maronite Church, the focus of our Advent observance is upon the “Happy Announcements” which precede the birth in the flesh of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ. As it happens this year, the First Sunday of Advent and St. Andrew’s day coincide. This is not entirely problematic, given that St. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, is the “first called” of the Apostles (John 1:35-42) and it is he, Andrew, who introduces Peter, who eventually becomes the first, the leader, of the Apostles, to the Lord. We also note that Andrew first encounters Jesus through John the Baptizer, the forerunner, whose mission it was to announce the coming of the “Lamb of God,” the Messiah.

The main focus of today’s Gospel reading (Luke 1:5-25) for this First Sunday of Advent is the announcement made to Zechariah, the Baptizer’s father, that he, Zechariah, an elderly man married to an elderly woman, Elizabeth, was about to become a father for the first time. Now Zechariah was a priest of the Temple in Jerusalem, and it had fallen upon him to enter the Holy Place to offer incense, as was done twice daily. As Zechariah is burning incense before the Lord, an angel, who turns out to be Gabriel, appears to him. Gabriel tells Zechariah, that this child, this firstborn son, is to be called John. Gabriel continues:

“And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth;
for he will be great before the Lord,
and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink,
and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit,
even from his mother's womb.
And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,
and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli'jah,
to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

Zechariah does not believe the angel and is made unable to speak until the child is born.

But then, of course, John IS born, Zechariah’s power of speech is restored, and he speaks prophetically of the newborn laying before him:

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people,
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies,
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to perform the mercy promised to our fathers,
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath which he swore to our father Abraham,
to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,
through the tender mercy of our God,
when the day shall dawn upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace."

We find these events foretold in one of the Old Testament readings given for this Sunday, Malachi 3:1-4: “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.”

So John comes “in the spirit and power of Elijah” to “prepare the way of the LORD.” Who is “the LORD”? None other than the eternal God, “the Holy One of Israel”. The Messiah is the Eternal God come in flesh and blood. He is “Emmanuel,” “God-with-us”. He is the “Word of the Lord” who comes to Jeremiah and all the prophets, who comes as “the Son of Adam” to the Apostles.

In the other Old Testament reading given for this Sunday, Jeremiah 1:4-9, the LORD calls the prophet Jeremiah, who, like John the Baptizer, is consecrated before his birth to see the living God and to announce what he has seen. Jeremiah, like all prophets, including John and his father, Zechariah, has “the word of God” placed in his mouth. This is reminiscent of our Lord’s words to the Apostles, “Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:17)

Apostles, who are themselves prophets, are sent to speak in the power of God, to speak as they are given to do so. As St. Paul writes in the reading from Romans (10: 10-18) for St. Andrew, “how beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news” and, from Psalm 19: “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world”. They, too, speak of what they have seen, heard, experienced, their encounter with God, God with a human face. Over these 2,000 years, their message has come down to us in the Church, and we have heard and responded. In responding, we too experience the living God.

Advent, the season of arrival, the time of announcement, is a hinge upon which, in the present, swings past and future. The Lord who comes to us today in Word and Mystery, in proclamation and celebration, is He who has come and is to come. He has come in creation, in the encounter with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; He has come in the giving of the law, in the calling of the prophets. He has come as Jesus the Messiah. The Kingdom is present because the King is present: “change your minds and believe the Good News!” If we do so, then we too will be empowered to speak, to tell what we have seen and heard, to announce what we have experienced; in so doing, we will know that the Spirit of our Father speaks through us.

(Scripture quotations are from the RSV)

Happy Nameday, Andreas Mar Cassian! Many years!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

It is quiet this early Thanksgiving morning here in central South Carolina, the sun rising above the trees outside my east-facing window immediately to my left, and yes, Khouria Susan, it's a little chilly. The turkey is cooking, and Susan is resting. Junior was unable to come home from Chicago and my brother-in-law and his family were also unable to come down from Virginia. However, our older daughter will join us a bit later, so Thanksgiving this year will be small, just the three of us.

As I have done so many times at quiet holiday moments, I am wandering a bit through old memories, memories of Thanksgivings past, celebrations in my native Northeast Montana, in Milwaukee during my largely misspent college career, memories of other times and other places.

One such memory, from the Marquette/Milwaukee years, involves the microwaving of a turkey at a favorite Wells Street watering hole, Jim Hegarty’s Irish Pub. After an hour or two and many beers later, we then took it home, to our dilapidated college student ghetto flat, and put it in the oven for a while. In the end, that was one tough, undercooked bird. A great memory, but a lousy meal. Other memories, from childhood, have to do with inviting neighbors, three retired bachelor farmers (only one of whom was Norwegian), to share our family table. That made six: mom, dad, yours truly, and Ray, John, and Herman. There was snow on the ground and it was more than “a little chilly”, but that was always the case at Thanksgiving, fifteen miles south of the Canadian border, with nothing but a couple of barbed wire fences between us and the North Pole, a mere 2,500 miles away.

Another set of memories, sparked by Deacon Greg Kandra, are not related specifically to the holiday of Thanksgiving. Deacon Greg has posted, here, a clip from “Godspell”, a production made possible by the Jesus Revolution of the early 1970’s, the latter a phenomenon that shaped my life profoundly, as did the related neo-Pentecostalism of Charismatic Renewal. What is fascinating to me is the extent to which these movements continue to impact American Christianity up until this moment, from the upheavals within Anglicanism to the resurgence of Eastern Orthodoxy to the ever-shifting foci within Roman Catholicism to the founding of the Charismatic Episcopal Church and similar Independent Catholic bodies as well as the emergence of Churches such as the ACCA.

One specific memory that I have in this regard concerns a prayer group/Bible study hosted by a Roman Catholic couple in my hometown, Scobey “Lake Wobegone” Montana. They had been introduced to charismatic renewal by way of the Cursillo movement. I was 14 or 15 at the time, and this prayer group included, at various times, Methodists, Lutherans, members of the Assemblies of God and even, from time to time, my own father, an Evangelical Wesleyan, who consistently cast a decidedly jaundiced eye at mainstream denominations, especially the Roman Catholic Church. On this particular evening, I do not recall who was present, except for the host couple; however, at some point, in walked a Roman Catholic priest, a native of the area, and his father. I had never encountered a priest so closely before. He said little but, as I recall, prayed profoundly. Something stirred within me: a calling. I did not know how or where this calling would be played out, but somehow, at a very deep level that was only semi-conscious, I knew. I was called: this Charismatic, Evangelical Jesus Freak nerd, a son of the radical Reformation if there ever was one, was being called to the sacerdotal priesthood.

Years later, my colleague, Andreas Mar Cassian, and I were discussing our respective youths, his in East Tennessee, mine in NE Montana. He was raised Baptist. Avva Andreas asked me, “What did you want to be when you were 14?” “A priest,” I replied. “Me too,” he said.

Of course, it all seems so much more clear-cut in retrospect. However, on that Winter night, in an aging mobile home in NE Montana, a seed was most definitely planted.

And there were other seeds: having a pastor introduce me to Ignatius of Antioch from the pulpit of the Christian and Missionary Alliance congregation which was my primary church home as a child and teenager; attending a Latin wedding Mass; and, at age 7, encountering the witness of a large, devout Roman Catholic family, especially through its sons who were close to me in age and who, even though very young themselves, were willing and quite able to explain to me the basics of the Apostolic Faith in its Roman Catholic iteration, including, as I vividly recall, the three types of baptism: water, desire, and blood. I have long since lost touch with them, Brian, Johnny, and Michael, but I pray for them regularly, and I hope they have perservered in their faith.

For all of this, and for so much more, especially for my family, friends both past and present, and for my Church, I give thanks this day. Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may God remember us all in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Paulos Mar Gregorios

Monday, November 24, was the 12th anniversary of the repose of Paulos Mar Gregorios, a metropolitan bishop of the Indian Orthodox Church and a world class scholar, ecumenist, and humanitarian. Fr. Theodosius has a tribute here as well as several posts relating to Mar Gregorios, including excerpts from his writings, here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Deacon comes to realize his true vocation...

Writer David Hunter, formerly Deacon Micah in ACCA circles, has requested and received laicization with the Metran's blessing. Hunter says he realized his true vocation lies in writing. He has published several novels, many inspired by his experience as a law enforcement officer, and writes a weekly column for the Knoxville New-Sentinel. In the column linked below, he mentions the recent death of Jimbo, one of the men who was a regular guest at St. Demetrios' soup kitchen:

"Helping the Least of These"

Note: the intial reference to "St. Michael's" should be to "St. Demetrios", as the column itself later makes clear.

Also, after Jimbo's death, friend of the ACCA Chad Huskey realized he had some video footage of Jimbo from St. Demetrios, and he used it to make a tribute, which is embedded below. The initial text in the video is from an E-mail written by the Metran, Victor Mar Michael, and the occasion was when the youth of Chad's Church, Forest Grove Free Will Baptist, prepared and served a meal for the homeless at St. Demetrios:

Memory eternal!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

So sad, so very, very sad...

"Monks brawl at Christian Holy Site in Jerusalem"

This is not the first time something like this has happened, and it probably won't be the last.

"For the peace of the whole world, for the welfare of the holy Churches of God, and for the union of all, let us pray to the Lord."
Kyrie Eleison -
Great litany, Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Dorothy Day's 111th Birthday today. Deacon Greg Kandra has a tribute, including an interesting story about Day and the Eucharist. (The anniversary of her repose is Nov. 29.)

"Happy Birthday, Dorothy Day"

Back in 2000, Day, who fell asleep in the Lord in 1980, was found to have been a "Servant of God". In the Roman Church, such a finding is the first step on the path to being declared a Saint.

Friday, November 7, 2008

After the Election, Some Issues for Consideration...

As a priest, I believe that it would have been inappropriate of me, at least in a public forum such as this, to indicate a preference for a particular candidate. However, I feel no such reticence when it comes to writing about specific issues of importance to me, nor do I believe I am constrained by tax law in expressing my opinion on these matters. It does go without saying, however, that I speak only for myself, and not for the ACCA, in the following:

First, two “action alerts” from Consistent Life Network. The first item is a link to a petition to Obama and Company, from Sojourners, pledging prayer and asking that the Obama administration, among other things, work to reduce abortion and to work, in general, to promote a “culture of life”, which gets away from the death penalty and which works to alleviate poverty. The second concerns the need to oppose FOCA, the Freedom of Choice Act, which would outlaw many existing restrictions on abortion.

Finally, there is a proposal which bears a very similar name, the Employees Free Choice Act, but which merits the support of Christians and other people of good will. Already passed by the House, this law, which Obama will sign once it is passed by the Senate, would facilitate efforts by workers to organize themselves into unions and would restrict employer harassment in this regard. Union members not only earn more, but are also more productive than non-union members. For more on this, go here.

An Open Letter to Barack Obama

John L. Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, a well-respected writer for a publication that is not well-respected in some circles, has written an open letter to the President-Elect, explaining that, differences notwithstanding, the "Vatican...believes that the United States is its most natural ally in promoting religious freedom and human dignity around the world", even a United States led by someone with whom it differs on abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Allen concludes by saying:

"For what it’s worth, Mr. President-Elect, my advice is to get on the phone if the pope calls. Better yet, initiate the conversation yourself. You might be surprised about where it goes."

Read it all and you can also check out comments from Fr. John "Save the Liturgy Save the World" Zuhlsdorf here.

Too bad none of the Orthodox patriarchs, Byzantine or Oriental, are also heads of state.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The President-Elect wants to hear from you...

"An American Moment"

With some trepidation, I am leaving comments open on this post; however, please confine any comments here to reactions to this particular initiative and its creative use of technology. Use the link to express opinions on other matters to the Obama transition team itself. Thanks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

An Evangelical Appreciates "Theosis"

(Phiro tip to Orthodixie)

Evangelical scholar James R. Payton Jr., professor of history at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, has published a piece in Christianity Today entitled, “Keeping the End in View: How the strange yet familiar doctrine of theosis can invigorate the Christian life”. He is also author of Light from the Christian East: An Introduction to the Orthodox Tradition, published by IVP Academic.

My reaction to this article is profoundly mixed. It is good, of course, whenever anyone, especially an Evangelical, says nice things about Orthodox Christianity and the patristic tradition in general, and it is to be hoped, may it please God, that Payton’s writing here will inspire many CT readers to further investigate the apostolic Christian faith in its Eastern and Orthodox iterations. Further, to be fair, perhaps Payton’s book length presentation is more complete. One hopes so. HOWEVER…

My problems with what Payton has to say in this article begin with the subtitle: “How the strange yet familiar doctrine of theosis can invigorate the Christian life.” The major thrust of Payton’s CT piece is apparently that Christians should keep the fulness of life in Christ ever in view, that fulness, of course, being experienced only in the age to come, at the end of history, in the glorified, resurrected state. Fair enough, as far as it goes, and Payton is certainly correct in criticizing the vulgar Evangelicalism, usually connected with the semi-Calvinist belief that “once saved is always saved,” in which justification, or conversion, is effectively reduced to, as Payton says, “a get–out-of-hell-free card”; however, it seems to me that Evangelical Christianity has long been looking for “doctrines” to “invigorate” it. One could even view the beginnings of the Reformation in these terms. Luther, as is well known, latched on to “the just shall live by faith” while Calvin found his starting point in the discussion of predestination in Ephesians 1. This search for a doctrinal panacea has continued until this very moment, the most well-known current manifestation being the so-called “prosperity gospel:, “blab it and grab it”, as Mar Cassian puts it. (Fr. Jon Braun’s book, Divine Energy directly engages the shortcomings of this search for panaceas.)

But, for Orthodox Christianity, theology – doctrine – is first and foremost practical: “What must I do to be saved?” The answer, given somewhat differently in different places in the New Testament, but always referring to the same reality, is clear: “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ”, “repent and be baptized”, “eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man,” “put to death the deeds of the flesh,” “endure to the end”. The point is, “doctrines”, even dogmas, no matter how true, how Orthodox, in and of themselves do little or nothing: “the letter kills but the Spirit gives life”, “faith without works is dead”.

The problem here is that theosis, or deification (also called union with Christ, sanctification, regeneration, and yes, justification), is not simply about ultimate salvation, resurrection, glorification. Theosis begins here and now with conversion, incorporation into Christ by way of the Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation, and participation in the Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ. It is renewed in the Mysteries of Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick. It is pursued by way of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. There is absolutely no mention in this article of the Mysteries, the Sacraments, nor of these classical Christian disciplines.

There is also absolutely no mention of the fact that the Christian life, begun and lived by incorporation into Christ by way of baptism into his death, is life in the Body of Christ, the Church. This is not surprising, given that the Sacraments are not mentioned. However, it is impossible to discuss the Orthodox point of view on this apart from life on the ground, life in the Church, participating in the Mysteries, practicing the disciplines, because sanctification, theosis, union with Christ, is inseparable from this life in the Church, “the fulness of [Christ] who fills all in all”.

Payton also (mildly) criticizes Orthodox Christianity for not keeping its terms straight, for supposedly confusing “justification”, “sanctification,” and “theosis”. But, as the late Lutheran scholar Joachim Jeremias points out, citing I Corinthians 6:11, “justification” and “sanctification” are deeply interchangeable: they are synonyms (notice also the reference to “washing”, i.e., baptism here), related one to another by way of parallelism, each word focusing on different aspects of the same reality.

In conclusion, while it is always good to read appreciations of Christian Orthodoxy in forums such as Christianity Today, Payton’s presentation here is at best incomplete. This has been, I think, the stumbling block of Wesleyanism, Payton’s jumping off point. Wesleyanism, it seems, like virtually all of Protestantism, has split into two camps, one conservative, the other, in reaction to the shortcomings of the conservative stance, liberal. Now, in theology, liberalism is not a good thing, but perhaps worse is the conservatism from which it is born. Wesley, an Anglican priest, was both a progenitor of contemporary Evangelicalism and a proto-typical Anglo-Catholic, and he certainly sought that all of his followers – converts – should come to be “partakers in the Divine nature” (and one has to got to love that lost stanza of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" quoted at the beginning of the article). However, while he had a rather high doctrine of the Church and of the sacraments (one which, at least in the United States, did not have much effect on the development of Methodism and its Holiness and Pentecostal off-shoots), he made a very fundamental mistake: “sanctification by faith”.

In other words, Wesley failed to see the importance of the ascetic struggle, by way of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, in the transformation of believers into the image and likeness of Christ. (He failed here, perhaps, because, like Luther, earlier in his life he had pursued an ascetic lifestyle for the wrong reasons: he was seeking God’s love and favor, which are already given to all in Christ, rather than the fulness of transformation to be found by living in union with Christ.) Thus, like conversion or "justification", sanctification also became an event, a crisis, a “second blessing”. This has led to many problems on the personal and corporate levels, unnecessary psychological distress at one’s failures after having allegedly been sanctified, often coupled with a nasty legalism. One cannot separate any of this. Life in the Church and thus, participation in the Sacraments, the Mysteries, and the practice of the disciplines, is part and parcel of the path of theosis, which is nothing other than the “normal Christian life”.

Two Interesting RC posts and an excerpt from "The Church is One"

"Are you born again?"

"All sacrifices will cease but one"

and, from Fr. Stephen, the excerpt from Khomiakov:

"From Khomiakov's "The Church is One".

All three are relevant to my next post.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Election '08: What hath Washington to do with Jerusalem (or Constantinople)?

From John Allen (not my brother-in-law) at the National Catholic Reporter:

"Serious Catholics wind up 'politically homeless" in America"

On a purely practical level, Allen may be right about the need to "hijack" one of the major parties, but I have long thought that the U.S. needs a viable "Christian Social Democratic Party" precisely because of this situation. Allen is certainly right when he opines that the various factions in the American RCC need to be talking with each other as well as with others, such as Orthodox Christians.

And from Fr. Jonathan Tobias, a Byzantine Orthodox priest:

"Endorsement, and a Platform, for 2008"

which contains no endorsement, but does contain a great deal of good information as well as Fr. Jonathan's usual incisive and insightful commentary.

And, somewhat relatedly, Fr. Stephen (and the Ecumenical Patriarch) on creation:

"When Creation Speaks"

Underlying any authentic Christian approach to the environment is a recognition of the latter's sacramentality, potential and actual.

Monday, October 20, 2008

An Open Letter to a Former Member of the ACCA

My Dear Brother:

It has come to my attention that, given certain events in our little Church, you have decided that the ACCA is not “Orthodox enough” and have gone to a parish of a Byzantine jurisdiction. Further, it seems that you have taken to criticizing us publically, albeit anonymously, for our lack of “canonicity”, for our perceived failings and for what you see as a lack of ecclesiastical discipline in certain matters.

First, please be assured of our prayers and of our support in your decision to change Churches. We have nothing against Byzantine Orthodoxy, and if our Lord is calling you there, who are we to second guess that call? Godspeed! Further, I believe you are in contact with another former member, whose departure apparently helped to precipitate your own. In our humble opinion, he, too, would benefit if he were to affiliate with your new Church. If, in any way, you can help him see that, it would be good.

However, I would respectfully ask that you refrain from some of the actions in which you have been engaged, especially those in a certain Internet forum. Please remember that it was the ACCA who introduced you to Orthodox Christianity in the first place, and if you have doubts as to whether or not your actions in this regard are appropriate, please discuss them with your current spiritual father. I am quite certain that, regardless of his own feelings and opinions about the ACCA, he will tell you that attacking us will not help to advance your own salvation (or ours, for that matter).

Again, brother, Godspeed! We hope to meet you in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Avva Greg

Saturday, October 18, 2008

More from Montana...

In this case, native son Tim Montana, who appeared on David Letterman Friday night, singing "Butte America USA". I can't get the Youtube video to embed, but check out the link below. I'm a big fan of Waylon, Willie, Kris, Johnny, and outlaw country in general, and I LOVE this kid. The fact that he's from my home state (and sings about it) is icing on the cake. BTW, the "big white lady on the mountaintop" mentioned in the song is Our Lady of the Rockies, a 90-foot statue of the Theotokos, the Blessed Virgin Mary, which sits atop the Continental Divide above Butte.

Butte America

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Only in Montana...

"HELENA - Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Brown on Wednesday accused Democrats of spreading a false rumor that he is a vegetarian in this meat-loving state."

"Brown says he's no vegetarian, decries Demos' mud-slinging"

Friday, October 10, 2008

How Did We Get Here?

Another Byzantine Orthodox priest, Fr. Jonathan, speaks to one of the roots, perhaps THE root, of our current mess:

"What old Sam Fathers said"

"Christianity cannot tolerate a culture, a way of life, so far removed from nature. If the vine cannot be remembered, nor the fields and the stone spring, then the Font and Table will be pushed off the stage. If a tree has not been climbed, its leaves unheard and its shade neglected, then the Cross becomes mere geometry, a shape not a substance, a representation not a symbol. If history cannot be remembered and story unheard and untold, then we will have on one end folk who try to be Christian without being religious, and on the other, folk who try to be liberal without being conservative. Both sides have gone off the deep end, and that is where we hunters are at, while some of us idiots are busy acting rich and secular."

Read it all, read it all.

Calls to Prayer.... the face of worldwide economic meltdown. One comes from Fr. Stephen, a Byzantine Orthodox priest in Tennessee. His post is called "When Money Fails".

Another has been issued by a traditional (but mainstream) Roman Catholic priest in the UK, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf. It is found here.

To these, I can only add my own call to prayer. Let us seek the Lord, and the prayers of His Most Holy Mother, the other Saints, and the Angels. It may be that, in the persons of Fr. Stephen and Fr. John, Jonah has come to Ninevah.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Fr. Dwight on Sacrifice

"The Centrality of Sacrifice"

In jumping the divide from Evangelical Protestantism to historic, Apostolic Christianity, the idea of Eucharistic sacrifice presented me with a major hurdle, if not THE major hurdle. I was raised to believe that the Epistle to the Hebrews, which presents Christ's sacrifice as fulfilling, and therefore making obsolete, the Jewish sacrificial system, applies as much to the Christian Divine Liturgy, or Mass, as it does to the sacrifices of the Jewish temple. Not so, not so.

Hebrews, in the last chapter, speaks of the Eucharist: "We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat" and then, later, another more oblique reference is found in Hebrews 13:16: "Do not neglect to do good and to COMMUNICATE for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." Then, of course, St. Paul, by juxtaposing the Eucharist with pagan sacrifices in I Corinthians, implies that the Eucharist is inded a sacrifice.

And, then, of course, there is the Didache, written in the late First Century, which explicitly calls the Eucharist a sacrifice and states that it is the fulfillment of Malachi 1:11: "For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations [gentiles], and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering,....says the Lord."

In his piece, Fr. Dwight contrasts Eucharist-as-sacrifice with Eucharist-as-fellowship meal. The point is that the Eucharist is a "fellowship meal" precisely because it is participation in the sacrifice of Christ. He also speaks of the Eucharist as the first and foremost means by which we fulfill Romans 12:1, offering our bodies, as a "living sacrifice", as "spiritual worship" through, with, and in the sacrifice of Christ Jesus, into whose death we have been baptized.

Finally, he speaks of the kenosis, the "self-emptying" of God as the basis for all sacrifice. This kenosis does not begin with the Incarnation, and it is not restricted to the Son. From all eternity, the generation of the Son and the breathing forth of the Holy Spirit by the Father are archetypal acts of kenosis. In emptying himself, therefore, the Lord Jesus does, as he says in John's Gospel, simply what he sees the Father doing.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Parables: A Different Take on Another One

From Fr. Ray Blake, an RC Parish Priest in the UK:

"An Interpretation of the Good Samaritan"

A great thing about parables, especially Jesus' parables, is that they speak on so many levels.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Convocation: More Pictures...

Just before the beginning of Qurbana, Mar Michael (center) addresses the Assembly. Standing, from the left: Deacons Sister Jackie and Mother Shirley, Yours Truly, Mar Michael, Avva Zakkai, and Amma Caitlin.

Sister-Deacon Jackie censes the gifts during the Great Entrance

Mar Michael chrismates (confirms) Parasceve Cheryl, assisted by Avva Zakkai

Sister Luke Panteleimon is tonsured a Reader. Avva Andreas, soon to be made Andreas Mar Cassian, assists Mar Michael

Reader Sister Miriam Victoria is presented for ordination to the Sub-diaconate by the Deacons Mother Shirley and Sister Jackie, along with Sub-Deacon Yeremyah

A Bishop for Kodak...

The new bishop, Andreas Mar Cassian, on the right, receives the pastoral staff from his consecrator, Victor Mar Michael.

Another annual convocation has come and gone. Each year, the clergy of the ACCA gather at St. Demetrios, Knoxville on the first weekend of October to meet, assess the year past, and to consider the coming year. The final event, each year, is the Sunday evening Qurbana, Eucharist. This year, during Qurbana, a new member, Parasceve Cheryl Beasley, was chrismated; Sister Luke Panteleimon was tonsured a Reader; Sister Miriam was made a Sub-deacon; and Chorepiscopus (Archpriest) Andreas Richard Turner, Chancellor of the ACCA and Pastor of St. Elias, Kodak, Tennessee, was consecrated a bishop, taking the name Mar Cassian. He assumes the role of syncellus, that of suffragan, or assistant, bishop to Mar Michael. (Andreas Mar Cassian’s titular see is someplace in Palestine, a city which has been in ruins for almost two millenia.)

In the end, chains were not required. Avva presented himself voluntarily, if not altogether willingly, for consecration. Prior to that, at 2 PM Sunday, Avva Andreas taught a class in the ongoing “Orthodoxy 101” series at St. Demetrios. He spoke on a subject near and dear to his heart, that of the Didache: the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, a late First Century document. It can be found online here, and a paper Mar Cassian wrote on the subject some time ago can be found here.

After Mar Cassian’s consecration, the liturgy continued with the celebration of the Qurbana proper, the most holy sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ. Over several convocations and other meetings, the clergy of the ACCA have developed what seems to be a unique form of concelebration. The altar at St. Demetrios is freestanding, and during the celebration, the new bishop and the presbyters (Avva Zakkai, Amma Caitlin, and myself) rotated around the altar, each taking a portion of the liturgy, then moving to the side for the next concelebrant, and so on. All pronounced the Words of Institution and the Epiclesis together, and at the elevation (“The Holy Mysteries are for the Holy”), all participated in elevating the paten and chalice. It is always a profoundly moving experience, both for the celebrants and for those in the congregation, manifesting the inherently conciliar nature of the Christian priesthood and of the Church itself, as does the joint discernment which occurs yearly in the deliberations at Convocation. Others who participated in serving the Liturgy this year include the Deacons Mother Shirley and Sister Jackie and Subdeacon Yeremyah. Also, a big thank you to the laypeople at St. Demetrios who helped make Convocation possible, including Jeff and Anna, John and Parasceve Cheryl, Mary Lou, and Tom as well as all the members, both clerical and lay, of the Sisterhood of the Holy Myrrh-bearing Women. Please forgive me, y’all, if I have failed to mention anyone that I should have.

Finally, a word of thanks to Andrew, a special friend to Khouria Susan and myself. He has been very generous to us with his time and financial contributions. This year, he provided us with transportation and financial support in attending Convocation and we are very appreciative. Thank you, Andrew, and we hope to be chrismating you soon.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Off to East Tennessyria

We are travelling to Knoxville this evening for the ACCA's annual clergy convocation. On Saturday, the clergy will meet for the day. On Sunday, at Qurbana, Chorepiscopus (Archpriest) Andreas Richard Turner, Chancellor and Vicar-General, will be consecrated to the episcopate as a suffragan to the Metran, or Archbishop, Victor Mar Michael Herron (Avva Andreas will be, God willing, made a bishop, unless he decides to run away, something he has threatened; in that case, we will go find him and drag him to the altar in chains, like the Copts have been known to do). Please keep us in your prayers.

Satisfaction or Cleansing? Response to John Roop

In a comment, Pastor John Roop challenges me on my post, “Speaking of Parables…”. My response is below:

John, thanks for visiting and commenting. With all due respect, however, I wonder how much this retold parable, while not presenting a perfect analogy, really is a caricature, and I think your comment illustrates a problem that Western culture has been living with for at least the last millenium. We immediately identify the idea of sacrifice with Anselmian concepts, and then we read these concepts into the Bible. Consider, for example, the word "atonement". Originally, when the word was coined, apparently by Wycliffe, it really did simply mean "at-one-ment": reconciliation, union, communion. But when we hear it, or read it, we generally think, "make satisfaction" or "make reparation" or something similar. However, the sacrificial system of the Old Testament is not propitiatory in that sense, it is not about “making satisfaction,”; it is expiatory when it comes to sin: the application of the blood is to REMOVE or "cover" the sin, not to make satisfaction for it. “Blessed is he whose sin is forgiven, whose iniquity is covered.” Consider also the fact that “Yom Kippur” literally means “day of covering” or “day of wiping away”. What God is interested in, first and foremost, is healing (“saving”) humanity, restoring human persons to communion with the Divine Community that is the Holy Trinity. Sin prevents that, not because God “cannot stand to be in the presence of sin,” but because sin, and sinful persons, cannot survive being in the presence of God. “No one shall see my face and live.”

We also, as your comment illustrates, reflexively connect "substitutionary" with "penal" or "satisfaction". Now, there is no question that Christ does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. However, beyond defeating sin, death, and Satan, to what end? Or, to put it another way, in what sense is Christ’s death a sacrifice which fulfills the sacrifices of the Old Testament? Is this propitiation in the Anselmian sense? Or is it expiation, reconciliation? "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself." “Behold the Lamb of God who TAKES AWAY the sins of the world.”

Of course, this is far from a complete analysis, and the parable I quote is simply a preface to a long paper in which the author offers his own theory, which seems to be a recapitulation of Ireneus’ work. I think the bottom line is that Anselm, first, missed the point in critiquing what had come before him, in that “justice” is really not the issue. Of course the devil has no rights! However, because of the fall, Satan was de facto the dominant spiritual force on earth, and because humanity, given vice-regency of creation, had put the Enemy in that position, a human had to be the one to dethrone him. But this is something that only God could do. Further, as history has shown, Anselm’s work has largely served to distort our understanding of God’s goodness and love, something which was already an issue, going back to the Fall.

Again, therefore, I have to recommend "The River of Fire". While I wish it were less polemical, perhaps it cannot be, because the points it makes are so true with regard to the distortions in Western theology, going back, not only to Anselm, but, farther, to Augustine and even Tertullian, distortions which are grounded, not only in the defective soteriology of Anselm, but also in a high view of original sin and a misunderstanding of Divine sovereignty, and because it presents the only view of human damnation which is compatible with an understanding of God as philanthropos, the lover of humanity.

In any event, I am interested in the book you mention. Would you post a review/discussion of it on your blog?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Speaking of Parables...

I am a huge fan, if that is the correct word, of Fr. Stephen Freeman's blog, Glory to God for All Things. On a recent post upon which I commented, another commenter referred me to a paper, written by an Evangelical scholar, Robin Collins, which critiques the "satisfaction" theory of the Atonement, first advanced by Anselm of Canterbury, and the closely related "penal" theory of the Reformers. The paper, a "work in progress," begins with a retelling of the story of the Prodigal Son, as informed by the above theories:

There was a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, "Father, give me my share of the estate." So the father divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son went off to a distant country, squandered all he had in wild living, and ended up feeding pigs in order to survive. Eventually he returned to his father, saying, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me one of your hired servants." But his father responded: "I cannot simply forgive you
for what you have done, not even so much as to make you one of my hired men. You have insulted my honor by your wild living. Simply to forgive you would be to trivialize sin; it would be against the moral order of the entire universe. For 'nothing is less tolerable in the order of things than for a son to take away the honor due to his father and not make recompense for what he takes away. Such is the severity of my justice that reconciliation will not be made unless the penalty is utterly paid. My wrath--my avenging justice--must be placated.'"

"But father, please..." the son began to plead.

"No," the father said, "either you must be punished or you must pay back, through hard labor for as long as you shall live, the honor you stole from me."

Then the elder brother spoke up. "Father, I will pay the debt that he owes and endure your just punishment for him. Let me work extra in the field on his behalf and thereby placate your wrath." And it came to pass that the elder brother took on the garb of a servant and labored hard year after year, often long into the night, on behalf of his younger brother. And finally, when the elder brother died of exhaustion, the father's wrath was placated against his younger son and they lived happily for the remainder of their days.

Well, when ya put it that way...

The problems with Anselm immediately become rather clear.

Professor Collins also has other writings online here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Minnows: A Parable

So this new job I have, it’s at a marina, which sells live minnows as bait. Maintaining these minnows involves cleaning the tanks in which they live, and replacing dirty water with clean. The cleaning process requires transferring them, with a net, from one tank to another so that the dirty tank can be cleaned. Of course, the minnows aren’t very happy with this process, and invariably, the fastest and strongest minnows are the last to be netted and transferred. What the minnows don’t realize, of course, is that if they are not moved, they will die; the dirty water will kill them. Of course, while they are being transferred, flopping in the net, out of the water for a second or two, they FEEL like they are dying, and if they are especially strong, sometimes they jump out of the net. If they fall back into the water, they’re fine, but often, when they jump out of the net, some will land on the floor or ground, and lie there in agony, flopping around, gasping for the oxygen they cannot assimilate while being out of the water. The ones I miss, or don't get to fast enough, they really do die.

Let the reader understand.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Blogging Once Again: A Response to Abu Daoud

Yes, things have been quiet around here lately. But not necessarily in my actual life, and this may have something to do with why the muse has been rather silent. As I mentioned in a comment on the last post before this one, I returned from Chicago to find that, for economic reasons, I no longer had a secular job. However, God was good, and that situation prevailed for only a couple of weeks before I found another such job, a job which, in several ways, is better than my previous one.

And, speaking of Chicago, Junior is doing very well, as are the Cubs. May this be their year! Thanks to all of you, especially Ttony and Alice, for your prayers and expressions of concern and support. Please keep the prayers coming. Alice, you of course have been in my prayers for some time, and I have now begun to remember your sister and her husband and daughter as well.

But that’s not why I called y’all here today…

Several days ago, Evangelical Anglican missionary Abu Daoud, of Islam and Christianity, wrote about attending a Roman Catholic service in which a man was ordained a priest. In the post, "Attending a Catholic ordination: where's the teaching ministry? " AD contends that the preaching, teaching, and evangelizing aspects of the priesthood were not sufficiently stressed in this liturgy. After reviewing the text of the service, I noted that I did not share that perception, and I still don’t, so I thought I’d take a look at that liturgy in this post.

I may be wrong, but I don’t think the liturgy is online (although the old rite is found here). In any event, the ordination takes place during Mass and begins after the gospel reading when the ordinand, already a deacon, is presented to the bishop. After the bishop states his intention to ordain the man a priest, the bishop preaches a homily on the meaning of priesthood. The service itself includes a text for the homily, although the use of this text is optional. In most RC ordinations I have attended, this homily has been pretty much used verbatim, with occasional extemporaneous expansions. It is possible that the bishop veered off the text entirely at the service AD attended. Nevertheless, this homily certainly does not ignore the ministry of the priest in the areas of preaching, teaching, and evangelizing. (In the quotes which follow, emphasis is added.)

In the first paragraph, the homily alludes to St. Clement of Rome, speaking of Christ being sent by the Father, who sent the Apostles, who in turn sent “their successors, the bishops” to continue Christ’s “work as TEACHER, Priest, and Shepherd,” then noting that priests, presbyters, are co-workers with the order of bishops.

In the next paragraph, the homily states, “[The priest] is to serve Christ the TEACHER, Priest, and Shepherd in [Christ’s] ministry, which is to make his own body, the Church, grow into the people of God, a holy temple.”

From the third paragraph: “By consecration [the ordinand] will be made a true priest of the New Testament, to PREACH THE GOSPEL, sustain God’s people, and celebrate the liturgy, above all, the Lord’s sacrifice.”

Then the bishop addresses the ordinand directly (I love this paragraph):

“My son, you are now to be advanced to the order of the presbyterate. You must apply your energies to the duty of TEACHING in the name of Christ, the chief TEACHER. SHARE WITH ALL MANKIND the word of God you have received with joy. Meditate on the law of God, believe what you read, TEACH WHAT YOU BELIEVE, and put into practice what you teach.”

The bishop continues:

“Let the doctrine you TEACH be true nourishment for the people of God. Let the example of your life attract the followers of Christ, so that by word and action you may build up the house which is God’s Church."

The next two paragraphs deal with sacramental ministry, especially the Mass, as well as the priest’s duty to pray for all. Finally, the bishop concludes:

“Always remember the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and to SEEK OUT AND RESCUE THOSE WHO WERE LOST.”

Next, in a rubrically mandated dialogue between ordinand and bishop, the latter asks the former to “declare before the people your intention to undertake this priestly office.”

There are four questions, and the ordinand replies “I am” to the first three, “I am, with the help of God” to the fourth. The first and last questions are general: “Are you resolved…to discharge without fail the office of priesthood…?” and “Are you resolved to consecrate your life to God for the salvation of his people…?”. The second question deals with the sacraments. The third question reads as follows: “Are you resolved to exercise the MINISTRY OF THE WORD worthily and wisely, PREACHING THE GOSPEL and explaining the Catholic faith?”

After preliminary prayer, the chanting of the Litany of the Saints, the ordination proper takes place. The ordinand kneels before the bishop, who lays hands upon the former in silence, followed by the same action by all the priests present. The bishop then offers the Prayer of Consecration.

The first two sections of this prayer note that the Christian priesthood of bishops and presbyters is rooted in the ministries of the High Priest and priests of Israel. Then we read, “….you gave companions to your Son’s apostles TO HELP IN TEACHING THE FAITH: they PREACHED THE GOSPEL to the whole world.”

Then follows two paragraphs, the second of which is considered necessary for the validity of the ordination, asking essentially that the ordinand be made a priest.

The prayer offered by the bishop then concludes:

“May [the ordinand] be faithful in working with the order of bishops, so that the WORDS OF THE GOSPEL MAY REACH THE ENDS OF THE EARTH, and the family of nations, made one in Christ, may become God’s one, holy people.”

The rest of the service, culminating in the newly ordained priest concelebrating Mass with the bishop, is not directly relevant to the question at hand, but it should be clear from the above that the priestly ministry of the word is prominently presented in the contemporary RC service of ordination to the priesthood. What say you, AD (and others)?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

August 28: St. Moses the Black

Back in South Carolina as of late yesterday. What is that, 19 days? Junior is deposited in Chicago and has begun classes. She has an apartment (appropriately blessed) and her financial aid issues have been straightened out, but she still needs to find a job. All prayers for her, for her mother, and for me are sought and welcomed. In that order, I might add. Anyway, more about that later.

Today is the feastday of St. Moses the African, a 4th-century Ethiopian who went from being a thug and a gang leader to becoming a monk, a priest, and finally, a martyr. You can read more about him here on Fr. Joseph Huneycutt's blog, Orthodixie.

Friday, August 8, 2008

On the road for a few days...

Actually, a week to ten days. Our daughter, Cary, after completing two years at a local community colllege, is off to Chicago to complete her undergraduate degree.

We had a little gathering for her the other night down the street at a watering hole/restaurant where she had worked for several years. Since she is not interested in having her faerie face on the Internet (or in any picture, for that matter), I've uploaded the image to the left, showing a sign one of the current waitresses at said watering hole made in her honor. (To read the sign clearly, you may have to click on the picture to see it full size.)

Note the black balloons, mourning her departure...

Personally, I am looking forward to seeing some old friends in Milwaukee and to showing Junior the sights, such as the hospital in which she was born and the Church where she was baptized as well as the campus of Marquette University, where, back during the Carter administration, I played out a few years of my largely misspent youth.

I'll try to check in from time to time, maybe even post something if possible. In the meantime, keep us in your prayers.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

August 6: The Transfiguration of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ

A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to the Preaching of St. Matthew:

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear." And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, "Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead." (RSV)
There is, of course, much to be said about the event which this feast celebrates. If I have time in the next couple of days, I would like to consider it under the subtitle, "The original hermeneutic of (dis)continuity". Today, however, I only have time to share something that comes from RC priest Fr. Dwight Longenecker, up the road from me a little way in Greenville, South Carolina. For Fr. Dwight, the Transfiguration is about "seeing things as they really are".

The Feast of the Transfiguration

Many, if not all, priests have had experiences such as Fr. Dwight describes. How could we not? A colleague of mine, a fellow priest in the ACCA, relates that once when he was celebrating the Qurbana with only a sub-deacon physically present, the sub-deacon kept moving nearer and nearer the altar as the liturgy progressed. When the sub-deacon finally ended up standing beside the priest at the altar, Father turned to the sub-deacon and said, "It's getting crowded in here, isn't it?" "Yes," said the sub-deacon, "yes, it is." The sub-deacon is now also a priest, and he corroborates this account.

Whether we experience their presence or not, we would do well to always remember that whenever we offer the Most Holy Sacrifice (or, for that matter, the daily prayers of the divine offices), all the angels and saints celebrate with us: or, perhaps, better, we celebrate with them. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are participating in the heavenly liturgy which is ever offered by our Lord (who is both the offerer and the offering) before the heavenly Throne of the Most High Father. To this Thrice-Blessed + Trinity, One God, be all glory and honor and worship, in both worlds unto the Aeon of aeons! Amen!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Syriac Orthodox Qurbana in English

What follows are two snippets from the Qurbana, the Mass or Divine Liturgy, in English, from a Syriac Orthodox mission in New York City. The first includes the Oriental Orthodox version of the Trisagion, near the beginning of the liturgy. The second begins with the Sursum Corda and ends shortly after the Words of Institution over the chalice. The anaphora is that of St. James. The priest apparently offers the post-sanctus portion of the anaphora during the chanting of the sanctus.

Terry Mattingly on preaching to the choir

Or, more exactly, Terry Mattingly on Fr. John F. Kavanaugh on preaching to the choir.

"Preaching to a tempting choir"

"Sunday of Sorrow" in Knoxville (Updated)

Please continue to pray. Two people are dead, several others seriously injured, and many people, including children, are needlessly and seriously traumatized, the result of a man opening fire with a shotgun in a Knoxville Unitarian-Universalist congregation Sunday morning.

"Sunday of Sorrow"

The suspect, a 58-year-man, is described by his neighbors as a "nice guy", but one who had issues with religion. The suspect's first name is Jim. He needs our prayers as well.

"Suspect was 'nice guy"

Or maybe, not such a nice guy:

"Accused church shooter threatened to kill wife, himself"

"Police: accused shooter hated liberals, expected to be killed"

Pray. Pray. Pray.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tragedy in Knoxville (Updated)

Please pray for all involved. At least one man is dead, a new foster father, and eight others were seriously wounded.

The death of a second victim has now been confirmed, and the identity of the suspect has been released. For the latest on this horrendous event, go here.

The 16-year-old foster son of one the dead speaks of his foster father, Greg McKendry, calling him "an absolute hero":

"Church remembers victim as generous 'wonderful' man"

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Passing the peace: It ain't half-time, folks

British Traditionalist Roman Catholic Ttony, whose blog is called “The Muniment Room”, relates here that a priest is thinking of founding a “Society of Pope Paul VI” in order to perpetuate the current Novus Ordo celebration of the Mass in the face of “the reform of the reform” in Roman Catholic matters liturgical. One of the practices apparently at issue is the celebrant leaving the altar to greet congregants at the exchange of the peace. Reading this inspired me to describe how the peace is exchanged in the Qurbana, the Divine Liturgy or Mass, of the ACCA:

First, just before the beginning of the Anaphora, or Eucharistic Prayer, the celebrant offers a prayer for peace. The following, from the Liturgy of St. James, is typical:

"O LORD and God of all, account us unworthy ones to be worthy of this salvation, that freed from guilt and united in love we may greet one another with a kiss of peace and offer to † Thee glory and thanks and to Thine Only-begotten Son and Thy Living Holy Spirit, One God, in both worlds unto the Aeon of aeons."

The congregation responds: "Amen. Barekhmar!"

“Barekhmar” means, “Master, bless”.

The celebrant then takes “the peace of Christ” from the gifts upon the altar and from the altar itself, making the sign of the cross upon the corporal. This is called “taking power from the Mysteries”. He then turns to the congregation and blesses them, saying

“Peace be † with all of you”

The congregation responds: “And with thy spirit.”

The celebrant then turns to the deacon, taking the deacon’s hands between his, and repeats this exchange with the deacon alone. The deacon then goes to the congregation and “passes the peace,” as above to one member of the congregation, who then does the same with the person next to him, who then repeats the same exchange with the person next to him, and so on. Thus, the peace of Christ is passed, from one member to another, one by one, throughout the congregation. Finally, the deacon receives the peace from the last member of the congregation, and returns it to the celebrant, who returns it to the gifts and altar, thus completing the circuit. The celebrant then begins the anaphora with the three-fold dialogue. All of this is done “decently and in order” and the congregation has expressed its mutual reconciliation, indicating that all are one with the celebrant in offering the Holy Sacrifice. The celebrant, however, does not need to leave the altar and “the passing of the peace” is not turned into “half-time”. (If there is no deacon, a server takes the role of receiving the peace from the celebrant and delivering it to the congregation.)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Beyond words...(Updated)

"A Minnesota professor and science blogger has said he will personally desecrate the Eucharist and publish photos of the desecration on the internet if any of his readers acquire a consecrated Host and mail it to him. “I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare,” he has written.

"Paul Zachary Myers, an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota at Morris, made the threat while commenting on a University of Central Florida incident in which a student senator stole and held hostage a consecrated Host from a June 29 Mass."

"Minnesota professor encourages theft and desecration of Eucharist"

I am reminded of the words of Pope Paul VI, of blessed memory: "If you knew what the Mass really is, you would die for it."

Alice's comment, below, is very well taken, and I should have said the same thing initially. Indeed, let us all pray for Myers and all who are like him. Let us also persevere in repentance, as called for in the following from an RC priest:

"A Priest's perspective on desecrating the Eucharist..."

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." II Chronicles 7:14 (KJV)

"...the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God..." I Peter 4:17a (RSV)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A.W. Tozer, an Evangelical Saint...

The illustrious Aiden Wilson Tozer was a pastor and writer of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, one of the churches of my youth. However, like C.S. Lewis (and long before both, St. Isaac of Nineveh), his influence reaches far beyond the boundaries of his particular tradition and denomination. I am convinced that had Tozer lived a few more years, been born a few year later, he, like Peter Gillquist, Jack Sparks, Gordon Walker, Scott Hahn, Thomas Howard, Frank Schaeffer, etc. would have been led by the Lord to Christian Orthodoxy, in one form or another. Tozer was certainly familiar with the medieval Christian mystics and was unafraid to quote them in his writings. In googling him for a reason unrelated to this post, I found the following, a prayer he offered (in private) on the day, in 1920, when he was ordained to the ministry of the C&MA.

"For Pastors only: A Prayer by A.W. Tozer"

May our Lord raise up many more like him!

Friday, July 4, 2008

July 4, 2008

To my fellow-citizens and to all who aspire to U.S. citizenship, Happy Independence Day!

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all... are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." - U.S. Declaration of Independence

Read it all

I graduated from high school 32 years ago, back in 1976, when the U.S. was celebrating its bicentennial. The motto of my graduating class: "Our Heritage is Freedom".

I would contend that most of the national debate in this country, going back to its very beginning, has had to do with the meaning of this one word: "freedom": specifically, such debates (including the Civil War) have often dealt with the question of how to resolve situations in which my "freedom" conflicts with your "liberty" or vice-versa. Such conflict, of course, is inevitable, and exposes the major flaw in contemporary libertarianism. The playing fields of power, whether political or economic, must be kept more-or-less level, and in the final analysis, only government can accomplish this. This is accomplished, within the U.S. government itself, by the checks-and-balances imposed by the consitutionally-mandated separation of powers between three co-equal branches, the legislative, executive, and judicial ("three co-equal": where have we heard that kind of language before?).

Finally, after you've read the Declaration of Independence, you would do well to acquire and read a book called Habits of the Heart. The major theme in this book concerns four traditions that lie at the foundation of the United States: Christian communalism (represented by the Puritan founders of Massachusetts); Enlightenment republicanism (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, et. al.); "Utilitarian individualism" (Franklin and other entrepreneurs); and "Expressive individualism" (represented, somewhat later, by Walt Whitman). The book is largely about how each of these orientations continues to affect our lives, both as persons and as a society.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

New Saints, Beati, and Venerable Servants of God

I love the Saints. Right down to this very day, this very moment, they witness to the fact that God has not given up on us, that the Holy Spirit remains active in the here-and-now, bringing the redemption, forgiveness, and healing of the Divine Son to all who will receive it via the Church, His Mystical Body and Bride. Thus, the Saints of all ages remain signs of hope, and none more so than those who were our contemporaries: "God IS with us" and because of that, because God is manifested in the Saints, they too are with us, praying for us before the Throne of Grace and even, perhaps carrying out missions here on earth. Consider, for example, the various apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, or the reported interventions of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, who stated, "I will spend my heaven doing good on earth". Further, their diversity, including the various traditions out of which they come, witness to the possibility of the return of the divided Churches and ecclesial communities to full communion with each other. Regardless of tradition, all Christians can embrace the sanctity manifested in people coming from traditions other than their own.

As with so much else, the Roman Church is very organized when it comes to identifying those with the potential to be recognized as Saints. For non-martyrs, the process is three-fold. The first phase investigates whether or not the potential Saint lived a life of "heroic virtue". Generally, this process cannot be initiated until five years after the person has departed this life (and never before his or her repose). A positive determination of this by the Pope results in the person being declared a "Servant of God" and being given the title "Venerable". The second and third phases, resulting in the title "Blessed" and "Saint" respectively, each require that a miracle be attributed to the person's heavenly intercession. These miracles usually take the form of a medical cure from a serious illness which cannot be explained by medical science and for which the intercession of the potential Saint was sought.

Which brings me to the following: According to Zenit, a Rome-based RC news agency, the Pope has accepted the validity of a miracle brought about by the intercession of Blessed Father Damien, a nineteenth century Belgian priest who ministered to lepers in what was then the Kingdom of Hawaii. Thus, Fr. Damien will soon be recognized as a Saint by the universal Roman Church. Another miracle has been attributed to the intercession of the Servants of God Louis Martin and Marie-ZĂ©lie Guerin Martin, St. Therese's parents, so they will become known as "Blessed". Here is the Zenit article: "Miracle attributed to St. Therese's Parents: Heroic Virtue Recognized in Italian Youth Who Died in 1990".

It is this last potential Saint that I really want to focus on. Her name is Chiara Luce Badano. She was born in 1971, the only child of a truck driver and his wife, a devout couple who had been unable to conceive during their previous eleven years of marriage. Involved with one of the "new movements" of the RCC, called Focolare, also known as "the Work of Mary," Chiara was diagnosed as a teenager with terminal cancer and died on October 7, 1990, a few weeks before her nineteenth birthday. I urge you to read the article linked to her name above, found on a Focolare website. She is indeed an example for all, young or not-so-young, who aspire to follow the forsaken Christ crucified.

"Blessed be God in His Angels and in His Saints."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Ya gotta love them Brits...

"British student gets credit for expletive on exam"

Assignment for potential commenters: Discuss, in less than 500 words, but in more than two, the connections between this and the current mess in the Anglican Communion.

Oh, and yes, expletives WILL be deleted.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Juneteenth Day

Speaking of those who have gone before, some of whom are Saints (including, surely, Pierre Toussaint, although he has yet to be beatified or canonized), today is "Juneteenth Day" or "Emancipation Day". Historically, it marks, specifically, the end of slavery in Texas and celebrates, more generally, the demise of slavery in the United States as a whole, in the wake of the U.S. Civil War.

As I was looking for the article on Toussaint, I came across information concerning another Saint of African extraction, one who is canonized and who was a slave, but who was not African-American. Her name is Josephine Bakhita.

Arturo on the Saints

Speaking of Saints, Arturo's latest blog entry is a rerun concerning veneration of the Saints and seeking their intercession. It is well worth highlighting here.

On the Cult of the Saints

Implicit in his discussion are points I made along ago on my AOL page:

"To honor the Saints and to seek their intercession is to worship God in that, without God, the Saints have nothing, are nothing. In the Saints, God has become 'all-in-all' already; each Saint is a fully developed example of what it means to be 'in the image and likeness of God."

"Not only do the Saints bring us closer to God, but God brings us closer to the Saints. The more we are friends of God, the more we will also be friends of God's friends, and these are the Saints. Given my background, I knew the Lord Jesus long before I knew His Blessed Mother, but when the time was right, the Lord introduced me to her and to other Saints as well."

"One of the biggest problems with Protestantism in general is the abandonment of the teaching on the Communion of Saints. The Church on earth and in heaven (including what the Roman Church calls "purgatory") is one in Christ; it is nconceivable that those in heaven, perfected in the image of Jesus and in direct, unmediated communion with the Most Blessed Trinity, would be unconcerned about the welfare of the Church and her members on earth. See Hebrews 12:1"

The Saints are our elder brothers and sisters. Since they too are "members of Christ," they are also members of each of us and we are members of them, since all who are "members of Christ" are "members one of another," in the words of St. Paul.

As Arturo rightly points out, "we must have a correct vision of the whole Christ, Head and members."

Speaking of Hebrews 12:1 "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us" (RSV)

In case it is not clear, that "cloud of witnesses", those fans in the stands, are the Saints in heaven, as Hebrews Chapter 11 makes clear.

"All you Saints, pray for us!"

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Russert: Santo Subito?

Probably not, but I hope that the RC Diocese of Buffalo will consider opening a cause for his canonization after the five year period mandated by Roman Catholic Canon Law.

Oh, and if anyone from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston (SC) happens to read this, contact me. I've got a couple of names for ya.

Christians in Iraq: the crisis continues

"Iraqi Bishop: Americans need to know there is a Christian presence in Iraq"

Yes, yes we do, and to be reminded again and again.

(HT: Fr. Theodosius and Vladyka Symeon)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Doug Kmiec on his Latest Meeting with Barack Obama or "Come, let us reason together"

Kmiec is an "Obamacon", a conservative for Obama. In this case, a Roman Catholic conservative. Kmiec is a constitutional law expert who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and the elder George Bush. He has already been denied Holy Communion at least once for supporting Obama, since the presumptive Democratic nominee is not 100% anti-abortion; however, as Kmiec points out, neither is John McCain: both are essentially "pro-choice" but not "pro-abortion". "I do not endorse either Senator Obama's or Senator McCain's positions on life. As a Catholic, I believe both fall short of the ideal," writes Kmiec. Kmiec's position is that while neither candidate is satisfactory on abortion, Obama is, overall, more "pro-life" than is McCain. After reading the following, what do you think? (Note well: I will not hesitate to spike comments which, among other things, demonize anyone, including John McCain. I am looking for well-reasoned, thoughtful analysis and opinion here, not rhetorical bombast. And do not comment if you do not read the article linked below in its entirety.)

EXCLUSIVE: DOUG KMIEC - 'After Meeting with Barack'

Monday, June 16, 2008

Wonder How THIS Will Go Over In Some Quarters?

"Traditional Mass for 'all the parishes"

And it is interesting that Cardinal Hoyos refers here to the Traditional Latin Mass as the "Gregorian Rite," a term often used by Anglo-Catholics and [Western Rite] Byzantine Orthodox, but which has been rare in Roman circles.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert, 1950-2008

NBC Washington Bureau Chief and Moderator of "Meet the Press", Russert was only 58. He died this afternoon of an apparent heart attack while at work. A top notch journalist, devout Roman Catholic, and family man who hailed from a working class Irish neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, he will be greatly missed.

Requiem in Pacem!

Memory Eternal!

"NBC's Tim Russert dead at 58"

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Free Will Baptist Youth Feeding Homeless Folks at St. Dee's

The pro-cathedral parish of the ACCA, St. Demetrios, Knoxville has long had a good relationship with another nearby East Tennessee congregation, Forest Grove Free Will Baptist Church. This is largely due to the fact that Avva Zakkai, priest at St. Dee's, was once heavily involved with Forest Grove and has maintained close ties. When St. Demetrios moved into its current building, back in early 2004, Forest Grove donated many items, including chairs, folding tables, and a pulpit. One of Avva Zakkai's friends at Forest Grove, Chad Huskey, often attends Qurbana at St. Demetrios and others from Forest Grove do as well. Chad is responsible for the St. Demetrios MySpace page, linked above and on the right. Chad works with the older youth at Forest Grove. The slideshow above depicts Forest Grove youth (and adults) preparing a meal, taking it to St. Demetrios, and serving it to homeless people. Way to go, guys! God bless you!

Oh, BTW, now that I know that I can successfully embed stuff from YouTube: Watch out, y'all!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Friday, May 30, 2008

Fighting Child Prostitution in Atlanta: An Uphill Battle

"NOW on PBS", a weekly newshow hosted by David Brancaccio, focuses this week on efforts to fight a growing child prostitution problem in Atlanta, and it seems that Atlanta is not alone in having to confront this.

Fighting Child Prostitution - NOW on PBS

Mother Clement asks...

In response to the "Sunday of the Divine Body" post below:

What can be said to one who posits that Jesus' words - "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day" (NKJV translation) - cannot be taken literally because that would mean that all those who do not believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist have no life in them, ie. no salvation and will not be raised up at the last day.

This is essentially what some think we are saying.

Now I am sure that Orthodoxy would not 'un-church' or 'un-save' those Christians who, by virtue of their lack of understanding, cannot embrace the great Grace and Mystery of the Eucharist.

So, what would be a good way to approach this, do you think?
As you know, there are some Orthodox, especially in certain Byzantine circles, who would assert just that. We are not among them, however, primarily because we see the Holy Spirit working in the lives of Christians (and others) outside the visible boundaries of the Church.

However, knowing that the “Spirit blows where the Spirit wills”, we also know that the Spirit, “proceeding from the Father,” “rests upon the Son”. That is, the Holy Spirit is always working to move people toward Christ, and this inevitably means toward the Church, which is Christ's mystical body, the "extension of the Incarnation" in history. Thus, we have to consider both soteriology and ecclesiology here. The first consideration is that salvation is a process of transformation which occurs because one is incorporated into Christ by means of the activity of the Holy Spirit. This incorporation into Christ, however, is not simply a matter of an individual, private relationship with Christ by means of faith, prayer, and the private reading of Scripture. One’s relationship with the Church, the mystical body of Christ, is integral to one’s relationship with Christ, and participation in all of the mysteries, the sacraments, is participation in the life of Christ as found in the Church. One cannot separate the two. Therefore, if one is outside the visible, social, sacramental Church, one is cut off from privileged avenues of access to the Divine-Human life of Christ, the life, the communion, that Christ wants to share with us, the life that is itself salvation.

This is objectively true, but one will note that this account of salvation differs from that found in those quarters which hold a low doctrine of the sacraments and of the Church or ignore both altogether. For these believers, the only thing that counts is a strictly individual faith which results in one having the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, not the righteous life of Christ imparted to them. While there is no denial of sanctification, it is seen as separate from, and subsequent to, justification which is strictly forensic, a legal acquittal and which, in and of itself, is alone of the essence of salvation. In this account, the Church is merely an invisible brotherhood, made up only of those who have experienced this justification. One can see easily how such a belief system can lead to all kinds of problems, the first and foremost being that salvation is in danger of being reduced to “fire insurance”.

But can those who believe such in fact be saved? The short answer is “yes”. History shows that Evangelicalism has produced some great Saints. So how is this possible? Because Christ, through the Holy Spirit, acts by extraordinary means to save all who seek Him with a sincere heart, even in those cases where these seekers are not even aware that it is Christ they seek; these, too, are made members of the Church by invisible bonds. To account for this, the Roman Church, quite rightly, puts forward the ideas of “baptism of desire” and “spiritual communion”. However, it should be noted that “baptism of desire” contains within itself the idea of the DESIRE for sacramental baptism: if one knows of the regenerative efficacy of baptism, one would naturally desire it. For those not so aware, either because of lack of knowledge or lack of understanding, the question then becomes one of implicit desire. The same would hold true for “spiritual communion”.

Having said that, I am not about to let your interrogators off the hook all that easily. In speaking of the proverbial African natives who have never heard the gospel, an Orthodox bishop was wont to say, “The question is not, ‘can they be saved apart from a conscious knowledge of Christ?’ No, the question is, ‘can I be saved if I reject the Christ of whom I know?” Can I be saved outside the visible Church? No, I cannot. I NEED the sacraments. I NEED to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Adam. Those who question you profess to believe the Bible – every word – in a most literal way (or at least the Protestant canon thereof). My father was among their number, and he was fond of saying, “If the Bible says that Jonah swallowed the fish, I would believe it.” Unfortunately, however, their belief in the Bible is in fact a belief in a particular and one-sided reading of the Bible, one which ignores its sacramental realism and its doctrine of the visible, social, historical, authoritative Church, “the fulness of [Christ] who fills all in all” in St. Paul’s words. So, while one must acknowledge the possibility of an Evangelical being saved as an Evangelical, it must also be said that one creates unnecessary barriers to his or her “being transformed in the image of Christ” and “enduring to the end” by staying outside of the visible, historical, sacramental Church and refusing to participate in her worship and sacraments. I am reminded here of our Lord’s words in Matthew 22:1-10 and Luke 14:16-24.

You will also find the following, by Lutheran scholar Phillip Cary, relevant and useful, and hopefully your friends will as well:

Why Luther is not quite Protestant