Friday, July 24, 2009

Do Not Fret - Times have been worse - Wisdom from the Past

But when the enemy's policy against us was changed from one of long and bitter contention to open warfare, then, as everyone knows, the war was split into a myriad of factions, so that all men succumbed to irreconcilable hatred, either through individual suspicion or party spirit. What storm at sea was ever so savage as this tempest of the Churches? It has moved every boundary established by the Fathers; every foundation, every established bulwark of doctrine has been shaken. Everything still remaining afloat is shaken by unsound teaching and thrown back into the abyss. We attack one another; we are overthrown by one another. If the enemy does not strike us first we are wounded by our comrade; if he is wounded and falls, he is trampled by his fellow soldier. Although we are united in our hatred of common foes, no sooner do they retreat, and we find enemies in each other. Who could even list all the casualties? Some have fallen in battle with the enemy; some have been treacherously betrayed by their allies; others are the victims of their leaders' incompetence. . . A darkness full of gloom and misery has descended on the Churches: the lights of the world, established by God to enlighten the souls of the people, have been exiled. The terror of universal destruction already hangs over us, yet they continue enjoying their rivalries, ignoring any sense of danger. Private emnities are more important to these men than the struggle of an entire people; they prefer the glory of subduing their opponents to securing the common welfare and they love the immediate delights of worldly honor more than the rewards awaiting us in the age to come. . . Inspired scripture is powerless to mediate between these two parties [those who confuse the Persons and revert to Judaism and those who oppose the natures and are swept away into Greek polytheism - ed.], nor can apostolic tradition offer them terms of reconciliation. One honest word and your friendship with them is finished; one disagreement with their opinions is sufficient pretext for a quarrel. . . The ordinances of the Gospel have been thrown into confusion everywhere for lack of discipline; the jostling for high posititons is incredible, as every ambitious man tries to thrust himself into high office. The result of this lust for power is that wild anarchy prevails among the people; the exhortations of those in authority are rendered utterly void and unprofitable, since every man in his arrogant delusion thinks that it is more his business to give orders to others than to obey anyone himself.

Since no human voice is powerful enough to be heard in such an uproar, I reckon that silence is more profitable than words. If the words of the Preacher are true: "The words of the wise are heard in quiet," then with the present state of affairs, any discussion of them at all is scarcely appropriate. Moreover, I am restrained by the prophet's words: "Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time," a time when some trip their neighbors, others kick a man already fallen, others applaud, but no one is sympathetic enough to lend a helping hand to the weary, even though the old law says "if you see the beast of one who hates you lying under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it, but you shall help him to lift it up." This is certainly not the case now. Why not? The love of many has grown cold; concord among brothers is no more; the very name of unity is ignored; Christian compassion or sympathetic tears cannot be found anywhere. There is no one to welcome someone weak in faith, but mutual hatred blazes so fiercely among brothers that a neighbors' fall brings them more joy than their own household's success. And just as a contagious disease spreads from the sick to the healthy during an epidemic, in these days we have become like everyone else: imitators of evil, carried away by this rivalry possessing our souls. Those who judge the erring are merciless and bitter, while those judging the upright are unfair and hostile. This evil is so rooted in us that we have become more brutish than the beasts: At least they herd together with their own kindred, but we reserve our most savage warfare for the members of our own household.

These are the reasons I should have kept quiet, but love pulled me in the opposite direction, the love that is not self-seeking, but desires to conquer every obstacle put in her way by time and circumstance. I learned from the example of the children in Babylon that when there is no one to support the cause of true religion, we must accomplish our duties alone. They sang a hymn to God from the midst of the flames, not thinking of the multitudes who rejected the truth, but content to have each other, though there were only three of them. There for the cloud of our enemies does not dismay us, but we place our trust in the Spirit's help, and boldly proclaim the truth. . . .

- St. Basil the Great (~330 - 379 A.D.), in his work On the Holy Spirit, concerning the Arian schism.


The Church has seen far worse times - the gates of Hades will not prevail against her and "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

We'll come through this.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Today We Commemmorate the Prophet Ezekiel - Pray for Our Church

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, O Prophet of God, thou didst proclaim the fulfillment of mysteries: God the Word's ineffable abasement and the resurrection of the dead from all past ages. O glorious Ezekiel, entreat Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.

The Annual Convention for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, in Palm Desert, appears to be getting difficult. According to several reports, a handbill of details calling for independent financial audits of the Archdiocese has been distributed to delegates and "Security" (not hotel security, but apparently "Archdiocesan Security") has been trying to take them away from people on the grounds that it's not "official" (it was handed out by Antiochian Orthodox Christians in attendance) and has also been trying to intimidate people with communication devices and cell phone cameras. Sounds like Iran, not the U.S., eh?

Hard questions have been put to the Metropolitan and things are uncomfortable. Whatever the long term, I don't think that AOCANA will be the same after this week.

Pray that love will be maintained, and truth will be spoken.

Monday, July 13, 2009

June 13, 2009 Toledo Blade Article on Antiochian Embroglio

This article pretty well sums up what's been going on, other than the issues of financial transparency.

Toledo Blade Article

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Fruitful Listening

If you listen to pod-casts - you might like to listen to the two-part lecture of Fr. Deacon Matthew on St. Paul and conversion.

Good for getting away from the quotidienne and troubling peccadillos of our squabbling jurisdictions and getting back to what matters.

Part I

Part II

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

New Resources for those interested in Christianity in Arabic-speaking Cultures

Over on the side-bar I've added a few new resources for those with an interest in Greek Orthodox Christianity (or Rum Orthodox, if you prefer) in Arabic-speaking cultures.

In North America we speak of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, but in Syria and Lebanon, it is known as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All The East (or in perhaps more literal translation of Arabic - Antiochian and All the East Patriarchate for Rum [Roman] Orthodox).

Byzantine Chant in Arabic page by Basil Crow

Notes on Arab Orthodoxy 'blog

Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East

Hamatoura Monastery, Lebanon

I have taken off the link to the North American Antiochian Archdiocese until it 'normalizes' its relations with the Patriarchate with respect to the June Synod clarifications (wry grin). Links to the N.A. Archdiocese can be reached through the His Grace Bishop Joseph's website for the Diocese of L.A. and the West, which I commend to you for thoughts, speeches, sermons, and liturgical materials.

-Eric John

Saturday, July 04, 2009


We have so much for which to be thankful. Oftentimes we may feel guilty about the abundance with which we are blessed here in this land that we may have been allowed to live in through accident of birth or decisions of our forebears. We are reluctant to voice our thankfulness for these blessings lest we be seen to be like the Pharisee who thanks God that he is not like "others" less fortunate. We do not wish to be seen as some sort of American Exceptionalist - that we are being 'thankful' for being one of God's 'chosen.' But this reticence can lead to failing to give proper thanks and praise where due. I think it is right and good to give thanks and praise for what we are given even if we may lose it in a moment - even if we later find we must spend our life's blood in a dry dusty land far away, or that our homes and land become confiscated because we lose jobs or health, or depression or other economic disaster strikes. Let us be thankful for the day at hand and the beauty and fruitfulness we have now, and let us be thankful and give praise for having had it even when it is taken away.

In my little corner of this country, the land is extremely fruitful, the rain falls well, the trees grow, and there are few dangerous reptiles, insects, or animals. The seasons are there, but not usually severe.

We cannot know whether tomorrow the barns will burn down or the Master come to require our souls, but at least for today I will say thank You and Glory to Thee for that over which we have been given stewardship.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Morning Thoughts

Mar 11:12 Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry.
Mar 11:13 And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.
Mar 11:14 In response Jesus said to it, "Let no one eat fruit from you ever again." And His disciples heard it.
Mar 11:15 So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.
Mar 11:16 And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple.
Mar 11:17 Then He taught, saying to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations'?[fn5] But you have made it a 'den of thieves.'"[fn6]
Mar 11:18 And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching.
Mar 11:19 When evening had come, He went out of the city.
Mar 11:20 Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.
Mar 11:21 And Peter, remembering, said to Him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away."
Mar 11:22 So Jesus answered and said to them, "Have faith in God.
Mar 11:23 "For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.
Mar 11:24 "Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.
Mar 11:25 "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.
Mar 11:26 "But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses."

This morning I woke quite tired and lay in bed with my eyes still shut. As I did so for a few moments a couple of strong thoughts spread through my mind, one of which was - "Start walking by faith, stop walking by sight!" (2 Cor 5:7) I had, upon this thought, an image that in all that I do and say there is, in fact, an angel standing next to me and that we walk about together, as it were. I had not been acting this way at all - not walking in the faith of the truth of that matter - that around us is the invisible presence of witnesses (martyrs) (Heb. 12:1) and ministers that are a 'flame of fire.' (Heb. 1:7; Ps. 103:4 [LXX; Ps 104:4 in MT]). I had that distinct feeling that one reason I do not 'see' is that I do not walk in faith that things are as I claim to believe. Not that if I believe, I will see this physically, for blessed is the man who believes without seeing (John 20:29), and faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1)

Walk by faith, not by sight.


Today is a beautiful day here. Our summer squash is growing nicely, our broccoli is on the second tender harvest, and the onions are doing well. I think we may have a good grape harvest if the deer or birds don't wreak havoc at the last moment, and tomatoes are setting on. Blueberries are now on and will be for a couple of weeks yet, I think. I paced off the rows for a future vineyard, if we are so blessed to be able to afford to put it in. It was nice to spend a few minutes this morning looking over the valley and watching the flock nip the tops of dandelions. Morning and evening I like to get at least 10 minutes to watch the growing (or fading) light and hear the wind sigh in the trees.


The Antiochian embroglio has heated up considerably with lots of skullduggery going on - multiple signed documents, translations, etc. For those of you who don't read Arabic, while I am not a native speaker I can assure you that the Synod's decision [the one posted on the Patriarchal website as the only authorized version] plainly reads "[The Holy Synod] affirms that Bishops in the Antiochian Eparchy in North America are Bishops [who] assist [or aid] the Metropolitan." There is no adjectival form used that could correspond to a meaning of "Auxiliary." Indeed, not only is it a verbal form, but it is not even derived from the same verbal roots that were used in the original February 24, 2009 decision. That certainly can be attributed to word choice rather than significant intent, in that Arabic is rich with different words with shades of meaning that may be translated to English the same way. However, I think that if the Synod had intended to reaffirm its decision it would have used the same words to describe the N.A. bishops' role.

That said, the next point, that (and here I am gisting the bracketed material because the literal Arabic would read stilted and in the interest of time) "[this does not mean at any time], that any [diocese, bishopric, episcopacy] from among the dioceses [or bishoprics] of this one [or - single] Eparchy can consider itself a distinct [or different] Eparchy because the decision [to establish Eparchies resides with the Antiochian Holy Synod]."

I don't really know where that leaves us, but I think a reasonable interpretation, given the rejection of the alternative documents by the Patriarch, is that, for North America only, the Bishops are diocesan bishops who assist the Metropolitan, but who are nevertheless not auxiliaries. Otherwise there needn't have been a distinction for North America at all and the Synod could have simply reaffirmed the earlier decision in all respects and use the words used in the original decision.

I think it is telling to use the term Eparchy (أبرشية) [nominally translatable to Diocese] and أسقفية - bishopric [also nominally tranlatable to Diocese] in contradistinction to one another - with أسقفية not being a term used in the February 24 decision. It introduces, to North America only, a distinction not found elsewhere in the Antiochian Patriarchate. Generally I believe one would simply use the term Eparchy to denote either an Archdiocese or Diocese in Arabic, but I'm willing to be corrected on this point. It's rather meaningless to make such distinctions where Bishops are either Auxiliary Bishops to Metropolitans or are, indeed, Metropolitans and where, in the old world, virtually all the major cities have Metropolitans and not just diocesan bishops (unlike North America).

Moreover, the distinction must have a purpose else it is surplusage.

Anyway - His Grace Metropolitan Philip seems to have overplayed his hand in several ways and makes one wonder (a) why is he so resistant to more transparency in Archdiocesan finances; (b) why is he trying to stack the Trustee selection process; (c) why on earth would he want to associate with Walid Khalife and use him as part of the delegation to Damascus - even if he is a reformed character after his brush with the full power of the US Federal Government [I will leave off any commentary on Khalife's very bizarre e-mails that appear to have been floating the ether]?

I hope that he has not, over the years, become beholden to a criminal or corrupt element such that he has no way out of a dilemma, for I cannot see why else he is trying to make the moves he is making. My beloved, being a charitable woman, wondered if he is, in his age, becoming susceptible to dementia or Alzheimer's, which can cause abberant behaviors. I must confess that while this would be an appealing revelation if true, the machinations we are witnessing are still too artful, even if not artful enough to be succesful, to allow such a conclusion at this time.

Unfortunately for the Bishops in the Antiochian Orthodox Church in North America, all eyes will be on them at the Convention to see how they stand (or fall) to the various camps that will be demanding something - will they speak firmly with love? Will they speak at all? And what will they say? Will they unite as one? Will they also become divided? God forbid it!

Pray for the Churches as Satan sifts us like wheat from chaff. I think Fr. Jonathan Tobias is right to suggest that we need to focus very small and close to home in these times - our parish and our families and keep our Orthodox Christian faith and simply preach Christ Crucified and remain fools for Christ not hope for grand schemes of Orthodox unity in North America right now.


On the Economic front some pundits say that the infusion of money by fiat into the country is going to lead to inflationary pressures or falling value of the dollar and that we are in for further bumpy rides as a result. Some predict that gold and silver values will bump towards the end of summer, and we have already seen a lot of international talk about moving to a different sort of reserve currency - possibly even a new international currency for reserve purposes. I don't know . . . but I can't imagine that the huge deficits we are now racking up will be good in the long run and I don't see fundamental consumer behavioral change that would set things 'aright.'


If anyone is looking for a milch goat - Wise Susan is thinking about selling a good one that she has had at St Brigid Farm.