Month: March 2016

A Tale of Two Marks

Neo-Orthodox around the blogosphere and social media outlets have been offering up glowing praise for Moscow Patriarch Kirill’s recent Sunday of Orthodoxy homily. (For those unaware, the Sunday of Orthodoxy commemorates the Church’s triumph over Iconoclasm and is celebrated on the first Sunday of Great Lent.) The homily, which can be viewed over at the Byzantine Texas blog here, denounces “false union” with the Catholic Church while upholding Mark of Ephesus as a true champion of Orthodoxy. No doubt Kirill’s words were inspired in part by intra-Orthodox panic over his recent meeting with Pope Francis and the upcoming discussion of ecumenism which will be held at the Great and Holy Council this summer. According to the neo-Orthodox, Mark of Ephesus is a hero for his alleged anti-Latin stance and refusal to cave to “Latin innovations.” Mark, so the story goes, wanted nothing to do with the corrupt, heterodox Latin Church nor did he hold the Petrine Office in any particular esteem. While few neo-Orthodox have ever read a single word penned by Mark, almost all of them are 100% sure of what Mark stood for and why.

Complicating — or, rather, overturning — this simplistic and ahistorical image of Mark is Fr. Christiaan Kappes, professor at Ss. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Seminary in Pennsylvania. Kappes latest effort to clarify Mark’s thinking for contemporary audiences, “Mark of Ephesus, The Council of Florence, and the Roman Papacy,” is included in the new SVS Press anthology, Primacy in the Church, and available online for free here. While Kappes stresses that Mark of Ephesus would have serious qualms about the nature of the present-day papacy and the over-centralization of ecclesiastical governance, Mark’s ecclesiology is hardly anti-papal. Moreover, as some of Kappes’s other studies on Mark make clear, the saintly bishop of Ephesus displayed a great deal of charity and respect toward the Latins during the tense debates at the Council of Florence, far more than many Orthodox feel compelled to offer toward their separated brethren today.

Medaille Takes on The Remnant

John Medaille, distributist darling and armchair theologian extraordinaire, has parted company with the familiar terrain of Catholic social teaching in order to embroil himself in an ecclesiastical spat over at Ethika Politika, this time with the long-running traditionalist newspaper The Remnant. Medaille is incensed that the publication ran a piece by former First Things blogger Ann Barnhardt calling for the bishops to rise up and depose Pope Francis. At the heart of Medaille’s objections is his belief that Barnhardt’s is essentially crypto-Protestant since it relies on a “private judgment” about the Petrine office and Francis’s performance on the throne. That is a typical charge made against traditionalists who choose to speak out about the crisis in the Church. The dominant thinking among (neo-Catholic?) apologists for both the Pope and contemporary Church governance is that unless there is an official proclamation from the Vatican that there’s a crisis, then there is no crisis. If Pope Francis does not come forth and declare himself to heterodox, scandalizing, or personally unfit for the papacy, then no Catholic may form the opinion, rooted in reason, that Francis is heterodox, scandalizing, or personally unfit for the papacy. This is fideism parading as loyalty, and it’s a point of view often advanced by those with a vested interest in seeing Francis “revolutionize” the Church.

With that noted, there are other aspects of Medaille’s article that ought to raise some eyebrows. First, Medaille misleadingly subtitles his attack “The Remnant‘s call for Schism” even though Barnhardt’s piece does nothing of the sort. Moreover, Medaille should have directed his ire toward Bernhardt, not The Remnant. While that publication is certainly editorially responsible for the articles it chooses to run, there’s no indication that the newspaper’s entire editorial and writing staff endorses Barnhardt’s admittedly extreme views. Would it be fair to run a post declaring “Ethika Politika Denies the Physical Resurrection of Christ” if, for example, Medaille were to publish such an atrocious assertion under his own name? Of course not. Medaille’s views are his own, as are Barnhardt’s. To try and smear an entire publication simply because one disagrees with a particular piece that ran in it not only smacks of cheap sensationalism, but demonstrates a gross lack of charity and prudence as well.

Second, Medaille’s apparent agnosticism with regard to orthodoxy is disturbing. Following the logic set forth in the article, no individual has the competence to judge either the bishops or the pope  regardless of what they do or say. It seems that Medaille believes that the faithful should tie a rubber hose around reason and shoot up on complacency. What a novel turn of events that would be. If 2,000 years of Church history testifies to anything it is the need for faithful bishops, priests, and laity to rise up and defend orthodoxy during those unfortunate periods when the Church’s leadership jumps the rails of truth. The situation is not pretty. It can even be unsettling, but where would we be if mighty saints like Athanasius and Maximus had not spoken out against heresy? How long would the tragic period of Iconoclasm lasted in the East had it not been for the tireless witness of the faithful, even unto the shedding of their blood? While reasonable persons can disagree whether or not the Church has entered such a sorrowful period again, that is not what Medaille is up to. Instead he wishes to close-off discussion of the Church’s present situation out of what seems to be a distorted sense of fealty to the powers that be.

Last, it is ironic that Medaille of all people should choose to wag his finger at Barnhardt and The Remnant for sniffing out problems in the Church. Medaille has made something of a career out of going after churchmen who deviate from Catholic social teaching, particularly those papal encyclicals which focus on things economic. Why does Medaille get a free pass to call fellow Catholics on the carpet over the Church’s magisterium but The Remnant does not? Perhaps Medaille can offer up an explanation in a future article, or maybe — hopefully — he will go back to penning pieces on what he knows and stay out of these sorts of fisticuffs.

Can We Be Ourselves? – Preliminary

When it comes to the Eastern Catholic churches there are two extreme “schools of thought” on how they are “to be.” The first, which I will call the “Latin school,” holds that the Eastern churches ought to conform themselves fully to Western Catholic forms with some minimal space given to their unique, “exotic” elements. In other words, the Eastern churches should resemble the Latin Church in theology, spirituality, and ecclesiastical structure with “allowances” or “tolerance” given for certain liturgical elements and pious practices. On the level of doctrine, the Eastern churches ought to express themselves in a Latin idiom, removing all articulations which do not conform to Scholastic or semi-Scholastic formularies. Although the Latin Catholic Church has steadily drifted away from this “school of thought” over the past 50 years, many traditional Latin Catholics still hold fast to this belief out of chauvinism, ignorance, or both.

The other extreme, what I will call the “anti-Latin school,” holds that everything which appears to be rooted in Latin theology, spirituality, or ecclesiastical structure is not just alien to the East, but presumably defective as well. The East, according to this line of “thinking,” is essentially defined by being “not Western” (whatever that means) and has nothing to learn from Latin Christianity (though Latin Christianity has much to learn from it). On the level of doctrine, the “anti-Latin school” maintains a general agreement with the Latin Catholic Church on most first-millennium “essentials” while feeling entitled to ignore or discard any and all second-millennium doctrinal developments, particularly those associated with the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council.

Situated somewhere between these two poles is everyone else, though only Eastern Catholics are likely to give this reality any careful thought. Eastern Catholics, particularly those living in the geographic West, are compelled to live out the tension of existing in a “Latin normative” ecclesiastical space while also trying to retain their heritage — which is part of the heritage of the Universal Church — in full. Some claim there is a “golden mean” to be found, but it often seems to exist as a theoretical rather than a practical point. This raises the unsettling question of whether or not, at this moment in history, it is possible for Eastern Catholics to “be themselves” without compromises or contradictions. It is that question which I plan to probe in due course.

Deus Crucifixus

The-Taking-down-from-the-Cross

The purpose of Christianity is not to help people by reconciling them with death but to reveal the Truth about life and death in order that people may be saved by this Truth.  … Christianity is not reconciliation with death.  It is the revelation of death, and it reveals death because it is the revelation of Life.  Christ is this Life.  And only if Christ is Life is death what Christianity proclaims it to be, namely the enemy to be destroyed, and not a ‘mystery’ to be explained.  Religion and secularism, by explaining death, give it a ‘status,’ a rationale, make it ‘normal.’  Only Christianity proclaims it to be abnormal and, therefore, truly horrible.  At the grave of Lazarus Christ wept, and when His own hour to die approached, ‘he began to be sore amazed and very heavy.’  In the light of Christ, this world, this life are lost and beyond mere ‘help,’ not because there is fear of death in them, but because they have accepted and normalized death.  To accept God’s world as a cosmic cemetery which is to be abolished and replaced by an ‘other world’ which looks like a cemetery (‘eternal rest’) and to call this religion, to live in a cosmic cemetery and to ‘dispose’ every day of thousands of corpses and to get excited about a ‘just society’ and to be happy! – this is the fall of man.  It is not the immorality or the crimes of man that reveal him as a fallen being; it is his ‘positive idea’ – religious or secular – and his satisfaction with this ideal.  This fall, however, can be truly revealed only by Christ, because only in Christ is the fullness of life revealed to us, and death, therefore, becomes ‘awful,’ the very fall from life, the enemy.  It is this world (and not any ‘other world’), it is this life (and not some ‘other life’) that were given to man to be a sacrament of the divine presence, given as communion with God, and it is only through this world, this life, by ‘transforming’ them into communion with God that man was to be.  The horror of death is, therefore, not in its being the ‘end’ and not in physical destruction.  By being separation from the world and life, it is separation from God.  The dead cannot glorify God.  It is, in other words, when Christ reveals Life to us that we can hear the Christian message about death as the enemy of God.  It is when Life weeps at the grave of the friend, when it contemplates the horror of death, that the victory over death begins.

– Fr. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (H/T Fr. Ted’s Blog)

For the Western Triduum

Like many I have been eyeing the rumors that Pope Francis’s completed (but yet released) post-synodal exhortation will open the doors for “integrating” those in “irregular situations” back into the Catholic Church. No one expects the doors to be flung open, just cracked a bit. Even if that proves true, however, the chances are high that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Catholics living openly in various states of mortal sin will feel emboldened, and perhaps even encouraged, to participate in the sacramental life of the Church without repenting, amending their ill ways of life, and trying—like all of us—to sin no more.

Two years ago I found myself in a mild panic over what the first “Extraordinary Synod on the Family” might lead to. Following that sorrowful event, I felt convinced that the time had come for all Catholics of good will (traditional, conservative, whatever) to set aside their sometimes acrimonious differences in order to struggle for the good of Holy Mother Church and the upholding of her indefectible teachings on marriage, the family, and human sexuality. In an October 2014 post, “A Step Toward Disarmament,” I swore off using the polemical neologism “neo-Catholic” on Opus Publicum and hoped traditional Catholics might fully suit. Not surprisingly, that didn’t happen. A brief perusal of almost all high-profile traditional Catholic websites and blogs indicates that things are as bad ever as far as Catholic internecine strife is concerned. According to traditionalists, “neo-Catholics” are naïve, ill-informed, blind, dangerous, etc. because they continue to deny that the Church is in a state of crisis—a crisis exacerbated by the words and actions of Pope Francis. “Neo-Catholics” or, rather, contemporary conservative Catholics by and large believe that while the Church is facing serious troubles, traditionalist rhetoric, with its lack of charity and open hostility toward the Holy Father, is neither helpful nor accurate. Traditional Catholics are the “Chicken Littles” of the Church and their hyperbolic declarations need not concern a single serious soul.

While I too often find myself cringing at the vitriol pouring out of publications like The Remnant and One Peter Five, I can’t help but disagree with their overarching point—one often made by the leadership of the Society of St. Pius X—that the Mystical Body of Christ is undergoing its Passion and that like the Apostles themselves, we do not know what to make of it. How can it be that the Church should suffer so? Did not our Lord Jesus Christ promise that the gates of hell would not prevail? And yet if you look sobermindedly at the Church today, it is impossible to deny that the devil has crept aboard the Barque of St. Peter and is misleading it through a storm right into the rocks.

Some will say that the Church has always had trials, and this is true. The Arian Crisis, Iconoclasm, the Great Schism, the Reformation, and so on and so forth have presented great challenges to the life and integrity of the Church and yet in the end the Church prevailed. By faith all Catholics believe that the Church will prevail this time as well, but it is so incredibly difficult to see how. Traditional Catholics are right to remind all that demons are only driven out through prayer, repentance, and fasting, but they could stand to be reminded now and again that faith, hope, and charity rather than scorn, mockery, and derision are essential as well. With respect to conservative Catholics as a whole, I sympathize deeply with their desire to remain truly hopeful for the future and to work for the preservation of the Faith in the face of innumerable intellectual, historical, and political challenges, but there comes a point when it is necessary to call a spade a spade or, in this instance, a crisis a crisis and to fight—truly fight—against Christ’s enemies, no matter what guise they may appear in.

I occasionally wonder if Eastern Catholics feel the crisis in the Church as acutely as Latins do. Given that so many have fought, suffered, and died for the Faith for centuries, it is entirely possible that the present Eastern ecclesiastical consciousness is now hardened against the understandable fears and worries which plague many in the Church today. The Catholics of the Middle East haven’t the time to squabble over budgets, carnivals, and The Vatican II Hymnal. Their churches are not oriented around bourgeois values and petty pious posturing; they are literally built on the blood of martyrs. The Greek Catholic churches, many of which were nearly wiped out during the last century, produced some of the most outspoken voices for the Truth of Christ at last year’s painful installment of the “Extaordinary Synod.” Latin Catholics sometimes lament that they have been left without shepherds, but there are icons of the Faith in the East to be found to this day, lay and clerical alike. By their example—and by the prayers of their martyrs—the Church Universal can and will be saved.

Today He Who Hung the Earth on the Waters is Hung on the Tree

For those celebrating Holy Thursday on the Gregorian Calendar. If you listen to it, you’ll know why I feel compelled to post it every year.

Opus Publicum

The late Archbishop Job of the Diocese of the Midwest (Orthodox Church in America) chanting his haunting setting of the 15th Antiphon of Holy Friday Matins in 2009. That Holy Week would prove to be the good bishop’s last here on earth as God called him home in December. Of all of the priests and bishops I met during my time in Eastern Orthodoxy, he was one of the most kind, sincere, and dedicated to his calling. On this most holy and sorrowful day I pray for his soul and hope in turn that he will pray for mine.

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Patriarch Sviatoslav’s Paschal Message

Although most Ukrainian Greek Catholics won’t be celebrating Pascha for more than another month, His Beatitude Sviatoslav, Patriarch of Kyiv-Halych and All Rus, has already issued his annual Paschal message so that the faithful — Eastern and Western — following the Gregorian Calendar can benefit from its words as they prepare to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The full text of the letter is available here. What follows are three paragraphs which stood out to me in particular.

Not all are able to receive this message of salvation. To speak of the Christ-Lamb, crucified on the cross, in today’s world seems as problematic as it was in the times of the earliest Christians. This was St. Paul’s understanding when he wrote: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart’” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19). Even though Christ’s Gospel is being preached now for almost two thousand years, often it seems that the world, even one that calls itself “Christian,” still understands only the language of riches, affluence, power, weaponry, and might. Manifestations of the folly of the mighty of this world never disappear from the arena of history. They take on different forms: empires, reichs, unions, federations, led by individuals, who propose themselves instead of God, and impose on others their own depravation as a measure of truth.

. . . .

Most often, it is in weakness and infirmity that God’s power and God’s wisdom is revealed. What is important is not to allow oneself to be tempted, or deceived, or discouraged in our fight, for that, against which we struggle, is merely a manifestation of the unclean spirit, who shakes, falls to the ground, foams at the mouth and convulses, for it knows that by the blood of the unblemished Paschal Lamb its end is near (see Mark 9:17-27). The Risen Christ, who through suffering and death carries us over to resurrection and eternal life, comes to us today showing us the wounds on His glorified body. As then he spoke to his frightened apostles, so today he says to us, his disciples: “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38).

How much have we already experienced the “impossible” made possible for those, who firmly kept their faith in the Risen Lord! Seventy years ago the evil one decided once again to crucify our people and drag our Church into the grave. However, to the surprise of the entire world, she rose and became stronger than at any time in her history. At the Lviv pseudo-sobor of 1946 the enemy attempted to forcibly separate us from unity with the successor to the apostle Peter. Today we are living witness to how the blood of the martyrs and confessors of our Church has forever sealed this Catholic unity and become a force of resilience and resurrection for Ukraine, a force for the unity of its people, and a catalyst for social renewal. Indeed, through such a witnessing of faith in the resurrection an authentic unification of the Churches of Ukraine is possible, a restoration of the unity of the Churches of Kyivan Christianity, which we have received as an inheritance from Prince Volodymyr, equal-to-the-apostles.

Anti-Ecumenism and the Orthodox Council

George Demacopoulos, a professor at Fordham University and co-director of that institution’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center, is taking aim at extremist Orthodox Christians (specifically two bishops) who are attempting to undermine the upcoming Great and Holy Council’s discussion on ecumenism. Instead of posting an excerpt, let me strongly suggest you read the piece in its entirety. As Demacopoulos makes clear, the position of the Orthodox anti-ecumenists is driven more by ideology (and perhaps nationalism) rather than fidelity to Holy Tradition, and their assertion that non-Orthodox Trinitarian baptisms are invalid has no authentic canonical support. Unfortunately, there seems to be an uptick in neo-Orthodox polemics against Catholics as of late, as evidenced in part by a recent book by one Fr. John Heers which argues that Catholic sacraments are devoid of grace and that this position — which only came in vogue during the last two centuries — is an authentic expression of tradition. For those interested, I briefly commented on Heers’s book and neo-Orthodox here.

With that out of the way, let me be clear that “ecumenism” is a slippery concept, and I certainly have no beef with any Catholic or Orthodox Christian who doesn’t wish for “ecumenism” to devolve into “I’m ok, you’re ok.” (Sadly, in the Catholic world at least, that’s exactly what has transpired over the past 50 years.) Ecumenism between Catholics and Orthodox should always have as its end goal the restoration of full ecclesiastical communion. Period. But of course Rome (first, second, or third) wasn’t built in a day and as anyone who has eyed East/West ecumenical discussions over the past couple of decades well knows, there is a lot of historical debris which needs to be cleared out of the way before the building process can truly begin. Engaging in needless name-calling and pointless polemics only adds to the clutter.

Steve the Builder Returns

I realize that I am late in commenting on this, but Steve the Builder, the podcast of one Steve Robinson which is hosted by Ancient Faith Radio, has returned to the airwaves after a five-year hiatus. The “relaunch episode,” which serves as both an update on Robinson’s life and a reflection on discerning the will of God, is a must-listen installment of the show, particularly during this season of Great Lent (or Holy Week for Western Christians).

For those unaware, Robinson used to pen the equal parts insightful and hilarious Pithless Thoughts web-log, co-hosts another podcast entitled Our Life in Christ, and has authored two books, including Fire From Ashes: The Reality of Perpetual Conversion with Fr. Joseph Huneycutt.