Ephemera X

Call me crazy, but I had no idea that linking excerpts on Facebook from a talk Archimandrite Gabriel Bunge gave recently in Ukraine would elicit so much critical feedback. Bunge, for those unaware, is a former Catholic Benedictine monk-turned-Russian Orthodox who has penned several books on Evagrius Ponticus. A former student of one Joseph Ratzinger, this line seems to be raising some hackles: “My teacher and professor who later became Pope Benedict XVI understood many things but did nothing.” If spoken by a traditional Catholic, I imagine it would generate more than a few likes; uttered from the mouth of a “schismatic,” however, it immediately draws Catholic ire. For the record, I think Bunge (and extreme traditionalists) are wrong: Summorum Pontificum was not “nothing”; the symbolic value of lifting the (illicit) excommunications of the Society of St. Pius X bishops was not “nothing”; and many of the strong words Benedict XVI had concerning Islam, secularization in Europe, and the loss of direction in the Catholic Church were not “nothing.” Although I believe Papa Ratzinger fell way short of correcting many major problems in the Church and likely even contributed to some of them consciously, his pontificate — like most pontificates — deserves to be approached with nuance and charity. As for Bunge’s other remarks regarding Catholicism, it’s hard not to see them as much more than an expression of Byzantine chauvinism mixed with a serious lack of understanding of how “Protestantized” parts of Orthodoxy have become. Yes, the Catholic Church has many serious issues facing it; so does the Orthodox Church. The sooner both camps realize this and tend to those issues the better off we’ll all be.

I know this is a little offbeat for me to write about, but for those of you who, like me, have fallen out of shape and/or are dealing with nagging injuries from past athletic activity (two bum knees and right shoulder issues for yours truly), let me recommend that you seriously consider trying DDP Yoga. DDP stands for “Diamond Dallas Page,” a former professional wrestler who made it big in World Championship Wrestling in the late 1990s and early 00s. DDP designed the program to aide in his own recovery and it has helped numerous other wrestlers (past and present) rehabilitate themselves while — according to the testimonials — transforming numerous lives. Personally, I don’t know anything about that. What I do know is that my slow immersion into DDP’s low-impact, high energy workouts has resulted in noticeable improvement in my shoulder mobility, considerably less knee pain, and an overall sense of just feeling better. Granted, I haven’t been as committed to the program as I should be (that’s now changed) and I definitely had some changes to make in my diet (ugh kale), but this is the first program I have come across that literally anybody can do, regardless of where they are physically. Every workout — even the most basic — comes with numerous examples of modifications people can make based on their fitness level and the beginner workouts are very accessible. If, like me, you prefer to use a mobile device for streaming, there is also DDP Yoga Nowwhich has all of the current workouts; past workouts from earlier iterations of the DDP Yoga program; and new live workouts added at regular intervals. The site/app also allows you to track your workouts, receive great advice from others who have tried the program, and pick up other helpful hints. If you are worried about this form of “yoga” meaning “Eastern spiritualism” or some other fluffy nonsense, don’t. It is 100% practical; geared to be fun; and — dare I say? — inspirational.

Not to make this post too plug heavy, but this one won’t cost you a dime — and it will improve your mind and Catholic outlook. The Uncommon Good, from Iowa Catholic Radio, is hosted by Bo Bonner and Dr. Bud Marr. The show is dedicated to discussing the common good, Catholic social teaching, and the social reign of Christ the King. It airs every Wednesday at 9am and 9pm CST and can be streamed from the link above. If you are interested in listening to past shows, they are readily available from iTunes here. If all goes according to plan, I will be appearing on the show in the near future. When that happens, I will certainly post about it here.

Ephemera IX

Last Wednesday, much to my shock and chagrin, a rather unremarkable meme tweeted by yours truly concerning the farce that is “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” was picked up by none other than right-wing darling Ann Coulter. In less than 24 hours, my tweet had been re-tweeted nearly 1,000 times. Then the zaniness set in. As much as I appreciate new Twitter followers and web-log readers, I should stress in no uncertain terms that I do not identify with the alt-right, nor do I support Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency. As I tried to make clear on Twitter, I am an integralist — nothing more, nothing less. That doesn’t mean there aren’t certain positions that I hold that are alt-right-ish. For instance, I support thorough background checks for immigrants and refugees arriving from the Middle East and believe that Middle-Eastern Christians should be prioritized; I am skeptical of free-trade accords and surrendering of economic sovereignty; and I harbor a very low opinion of international institutions and law (at least as conventionally understood). However, as I have repeatedly made clear on Opus Publicum, I reject the ethnic and racialist elements of the alt-right and I stand by the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church that I am under no obligation to vote in the upcoming election. Admittedly, that does place me at odds with many conservatives, including some conservative and traditional Catholics who feel that it is their duty to stop Hillary Clinton’s White House run at all costs. So be it, so be it.

On my way to church this morning I heard a brief, but positive, story on Michigan Radio (National Public Radio affiliate) about the Institute of Christ the King’s (ICKSP) arrival today in Detroit at the St. Joseph Oratory. The report probably wasn’t as clear as it ought to have been, though I appreciate the story stressing the ICKSP’s work in restoring old churches while bringing the traditional Mass to the faithful. As some readers may recall, I paid many a visit to the Institute’s Shrine in Chicago when I lived there. Tragically, last October, the Shrine was engulfed by flames and the restoration work already put into the historic structure was lost. By the Grace of God, the ICKSP received the green-light to press ahead with bringing the Shrine back to life. While it will take years before the church building is fully restored, you can help in the Institute’s good work by donating to their efforts here. I can say without reservation that my experiences with the Institute’s clergy was uniformly positive. Moreover, their willingness to reintroduce certain aspects of the pre-1962 liturgy is to be applauded.

Speaking of liturgy, there is an Antiochian Orthodox mission not terribly far from my abode — St. Willibrord — which does a rather remarkable job combining Antiochian liturgical norms with a Russian musical aesthetic. This strikes me as wise. To most Western years, Byzantine and Arab chant can be a little off-putting, and if it’s not done well, it’s absolutely wretched. Additionally, there are far more online and published resources for Russian liturgical music available in English than for any other Eastern chant system around. Years ago I suggested that, in time, a common liturgical aesthetic would eventually took root in the United States, though that was back during my “optimistic days” when I thought American Orthodoxy was less than a decade away from ecclesiastical unity. This is not to say that I think American Orthodoxy needs to flock to one chant system alone. There are many beautiful Byzantine (or Byzantine-inspired) settings that should be retained, not to mention a number of other lesser-appreciated systems, such as Carpatho-Rusyn chant, that many Orthodox rarely get to hear. Maybe the hope I had was that one day a man could walk into an Orthodox parish and know before it starts how many litanies he will pray. Is that too much to ask?

Since I am already “out East,” I’ll close this out there. I am starting to make my way again through the two-volume memoirs of Metropolitan Evlogy, My Life’s Journey. I want to see if, on a second reading, my initial judgment holds up, namely that these memories are indispensable reading for all Orthodox Christians (particularly would-be converts). For those unaware, Evlogy lived and served the Russian Orthodox Church during the waning years of “Holy Russia” and was instrumental for leading the Orthodox diaspora in Western Europe after the Soviet Revolution. It seems there was no ecclesiastical event (or upheaval) from that period that Evlogy was not front-and-center for. Even non-Orthodox, particularly Greek Catholics, may be interested in Evlogy’s interaction with Greek and Latin Catholics during that period. Needless to say, while Evlogy recounts the efforts of many holy priests and monastics to keep the flame of Orthodoxy alive, his first-hand account of “Holy Russia” is less-than-edifying at times. A clerical caste system, political interference, mixed levels of education, disaffected youth (particularly the sons of clergy), and a most of other social and political problems conspired to consign Orthodoxy to being little more than a cultural artifact in late-Imperial Russia. Just like today, the 19th/early 20th Century was no “golden age” for Russian Orthodoxy, and the sooner more Orthodox understand this, the healthier their communion will be.

Ephemera VIII

Adam DeVille, over at his Eastern Christian Books blog, posted an interview last month with Will Cohen, author of The Concept of “Sister Churches” in Catholic-Orthodox Relations Since Vatican II. Although I have not yet had a chance to read Cohen’s book, my suspicion is that the title alone will lead to some knee-jerk reactions from both sides of the ecclesiastical divide. So it goes. As for the interview itself, I am intrigued by Cohen’s observation “that the East-West schism wasn’t so much something that happened as something that was and still is in process of happening[.]” I think that’s accurate, at least to the extent that we know by now that the rupture in Christendom wasn’t a “big bang” moment in 1054 A.D. and that East/West relations were, at points, cordial up until after the Council of Florence. By the close of the 18th Century, however, it seems that one can say that the schism became more severe, what with the rise of hyper-nationalism in Greece and the imperial ambitions of Russia. Somewhat ironically, only when Orthodoxy was driven West due in large part to the Soviet Revolution and its aftermath did a truly separationaist mindset fully set-in, one which has bequeathed us a strange legacy of historical revisionism, conspiracy theorizing, and incoherent ecclesiologies. Despite all of this, Cohen thinks there is hope for the future — and I certainly hope he’s right.

Speaking of DeVille, be sure to check out his latest piece on primacy and synodality over at Catholic World Report. In reflecting on the recent Catholic/Orthodox joint statement on the topic, DeVille suggests that one of the impediments to East/West reconciliation is not so much doctrinal as it is canonical. Specifically, DeVille looks to the 1917 and 1983 codes of canon law (along with the 1990 Eastern code) to track how papal authority is framed in the light of the two Vatican councils and what might be done about it in order to bring Church governance closer to a first-millennium model. To be clear, DeVille does not ignore the dogmatic statements concerning primacy contained in Vatican I’s Pastor Aeternus; he simply rejects the idea that this document serves as an insurmountable wall between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Of course, changing some canons probably won’t get all of the work done. Given that we live now in the era of the “celebrity pope” where papalotry runs wild, it will take some time to ween Catholics — including many conservative Catholics — that the papacy is akin to the U.S. presidency, where meaningful limits on the exercise of power are more illusory than real and “the executive” can and should micromanage the government. That is not the historic role of the pope in the Universal Church, and it shouldn’t be his role today.

It’s taken a little bit, but The Josias is starting to come back to life, especially in the wake of the Tradinista nonsense. Now that Elliot Milco has channeled Matt Hardy and finally deleted the Tradinistas, hopefully more work will be put into The Josias‘s work of trying to “articulate an authentically Catholic political stance from which to approach the present order of society.” If you have not yet visited the site and perused the archives, please do. There you will find a treasure chest of fresh commentaries, original translations, and reflections on topics such as the common good, Catholic Action, integralism, the American Founding, and history. It is a wonderful resource and one that I encourage all thoughtful and faithful Catholics to consider contributing to.

Finally, the Major League Baseball postseason is now well underway and I couldn’t be more disappointed with the results thus far. After my Detroit Tigers failed to secure a Wild Card spot, I have been forced to watch two lackluster and tilted American League Division Series while also recoiling in horror over the possibility that this year might actually be the Chicago Cubs’ year (Heaven forbid). At this point I don’t see how the Cubs won’t be in the World Series at the end of October. As for the American League, while I believe the Toronto Blue Jays have a stronger ball club overall than injury-plagued Cleveland, I won’t sell short Terry Francona’s ability to lead the Indians to victory. And so I am going to go with Cleveland over Toronto in six and then do my best to believe that they can eventually overcome the Chicago juggernaut.

Ephemera VI

Last week I made mention of David Bentley Hart’s provocative article “Christ’s Rabble.” Although Hart opted to target an Acton Institute General in that piece, Acton has sent a Private to return fire. Dylan Pahman, perhaps Acton’s only resident Eastern Orthodox writer, has a new piece over at The Public Discourse that attacks Hart’s literal reading of certain New Testament passages which pertain to wealth. While I still harbor some reservations concerning Hart’s characterization of early Christians as “communists,” Pahman’s response is a mess. Setting aside Pahman’s childish attempts to associate Hart with the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Gnosticism, the real problem with Pahman’s uncharitable critique is that he simply does what he accuses Hart of doing, namely wandering around the New Testament in order to proof-text his way to the conclusion that wealth isn’t evil; it’s how we use it that can be evil. (Pahman, unsurprisingly, ignores just how often it is used for evil.) In the end, Hart can defend himself, and should he choose to do so, it will likely be a bloodbath. While Hart has sometimes stumbled along the way, particularly when targeting Thomism and the natural-law tradition, when it comes to Greek, the Church Fathers, and Christian history, it shouldn’t be too difficult for Hart to play Mickey Gall to Pahman’s C.M. Punk.

Some mixed defenses of the Tradinistas are starting to pour in. Over at his web-log Sancrucensis, Pater Edmund Waldstein has penned a detailed piece explaining why he supports their project while also opting to not align with it. In various other writings (one of which Waldstein links to), I have tried to lay out a typography of both “illiberal Catholicism” (broadly understood) and the various approaches to the Church’s social magisterium which are available today. I have made no apologies for the fact that I believe integralism is the only sensible option available for those who wish to conform to what the Catholic Church teaches. There is no need to import problematic terms like “socialism” into the mix, nor the ideological baggage which accompanies it. Waldstein appears to believe the Tradinistas have their instincts in the right place — and I think that’s right. My primary reservation concerning them remains a seeming lack of seriousness on the one hand (e.g., group’s name and website aesthetic) and a deeply confused approach to Catholic thought on the other. As I said in my original critique of the Tradinistas, it is an endeavor comprised mainly of priv-kids from Ivy League and other high-ranking schools; it’s chances of growing any deep roots are slim.

Meanwhile, David Mills, writing for Ethika Politika, thinks we need the Tradinistas (or something like them). Mills highlights the centrality of the just wage to Catholic social teaching and appears to believe the Tradinistas will help promote it. Maybe, though there is almost nothing from the Tradinistas on the just wage or even a ready-hand acknowledgment that paying just wages means discriminating between workers based on their state of life. As Mills surely knows, Distributists have a rich history of discussing the just wage and fleshing out its meaning. Moreover, Distributists also hold to a thick (though not absolute) conception of property rights which better coheres to what Leo XIII and Pius XI taught than anything the Tradinistas have proposed. To Mills I would say that we do need “something like” the Tradinistas in the sense of an organized movement to promote authentic Catholic principles in society. What we don’t need are Catholics too afraid of their own shadows talking-up a limp-wristed form of Marxism and pretending that it’s “revolutionary.” By modern liberal lights, what is truly revolutionary is the integralist thesis, or simply the idea — enshrined in Catholic doctrine — that the state is subordinate to the Church even though it retains its own legitimate sphere of authority. What we need are Catholics willing to crawl to the Cross, not a hammer and sickle.

Last night, at the suggestion of Owen White, I watched the film Free State of Jones, starring Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight, a poor farmer and Confederate soldier who led a rebellion against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi. Like any historical drama, this one took some liberties with the facts while working-in some additional subplots for dramatic effect. Still, wholly faithful to history or not, the film raises some powerful points about the nature of a free society (albeit a small one) and the role rights ought to play in justifying political violence. What slightly unsettled me about Free State of Jones is not the fact a band of poor farmers and runaway slaves rose up against an ostensibly lawful political authority, but that their reasons for doing so are susceptible to two opposed ideological readings. As the movie presents it, Knight and his followers can be seen as quasi-socialists who wish to provide for the good of the commonwealth above individual gain or greed. And yet, at the same time, a very libertarian reading of Knight is available, particularly his insistence that his followers have an absolute right to their property and — citing St. Paul — ought to reap what they sow.

Ephemera V

The pace of life on the Internet is brisk. Earlier today I wrote a few words on the “Tradinista Collective” and its attempt to craft what they call a “Catholic socialism.” Just a few hours later, Chase Padusniak, writing over at Patheos, weighed-in on the matter while also (gently) disagreeing with yours truly. That’s fine. Padusniak is right to point out that socialism comes in many shapes and sizes, though at some point one has to ask if a particular economic ordo is still socialist if it has been defined down to, say, the economic platform of the Democratic Party. Whatever one makes of the Tradinista version of socialism, I have to wonder why they bothered using the word socialism at all. Perhaps this is because I know some of the gentlemen involved with the Tradinista venture and therefore have a sneaking suspicion that the entire endeavor is an attempt to posture cool for Leftists who generally have very little time for the Catholic Church or her teachings. Words matter, and at the end of the day wouldn’t it be better for an enterprise which claims to be Catholic to distance itself as much as possible from an ideology freighted with a long history of problems, both moral and practical? Part of me wonders how people might react if someone pushed for “Catholic National Socialism” before being compelled to pen thousands of words on how this form of Nazism skirts past that other form of Nazism the Church clearly condemns. But I digress . . .

Pepe the Frog has been designated a hate symbol by the ACLU. The alt-right must be overjoyed. What started as an obnoxious gag on 4chan has spilled into one of the most surreal side-stories of this election cycle. Is this how the hypocrisy of “liberal tolerance” will finally be revealed on the grand stage? That a cartoon frog edited to look like Adolph Hitler (and Donald Trump) can generate this much mainstream attention is something to behold. I have no doubt that the same liberals who wept openly on social media for Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 and called freedom of speech one of the cornerstones of Western civilization are among those persecuting poor Pepe. What the ACLU and other Pepe haters don’t seem to understand is that the more offended they get, the more convinced the trolls at 4chan and other alt-righters are that they have won. Not only have these cyber miscreants taken the Pepe the Frog meme back from so-called “normies” (i.e., everyday Internet users), they have turned him into a national sensation by getting mainline defenders of “liberal rights” to condemn him. Amazing.

Speaking of the election cycle, I took time out from my weekly viewing of WWE Monday Night Raw to watch the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. (Given RAW‘s abysmally low rating this week, it looks like a lot of other fans of the sport of professional wrestling joined me.) I’ll be honest. I paid almost no attention to substance and instead assessed the entire spectacle on style and presentation alone. Clinton was arguably better prepared than Trump for the questions that would be asked, but her delivery was flat, rehearsed, and uninspiring. Trump, who did himself no favors by trying to shoot from the hip, did an okay job playing the “Strong Man” he wants the American public to see him as, but my sense is that he didn’t do anything to win over moderates and other on-the-fence voters. Assuming Trump keeps his improvisational style going into the next debate, Clinton would be wise to hang back and let The Donald hang himself with his own words. The electorate may not care all that much about fact checking; they will, however, pick up on Trump’s noticeable stumbling when pressed on foreign-policy issues that he clearly knows very little about.

Oh, and speaking of the debate, I must say the biggest howler of the night (for me) was when Clinton said she would appoint a special prosecutor to enforce U.S. trade deals with foreign countries. How, I wonder, does she plan to pull that off? The World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement, for instance, is not enforced in national courts of law; it is enforced through transnational adjudication under the auspices of the WTO itself. Moreover, many smaller trade agreements, such as the numerous bilateral air services agreements the U.S. holds with most countries in the world, have no express adjudicatory mechanism — and they don’t need one. If, for example, Canada starts limiting the rights of American Airlines to access its airports, the U.S. can impose reciprocal restrictions on Air Canada, and so forth. And when adhering to a treaty reaches a full breakdown point, one or both parties will simply denounce it and, presumably, return to the negotiating table. This is nothing new; it happens all of the time. That is how international law “works” — legalism not required.

Ephemera IV

I know I sound like a broken record, but every time I come across a “1954 v. 1962” liturgical books squabble among traditional Latin Catholics, I want to cry (with laughter). Nobody in their right mind has ever claimed that the “1962 books” are superior to those which were normative in 1954 or earlier; they have merely defended them from the accusation that they are “corrupt” or “harmful” or “theologically dangerous,” etc. What amuses me is how certain “pro-1954” folk speak of the great integrity of the Byzantine Rite to help bolster their claim that the abbreviations instituted first by Pope Pius XII and then by John XXIII are abominations in the eyes of the Lord. Step into any Orthodox or Greek Catholic parish in the world and all you will find are services which have been abbreviated (sometimes rather clumsily and arbitrarily). Even monastic usage contains cuts here n’ there to offices such as Matins or the All-Night Vigil. Now, none of this is to say that there aren’t elements of the “1962 books” which should be reconsidered and revised. Some of the abbreviations instituted make little sense, and the “new” Holy Week Rite is atrocious compared with the original. All things in due course.

Have you watched the video Anointed, produced by the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer (F.SS.R.) in honor of one of the congregation’s founders, Fr. Anthony Mary, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood? If not, you should. For those unaware, the F.SS.R. (sometimes referred to as the Transalpine Redemptorists) is a traditional order of priests living a semi-monastic life on the isle of Papa Stronsay in northern Scotland. As their name indicates, they are spiritually descended from the Redemptorist tradition established by St. Alphonus Liguori in the 18th Century and carried forth by such great saints of the Church as Gerhard Majella, John Neumann, Clement Hofbauer, and Bishop Nicholas Charnetsky. Whether you are of Western or Eastern persuasion, the video is well worth spending some time with.

I don’t often go to the movies, but several weeks ago my brother and I went to see Hell or High Water, the heist film which is generating overwhelmingly positive reviews. Some, however, have criticized the movie for glorifying robbery and making bankers out to be a cadre of predators seeking to rob honest, hard-working people of their property and livelihood. The latter charge doesn’t really strike me as too far from the mark, and besides the movie sets this form of legalized theft against the backdrop of the even greater acts of theft which secured the West for America’s white citizenry well more than a century ago. While it may be cliché to speak of a film containing “shades of grey,” this one certainly does. If there is a true hero to be found amidst the desperation and panic that drives Hell or High Water, it is Jeff Bridges’s Texas Ranger, and even by the end he is tempted by lawlessness as a means to do right in an unforgiving, morally indifferent world.

Dylan Pahman, the Acton Institute’s resident Orthodox apologist for free-market capitalism, is back preaching that old-time liberal religion in his most recent article for Public Orthodoxy, “Orthodox Theology and Economic Reality.” Like many of Pahman’s pieces, this one is shot through with a number of strange assertions, the most startling being his claim that the Orthodox “lack any serious engagement with the insights of modern economic science.” Whatever does Pahman mean by “economic science”? A brief perusal through Acton’s archives—and Pahman’s own writings—reveals that “economic science” actually means the heterodox claims of the so-called “Austrian School,” a marginalized economic ideology that eschews empiricism and falsifiability. Nowhere does Pahman make mention that the Russian Orthodox Church has spoken forcefully on economic matters—including condemning global capitalism—as recently as a few months ago. It’s a shame that the real failure evident in Pahman’s writings is his unwillingness to engage honestly and openly with his own ecclesiastic tradition.

Ephemera III

“Crony capitalism” comes up a lot whenever the economic liberals start spouting off about the economy, as if this alleged variant of capitalism is not the natural outgrowth of the “pure” free-market capitalism they claim to defend. It is no small irony, however, that when pressed into arguments with others, the same economic liberals who decry “crony capitalism” will point to the empirical effects of this capitalism as “proof” that their free-market ideology is superior to any other option being put on the table. But if “crony capitalism,” that is the capitalism we all know and love, is “bad,” how can it possibly vindicate the free-market position? To this question, certain liberals will say, “Well, imagine how much better it would be if cronyism was removed!” Maybe—or maybe the positive results achieved under capitalism were always due to the fact that regulators and lawmakers had some involvement in the economy. Nobody knows because contrary to what the economic liberals say, their “pure” economic order has never existed; there is no way to know empirically what the results would be. Perhaps that is why those tied to the heterodox “Austrian School” of economics are always eschewing empiricism; it provides no support for their more outlandish, quasi-theoretical claims.

I will be back on Magnificat Media’s Friday show, Church and State, tomorrow discussing the alt-right, voting, and Donald Trump. (More information on the show, including airtimes, is available here.) For those who haven’t seen it, I encourage you to pop over the official website of the Society of St. Pius X to reflect on two pieces from The Angelus archives which discuss a Catholic’s duty regarding voting and, just as importantly, when abstention can be morally licit (perhaps even necessary). For what it’s worth, I still have not made up my mind if I will participate in this election cycle, though I think there is a strong argument to be made that certain local elections may be necessary for a Catholic to participate in, particularly if the outcome will avert evil.

In a couple of earlier posts I made mention of my home church, St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, in Grand Rapids, MI. The future of this tiny parish remains uncertain, particularly since funds are in short supply and our pastor is well into his 60s. It is, as I have mentioned, the last outpost of Byzantine Catholicism in West Michigan. Decades of assimilation, coupled with the fact that almost all of the Ukrainian and Polish immigrants who first established the parish have passed on to their Heavenly reward, make St. Michael’s survival unlikely. Still, with God all things are possible. Please, if you think about it, say a prayer or two for this church and its small community of Greek Catholics. It would be much appreciated.

Rod Dreher is praising Russia again over at his web-log at The American Conservative. While I have no interest in seeing the United States embroiled in a major global conflict with Russia, I refuse to stick my head in the sand when it comes to the fact that Russia has been a multi-time aggressor in Eastern Europe in recent years. Also, despite all of the lip service given to the resurgence of “Holy Russia” under Vladimir Putin’s watch, let us not forget that Russia invaded a fellow Orthodox country—Georgia—in 2008 and is currently carrying out incursions against fellow Orthodox and Greek Catholics in Ukraine. I can understand Dreher, a member of a hyper-minority confession with no substantial roots or future in the United States, longing for an ecclesiastical mothership to look to, but no Catholic should be siding with him in this. Russia, and the Russian Orthodox Church, remains officially at odds with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) and has refused to apologize for the imprisonment, torture, and murder of her clergy and faithful from the 1940s onward. Remember: Until 1989 the UGCC was the largest oppressed religious body in the world. Russia is not a friend to the Catholic Faith. Never forget that.

Ephemera II

Within the dominant Latin Rite of the Catholic Church are two venerable devotions which typically occur back-to-back at the opening of each month: The First Friday devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the First Saturday devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today, very few Catholics outside of traditionalist circles honor either devotion, likely out of apathy, ignorance, or a quiet belief that such practices are not only “old hat,” but “superstitious.” With the exception of a handful of Eastern Catholics who imported these devotions, most Eastern Christians stick to the formal liturgical cycle to express their piety. This can be seen, for instance, during the Great Blessing of Water at Theophany or at the memorial services for the dead conducted throughout Great Lent. While various local churches maintain some unique “old world” devotions here and there, for the most part the Eastern tradition is bereft of practices where individuals are asked to perform certain acts on certain days in order to attain a particular divine reward. That’s not necessarily a good thing nor a bad thing, mind you. And maybe the absence of such devotional practices among the East would be less noteworthy if—in the geographic West—Eastern Christians had the ecclesiastical infrastructure to be, on average, more than what Fr. Alexander Schmemann called “Sunday churches.” Of course, just because the Latins are better at keeping their doors open during the week doesn’t mean many of the faithful pass through them.

I have not yet finished Bishop Marcarie Dragoi’s fascinating monograph, Orthodox and Greek Catholics in Transylvania (1867-1916): Convergences and Divergences (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2015), but I can already tell that it will soon be part of my ever-morphing list of “Recommended Reading” for those interested about both Eastern Christianity generally and Greek Catholicism specifically. The experience of the Romanian Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches during this period parallels in some ways the experience of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Galicia after the 18th Century, particularly with respect to ecclesiastical involvement in education, culture, nation-building, and civic institutions. What is striking, however, is how much more fraternal the ties were between Orthodox and Greek Catholics in Transylvania than what was exhibited in Galicia. This is no doubt due in large part to the political machinations of the Russian Empire at this time and its reliance on the Orthodox Church as a vehicle for cultural and political dominance in Ukraine. While Orthodox/Greek Catholic relations in Transylvania were not always perfectly harmonious, they do provide a good example of how these two confessions ought to behave toward one another moving forward, not just in Romania, but across the globe.

Some changes are coming to the Divine Liturgy as it is served in Greek Orthodox parishes in the United States, though they’re nothing to get too worked up about. The strangest (in my estimation) directive concerns the absolute prohibition on translating Κύριε Ελέησον (Kyrie Eleison), Θεοτόκος (Theotokos), and Λόγος (Logos) into English. Why? No ecclesiastical authority ever declared that those words couldn’t be rendered into Church Slavonic way back in the day. So it goes. Maybe there is an argument to be made that the English language is so intrinsically corrupt that it is incapable of capturing the proper meaning of these words with such gross substitutes as “Lord have mercy,” “Mother/Bearer of God,” and “Word.” Still, let these new directives be a lesson to those Orthodox who still cling to the myth that not a jot nor tittle of the Divine Liturgy has ever passed since the text came off the pen of Ss. John Chrysostom or Basil the Great 1,600 years ago.

Much to my chagrin, I discovered recently that the website Catholics 4 Trump (C4T) is not a gag. Established by a traditionalist Catholic who contributes regularly for The Remnant newspaper, C4T is “dedicated to exposing the lies that the left and establishment Republicans have spread about Trump to further their own self-interest that have turned many pro-life and conservative Catholics away from voting for him.” Fine. However, let me be clear that this conservative Catholic (and by “conservative” I mean “integralist”) has been persuaded to not vote for Trump by nothing more and nothing less than the Catholic Church’s social magisterium. Fear concerning the potential fallout of a Clinton presidency is no excuse for crying after a faux “strong man” to save us.

Ephemera I

I was recently alerted that Mark Lilla has a “new book” coming out, The Shipwrecked Mind. Like his early publication, The Reckless Mind, this volume is comprised of essays and review pieces Lilla published previously in The New York Review of Books and The New Republic. The gentleman who first brought this collection to my attention claimed that Lilla was not an “original thinker.” What I took that to mean is that Lilla’s writing is either derivative or repetitive (maybe both). I am not sure that is true. While we can safely assume that Lilla will not be shifting any paradigms, I think it’s important not to sell the man short. He has, after all, brought a lot of needful attention to European intellectual developments over the past two decades and was the first—to my recollection—to expand the definition of what a “Straussian” is beyond a silly synonym for “neoconservative.” Now, mind you, I disagree with Lilla about a great many things, but he’s not some middle-minded hack. In other words, he doesn’t write for Patheos.

There has been talk around the social media watercooler of a traditionalist Catholic of some repute (though, I must confess, I never heard of him) joining up with the Antiochian Orthodox Church. That’s nothing new, is it? Every year X number of Catholics (and many more Protestants) join Orthodoxy, either through the Antiochians or one of the many other jurisdictions operating in the United States today. What’s surprising about this move is that the individual in question appears to have taken a fairly hardline stance, denying the validity of all Catholic sacraments and professing that “Papists” are destined for hell. To the best of my knowledge this is not, and has never been, the position of the Patriarch of Antioch. If anything, the Antiochians are considered rather “liberal” when it comes to recognizing Catholic sacraments as valid. Moreover, the Antiochian Orthodox and Melkite Greek Catholic communions have a long history of cooperation, including communicatio in sacris. So, whatever this fellow happens to think Orthodoxy “is” vis-à-vis Catholicism, it’s rather distinct from the perspective of his chosen Patriarchate. So it goes. It’s entirely possible the lad has just come down with a nasty case of convertitis; give him a few years and he’ll cool his pies.

Following up a (little) bit on yesterday’s post on the alt-right, I found myself spending an inordinate amount of time learning about the meme “Pepe the Frog” and how Nazified variants of this cartoon frog have become associated with the alt-right movement. (Various depictions of Pepe as Donald Trump can also be found online.) It seems that certain participants in the grotesque online forum 4chan (where the Pepe meme first originated) are endeavoring to “take back” Pepe from everyday online folk by making him politically and socially toxic. How this Internet swerve got bound up with the alt-right movement is a bit of a mystery to me, though as I noted yesterday, it’s become commonplace for the alt-right’s critics to associate it with Nazism and white supremacy. For whatever reason I want to believe that is not all the alt-right movement really is, though several individuals I trust are convinced that either there is no authentic “movement,” only a bunch of people flocking around offensive images and slogans for various reasons, or that the alt-right can basically be boiled down to one thing: antisemitism. Maybe it would be best if the alt-right faded out of existence altogether, but I really don’t see that happening.

I was hoping at some point to offer up a review of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s (UGCC) freshly translated catechism, Christ Our Pascha, but I am not sure when I will have the time. It is, in my humble estimation, a far superior text to the standard Catechism of the Catholic Church, though I have no illusions that it will ever be as widely promoted or read. (I do hope, in time, that the entire text will be made available online.) The UGCC faithful in the United States and Canada, like the Catholic faithful writ large, are badly under-catechized. Why this is the case is a complex question. However, in addition to the having to weather the deleterious effects of secularism, Greek Catholics in the West have struggled to hold on to their flocks in the face of what I will non-polemically call “Latin competition.” Let’s face it. The Novus Ordo Missae is much shorter than the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Most English-language Catholic educational tools are written from a Latin perspective and Latin Catholicism is just far more “available” than Greek Catholicism in this part of the world. Although Christ Our Pascha will not singlehandedly overcome all of the challenges facing Greek Catholicism in the West, its availability is a an important step toward preserving the Eastern heritage of the Catholic Faith in the United States and Canada while also enlightening non-Eastern Catholics on the rich theological, spiritual, and liturgical patrimony of the Christian East.

Finally, consider this post a “test run” of something I am going to try to do at least once a week, namely collecting together commentary on various topics which probably don’t warrant their own post (or I simply don’t have time to write about at any length). If you prefer linearity in your blog reading, then my apologies. (And for the one or two of you wondering, yes I have shamelessly lifted this idea from the old Ochlophobist web-log.)