O Lord Thou shalt open my lips and my mouth shall declare Thy praise.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Note About "Equality"

When you have an array of possibilities that you can belong to, such as different races or nationalities or what have you, and belonging to any of them doesn't put you at any advantage in terms of salvation compared to belonging to any other, and there are no moral implications to the fact of which one you belong to, then they are all equal. All races are not equal because of some feel-good filth about being nice to each other. That's garbage. Specifically what makes all races equal is the fact that membership in any one gives no advantage in terms of salvation and the fact of which race you belong to has no moral implications. That's what actually makes all races equal. The very same applies to all nationalities and both genders. Belonging to any gives no advantage in terms of salvation.

Now, each race and nationality has its own culture and identity which cannot be diluted and no one can be forced to accept the culture of another because each race and nationality has its own unique individual dignity that cannot be trampled on because of another race or nationality. That means that not only is White Supremacy evil, but so is Black Supremacy. Equal means equal. That also condemns Russian Supremacy in Eastern Europe, which is not only alive today, but continues back clean through Soviet times and all the way back to Imperial Russia. Racism and nationalism are both still very real problems in Europe. We are all, by our human natures, called to each reciprocate Christ's love for each of us. He is the one we laud as the "Lover of mankind". This is what unites us. Racism and nationalism divide us and thus impede Christianity and that is specifically why such ideologies are wrong.

Similarly, each gender also has its own unique individual dignity, yet both are still simultaneously equal according to what we said earlier. Promoting either gender acting like the other destroys that gender's dignity. Each gender has it's own role to play and the fact that they have contrasting strengths and weaknesses is specifically designed to make them complimentary, not rivals or to destroy their own identity and dignity by acting like each other. This is more of a "ying and yang" situation than races and nationalities, but with equality simultaneous to individual identity and dignity in the same way.

However, the array of possibilities that is radically different from the ones we have seen here is that of sexualities. It took me a while to get to this point, but astute readers still saw it coming from my opening sentence. While what race, nationality, or gender you belong to has no moral implication and none of the options present any advantage over any other, what sexuality you practice most certainly does (for that matter, this part applies equally well to what religion you practice). There are moral implications to what sexuality you practice and human sexuality does bring you closer to God, using what God gave you for the purpose for which He created those things, and deviant sexualities, be it lustful heterosexuality, sodomy, bestiality, whatever (it's all lust in the end), separate you from God, refusing to use what He gave you according to His plan for you and instead following your own plan following your own happiness. That does separate you from God. Being Black or Ukrainian or whatever doesn't mean you are separating yourself from God by being that way. Such realities about yourself do not impede or accelerate your salvation and that's what makes them all equal. Rejecting the plan for which God created you in favor of your own emotional and physical pleasures is self-imposed separation from God. When people live that way, it's just sad. When they respond to admonishment (which is a work of mercy, btw) by hating you and calling you names like "bigot" just because you don't agree with their personal emotional pleasures, it's even more sad. You can't help but feel sorry for the arrogant and selfish people in the latter category. It's a real shame... ...and when you realize that God created all of them to be saints...that reality is just depressing.

If this counts as "hate", then you desperately need a new definition of "hate".

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Unity in Ukraine and Liturgical Eye Candy!

Слава Україні! Героям Слава! Вічна пам'ять Героям України!

This weekend has been a unique mixture of mourning and jubilation after the Maidan Revolution.

Patriarch Svyatoslav, currently in Rome, served a Hierarchal Divine Liturgy at the Basilica of Santa Sofia earlier today for the Sunday of the Last Judgement. Afterwards, he served a memorial service for the fallen heroes of the victorious Maidan Revolution, and spoke about the situation back home in Ukraine.

His Beatitude spoke about the aid the UGCC and the UOC's gave to the Maidan Revolution, namely the protestors injured by their own government, when they went to hospitals for treatment, were being promptly arrested and taken to the police station upon being released from the hospital. So what the Churches did was to open their church buildings as makeshift hospitals in an underground network, so the wounded could be rushed to a nearby church and treated and operated on by nurses and doctors sympathetic to the cause.

He went on to say that the Ukrainian Churches tried to serve as intermediaries between the people and the gov't to try and prevent bloodshed by the gov't. Now they are trying to preserve the unity of the country and "overcome the hatred" of the Russian sympathizers for a peaceful, free, and united Ukraine. The message of the Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox bishops is much needed to relieve those tensions that still exist. Authoritarian hatred is never the answer and is contrary to the very purpose of Christians: to convert the nations. Man-made ideologies and nationalist supremacy is only destructive of that end, the end of uniting mankind under the Cross. Sadly nationalism has done much to divide Orthodoxy, not just juridically, but mentally as well.

So often in Byzantine antiphons do we laud Christ as the "Lover of mankind" and mankind is called to reciprocate that love back to Him. We are each called to love God by our nature and that reality is what unites us. We can't let ourselves be divided along nationalistic or idealistic lines. We cannot be so superficial as to let man-made secular beliefs separate us from Christ. On this Sunday of the Last Judgement, we must remember that Christ alone survives death and only by joining ourselves to Him can we ever hope to survive our own deaths. What did we hear this morning in today's Gospel (Matthew 25:31-46)? That love of neighbor leads to salvation and not loving neighbor leads to damnation. This is the passage for which St. Andrew the First Called created our beloved three-barred cross: to explain this passage, that those on the right go up and those on the left go down, signified by the bent foot-rest on the cross. He preached that sermon on a hill in the middle of nowhere, prophesying that a great city would one day be built there. That city would be Kyiv of all cities!

I share this partly because of his positive and needed message and partly because Santa Sofia is just so beautiful:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Imitating the Prodigal

Sunday of the Prodigal Son
Let us heed and imitate the lesson of the Prodigal Son:

I was entrusted with a sinless and living land, but I sowed the ground with sin and reaped with a sickle the ears of slothfulness; in thick sheaves I garnered my actions, but winnowed them not on the threshing floor of repentance. But I beg Thee, my God, the pre-eternal husbandman, with the wind of Thy loving-kindness winnow the chaff of my works, and grant to my soul the corn of forgiveness; shut me in Thy heavenly storehouse and save me.

Brethren, let us learn the meaning of this mystery. For when the Prodigal Son ran back from sin to his Father's house, his loving Father came out to meet him and kissed him. He restored to the Prodigal the tokens of his proper glory, and mystically He made glad on high, sacrificing the fatted calf. Let our lives, then, be worthy of the loving Father who has offered sacrifice, and of the glorious Victim who is the Savior of our souls.

-Stichera at Psalm 140 at Vespers for today.

Also on this Sunday (and the two remaining Sundays of Pre-Lent after this) at Orthros we sing Psalm 136, which sees the soul suffering as the result of sin:
By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and we wept when we remembered Sion. Upon the willows in the midst thereof did we hang our instruments. For there, they that had taken us captive asked us for words of song. And they that had led us away asked us for a hymn, saying: Sing us one of the songs of Sion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten. Let my tongue cleave to my throat, if I remember thee not, If I set not Jerusalem above all other, as at the head of my joy. Remember, O Lord, the sons of Edom, in the day of Jerusalem, Who said: Lay waste, lay waste to her, even to the foundations thereof. O daughter of Babylon, thou wretched one, blessed shall he be who shall reward thee wherewith thou hast rewarded us. Blessed shall he be who shall seize and dash thine infants against the rock.

I love these Sundays just because of that Psalm. Shame we don't get to use it on the Sundays of Great Lent. Here are two beautiful musical settings, in English and Slavonic:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

St. Paul was a Prophet

Today's Apostle Reading at Divine Liturgy:

2 Timothy 3:1-9
Know also this, that, in the last days, shall come dangerous times. Men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, wicked, Without affection, without peace, slanderers, incontinent, unmerciful, without kindness, Traitors, stubborn, puffed up, and lovers of pleasures more than of God: Having an appearance indeed of godliness, but denying the power thereof. Now these avoid. For of these sort are they who creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, who are led away with divers desires: Ever learning, and never attaining to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Mambres resisted Moses, so these also resist the truth, men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no farther; for their folly shall be manifest to all men, as theirs also was.

St. Paul wrote this about wicked people in the 1st Century. It is at least as true if not more so today-and some pretty sound advice to boot.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Today's Publicans and Pharisees

"Brethren, let us not pray as the Pharisee: for he who exalts himself shall be humbled. Let us humble ourselves before God, and with fasting cry aloud as the Publican: God be merciful to us sinners."
-First sticheron at Psalm 140, Vespers for the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee.

Believe it or not, we are at the first Pre-Lenten Sunday again.

Let us heed the lesson of the Publican and the Pharisee. Let us not be one of the people in the "Establishment" Church who like to be considered "Catholic" and in good standing with Church law, who fulfill all that Church law requires them to do without doing one iota more than what the law requires, all as justification for living whatever lifestyle they so choose. They go off and live a life of "whatever makes them happy" doing whatever is socially acceptable, with their membership in the Church and fulfillment of what Church law requires (and no more) being justification for living however they want, doing whatever is fashionable. So what if he is a "faithful Catholic" on the outside? The white-washed tomb exists only to protect the dead man's bones. Such a person is the Pharisee. Let us not be such a person.

Let us be the Publican: the person who also lived a sinful life and is just as evil, but repents and regrets his sins, simply because his sins separate him from living in the exchange of Divine Love. This is the person who wakes up and realizes that earthly physical and emotional pleasures and worldly fashions are all empty and passing pleasures and only Divine Love exists on a profound level. Only the Love that is not from this world (and indeed is contrary to it) is profound or capable of surviving death. Nothing else lasts. Only Christ survives death. Only by rejecting the world and living in the Divine Love of Christ can we hope to survive death. That is why He came: to convert sinners. He did not come to support sinners in what they were already doing. Reality is not something man-made and God-approved as the Pharisee and his successors in the Church today mistakenly think. Reality is something God-made and accepted by man as the Publican figured out.

We can either live in empty man-made pleasures that "lead down to the chambers of death" (Prov. 7:27), defending them by "making excuses with excuses in sins" (Ps 140:4), or we can reject them and live in the exchange of Divine Love that Christ came to show us, the exchange for which we were created, the exchange opened to us by His Death and Resurrection, for He alone survives death and we can only survive death by joining ourselves to Him. That is the purpose of the Great Lent on which we are about to embark.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

What God Has Sealed, Man Must Not Open


"My sister, my bride, is a garden enclosed, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up." Cant. 4:12

God creates people already as virgins, not whores, already sealed up, not to be unsealed until He declares them to be so in the Wedding Liturgy. They are not created to be used of their own accord, according to the will of the flesh, but they are created by God and belong to God to be used for His purposes. God created them and receives them in the Nuptial Liturgy to take care of each other. Marriage is already an icon of Christ and the Church, so all the more appropriate that with this reality, it echoes the Eucharist, the intimacy in the flesh between Christ and the Church, and it's prayer "Tvoya ot Tvoih Tebe prinosyashche o sveh i za vsya.", "Thine Own of Thine Own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all."

Marriage is an icon of Christ and the Church, and sex is an icon of the Eucharist. That is what makes the sin of lust, acting like sex is for pleasure, such a grave offense (any kind of lust, ultimately it's all the same). It is not us who "descriminate" against those who support lust (for no one has a "right" to sin or attack God's creation), rather it is them that attack us and desecrate one of the sacraments. It is not the defenders of a sacrament (not an "institution" or "contract", but a sacrament) that commit a crime, but the attackers. Such an argument is just selfishness, and an attack on the beauty that God has created.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Understood by Believers, Not Understood by Unbelievers

Feast of the Encounter of the Lord with Sts. Simeon and Anna
"You have been set up in Sion as a stumbling stone and rock of offense for the disobedient, unbreakable salvation of believers."-Ode 6, Canon, Matins for the Feast of the Encounter

Those who do not accept God will stumble on Him, not come to understand Him, and be offended by Him (simultaneously childish and sad). Those who do accept Him will stand on Him as a firm foundation and will come to understand Him.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Don't Get Attached to Something You Will Leave Behind

"All human things are vain since they cannot survive the grave: will riches survive, or glory attend us beyond the tomb? No! When death approaches, all these vanish. Let us then cry out to our Immortal King, that He may give rest to those who have departed from us, and place them in the joy of Heaven."
-from the Aposticha at Vespers last night.

Saturday is the day of the week dedicated to the dead. Let us keep death as a constant reminder of the need for repentance and the vanity of things of this world. Physical and emotional pleasures are empty vanities as your body will rot in your grave. Let us not deceive ourselves with excuses. Only the condition of your soul matters as it is the only thing you can take with you when you die.