White Church, Black Church, God Church, Man Church

Another unarmed black man dies at the hands of police. This throws me back into an old struggle of mine, a series of thoughts that makes me question my own motivations, my own assumptions, my own safely-white existence, and above all, the question of why the Church, the very Church established by the Apostles, the Church which has collectively retained the unadulterated truth of the Gospel, the Church which obviously is for all mankind, the Church which prays "that all would be saved"...why is that Church mostly white? ...well, why is it mostly white in this country?
In a way, I feel powerless to say anything, because I am white. Who wants to hear another white guy defending his conscience? Well, I am not going to say I am not racist. That is too easy. These ways of operating are often among the involuntary sins for which we ask forgiveness, the habitual sins that we commit without even knowing it, sins that are only revealed to us through years of Confession and guidance b…

Paschal Hymn in Chinese 正教会复活短颂

The paschal season is over...ish. We have celebrated the Feast of Ascension, so we are not singing "Christ is risen..." anymore, but if you follow the example of St. Seraphim of Sarov, it is always the season for Pascha. Every Sunday is a little Pascha. So, since we can still celebrate Pascha, here is a little look into "Christ is risen..." in Chinese.

This little family started in China, and there are plenty of ties to China deep in our hearts. We have been singing "Christ is risen..." in Chinese for several years now as a family. Interestingly, when I wanted to share that version here, I went poking around online, and could not find it, anywhere...but stick with me...I do share it at the end.

About the only version I could find in Chinese was set to a common Greek tune. That one is easy to even run into the same recording of it, by the same ensemble, over and over. I will have to say, I like that same arrangement much better sung by some of the…

Go to Your Inner Room

Today, here in Wayne County, the home of St. Tikhon's Seminary, we are officially moving to the "yellow phase" of reopening after the two months of quarantine and being restricted from going to church. Not that the quarantine was comfortable, but at least my head had begun to become acquainted with it. Now that some degree of reopening is on the horizon and there is potential to return to church and the Holy Eucharist, the temptation is to try to move back to "business as usual" and not keep a hold of the lessons I have learned during my isolation from church.

One phrase that has continually come to mind these past two months is something that a friend of mine "quoted" on social media. He admitted that this is probably just a mis-quote from some or other ancient desert father, but regardless, there is a kernel of truth with a ready lesson: "Go to your cell and pray. If you can't find God in your cell, you won't find him anywhere."

I …

Cabasilas & Schmemann: Talking about Communion

In the introduction to The Life in Christ, Boris Bobrinskoy repeatedly claims that Cabasilas sees the Eucharistic communion as the layman’s communion in Christ. I had an immediate and negative reaction to such statements due to my aversion to the false dichotomy between “lay” and monastic spirituality, but especially in the current climate of quarantine at home and isolation from the parish and Eucharistic communion, a time of sharpened attention to communion and what that means when we do not have the Eucharistic communion.

I will admit that I attempted to prove Bobrinskoy wrong and to find references from Cabasilas that would also support communion with Christ in other ways outside of the Eucharist. Certainly, Cabasilas speaks of union with Christ in our heart, but I will have to concede that the Eucharist is his focal point:

“So perfect is this Mystery [the Eucharist], so far does it excel every other sacred rite that it leads to the very summit of good things. Here also is the fin…

Cabasilas & Schmemann: Fleshing Out the Idea of Salvation

Not to set up Schmemann’s work for rejection again, but his language about our salvation is exactly what I was just mentioning as fadish among Orthodox—he is not at all wrong and can say these things with the full weight of the Fathers behind him—salvation is a healing, or in this case, restoration of our nature: “It is Paradise, not sin, that reveals the true nature of man; it is to Paradise and to his true nature, to his primordial vestment of glory, that man returns in Baptism.” And also, “Christ came not to replace ‘natural’ matter with some ‘supernatural’ and sacred matter, but to restore it and to fulfill it as the means of communion with God.”

That is all true, and Orthodoxically beautiful to say, but notice Cabasilas’s language on the same topic, mentioning not only “uniting our nature to Himself”, but also “paid the penalty”, a phrase rarely heard in today’s Orthodox dialect:

“By this He paid the penalty for the sins which we had audaciously committed; then, because of that d…

Cabasilas & Schmemann: The Need to Theologically Explain Ourselves

There are some spots where it is helpful to have a man from our own times speaking on Baptism. Schmemann, writing on the tail of the greatest wave of cultural change in America, the tumultuous 60s, can speak to our mixed up, modern this case, about death. “Seemingly, from a modern perspective, nothing has happened to biological death with Christ’s death, because we still all die,” runs the thinking of a modern atheist looking at Christianity. He is able to respond to this confusion with the fundamental Christian vision of death: it is that death “in which the ‘biological’ or physical death is not the whole death, not even its ultimate essence. For in this Christian vision, death is above all a spiritual reality, of which one can partake while being alive, from which one can be free while lying in the grave.”

Cabasilas rightly speaks of this spiritual death in Baptism by saying that “in the sacred mysteries, then, we depict His burial and proclaim His death. By them we a…

Cabasilas & Schmemann: Is This Just an Artificial Restoration?

Fr. Alexander made a good point, but a point that was so good it almost undercut his entire book in my mind. He posed this question: “Are we not somewhat restoring, even though restoring is always artificial”, and emphasizing his own point, “all restorations are always artificial”. He argues long and hard for faithfulness to the original services of Baptism and Chrismation, to make sure we are serving them as they were written to be served. And that would...or could be artificial, even in his own estimation. Therefore, it is essential to keep in mind when reading Fr. Alexander’s book, that it is not for some romantic or “archeological” love of the past or to see a perfect historical restoration of the services, “but because of our certitude that only within this original structure can the full meaning of Baptism be grasped and understood.”

That I understand: if we cut out chunks of the service we lose meaning. Clear. Later, though, it feels as though the tentative understanding we jus…

Cabasilas & Schmemann: Intellectual Speak

This is an absolutely unfair and completely biased and subjective opinion—I think my emphasis is quite clear in saying how the following probably should not be said in a proper and balanced evaluation of these two books, but will be anyway, for I think it is helpful to the reader in determining how to interpret my thoughts on these two books—but Schmemann’s book seems too theologically “uppity”, where Cabasilas is more like hearing wise thoughts that may be partially over the listener’s head, but the understood pieces become pearls to cherish.

[ This is where you choose to read any of the following articles or not. I am not anti-Schmemann; I loved the book, but this work, and I am assuming others of his as well, are written "higher" than necessary. ]

St. Nicholas’s book, for all of its distance from us in time and geography and culture, seems to treat Baptism in a way that hits our modern context more directly than Fr. Alexander's book. It is not better, and Fr. Alexande…

Cabasilas & Schmemann: The Intended Audience

Fr. Alexander Schmemann starts off his book with a lamentation about our need to understand Baptism. That clearly reveals his intended audience: Orthodox Christians. Over and over throughout his book, he finds every exhortation, every inspirational liturgical detail, every symbol lost on the modern ear to help reconnect modern Orthodox Christians with the richness of Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist. And that is a message that needs to be heard, especially in the 1970s when he wrote it. He makes references to abbreviation or outright removal of seemingly redundant, meaningless, or outdated parts of the baptismal service, which to him is particularly abhorrent because such changes usually proceed from ignorance of the sacrament.

St. Nicholas Cabasilas seems to have had a different audience in mind. On the surface, he, too, is speaking to Orthodox Christians, though it is difficult to say if that be to his own flock, because there is much uncertainty as to whether he ended his li…

Looking for a Book to Explain Baptism

How often are we looking for a good book to help explain a particular topic? It is often the case that new books—we could roughly define that as written in the past decade—are the easiest to find, quite likely will be easy to read, and more or less cover the topic needed, but are somehow lacking in depth. Most new books look more like paperback versions of a collection of blog posts than a “real” book.

If, on the other hand, the priest looks to the Church Fathers, the texts are often archaic and tedious, which might simply be a result of the style of translation employed. And even if the text is not actually difficult to read, the impression can still remain that any book with a saint as an author will be too hard to understand.

Neither of the books I intend to cover in this book review, of sorts, fit neatly into either of these categories. Both cover the meaning of the Mystery of Baptism and extend their discussion into Chrismation and the Eucharist, both are a wealth of information,…