The Dangerously Beautiful Sheehan Liturgy

It was the first use of Benedict Sheehan's new musical setting of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in the context of Divine Liturgy itself. I was asked to come and man a video camera during the liturgy, so I was mostly in photo-work mode. I knew there would be beautiful music surrounding me, but I was primarily focused on my job and was not thinking too much about the music. I remember the moment it happened; it is deeply imprinted in my mind. I was moving from one side of the altar to the other, I think, in an effort to get a different angle. I was close to the High Place, when, WHAM! The music knocked me backwards. The strength...the sharpness...the spear piercing my heart as it pierced the Lamb on the Holy Altar. I literally stumbled backwards. The pain from this musical spear immediately brought forth tears. I was certainly not looking for some emotional musical experience, but Benedict Sheehan's Liturgy pierced through my protective layers, my distraction, my here-and-no

Take Their Sufferings upon Ourselves

"Once Elder Nektary of Optina was asked: Should an elder take upon himself the sufferings and sins of those who come to him? He answered, 'You can't help them any other way.'" This is from a wonderful book on the life of Elder Vitaly of Tbilisi . Elder Vitaly would often fulfill the penance of others. This was especially true when the penance for a particular sin would have been too much for the repentant. But it was not just others' penance that he would take upon himself, but also, as that quote said, "their sufferings"... "When he would find out from the 'Nightly News' that a disaster had occurred somewhere, or that an accident had taken away human lives, he would write down the number of the dead and light candles for the repose of these people he didn't even know. He made a full prostration for each person." Communion with Christ is necessarily a step away from the individual and toward the communal. This is a beautiful e

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 guidan

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

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."

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

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 tha

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

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 ju

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. Alexa