Dogma as “that which seems good”

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Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) clarifies  the term “dogma” which, as he notes:

“is derived from the (Greek) verb ‘dokein’ (=seeming, believing) and originally, its literal meaning was “that which seems good or proper to someone'”

He continues to explain that from this original meaning it was transposed to signify the personal opinion of an entire school of thought; then later it was transposed again to public life (the state) to signify the decisions or decrees. Only afterwards did it take a religious meaning.

In the end, dogmas are linked to worship as he cites Vasilios the Great who, in his work on the Holy Spirit, writes: “…for, dogmas are hushed, whereas sermons are publicized…”. Metropolitan John explains:

“This passage gave rise to younger patrologists to interpret Vasilios’ hushing as pertaining to the divinity of the Holy Spirit. But for our present topic of discussion, this phrase of Vasilios has the following significance: Dogmas are those things that the Church (as a worshipping community) confesses, and not those things it promulgates to others, who are outside the Church….we can just make a note that according to Vasilios the Great, the meaning of ‘dogma’ has the community of the Church as a prerequisite, along with a participation in its worship, otherwise it bears no authority”

For the full article see here.

I Don’t Facebook

let-i-mdon’t Facebook.  Is it a verb, to facebook? I’m not sure. Whatever the case, I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s good I don’t given the potential harms it allegedly causes. One article, for instance, stated that it can “shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centred.” I can understand the argument the article makes about “computer games and faced-paced TV shows” and how they  play a factor but Facebook….? Even though I don’t use it (and have no intentions of doing so) I have to admit that it doesn’t seem that bad.

facebook_logoThose that I know that are on it (and it honestly seems like everyone is except for me: priests, monks, even bishops) are doing nothing, it seems, but exchanging short messages back and forth. Even though it might not be for me, I can’t quite see anything wrong – much less dangerous – about it.

One good point the article makes is a quote from a neuroscientist: ‘I often wonder whether real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitized and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf.’

Some weeks back I went shopping. It was after Christmas which meant there were rows and rows of cars. So I parked in the back and as I was walking to the store I noticed a young man walking ahead of me. He took out his cell phone and started talking to someone. It got me to thinking: did he really have an important phone call to make or was it just an excuse to do something to avoid eye contact with fellow shoppers? When one is out somewhere in public, especially alone, the easiest thing seems to be to grab your cell phone and find someone to talk to, keep you company. It’s certainly easier than having to, God forbid, end up talking to a total stranger.  No thanks, we have our group of friends we are comfortable with and no room, or maybe no desire, to meet new ones.

Even the Pope has an opinion on this. He was quoted warning that “obsessive” virtual socializing can isolate people from real interaction and deepen the digital divide by excluding those already marginalized. Furthermore, he urged “producers to ensure that the content respects human dignity and the ‘goodness and intimacy of human sexuality.'” (One wonders if the ‘producers’ really care what the Pope has to say.)

Anyway, the question is: will doing away with Facebook help any? At this point, after all the video games and other technological contraptions, I’m afraid not.  Then again, what if we were to do away with it? (For the betterment of mankind, that is.) Would it really matter that people can’t send silly little messages back and forth to friends. Friends, by the way, who live all over the world. If Facebook is the modern day Malt Shop where you go to hang out and meet up with your friends, is there something socially or morally wrong with that?  Let’s face it, the world is getting larger and larger. Friends we grew up with, went to school or church or played in the neighborhood with as kids, are now contacting us on Facebook from Chicago or Atlanta or Texas. They want to stay in touch and now, with the press of a button, they actually can.

Hence the irony in all of this. For, I agree with the article and all it’s social concerns but only if they are geared at children. I find it funny that more and more adults are facebooking, let’s call it. And more and more that I talk to say the same thing: When they first heard about it, they thought it was for kids, teenagers, but then they somehow signed up and eventually got hooked. They’ve stayed in touch with people they haven’t seen for years and years. Old friends found them and “befriended” (or re-friended) them.  If they were to stop facebooking they would once again lose touch with old friends.

Alas, despite the harmlessness I find in it, I still don’t facebook. My wife likes to respond to that with a quick: “Yet!”

A Clip from the Baptism

We  finally found some time last week to post a You Tube clip from the baptism in San Diego. The baby was baptized at the Little Entrance and immediately afterward was brought to the bishop to be chrismated (seen in the clip below) after which the liturgy continued. I am the one standing in front the camera (I didn’t realize we were taping) while the older priest to my right is the bishop’s father.  Since I was serving and my wife was holding the candle, the mother held the baby for this part.

*It should open in High Quality for a better picture.  Just shaky for a few seconds while my wife was getting the camera onto the tripod.

A Short Story

covercombo7I’m not sure how my wife found this but somehow or other she came across some old issues of Serb World U.S.A. on books.google.com. This magazine, I think, is considered the largest (Serbian) one published in America. Among the issues online was one in which they published an amateurish short story of mine entitled “For the Benefit of Interesting Conversation”. You can read the story here (begins on page 39).

I sent the editors another story last year but haven’t heard from them. Perhaps it was not to their liking.

Suffering or Pleasure

Read an interesting interview with Fr. Igor Fomin here where he discusses the question of suffering as a way to be happy. He says, among other things:

Q: Could not God choose any other scheme of development of a life for humankind, which would not include suffering? God knows everything ahead of time, He knew that Adam and Eve would fall, couldn’t he have corrected his plan for us imperfect people?

A: Everything is related to freedom, free-will. When we are talking, you cannot tell at all what I will say the next moment. You think my thought is developing in one way, but suddenly I say something else, and this is interesting to you. Have you ever played chess with yourself? It is terribly boring, it is impossible to think of anything less interesting.

When you rejoice, you want to share your joy with someone else. You want to run to the kitchen and say, “Mom, imagine, I have knitted such a sock, rejoice with me!” You want to share the joy so that another person could also feel the same emotion.

The Lord, while making humans, wanted people to rejoice with God. But this happiness can only be free. You do not come to the kitchen with a machine-gun to tell your mother holding her at gunpoint, “Mom, I’ve knitted a sock. Rejoice”. We can truly rejoice only by free-will.

The existence of hell testifies to God’s love for each person and His respect for his/her free-will, even for those who do not love Him, because hell is a place without God, without a torturer for the person who can’t bear God. We know the Lord is everywhere, but He made hell a place where there is no presence of His. Light fills all, photons fly everywhere, penetrating the Universe, but hell is such a place the light does not reach. And joy can only be free, gratitude can only be free too, and a sincere smile can only be free, if it’s not a glossy magazine, of course.

Q: Why do righteous or monastic persons seek suffering from chains, hair-shirts, celibacy, penance, etc.?

A: Hardship is a kind of fast a person imposes on himself for self-perfection. Fasting reveals all the weak points of one’s nature. First of all, you just stop lying to yourself and telling yourself you’re all right, because it becomes clear you’re not. Each of us can see himself letting out all kinds of nasty thing, getting annoyed, swearing as a fast comes.

A teacher in the theological school told us such a story. His unbelieving neighbor asked him once, “Can I congratulate you on the beginning of Great Lent?” – “Yes, but how do you know?” – “I’ve got two believing old women living together next to me. They live in perfect harmony as if they were sisters, but they always begin to quarrel when they are keeping the fast.”

Fasting turns a man inside out, making him able to see his irritability, malice etc. But a righteous man won’t let it affect anyone else, he’ll rather begin to fight his vices.

Remember, in the Gospel the young man asked Christ about what he should do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus answered that he had to obey the commandments of the Old Testament. The young man had kept all these from his youth up, but he wasn’t satisfied with himself and sought greater perfection. And then the Lord directed him to suffering saying he had to sell all that he had and distribute unto the poor and then follow Him. And the young man was very sorrowful.

Fasting is a state of being dissatisfied with one’s righteousness. It’s obvious that keeping the commandments is enough for living a righteous life. But some people seek greater perfection, they want to get closer to God. Closer in human interpretation, of course, for only the Lord can judge who’s closer to Him. So a man first commits himself to a rigorous fast, then to hardship, chains. He mortifies his flesh by exposing himself to mosquitoes standing in a bog, for example. But it depends on personality, those things are not suitable for all Christians. It may benefit one man and ruin another. Unfortunately, our notion of righteousness was formed on the examples of monastic life only. It would be better to speak more about Peter and Fevroniya or about prince Dmitry Donskoi and princess Eudokia.

Sunday of the Last Judgment

getimagedetailaspIt is not advice but a warning our Lord is giving us when He says simply “watch and pray”. For, He continues,  “the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak”  (Matt. 26:41). The Orthodox have always understood salvation along these lines. We are not saved through an acknowledging of God, or simply announcing our belief in Him. No, salvation for us is seen in the terms of this struggle, in doing that which the spirit wills all the while battling the weaknesses of the body.

As we are constantly opting for that which is easier, more enjoyable and, ultimately, effortless, our lives are transformed into a constant changing of mind, we seem to always be pushing ourselves to follow the spirit. Our lives, in other words, are a constant metania. This word in Greek means just this:  “to change one’s mind”. It is also the Greek word for repentance.

To help us stay focused on those things which the spirit wills and not be distracted by the things of this world the holy fathers tell us to constantly have the last judgment on our minds. That is, to always think about that which we would rather not think about. As we prepare ourselves for the Great Fast – again, that which the spirit is willing and even eager to embark upon while the body would much rather continue to indulge – the church gives us this morning’s gospel reading about the Last Judgment.

St. John Chrysostom says that this judgment is quite different than the worldly judgments as there will be no lawyers, no one except for us and Christ. In fact, it won’t even be Christ judging us but us pronouncing judgment upon ourselves. As He says at another place in the gospel, “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge and My judgment is righteous because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father…” (John 5:30).

How is this judgment made? Our Lord tells us in this morning’s reading when He says that all people will be gathered, He will separate them. It is here, in this word separate, that we see the judgment. That’s where we get the word judgment from because to judge means to set a line through the middle between what is right and what is wrong – a sort of where do you stand attitude. No one places us in any given situation, rather it is our own selves who will decide where to stand. Subsequently, we do not await judgment so to speak, but here and now we pronounce it on ourselves according to the choices we make and the paths we take in this life.

And so the Great Fast has much in common with the Last Judgment for it is that which we are called to be mindful of: our own judgment, our own faults and mistakes knowing that no one will judge us, no one will condemn us nor slander or insult us, unless we do it to ourselves. We are given the image in this morning’s gospel of those two choices we have: to be either among the sheep or among the goats. May all of us be numbered among those who, out of their love for neighbor, choose to visit and feed and give drink to the Risen Lord, the Son, with the Father and Holy Spirit, one God in Trinity, always and forever. Amen.

When Should the Church Refuse to Obey the State?

Dr. Srdja Trifkovic offered the following commentary just recently for Chronicles Magazine:

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Patriarch Aleksy, R.I.P.

let-aleksy II, Patriarch of Moscow and head of the Russian Orthodox Church, died of heart failure on December 5, 2008, at the age of 79.

Born in Estonia in 1929 into a pious family of Russian émigrés of German extraction, Aleksei Mikhailovich Ridiger was ordained a priest in 1950, completed his theological studies in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) three years later, and was tonsured in 1961.  His subsequent rise through the ranks of the Russian Orthodox Church—allegedly facilitated by a KGB connection, which he always denied—culminated in his election as Patriarch in 1990.

Aleksy II came to the throne just as the Soviet state was beginning to disintegrate.  The early years of his tenure were dominated by the tremendous task of restoring the moral authority of the Church in a nation devastated by seven decades of lethal anti-Christian rule.

The scale of that devastation defies imagination.  Persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church and other denominations under the communists is one of the greatest crimes in history.  Its death toll was several times greater than that of the holocaust.  It had killed more Christians than all other persecutions in all ages put together, with Islam a distant second.  In 20 interwar years (1918-38), the number of churches that remained open in Russia was reduced from 54,000 to under 500—less than one percent of the pre-Bolshevik total.  Some 600 Orthodox bishops, 40,000 priests, 120,000 monks and nuns, and millions of laymen were murdered.

Even in the late Soviet period the Orthodox Church was at best grudgingly tolerated, hindered from playing any role in a society that was drowning in despair, vodka, and cynicism.  Yet Aleksy II’s considerable diplomatic tact and organizational ability were already evident during the 1980’s, when he secured the Soviet authorities’ acquiescence in the return of Holy Danilov Monastery, which has been restored to its old status as the official headquarters of the patriarchate.  In 1988 he used the celebration of the “Millennium of Faith” in Russia to raise the profile of his Church in a manner unimaginable under Mikhail Gorbachev’s predecessors.

The end of communism enabled the Russian Orthodox Church to assume her old role of moral leader amid the collapse of all secular institutions.  A major test of Aleksy’s political savvy came in the summer of 1991, when old Soviet loyalists tried to stage a coup.  The Patriarch contributed to its failure by sternly condemning the shedding of civil blood: “May God protect you from the terrible sin of fratricide . . . Cease at once!”  The army obeyed.  This remarkable fact was a testimony to Aleksy’s steady cultivation of the military and security apparat well before his rise to the patriarchate.

During the ensuing decade the number of self-identified believers in Russia was to grow threefold, and the number of parishes fiftyfold, to 30,000. But Aleksy’s greatest accomplishment was his role in the 2007 reunion of the branches of the Russian Church abroad and at home.  The reunification, together with the glorification of the Royal Martyrs Nicholas II and his family, the return to Sarov of the relics of Saint Seraphim, and the veneration of warrior saints such as Aleksandr Nevsky and Prince Dmitry Donsky, “signaled the reconsolidation of what had been ripped apart in 1917,” says foreign-affairs analyst James Jatras.  Jatras notes that its counterpart in the civil sphere is “Putin’s careful and deliberate amalgamation of White and Red symbolism.”  This synthesis lends itself to the vision articulated by the late Gen. Aleksandr Lebed: “The Church strengthens the army; the army defends the Church.  And on this restored spiritual axis—the two pillars of our power—we can begin to feel like Russians again.”

While routinely accused in the West of excessively close links to the secular authorities, Patriarch Aleksy took pains to define what is permissible and what is not in the relationship between Church and state.  He rejected any absolutization of governmental authority and insisted that the temporal powers of the state should be recognized as imperative only to the degree that they are used to support good and limit evil.  Aleksy’s position was codified in 2000 by the Jubilee Council of Bishops.  Its “Basic Social Concept”—drafted with his blessing—stated that, “in everything that concerns the exclusively earthly order of things, the Orthodox Christian is obliged to obey the law.”  However, when compliance “threatens his eternal salvation and involves an apostasy or commitment of another doubtless sin before God and his neighbor, the Christian is called to perform the feat of confession. . . . If this lawful action is impossible or ineffective, he must take up the position of civil disobedience.  The Church is loyal to the state, but God’s commandment to fulfill the task of salvation in any situation and under any circumstances is above this loyalty. . . . If the authority forces Orthodox believers to apostatise from Christ and His Church and to commit sinful and spiritually harmful actions, the Church should refuse to obey the state . . . [it] must resist evil, immorality and harmful social phenomena and always firmly confess the Truth, and when persecutions commence, to continue to openly witness the faith and be prepared to follow the path of confessors and martyrs for Christ.”

Christians everywhere would be well advised to reflect on the meaning and implications of those words.