The Purpose of Lent

This is a fantastic sermon by Fr. Pat Reardon.  Though it was given at the beginning of Lent this year, it serves to put the Great Fast into perspective and to call us to repentance.  For that reason, it’s particularly apt for Holy Week. May we all prepare in anticipation of the victory of our Lord.

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“Vintage Church” vs. “Pagan Christianity”

The Emerging church movement (if you want to call it by that name) raises some good questions, and give the question “What is the Church?” new life.  For this I really appreciate the Emerging movement. Though it suffers from the unfortunate problem of being wrong, it has — much like the Reformation — the virtue of reacting against something that deserving of reaction.  While the reaction is against  the standard Ol’ Megachurches in particular, at its root the reaction is against Protestant ecclesiology.

Observe the battle between Reformed Protestant Megachurch leader (though in some ways “Emergent” himself) Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill church (author of “Vintage Church”) and Frank Viola and Co. and their recently published “Pagan Christianity”.  A fun, quick read of this is a review that Driscoll commissioned.

The aforementioned review refers early and often to Methodist NT scholar Ben Witherington’s responses, which are certainly worth the read.  He aptly takes on many of the falacious and provocative claims of the book, and replaces them with (gasp!) the historical truth that the ancient Church was a kind of institution.  As an Orthodox Christian, I have nothing else really to argue for; Witherington has done the heavy lifting for me.  Viola and Barnes have stirred up the curiosity, and to those who do their homework the question is posed: What do I do next?

…in an effort to bait you into reading Witherinton’s responses…

My point in the above critique is simply this— calling more high church worship ‘pagan’ is not only a tragedy which impoverishes the soul. It’s a travesty. And saying over and over again that there is not a shred of Biblical evidence for sacred buildings, particularly church buildings reflects both historical myopia and bad theological analysis of a theology of holiness and worship. Such a view is narrow where the Bible is not narrow, and it fails to grasp the great breadth of ways in which God can be truly, and Biblically worshipped and served, and is indeed worshipped and served around the world every single week. We do not need to be liberated from holy worship—we need to be liberated in and by it, in whatever form it may legitimately take. And that’s the Biblical truth.

The Hope that Comes with Lent

One thing struck me squarely from Metropolitan JONAH’s Archpastoral letter for the beginning of the Great Fast: Lent is a time for audacious hope. In his first paragraph he writes,

We fast, we pray, we go to services, and we give alms. But what is different in us the very day after Pascha? Have we attained inner peace? Have we come to self-control over our passions? Has my soul been healed, even a little?

The work we set upon during this time is not without purpose.  The most visible aspects of Lent are things like: foods we are giving up, the color purple, and long services. This is just the work, and not the reason for the work.  This is spiritual combat; and as the armies are marching towards the battlefields there is the ever present hope of victory.  His Beatitude reminds us of this: the victory that comes with true repentance.

He continues:

Lent is the time for repentance. But that repentance does not simply mean feeling sorry for our sins, much less trying to do some kind of penitential acts to atone for them. Rather, the goal of repentance is the transformation of our minds and hearts, our very consciousness. It means a transformation of our whole life. To engage it means that we have to embrace change. This change not only affects our diet for a few weeks, or abstaining from some bad habits. It means a different way of behaving, of perceiving God, ourselves, our neighbors. It means a rejection and renunciation of the ways we have been living and treating others, and the adoption of a new way of life. We have to come to the recognition that how we have been living and behaving does not lead us deeper into communion with God and our neighbors, but rather alienates us from both, and from our very self.

The tithe of the year is in fact a return to our own humanity, and our own personal identity.  Read the whole thing.

“Let us set out with joy…”

Last night, during Forgiveness Vespers, we sang to following verses (Stichera) from the Lenten Triodian.  They offer insight into what we are doing (and not doing) during the Fast.  God have mercy upon us.

Save me, O Lord my God, for Thou art the salvation of all. The billows of my passions sorely trouble me, and the burden of my transgressions drags me down. Stretch out Thine hand in help and lead me up to the light of compunction, for Thou are compassionate and lovest mankind.

Gather together my scattered mind, O Lord, and purify my dry and barren heart, giving me like Peter repentance, like the Publican sighs of sorrow, and like the Harlot tears, that I may cry with a loud voice unto Thee:  Save me, O God, for Thou only art compassionate and lovest mankind.

Often when I offer praise to God, I am found to be committing sin; for while I sing the hymns with my tongue, in my soul I ponder evil thoughts.  But through repentance, O Christ my God, set right my tongue and soul, and have mercy upon me.

Let us all make hast to humble the flesh by abstinence, as we set upon the God-given course of the holy Fast, and with prayers and tears let us seek our Lord and Savior. Laying aside all memories of evil, let us cry aloud: We have sinned against Thee, O Christ our King, save us as the men of Ninevah in days of old, and in Thy compassion make us sharers in Thy heavenly Kingdom.

When I think of my works, deserving of every punishment, I despair of myself, O Lord.  For see, I have despised Thy precious commandments and wasted my life as the Prodigal. Therefore I entreat Thee: cleanse me in the waters of repentance, and through prayer and fasting make me shine with light, for Thou alone art merciful; abhor me not, O Benefactor of all, supreme in love.

Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast, and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat.  Let us purify our souls and cleanse our flesh; and as we fast from food, let us abstain also from every passion. Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit may we persevere with love, and so be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His holy Passover.

Josh McDowell and Christian Solutions

I spent my day off with my Godsister Courtney and my Godson Christopher on a trip down to Tyler, TX.  We were charged to set up and man a table for a fantastic Christian summer conference at a Josh McDowell event at a  local Christian School/ church.  It’s not the first time that I’ve heard apologetics events like these, and not the first time I’ve heard one from McDowell.  I, like many other fine-arts oriented Christians, believe that “beauty will save the world”, and that there are strong limitations to Christian apologetics.

The Christian Apologetic mission is not limited because it is wrong, but because it’s a solution that often fits the problem it tries to face the way defensive driving classes fit speeding.  Information of this kind can influence behavior people are ambivalent about, but it will not change your life.

As a sophomore in High School I took a class called “Apologetics”, and for our main text we used McDowell’s A Ready Defense.  Though later on I would find some issues treated a little simply, for the most part the book was wonderfully helpful.  Truth be told, I believe that book saved me a lot of grief because it helped me to think through some issues and provided me with some credible reasons to believe Christianity was true.

It was not enough to save me from doubt and anxiety.  This was because my anxiety, like most people’s, didn’t have to do with the exact number of texts that attest to the historicity of Holy Scripture, or textual variances in certain manuscripts. No amount of McDowell or William Lane Craig can give to the human soul what Chesterton’s Orthodoxy or Lewis’ Till We Have Faces can.  These books do more than testify to the historical veracity of Christ, they reflect the One who is Truth and Beauty in their very makeup. The human being craves more than just information, and needs much more than the facts in order to mature and make good decisions.  Plato reminds us that there is a great discrepancy between knowledge and information, and what McDowell wanted to do — self admittedly– was to dispense information to the mass of Christian youths.

After McDowell’s apologetics greatest hits, he dedicated a session to sex and love.  You might think, as I did, that the information gushing was now likely to slow down and leave room for fatherly wisdom.  This was not the case;  McDowell started delivering the important statistics that teens are not usually told: how the number of STD’s has increased by hundreds of percents over the past decades, how condoms are only 70% effective, etc.  Certainly this is good to know, but does it solve the problem?

And this is what Courtney and I talked about in the car on the way back: what is this event, and those like it, trying to fix?  We might surmise that  this particular segment was trying to combat sexual activity among teens.  It would be naïve to think that this kind of solution would be greatly effective; keeping say, 50% of the teens in the crowd that would otherwise be fornicating with their serious significant other from doing so.  Certainly it is good, but is it a solution?

I don’t think it is a good solution because I don’t think the problem is the right one to treat.  The goal of stopping kids from having sex is a bad goal.  I say this not because I’m ambivalent about premarital sex or about teen health, but because such a goal cannot but come across as unwarranted policing.  To put my point into contrast, why not give skin cancer the same treatment we give STD’s?  It’s a problem that is easily cured by self-control, and knowing the risk may help temper kids vanity as they decided whether to join the rest of sunbathing crowd.  The answer is that there is much more to sex than health risks and divine commands.  Sex is a meaningful and precious thing, and its misuse is sorrowful; like spray paint on the Sistine Chapel.

The reason McDowell, and the others like him, grab a microphone and fill an auditorium with their young’uns is because they love them (however generally and abstractly) and want to see their lives develop into something wonderful.  Instead of calling the problem “teen sex” the problem is “helping awaken kids to the Good Life”.  Abstinence is just a part of living a meaningful and beautiful life.

That is why I shuddered when McDowell tried to separate “love” from “sex” for the young crowd.  He was trying to help those who think that they must sleep with the person they love, and he thought the thing to do here is to make sure that the definition of “sex” and “love” did not overlap.  That’s why he said,

We call sex ‘making love’ but that is really a misnomer.  Love and sex are two VERY different things.  It is not ‘making love’.  It’s just getting it on!

I contend that the single greatest threat to our children is the withdrawal  of meaninglessness from their lives. Stealing meaning from sex by divorcing it from love is a recipe for disaster, even if it successfully keeps teens abstinent.  What kind of marriage do we want for our kids?  If sex is a rather meaningless activity that, by the way we should only engage in within the bounds of marriage while consider the significant health issues involved, then what human activity is meaningful?

I’m sure that if you asked any of the kids, parents, or teachers  in the audience if you thought that was what McDowell was driving at they would rush to his defense.  And they are right to do so insofar as he is not intending to further an agenda of meaninglessness.  However, statements like this have significant impact as part of the “dreadful tide” that mounts against the souls of this culture.

Add “Sex is just getting it on” to “Food is just fuel” as innocuous slogans that rot away a generations ability to find meaning, joy, and happiness in life.

Met. Jonah to ACNA

Says, the head of the OCA: “The Orthodox Church is not just the past of Anglicanism, it is the future.”

This might be the beginning of something great, or it might be one of those things history looks at and sees “what might have been”. What do you think the response is going to be? How does this come across to those not Orthodox or Anglican? Tell me what you think.

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