“For the healing of soul and body”

So those of you in Facebook Land probably know I had to go to the Emergency Room last night as the pain I’d been having in my throat got progressively worse as the day went on.  I drove to the local hospital and was treated for an infection that caused my throat to swell.  After two x-rays, a camera thing down my nose, and consults it was an interesting evening.  I’ve been given various medications to help rectify the problem and have been instructed to see an E.N.T. specialist early this week.  My doctor was extremely nice and was very helpful, as were the nursing staff, so I really cannot thank them enough.

It was, as you can imagine, a bit of a scary experience but looking back I realize that it was helpful in more than one way.  It got me to pray and seriously think about the things that are “off the mark” in my life.  So here I am, hopefully on the mend, more mindful of my failings and hopefully more willing to trust that God will take care of things, if I but let him.  The stupidest thing to be is “in charge” and this has made me think about how I am not in charge, not even of my own body.  How God decides to remind us of that is up to him, hopefully next time I won’t need such a jolt.

So now I’m going to take it easy and probably not attend too many of the various classes and things for this week’s House of Studies, at least for the first few days.  But hopefully I will be on the mend soon enough.  As always, prayers are appreciated.

Utter Sillyness

This video was brought to my attention by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf over at What Does The Prayer Really Say?  Brick by brick…

And, to satisfy morbid curiosity, are the lyrics to this… thing.

Here in this place, new light is streaming,
now is the darkness vanished away.
See, in this space, our fears and our dreamings,
brought here to you in the light of this day.
Gather us in – the lost and forsaken,
gather us in – the blind and the lame.
Call to us now, and we shall awaken,
we shall arise at the sound of our name.

We are the young – our lives are a mystery,
we are the old – who yearn for your face.
We have been sung throughout all of history,
called to be light to the whole human race.
Gather us in – the rich and the haughty,
gather us in – the proud and the strong.
Give us a heart so meek and so lowly,
give us the courage to enter the song.

Here we will take the wine and the water,
here we will take the bread of new birth.
Here you shall call your sons and your daughters,
call us anew to be salt for the earth.
Give us to drink the wine of compassion,
give us to eat the bread that is you.
Nourish us well, and teach us to fashion
lives that are holy and hearts that are true.

Not in the dark of buildings confining,
not in some heaven, light years away,
but here in this place, the new light is shining;
now is the Kingdom, now is the day.
Gather us in – and hold us forever,
gather us in – and make us your own.
Gather us in – all peoples together,
fire of love in our flesh and our bone.

Quote of the Day

“Before God we all stand in line not by the order of our ordination, and not by the number of crosses, and not by whether you serve in a mitre or kamilavka. It may come to pass that the Patriarch will be standing behind a cleaning lady and will look into her eyes and say ‘Maria Ivanovna, could you pray for me …’” — Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow

(Today’s “Quote of the Day” is shamelessly stolen from Archdeacon Seraphim Solof)

Quote of the Day

“Clad in his sacerdotal vestments, [the priest] sinks what is individual in himself altogether, and is but the representative of Him from whom he derives his commission. His words, his tones, his actions, his presence, lose their personality; one bishop, one priest, is like another; they all chant the same notes, and observe the same genuflections, as they give one peace and one blessing, as they offer one and the same sacrifice.

“The Mass must not be said without a Missal under the priest’s eye; nor in any language but that in which it has come down to us from the early hierarchs of the Western Church. But, when it is over, and the celebrant has resigned the vestments proper to it, then he resumes himself, and comes to us in the gifts and associations which attach to his person.

“He knows his sheep, and they know him; and it is this direct bearing of the teacher on the taught, of his mind upon their minds, and the mutual sympathy which exists between them, which is his strength and influence when he addresses them. They hang upon his lips as they cannot hang upon the pages of his book.”  -Fr. George Rutler

Empty Churches

OK, so, as you know I usually start out each post with a picture that relates to the topic at hand.  At the moment I’m still not really sure what I’m going to write about so this will be interesting for both you and I.

First things first, today was pretty uneventful.  So uneventful, in fact, that I’m not even going to talk about it beyond saying that I drove into a nearby town and then stopped at a few antique stores on the way back but, alas, came out empty handed.  The picture at the top of this post is of the sanctuary of a church not too far away.  Normally when I’m driving through a town or city and have time to kill I’ll stop in at churches that look interesting.  This one was very promising when I pulled into the parking lot.  It’s good sized, built of stone in a traditional style.  Therefore, I got excited as to what wonders I would behold once I got inside.  Well…  To be fair it had impressive stained glass windows, and a lovely Blessed Sacrament chapel, as well as other things conducive to prayer.  But it had something that really kind of shocked me.  The back wall was blank.

Now, many modern churches are, let’s face it, not very beautiful.  This is not how it’s supposed to be, of course, and there are growing numbers of people in the Latin Church that desire to bring back a sense of continuity both to the liturgy and to church art.  This means no more Sputnik looking buildings full of concrete slabs, bizarrely shaped altars in the center of the church, burlap banners, rainbow vestments, Extraordinary Ministers, bad mass settings, liturgical dance, giant puppets, etc.  Unfortunately, this hasn’t really taken off yet.

When you walk in the front door of the cathedral the picture at the top of this post is what you see.  There is no central focus to the sanctuary.  When you look down the aisle towards where the high altar should be you are greeted with a whitewashed wall.  Needless to say, it is distracting.  The “people’s altar” is lost in the vast white space behind it.  If they were to, say, put a high altar back there, or cover it with a (good) mural or stenciling, something that introduces color and “verticality” into the space it would be improved dramatically and the liturgy at the cathedral would be improved as well.

When church becomes mundane, when you don’t feel like you are someplace different and special when you worship, then churches empty.  While some denominations try to be “relevant,” they distract.  Eventually people stop going.  Very sad.

Time to Spare

Abbot Richard of Wallingford points to a clock in a mediaeval manuscript.

At the moment I am sitting in the nearly deserted Conference Center at the Antiochian Village preparing to venture out into the world.  All the seminarians have gone home as have the priests, even Bishop THOMAS has skedaddled.  Although, now that I think about it, I’m not sure a bishop “skedaddles.”  Hmmm, I think bishops would probably stalk off, or maybe they perambulate.

Anyway, point is, I’ve got nothing to do for the next two days which is highly unusual for me as of late.  I’m at a loss as to what to do!  There are just so many options.  I could sit around, I could read, I could go into town, I could drive in to Pittsburgh, I could do pretty much anything.  I will be getting together, hopefully, with a few friends that live in the area so that is really the only planned activity.  This is a nice way to spend time before starting another academic year in Brookline.

Earlier today we had a hierarchical divine liturgy with Bishop THOMAS and all the seminarians that are clergy.  Let me tell you, it was an experience I will never forget.  In 30 years I will call up one of my brother seminarians and say, “Remember at the House of Studies 2010 we had that liturgy?” and he will respond, “How could I ever forget!?”  We had 6 priests, 6 deacons, and one subdeacon serving with Chris leading the chanting and myself and a few of the other guys chanting as well.  It was quite lovely, despite the few slip ups that occurred.  I was a little surprised there weren’t more of them given that many of us don’t serve with bishops regularly.  So that was our closing liturgy and now I’m thinking about where to go now.

I suppose you might be wondering why I’m staying around here with nothing to do while everyone goes away, well, I’ll tell you why.  The St. Stephen’s Program is a correspondence course run by the Antiochian Archdiocese that awards masters degrees, even a doctorate in applied theology.  For a few weeks every August the participants get together here at the Antiochian Village for classes, seminars, workshops, and anything else you can think of.  Now, I am not taking the St. Stephen’s course but all of the seminarians are invited to stay for the first week of the annual gathering so I thought, since I don’t really have anywhere to be right now, that I would stay.  I’ll be participating in the Western Rite track of the week with classes given by the Vicar-General of the Western Rite Vicariate of our archdiocese, as well as other priests of the Vicariate.  So I’m quite looking forward to a daily cycle of Western Rite services as well as meeting many parishioners and clergy of the various parishes in the Vicariate.

So that’s the plan for the next week or so.  After that I drive back home, move back into the dorms, participate in orientation staff training (that’s the only word I could think of that fit, but it isn’t really training in the strictest sense), drive out to Cape Cod to chant and play the organ at a wedding, drive back and help out at orientation, drive out to Springfield for my first Mass back at St. Stephen’s and then begin my first year at Holy Cross.  Oh, and take the GRE.  Yeah…

Right now, though, it’s time to get some dinner.

Bishops & Grace

Another day is half over here at the House of Studies and we’re approaching our final evening session tonight after Vespers and dinner.  It really doesn’t feel like I’ve been here for a week already, but that might be because there was a definite break between the wedding and all its festivities and the House of Studies.  It’s been wonderful so far, though.

We met in the chapel and pulled our chairs around His Grace, Bishop THOMAS who was to speak to us for the session.  My first thought as we all gathered around him was that we were doing exactly the same thing that they did in the early Church.  The bishop sat in the middle of the church on a chair and we gathered around him and listened to him speak and teach about a whole slew of topics that are important to the formation of priests and for life in a parish.  The best part about listening to Bishop THOMAS speak about all of this stuff is that he knows exactly what he’s talking about and says it in a way that is straightforward and clear.  He spent many years as a deacon, a number of years as a priest, and has been a bishop for about, oh, 6 years now.  He’s also very approachable and knows what’s going on.

So with all our time with a bishop around it got me thinking about bishops in general and what they mean for us and our lives.

In the Orthodox Church one of the main jobs of the bishop is preaching.  You can say what you want about the administrative side of their jobs but one of the most important things a bishop does is preach and teach his people how to work out their salvation and live a life in the Christ.  The bishop is there for to communicate to us the grace of God and the love of God.  The bishop is mystically acting as Christ himself in the liturgy and should therefore be treated as we would treat Christ himself.  With the same love and respect and devotion.  Too many people don’t treat their bishop like that.

They complain about them, they gossip about them, they actively work against them, they blog about them (that is perhaps the worst of all).  To what end?  God has given us bishops so that we might have a shepherd and guide in this life, someone who can communicate the truths of the Faith and bring us closer to God.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, especially anyone on the internet…

Love your bishop, listen to him, live in obedience to him for through obedience we have true freedom.  It is easy to rebel, it is easy to be prideful, but it is difficult to be obedient.  We all know this, so very well.  At least I do, you’re probably better at being humble than I am.  I mean, come on, I have a blog, I’m an organist, and a seminarian.  It’s like the perfect storm of pridefulness.

We live in a world that teaches that self-reliance is all you need and that you, yourself, are the only person you can rely on.  Well, sorry to tell you, but that is dead wrong.  God is the only person we can trust to never fail us, ever.  We fail all the time!  Just think of how often we fall into the same sins over and over again.  We must rely on God for all things and trust him in all things.  If we do not trust that God will take care of us, like Christ speaks of in the Gospels, we can do nothing.  Let me say that again, we can do nothing without God.

So.  What do we do about this?  How do we trust God?  We build a relationship with him.  We trust God in the same way as anyone else, we get to know him.  We grow to love him and draw closer to him.  How can you trust someone you don’t know?  It’s silly.  And the way to get to know God is through prayer, through the sacraments, through going to church, and, keeping with our earlier theme, through obedience to our bishop.  This is how we build a relationship with God.

I’ll end with two things.   Fr. Thomas Hopko was told by his mother as he went off to seminary.  She said that no matter what, “Go to church, say your prayers, remember God.”

The second is something Bishop THOMAS said at our parish life convention this past summer.  “”My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, listen to your priests as they receive the light from their bishop, and the bishop receives the light from his archbishop, and the archbishop receive the light from the patriarchs, and the patriarchs receive the light from the Apostles themselves.”


So I was talking to a friend of mine tonight and he made me realize I left out an important point.  I’ll let him say it as he is more eloquent than I.

I think it’s important to remember that, while I’m not saying gossip about bishops is good, they are still people. Humans have free will, and even the fullness of the Holy Ghost doesn’t force you to be a good person.  And therefore, there will be circumstances where we need to complain to/about bishops, as in any organization made up of humans.  But, that does not contradict anything you’ve written.  It’s just a qualifier.

The only thing that I would add to my friend’s comments (and I’m sure he’d agree) is that when those situations arise we must still address the bishop with filial love and respect, fully realizing that we are all fallible human beings.