Thursday, June 30, 2011

Guest Op-Ed: 160 Million and Counting

Dear Parish Faithful,

Here is a chilling Op-Ed by Ross Douthat, that further expands the moral quagmire that state-sponsored and promoted abortion leads to. A tragically ironic commentary on the growth of “women’s rights” in different parts of the world.

Fr. Steven

160 Million and Counting
Published: June 26, 2011

In 1990, the economist Amartya Sen published an essay in The New York Review of Books with a bombshell title: “More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing.” His subject was the wildly off-kilter sex ratios in India, China and elsewhere in the developing world. To explain the numbers, Sen invoked the “neglect” of third-world women, citing disparities in health care, nutrition and education. He also noted that under China’s one-child policy, “some evidence exists of female infanticide.”

The essay did not mention abortion.

Twenty years later, the number of “missing” women has risen to more than 160 million, and a journalist named Mara Hvistendahl has given us a much more complete picture of what’s happened. Her book is called “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men.” As the title suggests, Hvistendahl argues that most of the missing females weren’t victims of neglect. They were selected out of existence, by ultrasound technology and second-trimester abortion.

The spread of sex-selective abortion is often framed as a simple case of modern science being abused by patriarchal, misogynistic cultures. Patriarchy is certainly part of the story, but as Hvistendahl points out, the reality is more complicated — and more depressing.

Thus far, female empowerment often seems to have led to more sex selection, not less. In many communities, she writes, “women use their increased autonomy to select for sons,” because male offspring bring higher social status. In countries like India, sex selection began in “the urban, well-educated stratum of society,” before spreading down the income ladder.

Moreover, Western governments and philanthropic institutions have their fingerprints all over the story of the world’s missing women.

From the 1950s onward, Asian countries that legalized and then promoted abortion did so with vocal, deep-pocketed American support. Digging into the archives of groups like the Rockefeller Foundation and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Hvistendahl depicts an unlikely alliance between Republican cold warriors worried that population growth would fuel the spread of Communism and left-wing scientists and activists who believed that abortion was necessary for both “the needs of women” and “the future prosperity — or maybe survival — of mankind,” as the Planned Parenthood federation’s medical director put it in 1976.

For many of these antipopulation campaigners, sex selection was a feature rather than a bug, since a society with fewer girls was guaranteed to reproduce itself at lower rates.

Hvistendahl’s book is filled with unsettling scenes, from abandoned female fetuses littering an Indian hospital to the signs in Chinese villages at the height of the one-child policy’s enforcement. (“You can beat it out! You can make it fall out! You can abort it! But you cannot give birth to it!”) The most disturbing passages, though, are the ones that depict self-consciously progressive Westerners persuading themselves that fewer girls might be exactly what the teeming societies of the third world needed.

Over all, “Unnatural Selection” reads like a great historical detective story, and it’s written with the sense of moral urgency that usually accompanies the revelation of some enormous crime.

But what kind of crime? This is the question that haunts Hvistendahl’s book, and the broader debate over the vanished 160 million.

The scale of that number evokes the genocidal horrors of the 20th century. But notwithstanding the depredations of the Chinese politburo, most of the abortions were (and continue to be) uncoerced. The American establishment helped create the problem, but now it’s metastasizing on its own: the population-control movement is a shadow of its former self, yet sex selection has spread inexorably with access to abortion, and sex ratios are out of balance from Central Asia to the Balkans to Asian-American communities in the United States.

This places many Western liberals, Hvistendahl included, in a distinctly uncomfortable position. Their own premises insist that the unborn aren’t human beings yet, and that the right to an abortion is nearly absolute. A self-proclaimed agnostic about when life begins, Hvistendahl insists that she hasn’t written “a book about death and killing.” But this leaves her struggling to define a victim for the crime that she’s uncovered.

It’s society at large, she argues, citing evidence that gender-imbalanced countries tend to be violent and unstable. It’s the women in those countries, she adds, pointing out that skewed sex ratios are associated with increased prostitution and sex trafficking.

These are important points. But the sense of outrage that pervades her story seems to have been inspired by the missing girls themselves, not the consequences of their absence.

Here the anti-abortion side has it easier. We can say outright what’s implied on every page of “Unnatural Selection,” even if the author can’t quite bring herself around.

The tragedy of the world’s 160 million missing girls isn’t that they’re “missing.” The tragedy is that they’re dead.

The Greatest and Most Righteous Pillars of the Church

Dear Parish Faithful,

“During their earthly lives, all the saints are an incentive to virtue for those who hear and see them with understanding, for they are human icons of excellence, animated pillars of goodness, and living books, which teach us the way to better things.” (Homily on Saints Peter and Paul by St. Gregory Palamas).

Today we celebrate and commemorate the two great Apostles Peter and Paul. Their martyrdom in Rome is a very well-attested historical event, happening probably between the years 64-68 A.D. under the Roman emperor Nero. This is considered within the Church to be such a great Feast that it is preceded by a prescribed time of fasting, a practice only reserved otherwise for the great Feasts of the Lord (Nativity and Pascha) and the Mother of God (Dormition). This both stresses the historical greatness of these two apostles, the accomplishments of their respective ministries, their martyric ends, and the very ministry and role of an apostle in proclaiming the Gospel to the world in fulfillment of the Lord’s command to preach the Good News to “all nations.” (MATT. 28:16-20) Indeed, St. Clement of Rome in his First Epistle, referred to Sts. Peter and Paul as “the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the church].” On careful reflection, it is not simply pious rhetoric that informs some of the hymns chanted in their honor during this Feast:

What spiritual songs shall we sing for Peter and Paul? They have silenced the sharp tongues of the godless. They are awesome swords of the Spirit. They are the adornment of Rome; They have nourished the whole world with the Word of God. They are the living tablets of the New Testament written by the hand of God; Christ who has great mercy, has exalted them in Zion. (Great Vespers)

In the New Testament, fourteen of the Epistles are traditionally attributed to St. Paul and two are attributed to St. Peter. While the entire Acts of the Apostles is basically devoted to recording some of the major events in the history of these two apostles “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” (ACTS. 1:8) It may not be wholly accurate to refer to Sts. Peter and Paul as the apostles, respectively, “to the circumcised” (the Jews) and the “uncircumcised” (the Gentiles) – for St. Peter preached to the Gentiles and St. Paul to the Jews) – but this is a way of capturing the fullness of their combined ministries so that Jews and Gentiles would be united in the one Body of Christ in fulfillment of God’s design.

At Great Vespers of this Feast, three New Testament readings are prescribed, all from St. Peter’s first Epistle. We hear from the magnificent opening of I Peter, and this passage profoundly presents the essence of the Gospel as proclaimed in the apostolic age of the Church’s foundation, by the “prince of the apostles.” For those who have not heard or read this passage recently, a good portion of it deserves to be recorded here so as “to make your day:”

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious that gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls. (I PET. 1:3-9)

In this passage, St. Peter reminds us that from the beginning the Gospel bestowed upon on Christians a “living hope” that was based on the fact of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. All New Testament writers establish Christian hope on the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. (In his first Epistle to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul did not want his early converts to be “without hope” like their pagan neighbors, thus attesting to how important hope is for the believing Christian). The Apostle Peter was not offering yet another philosophy, but proclaiming the activity of God – “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” – within the realm of human history; that is that God has acted decisively on our behalf by overcoming death itself through the resurrection of Jesus. He then describes our “inheritance” in heaven in strikingly powerful images, emphasizing the eternal and unassailable reality of heaven – “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” This is in sharp contrast to life as we now know it in this world, for all created things are perishable, subject to defilement and destined to fade away. The Apostle Paul confirms this also by saying that “the form of this world is fading away.” (I COR. 7:31) “Guarded by faith,” we await a salvation that will be “revealed in the last time,” meaning the Parousia and end of time.

Yet, the apostle knows that this gift cannot be lightly received and treated. It will only come after “various trials” that are inevitable in a fallen world. In this instance, St. Peter was most likely referring to persecution as this had already broken out against the earliest Christians. However, suffering comes in other forms. These trials will test the “genuineness”of our faith, purifying it if we emerge from these tribulations purged like gold “tested by fire.” All of this is true even though we have not seen nor “see” Jesus even now. This is true of all of Christ’s disciples through the ages, called by Jesus Himself “blessed” by believing though not actually having seen Him. (JN. 20:29)

The strength of this experience is beautifully expressed by St. Peter when he confidently states that we “rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy.” This is almost embarrassing when we admit dragging ourselves to church or praying as if constrained under a heavy obligation or a “religious duty” that takes us away from more “interesting” activities! A joyless Christianity is completely foreign to the New Testament. As is a “second place” (or “third” or fourth,” etc.) Christianity in the priorities of our lives. The intended “outcome” of all this is “the salvation of your souls.” Is this why every liturgical service that begins with the Great Litany has us praying to the Lord in the first full petition, for the “peace from above and for the salvation of our souls?” There is nothing “selfish” in seeking or accepting the “salvation of our souls.” This is the gift of God that is intended for all. In the assurance of this gift, we can work more steadfastly on behalf of others, and share what God has done on our behalf.

The Apostles Peter and Paul are truly “Rivers of wisdom and upholders of the Cross!” They exemplified the later teaching of St. Ignatius of Antioch of the mystery of Christ that conveys “life in death.” For they died as martyrs but are eternally alive in Christ. We can now read their epistles and their lives as “living books which teach us the way to better things” as St. Gregory Palamas said of them. We seek their prayers as we strive to be worthy of the title of “Christian.”

Fr Steven

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Live Dangerously! Come to the Bible Study!

Dear Parish Faithful,

Due to the importance I ascribe to our annual Summer Bible Study – one reason being that the Bible comes from and belongs to the Orthodox Church - I always begin with a letter of exhortation to try and “recruit” new participants before we begin each year. Whether or not that exhortation falls on deaf ears or not, is beside the point. My pastoral conscience impels me to make the effort, and every year it seems as if we have some new members that join our circle. So, if you belong to the species of homo sapien, and if you are simultaneously a member of our parish, then this letter is meant for you.

Just a generation ago, many Orthodox parishes may not have had a Bible Study. Under those circumstances, parishioners justifiably hungry for the spiritual nourishment that comes from the living Word of God may even have participated in a local non-Orthodox Bible Study in order to satisfy that hunger. The inherent danger in this is confusing an Orthodox and heterodox interpretation of the Scripture, and thus relativizing the Truth as we understand it, proclaim it, and live it within the Church. Fortunately, what may have been true a generation ago, is no longer the case, as most Orthodox parishes today do provide a setting for reading and studying the Bible together. Our parish clergy today are much more thoroughly educated in the Scriptures from seminary and beyond, and are quite capable of offering quality classes. Therefore, the only further “ingredient” needed is parishioners who desire to learn and who make the commitment to do so.

We now have a complete Orthodox Study Bible, providing us with excellent commentaries that inform us of the Church’s interpretation, as well as providing great quotes from the Church Fathers, such as St. John Chrysostom. I understand that there are also Orthodox “online” studies that you could turn to. With such access, why even “bother” to have a parish Bible Study? Why not stay home, find some free time, and study alone or perhaps even with the family? (This is something like the “Netflix approach” applied to the Bible). Certainly things that I would encourage. But these are the obvious things to do if you cannot attend your own parish Bible Study for “reasons worthy of a blessing.” What I have learned over the years, is that it is the fellowship of coming together that is a key component to the parish Bible Study.

The parish Bible Study builds a sense of community and an awareness that there are others in the parish who also “hunger and thirst” to go as deep as possible into the source of our Orthodox Faith – the Holy Scriptures as the living Word of God. Learning something new, discussion, sharing, listening to the insights of others, building closer relationships, meeting other parishioners beyond the surface greetings of the “coffee hour;” all these components make the parish Bible Study a key event in the ongoing life of the parish. It is making a conscious commitment to set aside that most valuable of commodities – time itself – for the “things of God.” And to choose a “churchly activity” over a “worldly activity.” To set aside “worldly cares” for the sake of the “world to come” – revealed in the Scriptures and discussed together as a Body which is an extension of the Liturgy.

When I was young, I did not like to experiment with new foods. My mother would say: “Try it, you’ll like it.” Could we apply that to the Bible Study: “Try it, you’ll like it.” Especially those of you who have never tried it. “Live dangerously” – come to the Bible Study! (The “danger,” of course, is learning the hard reality that each one of us has a long way to go in being an authentic Christian – a genuine follower of Christ).

We will begin next Wednesday, June 29, at 7:45 p.m., appropriately the Feast of the Synaxis of the Apostles (following the Vespers) since we will be reading from perhaps the greatest of the Apostle Paul’s epistles: Romans. We will begin at ch. 12.

Fr Steven

Guest Op-Ed: The Saga of Sister Kiki

Dear Parish Faithful,

I found this Op-Ed by David Brooks, to be an “object lesson” in the multiple dangers posed by an uncritical and unsupervised use of the internet (for children and young adults, at least). It also probes our current obsessions with celebrity, appearance, and the lurid side of sexual fantasies. Lately, we have been reading about the “dark side”of facebook and twittering/tweeting. This may be a spectacular – and exaggerated - example of what can go bad, but it remains cautionary, nevertheless. Why does “virtue” sound so archaic and reactionary today? It is up against some real stiff competition!

To re-formulate an old question: Do you know what your child is doing on the internet or on his/her cell-phone?

Fr. Steven

The Saga of Sister Kiki
Published: June 23, 2011

In 1900, Theodore Dreiser wrote “Sister Carrie,” about a young woman who left the farm and got mauled by the crushing forces of industrial America: the loneliness of urban life, the squalid conditions of the factory, the easy allure of the theater, the materialism of the new consumer culture.

If Dreiser were around today, he might write about Kiki Ostrenga. Kiki, who was the subject of a haunting profile by Sabrina Rubin Erdely in the April issue of Rolling Stone, was a young teenager who got mauled by the some of the worst forces of the information age.

Lonely at school, she took refuge by creating an online persona, Kiki Kannibal, posting photos of herself with various hairstyles and looks — goth one day; sexually charged, Lady Gaga-style temptress the next.

Though 13, Ostrenga was a phenomenally good shape-shifter. The photos often show her in her underwear or short skirts, with lurid make-up, edgy poses and pouty come-hither expressions. In them, you see the child’s ability to mimic the looks and attitudes of what she admires — in this case the cult of high-fashion celebrity as glamorized in Vogue or Cosmopolitan, on E!, TMZ, “Real World” and a thousand other outlets.

In sports, speed and strength are king. In music, talent and application are king. But online, eyeballs and page-views are king. Achievement is redefined as the ability to attract attention. And, with today’s technology, this sort of celebrity is not just a dream. Young people can create it for themselves.

Continue reading . . .

Hogar Mission Trip, Pt 2

Dear Parish Faithful,

Di Carter was kind enough to provide a written summary of her visit to the Hogar last week. I very much enjoyed reading her insights about the Hogar and hope that you will too. Please see the attachment.

It appears that we arrived just in time to spend some time with Francesca, for as I mentioned the possibility upon returning last week, she has already been transferred to another orphanage together with her older brother, Hugo. A rather sad development. Please continue to pray for her. Our parish sponsorship is being transferred to another young girl, an eleven yr. old named Gabriela. She, too, is a lovely girl, with a very friendly and kind spirit. I will try and send a photo soon.

Fr. Steven

Impressions of My First Visit To the Hogar San Rafael Ayau Orphanage
By Di Carter

As it was my first visit to the Hogar I did not know what to expect but I did anticipate feeling very sad at the sight of so many children who had been abused and abandoned. But the Hogar is not an unhappy place and I was soon caught up in its lively atomosphere. The children really do have fun and seem to enjoy life.

There were nine people on our team and we were soon put to work. Our tasks included making and planting a new garden bed, painting the side of the church and the bell tower, clearing French drains and doing the mowing. In the afternoons we spent time with the children doing crafts, swimming, going on outings and generally making friends.

Soon after we arrived, Mother Ivonne spent some time telling us about the Hogar and the children and as she spoke I realized that she sounded exactly the same as any of us relating the joys and frustrations of being a parent. She really is their mother. It is an enormous task and it is made more difficult by the conditions in Guatamala. It is not only dangerous, but the government continually tries to create obstacles for the orphanage. There is to be an election later this year and all three of the nuns will be watching the results of that closely as it will impact the orphanage directly.

On Saturday night we all watched the Guatamala soccer team play Jamaica on the television. Everyone, including Mother Ivonne, is obsessed with the game! One of our mission team, a young man called Matthew who has been down to the Hogar on a number of occasions, had bought soccer shirts for every member of the orphanage including Mother Ivonne and he handed them out during half-time. Mother Ivonne immediately put hers on as did the children. As we sat watching the game eating popcorn and candy I realized again that the Hogar is not an institution but rather it is a family. How the nuns have managed to create this is in itself a miracle. The wonderful thing is that the children have come to regard the missionaries (for that is what we are called!) as part of their extended family and they are happy to welcome us as such.

On Sunday we all went out to the monastery in a bus to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. This was probably the highlight of the trip for me. The monastery is situated beside a huge lake with mountains surrounding it including a volcano. The church is perched high on the hill and can be seen from the air as the plane comes in to land in Guatamala City. It is very beautiful, covered with frescoes and yet light and airy. Father Steven and Father Antonio, who is the priest at the monastery, served the Divine Liturgy and the children sang. They had no service books, nothing to refer to and yet they knew every word. Their voices rose up into the dome and they sounded like angels! After the service everyone had lunch under the trees overlooking the lake and a double rainbow appeared in the sky. We then toured the new building which will house the children when it is finished and then back to the church for the Kneeling Vespers service. On the way home in the bus the children sang, mostly the songs from church but they did get on to “Doe a Deer”! It was a perfect day.

I was very impressed by the children. They all have their chores to do around the orphanage and they do them seemingly without complaint. When it is time to tidy up and go to church it is done in record time without argument. If Mother Ivonne cannot be at Matins or Vespers they just carry on without her, chanting all the relevant Stikeras for the day and even the small children read some of the service. I found myself wondering why my children had never been so responsible and well-behaved! Of course the children do have enormous problems and one wonders how they will transition out of this safe place into the world. Mother Ivonne asks for our prayers and as a parish I hope we can commit ourselves to that.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Death of 'Doctor Death'

(Originally sent to the parish June 6, 2011)

Dear Parish Faithful,

As you may have heard, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a.k.a. “Doctor Death,” died of natural causes last week. To put it mildly, he was a very controversial figure. I am forwarding a non-emotional and, I believe, rational and well-argued piece by Ross Douthat concerning the open and hidden fallacies and dangers of “physician- assisted suicides. Please feel to comment further if you so choose.

Fr. Steven

Dr. Kevorkian’s Victims
Published: June 5, 2011

The case for assisted suicide seems to depend on human sympathy — on the impulse toward mercy, the desire to ease what seems like pointless pain and suffering. Why shouldn’t the terminally ill meet death on their own terms, rather than at the end of prolonged agonies? Why shouldn’t the dying depart this earth with dignity, instead of enduring the inexorable stripping away of their physical and mental faculties?

Such are the sentiments that made Jack Kevorkian, who died last week of natural causes, a hero to many millions of Americans. Though he was tried repeatedly and finally convicted of second-degree murder, the former pathologist’s career as “Dr. Death” (he said he assisted at more than 130 suicides) was widely regarded as a form of humanitarianism rather than a criminal enterprise.

But if such sentiments are understandable, they are morally perilous as well. We do not generally praise doctors who help dispatch their terminally ill patients, as Kevorkian repeatedly and unashamedly did. Even when death is inevitable and inevitably painful, it is not considered merciful to prescribe an overdose to a cancer victim against her will, or to gently smother a sleeping Alzheimer’s patient.

The difference, of course, is that Kevorkian’s clients asked for it. That free choice is what separates assisted suicide from murder, his defenders would insist.

But this means that the moral case for assisted suicide depends much more on our respect for people’s own desire to die than on our sympathy for their devastating medical conditions. If participating in a suicide is legally and ethically acceptable, in other words, it can’t just be because cancer is brutal and dementia is dehumanizing. It can only be because there’s a right to suicide.

And once we allow that such a right exists, the arguments for confining it to the dying seem arbitrary at best. We are all dying, day by day: do the terminally ill really occupy a completely different moral category from the rest? A cancer patient’s suffering isn’t necessarily more unbearable than the more indefinite agony of someone living with multiple sclerosis or quadriplegia or manic depression. And not every unbearable agony is medical: if a man losing a battle with Parkinson’s disease can claim the relief of physician-assisted suicide, then why not a devastated widower, or a parent who has lost her only child?

This isn’t a hypothetical slippery slope. Jack Kevorkian spent his career putting this dark, expansive logic into practice. He didn’t just provide death to the dying; he helped anyone whose suffering seemed sufficient to warrant his deadly assistance. When The Detroit Free Press investigated his “practice” in 1997, it found that 60 percent of those he assisted weren’t actually terminally ill. In several cases, autopsies revealed “no anatomical evidence of disease.”

Continue reading...

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom on Suffering

Dear Parish Faithful,

Below you will find in three parts an extraordinary talk by the late Met. Anthony Bloom on the meaning of suffering. These were discovered and sent to me by Marty Davis. Thank God these talks were actually videoed. They probably go back to the 70’s, for I remember seeing Met. Anthony on this program. I would suggest playing them when you some time to listen carefully and absorb his keen insights into the meaning and mystery of suffering.

Fr. Steven

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hogar Mission Trip, Pt 1

Dear Parish Faithful,

Buenos Dias!

Di Carter and I returned yesterday evening from our Mission Team trip to the Hogar in Guatemala. We were the two members representing our parish on what proved to be a nine-member Team, and I was also the “spiritual leader” of our Team. We both thank God for a wonderful week at the Hogar and the accumulated encounters and experiences that made our trip memorable. After two long flights and a week together in close quarters, we still remain, not only on speaking terms, but very close friends! Di agreed to write a summary of her first visit to the Hogar – complete with a description of an extraordinary Pentecost Liturgy at the monastery cathedral of the Holy Trinity that overlooks Lake Atatlitlan and is itself overlooked by a row of stunning volcanoes. We will look forward to Di’s account.

For the moment, I would like to focus on our own Francesca, the little girl we have been sponsoring for the last two years. I have both “good news” and - if not necessarily “bad” - then certainly “sad news” to share with you. The good news is that Francesca could not have been more “sweet” and adorable. We made a point of spending a good deal of time with her, as we took her to Antigua with us, and I also spent a day with her at the zoo. She knows of our relationship with her, and she was as respectful, friendly, warm and loving as possible. It was a joy to be with her. She thanks all of our Church School children for her birthday gift (coming up on July 8, when she will turn nine); and we were able to purchase a new cross for her that she chose while in Antigua.

Yet saying good-bye to Francesca was not easy. For due to a combination of complicated reasons, she and her two brothers will most probably be transferred to another orphanage in the near future. Since she and her brothers are very much at home at the Hogar; and since it is only at the Hogar that she is being nourished by the sacramental life of the Church on a daily basis; this is indeed sad news for her (although she is not yet aware of it). I asked Madre Ivonne if she could do her best to help us maintain some contact with her. Such a story is part of the fabric of life at the Hogar. Yet, as life goes on, I have already spoken with Madre Ivonne of transferring our sponsorship to another child and I will keep everyone informed if and when that will occur. So please continue keep Francesca and her two brothers – Hugo and Alejandro – in your prayers.

For the moment I would like to share an anecdote that is both amusing but impressive and indicative of how the children are being raised at the Hogar. While at the zoo on Wednesday, we stopped for lunch at Polla Comparo – the Guatemalan equivalent of Kentucky Fried Chicken (which, by the looks of it , is just as bad and unhealthy as KFC). For the children, though, this is a real treat. Be that as it may, I asked one of the teachers if we should first bless the food. After answering, “Si, padre,” she informed the children that we would now have the blessing. Without any prompting at all, and as if spontaneously with one collective movement, all twenty-six children stood up and began to sing the troparion for Pentecost as loudly as possible right in the restaurant! Their total freedom from any self-consciousness or awkwardness was absolutely refreshing. One could only smile in admiration. The workers stopped and the other customers expressed surprise, amusement, and … respect. As a pastor I could not help but reflect: Are we – including or children – even able to make the sign of the Cross over ourselves before eating in a public setting; or are we restrained by that very self-consciousness mentioned above? It was good to see the children take the Church with them out into the world.

I look forward to this weekend’s celebration of All Saints. Great Vespers will begin at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday; and the Divine Liturgy at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Dios los bendigas!

En Cristo,

Padre Steven

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Ascension ~ The Meaning and the Fullness of Christ's Resurrection

Dear Parish Faithful,

I ascend unto My Father, and your Father,
and to my God, and Your God.” (JN. 20:17)

Today is the fortieth day after the glorious Resurrection of Christ, and that is, of course, Ascension Thursday. We celebrated the Feast with the Vesperal Liturgy yesterday evening, and we had a good representative body of parishioners present for the Feast, including some of our children. I hope that one and all have a joyous and blessed feast day. The Risen Lord is also the Ascended Lord and, therefore, in the words of Fr. Georges Florovsky: “In the Ascension resides the meaning and the fullness of Christ’s Resurrection.” I would refer everyone to the complete article by Fr. Florovsky, a brilliant reflection on the theological and spiritual meaning of the Lord’s Ascension. This article is accessed from our parish website together with a series of other articles that explore the richness of the Ascension. In addition to Fr. Florovsky’s article, I would especially recommend The Ascension as Prophecy. With so many fine articles on the Ascension within everyone’s reach, I will not offer up yet another one, but I would like to make a few brief comments:

Though the visible presence of the Risen Lord ended forty days after His Resurrection, that did not mean that His actual presence was withdrawn. For Christ solemnly taught His disciples – and us through them – “Behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (MATT. 28:20) The risen, ascended and glorified Lord is the Head of His body, the Church. The Lord remains present in the Mysteries/Sacraments of the Church. This reinforces our need to participate in the sacramental life of the Church, especially the Eucharist, through which we receive the deified flesh and blood of the Son of God, “unto life everlasting.”

Christ ascended to be seated at “the right hand of the Father” in glory, thus lifting up the humanity He assumed in the Incarnation into the very inner life of God. For all eternity, Christ is God and man. The deified humanity of the Lord is the sign of our future destiny “in Christ.” For this reason, the Apostle Paul could write: “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (COL. 3:3)

The words of the “two men … in white robes,” (clearly angels) who stood by the disciples as they gazed at Christ being “lifted up,” and recorded by St. Luke (ACTS. 1:11), point toward something very clear and essential for us to grasp as members of the Church that exists within the historical time of the world: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” The disciples will remain in the world, and must fulfill their vocation as the chosen apostles who will proclaim the Word of God to the world of the crucified and risen Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. They cannot spend their time gazing into heaven awaiting the return of the Lord. That hour has not been revealed: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.” (1:7) The “work” of the Church is the task set before them, and they must do this until their very last breath. They will carry out this work once they receive the power of the Holy Spirit – the “promise of my Father” - as Christ said to them. (LK. 24:49) Whatever our vocation may be, we too witness to Christ and the work of the Church as we await the fullness of God’s Kingdom according to the times or seasons of the Father.

In our daily Prayer Rule we continue to refrain from using “O Heavenly King” until the Day of Pentecost. We no longer use the paschal troparion, “Christ is Risen from the dead …” but replace it from Ascension to Pentecost with the troparion of the Ascension:

Thou hast ascended in glory,
O Christ our God,
granting joy to Thy disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit;
Through the Blessing they were assured
that Thou art the Son of God,
the Redeemer of the world.

Fr. Steven