Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Looking into WordPress

...for a possible new home for this blog, to get the word out to more readers. I won't be adding new posts here for the time being, just at WordPress, but I will still try to respond to Comments here as health permits (which has been a bit difficult since last Spring).

I wish you a profitable Great Fast when it arrives next month!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rich Russians Pursue Better Wealth

This Washington Post feature story will become unavailable to those of us without the money to sign-up (ironically). But the quoted remark of a museum curator in Russia in favor of Russian tycoons buying-back the nation's Orthodox Christian religious heritage, including Holy Icons, from abroad, where it had been taken, stolen, or sold after the Bolshevik Revolution, is telling for those of us only used to hearing about oligarchs accumulating rubles there: "It's a wonderful thing that our businessmen are returning our wealth to the motherland." Evidence, also, that Russia's post-Communist return to Faith isn't restricted to the poor or the boondocks, as some would have us believe. At least one quoted claimed 'a religious awakening.'

Coincidentally(?), a few days later the Boston Globe did a feature on a Massachusetts tycoon - an American - and his museum of Russian icons. Maybe we Yanks can work something out with the Russians?

Of course, some believe it's sacrilegious to treat Orthodox holy icons as mere artworks, merely displayed in museums. Prince Charles of the UK (and Her Majesty's other Realms and Territories), like his father a camp-follower of Orthodoxy (his father, Prince Philip, was born Orthodox, a prince of Denmark and Greece), recently tried to get a museum there to set aside a permanent display of its icons, as an improvement on letting most of them just collect dust in storage. The museum's disrespectful response to him - which went beyond simply stating that they weren't an icon museum but a general art museum - briefly became tabloid fodder. Perhaps some wealthy Briton (Your Royal Highness??) - or Russian - could sponsor a wing or even a whole subsidiary museum for those icons?

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Almsgiving is good for you

It's easy to forget that almsgiving is not only a good idea and helpful to the needy, but also good for the giver, a spiritual discipline, encouraging detachment from things, and a form of union with God's Energies and activities everywhere - which may be why the Lord said, "It is more blest to give than to receive." Self-restraint of greed, desire, envy ... all things I have some acquaintance with as a not-so-healthy working-class American!

So said the pope of Rome in his Lenten message this week. (Western Lent starts this Wednesday.) The trio of Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving is also traditionally part of Orthodoxy's Great Fast, which this year begins on Clean Monday, March 10. They're also part of Orthodoxy throughout the year, though not as emphasized as during Fasts, especially the Great Fast.

I also read somewhere that it's good to say a prayer for a recipient when writing the check, filling-out the online form, giving it in-person (not necessarily audibly, I suppose, unless you're a cleric or monastic maybe!), or whatever.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Asian Orthodox Missionaries?

According to this page, Russia has:
  • up to 900,000 Chuvash Orthodox in Chuvashia speaking a Turkic language,
  • a few thousand Turkic-speaking Balkar Orthodox in Kabardino-Balkaria,
  • up to 68,000 Turkic-speaking Khaka Orthodox in Khakassia,
  • maybe a couple hundred thousand Ossetian Orthodox in North Ossetia-Alania speaking a tongue in the Iranian language family,
  • and maybe a couple hundred thousand Turkic-speaking Yakut Orthodox in St. Innocent of Alaska's old stomping grounds in Siberia (Wow, that Turkic stuff really got around).

That adds up to maybe over a million Turkic-speaking Orthodox, whose kindred languages are spoken not only in Turkey and Turkmenistan (Turkmenia) but also the Balkans, Caucasus, and Northwest China. It so happens that Islam is impinging on more than one Local Orthodox Church in and near some of those regions - not only their home Moscow Patriarchate, but also of course Constantinople. Might God call some of these million to learn one or more closely-related languages and go (or write, broadcast) and spread the Truth of their Orthodoxy? Orthodoxy in Turkey is down to a couple thousand Greeks around Istanbul, maybe 10-15,000 Arab Orthodox there and around Antakya (old Antioch), and some Georgians in the east. Turkmenistan is part of a single MP diocese covering all the former Soviet republics south of Kazakhstan. Azerbaijan has a few Georgian and MP parishes.

As for the couple hundred thousand Ossetians, their kindred languages are spoken not only in Iran but also all over that region: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, the Kurdish region (Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Iran). Maybe it's just because I'm an American that this area is on my mind alot lately...? I think the Antiochian Patriarchate has some parishes scattered across Iraq and vicinity in addition to Antakya mentioned above.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Winter comes to Greater Philadelphia; Shiny "crunchy" people holding hands

This doesn't really bear on Orthodoxy, but my other blog is anonymous, and this is geography-specific - specifically, North Wales, Penna., a northern suburb of Philly and home of my most convenient Whole Foods Market (formerly much better-known quantitatively, and IMHO qualitatively, as Fresh Fields), which is barely visible behind and to the (viewer's) left of this leafless tree, branches coated the way fresh, really wet snow does in little or no wind. I took this around 6 tonight, at which time there was about 1.5 inches on the ground there; no ice, but slippery because of the quality of the snow and no suburban road plowing(!). This was the Phila. area's first really wet snow this winter, so while driving home from shopping was an adventure of another kind, the region is artificially lit enough that it was very pretty! Glory to God for all things! Most of the snow has already washed away in rain tonight; that's the kind of winters we've been having here lately, whether or not you accept Global Warming Science. (The tree looked even neater in person, perhaps saying something about the capabilities of my particular camera-phone, which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty!)

For you (us) Celts, you might be interested to know that North Wales is in Upper Gwynnedd Township; Gwynnedd is what the Welsh have called much of the region of North Wales in Great Britain since before the English got to it. The girl's name Gwyneth, as in Paltrow, more closely approximates the Welsh pronunciation of Gwynnedd, but nobody here uses the Welsh pronunciation.

You may know Whole Foods attracts a diverse clientele, from "liberal" to "conservative" in the U.S. - the so-called Crunchy Cons, which may or may not include the very Evangelical Protestant "conservatives" who are into health food, supplements, organic food, etc. OTOH, I was recommended to Fresh Fields by a Catholic friend who lived near the store while I was a Quaker/Mennonite vegan (total vegetarian, ie, eating only plant foods) for reasons of religious nonviolence, in the early-to-mid '90s, IOW, not at all "conservative" in the common U.S. sense! But the Crunchy Cons' chief apologist converted to Orthodoxy in '06. I can't speak for or against his politics, approach to culture, writings, or anything else - I haven't really examined them. I try to avoid politics here so this blog can serve Orthodox and inquirers of all political bents - and I assure you I myself am quite bent! ;) I only mention him because I'm free-associating a little just now. In fact Rod Dreher might be disturbed - I say this with all sensitivity after browsing part of his conversion story and difficult experience of Catholicism - to hear of someone like me who was not only an enthusiastic "Vatican II Catholic," but a Liberation Theology/"Vatican III Catholic," and is still of two minds regarding the Catholic Left! (Let's not go into it. Someday I may finish my "faith journey" post....) Though hopefully not, since we're both in the Body of Christ now, and I guess both shopping at Whole Foods! (There are 6 in the Dallas area.)

(BTW, I will just point out for inquirers' sake that although the political blogs "from an Orthodox perspective" that I've seen seem associated with the Republican Party of the U.S., many other Orthodox Americans are Democrats. I have no idea of the numerical breakdown or reasons for these facts. My own party registration - if any - is not relevant to this blog. I merely say so because based on the blogosphere, Democrats might think they can't be Orthodox, when many are. Whether any should be this or that particular party, I also will not venture. Although I've read that Orthodox Monastics don't vote.... )

Friday, January 04, 2008

Interview with OCA Primate; Parochial schools

An interesting brief talk with Metropolitan HERMAN (Swaiko) by the newspaper of the OCA's Archdiocese of Canada addresses succinctly his views on Orthodoxy here, and 'Why Orthodoxy at all?':

"The Orthodox Church is the light of faith in the Word of God in the darkness of whimsical opinions, the pillar of morality amidst the quicksand of relativist societies. Our purpose is to transform the modern world, rather than conform to it, as the Scripture tells us."

I'm intrigued to hear him promote parochial schools too. I'm a product of Latin parochial schools, and know at least some Eastern Catholic parishes have had them as well. I also know that in the Catholic Church in the U.S. parochial schools are seen as in trouble because of increasing costs and shrinking enrollment, though I haven't researched why this is - fewer religious Sisters to teach and support for little money, and the end of the Baby Boom?? And I believe OCA parishes tend to have 100-200 households or fewer, a fraction of many Latin parishes; what about getting Orthodox parishes of numerous jurisdictions in a vicinity to collaborate on a shared school? There are also other models available today than the traditional Catholic parochial school, such as what might be called 'joint homeschooling,' co-operative schools, cyberschools, etc. Just brainstorming here.

Years ago Andrew Greeley discovered that graduates of Latin parochial schools tended to give more money to that Church as adults than Latin graduates of public schools, even alumni of the weekly religious ed programs called CCD. Or as he put it - 'half-jest and full earnest' - parochial schools were profit centers - data not widely accepted by U.S. Catholic bishops, he complains. I think it's fair to say he believes they've been overcome by an ill-advised form of 'political correctness' opposed to parish schools for some reason.

Perhaps I should clarify two things. First, when I'm talking about "Latin schools" here, I mean parish schools of the Latin Church, not, for instance, this place. Secondly, the parochial schools Greeley and I are talking about were comprehensive educational institutions, September thru June, Monday thru Friday, 8am-3pm, all typical elementary educational subjects (Kindergarten or 1st Grade thru 8th), not just Religion, and actually very little ancestral-homeland culture, and in my experience, no languages besides English. Just 'normal education' in a faith context. (This would apply to pan-ethnic parishes, ie, most Latin Church parishes in this country from my childhood and still today. Ethnic parishes - whether 'old ethnic' ones like Polish and Italian, or newer ones like Latino or Asian here in the Northeast - might emphasize their ethnic culture more, I'm not certain. However, even in my theoretically-pan-ethnic school - mostly Irish, Poles, Italians, and Germans - we were taught a little about these and other cultures, usually around holiday traditions.) One might place them in-between public schools and "private schools" / academies. They didn't aspire to extraordinary academic greatness like the latter, but did alright by us generally anyway. (Statistically, Irish Catholics have been the best-educated non-Jewish group in the U.S. for at least a century!) They were located right in the neighborhood or community where the parishioners lived, usually right on or near the parish grounds. School life included weekly class Masses during Advent and Lent, all-school Masses on First Fridays and other occasions, altar servers being released from class for weekday Masses and funerals, days-off for Holydays of Obligation as days of rest and attendance at Mass (comparable to Orthodox Great Feasts), "pagan babies," the Rosary, Stations of the Cross during Lent, First Confession and Communion classes (1st-2nd Grades), Confirmation class (4th Grade then), memorized Questions and Answers cribbed from the old Baltimore Catechism combined with a Vatican II 'brand new attitude'(!), morning prayers, lunchtime Angelus and Grace Before Meals, class visits by the parish priests and sometimes other priests and Religious, as well as other religious and secular activities. There was also a little bit of promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, yielding just in the last generation or two, one bishop, at least one missionary priest to East Africa (keep in mind the celibacy requirement), and at least two short-lived other vocations - one of whom ended up an Orthodox layman. ;)

My parochial school in Philadelphia charged no tuition as such to parishioners while I was there in the early-mid 1970s, completely supported by all parishioners and not only those with children currently enrolled - and these were working-class folks, few if any wealthy. Later they felt they had to start charging tuition on top of the parishioner support, very small at first, growing into hundreds, then a couple thousand, dollars; at the same time their Sisters' community shrank to nothing, replaced mostly by laywomen and men with their own residences and expenses and sometimes families, and not professing a Vow of Poverty. Currently its basic costs seem to be around $4,000.00 per year. For comparison purposes, the same rate at a nearby Catholic academy seems to be around $9,500.00, so even now, the parochial school is running less than half the cost to students of the truly "private" school.

Here in the Latin Archdiocese of Philadelphia (the five counties of southeastern Pennsylvania) the parochial schools were theoretically open to non-Catholics in the '70s if not before, at that time charging them tuition closer to actual cost, saying that as "non-parishioners" they didn't have the opportunity to support the school indirectly through Sunday collections and such. Since then, especially in parts of the City, as Catholics moved to the suburbs, non-Catholic enrollment grew, and the schools were also seen as a community service ministry, a relatively affordable quality alternative to the public schools; I believe they continued to teach Catholic Religion classes, because they always had, but without knowingly pressuring non-Catholic children to convert. As the non-Catholics of their communities, generally poorer Protestant African-Americans, increased in their enrollment, some scholarship funding was raised at some times and places; sometimes partnerships were established with better-off suburban parishes, area corporations, and other benefactors. But the truth be told, Philadelphia has not been completely immune from the wave of parochial school closures and consolidations seen elsewhere in the U.S. Catholic Church in the last decade or so; as you can see on their website, my own alma mater has been merged with several nearby parishes' schools, and one or two of them have been closed in the process. (One slated for closure, belonging to an ethnic Polish parish - canonically completely under the control of the local Archbishop - appealed to Polish Pope John Paul II anyway, and was 'saved.')

BTW, by the time I entered parochial school, it really had stopped being the "horror story" you hear about from Baby Boomers, mostly. Say what you will about Vatican II, it provided a healthful-feeling breath of fresh air to many quarters of the Latin Church.

One other thing: Philadelphia has a historical claim to having invented the Catholic parochial school system. The See's 4th bishop, St. John Neumann (1852-60), spearheaded the establishment of dozens of parish elementary schools in the eastern half of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware, as well as the adoption of similar school systems in other dioceses throughout the U.S. IIRC, in the 1970s most of the more than 300 parishes of this Archdiocese - by then taking in just the five counties (the rest spun-off into their own dioceses) - had schools. They are considered a system because they have a single diocesewide superintendant of schools (currently a layman with a doctorate) and central administration, here not unlike a sizable public school district. In fact - here's a childhood memory - they used to close for snow only all together - even if the hills of Manayunk where I lived - William Penn thought of them as Little Switzerland - were far harder to navigate than the flatlands elsewhere - and less often than the city public schools! (Grrr! ;) ) As you can see at the link, each school is not left to fend for itself, reinvent the wheel, etc. But each school remains parochial because of its vital and necessary relationship to one or more local parishes and their clergy, staff, parishioners, and liturgical and prayer-life, as I've outlined above. They're not just outposts of the Archdiocesan Chancery or Cardinal's Office or something, like most public school systems are of the Board of Ed, Superintendant's Office, or City Hall. Fr. Greeley points to "social capital," the way that Catholic communities (neighborhoods, or more mobile suburban social 'communities of choice'), parishes, and schools, all serving the same group of people, join forces to reinforce Catholic faith in them. (And don't believe what some say; Catholics have been consistently about a quarter of the U.S. population for at least a century; they're not losing ground ... myself and my godmother excepted of course!)

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

How Orthodox Read Scripture

Interesting post from Orthodox Priest Stephen Freeman, a former priest from Anglicanism, specifically addressing issues with Protestantism, but not without insight for Catholics too, featuring our holy father among the saints Irenaeus of Lyons, Gaul/France.

[I'd just offer a small note from my own religious experience/study, but so marginal to his own point that I didn't think it necessary to post it there: At times and places the so-called Radical Reformation did indeed pose a popular uprising - twice violently, in the Peasants' Revolt and at the infamous 'holy experiment' at Muenster (that's Germany, not Ireland!) - almost universally vigorously persecuted by both 'Magisterial' Protestants and Latins. Many truths commonly held by U.S. Protestants today in fact trace back to these Radicals, not just those of Mennonites, Amish, Brethren, etc. - and Luther, Calvin, et al., are turning over in their graves! To bring things full circle, the RR had little lasting effect in continental Western Europe, but Russian Empress Catherine "the Great" offered some of these a refuge, even virtual states within the Empire, in exchange for them taking up farming. Most of these "Russian Mennonites" now live in the central and western U.S. and Canada. Most of them didn't intermarry with actual Russians or even learn the Russian language, but ironically, they did administer their colonies and enforce laws; I don't remember if they ever executed offenders, or just talked about whether they should given their "Christian nonviolence." I know of at least one Orthodox influence on them though - they make "paskha," a kind of cheese-loaf, for Easter, whose name is the Greek and Slavic name for Easter, also spelled Pascha.]

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