Saturday, January 29, 2011

Journey To (In) Orthodoxy

Since the likelihood of you reading all 400 posts on the JTO blog is relatively small, let me bring you up to date by bullet-pointing my 50+ year Journey To Orthodoxy.

As I was standing at our family alter this week I had an epiphany. For 50+ years I have been on a Journey To Orthodoxy but I am now on a Journey IN Orthodoxy. With our recent entry into a local Tennessee ROCA parish, that has remained free of ecumenism, is full of grace, and is established in a community ethos, our feet are firmly planted in the Church. I can feel my soul beginning to quiet and the noise of the Journey beginning to hush.

JTO has been about my Journey in finding the Orthodox Chruch by  discovering, and exposing, the myriad of heretical and heterodox doctrines, movements, denominations that pose as the church. I imagine that there will still be a measure of that discovering and exposing on this site, as that is the nature of sounding the trumpet of truth, but I will be sharing more of my inward journey of theosis as God gives me grace.

If this blog wasn't so firmly established as Journey TO I might change it to Journey IN. Perhaps there will always be an element of both, but I am moving forward with a new focus.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Let's Continue To Worship, And You Start Throwing Your Beach Balls"

Another trend in evangelical Christianity...Beach balls...

When your heart grows weary and you've had enough, come home to the faith of our Fathers. The Holy Orthodox Church, where truth is valued over trends.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Job Well Done, Phillip Saliba

The Long, Withdrawing Roar

Christianity on the retreat in the Middle East.

Jan 24, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 18 • By LEE SMITH

A few years ago I was in the West Bank with a Christian missionary who worked among Jews and Muslims. The Jewish converts came to his home for Sunday services that were held in both English and Hebrew. But to gather with Arab converts he had to meet them secretly on the outskirts of their town lest his mere presence put their lives in jeopardy.

“My brother became a Christian at the same time as I did,” one Palestinian told me. “But neither of us knew of the other’s conversion for many years. It would have been too dangerous, until the missionary was certain of our conviction.” We were sitting in a clearing in the brush that was one of the converts’ meeting places. I imagined that Jesus and his disciples must have prayed in places like this, maybe even here. An Israeli Defense Forces patrol passing on the nearby road stopped to see what was going on. The missionary explained to the officer in charge, who nodded and went on his way.

“My brother and I converted because we knew we needed love in our lives,” the Palestinian continued. “I think that Jesus is going to bless the Palestinian people by spreading his gospel of love here.”

Perhaps someday, but for now the Christians of the Middle East are facing danger. Both recent converts and ancient congregations—the Assyrians in Iraq, the Copts in Egypt, Lebanon’s Maronite Catholics, and more, long antedating Islam—are under fire. The land where Christianity began is being cleansed of Jesus’ followers. It is possible that we will soon see an event without precedent: the end of a living Christian witness in this region after more than 2,000 years.

So why now? And how did Christians manage to thrive here in the past?

“We survived, but not the way we wanted to,” says Habib Efram, president of the Syriac League of Lebanon, which represents some 60,000 Syriac Christians. Efram often visits the much larger Syriac Christian community in Iraq, which is under siege. “Some were forced to leave the country, and there have been massacres,” Efram tells me on the phone from Beirut.

“The Christians have always been under attack,” explains Lebanese political analyst Elie Fawaz. “Our numbers used to be much higher throughout the Middle East. We were here centuries before the Muslims, so there used to be many more Christians, until the raids and conversions to Islam.”

In Mt. Lebanon, the country’s Christian heartland, there’s a valley called Wadi Qadisha where the Maronites held off the Mamluk sultans in the 13th century. It was partly geography that ensured the survival of Lebanon’s Christian community. The Mediterranean coast provided access to European powers—the Vatican and France—that have long seen themselves as the protectors of Lebanon’s Christians; and the high mountain passes afforded a vantage point that turned hostile incursions into suicide missions as the Christians picked off intruders one by one. It is no coincidence that Hezbollah has bought and expropriated property in Lebanon’s mountains. There the party can survey not only its Israeli enemy, but its local Christian foes as well, whom Hezbollah and its pro-Syrian allies have targeted in a series of assassinations over the last six years.

“The Maronites are politicized,” says Fawaz. “You cannot compare them to Iraqi Christians.” That is, Lebanon’s Christians are under attack from rivals who wish to take their power, while Iraq’s and Egypt’s besieged Christian sects are powerless to defend themselves against superior numbers, and no one is willing or able to protect them.

Even rhetorical defenses of the Christians are cautious. Pope Benedict, like popes before him, chooses his words carefully when addressing the situation of Middle Eastern Christians, lest they be made to pay for perceived slights. Arab nationalists and Sunni Islamists assume that any discussion of regional minorities—whether Christians, Jews, or even Shia—by outsiders is coded language for a project to colonize the Middle East on behalf of the great powers. To be sure, the French did come to the aid of the Maronites in Lebanon in 1860 to end the war between them, the Druze, and their Ottoman overlords. And after the First World War, France held the mandate for Lebanon and rewarded what was then a Christian majority with a constitution that gave most of the power to the Maronites.

Lebanon’s civil war from 1975 to 1990 was largely a product of shifting demographics and a changing political culture. While the Christian community fought to preserve the state’s territorial integrity and avoid war with Israel, the country’s increasingly numerous Sunnis wanted to attach themselves to the great Arab cause—Palestine—and open the border with Israel to the Palestinian resistance. After the war, the Taif Agreement of 1989 gave more political say to the Sunnis and Shia. It made official what everyone knew: Lebanon’s Christians had lost.

“We don’t want foreign support,” says Habib Efram, by which he means a Western military adventure on behalf of the Christians. “We don’t want the West thinking of Christians as puppets of the West, using us for their agenda. We are from the Middle East and belong here.”

What they want, he says, is something like a Marshall Plan for Middle East Christians—“Some money to build schools and other programs.” “The United States,” he continues, “can also ensure that Christian minorities are fairly represented in their parliaments. The Copts make up 10 percent of Egypt’s population, and yet there are only 2 or 3 elected Coptic representatives and another few named by the government. The Copts should have at least 40 seats out of the 500-seat parliament. In Iraq, even with only 3 percent of the population the Christians should have 14 members of parliament.” Instead, they have only 2.

It is a fantasy of U.S. omnipotence familiar in the region. It would take U.S. troops, of course, to ensure the safety of U.S.-backed programs; nor could a more robust representation of Christians in weak Arab assemblies—even if the United States had a way of bringing it about—prevent the murder of Christians by mobs or terrorists. Efram’s hazy plan seems the wishful thinking of a minority under fire with nowhere to turn.

Efram attributes the rise in anti-Christian violence to the virulent strain of radical Islam that began with the Muslim Brotherhood and now comes in both Sunni and Shia variants. Arab security services fight Islamist groups when it suits regime interests—and it is dangerous for regimes to be perceived as siding with Christians against the Muslim majority. Thus, every day brings a fresh outrage against Egypt’s Copts, while the Cairo government’s notoriously active, and vicious, security services sit idly by. In Iraq, some Christians even long for the reign of Saddam Hussein and his Christian deputy, Tariq Aziz, who protected them.

That notion of “protection” has a particular history. Since the Arab conquests beginning in the mid-seventh century, Christians and Jews under Muslim rule were recognized as “people of the book.” In theory, they were protected minorities, or dhimmi. But they could not enjoy equality with the Muslim, typically Sunni, majority, and the lot of dhimmis varied with the disposition of the rulers. That Saddam, for instance, “protected” Christians to some degree did not ensure that his sons would have done the same.

And as for the glory days of Middle Eastern coexistence that supposedly preceded the rise of the present extremists, the Ottomans’ slaughter of the Armenians and other Christians belies it. As long as believers are without legal rights guaranteed by governments willing and able to enforce them, the Christian presence in the region will be in peril.
Lee Smith is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard

[Job well done, Phillip Saliba (Middle). Your Arab Muslim brothers, whom you have defended and whom you believe have an equal path to God, are winning in the Middle East by persecuting and murdering Christians.  Job well done also to Bishop Antoun (far left) who has refused to denounce Hezbelah in his native Lebanon. The Christian part of the Lebanese government has been pushed out and it looks as if Hezbelah will now take power. Perhaps both of you will share your Muslim brother's eternal destiny. But that is okay, right, since you think they are going to heaven?]

JTO NOTE: As a rule the use of sarcasm does not add to civil discourse, but, in this case, all civility is lost on these two heretic's actions.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Heaven on Earth

Gabriel Appeared

Gabriel stood before thee, O Maiden, 
Revealing the pre-eternal counsel, 
Saluting thee and exclaiming: 

"Rejoice, O earth unsown!
Rejoice, O bush unburnt! 
Rejoice, O depth hard to fathom! 
Rejoice, O bridge leading to the heavens and lofty ladder, which Jacob beheld! 
Rejoice, O divine jar of Manna! 
Rejoice, annulment of the curse! 
Rejoice, restoration of Adam: the Lord is with thee!"

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Apologies For "Slamming"

1. systematic argumentative discourse in defense (as of a doctrine)

2. a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity 

I have been lately accused of "slamming" Baptists. The accusation, delivered by a series of e-mails, came from a person who has taken issue with the fact that I reference Baptists and my Baptist  heritage when discussing the faith. This apparently is such an offense to the person that they have concluded that my conduct is unbecoming of a Christian. They have resorted to sarcasms, name-calling and judgments about by motives and character. I have offered, on two occasions, to speak, in person, with the offended one, but I have been turned down.  The offended one has yet to offer a critique or comment on the issues in the content of my posts. In fact, they made a point of letting me know they do not and would not ever go to the JTO blog, but for the fact that someone alerted them to one of my posts. This prompted the shoot-from-the-hip e-mails.

Make no mistake, I welcome discourse on a private level and provide my e-mail publicly for those who wish to talk privately. I have found, however, that this shoot-the-messenger approach of personal attack, is a common response from those who know little about apologetic discourse. I have even seen this from Orthodox believers who have the misguided view that we are never to say a disparaging word about anything. This view comes from ignorance of the fact that The Faith Of Our Fathers was propagated by apologetic discourse. Saint Paul the Apostle used the term apologia (απολογία), which means "in defense of",  in Acts 26:2, when he told Festas and Aggripa "I make my defense". In this same way, I apologize, as should we all.  A baptist-based university offers this similar definition of "apologetics:

"Christian Apologetics is an essential interdisciplinary field of study that has as its goal the defense of the great truths of the Christian faith. Indeed, the Apostle Peter thought it important enough to exhort all believers to be prepared always to give a defense (apologian) to everyone who asks about the hope that we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15)."

Is engaging in apologetics "slamming"? I can only assume the offended one understands the definition of the word "slam"-to criticize harshly. Given that the word, "harsh", means undue exacting, I would have to ask the offended one to point out what, in the discourse of my posts, has been undue? Defending the faith includes, as a necessary element, the exposing of ideology and doctrines that are foreign to the Faith, and, therefore, foreign to the Church, which was established by Christ and His Apostles. Any validly acquired offense should only be taken as a result of  the dissemination of untruths, not by the act of apologetic discourse. Apologetic criticism is only undue if it is false. Then it is characterized by "not a valid argument" not as "slamming". That I use my personal experience and relationships as a frame of reference for my apologetics is not only not undue, it is necessary.

It is a challenge to communicate with those who are unable or unwilling to have a reasonable discussion of the issues. It is especially challenging to communicate with those who, through insecurity, pride, or other emotional entanglements, resort to personal attacks, innuendos, and false assumptions as this offended one and others have. It is impossible to keep them on the subject. I have discovered a good tool for rooting out those who do not understand apologetic discourse (Please keep this a secret). In my response to them, I refuse to answer any personal accusations or to defend myself, but, rather, I repeatedly state the points of  the issues in question. Eventually they either 1. disappear, never having come to the truth, or they 2. become more aggressive and persistent, hurling new variations of old personal attacks. When the latter occurs, I have to discern when it is time to cut off the lines of fruitless discourse. To do so seems abrupt to the offended one, and they deem such an action as "cutting and running". Some people thrive on argument. They must win. How unfortunate it is when any such one has not learned the art of productive argument. In this case, there can be no winners and I will not provide a forum for such a losing endeavor.

Yes, I do "slam". I duly criticize, the Baptist theology, doctrine, and mindset, being that it is a man-initiated denomination, founded by John Smythe, the "self-baptiser", in the 1600's and looks very little like the Church of our Fathers. Baptists don't even reflect the belief of the tenants of the Lutheran Reformation. Baptists place their faith in the truth of the tenants and doctrines of an English, Anglican Preacher, all the while assuming they are following the Apostolic faith handed down to us. They are not. Why is that important? Because one will never know the fullness of the faith unless he is safe within the gates  where the "pillar and foundation of all truth" resides- the Church, the Orthodox Church, the original Church that has been here for over 2000 years, and for which Christ has promised, "The gates of hell will not prevail against." 

Authentic, respectful, apologetic discourse is what I offer here on Journey to Orthodoxy, but the offended one will not participate. Instead, brief, bullet-bearing e-mails are shot at me accusing me of the very conduct in which they are engaging. I am encouraged, however, that JTO, is visited daily by hundreds from all over the world, and from almost every religious persuasion, who do understand proper Apologetic discourse.

So, herein, I have offered My Apologies For Slamming. Now, you may offer your apology to this apology but, be careful not to say anything for which you may have to apologize.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

One Year Litany For Billy Homer Lewis

Litany of Fervent Supplication for Billy Homer Lewis on the One Year Anniversary of his Death

Have mercy on us, o God, According to they great mercy, we pray Thee, hear us and have mercy.

Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

Again let us pray for the repose of the soul of the departed servant of God, and that he may be pardoned all his sins, voluntary and involuntary. That the Lord will assign his soul to where the Just repose. The mercies of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the forgiveness of his sins, let us ask of Christ, our immortal King and our God.

Grant this o Lord.

Let us pray to the Lord. Lord have mercy.

O God of spirits and of all flesh, Who hast trampled down death, defeated the devil, and given life to Thy world. Give rest, O Lord, to the soul of Billy Homer Lewis, in a place of light, in a place of green pasture, in a place of revival, whence all pain, sorrow and sighing have fled away. Forgive every sin committed by him in thought, word and deed, in Thy goodness and love for men, O God. For there is no one who lives without sinning: Thou alone art without sin, and Thy justice is eternal justice, and Thy Word is Truth. For Thou are the Resurrection, the Life and the Repose of Thy departed servant, O Christ our God, and to Thee we send up glory, with Thy Eternal Father, and Thy all-holy and good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.