Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

30 June 2007

Baptism and the christian life

The sacrament of baptism
Today marks the 50th anniversary of my baptism. Through this sacrament I was received into the body of Christ at Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church, then in Westchester, Illinois, but now located in nearby Indian Head Park.

When I was younger I did not treasure this day as I do now. In fact, in my teens I worshipped, along with my family, in a baptist church that did not recognize the validity of my baptism at all. Nevertheless I have come to follow Calvin in believing that our baptism, far from being diminished or invalidated by our inability to remember it, is a sign of our union with Christ for the whole of life into eternity. This union is effected entirely by the grace of God, which comes to us even before we are aware of it.

As always, the Heidelberg Catechism puts it very nicely indeed:

Q. How does baptism remind you and assure you that Christ's one sacrifice on the cross is for you personally?

A. In this way: Christ instituted this outward washing and with it gave the promise that, as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly his blood and his Spirit wash away my soul's impurity, in other words, all my sins.

Four years ago, at my request, the members of the session of Westminster Church were kind enough to make up and send me a baptismal certificate, based on their minutes from 1957.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).

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29 June 2007

"Craig Vanderveen is home! boo-yah."

With great shock and sadness I post the following announcement from the President of Redeemer University College, Dr. Justin Cooper:

We are saddened by the tragic news of the death of Craig Vanderveen on Thursday evening, June 28. While visiting his family in Manitoba, he and a friend were killed in a car accident while traveling to Winnipeg to see his grandfather. Further details of the funeral and any contact information will be provided when it becomes available. In the meantime, please pray for the Lord's grace and comfort for family and friends, particularly those in the Redeemer community who knew and worked with Craig.

With resurrection hope,
President Cooper

Craig was a double major in political science and business at Redeemer, and he managed to take every course I teach. He was a bright student with a promising future ahead of him. He had planned to graduate in December and thus had one more semester to go. He was president of Student Senate this past year, past managing editor of the Crown, and was involved in a variety of other activities. He was respected by his peers and his professors, and he would have been a strong contender for next year's Faculty Award.

He was working at Redeemer over the summer months. The last time I saw him was around two weeks ago when we passed in the hall. He recently returned to his home province of Manitoba, where last evening's accident occurred. The heading for this post is taken from the last thing he wrote in his facebook profile on sunday.

We will miss you, Craig. We look forward, by God's grace, to seeing you again at the resurrection.

Addendum: Craig's funeral will be 10 am, Wednesday, July 4, at the Carman Canadian Reformed Church, Carman, Manitoba. No visitation is planned.

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28 June 2007

Guid tae see ye

Good news. Wikipædia is now available in the Guid Scots Tongue.

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Another Byzantine-rite Calvinist?

Judging from her comments on the OrthodoxyToday.org Blog, I think "Nancy L" may have fallen under the influence of the 17th-century Ecumenical Patriarch Cyril Lucaris. Moreover, it seems we are both alumni of the same undergraduate institution.

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27 June 2007

Patriarch still 'Ecumenical'?

A few years ago an Ontario provincial court claimed the competence to judge what is and is not Catholic doctrine. Now a top Turkish court has ruled that the Ecumenical Patriarch's use of the title ecumenical has no legal standing. Will the Patriarchate now follow the unwelcome precedent of its Jerusalem counterpart and allow itself to be hamstrung by the country's political rulers? Or will it defy precedent and declare that a government has no jurisdiction over ecclesiastical titles?

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Conservative environmentalists

For some odd reason concern for the environment has come to be associated with those conventionally styled "leftists." Here's evidence that not all professed conservatives are willing to concede such concern to their opponents: Conservative Principles and the Environment. Author John R. E. Bliese writes:

In the often quoted words of Edmund Burke, society is "a partnership between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born." Therefore, we have obligations and duties to future generations. We have no right to trash the earth in an orgy of consumption and leave our children and grandchildren a polluted and depleted planet. The idea of "sustainable development" is a perfectly conservative one. We have a moral obligation to design our economy in such a way that we can produce our goods without reducing the ability of the planet to support future generations.

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Anglican news

Although this story has received the lion's share of the press coverage of the Anglican Church of Canada's General Synod, a more basic problem faces this historic church body: Anglican Church 'fiddling away while Rome is burning'. Though some media reports give the church a membership of 2 million, thus making it one of Canada's largest denominations, the reality on the ground is much different:

In 2005 the Anglican Church of Canada's House of Bishops was handed an internal study that said the church was losing 13,000 members a year, and that membership lists had shrunk by 53 per cent from 1961 to 2001.

Although several million Canadians identify themselves as Anglican on census questionnaires, the number of active Anglicans is far fewer and falling. Between 1961 and 2001, Anglican parish lists plunged from 1.36-million members to 642,000.

What is the cause of this haemorrhaging of the church's lifeblood? If a church has a weak grasp of the saving power of the gospel, people eventually will no longer bother with it. If it can manage only to become "ever more welcoming and inclusive" without calling members to live biblically faithful lives, it should not be surprised if many parishioners find little reason to tear themselves away from their newspapers or golf games on sunday mornings. One is struck by the irony of a church trying to be all things to all people while effectively alienating increasing numbers by failing to make any significant demands on them.

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25 June 2007

The Martyr of Mosul

Three weeks ago yesterday a 35-year-old Chaldean priest, Fr. Ragheed Ganni, was martyred in Mosul, an ancient city with historic christian roots in northern Iraq. Once numbering between 1.5 and 2 million, Iraq's Assyrian Christians have declined dramatically in numbers since 2003 to only around 500,000, most apparently having fled the country. Patrick Buchanan reports on The Martyr of Mosul. Sandro Magister has further details on this young servant of Christ and his courageous dedication to his parishioners: The Last Mass of Father Ragheed, a Martyr of the Chaldean Church.

The notoriously truculent Buchanan draws political implications from this martyrdom, holding responsible "the men who conceived this misbegotten war." Although I am sympathetic with Buchanan's point, I believe that Magister's response of gratitude is more in keeping with that of the historic church for the past two millennia:
Dearest Ragheed, together with a heart which cries in pain, you leave us your hope and your certainty. By taking you, they aimed to wipe out the hope of Iraq’s Christians. Instead, your martyrdom nourishes and gives new life to your community, to the Iraqi Church and the Church throughout the world. Thank you, Ragheed!

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Going fishing

On saturday I joined my good friend Michael Glockner for a fishing excursion to a pond up in Milton. Michael is an avid fisherman, and he was kind enough to provide the gear. This was the first time I had been fishing for probably more than four decades, and I found it quite enjoyable.

David and Michael
Michael and me at the trout pond


I used to go fishing with my father as a boy, but I didn't remember ever having caught any fish, so when I caught one this past weekend, I naturally assumed that it was the first time ever. It wasn't. Talking to my parents later in the day, I learned that my childhood fishing ability was apparently better than my current capacity to remember it. In fact, my dad reminded me that on one occasion I caught three fish. I was so proud of them that I didn't want to eat them. Once they were cooked and on the table for supper that evening, he had to tell me they were market-purchased fish so I wouldn't go hungry. I don't recall this episode myself, but then again I have had a lot on my mind since 1965!

David with his catch of the day
Struggling to hold aloft
my catch of the day


Saturday evening I grilled two rainbow trout on the outdoor grill, and Nancy and Theresa and I had a nourishing picnic dinner. The following day Theresa came up with her own rendition of her daddy's excursion:


Daddy and 'Uncle' Michael fishing for
rainbow trout

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22 June 2007

Song of the Three Youths


I have posted on my Genevan Psalter website my most recent song, a metrical versification of the Song of the Three Youths, variously known also as the Song of the Three Holy Children or simply the Song of the Three. This marvellous hymn of praise is traditionally ascribed to Daniel's three companions from within the fiery furnace after they had been cast there by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. It does not appear in the Hebrew canon, but it is found in the Septuagint and later translations based on it, where it is inserted into the third chapter of Daniel. Though not strictly regarded as canonical by Christians of the Reformation, it has nevertheless found its way into the church's sung canticles, as found in the Book of Common Prayer and the Lutheran liturgy. Both text and tune I wrote earlier this week. The tune I have titled BENEDICITE, after the Latin name for the canticle, Benedicite Omnia Opera.

This morning I was privileged to examine an ancient edition of the Geneva Bible published in England towards the end of the 16th century. Following the text of the Scriptures itself is a section with liturgical resources, in which the Benedicite finds an honoured place. Indeed it deserves to be known and sung widely by all Christians of every tradition.

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City cracks down

A few weeks ago the city of Hamilton placed this sign on the sledding hill down the street from us:

No Tobogganing

As you can see, there has been 100 percent compliance thus far.

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21 June 2007

Victims of Communism

Chuck Colson reports on the dedication of the Victims of Communism Memorial Park in Washington, DC, dedicated to the one-hundred million victims of this failed political illusion: The Utopian Nightmare. Here is a prototype of the statue rising above the park, which is apparently modelled after the goddess of democracy built by the Tiananmen demonstrators in 1989:

Victims of Communism Memorial

To my mind this statue perhaps too closely resembles Vera Mukhina's overwrought monument to socialist realism, Worker and Kolkhoz Woman:

Worker and Kolkhoz Woman

On the other hand, I am inclined to think that the monument unveiled in Prague five years ago to commemorate communism's victims is more appropriate, evoking the sheer terror of the régimes it spawned. Click on the photo below, look at it carefully and see what you think:

Monument to victims of communism, Prague

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20 June 2007

Free Aghia Sophia

Αγία Σοφία
This remarkable report comes from Greek News:

Athens - A nascent international initiative to restore the Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul as a place of worship for all the world's Christians was outlined here on Thursday by veteran Greek-American political leader Chris Spirou, less than a week before a public hearing is scheduled on the religious monument's condition at the US Congress.

Spirou, a noted New Hampshire Democratic leader and long-time activist for Greek national issues in the United States, said the organisation he heads up (Free Agia Sophia Council of America) will present evidence showing the "violation" of Eastern Orthodoxy's most renowned basilica over the past 554 years. . . .

The hearing, to be held by the joint Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC), marks the first time that Congress will hear testimony on the situation concerning Hagia Sophia.

What are the chances of Turkey taking action on this issue? Slightly worse, I would judge, than the chances of the proverbial snowball in the infernal regions. Spirou's efforts might be put to better use if he were to focus instead on persuading Ankara to permit the reopening of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Theological School of Halki, the success of which is considerably more likely.

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19 June 2007

Seeking unity

Could the head of the Church of Cyprus help to bring reconciliation between the Papacy and the Moscow Patriarchate? His Beatitude, Archbishop Chrysostomos II of New Justiniana and All Cyprus thinks so and has offered his services in a visit to Rome last saturday.

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16 June 2007

Praying through the psalms: translations

In recent days I've been reading through Miles Coverdale's translations of the Psalms according to the schedule prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. I am just old enough to have grown up with the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, so the Elizabethan English is not altogether foreign to me. When I do run into something incomprehensible, I am sufficiently familiar with the psalms to know what is being said in most cases. From a literary standpoint, Coverdale's translations seem somewhat less polished than the KJV's, including such redundant constructions as "Most Highest," which would be regarded as grammatically incorrect nowadays.

We English-speakers are, of course, blessed — or perhaps cursed? — with a plethora of translations of the Bible. The downside to this is that, lacking a standard translation comparable to the old KJV, scripture memorization has taken a beating over the past generation or two. The advantage is that reading different translations of the same passage can give one an insight into its meaning. However, what do we do when two translations obviously conflict? Here's Psalm 7:4-5 from the Revised Standard Version:

if I have requited my friend with evil or plundered my enemy without cause,
let the enemy pursue me and overtake me. . . .

Here, however, is the same passage from the New Jerusalem Bible:

if I have repaid my ally with treachery or spared one who attacked me unprovoked,
may an enemy hunt me down and catch me

Nearly every other English translation follows the RSV's interpretation, but the NJB footnote says this:

The text must not be watered down as in the versions. . . ; the morality of the Gospel is yet to come.

Someone versed in Hebrew would be better able than I to determine which is the correct rendition.

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All in the family

Blood is thicker than water — even for plants, who, it seems, may fall prey to aphids, but not to sibling rivalry.

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10 June 2007

More Greek dancing

Riverdance has nothing on these young men performing the Cretan pentozali and thereby demonstrating that, if sport builds camaraderie in North America, dancing does so amongst the Greeks:



Bravo, λεβέντες μου! And here is that famous scene from the 1964 film, Alexis Zorbas, or Zorba the Greek, in which Anthony Quinn teaches Alan Bates to dance the hasaposerviko to Mikis Theodorakis' electrifying music. As a child, I must have heard this, including the dialogue at the beginning, countless times on our family's LP soundtrack of the film.



This afternoon Theresa and I were dancing and, after watching the above footage a few times, she did a pretty good approximation of Zorba's dance. Opaaa!

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08 June 2007

Power intrinsically corrupt?

Lord Acton famously wrote that "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," a statement frequently quoted and all too often accepted at face value. I like Mark Earley's clarification:

But remember this: power corrupts, but power itself is not necessarily corrupt. God has given power to the state to be used to restrain evil and maintain order. It is the use of power, whether for personal gain or for the state’s ordained function, that is really at issue.

I would expand on this, because it has relevance beyond political life. All of us, as God's image-bearers, are gifted with various capacities (i.e., power) enabling us to fulfil the responsibilities of the authoritative offices in which God has placed us. These capacities are not in themselves corrupting. However, like everything else in God's good creation, they are capable of being misused by sinful human beings. It's not the power as such that corrupts; it's our own rebellious nature that does so. Acton's saying might be closer to the truth if turned around: Human sin corrupts the otherwise legitimate use of power.

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Pontic music

Three years ago I wrote of The fate of the Pontic Greeks, that is, those Greek Orthodox Christians who inhabited the southern shores of the Black Sea for nearly 2 thousand years prior to their treaty-mandated expulsion after 1923. Although I grew up hearing and singing Greek music, especially δημοτικά τραγούδια (folk songs) familiar to generations, it was less than a decade ago that I encountered the distinctive Pontic Greek music via this page maintained by Leigh Cline of Toronto.

As a child I learned to dance the καλαματιανό (kalamatiano), with its distinctive 7/8 time signature. Typical examples follow immediately below:


These are familiar to anyone attending one of the numerous Greek Orthodox church festivals held throughout North America during the summer months. However, one is less likely to see something like this at one of those festivals:


The music of the Pontic region boasts such distinctive instruments as the 3-stringed kemenche, played much like a western viol. It has a close relationship to the music of the surrounding cultures, especially that of the Caucasus, Iran and central Asia, and it may even have ancient Celtic roots. The Pontic Greeks are one of any number of displaced communities around the world who have brought their culture, including their music, with them in an attempt to maintain their distinctiveness in exile.

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06 June 2007

Amazing likeness



Theresa D. C. Koyzis


Proof positive that children tend to idealize their parents.

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05 June 2007

Lukashenka lauded

The man known as Europe's last dictator is being honoured by the Orthodox Church with its highest award for laymen, the Order of St. Grand Prince Vladimir Equal-to-Apostles. This is the second such ecclesiastical award conferred upon the saintly Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the President of Belarus. Why this award now? It seems Lukashenka has made a "considerable contribution" to the development of interchurch and interstate relations. Might this include a certain charism for quashing domestic political opposition and antagonizing neighbours?

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04 June 2007

Anglican identity

The bishops of the Church of England are making a long overdue proposal to secure for itself and for the other churches in communion with it a stronger confessional identity: Anglican 'rule book' proposed. At first glance it sounds good, but the old cliché about closing the barn door after the horses have left would seem to have some relevance here. My question is this: Why not simply reaffirm the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion?

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Putin speaks

This interview with President Vladimir Putin is must reading for anyone with an interest in the politics of the Russian Federation and its relations with its foreign "partners." It will also likely be required reading for my students in POL 265 this autumn. An excerpt:

Of course, I am a pure and absolute democrat. But you know what the problem is? Not the problem, a tragedy, a real tragedy. The tragedy is that I am alone. I am the only such pure democrat. There are no such other democrats in the world. . . . After the death of Mahatma Ghandi, I have nobody to talk to.

Well, that is reassuring. It seems I've been too hasty in labelling poor Volodya "Stalin Lite."

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Preparing for leadership

The Work Research Foundation's Comment is beginning its second annual series aimed at university-bound young people with an article by yours truly, titled: Making the most of college: Preparing for leadership. A brief selection:

If you are at a university where the larger questions of right and justice are posed, and where discussion of them is encouraged, throw yourself into the dialogue. Ask your own questions and consider thoughtfully the questions of others. Be daring and don't be afraid to put forward your own ideas. That's what you're there for. From my own time at Redeemer, I've discovered that a Christian university can provide an especially fertile ground for nurturing such discussions. This is because students are often given the tools to see through reductionist explanations — say, Marxism, Freudianism and Darwinism — for the complex phenomena of God's world. But it may also be that Christians are more aware than others of participating in an ancient tradition of reflection and a larger conversation that started long before they were born and will continue long after they are gone.

On the other hand, if you are at a university where the study of politics is narrowed to what can be addressed by the scientific method, then discussion of the larger questions is not likely to be encouraged. In fact, it might be actively discouraged, and you may find yourself being advised to switch to the study of philosophy or religion rather than politics. If this is your situation, it will be up to you to round up like-minded fellow students and to jump start the conversation with them on your own time. I know from personal experience that sometimes meeting regularly with an extracurricular discussion group, especially when accompanied by a shared meal, can be more life-changing than the formal courses offered by the university.

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