Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

27 December 2007

St. Stephen the Protomartyr
St. Stephen the Protomartyr

Today is the feast of St. Stephen the Protomartyr in the eastern church. The western churches celebrated his feast day yesterday. His story is told in Acts 6-8:1. One element of this episode has always puzzled me. Verses 2-4 of Acts 7 tells us:

And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty."

However, there is no further mention of Stephen "serving tables." In fact, "Stephen, full of grace and power, [performed] great wonders and signs among the people" and spoke to the people with wisdom through the Holy Spirit (7:8,10). It is highly unlikely that Stephen would have been stoned to death if he had stuck to his original job description. The Spirit seems to have had other plans for him.

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The future of Pakistan

Benazir Bhutto killed in attack. Perhaps it's time to admit that the 60-year-old partition of India has been unsuccessful and that Pakistan is a failed, dysfunctional state. Anyone for reviving the concept of the United Nations Trust Territory?

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25 December 2007

The nativity of our Lord


The nativity of our Lord

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23 December 2007

Vlad the Emperor

The saga of Vladimir Putin continues, with what may be an attempt either to restore St. Petersburg to its former imperial glory or to gain control over the decisions of the Constitutional Court: Putin moves Russia's highest court to home town. After next May our maps and globes could well record that Russia now has two capital cities.

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20 December 2007

The Jerusalem Patriarchate: the drama continues

It seems we assumed too quickly that the status of Theophilos as Patriarch of Jerusalem had been definitively settled. A new difficulty has now arisen: Court freezes recognition of Greek Patriarch. If the achilles' heel of Anglicanism has long been its establishmentarian tendency to affirm the spiritual direction of the larger society, that of Orthodoxy is its historic proclivity for too easily accepting government interference in what should be internal ecclesiastical affairs. Orthodox leaders, including the beleaguered Ecumenical Patriarch whose very title Turkey is attempting to extinguish, would do well to read Abraham Kuyper and his followers on what the Dutch call soevereiniteit in eigen kring (sovereignty in its own sphere) and I myself label the pluriformity of authority. It might not keep governments out of their affairs, but it would give them a weapon with which to fight back.

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Man of the year


TIME has made its selection this year: Vladimir Putin! Russians are not surprised, but not everyone agrees with the choice: Putin: Odd Choice as Person of the Year. David Stokes goes so far as to analyze Putin's leadership in light of Jesus' counter-emphasis on servanthood: Gore, Putin... and Jesus. Stokes notes that TIME has also picked Hitler, Stalin and Ayatollah Khomeini as men of the year. Whether Putin deserves to be in such august company remains to be seen.

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Russian Ark

I hope to see this cinematic marvel one day soon:

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19 December 2007

Cooper in The Spec

Dr. Justin Cooper, President of Redeemer University College, is interviewed in The Hamilton Spectator today: What should Hamilton aspire to be?

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Dismembering Serbia, again

Like Canada, Cyprus too is opposed to the West's plans for this Balkan province: Cyprus will not consent to Kosovo's secession. With some justification, the island nation fears that it could suffer the same fate as Serbia.

In the meantime, the Russian news service Interfax keeps tabs on the destruction of Orthodox churches in Kosovo, the traditional heartland of Serbia: The Kosovo Tragedy.

While we're at it, could this mark the beginning of another European Union: Alexy II urges Orthodox [governments] to develop relations based on common spiritual tradition.

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18 December 2007

Patriarch at last

This story is a bit late in coming: Two years later, Israel confirms appointment of Greek Orthodox Patriarch:

Theofilos petitioned Israel's Supreme Court to get the state to recognize him, since under church rules he must be approved by all governments in the areas where his flock lives — Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. The latter two immediately approved, but Israel deferred, awaiting word from a committee it established to examine the appointment.

I've said it before, but perhaps it's finally time to change these "church rules" so that the church will no longer be held hostage by the capricious governments of the region.

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The play continues

The actors and the scriptwriter alike are following their cues precisely: Putin Will Be Medvedev's Premier. Thus far the plot lacks suspense. By now the audience must be dozing.

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17 December 2007

Thomas Torrance (1913-2007)

Tributes are pouring in for one of the 20th century's great theologians: A tribute to Thomas Torrance, By Gerrit Dawson; Presbyterians Pro-Life honors Thomas F. Torrance. Here is more about his life and work from The Telegraph: The Very Rev Professor Thomas Torrance.

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Dismembering Serbia

Despite western pressure on Serbia to accept an independent Kosovo, Canada is not enthusiastic about the precedent it would set: Kosovo independence could encourage Quebec separatists. Serbia itself is rejecting a European Union offer to fast-track its membership in the organization in exchange for Kosovo. Perhaps Serbia needs its own Clarity Act.

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15 December 2007

Urban planning: lessons from Thailand

Might this marketplace in Bangkok offer a good example of multiple-use zoning?

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12 December 2007

Peculiar 'penalty' no penalty at all

This item caught my eye: Chilean judge sentences Catholic priest to recite psalms for traffic violation. "A judge in southern Chile has sentenced a Catholic priest to recite seven psalms daily for three months as punishment for illegal parking." I'm sorry, but this is no punishment. Indeed it amounts to a "lite" version of the Liturgy of the Hours, which has been practised in the monasteries for the better part of two millennia. Many nonmonastic priests observe this anyway. By God's grace, it's just possible that, at the end of the three months, he will decide to continue a discipline that will have become part of him.

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11 December 2007

O Canada, eh?

Today may be Canada's real independence day: The Statute of Westminster, 1931.

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Putin's next moves

It's all falling into place: Putin Names A Successor: 42-year-old Dmitri Medvedev, who appears to be doing as he was told in this speech:

In order to stay on this path, it is not enough to elect a new president who shares this ideology. It is not less important to maintain the efficiency of the team formed by the incumbent president. That is why I find it extremely important for our country to keep Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin at the most important position in the executive power, at the post of the chairman of the government.

He led the list of the biggest party, United Russia, which won an impressive victory at the elections to the State Duma and only with this composition, will the new legislative and executive power be able to work efficiently.

Expressing preparedness to run for the post of president of Russia, I appeal to him with a request to give a principled consent to head the government of Russia after the election of a new president of our country.

President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. Soon the only title Putin will not have worn is that of tsar.

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08 December 2007

R.I.P. ECUSA

Now it's our southern neighbours' turn: U.S. diocese votes to secede from Episcopal Church.

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Putin's Belarus

Hard on the heels of last sunday's election comes this report: A union between Russia and Belarus in works? Thus far Moscow is denying such rumours as "speculative fantasies." Poland cannot be happy at the thought of Russia expanding to its own eastern boundary, but it seems to have its own weapons to aim at Aleksandr Lukashenka's autocratic fiefdom: Poland to begin news, cultural TV broadcasts to Belarus in attempt to bolster democracy. Perhaps it's time for Warsaw to direct its efforts towards Russia itself.

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07 December 2007

Putin's Russia

Here are two somewhat contrasting views of Russia under Vladimir Putin after an election many observers are calling the least fair of the post-soviet era. First, Amy Knight writing for The Globe and Mail: Amy Knight on Putin, Russia's democratic future. Here is Prof. Knight:

The election, on the surface, affirms the idea that most people in Russia believe that Mr. Putin is doing a good job. His consistently high ratings in opinion polls (over 70 per cent) add to this impression. But it is important to remember that Russian people are not presented with a full and objective picture, because of the Kremlin's control of the media. Mr. Putin is virtually the only political figure with name recognition in Russia. He gets personal credit for everything, while the continuous stream of sycophantic praise for him on state television is drummed into the minds of the Russian populace. As for Washington trying to undermine Mr. Putin, I am not sure that this is the case. If anything, the Bush Administration has been bending over backwards (too far, in my opinion) to embrace Mr. Putin as a credible leader, with whom the West can do business.

But Mortimer Zuckerman, writing in US News and World Report, has a contrasting view: Has Russia Left the West? Here's Zuckerman:

The Russians' perspective is based on the following: They closed military bases in Vietnam and Cuba; they accepted America's unilateral exit from the antiballistic missile treaty; they cooperated in the war on terrorism; they acquiesced in NATO expansion into the Baltic States, as well as the use of military bases in Uzbekistan, Kirgizstan, and Tajikistan. And what did they get? Certainly not an understanding of Russia's special role in the post-Soviet territories, where some 25 million ethnic Russians live outside Russia. Instead, they had to cope with abrupt acceptance into NATO of the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and our recent support for admission of Ukraine and Georgia. As they see it, "democracy" is being used to expand American interests, to embarrass and isolate Putin and undermine Russia's influence through the counterrevolutions described as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia. Ukraine is a specific hot spot since it is a neighboring state that joined the Russian Empire in the 17th century and has a large Russian population. These challenges to Russia in an area so central to its national identity were barely discussed in the West.

Russia also resented NATO when it went to war against Serbia over Russian objections and without the approval of the United Nations Security Council. And when Russia proposed joining NATO, it was rejected. That was not all. Instead of helping Russia's integration into the world economy, the United States turned out to be a major roadblock to Russia's membership in the World Trade Organization. And we have allowed our own laws to be violated in a manner insulting to Russia. The Jackson-Vanik amendment was passed to penalize and constrain trade with countries that restrict emigration. Russia responded positively by removing all restrictions. It was found to be in formal compliance with the immigration provisions of Jackson-Vanik. But it made no difference. The old resolution is still applied because of senatorial pressure, indeed because of a single senator.

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05 December 2007

To be a gentleman

Although I was taught by my parents to be a gentleman, by the time I reached adolescence the leading cultural indicators appeared to regard the entire notion as sexist or patriarchal. Yet Judi Vankevich, aka The Manners Lady, disagrees: “Gentlemen”: An Endangered Species? She has put forward ten principles for raising a gentleman. Some might argue that discarding such quaint practices as holding a door open for a lady has exacerbated such ills as date rape and violence against women. Others would likely hold that it has led to greater equality between men and women. Are these sorts of courtesies obsolete or do they make for better relations between the sexes as well as between young and old?

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Drought ended?

It seems that the prayers of many have been answered: Rain in Cyprus at last! Let's pray that it continues.

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04 December 2007

Save the earth: protect marriage

The Green Party now has good reason to combat no-fault divorce laws: Divorce hurts the planet too.

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03 December 2007

Putin wins big

There were no surprises in yesterday's parliamentary elections in Russia, with Putin's United Russia winning 315 out of 450 seats in the State Duma. Nevertheless, the opposition parties are crying foul. Presidential aspirant and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov has gone so far as to call the contest a struggle against tyranny, recounting his own experience in a Moscow jail. How are the Russian people taking this apparent return to Soviet-era tactics? Pre-election opinion polls gave little cause for optimism, according to this National Post article: "Public opinion polls show Mr. Putin enjoys an 84% approval rating and almost 50% of voters say they wouldn't mind if he became president for life." The lesson? Old habits die hard, and political cultures do not change overnight. Indeed it may take centuries.

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02 December 2007

Spe salvi

Pope Benedict XVI has just published the second encyclical of his pontificate, Spe salvi, "on christian hope." His first encyclical, Deus Caritas est, "on christian love," was published two years ago. One assumes that his next encyclical will come out in another two years and will be subtitled "on christian faith," to complete what appears to be a series on the three so-called theological virtues.

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01 December 2007

Judas no hero after all

It seems that revered institution, the National Geographic Society, mistranslated key words in the Gospel of Judas, according to this New York Times report by April D. DeConick: Gospel Truth. (Hat tip: Alan Jacobs)

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A question of authority

The new Primate of the Anglican Church in Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, has ordered this pastoral letter to be read in all ACC parishes tomorrow. This is in response to efforts of conservative Anglicans to set up a parallel jurisdiction under the Province of the Southern Cone. Thus saith the epistle:

The actions by the Primate of the Southern Cone are also inappropriate. They contravene ancient canons of the Church going as far back as the 4th century, as well as statements of the Lambeth Conference, the Windsor report and the Communiqué from the Primates' Meeting earlier this year. Furthermore these actions violate Canon XVII of the Anglican Church of Canada which states that “No Bishop priest or deacon shall exercise ordained ministry in a diocese without the license or temporary permission of the Diocesan Bishop.”

However, as this National Post article reports, the Canadian bishops are appealing to the canons selectively, choosing to ignore their own deliberate defiance of sections 143-144 of the Windsor Report and thus the rest of the Anglican Communion. As Mark Larratt-Smith wrote nearly two years ago, "Something is terribly wrong in a church where all that our bishops seem to be able to do is mutter about insubordination to their episcopal authority — at the same time as they themselves are rejecting the authority and witness of the worldwide Anglican church."

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Proportional representation?

Writing for the Financial Post, Lawrence Solomon appears to be confused: Tories deny Ontario democracy. He begins with this:

Canada needs electoral reform to bring in proportional representation. It is unconscionable that in a modern democracy such as ours, vast swathes of the electorate should be effectively disenfranchised by a voting system that is essentially corrupt, disproportionately weighted to favour some segments of the electorate to the misfortune of others.

So far so good. Or at least it seems so on the surface. He properly draws attention to a federal bill that would shortchange Ontario voters by eroding the principle of one-person one-vote. But towards the end of his piece he unexpectedly derides any measure that would actually do something to enfranchise "vast swathes of the electorate" and to keep millions of votes from being wasted at election time, namely, some form of proportional representation!

No, Mr. Solomon, Fair Vote Canada has not "appropriated" this term for its own purposes. Proportional representation is a well-known term and accurately describes the several electoral systems used in most of the world's constitutional democracies. What you are addressing is representation by population, or rep-by-pop, which is a related issue but certainly not the same thing.

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An unexpected finding

The ETTimes reports: Researcher claims to have found missing dark matter. Well, that is a surprise. If I had known Mashchenko and his associates were looking for it, I would have suggested they begin in our basement, which desperately needs tidying. Whether their findings might shed light on those odd socks that have gone missing from our dryer over the years is hard to say. Does NSERC fund this sort of research?

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