Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

29 February 2008

Memory quiz

Do you recall what you were doing a year ago on this date?

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28 February 2008

Orthodox Study Bible, first edition

The first Orthodox Study Bible was published fifteen years ago and included only the New Testament and the Psalms. Though a colourful volume with a number of helpful features, it is not without its flaws as noted in these two reviews by Archimandrite Ephrem and Priest Seraphim Johnson. One assumes these have been addressed and rectified in the new edition, though the editors appear not to have shaken off their fixation with the New King James Version.

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Conflicting narratives

Here are a couple of pointed passages co-written by my friends and colleagues, Al Wolters and Mike Goheen, in the second edition of Creation Regained. Biblical scholars, preachers and others would do well to read it and take it to heart:

To miss the grand narrative of Scripture is a serious matter; it [is] not simply a matter of misinterpreting parts of Scripture. It is a matter of being oblivious to which story is shaping our lives. Some story will shape our lives. When the Bible is broken up into little bits and chunks — theological, devotional, spiritual, moral, or worldview bits and chunks — then these bits can be nicely fitted into the reigning story of our own culture with all its idols! One can be theologically orthodox, devotionally pious, morally upright, or maybe even have one's worldview categories straight, and yet be significantly shaped by the idolatrous Western story. The Bible loses its forceful and formative power by being absorbed into a more encompassing secular story. . . .

[F]aithfulness to the gospel of the kingdom will mean a missionary encounter with the idolatrous powers of our own culture. Loyal allegiance to our kingdom mission will mean a clash of comprehensive stories. The gospel makes an absolute claim on the whole of our lives. The story that shapes our Western culture is likewise a comprehensive story which makes totalitarian claims. There is an incompatibility between the gospel and the story of our culture.

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27 February 2008

An erastian reformation?

Since its establishment in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal "Atatürk," the Republic of Turkey has had two distinctive characteristics: (1) French-style official secularism, and (2) top-down reform instigated by a westernized élite backed by the military. The following story seems to portend an unprecedented radical change in the first approach while definitely maintaining the tradition of the second: Turkey in radical revision of Islamic texts. This sounds rather like a muslim version of the notorious Jesus Seminar applied to the reputed sayings of Muhammad. Sceptics may be forgiven for thinking this could (perhaps literally) blow up in Ankara's face.

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25 February 2008

Good night to knight

Fra Andrew Bertie, Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, Most Humble Guardian of the Poor of Jesus Christ, has died at age 78. The Knights of Malta, or Order of Malta, is nearly a thousand years old and is recognized as a sovereign entity in international law. As such, it enjoys diplomatic relations with a number of mostly, but not exclusively, Catholic states.

Although it is a Catholic order, the Order of Malta recognizes four protestant offshoots, encompassing the Brandenburg Bailiwick of the Knights' Order of the Hospital of St John in Jerusalem (Germany), the Johanniter Orde in Nederland, the Johanniterorden i Sverige (Sweden) and the British Order of St. John. Other claimants to the legacy of the Knights of Malta are regarded as illegitimate.

There is a Cyprus connection to the Knights, who once had their commanderie at Kolossi Castle in Limassol, where they produced the oldest named wine still in existence, Commandaria, a dessert wine for which the island is famous.

James-Charles Noonan, Jr., in The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church, devotes several pages to the Death and Burial of the Grand Master and to the Conclave and Election, which are now taking place at the Order's headquarters in Rome. Here is a brief report from the Catholic News Agency about Bertie and the Order of Malta:

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Warren in the right

Canada's own David Warren can be a bit strident at times. Nevertheless he and I are in agreement on Kosovo.

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Colson on Williams

Chuck Colson, who should know better, is too facilely accepting the scaremongering of the media in his response to the Archbishop of Canterbury: The Archbishop and Sharia: What Empty Churches Are Made of. Colson, or rather his writers, would do well to dig beneath the surface and read Goddard and Chaplin on the subject.

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24 February 2008

New Cyprus president

Today's runoff election is over and the results are in: Communist wins Cyprus presidential vote.
Communist party leader Demetris Christofias won the presidential election in Cyprus on Sunday and immediately pledged to work to reunify the island after 34 years of division. Greek Cypriot parliament speaker Christofias, 61, garnered 53.36 percent of the vote against 46.64 percent for conservative former foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides, according to final results of an election billed by the local media as one of the most crucial in the history of Cyprus.

"Tomorrow is a new day and there will be many difficulties before us, we need to gather our strength to achieve the reunification of our homeland," said Christofias, who is due to be sworn in on Friday. He has pledged to renew contacts with the rival Turkish Cypriots in a bid to end the partition of the strategic eastern Mediterranean island after negotiations stalled under outgoing president Tassos Papadopoulos.

Christofias's victory makes him the European Union's sole communist head of state and makes Cyprus the only European country with a communist president apart from ex-Soviet Moldova — over 16 years after the Soviet Union collapsed.

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23 February 2008

Europe's tinderbox: Kosovo

It is rare that Russian officials show more political sense than their American counterparts, but I agree, for once, with Vladimir Putin, as well as with our own former prime minister Jean Chrétien, as reported here:

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a sharp warning to the West about recognizing Kosovo's independence. He said the decision would have dire consequences.

"In the end, this is a stick with two ends and that other end will come back to knock them on the head someday," he said in a televised statement. "The Kosovo precedent is a terrifying precedent," he added. "It in essence is breaking open the entire system of international relations that have prevailed not just for decades but for centuries."

In Canada, former prime minister Jean Chrétien said Canada should proceed with caution as it decides whether to recognize Kosovo's independence or not. Chrétien, who described the situation as a political powder keg with far-reaching implications, appeared to back the go-slow approach of the Harper government.

"Canada has to be careful because we have people who want to separate from Canada," he said in Ottawa, where he was receiving the Order of Canada.

But in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it was time for Serbs to accept that Kosovo is no longer theirs. She also suggested it was time to drop centuries of grievance and sentimentality in the Balkans.

"We believe that the resolution of Kosovo's status will really, finally, let the Balkans begin to put its terrible history behind it," Rice said Friday. "It's time to move forward."

Needless to say, Rice's statement is naïve in the extreme, amounting to little more than wishful thinking. To expect that Serbs will simply forget their troubled past and give up their own territory because she says so is not a credible policy. In fact, it will only solidify the Serb tendency to focus on past wrongs by adding one more to the litany of grievances. Perhaps it's time for the US to move forward and put aside the notion that it has the authority to act as arbiter over other, much smaller states' territorial integrity.

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21 February 2008

Orthodox Study Bible

Orthodox Study Bible

I am eager to see a copy of this volume, which claims to be the "first ever full-length Orthodox Study Bible in English. . . . It uses the New King James Version of the Bible as the basis for a fresh translation of the Septuagint text" of the Old Testament. Perhaps I have missed it from the website, but is the New Testament an adaptation of the NKJV or is it the NKJV itself? Or something else altogether?

By the way, it is well known that the Septuagint (LXX), the 3rd-century BC Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, assiduously avoids employing the metaphor of rock as a description of God. The biblical scholars I have asked about this tell me there is no general agreement as to why this is. However, when several years ago I asked my father, who was raised Orthodox, he replied, without missing a beat, that it was to avoid associations with the pagans who made idols of stone. Whether or not this is true I cannot say, but it seems to indicate that this view was current amongst Orthodox priests and theologians when he was growing up in Cyprus. I would be interested to know whether others, especially Orthodox believers, have heard this explanation.

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19 February 2008

Adios, Fidel

Fidel Castro, 1960

Castro steps down as Cuba's leader after 49 years. Let's hope and pray this will lead to greater justice in that country.

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A plurality of laws, II

My friend Jonathan Chaplin himself has now weighed in on Rowan Williams' address in an analysis very much worth reading and pondering: Law, Faith and Freedom: a critical appreciation of Archbishop Williams’s lecture. According to Chaplin,

granting ‘legal accommodations’ like this to religious convictions is not at all a breach of the mantra, invoked frequently in responses to the lecture, that there should be ‘one law for all’. That is an affirmation of the principle of equality before the law, and the Archbishop not only affirmed that principle but went further and hinted that it actually had religious origins. Granting legal accommodations to religious conviction is not a departure from the principle of equality before the law, but rather a specification of how it might apply to a diverse citizenry with intensely-held religious loyalties. Legal equality has never meant that every individual must be treated in identical ways by every legal rule, but rather that whatever laws exist should apply to all whom they intend to regulate and that there should be no arbitrary discrimination in the application of the law. The Archbishop himself alludes to this theme in proposing that the point of a regime of universal rights is to ‘underpin’ not to ‘supersede’ our plural identities.

Note further that the principle of equality before the law is not at all compromised by recognising the independent jurisdictions (i.e. spheres of authority) of non-governmental institutions, such as churches, universities, trades unions, etc. Each of these institutions possesses a sphere of internal ‘law-making’ (in the case of bodies like universities and trades unions this is called ‘rule-making’) which is not within the purview of the state. It is an essential feature of a free society that there should be many such self-governing institutions able to resist the tendency of states to exceed their mandate. Of course, the state may and does regulate these institutions where necessary in the public interest but the onus is (or should be) on the state to justify its interventions and not on the institutions themselves to justify their freedom to the state. This is a quite different sense of ‘legal pluralism’ to that mentioned above, and it is not only consistent with the principle of equality before the law but a necessary prop for it. Andrew Goddard is right to observe in the Archbishop’s lecture an ‘anti-statist pluralist social vision’ – one which I think Christians should strongly endorse.

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18 February 2008

Recognizing Kosovo

The US President once again displays his lack of foreign policy acumen with this precipitous action: 'Kosovars are now independent': Bush. The United States may have begun with a unilateral declaration of independence back in 1776, but when faced with its own separatist movement in the form of the Confederate States of America, it changed its tune pretty quickly. Bush might wish to inquire why Spain, Greece, Romania, Cyprus and Slovakia are uneasy over the precedent this recognition of Kosovo might establish elsewhere.

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17 February 2008

Mid-February snippets

  • It's finally happened: Kosovo Declares Its Independence From Serbia. A lot of people will not be pleased over this, especially ethnic Serbs living in the province, but also a number of European Union members with their own separatist movements.

  • Here is very good news indeed: Cyprus vote goes to runoff, Papadopoulos out. Tassos Papadopoulos has obstructed a settlement in the island since attaining the presidency five years ago. I would still prefer Nicos Rolandis in office, but either Kassoulides or Christofias will be an improvement over Papadopoulos.

  • This makes little sense to me: 5 Anglican primates to boycott Lambeth. Ten years ago it became evident that there is a small-o orthodox majority in the Anglican communion. Why boycott the next Lambeth Conference where orthodox provinces would otherwise carry the day once again?

  • This I can understand more easily, given the current confessional disarray in the Anglican Church of Canada: Five Anglican parishes set to separate from Church. Archbishop Fred Hiltz is, of course, appealing selectively to the Windsor Report, thereby demonstrating, once more, that bishops are quite willing to defy any authority except their own.

  • The WRF's Comment runs an interview with a south central Upper Canadian political scientist of minor renown. It might be worth taking a peek at.

  • Tomorrow is the new provincial holiday, Family Day, instituted by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty upon being returned to office last autumn. My wife pointed out to me that it just happens to fall on what in the US is called Presidents' Day. Our holidays tend uncannily to coincide with American ones. Or are we simply copy cats?

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13 February 2008

A plurality of laws

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been under a lot of pressure lately, mostly over his handling of the imminent breakup of the Anglican communion. Most recently, however, he has come under fire for suggesting that the coming of Sharia to the United Kingdom is inevitable. However, the Rev. Dr. Andrew Goddard believes that Rowan Williams' remarks have not only been taken out of context, but reduced to a few controversial sound bytes that do not come close to doing justice to his views: Prudence and Jurisprudence: Reflections on the Archbishop's interview and lecture. Though I have not followed this story closely, I find persuasive Goddard's analysis, in which he even cites my friend and colleague, Jonathan Chaplin, as a "leading evangelical political theorist."

Here in Ontario we had a similar controversy in 2005 when Premier Dalton McGuinty ruled out the use of "faith-based arbitrations," proclaiming that "There will be one law for all Ontarians." Yet this is not an adequate account of the plurality of laws governing our lives in their diverse realms. If a child disobeys her parents, the latter do not call the police in to punish the child under the public law of the state. Rather they themselves mete out an appropriate punishment within the context of the particular norms governing that family itself. Similarly, a faculty member is subject to rules internal to the university, while a church institution is governed by canon law or church order. McGuinty must surely recognize this?

To his credit, Williams appears to understand the reality of multiple and overlapping allegiances in a complex, differentiated society better than many of his compatriots, who are echoing McGuinty's somewhat panicked response of two years ago. I understand, of course, that anything having to do with Islam and Sharia in western societies is a touchy subject these days. Yet the full import of Williams' argument is being lost. Here is Williams:

I think at the moment there's a great deal of confusion about this; a lot of what's been written whether it was about the Catholic church adoptions agencies last year, sometimes what's written about Jewish or Muslim communities; a lot of what's written suggests that the ideal situation is one in which there is one law and only one law for everybody; now that principle that there's one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a Western liberal democracy, but I think it's a misunderstanding to suppose that that means people don't have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and the law needs to take some account of that, so an approach to law which simply said, 'There is one law for everybody and that is all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or your allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts'. I think that's a bit of a danger. . . .

It would be a pity if the immense advances in the recognition of human rights led, because of a misconception about legal universality, to a situation where a person was defined primarily as the possessor of a set of abstract liberties and the law's function was accordingly seen as nothing but the securing of those liberties irrespective of the custom and conscience of those groups which concretely compose a plural modern society.

Of course, there is a difference between what I call the pluriformity of authority and the sort of pluralism rooted in divergent spiritual commitments. Yet these two intersect in so far as one can expect particular religious norms to impact the internal ordering of, say, marriage and family life. To reduce all legality to the public law of the state tends in a totalitarian direction. Fortunately our political leaders, including McGuinty, formulate policies that are better than their expressed commitments might suggest.

While you're reading Goddard's article, you might also read this post by the winsome — and sorely missed — Mr. Brian Dijkema, who alerted me to it.

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10 February 2008

Wright right about last things

The eminent Bishop of Durham, N. T. "Tom" Wright, has just written a new book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, the publication of which provided an occasion for an interview in TIME Magazine, of all places: Christians Wrong About Heaven, Says Bishop. Over against those Christians who speak of their souls "going to heaven" when they die, Wright, by contrast, affirms the biblical emphasis on bodily resurrection in a new heaven and new earth. Here's Wright:

Our culture is very interested in life after death, but the New Testament is much more interested in what I've called the life after life after death — in the ultimate resurrection into the new heavens and the new Earth. Jesus' resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that he will complete upon his return. Part of this will be the resurrection of all the dead, who will "awake," be embodied and participate in the renewal. . . . Never at any point do the Gospels or Paul say Jesus has been raised, therefore we are we are all going to heaven. They all say, Jesus is raised, therefore the new creation has begun, and we have a job to do. . . . In Revelation and Paul's letters we are told that God's people will actually be running the new world on God's behalf. The idea of our participation in the new creation goes back to Genesis, when humans are supposed to be running the Garden and looking after the animals. If you transpose that all the way through, it's a picture like the one that you get at the end of Revelation. . . . God wants you to be a renewed human being helping him to renew his creation, and his resurrection was the opening bell. And when he returns to fulfil the plan, you won't be going up there to him, he'll be coming down here.

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06 February 2008

Choosing a president

Because there is little overlap between my blog readership and my Christian Courier readership, I am taking the liberty of posting below my next column, to appear in the 18 February issue of the latter. This is to follow up yesterday's Super Tuesday elections in the US:

When I was growing up near Chicago, I used to get caught up, along with my fellow citizens, in the excitement of the quadrennial presidential race. The first such campaign I remember was in 1960, when Senator John Kennedy ran against Vice-President Richard Nixon. Although I did not see the first televised presidential debate, Kennedy did score a victory over Nixon by speaking to the American people rather than to his opponent. Thus image seemingly triumphed over substance.

Nearly half a century later, I must admit to finding the entire exercise off-putting. Since the “reforms” of 35 years ago, selection of a presidential candidate no longer belongs to party regulars at the convention, but to the people in the series of state party caucuses and primary elections that are increasingly being pushed to the start of the calendar year. Although this appears to be more democratic, it has actually gone a considerable way towards eroding just governance in the US. Why?

First, it has encouraged Americans to view a prospective president as an heroic, napoleonic figure who will sweep into office and shake things up in the stale corridors of political power. The candidate promises “change” without going into too much detail as to what this implies. Because no one person can ever fulfil such exaggerated expectations, the public quickly sours on him or her, waiting for the next candidate to come along making similar promises.

Yet this scenario fails to do justice to the complexities of a real-life political system, where getting things done demands, not a well-intended Jimmy Stuart going to Washington in the style of a Frank Capra film, but genuine teamwork painstakingly cultivated by a president and like-minded members of Congress for the sake of doing public justice. It would be far better to hear from a candidate, not what she will do as president, as if she had no one else to answer to, but how she and like-minded Senators and Representatives would go about meeting the ordinary challenges of governing a country.

Take the Ron Paul phenomenon as an example. Paul has acquired a small but dedicated following, capturing the imaginations of libertarians favouring a restricted reading of the Constitution. Paul favours eliminating the federal income tax, and opposes US participation in the United Nations and even NATO. He advocates abolition of many federal departments and the Federal Reserve Board, the American counterpart to the Bank of Canada. That these positions are out of the mainstream is beside the point. The fact is that Paul does not command even a modest base of support in Congress and thus has next to no chance of accomplishing his goals even if he should become president. Yet this in no way fazes him or his dedicated supporters.

Second, the current process does little in the way to eliminate candidates who are unqualified for the chief executive office. All that is necessary for a would-be candidate to win his or her party’s nomination is to appeal successfully to as many people in as many states as he can, especially the most populous ones. At present there is no means of filtering out incompetents. A party is obligated to go with a candidate who has cultivated the best image in what is essentially a series of beauty contests.

In 1986, for example, in my home state of Illinois two disciples of the political extremist Lyndon Larouche won the Democratic nomination for two state offices, mostly because their names (Janice Hart and Mark Fairchild) sounded safe. Party officials were powerless to remove them from the ballot. One-time presidential candidate Al Smith was wrong when he said in 1933 that the cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy. Instead, democracy’s flaws must be addressed by recognizing that it cannot be extended limitlessly.

Given what is at stake, the two American political parties would do well to rectify these defects, principally by giving primary elections an advisory status at most and by encouraging aspirants to the presidency to build a strong base of support in Congress.

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05 February 2008

Scorsese does Hitchcock

Anyone who knows Alfred Hitchcock's classic suspense films will love this wonderfully creative film short, The Key to Reserva, directed by Martin Scorsese. The major reference is, of course, to North by Northwest, including the haunting score composed by the great Bernard Herrmann, but see if you can detect allusions to some of Hitch's other films.



David Cornelius has written an illuminating review of this film. Might the Academy Awards have a category for it?

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03 February 2008

Midwinter snippets

  • Some weeks ago, during our family's evening prayer service, we read Luke 4:1-13, about Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. Afterwards our Theresa spoke up, noting that in Luke's account the last two temptations are in a different order than in Matthew's account. I guess nine years old is not too young to discover the Synoptic Problem.

  • Today at evening prayer we continued our lectio continua reading through the gospel of Luke, reading the account of the Transfiguration in chapter 9:28-36. Coincidentally we read of this event in church this morning, as the Transfiguration is traditionally remembered in the western church on the last sunday before Lent.

  • My wife broke her arm two weeks ago in an ice skating accident. Today was the first time all three of us were in church together since then. Her arm is in a sling, though not in a cast. Coincidences seemed to abound today, for as we were singing the final hymn, Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus, we both chuckled when we came to these lines: "The arm of flesh will fail you,/ ye dare not trust your own."

  • This afternoon the three of us watched Disney's High School Musical, mostly of course for Theresa's benefit. After this I am now inspired to write and score my own production, provisionally titled Graduate School Musical. It should be a big hit. In certain crowds, that is.

  • I've recently learnt of a christian university located in, of all places, the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan. The King's College was founded in 1999, reviving an earlier institution located up the Hudson River in Briarcliff Manor prior to 1994. In 2005 a member of the New York State Board of Regents objected to its using Columbia University's original name. However, because Columbia relinquished this name in 1784, I doubt very much that anyone is still around who will confuse the two.

  • Thanks are due to Steve Pypker, Willem de Ruijter and Matthew Vandervecht for digging us out from under the accumulation of friday's snow storm. May God bless them for their kind beneficence.

  • It seems evangelicals are rediscovering monasticism: The unexpected monks. Could this be a case of trying to reinvent the wheel? I think others got there first.

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01 February 2008

Theodorakis' paper kites

This piece has to be my all-time favourite of the large corpus of works by composer Mikis Theodorakis. It's called Χαρταετοί, or Paper Kites, and it is here performed ably by the students of the Mousiko Skholeio Alimou in Greece:

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