Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

27 December 2010

O Magnum Mysterium

The best-known version of this ancient Christmas matins hymn may be that of Tomas Luis de Victoria, but American composer Morten Johannes Lauridsen's lovely setting movingly conveys the spirit of the text:



O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
Alleluia!

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25 December 2010

Christ is born


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07 December 2010

Kalinine exhibit


On sunday afternoon our family drove down to St. James Church in nearby Dundas to attend the opening of an exhibit by local Hamilton artist Guennadi Kalinine, a trained iconographer, painter and restorer of art. As Kalinine himself was present, I was able to converse with him about his approach to iconography in particular. As is typical, his own painted icons bear no signature, as they simply replicate much earlier works and are governed by the strict canons of Orthodox Christianity. There is no effort to express one's individuality. Kalinine told me he is often asked whether a particular icon is his own. He responds that it is not; it comes from, say, the 12th century. He is then asked whether he painted it. Yes, he replies, but it is not his own. When a musician plays a piece by Bach, he would never think of claiming it as his own; it remains Bach's. So it is with icons. Such an attitude is foreign to westerners.

We especially enjoyed Kalinine's efforts to incorporate traditional iconic images into his landscapes, which do bear his signature. Websters Falls is one of the more famous scenic locations in Hamilton. Kalinine managed to place an angel at Websters Falls in one of his "Fantazy" paintings.

The exhibit runs through 7 January 2011, which coincides with Christmas in the Julian calendar followed by the Orthodox Church. Definitely worth a visit.

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02 December 2010

December snippets

  • The December issue of National Geographic Magazine carries an article, Kings of Controversy, exploring the debate over whether a united Israelite kingdom under David and Solomon ever existed or whether an overly fertile Hebrew imagination created these iconic figures — perhaps out of thin air or by elevating two tribal chieftains to their current mythical status. The debate pits biblical minimalists against those who assume that the Bible is a genuine record of events that actually occurred.

  • I have recently acquired an old copy of William Jennings Bryan's In His Image, published in 1922 from the James Sprunt Lectures the author delivered at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia. Bryan, who lived from 1860 to 1925, ran three times for the US presidency for the People's and Democratic Parties and served as President Woodrow Wilson's first Secretary of State. Both Bryan and Wilson were devout Reformed Christians with a vision for living out the kingdom of God in the political realm — comparable in many respects to Abraham Kuyper in the Netherlands. Bryan would come to be associated with the fundamentalist movement within the northern Presbyterian Church and gained notoriety for his testimony in the so-called Scopes "Monkey" Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, only days before his death. This book, published three years earlier, contains Bryan's reflections on human origins. I look forward to reading In His Image, which also has some relevance to my current book project on authority and the imago Dei.

  • Fundamentalists have a bad name nowadays, partly through association with radical islamist groups who have been thus labelled. However, the original fundamentalist movement started in the first years of the last century as an effort by confessional Presbyterians to combat the influence of liberalism in that denomination. Last year was the hundredth anniversary of the publication of The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. Far from being narrow-minded and obscurantist, the authors of the essays making up this collection were Presbyterians, Anglicans, Methodists and others with solid academic credentials and teaching at such institutions as Wycliffe and Knox Colleges (Toronto), Oberlin (Ohio), and Princeton and McCormick Seminaries. The church in which I grew up, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, had its origins in the Presbyterian controversies of the 1920s and '30s.

  • The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) is currently on a campaign to blacklist faith-based universities on the grounds that they deny academic freedom to their faculty. Peter Stockland takes them on here: 'Academic freedom' turns to religious persecution. CAUT's approach to academic freedom is narrowly individualistic and is based on the epistemologically naïve assumption that knowledge can best be attained apart from one's basic worldview orientation. One notes that CAUT's bylaws prescribe as one of the organization's core functions "the defence of academic freedom, tenure, equality and human rights." One notes further that the CAUT Council may "suspend or terminate the membership of an Organizational Member or individual Associate Member of the Association" due to the latter's "adoption of a constitution or of local practices or actions which in the judgment of Council are contrary to those of the Association." Would this include disagreement with CAUT's interpretation of "academic freedom, tenure, equality and human rights"? CAUT is obviously devoted to a particular vision of life embodied in its bylaws. And how exactly does this differ from a university having a faith-based vision statement? It seems CAUT follows its own form of fundamentalism.

  • I have called attention before to the valuable work of my friend Stanley Carlson-Thies and his Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance. We were privileged to have him speak here at Redeemer University College in October on the subject. His speech has now been posted at the Cardus website: Liberty or Liability: The Future of Institutional Religious Freedom.

  • I have just received a pdf file of an Afrikaans-language metrical psalter from one Josef du Toit, who incidentally shares the surname of the famous South African poet Jakob Daniël du Toit, better known as Totius. Read more here.

  • In some fields, including archeology and biblical studies, it is common practice to add CE or BCE to the end of dates, as in 1453 CE or 587 BCE. We saw this on historical markers during our travels in Israel and the Occupied Territories 15 years ago. These initials stand for Common Era and Before the Common Era respectively and stand in for AD (Anno Domini) and BC (Before Christ). The theory behind this usage is that it removes the references to Christ and Lord, thereby making them more acceptable to adherents of other religions. However well-intended this effort at inclusivity may be, I do not find it altogether persuasive. According to the muslim calendar the year 1432 begins in five days. By islamic reckoning we are living in the 15th century after Muhammad's migration from Mecca to Medina. Under the jewish calendar today is the 25th day of Kislev, 5771, that is, 5,771 years following the creation of the world. Despite the best efforts of some to hide the christian belief that the coming of Christ into the world is the turning point in human history, the mere fact that the common era begins when it does is powerful testimony to the centrality of Jesus Christ, even to those who do not acknowledge him.

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