30 November 2007

St. Andrew

There are any number of nations that count St. Andrew the Apostle, Jesus' first disciple and brother of Simon Peter, as their patron, and many of these have a tradition that he visited them during his missionary journeys. Now writer George Alexandrou believes he can reconcile these disparate traditions and is persuaded that St. Andrew travelled very far indeed during his long lifetime, as reported in the Orthodox journal Road to Emmaus: The Astonishing Missionary Journeys of the Apostle Andrew. Here at least is one apostle who took seriously the gospel mandate to spread the good news of the kingdom to the ends of the earth. One hopes that Alexandrou's book, He Raised the Cross on the Ice, will one day be translated from Greek into English.

28 November 2007

Latest news

From Australia: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is requiring the members of his parliamentary caucus to visit homeless shelters in or near their constituencies. One assumes this follows from his Christian belief in the obligation to care for the poor.

From Cyprus: The island nation is suffering through a severe drought. The Church of Cyprus is ordering its priests to pray for rain.

From Ontario: Could it be that the United Church has really run afoul of political correctness? It seems so: LUV UR PL8? 2BAD4U, cleric told. (Hat tip: Jonathan Weverink)

From Russia: Reuters carries three "FACTBOX" articles about sunday's parliamentary elections in the Russian Federation: Key facts about Russia parliamentary election, New rules for Russia's parliamentary election, and The runners in Russia's parliamentary vote.

25 November 2007

Rudd on Christianity and politics

Australia's new Labor prime minister, Kevin Rudd, is a serious Catholic who appears to be conversant with his church's social teachings. His address on Christianity and Politics, delivered two years ago at New College, University of New South Wales, indicates that he is grappling with issues of faith and justice — at least in the area of labour relations. Rudd's article last year in The Monthly, Faith in Politics, caught the attention of the press, leading to what one observer called an unholy row. If there are any Australians reading this post, I'd love to get your views on Rudd's premiership in the comments below.

24 November 2007

And now from down under. . .

John Howard is out. Kevin Rudd is in.

23 November 2007

Why I'm glad I'm not in the States today

This is a good reason to stay home the day after the American Thanksgiving holiday: Shoppers Rush Texas Mall.

The much anticipated split in the Anglican Church of Canada has now come: Anglican Church offshoot launched. The most recent precipitating act came on saturday at the synod of the Diocese of Niagara: Diocese of Niagara “walks apart” from Anglican Communion. The "new" continuing body will come under the episcopal oversight of Archbishop Gregory Venables and the Province of the Southern Cone. The Diocese of Sydney and the Province of the Indian Ocean have expressed support for this effort. It is unclear whether the ACC, the Episcopal Church and the new North American Anglican province can all remain within the Anglican communion. It seems likely that the Archbishop of Canterbury, presiding as he does over one of the fading provinces of the communion, will not be the one to make this judgement.

22 November 2007

The decline of Psalms in the liturgy

This is a sad account of the decline of Psalms in the western liturgy taken from the 1913 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia under the entry for "Gradual". I have taken the liberty of breaking it up into paragraphs and deleting the source citations for easier reading.

Gradual, in English often called Grail, is the oldest and most important of the four chants that make up the choir's part of the Proper of the Mass. Whereas the three others (Introit, Offertory, and Communion) were introduced later, [to] fill up the time while something was being done, the Gradual (with its supplement, the Tract or Alleluia) represents the singing of psalms alternating with readings from the Bible, a custom that is as old as these readings themselves. Like them, the psalms at this place are an inheritance from the service of the Synagogue. Copied from that service, alternate readings and psalms filled up a great part of the first half of the Liturgy in every part of the Christian world from the beginning.

Originally whole psalms were sung. In the "Apostolic Constitutions" they are chanted after the lessons from the Old Testament: "The readings by the two (lectors) being finished, let another one sing the hymns of David and the people sing the last words after him." This use of whole psalms went on till the fifth century. St. Augustine says: "We have heard first the lesson from the Apostle. Then we sang a psalm. After that the lesson of the gospel showed us the ten lepers healed."

These psalms were an essential part of the Liturgy, quite as much as the lessons. "They are sung for their own sake; meanwhile the celebrants and assistants have nothing to do but to listen to them." They were sung in the form of a psalmus responsorius, that is to say, the whole text was chanted by one person — a reader appointed for this purpose. (For some time before St. Gregory I, to sing these psalms was a privilege of deacons at Rome. It was suppressed by him in 595.) The people answered each clause or verse by some acclamation. In the "Apostolic Constitutions" they repeat his last modulations.

Another way was to sing some ejaculation each time. An obvious model of this was Ps. cxxxv [Hebrew: 136] with its refrain: "quoniam in æternum misericordia eius" ["for his mercy endures for ever"]; from which we conclude that the Jews too knew the principle of the responsory psalm. . . . It appears that originally, while the number of biblical lessons was still indefinite, one psalm was sung after each.

When three lessons became the normal custom (a Prophecy, Epistle, and Gospel) they were separated by two psalms. During the fifth century the lessons at Rome were reduced to two; but the psalms still remain two, although both are now joined together between the Epistle and Gospel, as we shall see. Meanwhile, as in the case of many parts of the Liturgy, the psalms were curtailed, till only fragments of them were left. This process, applied to the first of the two, produced our Gradual; the second became the Alleluia or Tract. . . .

It is difficult to say exactly when the Gradual got its present form. We have seen that in St. Augustine's time, in Africa, a whole psalm was still sung. So also St. John Chrysostom alludes to whole psalms sung after the lessons. . . . In Rome the psalm seems not yet to have been curtailed: "Wherefore we have sung the psalm of David with united voices, not for our honour, but for the glory of Christ the Lord." Between this time and the early Middle Ages the process of curtailing brought about our present [1913] arrangement.

One of the things the 16th-century Reformers wished to do was to restore the Psalms to worship, an effort that appears to need renewal every generation, even in churches that are heirs to the Reformation. My own website, dedicated to the Genevan Psalter, is intended to be part of this effort.

18 November 2007

People from the past

When I was growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, four decades ago, the house across the street from us was inhabited by a number of colourful people in succession. One of these was the family of John Noble, a former prisoner in the Soviet Gulag whose obituary appears here and here. We used to play with the Nobles' children, whose ages paralleled our own. After they moved out, a sport writer for the Chicago Sun-Times (whose name escapes me at the moment) moved in and lived there briefly. Then came Prof. Arthur Ernest Wilder-Smith and his family. His wife was German and their children were bilingual, speaking to each other in the other language when they wished to conceal something from us during play. What fascinating people to grow up with!

Orthodox and Catholics to reunite?

The bishops of Rome and Constantinople excommunicated each other back in 1054. Although these actions were rescinded in 1964 during an historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches remain out of communion with each other. Perhaps this is about to change, as indicated in this Times Online report: Vatican joins historic talks to end 950-year rift with Orthodox church. The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church met recently in Ravenna, Italy, and issued what may or may not be a groundbreaking statement: Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church: Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority. From the Times report:

The document suggests that the Pope, always referred to in the text as “Bishop of Rome”, could be the “first” among the regional patriarchs. But this would be only as a primus inter pares, with his authority resting firmly on the support and consensus of the other patriarchs. “Certainly Rome could not be the absolute centre of administration, with authority over all the others,” Greek Metropolitan Athanasios Chatzopoulos, one of the participants of the Ravenna conference, said. “The ‘primus’ would not be able to do anything without the consent of the other Patriarchs.”

Despite the media attention, this does not appear to me to mark a substantive shift in the centuries-old Orthodox position. The Orthodox have always been willing to recognize the primacy of the "Patriarch of Rome," but they will not recognize his supreme authority over the entire church. That's why this headline from The Trumpet is greatly misleading: Vatican Takes Step to Reabsorb Orthodox Church. Moreover, this sentence from the Times is equally absurd: "Healing the schism would in effect turn Patriarch Bartholomew into an Orthodox 'Pope'." There is much greater likelihood of the Orthodox churches fragmenting among themselves than of Bartholomew being accorded popelike powers.

Much still stands in the way of reunion, not the least of which is fractiousness within the Orthodox fold. There is also the question of the number of ecumenical councils recognized by the two communions. The Orthodox acknowledge seven such councils, the last of which occurred in 787. Rome recognizes 21 ecumenical councils, the last being the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65. What would be the status in a reunited church of the 14 councils occurring after the split? This is far from clear. Even decades of negotiations are unlikely to resolve such issues as filioque, purgatory and the extent of the Old Testament canon, because each side has staked a claim to truth from which it would be difficult to back down after nearly a millennium.

Why Ravenna? This city was undoubtedly chosen because of its history as a centre of the Byzantine presence in the Italian peninsula between 540 and 751. The Byzantines left a lasting legacy in the form of art and architecture that graces the city to this day. The ancient church buildings contain renowned mosaics, such as the one of Christ shown above from the Church of San Apollinare Nuovo. It would be most appropriate if unity between eastern and western churches were to begin here. By God's grace may it come to pass.

17 November 2007

Bringing men to church

This story appeared in the press the other day: More women than men are being ordained to Anglican priesthood. And then there's this from The Point blog: Getting men through the church doors. There has long been a problem in getting men to attend church along with their wives, who tend to be more devout. Persuading unmarried men is even more of a challenge. But it seems that increasing numbers of North American men are showing up at Orthodox churches these days. Why? Here's one man's view:

Orthodoxy is serious. It is difficult. It is demanding. It is about mercy, but it's also about overcoming oneself. I am challenged in a deep way, not to "feel good about myself" but to become holy. It is rigorous, and in that rigor I find liberation. And you know, so does my wife.

And another's:

Christ in Orthodoxy is a militant, butt-kicking Jesus who takes Hell captive. Orthodox Jesus came to cast fire on the earth. (Males can relate to butt-kicking and fire-casting.) In Holy Baptism we pray for the newly-enlisted warriors of Christ, male and female, that they may "be kept ever warriors invincible."

Any number of observers have commented on the so-called feminization of the western church. However, the problem is not that churches are pushing feminine as opposed to masculine virtues; it is that they have caved in to the larger culture in refashioning the church into a marketable commodity in a consumer society. This is true of churches in a variety of traditions. "Take up your cross and follow me" is not exactly an easily saleable slogan for those valuing a comfortable life.

If churches are in the business only of making parishioners feel good about themselves — of simply affirming them in their current predilections rather than calling them to a life of holiness — they are failing in their central task. The life in Christ is a demanding one, calling for obedience to God's word in all walks of life. Over the centuries many believers have gone to their deaths for the sake of Christ. Women, no less than men, understand that being indiscriminately "nice" or boundlessly "inclusive", far from being the message of the gospel, is a cheap counterfeit that, over the long term, will end up alienating more people than it attracts.

14 November 2007

Paul confused?

A US presidential aspirant confesses his faith in Jesus Christ: Statement of Faith, by Rep. Ron Paul, MD. Paul opposes the abortion licence and believes in just war principles, to which he is convinced that the current American war on terror fails to conform. However, some Christians might conceivably be put off by his reference to "our divinely inspired Constitution," which he seems to be confusing with Holy Scripture. Someone needs to set him straight on this.

13 November 2007

St. John Chrysostom

Today marks the 1,600th anniversary of the death of St. John Chrysostom, the "golden tongued" (Χρυσόστομος) Archbishop of Constantinople who lived from c. 349 to 407. A native of Antioch, John was educated by the pagan Libanius and went on to study theology under Diodoros of Tarsus. He was an ascetic who disliked the conspicuous consumption of the wealthy classes. When he was appointed Archbishop of Constantinople, the imperial capital, he reluctantly became an official of the highest rank, with privileges approaching those of royalty. Nevertheless, he opposed the lavish lifestyles of the city's élite and spoke with courage against abuses in high places. He preached regularly on the duty to care for the poor, among whom he was well-loved.

He is known as the greatest preacher of the early church. The Orthodox Church's Divine Liturgy is named for him, in recognition of his contribution to the liturgy by revising its prayers and rubrics. His famous paschal homily is often read in churches on Easter, as it has been in our church. St. John is honoured by both eastern and western churches, including those of the Reformation. For example, John Calvin admired his straightforward interpretation of scripture, as opposed to Augustine's more allegorical approach. St. John died in exile in the Caucasus, with these words on his lips: "Glory be to God for all things!"

Here is a final word for us from St. John Chrysostom:

Even if we have thousands of acts of great virtue to our credit, our confidence in being heard must be based on God's mercy and His love for men. Even if we stand at the very summit of virtue, it is by mercy that we shall be saved.

Later: Coinciding with the anniversary comes this story out of Cyprus: Thousands queue outside Cyprus church after reports of miracle-working relic. St. John Chrysostom's skull is in the island and two miracles are being attributed to its presence.

12 November 2007

A healthy, delicious meal

Although this is by no means a cooking blog, readers may be interested in knowing about this wonderful combination of foods that we discovered quite by accident in our house. Try this for dinner one evening. Start with basa, a flavourful fish related to the catfish from the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. It is also known as iridescent shark. Bake until tender. Then take red swiss chard, also known as mangold leaves, and boil/steam them until tender. (The red variety tastes better than the white.) Finally, cook jasmine rice, an aromatic rice from Thailand. Use two portions of water to one portion of rice and cook until the water has evaporated. Squeeze lemon over the basa and the chard. Dress all three with extra virgin olive oil, preferably from Greece. It's a delicious and healthy meal. Bon appetit! Καλή όρεξη!
Questioning authority

The Zylstra Lectures are over. I took the occasion of the evening lecture to unveil the latest addition to my wardrobe. This is the first t-shirt I've owned with a slogan on it — and one that is self-referentially incoherent at that.

11 November 2007

Did you know. . .

. . . that Miles Coverdale's 16th-century translation of the biblical Psalms uses the English word "luck" three times: in Psalms 45:5, 118:26 and 129:8?
A Byzantine Catholic university?

Because I teach at a university with a distinctive confessional identity, I am always interested to learn of new educational ventures that claim a foundation in a christian tradition. There are, of course, any number of Catholic universities in North America, one of which I myself attended more than two decades ago. But as far as I know Transfiguration College may be the only fledgling university in the Byzantine Catholic tradition. Gestating in Aurora, Illinois, it styles itself a Byzantine Catholic Great Books College, taking its curricular cues from Mortimer Adler and Robert Maynard Hutchins' 54-volume Great Books of the Western World.

Two observations are in order. First, it is somewhat surprising for an institution that claims to be in the Byzantine tradition to be touting a western-oriented great books programme. To be sure, they do have St. John Chrysostom, Basil the Great and Fyodor Dostoevsky. But where are Gregory of Nyssa, the Philokalia and Nikos Kazantzakis? Second, because its website appears to have been updated last in 2005, it's not clear whether Transfiguration College is still in the planning stages or effectively dormant. If the former, then I wish them God's blessing in this new venture.
Sermon posted

This morning's sermon, delivered at the Church of St. John the Evangelist, has been posted here: Obedience.

09 November 2007


This coming sunday, 11 November, I will be preaching at the 9.30 am service at the Church of St. John the Evangelist at the corner of Locke and Charlton here in Hamilton. The subject is "Obedience" and the scripture text is I John 2:1-6, 3:19-24. All are welcome.

07 November 2007

Ron Paul for president?

Here is a name that until now was unfamiliar to me: Ron Paul, who on monday raised a record $4.2 million for his campaign for the US presidency. By most measures that should make him a serious contender for the Republican nomination next year.

What does he stand for? Among other things: smaller government, an end to the income tax, return to the gold standard, a noninterventionist foreign policy and withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Read this speech for further details. Is Paul a threat to the other Republican candidates, including frontrunner Rudolf Giuliani? Probably not, unless he becomes a third-party candidate, thereby siphoning off Republican votes and inadvertently helping the Democrats.

Here's one indicator of Paul's distance from the mainstream of his own party: "Paul backers tied their Nov. 5 fundraising effort to Guy Fawkes Day – which commemorates the day in 1605 when the British mercenary tried to blow up Parliament and kill the king." Taking a would-be regicide as one's model will likely do nothing to help his candidacy, despite his full-to-overflowing coffers.
Loonie > Greenback

This would have been difficult to envision a short time ago: Loonie retreats after topping $1.10 US.
Watch it, Stephen!

It seems I am not the only one to think Stephen Harper may be warming up too quickly to a referendum on the Senate: Vote on Senate 'premature,' PM warned. Here is Preston Manning's view:

Mr. Manning said Tuesday that he supports the idea of a referendum, but that the question cannot be solely about abolition. Rather, Canadians should be asked to choose between abolition and reform. He also said that a referendum can be fair only if the government were to finance both sides of the issue so Canadians could be well-informed about the options before they go to the polls.

And now Liberal leader Stéphane Dion:

Mr. Dion said a referendum would be expensive and almost useless because of the possibility it would divide the country. He noted that even if a majority voted in favour, some provinces would almost certainly be opposed and that a constitutional change of such significance would require unanimity among the provinces. He suggested that the Prime Minister convene a meeting of premiers before pressing ahead with a referendum.

I suspect that most constitutional scholars would hold that a referendum on such an issue could be at most only advisory, and that the issue would have to be decided according to the procedures laid out in section 41 of the Constitution Act, 1982, requiring unanimous consent of each provincial legislature. Although the possibility of abolishing the Senate is not mentioned in this act, its existence is assumed in 41(1)(b). Of course, one might conceivably make a case, under section 42(b), that the general amending formula in 38(1) would be sufficient, viz., approval by both chambers of Parliament and at least 7 provinces containing at least 50 percent of Canada's population. Yet that subsection refers only to "the powers of the Senate and the method of selecting Senators," which would seem to exclude abolition.

Thus I believe Dion is on solid constitutional ground, and both Manning and Dion are on solid political ground. Harper would be wise to heed their warnings.

06 November 2007

Referendum on Senate?

NDP leader Jack Layton and Conservative Senator Hugh Segal have proposed a national referendum on abolishing Canada's Senate, the unelected upper chamber of Parliament. Now Prime Minister Stephen Harper has indicated that he would support such a referendum if the Senate cannot be reformed. If Harper is serious about this, he could effectively alienate the west, which is a key Conservative stronghold. In general, westerners prefer to see a "Triple E" Senate — elected, equal and effective. By giving each province the same number of Senators, by having them elected for fixed terms and by empowering them to check the Commons, a Triple-E Senate would more closely resemble the American and Australian Senates.

Needless to say, there is no enthusiasm for such a Senate in Ontario and Québec, whose dominance of Parliament as a whole would be curtailed under the new arrangement. They and New Democrats alike would prefer to see the Senate abolished. However, in supporting such a referendum, Harper would take a potentially huge risk. If voters in Ontario and Québec won a victory for abolition through sheer numbers, and if westerners had voted overwhelmingly to oppose such a move on grounds that it would eliminate any possibility of their having a greater voice in Ottawa, it could conceivably exacerbate the regional divisions in this country and in his own party.

Yet Harper has proved himself to be a crafty politician. He must know all this. Which makes me wonder whether he might have something up his sleeve. Stay tuned.

01 November 2007

All Saints

Going ape

Those of us who have read of this primate's seemingly extraordinary communicative abilities will be interested in this item: Chimpanzee famous for using sign language dies. "Washoe, a female chimpanzee said to be the first non-human to acquire human language, has died of natural causes at the U.S. research institute where she was kept." May she rest in peace.

In the meantime, few may be aware that Cheeta, the chimpanzee from the old Tarzan movies of the 1930s and '40s, is still alive and reputed to be the world's oldest chimp.


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