Monday, June 27, 2016

A Q&A with college students and bishops

Way back in September of 2015 this Q&A was held. The videos were just released today so I've posted them as promised. They may post more. If they do they'll be available here.





The coins of the "Joy of All Who Suffer"

From one of my favorite blogs Icons and their Interpretation, a post entitled "The Difference a Few Kopeks Make "The Joy of All Who Suffer 'With Coins'" on a rather unique icon and its history.


In an earlier posting, I talked about the very popular Marian icon type called in Church Slavic Vsem Skorbyashchim Radost, — the “Joy of All Who Suffer.” You may also find it titled Всех скорбящих Радость — Vsekh Skorbyashchikh Radost, which is the same name in Russian. Skorbyashchim/Skorbyashchikh part means both “those who are afflicted” and “those who sorrow,” which is why some translate the title as “Joy of/to Those Who Sorrow.”

Today we will look at an interesting and common subtype of that icon. It is called Всех скорбящих Радость (с грошиками) — Vsekh Skorbyashchikh Radost S Groshikami, meaning “The Joy of All Who Suffer ‘With Coins.'” The example below — which appears to have been painted in oils — bears the title:

ОБРАЗ СКОРБЯЩИЯ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ
OBRAZ SKORBYASHCHIYA PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI
“[THE] IMAGE OF [THE] ‘OF THE SUFFERING’ MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD”

Looking at it, we can see why it is commonly called “With Coins”; it has coins on its surface. In most icons the coins are painted, but the maker of this example used real copper coins inserted into the panel...

Complete article here.

Parting images from the Council in Crete

This image is evocative of an oil painting.

Expect the Church in Africa to continue to grow by leaps and bounds.

Moscow not a fan of Met. Job of Telmessos voting analogy

Moscow, June 27 (Interfax) - The Russian Orthodox Church reminds the Constantinople Patriarchate about incomparability of democracy traditions with taking decisions at the Council.

The discussion started with the words of the Constantinople archbishop who made it clear that all decisions taken by the inter-Orthodox Council on Crete would be compulsory for all Orthodox Churches, including those who did not participate in it.

"You come from a democracy. Everyone can vote. Now some people choose not to vote. Does that mean you don't live in a democracy?" Archbishop Job of Telmessos said resuming the results of the session on Friday answering the question of a Russian journalist. It should be noted that this was the most heated exchange between the media and the conciliar representatives by far.

"I understand that atmosphere on Crete is tense and it is tiresome to talk to journalists. But I believe comparing a Church Council to the democratic procedure is not successful and hardly relevant when voiced by the Council speaker," deputy head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate Archpriest Nikolay Balashov told Interfax-Religion.

"There has not been democracy in the Church from the first centuries, and there won't be," he said, explaining that democracy is the rule of people, and power in the Church "belongs to God."

The priest says that "if church rules are examined for their correspondence to democratic norms, there will be great embarrassment."

"Any respected democrat will ask Archbishop Job for what term he is elected and when his term expires. From democratic point of view any unchangeable power is bad. And we do not employ women as bishop, it is not democratic at all," the Russian church official said. Though I would be remiss if I don't note that Met. Job was removed from his episcopate after his pastoral "style" was found to be quite unpopular. So, while the Church isn't a democracy, the voice of the people is still heard.

He reminds Constantinople opponents that several percents of advantage is a convincing victory in democratic election, the way it was with Brexit also discussed at the Crete press conference.

"Church has quite different mechanisms of decision-making," the priest stressed reminding the words of the first Apostolic Council "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..."

"In order bishops can put it this way, unanimity, common accord is needed," the interviewee of the agency said.

The heads of ten of 14 Orthodox Churches took part in the assembly, which should have become the Pan-Orthodox Council and was held on Crete on June 20-25.

Bulgarian, Antiochian, Georgian, Serbian and Russian Churches called for postponing the Council in order to settle the disagreements and finalize its draft documents. However, the Constantinople Patriarchate has rejected the initiative and insisted on it be held within the set timeframe. As a result, the Churches, who represent the minority of the episcopate, clergy and believers of the Orthodox world, participated in the forum.

Encyclical of the Council in Crete

(Crete Council) - ENCYCLICAL OF THE HOLY AND GREAT COUNCIL OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH

Crete 2016

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

With a hymn of thanksgiving, we praise and worship God in Trinity, who has enabled us to gather together during the days of the feast of Pentecost here on the island of Crete, which has been sanctified by St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, and his disciple Titus, his “true son in the common faith” (Tit 1.4), and, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to conclude the sessions of this Holy and Great Council of our Orthodox Church – convened by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, by the common will of Their Beatitudes the Primates of the most holy Orthodox Churches – for the glory of His most holy Name and for the great blessing of His people and of the whole world, confessing with the divine Paul: “Let people then regard us thus: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4.1).

The Holy and Great Council of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church constitutes an authentic witness to faith in Christ, the God-man, the Only-begotten Son and Word of God who, through His Incarnation, through all His work on earth, through His Sacrifice on the Cross and through His Resurrection, revealed the Triune God as infinite love. Therefore, with one voice and one heart we address this message of “the hope that is in us” (cf. 1 Pet 3.15) not only to the sons and daughters of our most holy Church, but also to every human being, “whether near or far off” (Eph 2.17). “Our hope” (cf. 1 Tim 1.1), the Savior of the world, was revealed as “God with us” (cf. Matt 1.23) and as God “for our sake” (Rom 8.32), who “desires that all people may be saved and come to the knowledge of truth” (1 Tim 2.4). Proclaiming His mercy and not concealing His great blessings, in remembrance of the Lord’s words that “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matt 24.35) and “filled with joy” (1 John 1.4), we announce the Gospel of faith, hope and love, looking forward to that “day without evening, without succession and without end” (Basil the Great, On the Hexaemeron II, PG 29.54). The fact that we have “our citizenship in heaven” (Phil 3.20) in no way negates, but rather strengthens our witness in the world.

In this we follow the tradition of the Apostles and of the Fathers of our Church who proclaimed Christ and the saving experience through Him of the Church’s faith, and who spoke of God in the “manner of fishermen casting a net,” that is to say in an apostolic manner, to the people of every age in order to transmit to them the Gospel of freedom “for which Christ has set us free” (cf. Gal 5.1). The Church lives not for herself. She offers herself for the whole of humanity in order to raise up and renew the world into new heavens and a new earth (cf. Rev 21.1). Hence, she gives Gospel witness and distributes the gifts of God in the world: His love, peace, justice, reconciliation, the power of the Resurrection and the expectation of eternal life.

Message of the Council in Crete

This document is not that long. If we look at the encyclical which will be posted shortly the below looks positively lilliputian.


(Crete Council) - MESSAGE OF THE HOLY AND GREAT COUNCIL OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH

To the Orthodox people
and to all people of good will

To God, "the Father of mercies and all comfort," we address a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for having enabled us to gather during the week of Pentecost (18-26 June 2016) on Crete, where the Apostle Paul and his disciple Titus preached the Gospel in the early years of the life of the Church. We give thanks to the Triune God who was well pleased that in one accord we should bring to a conclusion the work of the Holy and Great Council that was convoked by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch. Bartholomew by the common will of their Beatitudes the Primates of the local Orthodox Autocephalous Churches. You'll say, "But these people didn't come!" To which the thinking of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is "We set up a process and when it came time to vote some people didn't show up. We don't say it wasn't a fair election, just sadly not as well attended as we'd hoped."

Faithfully following the example of the Apostles and our god-bearing Fathers we have once again studied the Gospel of freedom "for which Christ has set us free" (Gal. 5: 1). The foundation of our theological discussions was the certainty that the Church does not live for herself. She transmits the witness of the Gospel of grace and truth and offers to the whole world the gifts of God: love, peace, justice, reconciliation, the power of the Cross and of the Resurrection and the expectation of eternal life.

1) The key priority of the Council was to proclaim the unity of the Orthodox Church. Founded on the Eucharist and the Apostolic Succession of her Bishops, the existing unity needs to be strengthened and to bear new fruits. The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is a divine-human communion, a foretaste and experience of the eschaton within the Holy Eucharist. As a continuous Pentecost, she is a prophetic voice that cannot be silenced, the presence of and witness to the Kingdom of the God of love. The Orthodox Church, faithful to the unanimous Apostolic Tradition and her sacramental experience, is the authentic continuation of the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as confessed in the Creed and confirmed by the teaching of the Church Fathers. Our Church lives out the mystery of the Divine Economy in her sacramental life, with the Holy Eucharist at its center.

The Orthodox Church expresses her unity and catholicity "in Council". Conciliarity pervades her organization, the way decisions are taken and determines her path. The Orthodox Autocephalous Churches do not constitute a federation of Churches, but the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Each local Church as she offers the holy Eucharist is the local presence and manifestation of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. In regard to the Orthodox Diaspora in various countries of the world, it was decided to continue with the institution of Episcopal Assemblies until such time as canonical rigor can be implemented. These assemblies are composed of the canonical bishops appointed by each Autocephalous Church and these bishops continue to remain subject to their respective Churches. The due function of these Episcopal Assemblies guarantees respect for the Orthodox principle of conciliarity.

On the Pope of Rome's visit to Armenia and genocide

It is with great sadness that I see our elected officials make promises to the Armenian immigrants in our country that the blood of their relatives will not be forgotten and then, when elected, do nothing with those campaign promises. Every single president in the modern era has made such a promise to the Armenians and then broken it for the duration of their presidencies. We can't even say Islamic extremism of the actions today so I don't expect the next president will acknowledge the genocide of decades past.



(Public Radio of Armenia) - Pope Francis says he decided to use the word ‘genocide’ in his speech at the Armenian presidential Palace, because “it would have sounded strange not to say at least the same thing I said last year.”

Asked Sunday en route home from Armenia why he decided to add “genocide” into his prepared remarks, Francis said it was simply the term that he had always used in Argentina, where he was close to the Armenian community.

“In Argentina, when you spoke of the Armenian extermination, they always used the word “genocide.” I didn’t know another. At the cathedral in Buenos Aires, we put a stone cross in the third altar on the left, remembering the Armenian genocide. The archbishop came, two Armenian archbishops, the Catholic and the Apostolic, they inaugurated it… also the Apostolic Archbishop in the Catholic Church of St. Bartholomew made an altar in memory of St. Bartholomew… but always… I didn’t know. I another word come from this word. When I arrived in Rome, I heard another word: “The Great Evil” or the “terrible tragedy,” but in Armenian, I don’t know how to say it… and they tell me that no, that that is offensive, that of “genocide,” and that you must say this. I’ve always spoke of three genocides in the last century… always three! The first was the Armenian, then that of Hitler, and the last is that of Stalin… there are small ones, there is another in Africa, but as in the orbit of the two great wars there are these three… I’ve asked why… “but some feel like it’s not true, that there wasn’t a genocide”… another said to me… a lawyer told me this that really interested me: the word “genocide” is a technical word, it’s a word that is not a synonym of “extermination.” You can say extermination, but declaring a “genocide” brings with it actions of reparation… this is what the lawyer said to me,” Pope told reporters.

“Last year, when I was preparing the speech, I saw that St John Paul II had used the word, that he used both: Great Evil and genocide. And I cited that one in quotation marks… and it wasn’t received well. A statement was made by the Turkish government. Turkey, in a few days called its ambassador to Ankara, who is a great man, Turkey sent us a top ambassador, who returned three months ago… But, Turkey has the right… The right to protest, we all have it,” the Pope said.

Speaking of his use of the word ‘genocide on the first day of his visit to Armenia, the Pope said: “In this speech at the start there wasn’t a word, that is true. I respond because I added it. But after having heard the tone of the speech of the president and also with my past with this word, and having said this word last year in St. Peter’s publicly, it would have sounded strange not to say at least the same thing. But there, I wanted to underscore something else, and I don’t think I err that I also said: in this genocide, as in the other two, the great international powers looked in the other direction. And this was the thing. In the Second World War some powers, which had photographed the train lines that led to Auschwitz had the possibility to bomb and didn’t do it. An example. In the context of the First War, where was the problem of the Armenians? And in the context of the Second War where was the problem of Hitler and Stalin and after Yalta of the area… and all that no one speaks about. One has to underscore this. And make the historical question: why didn’t you do this, you powers?”

“I don’t accuse, I ask a question. It’s curious. They looked at the war, at so many things… but not the people… and I don’t know if it’s true, but I would like to know if it’s true that when Hitler persecuted the Jews, one of the words, of the thing that he may have said was “Well, who remembers today the Armenians, let’s do the same with the Jews.” I don’t know if it’s true, maybe it’s hearsay, but I’ve heard this said. Historians, search and see if it’s true. I think I answered. But I never said this word with an offensive intention, if not objectively,” the Pope said.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Crete Council - June 24th press briefing

Posts will be slow into next week. My Internet service line lost a subterranean battle with a backhoe.


Editorial note: This was one of the more contentious press conferences as there were a mix of repeated questions that had repeatedly already been answered and some questions that seemingly sought to make hay out of insignificant points to illicit quotable news bites. The conference ended rather explosively really with a reporter who didn't like the format. Also, blue jeans. Really?

Two documents being signed.

One document to be signed shortly.
  • The Sacrament of Marriage and its Impediments - Editorial note: this document elicited a lot of discussion and reports from Pravoslavie.ru and elsewhere have stated that this document might not reach consensus so go unsigned.

Two announcements in development to be sent out at the end of the Council.
  • The "message" of the council. Editorial note: Most people thought this would be out at the beginning of the Council, but I expect the last minute attendance changes threw a wrench in the prepared document.
  • The Council encyclical.

The group was asked what the Council would say to the laity who weren't represented as their local Churches chose not to attend? The Council is a dialogue for the entire world - whether their patriarch attended or not or whether they are even Orthodox are not.

Are there 261 hierarchs or 290 hierarchs at the Council? There are 290 delegates.

Who signs the documents? The Primates or all the hierarchs? Each delegate can comment on the topics so each bishop can sign the documents. Not advisors, just bishops. Delegates of the local Churches meet before the vote and their primates vote, but these votes are reflective of the consensus of all from the local Church.

It seems that there is a decision that no bishops in the diaspora will be stripped of their titles to force conformity of the one bishop to one city rule. At the same time no new Archbishop of say Chicago can be made as there already is one. Grandfathered in.

One reporter asked for responses from the representatives at the press conference. She was quite severely rebuffed as the moderator felt it would be too time intensive. The journalist said this was ridiculous as, since there are all this people sitting there, there was no point in them even being there if they aren't going to answer questions. To her point this entire thing has been a Dn. John Chryssavgis / Met. Job tag team.

Her question was about the Patriarchates that didn't come. Met. Job responded quite simply (and deftly really): You come from a democracy. Everyone can vote. Now some people choose not to vote. Does that mean you don't live in a democracy?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The OCA, her properties, and "sincerely held religious beliefs"

My worry is that the use of this directive will be unevenly applied. Will those parishes that rent their halls to non-Orthodox wedding receptions be unable to do so? What about those that rent them out for things like yoga or bingo? If the OCA is to defend itself against militant secularists or thumb-in-your-eye same-sex marriage advocates, the line must be clear, uniform, and defensible. No one in their right mind puts on sunblock and only does one shoulder. So no cut-out exclusions for parish events (because they happen to make a lot of money) should be permitted if they wish to not get burned.


(OCA) - The following statement was approved by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America during a session of the Holy Synod on June 16, 2016 at Dormition of the Mother of God Monastery in Rives Junction, MI. It is approved for posting and use by all dioceses, parishes, institutions and monasteries of the Orthodox Church in America.

General Standard

The Orthodox Church in America teaches and maintains as a sincerely held religious belief that God has established marriage as a lifelong, exclusive relationship between one man and one woman, and that all intimate sexual activity outside the marriage relationship, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or otherwise, is immoral, and therefore sin (Genesis 2:24-25; Exodus 20:14, 17, 22:19; Leviticus 18:22-23, 20:13, 15-16; Matthew 19:4-6, 9; Romans 1:18-31; I Corinthians 6:9-10, 15-20; I Timothy 1:8-11; Jude 7). This principle undergirds the teaching of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America that Marriage is the most perfect realization of love between a man and a woman in which two become one and in which love unites in such a way that two lives become one life in perfect harmony. We believe that God created the human race male and female and that all conduct with the intent to adopt a gender other than one’s birth gender is immoral and therefore sin (Genesis 1:27; Deuteronomy 22:5). Marriage can only be between two people whose birth sex is male and female. The Orthodox Church’s marriage service specifically states, “Establish them in the holy union which is from Thee. For in the beginning Thou didst make them male and female, and by Thee the woman is joined unto the man as a helper and for the procreation of the human race.” Again the service states explicitly, “For by Thee is the husband joined unto the wife. Unite them in one mind; wed them into one flesh, granting to them of the fruit of the body, and the procreation of fair children.”

The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America upholds and reaffirms such statements such as the July 2, 2013 Synodal Affirmation of Marriage; the July, 1992 Synodal Affirmations on Marriage, Family Life, Sexuality, and the Sanctity of Life; and other such statements and pastoral letters including the June 28, 2015 Statement on US Supreme Court Decision by His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon.

Facilities Use

The Orthodox Church in America teaches and maintains as a sincerely held religious belief “that the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world and those who dwell therein.” (Psalm 24:1). The Church rejects the notion that there is a division between the material and spiritual world and that the two are somehow subject to separate and distinct moral and religious standards. It is for this reason that the resources of the Church – its property, its financial assets, and all that belongs to it of a material nature – may be used only for purposes and in ways consistent with the Church’s sincerely held religious beliefs and doctrines as reflected in Holy Scripture, the Tradition of the Church, the Holy Canons of the Church, and the encyclicals of our Holy Synod defining our faith, morals, and doctrines. The facilities of the Church may, in the sole discretion of the Church, be made available for use by other parties for activities consistent with the sincerely held religious beliefs of the Church and upon terms and conditions established by the Parish Council under guidelines approved by the diocesan bishop. Under no circumstances will such activities include those contrary to and incompatible with the sincerely held religious beliefs of the Church, including, but not limited to, events, services or receptions related to non-Orthodox sacraments (including weddings between persons of the same sex and related receptions), non-Orthodox worship services, and partisan political activities.

The following is an example of a statement that will be adopted by each diocese, parish, institution and monastery of the Orthodox Church in America. The Diocesan Hierarch can adjust the statement in conjunction with the considered needs and circumstances. PDF available here.

The (Name of the Parish/Hall/Facility) is the property of the (Name of the Parish/Institution/Monastery), a non-profit church organization located in (Location). Due to sincerely held religious beliefs, documented in the Biblical, dogmatic and canonical documents of the Orthodox Church, we do not permit the (Name of the Parish/Hall/Facility) to be used for the following purposes: events, services or receptions related to non-Orthodox sacraments (including, but not limited to, baptisms, weddings or funerals); non-Orthodox worship services; and partisan political or social rallies.”

At the Council: The Serbian Church speaks on fasting


(Белешке са Сабора) - Statement of representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church on behalf of young theologians, Orthodox youth from Serbia and the US on fasting
The way we fast nowadays (when we only eat certain types of food and avoid others) has annulled all other kinds of fasting, which are found in the tradition of fasting and which demonstrate the creative nature of Christian fasting (for example, in our tradition we find: 1. complete abstinence from eating, 2. fasting until mid-afternoon, 3. eating less in order to save money for charity, or 4. abstaining not from food, but from favorite activities, etc.). What mattered was the reason for fasting, not the duration, which was directly dependent on that reason. Also, the real meaning of fasting lied not in the type of food, but on abstinence. But unfortunately, very often, delicious and luxurious dishes are welcomed by our Church as fasting food, provided they do not contain prohibited ingredients. In that way the Church enables rich Christians to be good Christians, who can fast for months using different types of very expensive food; while poor Christians become bad Christians because sometimes they take some cheese or eggs, if they cannot afford to eat Lenten foods for more than six months every year, or only two or three types of food that they can afford.

Another quandary for our Church’s actual understanding of fasting are vegetarians and vegans. What shall the Church do with vast number of vegetarians and vegans who do note at meat anyway? According to Church rules concerning fasting, such people already fast all the time. So, our current understanding of fasting deprives them of the possibility to be, from time to time, engaged in the common enterprise of the Church, because the Church already sees them as fasting from particular foods all the time.

Crete Council - June 23rd press briefing

Editorial note: Again, these summaries aren't exact things. They're just the bits that I found interesting. Also, if you choose to watch the video itself did you also notice how the translator is quite adept at mimicking the speaking styles and intonations of the speakers?

Two documents being signed. Every single bishop is signing each document in four languages.

Two are coming down the pike.

Met. Job (Getcha) of Telmessos was asked what these documents means for those who chose not to come? We came not to have a meeting or anything else but to hold a Council. There was consensus that got us here. There was no consensus to not meet. So here we are. The Council should be looked at as a process and not as an event. For us who are here these documents will go to the local Churches to receive them and they are then binding.

There are 150 million people not represented (their bishops not having come to Crete). How should we see this process without them? Dn. John Chryssavgis responded that talking is important. People come. People don't come. Regardless of the numbers people are talking to one another here. As a technical answer unanimity has not been abolished for those who are here. There aren't any U.S. spies here. We are doing the important work of speaking to one another. The Romanian representative stated that "conciliarity is not a matter of quantity." Further, he states that Ecumenical Councils didn't always have all local Churches represented but are still considered Ecumenical.

Editorial note: To that statement I'll respond that indeed that doesn't mean that the decisions can't be considered Ecumenical. It also doesn't mean that they are. So, while uniform attendance is not of absolute importance, neither is an RSVP to attend a rubber stamp to a binding contract.

Did anyone discuss at the council a reduction of fasting during fasting periods for the laity? Met. Job (Getcha) of Telmessos responded that the aim of the goal is to give support to the practice of fasting not to reduce it while being sensitive to pastoral situations (the elderly, medicine, etc.).

What of the Romanian and Serbian territorial dispute? The Romanian representative responded simply that as Orthodox, as brothers in Christ, it will get resolved because brothers find a way to work things out.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A word on what I'm doing here.

Actually, this will be more than a word. But first let me speak to the Council.

You can draw a rather complete picture of my view of the Council as I've posted on it over the years. It is not what it could be. In its blandness and soft words - oddly reminiscent at times of the modern secular lexicon - it doesn't reverberate in the hearts of the faithful with topics that echo their concerns. Also, as more than a few people have noted, words matter. There are long position papers put out on things like why "man" is a much better word than "human person." We must seek after a patristic mind and flee imprecision.

Still, it is a start. The inaugural event is always more fraught with trepidation and mistakes that its successors. My chief concern has always been that the Holy Spirit should be given room to act. Instead the Council has been pigeonholed to 6 topics and, as we have seen mentioned in the pressers, topics outside the agenda are out-of-bounds. And yet I am also aware I'm not in the room and have no view into the closed sessions. I can't rightly decry with righteous indignation the current Council when I'm not a party to the process myself. All will out in the end: "You will know them by their fruits."

There. That's out of the way.

This is a blog. It is not a news outfit. No one pays me to post anything nor is there a foundation that sends me money by the word. If we look at this with a chronological and historical eye, it was my wife who thought with all my combing of Orthodox resources on the Internet that I should put what I find in one place online. It followed me from Texas, to seminary, to the priesthood and parish life. Six thousand, four hundred and fifty-six posts later we are here.

If I enjoy a photo of a monk throwing a snowball, it will probably get posted. If I think someone made an interesting point, it might get posted. If there is a spat between two parties and you are expecting that I'm going to strive for the news media's Israel-Palestinian parity policy you're going to be let down. There is bias, but there is also often an attempt to post from the other side as well. Also, I will post about non-Chalcedonians or even Greek Catholics (as I've done since the beginning) without feeling like I'm putting out sugary treats forming an insidious path to an inescapable gingerbread house of heresy.

It's wonderful to have so many people visit every day from all over the world. There are lots of emails with stories sent to me, lots of comments on what makes it into a post, and even the occasional retweet. I appreciate it all. But this isn't network news. This is a blog. I ask that you be civil. Or, as we say to visitors in Texas, "Howdy! Wipe your feet and take your hat off."

Crete Council - June 22nd press briefing

Some documents that have reached consensus are nearing release. The first two days occasioned some "stage fright" to speak that has warn off. There are a lot more hierarchs speaking during the Council. At the same time, these press briefings won't discuss amendments while they are being discussed actively in Council.

What about the letter Mount Athos sent to the Ecumenical Patriarch and of their recommendations for the council. EP Bartholomew read them and took them under advisement.

Has there been any discussion about the toponymics of bishops in overlapping episcopates (e.g. Can any number of bishops be called the Bishop of New York?) in the "diaspora?" No answer.

Bulgaria confirmed they aren't coming. What do you think? We think that we are the Council. There are absentee Churches, but we have "moved ahead."

What about ethnophyletism? Patriarch Daniel of Bucharest says we can't call our identity ethnophyletism. At the same time ethnophyletism isn't on the agenda so we can't discuss it.

"An Infant’s Burial" by Father Steven Kostoff

(OCA-DMW) - Fr. Steven Kostoff, Rector of Christ the Savior / Holy Spirit Church, Cincinnati, OH, recently posted to his congregation some reflections on the burial of a newborn child. They speak eloquently to this tragic yet thoroughly Paschal event. We include portions of them here for their pastoral sensitivity and their illustration of the depths and power of the theological message expressed by the burial service.

Yesterday, we served The Order for the Burial of an Infant over and on behalf of a two-day old boy, who died at Children’s Hospital on Saturday.

Humanly speaking, there is nothing more heartbreaking than this: a tiny infant dressed in white baptismal clothes, lying in the middle of the church in a coffin that looks more like a small box, surrounded by his grieving family and friends. With an open casket, I was deeply struck by the innocence, purity and beauty of this “undefiled infant,” as he was called in the funeral service. It was difficult not to keep returning to his coffin and looking at him. Here was an indelible image that will always remain with me. In addition, we witnessed his poor mother, still recovering from giving birth on Friday, together with a father who was momentarily elated with the birth of his firstborn son, joined together in mutual grief at their little son’s burial service. The initial impact of death is that of irrevocable lost. This is why we sing so realistically, “I weep and wail when I think upon death …

We use a completely different funeral service for infants, basically meaning children under the age of seven. This was the first time I had ever served this particular funeral office in my years as a priest. I was struck by the beauty of the service, the certainty of an infant’s entrance into the Kingdom of God, and the complete absence of prayers for the “forgiveness of sins” of the departed infant. There is no sin for which he needs to be forgiven — including so-called “original sin.” The service explicitly states that “he has not transgressed Thy divine command” (Ode 6 of the Canon); and that “infants have done no evil” (Ode 9 of the Canon). Since transgressing the divine commandment is inevitable in a fallen world, we pray over a departed adult that God will forgive his/her sins. But for an infant, the service repeatedly refers to the departed infant as “undefiled,” “uncorrupted,” “most-pure,” “truly blessed,” and even “holy.” This is not sentimentalism meant to make us feel better. It rather reveals a profound theological truth.

A child, according to Orthodox Christian teaching, is not born a “guilty sinner.” A child is not baptized in order to wash away the stain of “original sin” with its attendant guilt. We believe that a child is born bearing the consequences of “original sin,” often referred to as “ancestral sin” by Orthodox theologians precisely in order to distinguish it from “original sin.” The consequences of ancestral sin are corruption and death. A child is born into a fallen, broken, and corrupted world, grievously wounded by sin and death. There is nothing sentimental in that assessment of our human condition! Disease and physical deformities are a part of this world, caused by humankind’s initial alienation from God—and providentially allowed by God. Thus a child is never too young to die. And hence the tragic nature of life, nowhere more clearly revealed than in the death of an innocent infant. An infant is baptized in order to be saved from the consequences of the ancestral sin that lead each and every person inevitably to sin and be subject to corruption and death. The child needs to be “born again of water and the Spirit”—the Mystery of Baptism—in order to “put on Christ” and the gift of immortality that is received only through sacramentally partaking of the death and resurrection of Christ.

Melkite Church in "open rebellion"

Beirut (AsiaNews) - The Greek-Catholic synod due to have taken place two days ago lacked a quorum, with the absence of 10 bishops. They accuse the Patriarch of having bankrupted the Church patrimony. The faithful are scandalized. The Congregation for Eastern Churches pushes for dialogue.

The Greek-Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham announced last night that he will not resign from his patriarchal seat on the back of pressure from some rebel bishops who boycotted the synod which was to have opened two days ago on 20 June in Aïn Trez (Mount Lebanon), the summer seat of the patriarchate. He also confirmed that the annual Church synod will be held around October.

Out of 22 bishops in office, only 10 attended the meeting which requires the participation of at least 12 for validity. The absent bishops who have joined forces against the patriarch and boycotted the synod, are considered "in open rebellion."

Of the prelates boycotting the synod, the best known is the Archbishop of Beirut, Msgr. Cyrille Bustros (77 years). He and others call for the resignation of Patriarch Gregory III (83 years), claiming he has squandered the wealth of the Greek-catholic Church. The patriarch defended himself defining the allegations as "misleading".

Months ago, the coalition of bishops sent a letter to the Congregation of Eastern Churches laying the same claims, but the Congregation, led by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri gave no credence to their complaint, responding it could not act as a referee in this dispute, demanding the bishops participate in the Synod and recalling that no one can force a patriarch to resign. Gregory III, for his part, urged the bishops who are hostile to him to voice their criticism “transparently and with charity during the synod”. Unfortunately, their absence at the opening of the meeting shows their preference for a showdown.