Friday, June 29, 2007

The Pontificator Says Farewell

Two days ago, Fr. Al Kimel ended his long-running blog, “Pontifications.” When he started the blog, he knew the time was approaching when he would not be able to remain an Episcopal priest. “Pontifications” served as an apologia for his departure from the Episcopal Church; a public exploration of the alternatives, Catholicism and Orthodoxy, in light of the Tradition of the Church; and an explanation of why, for an Anglo-Catholic, these were the only post-Anglican options.

I was slow to enter the world of blogging. I never read “Pontifications” regularly, but it was really the first blog I read at all. I discovered there the names of many others who have become more familiar to me in the years since, either from their regular comments in other blogs I read, or from their own blogs. Among these was Fr. Stephen Freeman, whose blog “Glory to God for All Things” might even be described as a spin-off from “Pontifications.”

Fr. Kimel titled his last post Namárië, which means farewell in Quenya, the classical language of the Elves of Middle Earth. “Namárië” is also the name of a poem, whose other name is “Galadriel’s Lament”:

Ah! like gold fall the leaves in the wind,
long years numberless as the wings of trees!
The long years have passed like swift draughts
of the sweet mead in lofty halls
beyond the West, beneath the blue vaults of Varda
wherein the stars tremble
in the song of her voice, holy and queenly.
Who now shall refill the cup for me?
For now the Kindler, Varda, the Queen of the stars,
from Mount Everwhite has uplifted her hands like clouds
and all paths are drowned deep in shadow;
and out of a grey country darkness lies
on the foaming waves between us,
and mist covers the jewels of Calacirya for ever.
Now lost, lost to those of the East is Valimar!
Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar!
Maybe even thou shalt find it! Farewell!

As it becomes apparent that there is no future for Anglo-Catholicism, this sense of melancholy is becoming all too familiar to those of us who knew and loved that tradition. Fr. Kimel wrote,

Becoming Catholic has brought many blessings, but it has not healed the sorrows of my heart. Indeed, in some ways it has intensified these sorrows. But this is all very private. All I need say is that I often find them overwhelming. God is silent. I am reduced to silence.

On “Stand Firm,” Sarah Hey posted this message of goodbye to Fr. Kimel and “Pontifications.” Following her lead, many readers, including me, shared our grief over the loss of this traditon we love. Meanwhile, the notice of the end of “Pontifications” on “The Confessing Reader” drew a response from Todd Granger, including this reflection on Tolkien:

. . . the weird thing is, the Anglican crisis has given me a deeper appreciation for the soul-piercing beauty and longing of LOTR and other of Tolkien’s writings (see particularly his poem on the journeys of St Brendan). I’ve thought for a couple of years now that there is something distinctly Numenorean about Anglicanism. And, I think, not only in the sense of The Faithful (Elendil et al) being analogous in some way to those Anglicans devoted to the apostles’ teachng and fellowship.

My lament for Anglicanism is sure to provide another layer of meaning the next time I read Tolkien’s Silmarillion.

Apostle to Indonesia 2

Father Daniel Byantoro will continue telling his conversion story at Holy Apostles Orthodox Church on Monday 2 July at 7 PM. This past Monday, he covered his conversion from Islam, which involved much discussion of the Qur'an and what Muslims believe – so much discussion, in fact, that he did not get any further. This coming Monday he will continue with his conversion from Protestantism to Orthodoxy.

Update: Reader Michael took photos at Fr. Daniel's first talk, on his conversion from Islam to Christianity, and his second talk, on his conversion to Orthodoxy. Holy Apostles recorded both talks.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Apostle to Indonesia 1

This past Sunday I had the great privilege of driving Father Daniel Byantoro to church. Fr. Daniel is the founder and leader of the Indonesian Orthodox Church. Born into a Muslim family, he joined the Reformed Church as a young man after Jesus came to him in a vision. But he became disillusioned with the vast array of Protestant sects and began looking for something more ancient and more liturgical. After he stumbled across Bishop Kallistos Ware's book The Orthodox Way in a seminary bookstore in South Korea, he started investigating Orthodoxy. Eventually he converted and was ordained a priest. He returned home and began his mission to bring Orthodox Christianity to Indonesia in a way that would be culturally relevant. Today, as a result of Fr. Daniel's missionary efforts, the Orthodox Church is a recognized body with 22 parishes and missions and over 2,000 members. Still, it must often struggle against bureaucratic and cultural obstacles. Here are some links for those who would like more information:

Fr. Daniel splits his time between Indonesia and the U.S., where he speaks and raises money. This week he is giving two talks right here in Maryland, sponsored by Holy Apostles Orthodox Church:

The Great Mandate of Evangelism
Friday 22 June, 7 PM, at Fr. George Johnson’s home,
13209 Bellevue Street, Silver Spring, MD 20904

Fr. Daniel will speak about fulfilling the Lord’s command to “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This talk is a how-to presentation, aimed at Orthodox Christians who are interested in missionary work. Many people think of missionary work as a calling to go to a foreign country. However, the first missionaries, the Holy Apostles, went to their own people first (the Jews,) and then to others (the Gentiles).

Fr. Daniel will talk about how to go to the Mars Hill of our time to proclaim the good news of the Orthodox Faith. For us, our own people are right here in America, wherever our church is located. “Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.” – even, for example, unto Beltsville, College Park, and Laurel, Maryland.

Christ Has Caught Me
Monday 25 June, 7 PM, at Holy Apostles Orthodox Church,
10760 Baltimore Ave, Beltsville, MD 20705

Fr. Daniel will speak about his conversion from the Muslim faith to Christianity. He went on to convert his whole family including his father, who was an imam, and to become an apostle to Indonesia, baptizing about 2000 people so far and founding 10 churches there. This talk is aimed at inquirers and Orthodox Christians alike, who would like to hear more about Fr. Daniel’s missionary adventures and his outreach to the Asian peoples. Come, see, hear, and “be caught” in his inspiration.

Monday, June 18, 2007


While you're waiting for more on spiritual disciplines, here are some things I've been reading, viewing, and thinking about since my last post.

I saw a pair of 1957 Ingmar Bergman films at the AFI Silver, where they're doing a Janus Films retrospective this summer. I had not seen either one since early in grad school. In The Seventh Seal, a knight returns from the Crusades to find Sweden ravaged by the plague. To defer his own demise, he challenges Death to a chess match. He spends his respite attempting to shore up his faith, worn down by a decade of crusading, but he and his cynical squire also right a few wrongs along the way to their final meeting with Death. In the meantime, an actor who has spiritual visions sees Death playing chess with the knight and flees with his wife and child in an effort to avoid sharing the knight's inevitable fate. In the second film, Wild Strawberries, an old doctor drives to Lund to receive an honorary degree. His daughter-in-law and a trio of hitchhikers tag along. Through a series of encounters, dreams, and memories, he re-evaluates his life, and at the end takes a few small steps towards redemption, pulling his family along with him. It's like A Christmas Carol without the Dickensian melodrama.

Both Bergman films were included in this list of 100 spiritually significant films. They ranked 12th and 32nd, respectively, with a later Bergman work, Winter Light, placing 14th.

In making my weekly SiteMeter check, I found that someone had been referred here from a blog I was not familiar with, NeoChalcedonian: Investigations in Ecclesiastical History, so I looked into it. The first post states the purpose of the blog – to explore the roots of the division between the Eastern and Western churches. The pattern appears to be that he posts one or two topics per month, leaving plenty of time to discuss each subject. I already posted my first response on a thread entitled, "Original Sin As Inherited Guilt?", which explores East-West differences on the understanding of original sin.

While I'm on that subject . . . I just finished reading "Christianity East and West: Some Philosophical Differences," by David Bradshaw, author of Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom. He describes and differentiates the ways that man comes to know God in the philosophies of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Greek Fathers, particularly St. Maximus the Confessor. Whereas both Western approaches equate God's essence with his energies, the Eastern approach differentiates sharply between them, concluding that, while we cannot know the divine essence, we must strive to participate in the divine energies. (While looking for the link to the article, I came across this post on Orrologion with links to six of Bradshaw's articles.)

This past week saw new developments in the Anglican civil war. The Primate of Kenya announced that he will consecrate Canon Bill Atwood, General Secretary of the Ekklesia Society, as a suffragan bishop to oversee American congregations of the Anglican Church of Kenya. So yet another foreign primate – reportedly with the backing of still other primates – will join the scavengers tearing the flesh from the body of the Episcopal Church before it is even dead. Meanwhile, the Episcopal Church's Executive Council met to engage in self-serving, dishonest posturing that will do nothing either to fend off the scavengers or to prolong its own life. I'm glad my contributions will not be going to fund the litigation that is on the horizon.

This article from Crisis magazine looks at the Pastoral Provision and the Anglican Use, the twin programs in the Roman Catholic Church to facilitate the conversion of Anglo-Catholic priests and their congregations. Meanwhile, William Tighe writes that Pope Benedict has already decided to expand the Anglican Use, but has not yet promulgated the decision. Even the Catholics are looking to become scavengers, but maybe they will at least wait until the victim is dead before they join the feeding frenzy.

Finally, Orthodox blogger Papa Herman drew some interesting responses with this post about dreadlocks, Rastafari, Haile Selassie, Bob Marley, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Spiritual Discplines 1: Fasting

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” – Genesis 3:1-3

In two recent interviews, Frederica Mathewes-Green talked about Orthodox spiritual disciplines. She concluded the first interview, with’s Jon Sweeney, by sharing her own spiritual practices, including daily prayers and fasting. In the second interview, with Ryan Hamm of the Christian Vision Project, she once again discussed prayer – specifically, the Jesus Prayer – and fasting. The two interviews, despite the similarity of subject matter, are not redundant – there is much to say on these important subjects!

I also have been thinking about fasting and prayer in recent weeks. In this post I will start with fasting. A post or two on prayer will follow.

Tomorrow in the Orthodox Church we begin the third of our four fasting seasons. The Fast of the Apostles is a variable-length fast that begins immediately after the Octave of Pentecost and continues until the Feast of Saints Peter & Paul, on 29 June. It is somewhat more relaxed than Lent, with a number of days when fish, wine, and olive oil are permitted.

Today, in preparation for the fast, I read a short article, “The Meaning of Fasting in the Orthodox Church,” by Fr. Milan Savich, which explains why fasting is the first of spiritual disciplines for Orthodox Christians. Citing authorities from St. Basil the Great to Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Fr. Milan makes the point that man’s fallen state began with the breaking of a fast commanded by God – abstention from the fruit of the tree in the midst of the Garden of Eden. St. Basil wrote, “Because we did not fast, we were chased out of Paradise; let us fast now, so that some day we may return there.” Similarly, St. Isaac of Syria said, “The first commandment given to our nature in the beginning was the fasting from food, and in this the head of our race (Adam) fell. Those who wish to attain the fear of God, therefore, should begin to build where the building was first fallen. They should begin with the commandment to fast.”

This is where our Lord himself began. Just as Genesis opened with Adam’s breaking of the fast, the Gospel opens with Christ’s keeping of a fast for forty days in the wilderness, immediately following his baptism. Where Adam had succumbed to Satan’s temptation to eat, Christ, in facing the same temptation, gained his first victory over Satan. Thus began his campaign to dethrone Satan and reverse the effects of the fall. In fasting, we learn to participate with Christ in resisting the temptations of Satan.

There is, of course, more to fasting than simply abstaining from food and drink, and Fr. Milan’s article explores the many aspects of fasting. (Thanks to Kevin Burt of into the light for the tip on Fr. Milan’s article.)