Category Archives: Eastern Churches

“And you, yourself, a sword shall pierce”–the role of the Presbytera, and a case for married priests

The Church needs more married priests, but not for the reason people think.
One of the reasons the Western Church moved to mandatory celibacy was that it simplified things.
It has always been the case that ordination is an impediment to marriage. Once a man is ordained a deacon, he becomes a spiritual father to his community (in the East, deacons are called “Father,” as well).  Except for very rare extenuating circumstances, if a married, ordained man is widowed, he is not permitted to remarry.  Even while his wife lives, a married priest and his wife are expected *at least* to abstain from marital relations before celebrating the Liturgy (incidentally, fasting from sexual relations was part of the traditional fasting rules for laity, as well), often, and always in the Roman sui iuris church, married priests are required, or choose, to practice perpetual marital continence.
In the east, the wife of a deacon is called a “deaconess,” and the wife of a priest is called the “priestess” (or sometimes “Sister” or “Mother”).  Usually in Engish, the original language of the autocephalic church is used (such as “diakona” or “presbytera” in Greek).  The wife participates in her husband’s ministry (1 Cor 9:5).
As his wife, she is his confidante and supporter.  As the traditional observance of Sunday includes a community gathering after Divine Liturgy, the wife of the priest is to be the hostess of that gathering, mirroring her husband’s role in the liturgy.

(unfinished piece by John)

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I hate “stewardship talks”

They’re usually given by older couples, by people in upper middle class careers, or by people whose careers provide room for a higher paying contract, more money for more hours, etc., not by young families on fixed incomes who run a deficit every month.

It seems like, when I set about actually tithing, the car breaks down, or there’s some other emergency that comes up.

After rent, utilities, monthly medications and supplies, and whatever breaks down, etc., we basically have to divide my disability check for the month’s food, gasoline and entertainment: $40 per day for six people in a 15 year old handicapped accessible van that gets 12-15 mpg, all with dietary needs. 

We have finally found the faith community we’ve been seeking our entire marriage: traditional in liturgy, orthodox in theology, but welcoming and active.  I’ve been drawn to it for many years, actually. It’s one of the reasons I even moved to the Augusta area, but various issues prevented us becoming active members till this past year.

We want St. Ignatios of Antioch Melkite Catholic Church to be our parish for life, but the small parish is struggling.  It’s a small church with about twelve pews and a small attached hall.  There are some who attend because it’s their neighborhood Catholic church.  There are some families, like ours, and many older parishioners.  It has the internal tension and politics of any parish, but for the most part, people work past that stuff.

Nevertheless, because of the size and location, only so many people can attend Divine Liturgy at the present location.  Our pastor has been talking about trying to find a bigger church, to hopefully attract more people and give space for those who want to come but can’t find parking, but the parish is running a deficit as it is.

On an average Sunday, we get as many as 80 people, if you count folding chairs.  Reduced to heads of households or single adults, though, that’s probably more like 20 people, at most, who can give.

So, even if it means reducing my personal food budget to $2 a day instead of $3, I’m going to figure out how my family can do better with our contributions.  And we’re trying to figure out ways we can help raise money for the parish.

If you regularly or occasionally attend St. Ignatios, please consider offering a bit more of your proverbial “time, talent or treasure.”  If you don’t live in the area but are concerned about preserving traditional liturgies in general or Eastern Catholicism in particular, please donate.

If you live in the Augusta area, and you’re looking for a church community, or are curious, whether you’re Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant or non-Christian, please come visit us  on Sunday morning: Orthros (Morning Prayer) is 9-10 AM.  Divine Liturgy is 10 AM till usually about 11:30, after which is a potluck brunch and fellowship.

You can donate via the Eparchy (Diocese) of Newton’s website, or mail a check to the parish.

1003 Merry St., Augusta, GA, 30904

706-738-9388

http://www.melkite.net

To Hipster Dad and Trad Dad

A few days ago, Aleteia started the latest round of parents-at-mass wars by reprinting a CatholicMom.com column from last June, by one Thomas Tighe, a self-described “hipster dad,” who writes about one of those incidents I’ve blogged about before where people come up and say rude comments to parents trying their best to teach their kids how to behave at Mass.  Now, whether Mr. Tighe’s description of his attempts really qualifies as “his best” is a matter for debate but of prudential judgement.  I know, though, that when our kids were little, one of the major reasons we shunned the cry room as often as possible was to avoid the bad example of parents who brought snacks and non-relevant toys (we would always try to get the kids to bring religious books and sometimes religious toys).

Sometimes, a cry room is necessary.  Sometimes, a vestibule or a trip outside church is necessary.  Indeed, I got so used to taking my autistic son out of church that I realized at one point last year I preferred being outside, listening on the speaker.

I like the anecdote about Ven. Fulton Sheen, when a lady took a crying baby out of Mass during his homily: “Madame, you needn’t take the baby out on my account.  He isn’t bothering me.”
“No,” the lady replied, “but you’re  bothering the baby!”

Yes, parents of young or disabled children have no Mass obligation, but that is precisely why attending at all is an act of heroic virtue.

Nevertheless, I’m inclined to agree with Tighe, especially given the absolute vitriol that people were spewing in response to his column.  For example, Steve Skojec weighed in with the perspective of a “certain kind of traditionalist.”

Skojec takes the “absolute silence” perspective, including suggesting that it’s a sin to drop a book.  I’m sure he’d be deeply offended by the sound of my wheelchair or the number of times I drop things at Mass!

I wish I could get people like you to stop quoting Mark 10 as a justification for irresponsible parenting. I have always brought my children to Mass, letting the little children come unto Him…but I’ve also always reminded them that the Mass is a supreme act of worship of Our Lord on the Cross, not a friendly gathering where Jesus told the little guys cute parables. . . .

Yes, when the Apostles were complaining about children, they were mad that the children were being perfectly well behaved and wearing their blue blazers with brass buttons.  And when Jesus said you can’t get into Heaven unless you learn to be like children, He meant perfectly silent and well-dressed.

When people have offered actual help, or talked to our kids helpfully, I’ve welcomed it.  Once, when my kids got distracted by the Christmas Tree at the Christmas Eve vigil, the pastor gently said, “I realize you’re excited because it’s Christmas, but please wait till after Mass to look at the tree.” Another time, as my eldest daughter loudly proclaimed her responses at our parish, a lady behind us kept whispering in her ear.  I braced myself when the lady approached me after Mass.
“How old is she?” she asked.
“Five,” I said.
“You must have taken her to Mass since she was a baby.  I kept leaning over and telling her how impressed I was that she knew her responses.  I have a daughter who’s a nun now, and she knew her responses when she was 5, too.”
A few times, we went to Sunday evening Mass at my alma mater’s campus chapel.  We were flabbergasted when the young priest pointed to our kids as an example of how to behave at Mass!   “Those little children know how to behave at Mass better than you college students!” Then when the baby woke up and started crying, he said, “Now, see?  You’ve woken up the baby!”
I went to daily Mass there once with my son, when he was 2 or 3 but not yet diagnosed autistic.  Father asked if I wanted to lector.  I said, “What about him?”  “He’ll be fine!”   I shrugged my shoulders, got up to read, and my son started following.  I gestured to return to the seat, and he did.
My eldest daughter once got up and laid prostrate in front of the altar after a homily about kids at Mass.
She had grown up attending a monthly “Reform of the Reform” Latin Ordinary Form liturgy in Northern Virginia, and the occasional High Mass Extraordinary Form in Richmond.  When she was 2, she sang her Latin Mass parts well enough to impress a Juilliard-trained composer and choral director.
After we moved to SC, there was a monthly EF low Mass we would try to attend.  Once, when she was 5 or 6, confused by everyone being silent during the liturgy of the Eucharist, she began singing the “Salve Regina,” perfectly.  She was sitting a few rows behind me, with her godfather.  I turned to shush her, but almost everyone smiled and gestured as if to say, “she’s fine.”

A few years later, at another parish, I was sitting up front with the younger two, and an elderly couple behind us kept leaning over and whispering what I sensed were gentle admonitions to my son.  After Mass, they asked, “He’s autistic, right?”  I said, “Yes.  They both are.”  They said, “We have an autistic grandson.  We know how it is!”

But we’ve had enough nasty comments to know some people will never be satisfied.
One of the times I tried to bring my son to the low Mass, he whispered some questions but was relatively well-behaved.  Nevertheless, this older gentleman came up and yelled at me, saying, “I raised nine children, and I taught them to behave themselves at Mass!”  I really got the impression that he was as mad about my daughter’s devotion as about my son’s curiosity.  Two other ladies followed him and said, “Don’t listen to him, you’re doing great!”

I often tell the story of taking all four kids to a “Holy Hour” by myself. They’d been to Benediction many times, and knew some of Evening Prayer from my saying it at home.  I was holding the baby.  The then 6 and 4 year old were focusing on the prayers. My son was walking up and down the pews, but being quiet, as he’d done at the aforementioned college mass, which was a huge improvement for him.
They used illicit, barely recognizable, texts for Vespers and Benediction, politically correct, Charismatic and “interfaith friendly.”  At Benediction, they “voted” on which hymn to sing instead of “Tantum Ergo,” and sang “Amazing Grace.”
At the Magnificat, Divine Praises and other points, my kids said the correct translation with me.  Afterwards, the deacon who led it came up and told me how distracting my family was, and children shouldn’t be present at such a “solemn event.”

The last time we had a direct encounter, my wife was in the back with the younger two, who were both sleepy, as they often are, from their meds.  These two old ladies told my wife that our kids were distracting them by sleeping!

So, whether they’re actually being bad, or they’re actually participating, or they’re being quiet but sleeping, we’ve gotten both positive and negative feedback from strangers and clergy.

Yes, there are some people who are blessed with peaceful, well-behaved children, and like other people blessed with particular virtues, they shouldn’t lord it over others.  But there are also some whose kids’ perfect behavior can be a bit scary to the rest of us.

For the past several months, we’ve been regularly attending a Byzantine church that we have visited from time to time over the past 5 years, and I always found the kids seemed to be better behaved and attentive there.  In Advent, I suggested going to the OF Vigil Mass (it didn’t work out because we all got sick), and the kids said, “Do we have to?!”  They find the chanting both soothing and easy to participate in. They love having the icons to pray with. Like me, they find incense bothers them allergy-wise, but they also find it calming (even when they were smaller, they seemed to settle a bit at Vespers as soon as the Censer passed).  They like the community meal after Liturgy.  When there are a lot of children, the DRE gathers them and brings them up to sit in front of Father during the homily.

On Sunday, we were a bit late as usual.  It was Theophany, so there was an especially long liturgy.  I brought three because our middle daughter was sick, and my wife stayed home since I’m the one who usually does.

We stood/sat in the back.  In the second to last row, there was a visiting family–very obviously Latin Rite traditionalists.  The father and sons were all in suits.  The wife and daughters, all in dresses and veils (while veiling is traditional in the East, it’s not an “obligation,” and from my research veiling is usually avoided in the Melkite Church to avoid confusion with Muslims).   My two youngest ended up right behind them.  I was across the aisle.  My teenager was at the other end.  We’d been told to take empty holy water bottles when we came in.  So my son kept playing with his holy water bottle.  After a while, he came over and told me that he realized we had forgotten to get his morning pills before we left the house! I thanked him for holding it together so well, and took him out to the car to take his pills.  I was happy he was holding it together so well, but still trying to keep him in control.  He kept bugging his younger sister, and she kept shushing him.  The lady in the veil in front of her kept turning around and admonishing *her*.

Later in the afternoon, since I didn’t recognize the family, my wife asked our daughter if she recognized the lady.
“Which lady?”
“The lady who kept turning around and correcting you,” I said.
“Oh, *that* lady,” she sighed.  I should note that, of our four children, she’s the most resistant in matters of faith and has already developed the impression that God is a dictator Who just has a bunch of rules and wants to “get” people, in spite of our efforts to teach a balanced view of the faith.  If she grew up in one of these, “children should be seen and not heard” families, what would her faith be like?

How will we be remembered?

One of my favorite lines in Jesus Christ Superstar is in “Pilate’s Dream,” where Pilate says, “then I saw thousands of millions, crying for this Man.  And then I heard them mentioning my name–and leaving me the blame.”
In Bread in the Wilderness, Thomas Merton observes how God even glorifies those who don’t deserve it, asking who would remember “Sihon, King of the Amorites and Og, the King of Bashan,” if they hadn’t been destroyed by Israel?  By being mentioned in the Psalms (135:11 and 136:20), they get mentioned more frequently than many “great conquerors.”
I thought about both these observations at Christmas liturgy at St. Ignatios in Augusta this past evening.  Look at the Ikon of the Last Supper.  I was struck by the figure of Judas, leaving with his back turned to Jesus, colored in grey clothes where the others are brightly robed.  His eyes are smaller.  His skin is grayish.  There, amidst however many images of Our Lord, 2 of Our Lady, John the Baptist, Anges, the Apostles, the Major and Minor Prophets, and the parish patron Saint, is the Betrayer.  Like Sihon, Og and Pilate, in spite of his dubious status in God’s eternal memory, Judas has earned everlasting mention in the liturgy by his act of unspeakable evil.
St. Ignatios.jpg
Each of us from time to time can be a Sihon or an Og, impeding the progress of God’s people; each of us can be a Pilate, using moral subjectivism, doubt and peer pressure as excuses to ignore the Truth and condemn Jesus by our sins; and each of us can be a Judas, betraying Our Lord with a kiss, as the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom reminds us every week. To die unrepentant, without the Sacraments, is to risk sharing in their infamy. Merely being in God’s presence does not guarantee us salvation any more than it did Judas or Pilate.

Let’s say the “worst case scenario” happens . . .

I happened to pray the Office of Readings for the first time in ages today, and it was a very appropriate reading from St. Gregory the Great that could have been written about the church today:

Beloved brothers, consider what has been said: Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest. Pray for us so that we may have the strength to work on your behalf, that our tongue may not grow weary of exhortation, and that after we have accepted the office of preaching, our silence may not condemn us before the just judge. For frequently the preacher’s tongue is bound fast on account of his own wickedness; while on the other hand it sometimes happens that because of the people’s sins, the word of preaching is withdrawn from those who preside over the assembly. With reference to the former situation, the psalmist says: But God asks the sinner: Why do you recite my commandments? And with reference to the latter, the Lord tells Ezekiel: I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be dumb and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. He clearly means this: the word of preaching will be taken away from you because as long as this people irritates me by their deeds, they are unworthy to hear the exhortation of truth. It is not easy to know for whose sinfulness the preacher’s word is withheld, but it is indisputable that the shepherd’s silence while often injurious to himself will always harm his flock.
There is something else about the life of the shepherds, dearest brothers, which discourages me greatly. But lest what I claim should seem unjust to anyone, I will accuse myself of the very same thing, although I fall into it unwillingly—compelled by the urgency of these barbarous times. I speak of our absorption in external affairs; we accept the duties of office, but by our actions we show that we are attentive to other things. We abandon the ministry of preaching and, in my opinion, are called bishops to our detriment, for we retain the honorable office but fail to practice the virtues proper to it. Those who have been entrusted to us abandon God, and we are silent. They fall into sin, and we do not extend a hand of rebuke.
– See more at: http://divineoffice.org/ord-w27-sat-or/?title=Oct+10%2C+Office+of+Readings+for+Blessed+Virgin+Mary&date=20151010#sthash.zuBnCfii.dpuf

And in the midst of the debates about the Synod, there’s something I’ve never understood about people’s understanding of Papal primacy and infallibility. The “Old Catholics” broke off because they rejected Vatican I’s declaration of Infallibility. Then the “traditionalists” broke off, or whatever, because by their understanding of papal infallibility, and previous papal statements about modernism, religious liberty, etc., Vatican II was in violation of Vatican I, and they developed various approaches to the question. Now, I take the doctrines of infallibility and indefectibility to mean that the Holy Spirit will protect the Church from falling into error–She just can’t. It has never happened in many situations similar to our own–though some crises have come close, and there was even at least one pope in history who was a material heretic.
Now, let’s say that the Synod does something directly at odds with the words of Christ in the name of Mercy. In practice, it means no more than a regional or national bishops’ conference. After all, B16’s Synod on Liturgy came up with some pretty strong statements that have been mostly ignored, such as calling for an end to “bilingual” Masses, and saying that it needs to be Latin, one vernacular and Latin, but not multiple vernaculars, and any congregation with significantly multiple languages should be Latin–how many diocese have implemented those guidelines?
Now, let’s say Francis, either with the support of the Synod, or unilaterally, does something that directly contradicts the words of Christ. *I am not saying I think it will happen*, but it is not outside the realm of possibility.
What becomes of infallibility and indefectibility?
The way I have always seen it, both the Vatican I schisms that we now consider to be morally “liberal” groups, and the Vatican II schisms and “not in schism but not fully in communion” groups that we call “traditionalist” are taking intellectually dishonest positions.
If Vatican II was heretical, then just saying, “It’s pastoral and not doctrinal” isn’t enough–“pastoral and not doctrinal” means that it is formulating authentic teaching, and promoting an approach to methodology, that is not necessarily “wrong” but one is free to disagree with. If one truly believes that teaching contradicts previous anathemas, one cannot simply say, “it’s pastoral and not doctrinally binding.” That only works for rectifying the apparent contradiction in approach.
That’s why the sedevacantists say that the “Seat is vacant,” and compare to times when there were exceptionally long papal interregnums, the Great Western schism, the Cadavar Trial and surrounding events, etc. Yet the sedevacantist position is that Vatican I was right.
What if Vatican I was wrong? Then we get to the “Old Catholic” position that Vatican I was wrong to say the Pope has unilateral infallibility, yet they hold to the teachings of Trent.
What I have not understood for a long time is how either group still clings to Trent.
If it’s possible for a Council to err, what makes this Council erroneous and not that one?
Between “in union with Rome” Catholics, anti-Vatican II traditionalists, anti-Vatican I “Old Catholics,” Protestant of various sorts, Greek and Russian Orthodox, and “Oriental” Orthodox (Copts and Chaldeans), Rome and Byzantium had the strongest and most intellectually consistent claims.
For me, though, one of the key proofs of Rome’s being the true Church of Christ is that She holds fast to Christ’s teachings on the indissolubility of marriage. If that ceases to be true, it creates a theological rift that simple sedevacantism cannot rectify. It cannot simply be “The Pope of Rome is infallible until I disagree with him.” It *has* to be, “maye he was never infallible to begin with.”

Praying the Office Online

I’ve been praying the Office since 1997 or ’98. My aunt and uncle sent me a copy of _Christian Prayer_ for, I believe, my Confirmation. My wife also had a copy she’d received from an uncle. We bought the four volume set (at least two of one). The latter is tricky because despite my best efforts, I always seem to be unable to find the correct volume for the season. The one volume versions have both fallen apart from use.

One of the goals of Vatican II was to make the Liturgy of the Hours more accessible to laity, reducing its complexity, but many people are still intimidated by all the “ribbons,” keeping track of the Psalter, the Proper of Seasons, the Proper of Saints, and the various Commons, etc.

It was about 10 years ago that I started thinking how it should be relatively easy to create an interactive version of the Office using HTML, where one could click on a link, bringing up a frame with the appropriate materials, and providing choices for optional memorials, or memorials celebrated as personal Feasts, etc.

So, I created several HTML files in Word, and made it part of my daily prayer to type the relevant sections into the appropriate files.

Then I discovered that others were already deep into similar projects, and I saw little need to recreate their work, though some of the problems still remain, as I will discuss in reviewing and linking each site in this post.

The Liturgy of the Hours is one of the oldest prayer forms in the Church, and is used by Catholics, the various Orthodox churches and many “mainline” Protestant denominations. In Roman Catholic (as opposed to Byzantine/Orthodox) theology, the Liturgy of the Hours is “public prayer” or liturgy, an extension of the Mass. To pray the Office is to pray “with the Church,” so it’s important the words be as unified as possible. This is distinguished from “private devotion.” So, in a popular internecine debate among faithful Catholics, 1,000 people saying the Rosary are in “private prayer,” while one person praying the Office under certain circumstances is engaging in “public prayer.” Catholic clergy (bishops, priests, deacons), religious (nuns, monks, friars, sisters) and members of secular orders are under canonical obligation to say the Office but also have the grace of praying “publicly” even when we’re “alone,” because in sharing the common texts that others are praying around the world, we are joining with them spiritually. For laity who are not in Third Orders, it’s still a private devotion, unless they’re saying it in community with others. Thus, the “trick” with online adaptations is whether the translations are appropriate.

Even a few years ago, there were not as many options there are now.

One of the first sites providing a daily Breviary online was Universalis, which is based out of England and provides detailed information on the degree to which its texts are approved for various English-speaking countries. It has gotten much more elaborate, of course, since 2005, and it provides apps. For those under obligation, I just discovered that Universalis provides the official Latin translations, so if you’re extra-cautious about whether the translation is official, you can always just use Latin. 🙂

Perhaps the most popular and well-made, and the one I use most regularly, is DIvineOffice.org.
It has all its copyrights in order and uses the canonically approved texts for the US. It also has very well-made podcasts of a group of people praying the Office, with licensed hymns, and the participants (mostly volunteers who, IIRC, started the project as a way of teaching the Office to an RCIA class) alternate methods of communal praying: sometimes chanting the Psalms, sometimes repeating the antiphons, sometimes having one person read or sometimes alternating. You can read the text with no audio, listen to the audio, or read and listen. The audio usually takes about 20-25 minutes for morning prayer and 15-20 minutes for evening prayer, depending upon how much is chanted.

Before Divine Office, I used to use PrayStation Portable from Fr. Roderick Vonhogen’s SQPN. I used to also have it on an RSS feed here but found it was unreliable. Sometimes, it seems to update too quickly and you can’t find the actual links for the day. Other times, there was a delay in posting. I hope they’ve fixed those issues, but it’s been a while since I followed it. It’s just Fr. Roderick reading it, not a group of people, and much simpler, but he does include prayer requests that listeners send him as part of the General Intercessions.

Plenty of websites and apps offer the Traditional Breviary, and several sites offer the various offices of Eastern Churches.

The added challenge, which led to my most recent discovery of a treasure trove of sites, is praying “Optional Memorials,” days that are not on the “General Calendar” (such as the Discalced Carmelite Propers), days that are personal/community Feasts or Solemnities, etc.

CatholicCulture.org* has a cool Liturgical Calendar page with the Feast(s) or Saint(s) of the day on both the Extraordinary Form and Ordinary Form Roman Calendars, Collects, devotional prayer suggestions and other activities. So, if I’m looking for a Collect that’s not in DivineOffice.org, I have been turning to CatholicCulture.

Still, if it’s a day where I want, say, the Common of Doctors or the Common of the Blessed Virgin, and DivineOffice just has the regular Four Week Psalter options, I often find myself searching the Internet, and recently those searches have proven more fruitful:

Liturgy Archive is exactly what I imagined 10 years ago. It is a basic HTML page with links to every option for the entire year: the liturgical seasons, and the collect for every saint on the general calendar. It also has the Commons. So now, when it’s a Carmelite day, I go there for the Commons. I don’t know what their arrangements are with the copyright-enforcing USCCB, but it’s all there for now. Its wider “Archive” has both internal and external links for a variety of liturgical prayers from a number of Christian traditions.

iBreviary is also very good. Indeed, when I heard people say “iBreviary,” I always thought they meant “Divine Office.org”. It is based out of Italy, and defaults to Italian but offers a variety of language options, including both Latin and the official (Grail Psalter) English translations. It is a relatively simple website but is oriented towards tablets.

eBreviary offers everything in PDF format but only offers certain parts for free on its website or App and otherwise requires a subscription because of the copyrights.

More and more, with all these apps available, priests, deacons and religious are finding their confreres praying along in chapel with their phones, tablets and eReaders.

Update: This is (not) BIG news, arguably the biggest news since there’s been “news”

And I’m relatively late to the game in the 24 hour news cycle: this afternoon, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Pope Francis have announced that, in 2025, for the 1700th anniversary, they are going to organize the Third Council of Nicea!!!

Update (bummer):
Fr. Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesman, said that yesterday’s announcement referred to a joint celebration of the anniversary, not a Council, but, “a lot could happen in 11 years.”