Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Hieromartyr Daniel Sysoev on Interracial Marriage


“…all mankind originated from a single root. All men are brothers not figuratively, but literally. Hence, all attempts to develop racist or nationalistic theories are utter foolishness. All nations came forth from the hand of the One Creator. All of them are under His care, and no one will escape from His Judgment. Hence, all attempts to introduce various prohibitions against interracial or international marriages or interaction are not pleasing to the Creator, except for the purpose of preventing joint rebellion against God (for example, modern globalization)” (Priest Daniel Sysoev, A Chronicle of  the Beginning: From the Creation of the World to the Exodus, (New Jersey: Daniel Sysoev Inc., 2023), P.  259).

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Stump the Priest: "Indeed He is Risen!" or "Truly He is Risen!"?


Question: "Why do some Orthodox respond to "Christ is Risen!" with "Indeed He is Risen!" but others say, "Truly He is Risen!"? Which one is correct?"

Both responses are perfectly good translations of the responses in Greek and Slavonic. But "Truly He is Risen!" is most likely based on the Greek response, and "Indeed He is Risen!" is most likely based on the Slavonic.

The oldest English Orthodox text of the Paschal services that I have been able to find actually differs slightly from both. The Service book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church, which was translated by. Isabel Hapgood, and was originally published in 1906, and then published in a corrected edition in 1922, uses the phrase: "He is risen indeed!"

In Greek, the response is Alithos Anesti! (Αληθώς Ανέστη!), and the most natural translation of the Greek word "Alithos" would be "Truly." However, in Slavonic the response is Voistinu Voskrese! (Воистину Воскрес!), and the word "Воистину" has the prefix, "Во" which means "in" followed by "истину" which means "truth." So you could translate it literally as "In Truth," but "Indeed" is probably a more elegant way to translate it. In any case, that is how Isabell Hapgood translated it, and although we did not keep her phrasing exactly, it probably influenced the form we now commonly use.

I hope someone writes a good book on the history of English translations of Orthodox liturgical texts, because you can see that usage has evolved. For example, Hapgood translated "Theotokos" as "Birth giver of God," which is a good literal translation, but most English speaking Orthodox today simply use "Theotokos," which has been in English usage as theological term since at least 1868. On the other hand, it is interesting that Hapgood's translation of the Paschal Troparion ("Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life") is what is most commonly used today. So over time, what seems to work best in English bubbles to the surface, and we settle on particular translations.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

How James 2:18-24 Parallels Romans 3:27-4:22 According to James Dunn

Yesterday I participated in a discussion with one other Orthodox person and two Protestants on the question of Justification, and in particular, about whether the Scriptures teach the Protestant doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone (Sola Fide).

One point that I raised was the parallels between Romans 3:27-4:22 and James 2:18-24, according to  the Protestant Biblical commentator Dr. James D. G. Dunn, who as it turns out was a Wesleyan Biblical scholar, though I bought his commentary on Romans, I simply bought it because I knew many consider it to be the best Protestant commentary on Romans. Here is the chart that he included in his commentary, laying out the parallels, which he of course discussed in far greater detail:

                                                                 Romans           James

Issue posed in terms of faith and works  3:27-28            2:18

Significance of claiming “God is one”   3:29-30            2:19

Appeal to Abraham as test case              4:1-2                2:20-22

Citation of proof text – Gen 15:6           4:3                    2:20-22

Interpretation of Gen 15:6                      4:4-21              2:23

Conclusion                                              4:22                 2:24

 (James D. G. Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary: Romans 1-8, vol. 38a (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988), p. 197).

The fact that James 2 so closely and precisely parallels Romans 3 and 4 cannot be merely coincidental, and so what we have is St. James commenting on what St. Paul wrote -- not to contradict St. Paul, but to correct a misunderstanding of what St. Paul was saying. And so when St. James says "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone" (James 2:24), he is directly contradicting the notion that St. Paul taught justification by faith alone. He did teach that we are justified by faith, but not by faith alone. Rather, as he says in Galatians 5:6, true faith is faith that "works by love," or as St. James also says, "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone" (James 2:17).

What Dunn and many of the Fathers who comment on Romans point out is that St. Paul was not talking about "works" in general, as Protestants have generally taken it, but he is dealing with Jews (both those who accepted Jesus as the Messiah, and those who did not) as having a privileged position with God because of their adherence to the Law of Moses, and the ceremonial aspects of that Law in particular. His point in Romans 3 and 4 was that it is only on the basis of faith in what Christ did for us on the Cross that anyone is saved, and not on the basis of "the works of the law," which was the observance of the rules and rituals of the Mosaic covenant. He was not arguing that we are saved by "Faith alone," regardless of whether we are faithful to God's commandments, as they are properly understood in the light of the Gospel.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Texas Monthly Hit Piece on Russian Orthodoxy in Texas

Note: The article in question is so over the top that I considered not responding to it directly, but I think the people in my parish, and people who have been part of the parish in the past, or will become part of it in the future will need to understand what happened with this article, and what to make of it.

Sometime last year, Meagan Clark Saliashvili contacted me about whether I would agree to be interviewed for an article she was writing for Texas Monthly on the growth of Orthodoxy in Texas. Meagan is an independent reporter who is a convert to Orthodoxy, married to a Georgian man, and a graduate of Harvard Divinity School. I was not unaware of the liberal bent to her past reporting, but I hoped since she was a recent convert that she would be honest and sincere, even though I had reasons to doubt she would be. However, I figured if she was going to write a hit piece, it probably wouldn't matter whether I spoke to her or not, and speaking to her might help. 

As it turned out, the article was not about the growth of Orthodoxy in Texas at all, but was in fact an extremely biased attempt to paint me, my parish, and other Orthodox Christians as racists, conspiracy theorists, and authoritarians. However, the fact that I did talk to her, and allowed her to visit my parish resulted in her putting in many details that contradicted much of what she was trying to accomplish. I am not sure if these things were included in the original version of the story or not, but I was contacted by a fact checker from Texas Monthly (a first from any news outlet I have ever interacted with) and pointed out to him a number of relevant facts that did in fact appear in the article as published. On the other hand, I did not anticipate how this would negatively impact some people in the parish, and that is my biggest regret about agreeing to this.

The extreme bias of the article did not take long to appear, however. The title of the article is itself one of the most ridiculous titles I have ever seen in my life: 

"Inspired by the Confederacy and Czarist Russia, “Ortho Bros” Are on the Rise: A Houston-area priest is part of a group of religious leaders and media figures who draw followers interested in conspiracy theories and authoritarian government."

Of the hundreds of inquirers I have encountered over the years, most of them would not have known what "Czarism" even was or how to pronounce the word when they first began coming to my parish. And discussing the Confederacy is something I don't bring in at all to my discussions about the Orthodox Faith with such inquirers. What I teach and preach is the Tradition of the Church, what it means to be an Orthodox Christian, and how to draw closer to God -- and that is what is in fact drawing people into the Church.

Apparently, to Meagan, thinking that the COVID lockdowns were a bad idea makes one a conspiracy theorist. But those she cites as authorities on Orthodoxy believe in conspiracy theories, such as the idea that Putin and Trump conspired to steal the 2016 election. And while Orthodox Christians are free to have their own views about how the government ought to be run, most of the people I encounter believe that the government we have right now is already too authoritarian... they are hardly begging for more. 

Why put all of that into the title? To make sure people who just read the titles know that Russian Orthodox Christians are scarry bad people.

Secondly, just look at the photo of me that they used for this article. My Church is a very well-lit Church. When this photo was taken, not only was the Church bright with natural light, the photographer had a lot of additional lights shining in my face. The fact that they made the picture so dark was clearly intended to communicate that this article was about something sinister.

The way words were used throughout the article were consistently designed to paint a negative picture of me and my parish. My parishioners don't walk into Church, they "shuffle" in. I don't wear vestments when serving; I wear a "cape." The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia did not reunite with the Church inside of Russia in 2007 because the issues that kept us apart were finally resolved; it was "at Russian president Vladimir Putin’s request." 

I lived through the time before, during, and after the reconciliation of the Russian Church in 2007, and it did not happen because Putin requested it. He had no pull over those outside of Russia. This was an issue that had been on the table for years, and it happened because the time for it to happen had come, and both sides wanted it to happen.

Somehow my sermon on the day that Meagan visited, which was about the slaughter of innocent Palestinian civilians, and the Church's traditional understanding of itself as Israel in contrast to Protestant Dispensationalists who are cheering on the slaughter of Palestinians because of their bad theology, but which nevertheless called for us to not hate other people, was portrayed as if it were mere political commentary, to which my parishioners just nodded along to in some unthinking way. I would invite those who haven't heard that sermon to listen to it, and to judge for themselves.

Meagan suggested that I have people in my "orbit" that are "white supremacists." I have asked her to name them, because if she could point me to anyone who actually held such views, I would want to make sure that their bishop knew about it and dealt with them. But so far, she has named no one, but the smear remains.

She described my spiritual journey into Orthodoxy in ways that were dismissive. I would invite anyone interested in the facts to read my article on the subject: A Pilgrim’s Podvig.

I am quoted as saying: "I think the reason there’s been this big influx since the lockdowns is a lot of people have a sense that things are going in a very bad direction quickly, and they’re trying to grab on to something firm." But then Meagan editorializes, and writes "For Whiteford, that something firm is often certain aspects of traditional Southern culture."

This is not at all true. That something firm is the Orthodox Faith. Anyone who has read what I have written and heard what I have said would know that this is what I was referring to, but instead Meagan has to distort what I was saying so she can shift the focus to what she wants to talk about and further distort things.

She writes:

"During a recent talk in North Carolina, he spoke of the spiritual benefits of agrarianism and asserted that the legacy of the Confederacy has been misconstrued—he believes the Civil War wasn’t primarily fought over slavery. “Bad things happened, and we should never defend those things,” he noted. “But it would be the height of ingratitude for me to throw my ancestors under the bus, particularly when I don’t have any reason to believe that they did anything that they understood to be wrong, at least not in a grossly immoral way.”

The talk that I gave was entitled "Southern Agrarianism and Moldova." I think Meagan thinks that "agrarianism" has something to do with the Confederacy or white supremacy, but it doesn't -- it's a much broader concept. When the Texas Monthly Fact checker called me, he asked me about this, and I pointed out that Southern Agrarian writers came to prominence in the 1920's and 30's, but that the best known contemporary Southern Agrarian writer is Wendell Berry, who is often thought of as an environmentalist. Perhaps the article would have been even more distorted if I had not pointed this out, but that still seems to be her underlying assumption. In that talk, I mentioned the Confederacy only once, while talking about the racial diversity in the South, when I pointed out that the last Confederate general to surrender was Stand Watie, the chief of the Cherokee Nation. But as the title of the talk suggests, the focus of the talk was to discuss the lessons we could learn from Moldova, which is an Orthodox country with a largely agrarian culture. I would suggest that those who would like to listen to my talk, listen to it in its entirety.

But when Meagan says that I "asserted that the legacy of the Confederacy has been misconstrued—he believes the Civil War wasn’t primarily fought over slavery. “Bad things happened, and we should never defend those things,” he noted. “But it would be the height of ingratitude for me to throw my ancestors under the bus, particularly when I don’t have any reason to believe that they did anything that they understood to be wrong, at least not in a grossly immoral way," she is again misrepresenting what I said. Fortunately, the comments she is alluding to were from the question-and-answer period, and you can listen to what I actually said in context here:

You can listen to another comment from the question-and-answer period that was along similar lines, by clicking here.

I don't think that the Civil War was fought for the purpose of abolishing slavery, and I say that for historical reasons that I have laid out before. If I am wrong on the facts I point to, I would be happy to have someone correct me and provide me with the evidence to the contrary, but there are many historians who have reached the same conclusions I have. And yes, I don't support destroying historical monuments and artifacts, because that is what Bolsheviks do -- not people who care about history. No one has to agree with me. My position on this is not a matter of Orthodox Dogma, to be sure. I don't hate anyone because they come to other conclusions on the matter. I believe in being tolerant of other people's opinions. 

Further on, Meagan wrote:

"It’s difficult to determine how many of St. Jonah’s congregants are in accord with Whiteford’s ideology and how many are devoted to the church for more traditional reasons. But it was clear that fringe ideas, including conspiracy theories, are welcome, from anti-vax stances to prepping for apocalyptic scenarios."

What is odd about this is that Meagan has not provided any evidence that I have an ideology, much less that I have imposed it on anyone else, nor has she described what that ideology might be. I would be very interested to learn what that ideology is supposed to be, because I believe ideological thinking of any sort is wrong in principle, and is contrary to a Traditional Christian Mindset. People in my parish hold a wide variety of views on a great many topics, and I don't tell them what they can or cannot think as long as they don't advocate for something contrary to the teachings of the Church. I have people who are very conservative, but I also have people who are politically on the left. Again, I believe in being tolerant of other people.

The article suggested that I somehow support the establishment of a monarchy in the United States. I have never suggested any such thing, as you can see from this answer I gave to a question on the subject: Why Monarchy Won't Work in America.

Meagan made mention of an "anonymous Reddit user who in 2020 posted a call to burn down the “misogynistic xenophobic homophobic St Jonah Russian Orthodox Church.” (Nothing seems to have come of the threat, which Whiteford speculates may have been planted by the FBI.)" 

She makes it sound like this terrorist threat against my Church was no big deal. But let me quote from a review I did of Sarah Riccardi-Swarz's book which tried to portray members of ROCOR as being Putin's fifth column in the United States:

"In June of 2020, my parish had a serious terroristic threat from someone who referred to our parish as "St. Jonah Russian Orthodox Church," despite the fact that we never use "Russian" in the name of our parish, though we make no secret about being part of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. When that happened, I called the FBI, as well as the local Constables office. The local authorities were very responsive, but the FBI never called me back. I mentioned what had happened to a Protestant minister I know who is fairly well connected. He contacted our Lt. Governor, and he called the FBI. Only then did I get a call back, but in the end, they did almost nothing to track down the person who had made these threats, though he had an online profile that should not have been hard to track down, and he was certainly living in this area. This year, on Old Calendar Annunciation, I finally received a visit from an FBI agent (nearly two years later), who began by mentioning what had happened in 2020, and who said that they just wanted to make sure everything was OK, given tensions around the war in Ukraine. He asked if I would agree to talk to him, and I did. His line of questioning had almost nothing to do with the safety and security of my parish. It was all about what contacts I may have had with the Russian Consulate in Houston, whether the Russian government had any influence over my Church, and things of that nature. Recent history has shown that you don't have to actually be guilty of anything for the FBI to put you in jail. So obviously, this attention is unwelcome, though it would have been nice if they had been more interested in my parish in June of 2020. 

I have speculated that perhaps the guy who made this threat was an FBI asset that was trolling to see who would respond to his call to burn my Church down. I entertain that possibility only because it would have been shooting fish in a barrel for the FBI to have tracked this guy down, had they any inclination to do so, but they didn't, and so the question is why didn't they? I don't claim to know the truth about what happened, I only know that it is very odd as it is.

Then Meagan talks about a specific family in my parish and introduces that paragraph with "Not everyone who comes to Whiteford’s church is looking to get involved in political or ideological battles." I was told by the family that spent about three hours talking with her, they talked about homesteading and homeschooling, and the Faith, but that Meagan kept trying to get them to talk about politics. They told her that they don't come to Church to talk politics, but it was Meagan who kept bringing the subject up in the first place.

The fact is no one has come to my parish looking to get involved in political or ideological battles, except perhaps Meagan herself, but the way she words this suggests that this family is exceptional. They are not exceptional in why they have come to my parish, nor in why they have stayed.

It is a shame that a person who ostensibly is an Orthodox Christian, and who assured me that she was doing an article to talk about the growth of Orthodoxy in Texas decided to instead use the occasion to attack people she doesn't agree with. 

The day after this article was posted people in my parish were contacted by a scammer claiming to be me, who was wanting to get access to our parish directory. We don't know what this person's intentions are, but we can reasonably assume that the intentions are not good. When you vilify Russian Orthodox Christians, and paint them as Putin stooges, who are somehow associated with white supremacists despite wanting to establish a Spanish speaking parish, co-authoring statements against racism and preaching sermons about how we can't hate people, unhinged people might decide to do something that results in real people getting hurt. I hope that people like Meagan will keep their responsibility for that kind of reaction in mind in the future.

Friday, March 08, 2024

Deaconesses, Female Deacons, and the Agenda of the St. Phoebe Center


St. Phoebe, the Deaconess

On February 2nd, 2024, Ancient Faith Radio held a discussion about deaconesses, which was a documentary by John Maddox, interspersed with discussions between Fr. Thomas Soroka and John Maddox, and which eventually included callers, included me, among a few others.

There are a number of people whose opinions I respect who thought that the discussion was giving a platform to feminists with an agenda. Personally, I thought it was a mostly useful show, and found the full unedited interviews that John Maddox did with the various guest on the documentary to be even more revealing. Some of the interviews were more interesting than others, but in the description box on YouTube, you can select which interview you want to listen to, which makes navigating this more than 10-hour compilation manageable. 

This show reminded me of the kind of shows that Kevin Allen (of blessed memory) used to do on AFR. The only difference being that he probably would have had Fr. Patrick Mitchell on with someone from the Phoebe Center for Deaconesses, and would have moderated an informal debate designed to let people hear how the two sides compare with each other. 

I think both the shorter show and the full-length interviews make a very strong case against the push for deaconesses, and apparently the Phoebe Center for Deaconesses thought so too, because no sooner was the show over than they were claiming to have been victimized by the show, and the discussions which it sparked.

What Complicates This Discussion

There are several questions that complicate this discussion: 1. What were deaconesses, and how did they function? 2. If the office was restored, what would that look like? 3. Why did they cease to be a living part of the life of the Church and should that office be restored? 4. Is there an agenda behind the push to restore deaconesses? So let's take a look at each of these questions:

1. What were deaconesses, and how did they function? 

We know that deaconesses were celibate women 40 years old and above. They eventually became associated with female monasticism. They certainly assisted with the baptism of women adult converts -- because the practice of the early Church was to baptize everyone in the nude, and obviously this required that adult women be baptized outside of the viewing of men. So while a priest said the words of the baptism from behind a screen, a deaconess performed all of the functions, such as the anointing with oil, the triple immersion, the robing, the chrismation, and the tonsuring. 

In addition to this, we know deaconesses took communion to women who were sick. They also maintained order on the side of the Church in which women were praying during the services. They also, at least in some places formed a choir and sang parts of the services, antiphonally, with the male choir.

There is some debate about whether deaconesses qualified as minor clergy (analogous to readers and subdeacons), or whether they were part of the major orders of clergy (such as deacons, priests, and bishops). There is some good evidence that they were classed closely with deacons, in terms of rank, but this may or may not have been how they were viewed from the beginning, and in various places.

2. If the office was restored, what would that look like?

Without question, deaconesses did not function in the same way as male deacons. This is a key point upon which much confusion arises, because people like the folks at the Phoebe Center are pushing for deaconesses to be ordained on the same basis as male deacons -- and so with the same age limit of 25 and older, no requirement for celibacy, and the same liturgical functions as male deacons. The problem with this is that this is not restoring the ancient order of deaconesses -- this is the establishment of something entirely different. Were they actually calling for the restoration of deaconesses as they once existed in the Church, there would be a lot less controversy on this subject. But speaking of "restoring" deaconesses while actually promoting the introduction of something novel is not accidental sloppiness -- it is a marketing strategy.

In the discussion on this issue, someone pointed out that the Phoebe Center was engaging in the "Motte-and-bailey fallacy." This occurs when someone conflates two positions that share some similarities -- one which is more easily defensible, and one which is not -- and then go back and forth between these two conflated positions, depending on their need to retreat to the more defensible position, or their desire to push the indefensible position. I think this was an insightful observation. When people attack their push for women to function as male deacons, they appeal to the evidence for the ancient order of deaconesses, without ever actually engaging the merits of the criticisms of their far less defensible agenda.

3. Why did they cease to be a living part of the life of the Church and should that office be restored? 

It seems to me that the decline in adult conversions and thus the lack of need for deaconesses to fulfil this most important role was the biggest factor in the decline and eventual disappearance of deaconesses. The fact that they ceased to exist very early on in the Western Church was probably a factor too. I think it ultimately doesn't matter so much why this happened as it does that it did in fact happen. That this order ceased to exist is good evidence that it was no longer needed by the Church, and so those arguing for the restoration of deaconesses have the burden of proof that there is a need for it now. But again, if they were actually talking about restoring deaconesses as they once actually were, it would not be that controversial.

For example, about an hour from Houston, there is a Greek convent. The abbess is a very holy woman, and were she made a deaconess, I certainly would have no reason to object. But the fact is, as an abbess, she already can function pretty much as a deaconess use to function. She cannot now commune in the altar, but she can do pretty much everything else. Even bringing communion to other nuns could be done when there was a need (such as when no priest is available because of the isolation of the convent), with the blessing of her bishop.

I have not asked the abbess for her opinion on this question, but I suspect that if I did, she would not be in favor of restoring deaconesses. I say this because when you look at who is pushing for restoring deaconesses, they are almost always academics.* Serious and experienced monastics that are vocally supporting the restoration of deaconesses are as scarce as hens' teeth. 

4. Is there an agenda behind the push to restore deaconesses?

The evidence that those pushing the "restoration" of deaconesses have an agenda was made very clear if you listened closely to the full interviews. This is seen by the fact that they conflate restoring deaconesses as they once were with introducing women deaconesses that function like male deacons, but that is far from the only evidence.

John Maddex made a point of asking each of the advocates for "restoring" deaconesses whether or not they would agree that women should never be ordained as priests and bishops, and without exception, they all either dodged the question, or eventually acknowledged that this "could" happen since "women deacons would inevitably lead to a conversation about ordaining women priests." John pressed for them to affirm they were not going to go on to push the ordination of women priests and bishops, because he pointed out that if they took the position that this was impossible, this would relieve a lot of the concerns people have on this issue, but not one of them was willing to provide any such assurance, and that is clearly because they have no intention of stopping with women deacons. You will hear the same question being asked, and the same essential answer in the interviews with Dr. Carrie Frederick Frost, Dr. Valerie Karras, and Dr. Helen Theodoropolous. In each case, this question comes close to the end of the interview. In fact, if you compare all three interviews, they all answer controversial questions in ways so similar that it sounds like they all have agreed upon talking points.

You can see the sleight of hand at work on the Phoebe Center website. They have a FAQ page, and one of the questions is "Does the St. Phoebe Center promote the ordination of women to the priesthood (i.e. the episcopos or presbytery)?" And the answer provided is "No, ordination of women to those offices is not part of the Orthodox Christian Tradition and the St. Phoebe Center does not promote this." This answer at first glance sounds like they are opposed to the ordination of women as priests and bishops, but they are careful to not say that. They say it is not part of our tradition... but that doesn't mean they think it is impossible, because if they did think that, they wouldn't refuse to say so. All they say is that "the Phoebe Center does not promote this." But that is because it is part of their talking point strategy. In fact, Dr. James Skedros of Holy Cross Seminary (who did not seem to be an enthusiastic advocate for the "restoration" of deaconesses, but he certainly is not opposed to it, and he has been involved in Phoebe Center discussions on this issue), said that those advocating the "restoration" of deaconesses "recognize [the need] not even to bring up the topic" of ordaining women as priests. It is important to note that this is merely a marketing strategy, and has nothing to do with taking a principled position, being honest, seeking the Truth, or striving to be faithful to the Orthodox Tradition.

Of the interviews of those who best opposed ordaining women deacons, I would recommend listening to Dr. Edith M. Humphrey, Presbytera Dr. Eugenia Constantinou, Khouriah Frederica Mathews-Green, and Dr. Mary Ford.

My Part in this Discussion

I did not intend to call in to this show, but in the chat discussions on YouTube, there were many people who said that AFR should have me on to discuss the issue. Eventually, Fr. Thomas Soroka asked me to call in -- he even sent me a private message. So I did call in. You can listen to my call here, but we got cut off, and I had to call back in twice. 

In my call, I began by pointing out the dishonest use of the phrase "restoration" with relation to what they are promoting, when in fact, they are promoting something entirely different from a restoration. At the end of my call, I made a comment that the Phoebe Center folks took exception to, and claimed was somehow unfit for the ears of women to hear. AFR eventually edited my comments, in a likely vain effort to make the folks at the Phoebe Center happy, but you can listen to the unedited comments by clicking here. This is what I said without editing:

"One other thing I would say quickly about the Phoebe Center, is they say, well, we’re not pushing for women priests, we’re only talking about deaconesses, and I’m very tempted to use a very crass reference to what guys often try to do to pressure women when they’re out in the back seat of a car, but you know, you say I just want to go this far, but no further, but once you get there, then what happens? I don't trust that kind of an argument. I don't think that is where they want to stop, and some of them have openly advocated for women being ordained as priests. We've seen this before. The slippery slope is a real thing, when you have people who intentionally grease it, and we just need to be really on guard."

When I said that I was "tempted to use a very crass reference," what I in fact went on to say was not the crass reference I was tempted to use. I instead toned it down to keep it acceptable for mixed company. Pretty much everyone above the age of 15 knows what I was talking about, and anyone under that age was not likely listening anyway. I think it is an apt analogy. The point is, like the guy in the back seat of a car, they know that saying what they really want is not going to get the desired result, and so ask for something short of that... with every intention of pushing to go beyond that point once they get there. It is obvious that they really want women priests and women bishops, but they know saying so plainly would get them nowhere.

The faux outrage over what I said is especially rich given that many of those expressing that outrage are also are pushing the LGBTQP agenda and would never object to that agenda being pushed on kids in school, nor would you likely hear them expressing outrage over gay pride parades in which men expose themselves to children and engage in lewd public acts in their presence.

If I had been able to hear Dr. Edith Humphries interview before I called in, I might have simply referred to this a "sleight of hand" tactic as she did, so that they would not then be able to avoid dealing with the substance of my criticisms, and instead deflect attention by clutching their pearls, and by unironically appealing to pre-feminist notions that women are too fragile to hear such things said.

Before my call, there was a young woman who called in and who said that God had called her to be a deaconess, and asked what she should do about it. Fr. Thomas Soroka's answer was very pastoral, but he did not say that she should be made a deaconess in the end. And so somehow this very pastoral answer was later referred to as being unkind. The woman who called in has published articles on this subject, and when you put your thoughts out there publicly, people do have a right to express contrary opinions. Also when you claim God has told you something, people also have a right to question whether this was really God, or just symptoms of self deception. There were people who made some unkind comments elsewhere about her. I certainly don't defend being unnecessarily harsh with anyone. But the faux outrage that was expressed in this case was another example of having a double standard. You can't contend that women are so strong and tough that they can do anything a man can do, while at the same time act as if anyone who contradicts a woman and makes her feel bad is a "big fat meany!" One of these two views may be a correct way to view women, but both cannot be true in the same universe. 

In any case, here is what I have to say on the subject in a forum in which I have more time to lay out the case:

Now if the folks at the Phoebe Center actually agree that women can never be ordained as priests or bishops, because this would be an unthinkable violation of the Orthodox Tradition, I will gladly make a public apology in response. But I won't be holding my breath in the meantime. They won't say that, because clearly that is where they want to go next, and "restoring" deaconesses is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

* This point was made in the full interview with Khouriah Federica Matthews-Green.

See also: 

Sister Vassa on the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood

Stump the Priest: Altar Girls?

Stump the Priest: The Churching of Boys vs. the Churching of Girls

Friday, February 02, 2024

Moldova Pilgrimage, Part 5

A statue of Mother Safta Brâncoveanu in front of the main Church in the Văratec women's monastery. 

Click here for Part 1.

Click here for Part 2.

Click here for Part 3.

Click here for Part 4.

On Thursday, August 18th, we packed all of our stuff back into the van, because we would be heading back to Moldova before the day was over, but we had two more stops planned in Romania first.

We went to the Văratec Monastery first. It was founded under the guidance St. Paisius Velichkovsky, and was associated with the Agapia women's monastery which is nearby. Agapia is much larger.

The interior of the main Church in the Văratec Monastery

One interesting icon I noticed was this one, which was on the western wall, and part of the icons depicting the last judgment:

I can't make out the inscription, which was small, not clear, and probably in Romanian, but it was very similar to an icon I saw at the Old Rite parish in Erie, Pennsylvania, which had an English inscription. Assuming these two icons are modeled on the same original, the inscription on the scroll held by the angel says something like "Because of your fornication you are denied entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, but because of your charity, you are spared the torments of hell." I have never seen an icon like this elsewhere, but would be interested in learning more about it, if anyone has more information.

Next we went to the Agapia women's monastery. It was impressive because of its size and the number of nuns I saw there. Iryna Teodoreanu, who lives in Houston, but has many friends who are nuns in the monastery made sure we were given a tour. 


There is a very impressive museum that we were guided through by Nun Nicoleta, who speaks English very well. We had a lot of very interesting discussions as well, but I noticed my phone was vibrating, and then saw that Constantine had sent me several messages saying that Elena wasn't feeling well, and that we needed to leave. So unfortunately, we had to cut our visit short. Elena was very pregnant by this time, but up until now had been able to keep up with all the walking without any signs of it being a problem, but we quickly started making our way back to where the van was parked. After she had a chance to rest, and drink some water, she was feeling better, but we thought it was probably a good idea to start heading back to Moldova.

Crossing the border back into Moldova was less of an adventure than was our crossing the border into Romania. We wanted to make it back to Sălcuța in time to celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration on the Old Calendar (keep in mind, Romania is on the New Calendar, Moldova is on the Old). We made it back home, but I don't think we made it back in time to attend the evening service. 

On Friday morning I was taken to Church early, so I could attend Matins, before the hours and Liturgy. When we arrived I noticed Fr. Nikolai was talking with another priest. It turned out there were a group of pilgrims from Kiev, who had gone to Bulgaria, but their van had broken down, and Fr. Andrey was hoping to serve the Liturgy there. I noticed Fr. Nikolai had him show his paperwork, and I think this was to make sure that he was a priest under Metropolitan Onouphry (the legitimate Ukrainian Orthodox Church), and not under Epiphoney, the head of the US sponsored schismatic Ukrainian Church.

Since Fr. Andrey was serving in Slavonic, I did all of my parts in English. This may have been the most international service this village parish had ever seen. Again, it was very hot in the Church, but we all survived. After the Liturgy, we all were invited to Fr. Nikolai's home for a festal meal. We also got to see Fr. Sergei's home, which was very close by. We had conversations going on in Russian, Romanian, and English, with various people translating to help the non-trilingual people. Before we left, we took some pictures. 

From left to right: Fr. Nikolai, Constantine, Fr. Gregory, myself, Fabi, my wife, Matushka Margareta, Elena, Fr. Sergei, and I believe that is one of Fr. Sergei's daughters.

After we got back from what was a truly wonderful afternoon, we needed to get ready to head out to visit another of Elena's aunts and uncles, Pelaghia and John, in Cantemir, which is close to the border with Romania, but a bit south of where we had crossed back and forth previously. Elena was doing the driving, and we were going a bit faster than usual to try to make it there by a reasonable hour. We were going up and down hills, and rounding corners this way and that, such that by the time we got there, I was feeling more than a bit queasy. Uncle John is Moldovan, but was a veteran of the Soviet Army, and prefers to speak in Russian, and so we were again having a trilingual conversation, but a pleasant one. After breakfast the next morning, we headed back to Sălcuța for one final time. Loaded up all of our things, and said our goodbye's to Elena's family, and then headed to spend the night in Chișinău, so we could catch our flight early on Sunday morning. We did a reader service back in the apartment we stayed in, and got up early to do our final packing.

Constantine and I loaded the van with all the luggage, because we had too many bags to fit everyone and the luggage into the van, and so the plan was for Elena, my wife, and Fabi to catch an Uber to the airport. However, Elena discovered that she could not find an Uber driver on Sunday morning, and after much waiting and hoping, finally, she stopped a car with a young man and asked if he would give them a ride to the airport. He was a random stranger, but in this country that places such a high value on hospitality, she was not disappointed, even in the capital city.

Once at the airport, we had one final bit of drama when we were trying to board the flight. The agent for the airline asked Elena if she had a new doctor's letter stating she was able to fly in her advanced state of pregnancy. She didn't have such a letter, because we obviously had not been back to Houston, but they said the previous letter was no longer valid. However, this time the agent helped her out, and just suggested she might want to wear a jacket that would make it less obvious how far along she was, so that she didn't get any hassles when we had to catch our connecting flight in Istanbul. When we got to Istanbul, we found such a jacket, and had no further problems for the remainder of the trip.

I was looking forward to being able to visit the various churches and monasteries we visited, but I was not expecting to have this trip being a life changing event, but having a chance to see a largely agrarian Orthodox country up close really was a revelation. Even though Moldova is a relatively poor country, they are the richest country I have ever been in, when it comes to their faith, their culture, and the strength of their families. We have a lot we could learn from Moldova.

The following is a video of a talk I gave last September that reflects on what I learned from this trip.

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

What is Christian Marriage?

Me and my wife with my daughter Catherine, and son-in-law Benjamin Dixon

The following sermon was given on May 7, 2023, at the wedding of my daughter Catherine Whiteford and my son-in-law Benjamin Dixon, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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

Marriage was established by God in Creation. Although many people get confused as to what marriage is these days, I can guarantee you 100 percent of the people here have a male father and a female mother and only one of each. That's the basis for all human life. God made it the very root and foundation of society, and in a healthy society most people would be born from parents married to each other and live in a stable home. The more that ceases to be the norm, the more unstable society becomes.

That's why it's all the more important for us as Christians to be committed to marriage, because each marriage is like one thread in a big, woven cloth. You might pull one string out without messing up the whole garment, but if you keep pulling out strings, one after and another, pretty soon the whole thing unravels. Marriage is that important.

Christian marriage is something in addition to that. In the Gospel reading, we heard about how Christ took natural water–which is good in of itself and made by God at the time of Creation–and how, when He blessed it, He turned that water into wine. God takes what He already blesses from Creation in terms of natural marriage and makes it into something else. It's not just an avenue through which life comes forth and we produce future generations, nor just the basis of society. It's also the path by which you can save your souls.

A husband and a wife in a Christian home are to be committed to each other in such a way that when one person is weak, the other one is strong. If you have to drag the other person across the finish line of life into heaven, you do that, because you are that committed to the relationship. 

It's not just important for you, but also important for your children. It's difficult for children to see parents who don't get along, particularly if it was those parents who taught them the Faith. They can reasonably ask, "if my parents taught me the Faith but they couldn't keep the marriage together, then what good is it?"

We as parents need to be good models of what it means to be Christian parents, even if it's difficult. The thing is, there are always going to be times that are difficult. There will always be times in your marriage when you think, “I made a big mistake, I don't know about this, this is not going well.” But the thing is, if you remain committed to it–and both of you remain committed to it–you will be able to stand firm. 

How do you get that kind of blessing from God? You do what the Virgin Mary said to the servants in the Gospel reading: “Do whatever He tells you.” And then they took that water to Christ and He blessed it, turning it into wine. If you do whatever Christ tells you to do, then you will have no problems between each other, your children will be blessed, and society around you will be blessed because they can look to you as an example of a Christian man and woman. 

May God bless you.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Moldova Pilgrimage, Part 4

The Elder Cleopa

Click here for Part 1.

Click here for Part 2.

Click here for Part 3.

On Tuesday, we went to the Sihăstria Secului Monastery, where the Elder Cleopa was a monk and later the abbot. 

I believe that it was on the way to this monastery that we passed a Soviet cemetery on the side of the road. At the center of this plot, there was a sizable stone marker with the hammer and sickle. I would imagine that these soldiers must have been killed in a battle in that area. But it was hard to imagine a war going on in this area now. I was also surprised that the cemetery seemed to be well maintained, and not vandalized, which I thought was impressive, given that Romania fought on the other side of that war. I can't find the source of the quote, but I believe it is a true saying: "Who but a coward makes war on a soldier after he is dead."

The Sihăstria monastery is the only one that we went to that had a sign that said not to take photos, and so we didn't. But I found this video on YouTube which gives you a good view of this beautiful monastery:

We made a point of going to this monastery first, because Elena knew that Fr. David Companik has a special veneration for Elder Cleopa, and so she hoped to find something there that she could give him as a gift. I figured that there were probably icons of him, without a halo (since he has not been formally glorified yet), and as a matter of fact they had them on sale in the monastery bookstore. We venerated Elder Cleopa's grave, and spent a good bit of time looking around the monastery, and then we went to the nearby Secu Monastery.

The above video gives a good overview of the monastery, although it was taken during the winter, and we were there in August. It is a beautiful monastery, but relatively small compared to the others in the area. I believe we had plans to see other monasteries that day, but I think my wife was feeling under the weather, and so we decided to go back to the hotel and take it easy for the rest of the day.

On Wednesday, we decided to first go to the Neamț Citadel, which overlooks the city of Târgu Neamț from Pleșu Hill.

It was a lot cooler there for mid-August than it would have been back home, but since we had to walk up the hill to get to the Citadel, we decided it would be best to do that before things warmed up. 

A short clip taken outside the Citadel. You can briefly see Elena. The music was not added to the video.

As I was walking across the bridge that leads into the Citadel, there were people coming out, and as Elena told me later, there was a boy who saw me and said "Wow, Mom! Look -- a priest!" But as I got closer he said, "Wait... is he a real priest? He has no belly, Mom!" When my wife heard the story, she immediately reminded me that this is why she makes me eat healthy food.

Matushka Patricia and me on our way out of the Citadel.

There was a guide in the Citadel who spoke English very well, and he told us that St. Stephen the Great had changed the direction of the entrance to the Citadel, so that you could only reach the entrance by going on the bridge which circled around, and prevented taking a battering ram, and getting any speed to break down the gate. This Citadel was never taken by force, but when the Turks conquered the area, they forced the Romanians to blow up the Citadel. What you see today is not the full Citadel that once was, but what could be reconstructed out of the lower levels.

After lunch, we went to the nearby Neamț Monastery, which is where St. Paisius Velichkovsky ended his days. For many years, St. Paisius was mentioned in the list of saints when the prayers of the Litia were done in ROCOR. His name was later removed, as other have been added, but his name stood out because we usually do not mention the surnames of saints in our prayers, and his name was a name that a non-Russian has a bit of trouble getting used to saying. Prior to this trip, I only knew that he had been on Mt. Athos, and had played an important role in the revival of Russian monasticism. I had no idea of the Romanian connection with St. Paisius, but it went back to the early days of his monastic life. The Prophet Elias Skete on Mt. Athos, where he was the Abbot, had both a Slavonic and Romanian choir, which alternated during the services. After leaving Mt. Athos, St. Paisius came to this area, and eventually to this monastery. And I suspect that it is largely due to him that there is such an impressive collection of monasteries in a relatively small area. He not only published the Philokalia in Slavonic, but he also had it published in Romanian.

The Main Church of the Monastery.

The walls inside the main Church of the monastery. Blacked with centuries of incense, and with some damage from having been burned on more than one occasion over its long history. This monastery is yet another monastery built by St. Stephen the Great.

The monastery courtyard.

A miraculous Icon of the Mother of God.

The relics of St. Paisius Velichkovsky

An Icon of St. Paisius at the Monastery, in which he is referred to as "St. Paisius of Neamț."

You can listen to a sermon I preached on the Sunday of All Saints of Russia, which focused on St. Paisius, and highlighted this Romanian connection: St. Paisius Velichkovsky

While in the main church, I struck up a conversation with a monk who spoke English very well, and who asked me where I was from. I told him, and introduced him to my wife. He asked where she was from, and I told him that she was from China. He then said "O, you searched very far for wife!" And I told him, that actually I met her in my high school gym class in Houston.

Nearby there is a seminary, and the seminary was a very new and beautiful Church, with vibrant icons inside and out.

There was one icon in the Church that I wasn't expecting to see:

I noticed in other Romanian Churches that there were often portraits of the founders of a Church on the back western wall. In one older church, there was a portrait of a King of Romania that I believe was actually a Roman Catholic. So this portrait of Patriarch Bartholomew is there, next to a similar portrait of the Patriarch of Romania who consecrated this Church together some years back.

To be continued...

Friday, September 08, 2023

Moldova Pilgrimage, Part 3

The St. Paraskeva Cathedral in Iași, Romania

Click here for Part 1.

Click here for Part 2.

On Sunday morning, August 14th, I arrived at the village church early enough to do the entrance prayers before Matins would begin. I noticed later that the resident clergy did the entrance prayers later, during the hours, but I am not used to doing Matins on Sunday morning. Following the service in Romanian was again difficult, but I generally had at least some idea of where we were. 

Even though the outside temperature was comfortable, the inside of the Church was certainly on the warm side. After I was fully vested, it was extremely hot. There was one window in the altar which was slightly cracked. At one point, Fr. Sergei (the younger brother) opened up the window more widely, and I could feel the faintest hint of a cross-flow, but not long after that, Fr. Nikolai (the older brother) put the window back as it was before. 

I wondered whether they would abbreviate Matins, or go straight from the Great Doxology to the beginning of the Liturgy (as Greeks typically do), but they did neither. They did the full canon at Matins, and after Matins, did the 1st, 3rd, and 6th Hours, followed by the Liturgy. During the Liturgy, I tried to do as much of the parts that I was supposed to do in Slavonic, because I figured the people were more likely to understand that, than to understand it in English. By the end of the Liturgy, I was soaking wet from the heat.

At the end of the Liturgy, Fr. Nikolai asked me to say a few words. I told them briefly about how I had discovered the Orthodox Faith, and that while they might not all realize it, they had inherited a great treasure. I also commented on what a beautiful and pious country that they had, and that they should fight to hang on to what they have. I said this with a sense of sadness, because while I hope that they do hang on to what they have, I know that the pull of western culture, if it has its way, will do everything it can to see that they do not. 

After the dismissal, we did the lesser blessing of the waters, which is appointed to be done on the feast of the Procession of the Cross. I was handed a candle with a bath towel. I had seen something similar when Elena has been the Godmother at baptisms in our parish (and she and Constantine have racked up a considerable number in the preceding year). At such baptisms, she made a point of giving each of those who are baptized a similar bath towel. I don't know if this is just a local custom, a Moldovan custom, or a more widely observed Romanian custom.

After the services, Fr. Nikolai invited us to his home for lunch. When I got there, I was happy to discover that he had air conditioning in his home. My wife had over heated during the service, and so went back to Elena's parents' home, to rest. I tried to entice her to come to Fr. Nikolai's with the promise of air conditioning, but it didn't work.

One again we were treated to a wonderful meal that consisted of locally grown food, and the family's own homemade wine. Fr. Nikolai's English was limited, but I was able to talk with him to some extent before his brother arrived. I noticed he had both Romanian books in his library, and found out that he went to seminary in Romania. When Fr. Sergei arrived, he translated the conversation, which then could get into more complex subjects.

Fr. Nikolai chided Elena a bit for not giving him more advanced notice of our visit. I found out later that he had made sure the whole choir was present for both the evening and morning services, since they had special guests. He also discussed what we should be sure to see while in Romania, after he found out that Romania was our next stop.

After a very enjoyable afternoon, we went back to Elena's parents' home to rest a bit, before we headed to Romania. The idea was to try to cross the border after midnight, in hopes that the traffic would be less, but it didn't quite work out as we hoped.

We drove on an international road, which for several stretches did not appear to have been maintained since the days when Moldova was part of the Soviet Union. We had to drive slow, and it was bit like driving on the surface of the Moon. As we approached the border crossing, the road was smooth, but it was only one lane in each direction, and there was a long line of trucks that for some reason was backed up for quite a distance. Following the lead of some cars in front of us, we began driving on the opposite lane, hoping to get past this line of trucks (because cars have a different line at the border), but what happened was that at some point cars coming in the opposite direction caused the line we were in to come to a complete stop, and because we were on a bridge, which railing on both sides, there was no way to pass, and no room to turn around.

For several hours, we were stuck. I never saw any law enforcement at any point during the entire affair, who made any attempt to unsnarl this problem. After a while several truck drivers got out of their vehicles, and began cursing at each other in Romanian, Russian, and Ukrainian. But ever so slowly, they began to direct different trucks and vehicles that could move, and somewhat like the movements of a Rubik's Cube, they gradually began to solve the puzzle. This involved trucks and cars up and down the road, moving as far as they possibly could, to make just enough room, for people to start turning around. And finally, we were moving, though in the opposite direction that we wanted to go. Once we were free of the traffic jam, we began asking people if there was a back road that we could take to the border crossing. We found out that there was. It was a somewhat rugged road, with many twists and turns, but we made it to the crossing, and at long last, we were able to begin the process of crossing the border.

The roads in Romania are consistently good. And sometime at around 4 in the morning, we made to Iași, Romania, and the three-star hotel there. It was a very nice hotel, except that the air conditioning wasn't quite up to standard. We slept in a bit, had breakfast there, and then went out to go to the main cathedral there, where the relics of St. Paraskeva (or "Petka," as the Serbs call her) are found. The Romanian Orthodox Church is on the New Calendar, and though we had just begun the Dormition Fast on the Old Calendar on Sunday, Monday, August 15th was already the end of the fast and the celebration of the Feast of the Dormition.

It was a beautiful day, and also a national holiday in Romania. The line to venerate the relics of St. Paraskeva was quite long, but well worth the wait. The Cathedral itself is beautiful. 

The interior of the St. Paraskeva Cathedral in Iași

The relics of St. Paraskeva.

One thing I have learned over my years as an Orthodox Christian, is that a saint that before was just one of many names becomes a saint that you feel a personal connection with, when you have visited their shrine, and venerated their relics.

A government building with a statue of one of the kings of Romania.

We visited a much older Church, which had these bells and this stone. The stone is in Romanian, but with Cyrillic letters, and has the ancient symbol of Moldova, which is the now extinct Aurochs.

As we walked around the city, I met the first beggars I encountered on this trip. They were gypsies, and I kept bumping into the. I had only some Moldovan change and some Russian rubles, and so gave them what I had. Constantine noticed that they had handlers who were keeping an eye on their work, and when they saw a hundred ruble note, they showed it to their handler, thinking it was worth a lot more than it actually was.

We decided not to stay another night in the hotel there, because of the air conditioning, and so went on to Târgu Neamț, which has a large number of monasteries nearby. When we arrived in the city, we parked in the center area, and were trying to figure out if we needed to pay for a parking meter. While we were focused on that there was a Gypsy girl who liked like she was about 6, further off there was an older Gypsy woman who was watching her, and she had what looked like a forced smile on her face. She approved Fabi, who had wandered off from the rest of us, and I am not sure what transpired between them, but once Constantine saw what was happening, he yelled for Fabi to come back to us, and she didn't respond. He ran over and grabbed her, and the Gypsies quickly disappeared. Constantine was convinced that this was an attempted kidnapping, and given the circumstances, that seemed likely. After that, we made sure Fabi was holding the hands of an adult whenever we were out in public. After that surreal experience, we had dinner in town, and then went looking for a hotel.

We turned to Google, to see what we could find, and went to the Pensiunea Eden, in Agapia, Romania. It is a small hotel with a restaurant. Before we decided to stay, we asked if we could look at the room, because we wanted to make sure the air conditioning really worked. The woman we were talking to thought we were odd for asking, but upon inspection, the air conditioning worked great. The food at the restaurant was also great, so we ended up making this our base of operations for the rest of our time in Romania.

To be continues...