Christian News Sources

Recently I came across a new site called the Daily Christian Reader, and I was impressed that it’s a site intent on gathering together a mix of Christian news, news important to Christians, Christian thought, and even doses of humor. 🙂 I was even more impressed that the site has a section for Eastern Orthodoxy, which is rare in the United States, considering what a small minority of the population we constitute.

Unfortunately, a lot of the “mainstream media” has become more and more hostile to Christians and Christian belief. Not only that, but reporters seem to be ever more estranged from practicing Christians, which leads to a lot of mistakes in reporting, such as the New York Times’ Paris correspondent confusing the “Blessed Sacrament” and “statue of Jesus” in reporting of the fire at Notre Dame. There’s even a whole site called “Get Religion” which aims at digging a little deeper into (generally) flawed mainstream media coverage of religious issues.

True, most newspapers no longer have a religion “beat”. However, that’s no excuse for the New York Times’ Vatican correspondent misunderstanding the significance of Easter – twice!

As it is, here’s a short guide to some of the best sites for news for a Christian audience. Please feel free to comment with any more suggestions.

Aggregators

  • Daily Christian Reader – As mentioned before, it’s a new site, and they’re trying to become a portal to fill this niche of Christian news sites
  • Christian Daily Reporter – A “Drudge Report” style page founded by Adam Ford, the founder of the Babylon Bee and the Adam4d comic.
  • Real Clear Religion – From the organization behind the Real Clear suite of websites, including Real Clear Politics, it’s really gone down in quality, and these days, I don’t even think it’s updated daily anymore.
  • Orthodox Collective – This is an uncurated blog aggregation site, and most of the sites are not actually news sites. However, because it pulls information from Orthodox sources all over, it ends up being one of the first places to “pick up” news in the Orthodox world, regardless of jurisdiction.

Original Content

  • Life Site News – High-quality site with reports about “life” issues and ethics. While not a Catholic Church organization, they feature a “Catholic” edition as well. They’ve also found themselves target of deplatforming efforts as well as smear campaigns to label them “untrustworthy” or “fake news”.
  • Daily Wire – I’ve been noticing this site get more and more attention for their reporting.
  • Daily Signal – One of the few Protestant publications that I’ve found that is still readable.
  • Daily Mail Online – By no means is this a Christian site, and their writers are somewhat antagonistic to Christian faith that clashes with mainstream culture. However, they have tons and tons of content, and very often will have some sort of article where most other news outlets do not. (Then again, dress codes at Catholic school dances can hardly be classified as “news” either, so proceed with caution.)

Christian Persecution

News From Commentary

  • Rod Dreher – I often don’t agree with the man politically, but he’s certainly worth reading for stories Christian Culture, particularly in the West.
  • Monomakhos – For goings-on in the Orthodox Church in the United States. Again, I don’t subscribe to every opinion written here, but both in the posts and in the comments, there’s a lot of information that perhaps would get lost elsewhere.

Advertisements

Joy as Necessity (Dancing in Iran)

As much as the Puritans had an outsized influence on American culture, I think that one of the primary things they erred in, theologically, is the notion that joy – or maybe intentional happiness – is somehow frivolous, and therefore sinful.

Joy is a necessity of life, and while it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are experiencing “happiness” all the time, it’s a sustaining force that allows us to draw from happiness something greater, something that give us hope and perspective when times are rough. People are not mindless drones, although work is an important part of life, the soul needs more than constant work, constant busyness, to be satisfied.

This is part of what makes this story so disturbing. According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, the Education minister is cracking down on the school officials who allowed Iranian children to dance around to some music in school. https://www.iranhumanrights.org/2019/05/title-irans-education-minister-cracks-down-on-school-kids-dance-challenge/

From our perspective, it’s a sweet little video. Little kids bopping around, smiling and laughing, the way little kids do. They are experiencing one of the ways in which music touches the soul, that delight. Now, from what I can tell in the English translation, the song is far from profound, it’s meant to be more of a Eurostyle techno earworm to get people moving on the dance floor. “Shake it sexy” isn’t necessarily a phrase little kids ought to be familiar with, but that’s not what kids are doing here. It’s hardly the type of thing, with all the other serious problems Iran is dealing with right now, that needs officials up to the deputy speaker of Parliament considering a crisis worthy of investigation and punishment.

Official video of the song “Gentleman” by US-Iranian artist Sasy

The singer, Sasy, for his part, has not backed down either. It helps that he lives in California, but still, publicly standing up to Iranian officials on this matter is no little thing, and he ought to be commended.

God is Love, and in His love and in loving others, we find real, sustaining joy. Music is part of that expression, whether it be for love, for mourning, for silliness, for dance, and it is no coincidence that music is so often referenced in the Bible.

Hard-line Islam, on the other hand, shuns music. In some sense, like the Puritans, there’s kind of an idea that the soul doesn’t need joy, that one ought to operate, always, in a way that is contra to this. Yes, the Christian life, and in Orthodoxy, in particular, we are taught that we need to live in a manner that curbs the passions, but when we actually do this, it almost always brings to us a more joyful life. It is not a blanket prohibition on fun (which was a common criticism of Christians I heard as a kid).

We need joy. We need the times to be happy and the times to mourn. As the passage in Ecclesiastes says:

1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Chapter 3:1-8 (King James Version)

Even this mentions dancing, because it’s so important to the human condition, an expression of joy. May we all pray that the time for dancing in Iran be near!

The Attraction of Orthodox Christianity behind the Zion Curtain

Apparently, the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America has recently purchased a 5.5 acre plot of land in Salt Lake City to build a church, establish a cemetery, and eventually construct a Cathedral.

Salt Lake City, of course, is the center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the Mormon culture not only pervades Salt Lake City and the state of Utah, but large swaths of the western United States.

It’s not that most of Mormon culture is bad; in fact, there’s a lot that is worth emulating. The big drawback, though, is that their theology is hardly “mainstream” Christian, what with the writings of Joseph Smith and the like being considered part of canon, but at a time when a lot of “mainstream” Protestant churches seem to be straying further and further away from sound doctrine, in my experience, at least, the Mormons are putting more emphasis on Jesus and less on Joseph Smith. (I’d even wager that their new emphasis on being the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” – ChurchofJesusChrist.org – is part of this.)

Looking at the Mormon Church from the outside, it seems like things are great, but it seems like they are not exempt from the challenges of retention, particularly among young people.

Of course, not all of these people leaving are coming to Orthodoxy, but a few of them are. Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church, the parish with plans to build the church and cathedral, has had enough growth that the new construction has become necessary.

In my own opinion, I believe that the Orthodox Church has a unique advantage in speaking to Mormons, particularly because of the way the Orthodox speak about theosis. I’m not saying that the Orthodox idea of theosis and Mormon deification (or exaltation) are anywhere near the same thing. However, the fact that the Mormon perspective acknowledges that there is an element of continuing ‘ascetic struggle’ to salvation is something that a lot of Western Christendom has seemingly lost. Faith is what saves us, yes, but that faith needs to transform one’s life, to shape one’s thoughts, to guide one’s actions. Part of this is why Mormons do have a unique community and culture.

When all one needs to do is “say the word” to accept Jesus into one’s heart, there’s a lot more leeway to not actually let one’s “faith” affect the rest of one’s life. When the idea is that no matter what we do, we are totally depraved, it logically quashes the motivation to try harder, to let oneself be transfigured, because in the end, what’s the difference? No, it’s not by works alone that we are “saved”, but a philosophy that relegates them to lower importance makes for a much different perspective of the role of religion in one’s life.

In the end, even with my respect and affection for the Mormons I’ve encountered, the theology issues made it impossible for me to convert to the LDS Church. I found it astounding, before I had found Orthodoxy, being an a Mormon home, surrounded by the family’s hospitality, having the mother of the family tell me, “You need a church. Even if it doesn’t end up being ours, you need a church.” Heretical, maybe. But I found it remarkable because it was obvious that their faith and their actions stemmed from belief in Jesus more than anything else.

In an age where, if one is truly seeking answers, it’s easier than ever find them (even if one needs a whole lot of discernment to understand what is true and what is not). In some sense, I think that makes it harder for the theology of Joseph Smith et al to stand. There are just so many inconsistencies in what he taught. I think this is a HUGE hindrance to the Latter Day Saints, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s causing a number of very sincere, dedicated Mormons to question and/or leave the church. One would hope though, that, rather than just abandoning religion, those seeking Truth will find it.

(For anyone interested in donating to the building project in Salt Lake City, their building project page can be found here: https://saintspeterpaulchurchcapitalcampaign.org/ )

Orthodoxy in Western Europe – Nativity of the Mother of God Convent, Asten, the Netherlands

This week, one of the local Orthodox churches hosted a small presentation from Gerontissa (Abbess) Johanna of the Nativity of the Mother of God Convent, located near the town of Asten, in the southeastern part of the Netherlands.

Gerontissa Johanna speaking about her convent in the Netherlands

She told the story of Mother Maria, the founder of the monastery, who was a native Dutch woman who came to Orthodoxy as a teen, soon afterward following the path of a monastic. First she stayed in the Netherlands, then moved to Serbia, where she was acquainted with St. Justin Popović , but due to restrictions on the Church there at that time, and the restrictions on her as a foreigner, she went to Greece and spent more than a decade there. Later, she was encouraged to go back to the Netherlands to start a monastery there, and the result was, in 1989, the founding of this monastery in Asten. For a much more detailed story, please see the following link: http://orthochristian.com/7381.html.

In any case, although Mother Maria died in 2016, the work of the convent still continues. Abbess Johanna related to us some of the stories of the convent, and all the work that has been going on to renovate the premises. She also talked a bit about what it’s like to be a nun in a very secular society, but also a little bit about the people who stop by, and a number of blessings and miracles they have been the recipients of.

As the program switched to a question and answer session, Abbess Johanna was asked a little bit about her own life, which turned out to be a fascinating story in itself. She was born in central New York state, grew up in a traditionally Catholic family, but was still quite young when the changes of Vatican II came about. These changes rattled her faith, to some degree, but at least to the point of pretty much leaving the Roman Catholic Church. Eventually, she came to be part of a group that “found” Orthodoxy, though not all the members made that conversion. When asked why she became a nun, quite seriously she said, “I don’t know.” However, she had a knack of infusing an almost deadpan humor into the way she would tell the stories, and at this point, the room broke out into a little giggle. She continued, though, that she has no idea why she became a nun, but that she couldn’t have imagined doing anything else with her life.

She talked a little bit about their routine. There are four nuns there now. In general, matins begin between 5-5:30 am. They have Divine Liturgy about three times per week, though it usually begins somewhat later than matins because the priest has to come from another town. She stressed that the first job in the monastery is prayer, and that it is through prayer that we have a connection to God. Especially considering how secular a lot of places in this world have become, and how lost a lot of people are, she finds it all the more important to do the work to bring prayer into this world and help forge that connection.

She went on to talk about everyday life outside of services, how, in one sense, it’s fairly normal – cooking, cleaning, shopping, doing the things like candle-making that bring the convent in some money, receiving visitors, what have you. She said that in the monastery, all work is blessed by the Abbot or Abbess, and although one could think that this is merely a way to create mindlessness for most of the monks or nuns, that actually, one finds a freedom in obedience.

Gerontissa Johanna explaining some of the renovations being done.

A couple of other things she spoke about were things like giving one’s heart and soul to Orthodoxy, as it is the religion of love. She mentioned that she believes that God gives every one of us something unique to do, but that we really need to pay attention to figure out what that is because most of what we get tasked to do in the everyday is mundane and boring. She also joked a little about how God seemed to completely ignore a lot of her personal “nevers”. (I’ll never do this, I’ll never do that…)

She finished by affirming that eventually, at the right time, we get what we need, and that no matter what circumstances we may find ourselves in, gratitude is important, and that everyone has something to be grateful for.

In any case, if any of you are interested in keeping up a little more with the convent, a Facebook group has been started, though you’ll need to submit a request to the admin to be in it.

As an aside, here’s a link to an article about Mother Maria fighting the Dutch government over chickens: https://incommunion.org/2006/02/19/an-abbess-who-said-no/

Fighting the fraternity

Most of us human beings depend on the ties that bind to be able to make the most of this life. The first and most important of these is family. Family ought to be the place where most of us feel safe and protected.

Outside of family, then there are things like Church, which ought to be like a second family, and then we have other ties, other loyalties which are usually a little less stable – jobs, recreational clubs – and, in this day in age, online social media.

I have noticed, as a female, that it is important not just for little boys to see men being men, but that it is important for most men to have time to be around and relate to other men without the presence (or with the minimal presence) of women.

Once upon a time, work was almost always one of those places. However, there are a few high-stress, high-emotion jobs which are still predominantly or exclusively male where there is a strong sense of fraternity. This, in itself, is not a bad thing; for instance, it’s hard for most of us to imagine being attacked in combat, constantly encountering the worst in humanity as a big-city police officer, or carrying the spiritual load of a good pastor or priest.

In these professions, these callings, it’s natural that strong fraternities would develop, and it’s one of the ways that people these people learn to handle life. These groups present themselves as being composed of people being held to a “higher standard”, and for that reason, the public generally allows members in these groups a little more leeway when it comes to matters of benefit of the doubt and such things. After all, these people have dedicated their lives to direct service to others.

The problem arises, then, when that fraternity, rather than actually holding their members to the higher standard to which they purport, actually use it to cover up bad behavior. I’m sure that no member of the Minneapolis Police Department would want to believe that one of their members would recklessly kill an unarmed woman, but being held to that “higher standard”, it’s a scandal when it seems they acted to try to cover it up.

A lot of that same sort of attitude has pervaded the Roman Catholic Church, that even if priests do behave badly, their fellow priests and the hierarchy of bishops and cardinals are encouraged to ignore the victims. Eventually, when this sort of rot is allowed to grow, anyone within the fraternity who tries to speak out against it is forced out.

However, one doesn’t have to have a felony-level story to see this even in the Orthodox Church (though there have been numerous incidents, mainly involving money, within the Orthodox Church here in the US – Fr. Dokos of Milwaukee, for example, or the theft of donations by the OCA hierarchy, etc.) For example, here, a new priest was recently installed at one of the local churches. The church in question is over 100 years old, and has a weekly attendance between, say, 50 and 80.

The new priest, clearly, should not be the leader of a parish. I’ve seen myself that he seems to be very confused about what he’s doing up in the altar, even during Sunday liturgies, and that even with all the liturgical books, he still makes noticeable mistakes. When it comes to special services, things fall apart even more. I’m close to a number of people from the parish, and I heard that he had completed the service on Great and Holy Thursday – with the twelve Gospel readings – in less than three hours (I heard he cut out all the antiphons.) He cancelled Royal Hours completely, and during the Paschal service (which, based on the times the members started sending “Christ is Risen” on Facebook had to have been at breakneck speed, he left the winding sheet – which is brought to the altar when everyone goes out for the procession – in the middle of the church for the entire service, DESPITE THE FACT THAT EVERY LITURGICAL BOOK SPECIFICALLY SAYS WHAT TO DO AT THIS POINT!

There are also smaller things – at one vespers service, he told a woman to go behind the iconostasis to retrieve something. His handling of Communion is downright bizarre, prompting someone to ask my husband if the priest perhaps had a spoon fetish, because while giving Communion to the congregation, the Communion spoon went back into his mouth over and over. Ostensibly, this could be to remove any extra remnants of the Body and Blood from the spoon, but nobody I know – even cradle Orthodox – have ever seen anything so weird at Communion before.

As bad as his knowledge of services and Orthodox practice seems to be, a lot of that could be forgivable if it weren’t for the fact that his personality goes way beyond “odd”. Meeting people, as with when he met me, he seems completely awkward. That in itself isn’t the rub, there are plenty of people out there who are awkward and shy in social situations. However, even with most shy people, if you say “hello” to them one-on-one, you get a sense of warmth. With him, this isn’t the case. It’s more of a “deer in the headlights” type reaction. Starting a service, as I have witnessed myself, he seems to start with that, progress to overwhelmed and frustrated, and progress to so angry he’s about to blow up. Unfortunately, the choir director – a woman temporarily filling in – seems to generally be at the brunt of his anger. He treats her with the utmost contempt, seeming to blame all his mistakes on her, being generally rude with wild gestures and hand motions and, if he doesn’t like what she’s doing, ordering the subdeacon to sing on top of her – from the altar! This sort of behavior is not indicative of someone who is incredibly stable – a must for a priest!

Furthermore, it’s terribly sad when multiple friends who did go to the Paschal service there reported back that there was “drama” and that he snapped at her during the service. (But it wasn’t the first time he’d snapped at her that week, I’d heard!) I seriously wonder, how can a priest not be at peace by the end of the Liturgy?

Not only this, but there was an incident nearly three weeks ago, where a male member of the parish council allegedly followed a woman congregant with a small child from the church into another building on the church’s property to yell at her in a small and dark hallway. She reported it that night to the priest, and he has yet to respond to her email. She feels so unsafe that she and her family haven’t been back – even for Holy Week or Pascha.

I know that in this case, the dean and Bishop +Paul (Gassios) were contacted several times, but their responses (which I have seen) indicate that they don’t take the situation seriously, nor that they consider this a pressing matter. (Though responding to this blog apparently is!) Rumors around speculate that Bishop +Paul is using this priest to try to get the parish closed – after all, the land the church is on is worth a good bit, perhaps even as much as $1,000,000!

Unfortunately, this priest’s actions – and the inaction of his “fraternity” – have already done a lot of harm to the parish in the small amount of time that he has been there. I know of a significant percentage – somewhere in the ballpark of 25% – who have already had enough and have a foot and a half out the door. At this point, if somebody took this situation seriously – the dean, the Bishop, the Metropolitain – and took some real leadership here, admits that there are serious concerns, and works to fix them, these people might be convinced to come back. The longer nothing is done, though, the more remote that possibility becomes. For some of us, Church is important enough that they will do what they have to to keep going, despite all these issues. Some of them will even attempt to fight the fraternity, not to destroy it, but for the honor of the whole, but it is wrong for the Church leadership to expect that every person serious about church, or Orthodoxy, is that tenacious. Fighting the fraternity is not something the average lay-person ought to have to do; however, if they want the faithful to believe that they actually do believe in the “higher standard”, they need to make sure that standard is adhered to amongst themselves.

Slow posting for Holy Week

For us Orthodox Christians, this is Holy Week. We will celebrate Pascha (Easter) on Sunday, April 28th this year, one week after Easter in the west is celebrated. For this reason, I probably won’t be posting much of anything here until next week.

I hope that for those of you celebrating Easter this past Sunday, it was a beautiful feast, though this joy is mitigated with the sorrow of the attacks on Christians this Easter in Sri Lanka and Nigeria.

For those of you celebrating this coming Sunday, I wish you all the best in getting through the rest of Holy Week. May your joy in the resurrected Lord be complete. 🙂

Amid the ashes of despair, prayer taking wings as song

The morning reveals what has been destroyed and what remains in regard to the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. The Daily Mail, as is its custom, has lots of pictures. It was truly a devastating fire, and surely amazing that so much of the Cathedral remains. I wasn’t the only one to compare this fire to that at St. Sava in New York City; thankfully, it seems here that there was more left of the church once the fire was contained.

Churches are particularly vulnerable to fire, and, in many respects, the older the church is, the more vulnerable it may become. It seems as though some may have been cognizant of this, for it seems like a large amount of the treasures of Notre Dame may have been rescued. Reminiscent of the January 1966 fire that destroyed St. Michael Orthodox Cathedral in Sitka, it was a human chain to the burning Cathedral that apparently helped save many things. It may also be that since the Cathedral was under renovation, there were many things being housed elsewhere. As it is, many adornments, including statues nearly ten feet tall, which adorned the roof had been removed just last week. This was probably a miracle in itself, as had they still been on the roof, no doubt they would have come crashing down to earth in this inferno.

Still, one of the most haunting things about the scene last night was not the blaze rising up as it consumed this ancient cathedral, but rather with the crowds watching. Many reporters reported silence among the crowds until later, something peculiar happening.

Singing.

I did not immediately recognize the song, but it seemed to fit the moment perfectly, a chant, seemingly ancient, somber, but still holding on to hope. It is “Ave Maria“, in English, “Hail Mary”, in French, “Je vous salue Marie”.

” Je vous salue, Marie, comblée de grâce
Le Seigneur est avec vous …”

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee..”


The song rose up as prayer, first with a couple solitary voices, and then with a hundred or more, a prayer, a dirge, a song most French people probably know, but, France being as secular as it is, one rarely heard in public. Yet all these people, witnessing the blaze at the Cathedral, not knowing if the morning would find it merely a heap of rubble, found their voices joining together, rising up to heaven, a counterpoint to the destruction being witnessed.

For as timeless and permanent as the Cathedral at Notre Dame may seem, as much as it is an icon of France, the French people, and the history of Christianity in Europe, as Christians, we understand that all this is temporal, that heaven and earth will pass away, and that our work here is not aimed at treasure in this life, but in the life to come. We will witness many things come to an end; we will witness destruction of those things considered impermeable, but we are not to despair, we are to hold on to our faith in the Everlasting One even tighter. If we can do this together, we’ve made getting through everything all the more bearable.