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The theological reflections of an Eastern Orthodox convert and seminarian
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:: Sunday, November 26, 2006 ::

Indian Orthodox: An Experience

A number of years back, I was speaking with some Protestant missionaries to India who were at Biola for a conference. When I asked if there was any sort of historical Christian presence in India, they vehemently denied it; when I pressed them about the Malankarites, they claimed they were only a quasi-Christian group with dubious doctrines. Whatever!

So, today I experienced it for myself. For the first time, I went to an Indian church, St. Mary’s in the Bronx. It was quite an experience --- overwhelming, to say the least. While I am aware of my general ignorance of Indian theology, I can at least comment on the services and the way it ‘felt’ and ‘looked.’

Firstly, it was very very Indian. There was not a single non-Indian there, save for the three of us (two Finns and myself). The church had an unfamiliar set-up. Firstly, the genders were strictly divided, but on the opposite sides then in the Byzantine church! The colors were bright, almost playful, and the decorations at the altar similarly reflected a very ‘Indian’ feel. Instead of an ikonostasis, there was a single, very long curtain which was alternately opened and closed at various points in the service. There was a highly decorated altar, but there was also a small table in front of the curtain at which some liturgical functions (such as the reading of matins) occurred. On either side of the main altar, there was a small table, possibly an altar, with a separate curtain in front of it and behind it.

The vestments were considerably different; to me, they looked Catholic. Also, the 20 or so altar servers (!) were wearing white albs to the effect of white podrozniks, rather then the Byzantine colored robes. There were lots and lots of bells rung frequently throughout the service, but I still was unable to tell when the anaphora began. The censer with its bells swung constantly, even during the readings (which were noticeably longer then the Byzantine ones). The people cross themselves ‘opposite’ from the Byzantines, and do not bow; neither do they cross themselves particularly often during the service. There are no litanies (such as would be recognizable to a Byzantine), but they do say an Indian-ized form of “kyrie eleison.” Also, the priest gives them the Eucharist with his hand, putting a piece of wine-soaked bread into each persons mouth.

While it was good, there was an odd, amalgamated feel to the liturgy as a whole. I cannot put my finger on it, but it seemed to be constructed out of elements that originally were not meant to go together. For example, there was a monstrance at the altar. There was no theological inclination toward veneration of the ‘blessed sacrament,’ and yet the monstrance was prominent. The priest’s vestments felt slightly 1960’s Anglican; they had fluorescent pink on them. It felt like all of the proper piety and love of the service was present, but the service itself was somehow lacking, or misunderstood, or disconnected from the people. There was an elusive odd feeling to the whole thing.

So, yes, there is an indigenous Christianity in India, and to anyone interested, I would recommend going to an Indian church. One warning: although clearly a visitor and lost, no one greeted me or spoke to me (probably a lingual accident more then anything). So, if you do not speak the local language, you may want to find someone who speaks English and go there with him. Otherwise, it’s quite an experience!

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 8:53 PM on Sunday, November 26, 2006 [+] ::

:: Sunday, November 19, 2006 ::
In One Piece

When I was a very little child, the neighbors' dog used to bark. I had pet chickens to whom I was very attached (who the dog occasionally killed), so whenever I heard barking, I would cry, run into my room and put my pillow over my ears. Although I was quite young, I remember this overwhelming feeling of hopeless terror in the back of my throat.

Last night, I had another quite-unwelcome taste of that hopeless terror. I ended up in a car with someone who should not have been driving, and there was nothing I could do about it. We started the evening quite early with one ticket for reckless driving, and after another two hours of driving, finally made it home in one piece --- running more red-lights and stop signs then I care to imagine. Drinking and driving --- especially drinking while driving --- is one of the scariest things for a passenger. What could I do? Mostly, I braced myself for the impact that, thankfully, never came. Things like pleading with the driver, suggesting we go home, or that he slow down only increased his macho attitude of showing off to a car full of girls. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so afraid for my life --- that overwhelming 5-year-old terror arose in the back of my throat. When we finally did get back, I just prayed and couldn’t sleep for a long time.

So, glory to God that we’re back here, and that I have learned a few lessons about who to go out with and when…

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 8:43 AM on Sunday, November 19, 2006 [+] ::

:: Tuesday, November 14, 2006 ::
Turning in Heresy

In editing my dogmatics paper, I realized that I had stumbled into…non-Orthodoxy…while writing it; at least, I flat-out contradicted Orthodox thought in favor of Thomistic thought in a section on the relations between the divine Persons. In fact, I may have even flat out contradicted Christian thought in general with it, although as far as I can tell the arguments are valid.

I am curious now. Having realized my conclusions are somewhat heretical, I would not read the paper from the pulpit, but is it acceptable to turn in a semi-heretical paper for a class? I generally do not hold double views on a single subject (i.e.: believing in God in chapel, but not in class), since that is “crazy-making.” Can my academic work be divorced from my personal beliefs? What if I am just wrong in a few areas? How far is too far?

Of course, the professor of the class being as he is (he already specifically warned me about “staying within the received rule of faith” with this paper!), I will show him where I think I am outside of that rule (although academically still within respectability), and we will go over how I reach erroneous conclusions. But it makes me wonder: What would happen if I turned in heresy?

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 3:43 PM on Tuesday, November 14, 2006 [+] ::

:: Thursday, November 09, 2006 ::
Fasting: The Law

An extraordinarily good homily was delivered the other day in chapel by a third-year student, and due to its particularly pointed message, I am able to offer a particularly pointed disagreement.

The main point of the homily was that fasting and ascetic exercise will not save us, but that we should give to the poor, help orphans, and do good for our religion to be acceptable to God. It is better to do good then to fast, and so many people make the fasts into a legalistic system that they have simply replaced the Judaic law with another law, rather then being in the freedom of Christ. The homilist, ironically a strict faster himself, ended with a quotation from Mother Maria Skobtsova about being asked on the last day not how many prostrations one made, but how one helped the poor, orphans, and widows.

While his points seem good in their own regard, they have made the fast an end in and of itself, rather then a means to an end. In other words, I fast not so that I can do good on the side of my fasting, but so that I can do good, full stop. Fasting, ascetic exercise, &c is never an end, but is always a means to an end. It is fasting that helps me remember that I am dust, that the body is more then clothing and food; I am reminded of my own weakness, which allows me to sympathize with those who are weak. It is the fasts that lead to my good works, not the fasts that are in addition to my good works; if I make excuses about something as simple as a fast, how many excuses can I muster about serving the poor? This service, this outpouring of myself to help those in need, this is where I will find freedom in Christ. The fasts are not a legalistic system, but the means to my good works, my freedom, and ultimately, my salvation.

O unveil mine eyes, and I shall perceive wondrous things out of Thy law…I meditated on Thy commandments which I have greatly loved

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 8:59 AM on Thursday, November 09, 2006 [+] ::

:: Monday, November 06, 2006 ::
Fear of Tomorrow

As I debate my future, I find myself running into the same old problem as I have faced in the past: fear.

I am interested in PhD programs, in academia, in pursuing the difficult work of theology, but I find my own fear nearly paralyzing. What if I fail? What if I end up with my PhD, but no faith? What if I get too tired of doing it and burn out? What if I don’t get accepted into any programs? What if I only accumulate debt, and never reach my goal? What will I do with my life? What if I am a failure?

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.

O, Lord, I believe! Help Thou my unbelief!

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 7:32 PM on Monday, November 06, 2006 [+] ::

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