Cattle Drive, Fort Worth Stockyards, April 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

My Blog is Moving

I have decided to move my blog to my own server and domain and use WordPress to give me better moderation tools. Setting up this move has taken several days and because of that and some other tasks, I have not been able to post lately because of it. I apologize for the inconvenience that this may cause but I hope that you will create a new bookmark and follow over there.

The new site is at:

Thank you for your patience and I'll see you over there!

Friday, September 10, 2010

The "Ground Zero Mosque"

From a blog that I try to keep up with I reprint this article. There may be some of you at St. George that will not like this, but I happen to agree whole-heartedly with Fr. Zuhlsdorf on this. I don't desire to live under an Islamic rule for an instant, and so I don't respond favorably to any move that would try to promote Sharia law or Islam here. There is freedom of worship in the US, but in spite of it's name, I don't believe that Islam is peaceful or simply about submission to God. I believe it's about submission to Islam. As a Christian, that won't work for me. Prepare a cross, because I won't change my mind or heart on this one.

Ground Zero Mosque: a “Rabat”, not a “Cultural Center”

CATEGORY: The DrillThe future and our choices — Fr. John Zuhlsdorf @ 9:35 am
Some time ago, at the recommendation of the great Fr. Welzbacher of St. Paul, I read Andrew McCarthy’s The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.  It was an excellent preparation, or propaedeutic, for the controversy over the proposal to build the mosque complex at Ground Zero in Manhattan.  And, yes, I think 51 Park Place qualifies as "ground zero" in the sense that landing gear from one of the airplanes struck the building. 

As I listened and read about the "Cordoba House" proposal something about it sounded familiar.  McCarthy described how militant Islamists of the Brotherhood developed centers for young muslim men which included an athletic program component.  The nickle dropped.  (Cf. Chapter 4. "Eliminating and Destroying the Western Civilization from Within".)

Today over breakfast coffee… I saw in the New York Post an article by Amir Taheri, which you should know about. 
Amir Taheri is author of 11 books on the Middle East, Iran and Islam.

Let’s have a look with my emphases and comments.

Islam center’s eerie echo of ancient terror


Last Updated: 8:35 AM, September 10, 2010

Should there be a mosque near Ground Zero? In fact, what is pro posed is not a mosque—nor even an "Islamic cultural center."

In Islam, every structure linked to the faith and its rituals has a precise function and character. A mosque is a one-story gallery built around an atrium with a mihrab (a niche pointing to Mecca) and one, or in the case of Shiites two, minarets.

Other Islamic structures, such as harams, zawiyyahs, husseinyiahs and takiyahs, also obey strict architectural rules. Yet the building used for spreading the faith is known as Dar al-Tabligh, or House of Proselytizing.

[NB] This 13-story multifunctional structure couldn’t be any of the above.

The groups fighting for the project know this; this is why they sometimes call it an Islamic cultural center. But there is no such thing as an Islamic culture.

Islam is a religion, not a culture. Each of the 57 Muslim-majority nations has its own distinct culture—and the Bengali culture has little in common with the Nigerian. Then, too, most of those countries have their own cultural offices in the US, especially in New York.

Islam is an ingredient in dozens of cultures, not a culture on its own.

In theory, at least, the culture of American Muslims should be American. Of course, this being America, each ethnic community has its distinct cultural memories—the Iranians in Los Angeles are different from the Arabs in Dearborn.

[Start taking notes if you have to…] In fact, the proposed structure is known in Islamic history as a rabat—literally a connector. The first rabat appeared at the time of the Prophet.

The Prophet imposed his rule on parts of Arabia through a series of ghazvas, or razzias (the origin of the English word "raid"). The ghazva was designed to terrorize the infidels, convince them that their civilization was doomed and force them to submit to Islamic rule. Those who participated in the ghazva were known as the ghazis, or raiders.

After each ghazva, the Prophet ordered the creation of a rabat—or a point of contact at the heart of the infidel territory raided. The rabat consisted of an area for prayer, a section for the raiders to eat and rest and facilities to train and prepare for future razzias[The "athletic" component I alluded to earlier.] Later Muslim rulers used the tactic of ghazva to conquer territory in the Persian and Byzantine empires. After each raid, they built a rabat to prepare for the next razzia.

[NB:] It is no coincidence that Islamists routinely use the term ghazva to describe the 9/11 attacks against New York and Washington. The terrorists who carried out the attack are referred to as ghazis or shahids (martyrs).

[CONCLUSION:] Thus, building a rabat close to Ground Zero would be in accordance with a tradition started by the Prophet. To all those who believe and hope that the 9/11 ghazva would lead to the destruction of the American "Great Satan," this would be of great symbolic value.

[Shift gears.] Faced with the anger of New Yorkers, the promoters of the project have started calling it the Cordoba House, echoing President Obama’s assertion that it would be used to propagate "moderate" Islam.

The argument is that Cordoba, in southern Spain, was a city where followers of Islam, Christianity and Judaism lived together in peace and produced literature and philosophy.

In fact, Cordoba’s history is full of stories of oppression and massacre, prompted by religious fanaticism. It is true that the Muslim rulers of Cordoba didn’t force their Christian and Jewish subjects to accept Islam. However, non-Muslims could keep their faith and enjoy state protection only as dhimmis (bonded ones) by paying a poll tax in a system of religious apartheid.

If whatever peace and harmony that is supposed to have existed in Cordoba were the fruit of "Muslim rule," [NB:] thesubtext is that the United States would enjoy similar peace and harmony under Islamic rule.  [That is why "Cordoba" was chosen: to symbolize the goal of subjugation of the USA to Sharia Law.]

rabat in the heart of Manhattan would be of great symbolic value to those who want a high-profile, "in your face" projection of Islam in the infidel West.

This thirst for visibility is translated into increasingly provocative forms of hijab, notably the niqab (mask) and the burqa. The same quest mobilized hundreds of Muslims in Paris the other day to close a whole street so that they could have a Ramadan prayer in the middle of the rush hour[These open demonstrations are escalating.]

One of those taking part in the demonstration told French radio that the aim was to "show we are here." "You used to be in our capitals for centuries," he said. "Now, it is our turn to be in the heart of your cities."

Before deciding whether to support or oppose the "Cordoba" project, New Yorkers should consider what it is that they would be buying.

Sunday School

Fall is gearing up in parishes now and so is Sunday School. And this will call all of us to some decisions about how time and how we will use it. Let me address the practical first. We should all endeavor to have our children in class every Sunday of the school year. We should also be diligent about being present and on time for the Divine Liturgy every Sunday (starting time is at 10:00am).

Our teachers work very hard to teach our parish children, who are not merely the future of the parish, they are part of the parish right now. Our teachers plan and prepare before every class so that they can give the Faith to our children. It is very little to ask that our parents have the children present so that they can receive a better understanding of this precious Faith.

We must also allow the teachers to keep their children until 12:00pm, or until the class is finished, every Sunday. Parents, don't pull your children out of class because you have made other plans for your Sunday afternoon. There is nothing more important that giving the Faith to these kids. Parents, please keep your children who may have been released from peering in the windows and distracting classes that are still meeting. If we wish to have a faithful community of believers for years to come, then we must allow the teachers their classroom time and get our children to class.

But even more important than Sunday School is the Divine Liturgy. Our Lord gave us a commandment to "do this" regarding the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Eucharist. We are required to offer this Eucharist every week. There is no such command for Sunday School. All of the faithful, and this includes baptized infants, are to be present at the Liturgy every Sunday. This allows us to have all of our young boys take turns serving at the altar, and to have different people read the epistle. But folks need to be present on time for this to happen.

Now, just a little history about Sunday School because it helps to place it in its proper place. Sunday School is a pretty new program in the life of the Church. It was "invented" in the Church of England in the 1800s to teach young Welsh children of coal miners how to read. It was taken up by the Methodists and Non-conformists (other Protestants) to indoctrinate their children in their version of Christianity. The original time to have these classes was not Sunday, but Saturday and they lasted several hours. Soon among various Protestant groups it was moved to Sunday as a way to entice families to come on Sunday (since there was something specifically planned for the children).

Orthodoxy didn't know anything at all about Sunday School until it came to the United States, and then it adopted the program for itself in the early 1900s, but we now tend to think of this as part of "the Tradition." It's not. It's a local custom. There is no such thing in Russia or Greece, I'm not sure about the Middle East. The ideal would be to have a parochial school where the Faith is taught as a serious course and which children receive a grade (requiring their effort) in addition to mandatory periods of catechism. This would give us children who knew their faith but we don't do this. Historically the Church insisted that parents taught the children their faith but parents rarely speak about such things with their children any longer, so we are left with a program that is less than ideal but which we have invested as being our only answer.

So let us not waste it, if that's all we are willing to do to hand over our Faith. Make certain your children are there. Make certain they are in the Liturgy. Give them the Faith so that they can keep it all of their lives. If they say, "I don't like it," make them go anyway. Wouldn't you make them go to public school even if they didn't like it? Isn't the Faith of Christ more important?

Sunday School starts September 19th, so let's get it going full swing with everyone. Let us commit to this work so that we can give the Faith to another generation and thereby spread salvation and joy a little further.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Liturgical Books (Why I work on them)

This will probably surprise a lot of people, but there is a sense that I don't like spending so many hours typesetting and preparing liturgical books. I say this on the heels of having completed typesetting Bp. Basil's The Liturgikon for the Antiochian Archdiocese and having seen it through the printing. I have worked on other books for the Archdiocese as well.

I have also heard, through a friend who was present, that one of our bishops commented in front of a large group of my brother priests that I am not a good editor. I admit to it wholeheartedly (please forgive me your Grace). I've never claimed any expertise in that area and have always tried to find people who would proof and edit the work I've done (but unfortunately there have been very few who are willing to do this important task). I am a graphic designer. I work very hard to make liturgical books look beautiful and functional. This in itself is a worthy task.

But, as I began, I'd actually rather not have to do it. I'd rather simply focus on parish life. So why do I do it? Because it must be done. There are so many liturgical books that need to be prepared and published for parishes to be able to fully do their work and no one else seems to be stepping up to that task. The Archdiocese certainly has asked me to do that work. And I have done some other work voluntarily because of the great need.

I suppose the ultimate reason that I work so hard to produce beautiful liturgical books, is that I so deeply desire to go to the Altar of God and pray. I desire to have a book that is simple to use, so I don't have to concentrate on certain items, but be entirely free in prayer. Having said this, I am one who just before his ordination to the priesthood spent at least two hours a day for two weeks at my seminary's chapel working on my rubrics, so that I would have them down before my first liturgy. I did the same to learn the rubrics of the Western Rite as a priest--I knew them already for every other part from torchbearer to subdeacon. I'm not referring to being disciplined in ceremonial, but the freedom that comes when the rubrics are internalized and the liturgical books are designed in such a way that they don't create friction. This to me would be freedom to pray, to simply let go of everything and enter into the moment of the Sacrifice of the Altar. I also believe that this would be the greatest work that I could do for my parish--because I could then offer them in that Sacrifice like never before.

The beauty of the book is needful if only because everything associated with the worship of the beautiful God must somehow reflect something of his glory and beauty. As I typeset books, my heart tries to move to the Altar and do my work there. This is a spiritual work of love, mercy and sacrifice.

Would that I could work on other things. But there are so many books left to do before I can rest, before I can be truly free in love with Christ our Lord.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Holy Dormition

This is the great feast of the Holy Mother of God. Let us all keep it with joy, giving thanks to our good God for such a kind Mother who is always quite to hear, who is the help of Christians.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Evangelism and Parish Planting

I have long been very interested in mission work and planting parishes. But I don't think we do it very well, nor do I think that we're terribly serious about it. I have said so to several people privately (hierarchs included) but I thought it might be helpful to say it in a more public venue. I would simply say that there's a problem though, I am going to say what I believe can actually be done about it.

First of all it needs to be understood that establishing missions is a theological imperative. Every Christian is required to be involved in evangelism. Some of that activity will be honed in on one's own parish, and some of it must be for the Church at large. We can't afford to become too myopic and concentrated only on our own parish. This creates an ingrown parish that is concerned only about itself and its own desires (usually called "needs"). It's very unhealthy. The more we embrace the gospel, the more we look out beyond ourselves to others. We move to others because of love. We desire them to receive the fulness of the Faith in Christ, and so we don't simply say, "They go to church already and so we don't need to speak to them about our Faith." Wrong. Do we have the true Faith or not? If we don't, and if ours is only one of many, then I don't care to be part of it. I want the real thing, the genuine article which was established by Jesus Christ on the day of Pentecost. Nothing else will do. My suspicion is that too many parishioners don't really believe that they are members of the Church, but of a Church. Believing oneself to be part of the true Church motivates one to bring others into it because we love them and we want them to have the genuine article. This must be first in our minds.

Secondly, we need to be much wiser about planting parishes. We have been rather lazy about it for some time (this applies to more than just the Orthodox here, but we're standouts in this area). What we have done is wait until some group of nice folks gather and petition to start a parish. Or sometimes we try to see if there are some nice Middle-easterners (or Greeks, or Russians, etc.) and gather them together to start a community. The key here is that we usually wait. This is not evangelism, it's reaction as Fr. Michael Keiser correctly points out. But real evangelism costs money, and I don't mean a permanent staff in the Department of Missions and Evangelism. That doesn't cut it.

Let me share a model that I think does work and can work magnificently if we really wanted to get serious about starting parishes.

We can begin by looking at a map to see where we think there would be a potential place to start a parish. This can be done in a couple of ways. We can look at population sizes of cities that we think can support a community and which is perhaps under served, or we can look at our current demographics and then compare them to places that we don't have parishes to see if there are some common elements. These two ways are not mutually exclusive. This costs a little money. Demographics aren't free, but they can be had relatively inexpensively. We need to be cautious here though. We could easily look at ethnic groups in the demographics, but in the long run there are other far more important indicators such as values. A demographic study can also give the perceived needs and desires of a population which are important as well. It is worth remembering that the US is not homogenous and that one-size does not fit all. The Church must meet people where they really are and not where we want them to be. Knowing these desires allows us to ask if we can answer their desires and remain authentic to who we are. This calls for creativity but it can be a very worthwhile effort.

Once we intelligently and rationally have found a potential target, then we begin doing a little local investigation. There was a time that this was done through the local paper, but fewer and fewer people are reading the papers these days, so it's usefulness may not be as good now. Many of the evangelical communities will have a local focus group study done. This costs about $200-$600, and can give a great deal of information. It can find out what media is the most effective to reach one's target group, thereby saving money in the long run. Radio might be a great tool, but if no one listens to it, then why buy radio time? The same is true of all the various media. It is worth spending a little bit to find out what will be most effective and therefore most cost efficient. These focus groups also help to get a handle on the potential themes that need to be addressed.

 I cannot stress too much that a very special website must be developed for this work. It is not a website that gives all of the business end of who we are. It is not the Archdiocesan or Diocesan website that is wanted here, links can be provided to these, but that doesn't help. A central website that sets forth the vision, and ethos of what the Church is what is needed. It is an introduction, not to a lot of polemics (these should be avoided at this stage) but to a life. It should put our best foot forward in only positive terms, not defining ourself by what we are not. It should not compare us to anyone else, nor should it speak poorly of anyone else. Why should it? It should give a very simply overview of what is believed because it is not the inquirer's/catechumens classes and shouldn't try to be. It is not the place to drill down into things deeply. Leave that to the parish. This positive, evangelical website should be the public face of the mission inquiry. It should not be too difficult to create a local site that gives the local contact information with the specialized site "attached" so to speak. This site should be referenced on every card, mailer, advertisement that is produced. Let this site do a lot of the work.

Why is this so important? When a small mission is planted it is almost impossible to give the sense of what a full parish's life is like. What do the services look like? What is the music like? What sort of things can be done in areas of charity? and so forth. Small beginnings need to be able to point to the larger vision and this site can help with that to a great extent. But it is also necessary not to overburden those who are "sniffing around" with too much of the administrative side of things. This is why one should only link to the Archdiocesan pages and such as references.

Mass mailing is a very effective tool. It is known that it produces about a 2% response rate--if one has written the material to a particular focus that really exists (see the reason for demographics and focus groups?). But it may take as many as four mailings to realize that response because people might not notice the mailing until the fourth time. Let's talk about numbers a second. How many are needed to start a self-sustaining community? 25 families? 50 families? Well, that seems to be a target. Let's say you need 50 families. For a 2% response rate, one would need to mail out at least 2,500 pieces four times. But it isn't quite so simple. One may only keep about 50% of those who come to the "big event" that is planned to start the parish. This means that one needs to send out about 5,000 pieces four times. It would be easy to get the cost of such a project. It will cost some money, but the potential of establishing a functional parish makes this modest cost very much worth while.

Before doing the mailing though, one should have a basic core group of about 20-25 people to begin with. They need to know how to sing the services at a basic level and they should be taught how to greet people and get them plugged in. The skeleton of the full parish needs to be planned so that it can quickly be fleshed out. One mistake would be to create a frame that is too small for growth. One should know how Sunday School and youth ministry will be carried out for example. Will there be a Ladies' group? Choir? Chanters? Get this framework ready to build upon.

There are some resources that need to be produced to help the parish get going too. A CD of basic musical settings that can be used by the congregation needs to be made available. Too many CDs give larger choral settings that are not helpful to a small group. We need folks to record a basic traditional setting that can be learned by everyone, for the Eastern Rite the music from the congregational book would serve best, for the Western Rite the de Angelis Mass would be very effective. Missalettes or service books need to be printed and ready to hand. My mentor told me that one of the most important things that must be done by a mission is to look as large and as established as possible. People don't want to get their religion from fly-by-night groups. Publications must look professionally done. Don't skimp on the Sunday bulletins either. They must look right.

Two other things need to be available and here is where the largest cost is. We need to supply mission plants with a basic "kit" to do the services. These can be used censers (thuribles), chalices, etc. But they need to be at least loaned to the mission plants until they can purchase their own. A list can easily be drawn up and a loan kit provided for a specified time. The next item is that we need to fund the mission priest for at least two years. This means his full stipend and package. After two years, the community should be able to take it over if they have started out as I've suggested above.

Mission priests must also be our best priests, what usually happens is that we send priests who don't do well in larger parishes to them. This is wrong and it is why we should pay them. A priest in a mission must give the entire tradition to a new community. He needs to know the nuts and bolts of how parishes work (from experience) and he needs to know the music, the liturgy, the administrative details, the theology… in short, he has to give everything to the new community since are just beginning.

There is more to say, but this should get things started. I love missions and we need to do much better. God willing we can start.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What is Wrong with Politicians?

It's pretty commonplace to despise politicians and to hate politics. That's not entirely fair. Politics is nothing but the manner in which society strives to live a civil and productive life. It will always be marked by compromises and such, but it should also have some other distinguishing characteristics. For example, it ought to have a primary philosophical outlook which stands as its spring-board to action.
There have been many different base philosophies that have served, and I would certainly say that Christians should expect the basic Christian morality and freedom should be the normative model in the U.S. Surely sharia law would be absolutely incompatible with our cultural worldview and experience. I can see no reason at all to admit of any sharia compliant laws as they are purely based upon Koranic scriptures. It's principle is fundamentally different from what was established in the Anglo-American legal framework. But there must be a foundation. I would also say that it cannot be a socialistic philosophy which robs individuals of the opportunities of freely given generosity and assistance towards others as well as denying them the opportunity of their own personal freedom to make moral choices. This is fundamental, and it is a Christian principal.
But what is broken with politicians? Why do we see such scandalous behavior amongst our elected officials, like John Kerry's tax sheltering of his boat, Charles Rangel's ethical violations, Obama's justice department failing to prosecute overt violations of voting rights perpetrated by the new black panther's? (All of which are outrageous and by no means limited to Democrats.)
To answer this we need to remember that politicians are not outside the problems that beset humanity in general--whether or not one is a believer. Social ills continue and accelerate even in these so-called "enlightened," modern and secular times because man is fallen in action, will, and intellect. He is not broken, but terribly faulted. Since this brokenness has not been healed by the secular model, neither has the attendant social deprivations.
But I would suggest that all political models (and politicians) fail because those in power tend to serve themselves. When the world was ruled by nobility, it was fine when they understood their rule at coming from God and therefore the leaders understood that they too were servants of both God and their charge. (This may well have been honored more in the breach than in the main.) We see that by the time of Henry VIII or Louis XVI things could be altogether different. Even the remarkable Magna Carta was an attempt at limiting the power of the monarch’s self indulgence. So the Monarchies tended to become constitutional monarchies and Parliaments became the effective rulers of countries. Again they took on their own sense of self-serving. The ruling classes changed to that of the merchant rather than landed nobility. The merchant is concerned with the ledger books and accounts, with profit and loss. Soon, because he is running Parliament (or Congress here in the US), things become focused on his own profit. At least the nobility had to keep some care of those who cared for his manor and tilled his fields. The political progressives or none better than the mercantile representatives. They speak of serving the great masses through programs and then it is revealed how well they have been serving their own interests all along.
It strikes me that the only correction to this is for the electorate to select individuals whose desire is actually to serve rather than to be served, who desire to live under authority rather than to wield power. As an aside, this seems also to be one of the greatest faults of the theological progressive as well.
And here we might say that the modern secular state is very much part of the problem because its propaganda promotes each individual’s satiation. It does not seek to model true service and promote service and humility. (The modeling part is not insignificant, after all how many vacations and entertainment events can one President have within a summer? I find it scandalous.) Consider television programs and movies. They all present the great assumption that the purpose of life is to fulfill one’s fantasies, desires and passions. If one is not happy, then something is wrong. Here is the contaminant that stands at the root of the failure of all political systems and the scandals within the Church. So long as one is his own  definition of rectitude, rather than a transcendent and objective Truth, then we shall only continue to spiral deeper into the morass.
This is also the view of Plato, who was not particularly a theist, for his God was not a personal being but a theoretical perfection. The myth of the cave illustrates this nicely. And, of course, in this regard perhaps the greatest flaws of modern secularism is the subjection of all values to the relativism of those in power. Indeed it works well for the powerful because they are only reaping what they desire, which is only right as they see it. Meanwhile, in this secular world, the drain is open and pulling the rest of us down into its spiraling grasp.

Why does Cincinnatus stay on his farm in our hour of need? Where is his modern day counterpart? Hurry, Cincinnatus, we are in need of you again to save us from destruction through your self-abdicating service, leadership and virtue.

[If you are unaware of who Cincinnatus was and would like to know a little bit about him, see this:]