Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Orthodox Church of Tomorrow

(Another interesting is useful to consider in what ways the Eastern Catholic Churches are similar and in what ways they differ. FrDD)

Broker Turned Monk Offers Home Truths on Crisis

(An interesting post...very insightful...much to ponder and take to prayer. FrDD)

By Anna Mudeva

TSURNOGORSKI MONASTERY, Bulgaria (Reuters) - Brother Nikanor, a Nasdaq broker turned monk, advises former colleagues to put a jar with soil on their desks to remind them where we are all heading and what matters in life.

As western banks fold into each other like crumpled tickets and commentators portray the current crisis as the last gasp of modern capitalism, Hristo Mishkov, 32, shares the pain -- and offers home truths.

His story partly resembles that of Brother Ty, the monk-tycoon protagonist of the 1998 satire "God is my Broker" by U.S. writers Christopher Buckley and John Tierney -- he failed on Wall Street and became a monk.

But 10 years later, the similarities are superficial: the Bulgarian had a successful broking career, does not write self-help manuals and aims to get happy, not rich.

His interest in financial markets began under communism in the 1980s when he and other children created their own play stock exchange in their apartment block's basement in Sofia.

Five years ago, after failing to find happiness in the life he lived, the Christian Orthodox who hadn't practiced as a child quit the New York-based market for a dilapidated Bulgarian monastery that once served as a communist labor camp.

Retaining one luxury -- a mobile phone, which connects him with both potential donors and former trading colleagues -- he has brought the rigor of his broking experience to his faith.

He has helped to raise hundreds of thousands of levs (dollars) to rebuild the monastery -- a hard task in a country where charity is not part of the mentality and building shopping malls and golf courses is a priority.

"Many people... in the world do not realize that they have not earned the food they eat, that they take without giving," Mishkov told Reuters. "But if someone consumes more than they have earned, it means someone else is starving.

"It is right to see people who consume more than they deserve shattered by a financial crisis from time to time, to suffer so that they can become more reasonable."

Being a trader has seldom been more traumatic: placing bets on political decisions about billion-dollar bank bailouts which, if they fail, could mean much more than a bad day for yourself or colleagues, but also jeopardize livelihoods.

Some have found solace in religion, others in humor, but a few fall. Surveys show traders reporting more stress and every news report of a trader suicide is accompanied by suggestions the pressure may have been too much.


"We always search for happiness in the outside world, in material things, which makes us constantly unsatisfied, angry with ourselves and the world," said Mishkov, who exudes a sense of tranquility, intelligence, and humor.

Greed and the marketization of our lives have reached the point where people have been turned into a commodity -- even their health can be traded like a stock, he said.

"We have so quickly lost our human appearance, we have become beasts ... There's no-one to count on and say 'hey neighbor come help me.' He will come but demand a payment."

His monastery, tucked among hills 50 km (31 miles) west of Sofia, was founded in the 12th century. The communist regime which banned religion turned it into a labor camp, then a children's pioneer camp and a livestock farm.

Now Mishkov works hard every day milking buffalo cows and building stone walls. He says he is not against rich people but can only respect those who contribute to the good of society -- pointing to Microsoft founder Bill Gates as an example.

As a younger man working for more than two years for Karoll, one of Bulgaria's leading brokerages, Mishkov was good at his job, former colleagues say.

"He was a religious person and that annoyed me sometimes," said Alexander Nikolov, head of international capital markets at Karoll. "There were occasions when he would not show up at work because of some religious holiday."

His colleagues were stunned when he decided to become a monk, but Mishkov felt the time had come to look after people's souls.

"Everybody can be a good broker but this does not bring much benefit for the world," he said. Religion can help people cope in today's stressful times and find answers, Mishkov added.

Churches in New York's financial district reported last month increased attendance at lunchtime meetings, with many more people in business attire than usual, when some of the world's biggest investment banks collapsed.

Steven Bell, chief economist of London hedge fund GLC, said keeping a sense of reality is what traders needed.

"It is very important to just remind yourself that there is a real world out there. In any job but particularly in financial markets, you need to try and keep your feet on the ground," Bell told Reuters by phone.

Mishkov says the crash should also help correct a dangerous global trend of an excessive outflow of labor to the service sectors, by people attracted by high pay and an easy life.

"Milk is not produced by computers, bread doesn't come from a good company PR. It is necessary to plow, sow and harvest before that," says the monk.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Pro-Life Icon

This icon comes from "Orthodox Christians for Life," a pro-life Orthodox Christian group.

I find this icon very profound, despite any issues with its lack of conformity to particular canons.

In the center of the icon you have "Jesus Christ, the Author of Life". In his right hand, he makes the gesture that signifies His holy Name raised in blessing. In His left hand, He bears the image of a child, a fetus or "little one" in utero.

Our Lord holds this child in His hands, despite its temporary residence in the womb of his or her mother (the umbilical cord). We remember that all unborn children are created by God and earthly parents as unique and unrepeatable human beings. Each person is marked and formed by the Word of God in his life. No child is forgotten, especially not by Our Lord.

As we gaze upon this image, may we say a prayer today for at least one mother who is considering abortion. That Our Lord, the Author of Life who held her in His hands at one time, will give her courage and strength to treasure the great gift of life that has never left His hands and yet resides peacefully waiting for the fullness of time in the temple of her body.

Through the prayers of the Theotokos and all the saints have mercy on us and save us, O Lord!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Call for the Restoration of Minor Orders

I thought that this would be an interesting topic for discussion.

The traditional progression for a man discerning Holy Orders was the path through what are called "Minor Orders". Minor Orders are ecclesiastical ministries which are, for the most part, designated to assist the deacon. In the Latin Church, minor orders were as follows:

1. Porter
2. Lector
3. Exorcist
4. Acolyte

The Subdiaconate was regarded as the first stage in Major Orders, followed by Diaconate and Priesthood.

In the Byzantine churches, the Minor Orders are as follows:

1. Reader
2. Acolyte
3. Subdeacon

Certain traditions of the East also maintain the role of Taper-bearer, Doorkeeper, and Exorcist. Those who are appointed to these offices are either ordained (cheirothesia) or tonsured, depending on the rank. The rank of Cantor is also regarded as a Minor Order.

In 1972, with the Apostolic Letter, "MINISTERIA QUAEDAM" Pope Paul VI abolished Minor Orders in the Latin Church, creating instead the "ministries" of Lector and Acolyte.

What seems to have been the intent here was to open up the ministries that were traditionally to have been part of the seminary "system" of formation to the average layman in the parish. One does not need to be a member of the Society of St. Pius X to observe that this project has been a total failure. I can count on one finger the number of officially appointed Acolytes outside of seminary or diaconal formation programs that I have met. (Yes, just one.)

The Catholic East maintained the tradition of Minor Orders, but in North America, under a latinizing influence, these became simply a formality in the progression from layman to Major Orders.

Shawn's discussion in the above article is an interesting one. There is some wisdom from the perspective of leadership development in having a stage-gated progression. With each "turn" or "step" in advancement, one has increasing scope of responsibility in the liturgical assembly. The Church in her wisdom established these offices to serve principally under the ministry of the Deacon. This is especially true for the Subdiaconate. Was it really the best timing to abolish these Minor Orders in view of the restoration of the permanent Diaconate in parish life? Why not have simply opened them up to laymen in the parish, with no assumption that just because one has received Minor Orders he is therefore on the "path" to higher ranks in the clergy.

With the restoration of the celebration of the 1962 Missal, is it now time to reconsider the place of Minor Orders in the Latin Church? The whole questionable excess of the phenomenon of the "Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist" would be a moot point with an army of Subdeacons who have received ordination from the Bishop and dedicated for such service to the assembly. From a vocation standpoint, would there not be great benefit to having men in Minor Orders in a vocational pipeline building a clerical identity with greater responsibility as they advance?

Is it not also an opportunity for Eastern Catholic jurisdictions who are starving for vocations to open up these Minor Orders to men in parishes?

And does any Deacon doubt that his ministry would be greatly enhanced in its effectiveness by having a few men ordained as Subdeacons to assist him?

Just some points for discussion...


Fr. Deacon Daniel

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Education of a Byzantine Deacon in Dublin

Have been in Dublin since Friday morning. This is my 11th trip. This trip was unique, however, since it was my first opportunity to serve as Deacon at the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Mission in Dublin, Hiero Martyr Nicholas the Wonderworker which is pastored by Archimandrite Serge Keleher. Since I am relatively new to the diaconate, only having been hatched "in grace" some three weeks ago, it was a challenge on many levels.

First of all, Fr. Serge is quite the liturgical expert. He has authored numerous texts and journal articles on various matters liturgical. Just serving under him is an education unto itself!

Secondly, apart from a couple of Irish members, the congregation is almost entirely made up of Ukrainian immigrants to the land of St. Patrick and the predominant language used in the liturgy is Slavonic. Since I am a member of a mission committed to English in the liturgy and since I neither speak nor read Slavonic, I was concerned that as a deacon I might not serve the congregation in its worship as well as I could since I had never sung the Ekteniyas (various litanies of supplication) in any language other than my own! Not to mention the fact that their responses would most certainly be in Slavonic.

Thirdly, I had to adjust to being outside of the "womb" of my diaconal formation at the mission under the watchful guidance of my priest. Now here I was across the ocean serving as a stranger in a strange land in a strange tongue (at least to me)!

So I set about with my gracious weekend host, Declan, to become an educated Ukrainian deacon. My wife, Pani Karen, had been told at my ordination that I was now "half Ukrainian" by virtue of my ordination in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Like St. Paul, I was "born out of due time" (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:8) in my new and gracious Ukrainian Church family! We deacons are to be Icons of Christ the Servant, and we are formed as such by virtue of the laying on of hands by the bishop and the gift of the Holy Spirit and the grace of apostleship. Just as the Eternal Word "translated" Himself into "human form" by taking our nature so that through His divine accomodation, we might fully receive Him as Savior, I needed to learn the language of the flock I was serving on a temporary basis.

So on Saturday, I spent a good part of the day pouring over the liturgical books that had the Slavonic spelled out phonetically. (Slavonic for deacon dummies!) I wrote in my prayer book some of the key phrases that I would need in order to help facilitate the worship, and not be a distraction. For those who have been to a Byzantine service, you know how the role of the deacon is very visible, even more so in certain ways than the priest. But nevertheless, a good deacon is to be like the angelic hosts who move the universe - you know by faith they are there because the universe moves. Their service, while prominent, is nevertheless transparent. We are to show forth the glory of Christ and help facilitate the worship of the Holy Trinity. If we detract or distract from that, we are not fulfilling our service properly.

Since the Ukrainian Greek Catholic services were at 4pm on Sunday here in Dublin, my friend Declan and I attended a local Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). I rode the bus and attended the services in my black outer and inner riassas, but stayed mostly to the back of the church, which was truly beautiful. (It was a former Protestant church, which had been sold to the Russians. This type of arrangement is ideal for Eastern missions, since any purchase of an older Latin Catholic parish would involve quite a bit of internal reconstruction to make it suitable for Byzantine use. Protestant sanctuaries are for the most part empty spaces.) Declan and I had watched a video of their services that was on Irish TV, and they had a marvelous deacon. I knew I had to go and see him serve as a deacon first hand.

All I can say is that it was marvelous...more than I could have expected. I had served as a Byzantine acolyte for over 10 years, but only spent 4 months with the deacon who originally trained me. He, Fr. Deacon Justin, of blessed memory, fell asleep in the Lord 4 months after I started serving. Up until that point, having a deacon at the Divine Liturgy was a treat, not a regular occurence, as it should be in every parish.

So I watched my Orthodox brother deacon serve his congregation with angelic grace and ease. His sense of calm and prayerfulness throughout was an inspiration to me personally. Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to meet him personally after the service. He was behind the iconostasis (the large icon wall at the front of the church) consuming the Holy Gifts, while I was venerating the handcross and speaking with the pastor. My politically astute friend, Declan, then wisked me out of the church, despite the gracious invitation of the priest to stay. Some Russians had figured out that I was an Eastern Catholic (they refer to us as "Uniates" which is a pejorative term. It comes from our Mother Church's acceptance as an Orthodox Church of the "unia" between Kyiv and Rome.) and Declan was concerned that they might think I was there to "spy" on their congregation since they had lost so many to Fr. Serge's mission, for reasons charity precludes me from sharing.

I freely admit, though, that I was there to "spy", but only on my marvelous brother deacon. God grant him many years!

So the time came for the services at the Ukrainian parish, and, with the Russian Church so fresh in my mind, I set about to serve my Ukrainian and Irish brothers and sisters. Only a few flubs (some pages were stuck together and I moved from the dismissal of the Catechumens into the tail end of a doxology, which is a prayer reserved to my brother priests!). All in all, though, it seemed to go well. During the Ektenyas, for instance, I blended English and Slavonic. I began the prayer with English, such as "For this holy house and for all who enter with faith, reverence and the fear of God...," but then I concluded with the Slavonic version of "Let us pray to the Lord!" which is "Hospodu pomolimsya!" to which the congregation responds, "Hospodi pomiluj!" ("Lord have mercy!"). When in my ignorance I could not conclude with the Slavonic, I could tell that it threw the rythm of the cantor and the congregation off a bit at first. Eventually, the "synergy" of deacon, cantor and congregation all engaged in the hymn of praise worked very well. Father Serge mentioned that it was the first time they have used English in the Liturgy for almost 15 years. Quite a thing where Slovonic, Gaelic and Greek can be heard every Sunday at St. Kevin's Chapel in St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral where the liturgy takes place.

The lessons learned?

First of all, to be an apostle one must never stop learning. And diaconal learning, as it is with all forms of apostleship, is decidedly a fraternal experience.

Secondly, I must always rely on the Holy Spirit, given at ordination, to help me lead the worship...the same Spirit of Pentecost who graced the apostles so that the same Gospel could be heard in the tongues of the people.


Fr. Deacon Daniel

Thursday, July 10, 2008

An Article: Celibacy in Context

This is an article that I think addresses in a beautiful way the tradition of the East regarding the optional requirement of celibacy for our clergy. It was published by First Things in 2002 and was written by Father Maximos (Davies) of Holy Resurrection Monastery, now under the omophorion or Bishop John Michael Botean of the Romanian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Canton.

Many thanks to Fr. Deacon Randy for passing this along!


Celibacy in Context

It seems that the one thing everyone knows about the Eastern Churches is that "they have married priests." Unfortunately, this often seems to be the only thing many people know about Eastern Christianity. What does not seem to be widely understood is that the Eastern Churches have very distinct theological, liturgical, and spiritual cultures in which the practice of ordaining married men to the priesthood (but not to the episcopate) must be understood. If Western Catholics want to use the example of the Eastern Churches as a guide for their own situation it is imperative that they understand how a married clergy fits into this unique Church culture.

In the Eastern Christian tradition celibacy is associated not with the priesthood but with monasticism. Most Eastern Christians expect their parish clergy to be married family men. But while it is true that Eastern Christians generally value their married clergy, it is equally true that a majority of these believers hold monasticism in even greater esteem. Pope John Paul II emphasized this in his Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen when he said that for the Eastern Churches monasticism is seen as the "reference point" for all Christians. Whatever their pastoral preferences, the Eastern Churches are very far from seeing marriage as theologically or spiritually preferable to celibacy.

This is the first and perhaps the most important point to be made. Eastern Christianity insists that both marriage and celibacy are necessary for a healthy Church. Eastern Christians do not see these two vocations as opposed to each other. They would regard it as suicidal to abandon clerical celibacy in such a way as to imply that the principle of celibacy no longer has any value.

Celibacy in Eastern Christianity is viewed primarily as a form of asceticism. Asceticism means, in essence, to live at the same time on earth and in heaven. It means to understand that everything we see in this life, everything we touch, taste, think, and feel, is in some way a revelation of the life to come. This means far more than an understanding that this life will come to an end and be replaced by another one. It means that the life we live right now and the life we will live for eternity are in some mysterious way one and the same. "The darkness is passing away," says St. John, "and the true light is already shining" (1 John 2:8).

For an ascetic, time reveals eternity. The ascetic thus wants to be freed from a merely human way of looking at time as a cycle of work and rest, life and death. Instead, the ascetic lives in time as though in the undying freedom of eternity. Therefore the ascetic prays. For an ascetic, food reveals the heavenly Feast. He is freed from a merely animal attraction to food and instead tastes only the spiritual promise that lies hidden inside earthly appetites. Therefore the ascetic fasts. For an ascetic, possessions reveal the many-mansioned Kingdom of Heaven. The ascetic is freed from the slavery to things by seeing in everything the Creator of all things. Therefore the ascetic gives alms.

It is the same with sexuality. For an ascetic, all human relationships-even the sexual act itself-reveal divine love. Hidden beneath the surface of all smaller loves lies the immeasurable abyss of God’s love. The ascetic realizes that what other people give him by way of love finds its true and deeper meaning in the One who is the source of all love. Celibacy is the practical recognition of the reality that lies behind the image, of the prototype behind the icon. Human love without celibacy is at best mere sentiment, at worst a form of idolatry.

In either case a merely human love is a closed system, like a river with no outlet to the sea. Face to face, two human beings in love become locked in an embrace of death. St. Gregory of Nyssa-himself a married man-writes of this in his treatise On Virginity:

Whenever the husband looks at the beloved face, that moment the fear of separation accompanies the look. . . . Some day all this beauty will melt away and become as nothing, turned after all this show into noisome and unsightly bones, which wear no trace, no memorial, no remnant of that living bloom.

The tragedy of love and death can only be overcome by the communion of humanity and divinity in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Only when two become three, when a couple becomes a trinity, the third being God, only then can the triumph of death be trampled down in the resurrection. "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied, but in fact Christ has been raised from the dead" (1 Corinthians 15:19-20).

Who then is called to be celibate? Simply put, every single Christian who is capable of love is called to discipline that love through the asceticism of celibacy. Just as every Christian is called to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, so also every Christian is called to be celibate. Seen in its true context of asceticism, celibacy ceases to be a legal requirement for a small section of the Christian faithful and is revealed instead as an aspect of the universal vocation of all believers.

What does this mean in practice? It means that we must no longer divide up the Church in our minds and separate the lay majority who are "allowed" to have sex under certain conditions and the clerical and religious minority who are "not allowed" to have sex at all. The difference is nowhere near so stark. It is merely one of degree. For a legalistic mind, the division between celibate and non-celibate seems vast. For an ascetical mind, however, the difference is negligible. Both the life of marriage and the life of celibacy are directed entirely toward God, and find a common meaning in Him.

It may come as a surprise that I speak of a universal call to celibacy. This word has largely juridical associations, especially for Latin Catholics. Chastity is the term used in the more general sense to speak of the obligation of all Christians to use the gift of their sexuality in accordance with the divine will. Sexuality is conditioned in the East according to the principles of asceticism and mysticism, not legalism. It is precisely because the East does not think in juridical terms that I have felt free to apply to celibacy a very general meaning, for in the East there is no other way it can be understood. In this area East and West think quite differently. We must be wary of a facile assumption that what works in one tradition will automatically do so in the other.

Looked at from the perspective of the Eastern Churches, celibacy has very little to do with the sacrament of Holy Orders. It has everything to do, however, with the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Through the latter we are born into a new kind of life, into citizenship in the Kingdom of God. We die to this world in Christ and rise again to eternal life. And in this resurrection we "neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" (Matthew 22:30).

Once again we see how it is that celibacy is part of the universal vocation of all Christians. Seen in the light of eternity, marriage is revealed as having no meaning in itself. Marriage is honorable not because it "joins two hearts as one," nor because through it new life comes into the world, nor because it provides for a life of comfort and security. Marriage is worthy of reverence only because the two hearts fall into a sacramental embrace with a Third, only because the children born of the union are born again through baptism into a new life, only because together the couple apply to their comforts the balm of asceticism that gives their possessions true and sacramental meaning.

Christian celibacy is marriage baptized. Christian celibacy is the revelation of the presence of the Kingdom of God in every relationship. It is the refusal to see other people as things to be used, even for the sake of romantic love. Celibacy means the willingness to see in sexuality not something merely animal, or simply useful or enjoyable, but instead something mystical.
What then of those who commit themselves to radical celibacy? Herein lies the value of monasticism as a public vocation in the Church. Radical celibates present to all Christians flesh and blood tokens of the promise lying mystically beneath every authentic and holy relationship. Celibacy loses its value when it is seen as the preserve of an elite. It takes that value up again when it is seen as part of the common heritage of the entire Church, an asceticism shared by all the baptized.

Here we come to another important insight within the pastoral tradition of Eastern Christianity. Celibacy is not primarily an individual calling. In the first place it is a vocation for the whole Church. Only secondarily is this vocation realized in individual lives. It follows that celibacy cannot be authentic if it is attempted individually. Celibacy can only be lived in a real way if it is seen as a shared way of life. For the Christian East, celibacy is lived corporately and within the context of communal asceticism.

This is the real meaning behind the combined tradition of married clergy and celibate monastics in the Eastern Churches. The proper place for radical celibacy is a life of radical asceticism within that tradition of mutual support provided within the monastic milieu. For parish clergy, such radicalism is seen as out of place-neither improper nor impossible, but immensely difficult. This assessment in no way makes the life of the parish priest somehow inferior to that of the monk. Both are called to the same ascetical program, but in different degrees. The tradition simply recognizes that each must put this program into effect in the real world he inhabits. Each must rely on the other to supply that kind of holiness in the other’s own life that he cannot produce in his own. The Church needs both the holiness of marriage and the holiness of radical celibacy in equal measure.

To underline this, the canonical tradition of the Eastern Churches even encourages married couples to regulate their sexual appetites by fasting from conjugal relations before Holy Communion, for example, and during Lent. This makes it clear in the most practical way imaginable that both monk and married person are engaged together in the same ascetical labor.
For various historical reasons the insights of the Eastern Christian experience have been mostly ignored in the Western Church (and, consequently, by the Eastern Catholic Churches who have found themselves in the West). Celibacy in the West is not seen as related primarily to monasticism, but rather to priesthood in general. Nevertheless, it is possible for the West to draw some useful lessons from the Eastern viewpoint.

Unless all Christians accept their vocation to live the asceticism of celibacy within their own lives it is pointless to expect a small group of "elite" Christians to live up to this ideal. Not only is it psychologically difficult to expect one group of men to do this, it is also extremely bad theology. Celibacy is a common calling, expressing the faith of the Church in the coming Kingdom. It will only be possible for this faith to be lived in its most radical way if this life is deeply understood and valued by the wider community.

To be blunt: it is both psychologically dangerous and theologically illiterate for a Christian community that values sexual "freedom," including sex outside of marriage, adultery, abortion, and the contraceptive mentality, to then demand an entirely different sexual standard from its priests. Priests do not become celibate merely because they feel a personal call to a life of sacrifice-at least, they ought not. Priests accept celibacy because they lead a community that is as a whole committed to the ascetic discipline necessary to transfigure human sexuality into an experience of the divine. Celibacy is healthy when it is regarded as a common labor in which each Christian has a share.

Seen in this way, priests will find their commitment to celibacy valued, understood, and supported. Celibacy will thus become a point of communion between priest and congregation. Seen in any other way, priests will always feel that this commitment sets them apart from the people they serve. Far from being a source of communion, celibacy will become a psychological burden and a source of loneliness.

It is also difficult to see how celibacy can be lived at any level in the Church if it remains cut off from its ascetical source. As long as the model for Christian life remains legalistic rather than ascetical the situation looks hopeless. Asceticism, as we have seen, is the recognition that everything we see and touch is mystically redolent with unseen and ineffable Divinity. Celibacy should not be undertaken because it is a legal requirement, but because the celibate is ready to encounter the Mystery that lies beneath his sexuality and yearns, through the liberating discipline of asceticism, to live on this mystical level.

This will only happen when that same person realizes that these same principles must equally apply to every other aspect of human life and experience as well. It is only when with the eyes of faith a person is open to the presence of God within all things that he will see Him in so central a part of his identity as his sexuality. In other words, a person who is not trained to see Eternity in time, nor the Feast in food, nor the Kingdom in possessions will not be trained to see the Mystery in sexuality. A person who is not an ascetic in small things will not be given the grace of divine vision in greater. "He who despises small things will fail little by little" (Sirach 19:1).

An essential part of the genius of the Eastern Churches is that they have always fostered a culture of asceticism. Long and elaborate services, a discipline of intense fasts and bright feasts, every kind of authentic self-denial can be found encouraged and celebrated within the liturgical, theological, and spiritual patrimony of Eastern Christians. Within this ascetical culture celibacy makes sense, both as a communal task and as a personal endeavor. Outside of this culture, celibacy seems like all other merely legal requirements: arbitrary and without meaning.

There is therefore something deeply tragic in the way the contemporary Church has gradually stripped itself of much of its traditional asceticism, leaving only a few craggy remnants of this vanished culture silhouetted against the sky. Of these lonely remains, surely the most incongruous is clerical celibacy. Until the Church restores the supporting superstructure of her ascetical tradition, clerical celibacy will remain a fundamentally meaningless and even dangerous relic of a past long gone.
It is only because of the loss of this general ecclesial culture that the loss of the more specific clerical culture is so serious. Clergy are less and less distinguishable by their dress, their way of life, how they speak, and how they relate to one another and the hierarchy. Almost certainly the same was true of the early Church, and even to some extent the Church of the patristic era. The difference was that in those days what set the Church apart from the world was its own distinctive ascetical and mystical ethos. Can we not do more to recover this ethos today?

In short, the laity cannot justly complain that their priests do not keep the law of celibacy while at the same time demanding that they themselves be subject to no ascetic discipline. Until the laity begins to accept the need to fast, to be mindful of what we wear, how we speak, how we relate to each other-in short, until the laity accepts its baptismal vocation in all its radical other-worldliness-there is no hope that the clergy will find the strength to do so. Only a Church of mystics can realistically expect their clergy to be saints.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Married Men as Priests - a "Liberal" Theological Issue?

I posted this this morning (it has not as of yet been approved...I wonder if it will be posted at all!). I thought that I would post it and invite comments.

My concern over the years as an Eastern Catholic has been how often heterodox, generally left-leaning activist Catholics attempt to argue for married priests as if it were a "golden chain" associated with the ordination of women, a cure for the pedophilia/pedastry issue, the restoration of men who have left their ministry for marriage, and generally dissident views on the papacy. Many "conservative" tradition minded Catholics accept at face value such an association, and I have seen and read them argue such a position. The fact remains that a married priesthood in the East is a venerable tradition that does not and should not be associated with such things.

One Byzantine's Response to the Response:

First of all let me say express my "kudos" to Father David in addressing these issues and offering such a well argued - yet very respectful - response to the very convoluted petition made by a number of priests recently requesting, among other sundry things, the abolition of celibacy. Father David's brilliant and faithful treatment of questions 4-8 were especially insightful, and as I have mentioned here before, I am indignant when various Catholic dissenters lump married men in the priesthood (a venerable practice, in both the East and in a limited way the West) with women priests, the issues of pedophilia and pedastry, the restoration of men to the priesthood who have abandoned their vocation to enter the married state, the general question of the pastoral and magisterial authority of the Pope and Bishops, etc etc..

Secondly, I thought that I would offer one man's response to a few of the items as a faithful Eastern Christian and married clergyman (deacon) in full communion with the Holy See.

Fr. David's #1:
Affirm my wholehearted support for the ancient practice of celibacy for the presbyterate in the life of the Church.

My Byzantine Response:
I wholeheartedly concur with this and support the ancient practice of celibacy for presbyters so long as one understands that celibacy was not universally mandated throughout the first 1000 years of Church history and that varying degrees of voluntary continence were practiced by both clergy and laity in regards to the reception of the Sacred Mysteries. The ancient practice certainly did dictate that no new marriage could be blessed after receiving orders and that any man in orders whose wife died would be required to live as a member of the celibate clergy. (Again, the requirement extended to all bishops, priests and deacons.)

To affirm an ancient and venerable practice is also a very praiseworthy thing, so long as one acknowledges that there are many ancient and venerable practices which we do not currently practice - nor should we endeavor to revive. The Church's living magisterium is a sure guide to the proper interpretation and application of traditional practices. And recent teachings of the magisterium on this topic, both conciliar and papal, have affirmed the permanent value of the Western disciplines pertaining to priestly celibacy while at the same time affirming the Eastern practice and disciplines of a married priesthood as praiseworthy and venerable.

Bravo to Father David, though, for debunking the whole canard about any connection between the vocation to celibacy and pedophilia, pedastry, or any other form of sexual deviancy. The purpose of married love is certainly not to provide an avenue for channelling any dysfunctional or aberrant sexual desires. And many deviants are married men.

What is more, one of the great unspoken issues associated with married clergy (even in Orthodoxy) is that of the question/scandal of divorce among the clergy. Certainly one helpful preventative measure for that is to refrain from ordaining married men to the presbyterate who have been married for less than 15 years. (5-10 years for diaconate) The notion of laying hands on a young, newly married 20-something who will then serve as an "elder" in the community while at the same time experiencing all of the joys, challenges and vicissitudes of married life in the fish bowl of parish life is just absurd and dangerous. Yet this is what both the Orthodox and the Anglicans (and some Eastern Catholics) do. A better approach would be to restore the proper place of minor orders to Church life, so that if a married man desires to serve the Church in an official capacity and possibly enter the path to diaconate and priesthood, he can do so in various stages of increasing responsibility.

Fr. David's #2:
Affirm my wholehearted support for the maintenance of clerical celibacy as a necessary sign to the world of the priority of the Kingdom of God and the call of Jesus, of love for Him and for His Church over other earthly ties.

My Byzantine Response:
Celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom IS a necessary sign of the Church's eschatological vocation. Any Christian, Eastern or Western, who would question the value of such a call has to answer to Jesus Christ and St. Paul.

Generally in the East the celibate call finds its highest expression in the "angelic life" of monasticism. It is usually from this pool of "earthly angels" and "heavenly men" that our hierachs are drawn. (Would that they - and we -always lived up to such ideals in every respect!)

I take issue with Fr. David's assertion here, however: "The Tradition of the Church has always been that once ordained a man was no longer free to be married." It would be more accurate to say that the a man was no longer free to "marry". Since the Tradition of the Church also affirms the indissolubility of the covenant of marriage, any married man who is ordained does not find his sacramental vocation to marriage rescinded, although a couple can voluntarily choose not express their married love in a sexual way after the husband's ordination.

Father David's #3:
Affirm my support for celibacy not just as a discipline but as a practice grounded in the example of the Lord Himself, as a way of life that expresses the heart of the priesthood as a complete self-giving for the Church, as Christ gave Himself totally for His one bride - and so affirm that there are good doctrinal and theological reasons for this practice.

My Byzantine Response:
Again, I do not take issue in any way with any assertion that the celibate state is better suited in some respects for the demands that come with the exercise of the priestly vocation. That said, marriage (and sexual union) is also an eschatological sign of Christ's love for His Bride and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. A married man who is a deacon or priest has the challenge of balancing the need/desire to please and provide for his wife and family, as well as serving his congregation. (I know this as a married deacon with three children serving with a priest who has five children.) Relinquishing the opportunity to marry for the sake of the kingdom is an heroic ideal that must always be upheld and affirmed. However, and this has been affirmed by the Magisterium, there is no intrinsic theological connection between the presbyterate and the call to celibacy. Were such an intrinsic theological connection to exist, both the Pastoral Provision and the magisterially affirmed Eastern disciplines would and should be regarded as aberrations and distortions, disfigurements of Holy Tradition. (One could even view a married diaconate in the same light.) Of course, that is not at all how they are viewed, but rather quite the opposite. I think one must be careful not to assert more than what the Church in fact asserts in these matters, however praiseworthy the ideal and the desire to uphold it.

Regarding the so-called "two-tiered" system of priesthood in the East, there is no question that the East (Orthodox and Catholic) affirms the apostolic teaching of the fullness of Holy Orders residing in the episcopate and that candidates for bishop are drawn solely from those priests who are monastics or celibates. Celibacy for the sake of the kingdom is the apostolic ideal. No question about it.

But at the risk of putting too fine a point on this, "So what?" Celibacy is the ideal for any baptized Christian, as asserted by St. Paul himself! And in the Eastern Church there is no sense of any "two tiered" system. Celibates are not somehow viewed as "superior" because they could one day be bishops, and the marrieds are not seen as some sort of tolerated underclass who could never attain to the fullness of Holy Orders. (Poor them!) Apart from the fact that anyone who would desire the role of bishop should probably be sent off for psychological evaluations, the apostolic structure of orders is that of an inverted pyramid. The one who leads is the one who serves, with the Pope as the Servant of the Servants of God. Everyone understands that the call to episcopal ministry is a call to a more radical form of apostleship that requires a man to be free from the obligations of the married state.

One further point: the Latin Church has a horde of married deacons - men in apostolic succession as affirmed by the magisterium of the Church - who live fully and worthily as married men. They are husbands, fathers, grandfathers, etc etc. Are they somehow less "apostolic" because they are not required to observe celibacy? Let us not forget that the bishop of a diocese/eparchy is the true pastor of every parish. His deacons and presbyters are like the "two hands" of the Bishop who must serve the Church together, each exercising his own unique expression of the Bishop's apostolic fatherhood. There is nothing out of order in the notion of two married men in apostolic succession, one a priest and the other a deacon, serving a celibate bishop as his delegates.

As to the question of periodic continence before receiving the Eucharist, as I mentioned earlier, such things were also practiced by the laity according to the "ancient discipline". Are we to seek to revive such things as well? Again, I would rather let the Church's magisterium be my guide in these matters.

All in all, I think Fr. David does a very praiseworthy job of affirming many of the ideals of the Church and apostolic life, as well as the Church's authentic doctrinal teachings. I tip my kalymmavchion to him and offer my humble diaconal prayers for him and his priesthood in Christ - God grant him many years!


Fr. Deacon Daniel