Wednesday, March 12, 2003

From our readers
From Nik Stanosheck, Connecticut, US:
Not So Loyal, After All
Catholic neocons diss the Pope on Iraq
by Christopher Ferrara
You can count on Catholic traditionalists to tell you when the emperor (be it Catholic or American neoconservative posturing) is starkers.

From Samer al-Batal in Canada:
Karen De Coster has a blog
Слава Богу! [Cyrillic (Windows)]

Samer also notes that our main man Lew Rockwell recently was interviewed on television by Bill Moyers - got to give him credit for being truly liberal enough to listen: transcript.

From the stopped-clock, infinite-number-of-monkeys-with-PCs department, a parody:
All this war stuff is a total drag
by, like, Avril Lavigne

On lay attire in church
Mr Stanosheck recently created a page with a long list of links to sites promoting and selling modest, conservative, basically 19th-century 'retro' fashions for women.

In his book on the evolution of the Byzantine Rite churches and Liturgy (there is a link to buy it on my Eastern Orthodoxy page), Canon Hugh Wybrew observed that back in the glory days of the eastern Roman Empire (what 19th-century historians named Byzantine), there was a problem with secluded balconies and rooms in big churches like Hagia Sophia, the cathedral in Constantinople, being used for amatory pursuits and with men in the huge congregation chatting up the ladies and making dates - sort of an early medieval Greek singles bar. I think it got so bad so soon that either St John Chrysostom or St Maximos the Confessor complained about it. Sexual distraction is as old as the Fall of humanity.

I agree that women must dress modestly in church and agree with the Russian Orthodox custom of men and women standing on opposite sides of the church. (And with the Catholic custom, Western and Eastern, of headcoverings for women, which has a scriptural basis but I'm not pharisaical about it.) As for the site with radically conservative fashion statements, the romantic Russian-peasant look of the woman on the left is great for church. But I wouldn't go as far as saying all Orthodox women must dress like that all the time, nor dress like bit players from 'Little House on the Prairie', like the Amish or something.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis (no liberal or libertine) in Mere Christianity, God likes the body and sexuality - He made them. And some of today's fashions for women, with simple, elegant straight-bobbed hair and clean lines in clothing, are flattering and very sexy. (I'll do without some of the cultural errors, like abortion on demand, weird unnatural 'platonic' relationships - connected to promiscuity in other relationships, oddly enough - and blob-shaped cars.) And that's great. But I'll concede to Nik that some of it definitely doesn't belong in church, or, for practising Christians, anywhere.

See my entry about St Michael's in New York for a look at my views on what people wear to church. You might see them as a kind of compromise. I'm for the clergy 'dressing up' - birettas (skufias and klobuks in the Byzantine Rite), brocade and cloth-of-gold (and lace if they're Roman Rite) - but 'the people' can wear whatever as long as it's modest (not sexy in the sense of being an occasion of sin) and clean. IOW, formal ritual, but the church should be open to everyone, regardless of social class, wealth, or taste. Both Godward and 'open' in the true, orthodox, charitable sense.

I think those who demand all women dress like characters on 'Little House on the Prairie' all the time haven't grasped the distinction between desire (natural attraction) and lust (the abuse of sex, a sin) and seem to have a problem with women, period. (Thanks to Fr Leo Schlosser and Mark Bonocore for clarifying those distinctions for me in my journey.) Abusus non tollit usum, folks. Sexy doesn't necessarily mean sinful.

Back to cars: hooray for BMW's remake of the ’60s British Mini and the retro-’40s Plymouth PT Cruiser for relief from the blob look.

Byzantine Rite and wrong
Went to the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete once this week at a church that will remain unidentified and was underwhelmed - sure, it was orthodox and Godward but it was also too long and badly sung so even if one knows the language it was hard to follow. I didn't understand about half of it. Makes one see the Protestants' point about gabble in 'a tongue not understanded of the people'. Congregation: about eight, including the ad-hoc-sounding choir of about four. Dreary. (So much so most of the members stayed away!) Not 'penitential', just bad! It would have been more 'soul-profiting' for me to stay home and read evening prayer from the Book of Common Prayer! Tonight I may visit another church instead.

The Canon itself was fine but it was set in the framework of Great Compline, which is off the wall the way it jumps around, with the 40 'Lord, have mercys' and the 'O come, let us worships' done twice and Ps. 69 apparently repeated too.

I much prefer the more straightforward (but still recognizably Eastern) order of Little Compline, the basis of the 'Anglo-Byzantine' evening prayer I use at home (which grew out of Lance Weakland's scheme using the kathismata, as described on my site), framing the psalms (two or three in sequential order through the month, following the Book of Common Prayer) and a Bible reading.

Also, I think Russian congregations (not that it's my place to tell Russian congregations what to do) should scrap the Vigil (except maybe for the great feasts) and do Vespers (something like what churches in the Greek tradition, including the Arabs, already do), but real Vespers with psalms instead of the 'Блаженъ мужъ' medley where the Word of God should be. (The corner-cutting only makes merciful sense when you are doing real readings later during Matins as part of a Vigil.) Add a Bible reading too. But two+ hours in church at night for nonmonastics isn't realistic.

All that matters to me really is, first, orthodoxy and 'Godwardness', and, second, ritual integrity - don't get me wrong; I'm not saying Eastern churches shouldn't be Eastern. Just that even when it's 100% восточный it still can go dreadfully wrong. That's reality, owing to fallen human nature.

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