Sunday, June 22, 2003

Неделя всех святых
Братие, толик имуще облежаш нас облак свидетелей, гордость всяку отложше, и удобь обстоятельный грех, терпением да течем на предлежащий нам подвиг.

Brethren, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. — Hebrews 12:1

Happy All Saints' Sunday, Eastern Orthodox.

Today in church history
June 22, 431: The Third Ecumenical Council opens in Ephesus to condemn 'Nestorianism', which holds that Christ was two separate persons rather than one person with two natures.

Because He is one person who is both true God and true man, it follows that Mary gave birth to God as well as man, so the orthodox, catholic Church, East and West, calls her the Mother of God (Theotókos in Greek).

The Assyrian Church of the East, the ancient church of what is now Iraq, went its own way after this, but the experts today say Assyrians aren't Nestorian. Their rite doesn't really use icons (but doesn't ban them either) since it is older than their use, their liturgical language is the vernacular spoken by Jesus, and their Liturgy of St Addai and St Mari has the only consecration prayer still in use in Christendom that hasn't got the words of institution, 'This is My Body', etc.

On the TV
All right, I haven't got a life at the moment. Last night I caught most of The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman's breakout success film from the 1950s with Max von Sydow as Antonius Block, the war-weary Crusader knight who plays a surreal (as seen in art films like this) chess game with death. I can see why people might find it stagey and pretentious but I liked it. I was singing along with the monks, who sang a marchlike Dies Iræ (about the only thing I understood without subtitles as the rest is in Swedish) as they walked in on the action, complete with swinging thurible and life-sized crucifix, to conduct what sounded like a preaching mission. (Bergman, a Lutheran pastor's son, seems to have the fashionable hipster contempt for the faith.)

Also caught the beginning and end of Steven Spielberg's long anti-slavery movie Amistad, about a real-life slave revolt aboard a Spanish ship by that name (ironically, the word means 'friendship') in the 1830s and the trial in the US afterwards. It is moving in all the ways Spielberg probably intended. A favorite moment: when the British naval vessel destroys the slave-traders' fort with cannon fire and immediately afterwards the captain dictates a letter to the US foreign secretary: 'My dear Mr Forsythe: I write to confirm your assertion that the slave fortress in Sierra Leone does not exist...' Score one for the old world order and implicitly Christendom: Britain came out of that looking good, on the side of right, as it had banned slavery before the Amistad incident. The same stance it took later, in the days of apartheid. The baddies then were the über-Protestant Afrikaners (Dutch Reformed - puritanical Calvinists who think they're the elect so to hell literally with everybody else) - apartheid was their brilliant idea. It was the British in South Africa and in Britain itself, including Anglo-Catholics like Geoffrey Clayton and Trevor Huddleston, who stood for common decency, built on Christendom and the belief in the Incarnation: God made man (which the council of Ephesus was all about). In the case of men like Clayton and Huddleston, that connection was explicit.

Before finally falling asleep I caught the ethnic humor of Bernie Mac. You learn something new every day - I had no idea hot sauce was a big part of some black Americans' taste in food. But I detected something else in that comedy sketch - liberal, indeed Marxist, dogma. According to it, it's OK for blacks to put down white people as such. The politics and morality of revenge, of class hatred: liberal dogma says that if one's ancestors have been through something like the Amistad experience, one is 'entitled' to forgo common decency and charity. Racism - from the Left. No, thanks.

Went to a little opera-singing concert this afternoon at an historic black Methodist church in the city. Beautiful building - even though the denomination isn't liturgical and doesn't claim apostolic succession its 19th-century sanctuary is fittingly 'churchy' with stained glass, carved wood and painted angels and gold 'Gothic' letters on the east wall. But what did I see on the tract rack? 'AIDS and Safer Sex' (when it became obvious that 'safe sex' is BS, the PC police tacked on an '-er') and 'Be Protected'. Hello? In a church that's supposed to teach the gospel of Christ? This seemed to me like some racist accusation that 'they just can't control themselves', only this time presented to blacks by blacks themselves. Unbelievable.

The arrangement of the furniture in the sanctuary was that for gospel music: pulpit front and center with the choir behind. The inspiration for one of my favorite pop songs, Stevie Wonder's marathon 'As':

We all know sometimes life's hates and troubles
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
But you can bet your life times that and twice its double
That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed
So make sure when you say you're in it but not of it
You're not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called Hell
Change your words into truths and then change that truth into love
And maybe our children's grandchildren
And their great-great grandchildren will tell

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