Here love truly does not seek its own, even if this be the salvation of one’s own soul.
Saint Marie Skobtsova of Paris

«— Petra Anastasis
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Holiday Googles

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GoogleI’ve been looking recently at the past Holiday Googles. Very spiffy. It is really quite interesting to see the development in their style from the beginning — five years ago — until now. Some of the “Google Doodles,” serial Googles that usually tell a story, are pretty fun. My favorite is the Dilbert Doodle. I’m trying to decide if we can pull off holiday stuff with the wordmark on the parish website.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 9:18 pm

«— Interview for Mr. Hibbity Gibbity
—» Holiday Googles

Petra Anastasis

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I put my love for Petra in the grave after I came to college. My religious beliefs shifted, and the winds of music fortune turned the eighties into the nineties. A string of simply wretched Petra albums joined forces with these vicissitudes and soured me nearly overnight. Apart from Double Take, an album covering 12 of their classic tunes with their own new interpretations, no album has drawn more than a passing interest since the awful Unseen Power. Let there be no gray: Petra was dead to me.

So why did a CD emblazened with crimson marketing hype exclaiming, “PETRA RETURNS!” raise my interest? Call it nostalgia. It was perhaps this line that gave me hope: “Producer Peter Furler has captured Petra the way their fans have been screaming for.…” My cynicism firmly pouted, “It’s just marketing; it’s only hype. They are still dead.” But my inner child whispered, “But what if it’s true?What if it’s like ‘Judas’ Kiss’ and ‘Blinded Eyes,’ like ‘Angel of Light’ and ‘Killing My Old Man’? What if they realized that ‘Dead Reckoning,’ ‘Rose-colored Stained-glass Windows,’ ‘Adonai,’ and ‘Another Crossroad’ really sounded good?” What if it was true? I listened to the CD in the listening post with that faint glimmer of hope. I was looking for proof of life.

Without equivocation Jekyll & Hyde does not disappoint — I write this as someone who has all but sworn off the CCM genre entirely as derivative drivel. It’s old Petra, resurrected in a new form. Dead are John Lawry’s signature Lync LN4 and John Slick’s Moog stylings: This CD lives and breathes guitar, drum, guitar, bass, guitar, and amplified voice. Did I mention guitar? Bob Hartman returns and the production is heavily overdubbed to create a dense, lush metal feel. To ease the transition, the opening track uses chimes in the trap set. Very subtle, and used to excellent effect.

It only gets better. The second track mixes Led Zeppelin and Soundgarden allusions to create a melodic foundation throughout the song. In fact, I would have to say that melody is the operative word throughout the album. The melodic genius behind “Judas Kiss” and “Blinded Eyes” rises like a rock-and-roll phoenix, bringing the melodic back to Petra’s trademark sound. The heavy-handed sound of power-chord after agonizingly boring power chord are absent, bless God! The Newsboys’ Peter Furler, producer and session drummer, skillfully brings Petra’s dormant talent and technical proficiency back to life and back to the foreground.

If it sounds like I cannot say enough about the resurrection of Petra, it’s because I can’t. I bought the CD after listening to only two and a half tracks. I was that confident; subsequent listenings have only served to keep confirming this.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 8:38 pm

«— The Persistence of Linkery
—» Petra Anastasis

Interview for Mr. Hibbity Gibbity

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Interview questions for Mr. Hibbity Gibbity:

  1. What did you study in college? Why do you despise your drawing teacher so much? What dreams do you have that persuaded you to this course of study?
  2. You have mentioned elsewhere that you once attended a church where you found what you’ve “never been able to find any where else… The Holy Spirit. ” This sounds like the saddest thing I could think of — to find God, the Holy Spirit, and then leave him. What compelled you to do this? Can you go back? If not, why not? If so, why haven’t you yet?
  3. Who is your favorite super-hero? Why? Of all the things which this super-hero has done and endured, which ones made you the angriest at the writers?
  4. Which is better: DC or Marvel? Explain.
  5. Who is your favorite saint?
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Filed under: — Basil @ 7:46 pm

«— Karl’s Interview, Part V: Embracing Weakness
—» Interview for Mr. Hibbity Gibbity

The Persistence of Linkery

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In a wonderful display of information permanence, Jakob Nielsen describes why linkrot is bad. On Juliana’s blog, Sockmonk opines that the opposite is true, citing as proof the ability to delete posts provided in blog*spot’s user interface. If you can do it, it must be O.K.

It seems to me that writers who publish their work take up a mantle of responsibility. They enter into an unwritten contract with their readers, the terms of which vary depending upon the media used for publication. In a hypertextual medium, part of the unstated agreement is, “This material will continue to be here; you may link to it.” The implication is that it has been published. Were it not understood that it would continue to be there, it would be useless to link to the information, and it would do a disservice to one’s own readers should the information someday vanish.

The blogging phenomenon skews this model a bit by making it extremely easy for anyone to publish their work in seconds. This ease of publication makes the work apparently more ephemeral for the writers involved. However, the fact that conversation is a cornerstone of blogging argues exactly the opposite, bringing us back to Nielsen’s classic advice: Linkrot is bad.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 7:12 pm

«— Karl’s Interview, Part IV: On Vocations
—» The Persistence of Linkery

Karl’s Interview, Part V: Embracing Weakness

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5) You attend a small Orthodox parish. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of your parish?
We are all converts, except for some of the children. We have one cradle-O hanging out, and he will possibly transfer in. Being converts is both a strength and a weakness. Because we have experienced conversion from the inside out, we know how difficult this pilgrimage can be. We know that people need space to look around and ask tough questions. We are not afraid of questions from inquirers and seekers, because we have either asked them ourselves or heard most of them before. We know from visiting other parishes how important hospitality is for inquirers.

Recent articles by Mr. Hibbity Gibbity and Seraphim amply illustrate how this strength is also an awful weakness. Though we are familiar with the need for enfleshed love, we can sometimes be harsh in explaining the Orthodox faith to inquirers. We chant, “We have seen the true light; we have found the true faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity.” Sometimes it appears that we believe that having found the true faith is about worshipping the undivided Church — a mistaken inference from our sometimes triumphal and arrogant posture, to be sure. “The best way of all,” as the Apostle St. Paul taught us, is love, and excellent examples of this way are presented to us in the saints of North America, especially St. Herman and St. Innocent.

We are young. We have a great deal of energy for missionary work — both our local mission and overseas. Many of us are MKs — missionary kids — so we understand how much energy this work takes.

We long for grandparents — yia-yias and babushki. Both because they bring their own kind of energy, and because we know that the wisdom of age has a tempering effect on youthful zeal. Being converts, we bring our own kind of spin on the faith. Father T. tells us that we need to get into “yia-yia theology,” that is, the theology of grandmas and grandpas who have grown up and grown old in the Church. Orthodox theology learned from books can become eccentric, like a utopia from the ivory tower. Babushki remind us how to live as human beings in this incarnated faith.

Our strengths are always our weaknesses. In the mystery of Christ’s atonement, he modelled for us the way to be strong in him. By submitting to death, he brought us life. It is by embracing our weakness, embracing our poverty, that we become strong and rich through his presence in us.

One final plug: We are small in number, but nearly all of us can sing — even some who think they cannot. People tell me that our repertory is well beyond many mission parishes older than we are. I find this somewhat amazing, since as a leader I have a vision of the fullness. My choir members have been amazingly hard workers, and it seems to be paying off in congregational participation. (Although part of this is because we are former Methodists and Wesleyans, and singing is what we come to church to do.) The choir has also been amazingly patient with me, and for this I am truly grateful. Since I have officially passed the choirmaster duties along to Gideon, I’ll take this oppurtunity to thank my choir and my parishioners for their hard work and their patience. You guys are better singers than you know. I’m not sure what the corresponding weakness is to this. Maybe somebody can help me out in the comments.

Official Rules

  1. If you want to participate, leave a comment below saying “interview me.”
  2. I will respond by asking you five questions–each person’s will be different.
  3. You will update your journal/blog with the answers to the questions.
  4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
  5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
  6. I will answer reasonable follow up questions if you leave a comment.
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Filed under: — Basil @ 9:10 pm

«— Icon Screen: Full or Not-so-much?
—» Karl’s Interview, Part V: Embracing Weakness

Karl’s Interview, Part IV: On Vocations

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4) Do you think that God is calling you to the priesthood? Tonsured monastic life?
Yes. Maybe.

A vocation to the priesthood is always composed of two sides: the subjective and the objective. The candidate senses the call somehow internally, and the Church manifests the call externally. There is no set way this happens: sometimes the candidate desperately wants to be a priest, but the Church does not recognize it. Because the body is one, this no is always definitive: the Holy Spirit does not speak to individuals alone. At other times, it is the opposite: the Church manifests the call, but the candidate does not hear it. At times in the past, the candidate has been dragged against his will to be ordained — for example, St. John Chrysostom. However, there is not one “valid” way that the vocation to the priesthood is manifested. Every priest’s call will be shown and tested in a way that is true in a unique and personal way for him.

Every candidate absolutely must realize that all subjective manifestations of a call could be nothing more than and nothing less than spiritual delusion — prelest. Only the call manifested by the people of God is definitive.

I will be happy if I finish the race as a janitor; yes, even a janitor’s assitant. I hope never to be the cause of sorrow in the Church, as are so many vainglorious men who have sought the priesthood for their own glory and against the needs of the Church. Moreover, since I myself am not immune from this sin, I hope ever to remain in subjection to those with authority over me in this, as in every matter.

As far as monastic tonsure, I don’t know yet. I have deep reservations about asking any woman to marry half a man. Though my own priest and his wife show me what a good priestly marriage can look like, I still feel that perhaps I am being called to “serve the Lord without distraction.” (1Co 7.32-35)

On the other hand, “if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1Co 7.9)

Future questions to be answered:
5) You attend a small Orthodox parish. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of your parish?

Official Rules

  1. If you want to participate, leave a comment below saying “interview me.”
  2. I will respond by asking you five questions–each person’s will be different.
  3. You will update your journal/blog with the answers to the questions.
  4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
  5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
  6. I will answer reasonable follow up questions if you leave a comment.
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Filed under: — Basil @ 9:26 pm

«— Karl’s Interview, Part III: H2B a Hacker
—» Karl’s Interview, Part IV: On Vocations

Icon Screen: Full or Not-so-much?

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A digression from answering the questions in my interview by Karl.

As a parish we are contemplating what our future icon screen should look like. Well, kind of. Father D. has made it abundantly clear that he will make the final decision based on a number of factors, mostly what is needed for spiritual formation and orderly worship. However, he has asked for our opinions, if they are particularly strong. Dmitri asked if I was writing about the iconostasis, the Greek word for an icon screen; I said, “I’m just doodling.” Don’t think of this meditation as opinionated; it’s just doodling.

Allow me to begin by examining of the history of the icon screen and its context within history, the developing liturgical rite, and the physical shape of the temple. My examination here will be general, and I unfortunately do not have the resources to footnote my claims. (Some of it can be found briefly outlined in Fr. Robert Taft’s The Byzantine Rite: A Short History.) A diligent search, however, will support the outline that I set forth here. It will be nothing shocking to readers already well-informed in the subject. Where I am wrong, I hope gentle readers will correct me with appropriate haste.

The earliest icons are in the catacombs, the graves of early Christians, where the divine liturgy — the eucharistic offering — would be celebrated over the sarcophagi of the martyrs. They are also found in house churches. There is no evidence of even the beginning of an icon screen at this point. The Church of this period is persecuted, gathering in small, tight communities in hidden, secluded places. The iconography of the period reflects this: It highly symbolic, almost a code-language. The imagery is rarely ever explicit. Examples include fishes and loaves, the good shepherd, and the orans — a figure, usually a woman, with hands uplifted in prayer. Evidence from this period is very scanty. The persecuted Church was marked by its reluctance to skyline itself. Everything was highly mobile, thus very little has survived.

The fourth century is marked by radical changes in the Church and the Empire. Constantine the Great converts to Christianity and thus establishes it as the Imperial religion. Suddenly we have Christian temples. What was hidden is brought forth into the light. Additionally, thousands of people throng to the Church. The tight community that was once able to identify members by sight is now faced with a throng of strangers. Catechesis of this period is uneven and necessarily more superficial than in the preceding centuries. Where once all the faithful knew explicitly how to act in the household of God, a new situation arises. The Church is forced by this new circumstance to create new practices that protect the holiness and mystery of the Church, notably the eucharist. New forms communicate the same, unchanging meaning.

It is during this time of upheaval that we see the first conciliar definitions of Christian dogma, and the communion spoon takes the place of receiving the gifts in one’s hand. In the same spirit of protecting the mystery, simple partitions of the nave from the sanctuary appear. In Palestine, the first curtains make their appearance. In Constantinople, we find low, simple rails — at first with no icons at all, then eventually with small icons.

Constantinopolitan churches have separate buildings for the skeuophylakion — the predecessor of the prothesis — the chamber for preparing the offering, and the diakonikon, the chamber for the mundane elements of the deacon’s work: incense, candles, oil, wicks, etc. Constantinopolitan churches are massive, and their architecture reflects the popular use of stational processions — parades around the city and into the church — that were incorporated into the liturgy. These stational processions, in fact, are the origin of the antiphons at the beginning of the Eastern liturgies, as well as of many processional elements of the divine offices — albeit in a comparatively shrunken form.

In the Palestinian churches, these chambers are housed in apses off of the main nave. Palestinian churches are smaller. The fuller icon screens seem to develop in part so that the work of preparing the gifts and incense and candles, etc., can be done discretely, without distracting the prayer of gathered worshippers.

Initially, there was an equal interplay between Imperial capital and holy land: Constantinople pilgrims went to Palestine and holy land clergy visited the capital, each returning with reports of church architecture and liturgical rite. Eventually, though, the monasteries of Palestine eventually supplanted — both in rite and architecture — the practice of the Imperial capital. This primarily happened during the Iconoclast Controversy, in which Constantinople and the state goverment of the Empire favored iconoclasm, initially for political reasons. The monasteries became the protectors of Christian orthodoxy. Here we see another reason for the increase in the size of icon screens: What better way to proclaim which side of orthodoxy one was on? Monastery churches had large screens with many icons. These monasteries, particularly the Monastery of St. Sabbas, eventually became the model for new churches in the rest of the empire after the victory over the iconoclasts, and so did their liturgical rite.

So, what conclusions do we draw from this?

In the context of most churches built today, we are still following, architecturally, this Sabbaite model. Furthermore, we are also following this model in terms of liturgical rite, as well. The full icon screen developed organically in this context; eschewing it for the older example of Constantinopolitan churches only makes sense in a context where, architecturally and liturgically, we are able to revive the practice of the Great Church. The Monks of New Skete, for example, have a blessing to do this; that is why their icon screen in the Temple of Holy Wisdom works so well. Liturgically and contextually, they are imitating an older model, that of the Great Church, Holy Wisdom, in Constantinople.

We must also dispel one misconception — the sanctuary, the holy table, the icon screen, the curtain and the work accomplished therein pertain entirely to the church as the assembly of the faithful. Categories of witness to unbelievers and non-orthodox Christians — that is, of evangelism and propagation — are no more relevant in discussions about these areas than in discussions about who enters them to do the work or what work is actually accomplished therein.

It is sometimes thought that the icon screen is a barrier either for the faithful or for inquirers. Note these remarks from his grace, Tikhon, Bishop of San Francisco and the West (OCA), “The following rationale has been put forward by some, and I understand it. It goes like this,” says his grace, Tikhon. “The Iconostasis [icon screen], the Doors and the Curtain do not protect the Holies from observation by the profane: they protect the profane from the Holies, which are a light to the Faithful, but a burning flame to the profane.” He also says,

On the contrary we teach that the icons on the iconostasis [icon screen], including those on its doors, open Reality to us, open Heaven to us, and do not separate us from anything but join us more intimately to what is behind them, whether it is the Kingdom of Heaven or the Holy Altar of our Temple, where not only our clergy, but the Angels and Saints are serving. To abolish the iconostasis or make it of no substance is to, in fact, put dark glasses or even blinders on the eyes of the Faithful. Not having an Iconostasis makes the Holy Actions LESS accessible and LESS subject to the participation of the Faithful, not more so.

Icons reveal and manifest what is unseen yet invisibly present to us. One popular aphorism calls them “windows into heaven.” Perhaps one could say, the more windows onto heaven our icon screens have, the better!

Now, what could we say about those who follow the ancient practice of a more open icon-screen — well-illustrated at New Skete? I used to be whole-heartedly in favor of this older practice, even though I did not espouse — as most do not — the even older practice of using the curtain as specified in the Typikon (the book of church order, cf. Apostle St. Paul, 1Cor 14.4).

There is certainly a tension here. It is the age-old tension between ancient and new, tradition and innovation. Only the most fundamentalist believers believe that nothing at all has changed in the practice of the Church. Obviously, if we want to be safe, we will not err by following with exactness the practice that has been passed on to us. However, if we want to be coworkers with God in the task of saving souls, we will have to meet people where they are, as God did with the Patriarch Abraham — and indeed throughout the entire history of salvation’s economy.

Without the corresponding revival of architecture and liturgical rite, it seems to me that a traditionally full icon screen is better suited to our architecture and liturgical rite than the older, more open screen. It has taken me a long time to agree that this is the case. There was a time when I would have never admitted it — for us, locally, as a parish.

However, we have almost no icon screen currently. I see Fr. David vesting, preparing the gifts, and communicating. I see servers discussing which incense to use, lighting charcoals, and generally doing the messy part of “smells and bells.” Without a separate vestry, a separate chamber of preparation and a separate chamber for deacons and servers, an open icon screen seems fairly counter-intuitive to good order and beautiful worship. Further, we currently do not have the freedom to attempt a revival of ancient Constantinopolitan practice — as attractive as it may seem. The tradition that is being passed on to us is primarily 19th century Russian practice, and these circumstances do not appear likely to change anytime soon.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 2:00 pm