Technology in the Liturgy

If there is one thing that I cannot stand, it is the placement of projector screens in churches. This hasn’t really occurred in the East as much as it has in the West. But why is it an issue? Is it that we should be opposed to new technology? We have books, and some of us have pews, and those didn’t exactly exist when the Christ founded the Church, so that argument is out. (Plus, I would be hardpressed to find a Church that didn’t use a heater or A/C – or electric lighting). It isn’t technology that I dislike.

The issue is about what is in the front of the Church. In our Byzantine Catholic Churches, we have beautiful icon screens, which really convey the sacred nature of the place that we are in. Those images, along with the candles, really set a prayerful climate. It is a climate that is meant to put us into a different time period so that we can fully place ourselves into the liturgy. Church has always placed us in the past, even back in 33AD! The first liturgy, the Last Supper, celebrated by Christ Himself, occurred in concordance with a Passover Seder, which called its participants back to the Exodus. Every Liturgy looked to the past as well as forward to the Second Coming. That is why our Churches have maintained the same sacred architecture that it had since our victory over the Iconoclastic heresy.

In the West, after the Second Vatican Council, the architecture of their churches was changed to reflect their “meal theology.” Essentially, the Eucharist is a communal meal of “we and God” and so they changed the architecture of the Church to reflect this. Age old designs, such as the Church being shaped in the form of a cross, or the Church representing a ship on the way to heaven was thrown out to be replaced with a semi-circular concert hall to reflect the meal in the “here-and-now.” The Romans previously had too much of an emphasis on the Sacrifice of the Cross (to the detriment of the focus on the Resurrection – in my opinion. Others may say that you can never be too focused on the cross) but now the sacrifice is denied almost completely in this architecture. It becomes less about worshipping God and more about having a good time in God’s presence. You must acknowledge the Cross in the liturgy, but you must remember the resurrection as well.

With this change, there was a lot of empty space created. In one corner, tabernacles were stashed aside. Towards the front, there was nothing next to the sides of the crucifix. No icons, no paintings, not even statues. While in the past, Roman Churches would have side altars with statues, now there is nothing. With this, the Church also realized that they didn’t have much money left over after “renovations,” so things such as vestments and decent hymnals became something the local churches had no interest in investing in. And with technological advancements, they solved two of their problems. They could eliminate the blank space as well as the need to buy books by placing projector screens in the churches. While this may be a very utilitarian solution, imagine coming into a church to pray. Towards the front (which all the pews face), there is a very un-ornate altar table with a crucifix (if you’re lucky- if you’re unlucky you get one of those weird resurrection crucifixes). You might get some statues, but that’s about it. Then you see two blank projector screens. The tabernacle is off in the corner. If you are lucky, there are kneelers in front of the tabernacle. These new churches are not very prayer-friendly.

Thankfully, I do not anticipate this ever becoming an issue in our Eastern Catholic Churches. After all, where would they go? Icon screens cover up the majority of the front, if not all of it. They simply do not have a place to go in our worship – and that is a good thing.

We do have technology in our churches, and that is also a good thing. The air conditioning, the books (yes books are technology), the lights are all things that make it easier to focus on prayer. And that is what technology should do in the Church: focus us in our prayers to God.

Advertisements

What is the Purpose of Prayer?

A lot of people ask this question. However, the thing they forget to do is ask themselves this first: What is Prayer? After all, if we don’t know what something is, we can’t know it’s purpose. Prayer, in its simplest definition, is communication to a spiritual entity. We pray to angels, saints, and God. Here, we must draw a distinction. There is a difference between prayer and worship. All worship is prayer, but not all prayer is worship. Worship literally means to give worth. So we worship (in the literal sense) God, Mary, the angels and saints, and even anyone we respect and admire.  However, our understanding of worship is an action in which we give to recognize one as a Supreme being. So, using our colloquial understanding of the word, we would say that we worship God, glorify Mary, praise the angels and saints, and honor those around us who we respect and admire.

Prayer can be broken down even further into: Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplications (abbreviated ACTS). This leads into the purpose. We adore God just for the sake of His goodness. We pray to express sorrow for sin and to beseech forgiveness. We give thanks to God for his great goodness. The last is supplications. A lot of people question this aspect. After all, there have been cases where areas were threatened with destruction, but since everyone prayed for deliverance, God delivered them. Then, there are cases where Christian areas were wiped out by natural disasters or by murderous psychopaths. Some people say that the more people praying for something, the more likely God will answer the prayer. Sometimes, that is the case, sometimes it isn’t. And we don’t always get what we want.

A lot of times, we treat God as a cosmic Santa Claus to give us whatever we want and whenever we want. We pray for people to not die, we pray for storms to be averted, we pray to win the lottery, we pray for other people to convert, etc. We forget that His plan is sometimes nonsensical to us.

So, sometimes our supplications are answered, sometimes their not. So why ask? We have an inherent need to be in total communion with God. Our created purpose is for worship after all. It is by telling God all of our cares, even when we know what we want won’t occur, that we fully trust in Him. Even Jesus prayed to God the Father and wasn’t given what He asked. “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me, but not My will but Yours be done.”  See, here we see a perfect model of supplication. We pray for what we want and for deliverance from what may occur. But we accept God’s will regardless.

What is Consent?

Pretty much every Catholic is familiar with the concept of Mortal Sin. We all know that there are 3 conditions: it must be grave matter, you must have full knowledge, and you must give full consent. In my opinion, consent is the most important part, since consent is the only part of the sin you can actually do. The gravity of an action is objective and will always be the same when factoring in the object, purpose, and circumstances of the act. The knowledge is variable but is set at the time consent is given. Without consent, an act will not take place. It is possible to fully consent to evil without knowing that it is gravely evil. Then again, the grave evil this usually refers to is that of breaking a disciplinary law such as meat on Friday. It is a sin because of the disobedience, not because meat is bad. (So, I guess it really isn’t gravely evil since you can’t intentionally sin through disobedience if you didn’t know it was a rule, to begin with).

Now with consent to a sin, there are many different levels.

The highest level is full consent. This means you are allowing your body to perform the act and you are participating without resistance. This does not mean you aren’t facing temptation. For instance, there is a party going on at the same time as church, and you really want to go to it and you are seriously considering skipping mass/liturgy.

Then there is consent through habit. It is something our body has been used to doing, so the body has a stronger inclination to do. We feel bothered when we don’t do it. An example here is foul language. We are so used to using Jesus’s name in vulgar ways that it happens automatically. We don’t mean disrespect but we do it anyways.

Then there is consent through addiction. This is where the body feels like it NEEDS to do something. This is something that happens when you are actively trying to stop but can’t stop easily. There are people addicted to pornography, people addicted to eating, people addicted to smoking, etc. Yes, you are allowing yourself to perform the act and participating in it, but if you didn’t have that addiction, you could go periods without considering it. An example is the people who do drugs even when they know they will be caught and lose everything. Or someone who cannot function normally without a substance. Yes, there are people addicted to coffee, even if coffee isn’t immoral.

Then there is consent through violence. For instance, you commit a sin because you are being threatened. An example is being forced at gunpoint to perform sexual acts. It’s still considered consent because you could resist, but without the threat, you wouldn’t have done it.

Then there is involuntary reaction.You don’t actively give consent or participate, but you don’t resist either. An example is throwing a punch without contemplation. The fist flies before you can even think to stop. Or when you injure yourself and you shout Jesus’s name.

Lastly, there is perfect resistance, where you don’t give into the sin.

A lot of people, especially traditionalists, forget that the condition of mortal sin is FULL consent. Now, these people have good intentions. They understand the serious potential for people to rationalize their mortal sin into a venial sin. For instance, someone could take their temptation and say “I didn’t give full consent because I was tempted” which is absolutely false. Thus, you have people who don’t even repent of their sins or even try to fight sins. To them, full consent is if they do something completely devoid of inclination. The other fear of traditionalists is that the person with an addiction will figure that since they aren’t committing a mortal sin, they won’t have to change. The fact is that not even trying is a different sin. The sin of being lukewarm. Sin is damaging and every time a sin is committed, regardless of consent, you are damaged, and so is your relationship with God. And those sins will cause you to commit other sins that you aren’t addicted to, thus enabling you to give full consent to a different sin. If you don’t fight an addiction, you will fall away from God. The last traditionalist fear is that someone will claim an addiction when they really don’t have one. Thus, they excuse themselves from the confessional. “I don’t need to go since I’m addicted and therefore not in mortal sin.” That distinction isn’t made by an individual. Either a healthcare practitioner or a priest will tell you of your addiction.

The traditionalists have good intentions here, but the issue that occurs is that the addicted person will despair and give up. The same occurs with people with scrupulosity. Saying that someone who is addicted isn’t in mortal sin is not a free pass for them to continue their sin. And it only applies to someone who genuinely repents and wants to change.

The thing about actions, whether good or bad, is that we don’t own them. They don’t originate from us. We are incapable of owning our own actions since due to our corrupted fall, all the good we do came from God, and all that is bad is because of the fall. Yes, we cannot even pride ourselves in having ownership over our sins. We perform deeds. We commit sins. We do not own them. The only thing we do is consent to them and participate in them. Thus, the only action we really own is whether we consent to or reject God’s mercy.

Why Don’t We Pray for Satan (or other Demons)

Someone asked me this question a long time ago. After all, Jesus says to pray for our enemies. The issue with praying for Satan, however, is that it will have absolutely no effect. Why? Because unlike us humans, his sin originated from within. Angels are pure spirits. Spirits differ from corporeal forms, such as ourselves, in that they don’t have a body. Our capacity for understanding is limited by our brain. (we have a spiritual capacity too as far as intellect goes, but we don’t get to use it unless we’ve become spiritual masters, for example, devout monks who achieve sainthood, or until we are dead.) Angels, on the other hand, had infinite theoretical knowledge of everything. They knew the law and the truth, and they knew exactly what would happen to them should they reject God. They were not tempted in any way shape or form. The concept of not being tempted into sin seems absolutely foreign to us. After all, there are probably none of us who knows what it feels like to not be at least tempted slightly by something. In fact, when I say I am not tempted, I really mean “the temptation is small enough to where I can unconsciously manage it.”

Before the fall, we could only be tempted externally, but after the fall we became able to be tempted from within, due to the fall corrupting our nature. When we fell, Satan tempted us externally. That means our flesh didn’t crave the sin like ours do. Yet, because of our minds, we saw the benefits of the sin and did not fully grasp the severity of the consequences. We knew we’d be punished, but we figured that the knowledge of good and evil was worth it. However, the understanding is that without the external temptation, we wouldn’t have even considered eating the fruit.

The demons, on the other hand, had no such external temptation. Nothing disordered came along to corrupt them. They became disordered on their own accord. The fact is, the demons, on their own accord, said that they would rather be banished into a lake of fire for all eternity than to willingly serve God. They knew exactly what they were doing and their actions would be irrevocable. Furthermore, they do not have a capacity for remorse. To this day, they are happy with their decision.

Lastly, God has already judged them and sentenced them to eternity in hell. We, however, have not been judged. We can still repent, no matter how evil we have been. We are incapable of committing an evil as pure as the demons. The worst we can do is reject God’s mercy at the end of our lives. Even if one of us was to sit here and wish God dead, that act would have originated from a sinful corruption. The very fact of the matter is that there is nothing that we can do, good or evil, that originates from ourselves. We cannot pride ourselves in any good we have done. Only through God do we perform good acts. But even then, we cannot even pride ourselves in our sins. For there is nothing that we can commit that would truly be original. It is all prompted through demonic influence, whether it be the concupiscence from the fall or from an external temptation. The extent of our action is to give consent. But even with that, it is still us doing it. We participate. We aren’t just robots who hand over the keys to God or Satan.

Who is Satan?

The most common images of the devil are either that of a red guy with horns and a pitchfork or a ridiculously attractive and seductive woman/man. The former points to the ugliness of his sin. The latter points to how enticing his sin is to us. In my opinion, I think Satan is not so blatantly obvious. Sometimes there are events that occur in history when we see complete evil out in plain sight, whether it be a shooting in Nevada or mass genocide in Germany. Yet, Satan works in subtle ways. If you ask me, I would say that Satan brings a false sense of comfort and peace. He’s a friendly person to you. And the most confusing aspect is that he will feed you some truth, and pepper in some subtle lies. Sometimes he encourages strict adherence to religious doctrines. How on earth could that be wrong? Isn’t following the law to the letter a good thing? Jesus didn’t think so. Not in the case of the Pharisees who considered anything that required any effort to be “working on the Sabbath.” Jesus essentially told them that they need to understand the “spirit of the law.” In other words, “use common sense when applying the law.”

Did you know that there are Jews out there who refuse to push buttons on an elevator on Saturdays because it’s technically “work?”  There have also been heretical sects of Christianity which promoted strict fasting guidelines, such as the Montanists, which started off as a strict observance and eventually grew into a full-fledged group of schismatic heretics. This was the group that the great theologian Tertullian succumbed to.

Then you have the opposite end of the spectrum: the liberal interpretation of the moral law. Essentially, this view discourages even following the law in certain areas. This Satanic influence is more apparent and does not need much explanation. But the two ends of the spectrum have one thing in common: both detract a person from having a genuine relationship with God. That’s really what Satan’s aim is. He becomes your friend who slowly directs you off the path of righteousness. There is certainly a balance to genuine worship of God. Certainly in this day and age, in comparison to society, the true church is conservative. However, it was not too long ago in the past when the church was considered liberal in comparison to the societal norms. The command to be fruitful and multiply was liberal in a society that considered licit marital sex to still be inherently sinful. After all, some theologians theorized that it was in the act of sex that original sin was transmitted and some monastics considered all marital acts to be a byproduct of the sin of lust. In fact, some even suggested that there would have been a different reproductive process if it hadn’t been for the fall.

The takeaway here is that Satan is able and willing to be anything and everything to subvert us. Sometimes he uses obvious enticements that we know are wrong but can’t resist. Other times, he disguises himself as an angel of light, using elements of truth to weave heresies to lead us astray. There are 4 cardinal virtues: Prudence, Courage, Justice, and Temperance. Prudence is your compass, temperance is your map. Courage your sword, justice your shield. Employ these tools that God gives you to know and follow the right path. And know that Satan will not stop short of using tremendous good to achieve tremendous evil.

Venial Sins aren’t Good

This is a common sense statement. However, there is a need to say it. A lot of people believe for whatever reason that it is ok to commit venial sins since they don’t require the confessional before communion. It almost seems that people are more concerned about being able to receive communion than they are about developing a relationship with God. People tend to imagine the difference between a mortal and venial sin as being as wide as the Grand Canyon. Venial sins are seen as insignificant, and mortal sins are seen as either the worst thing imaginable (they are) or as being something that you just confess to make go away. The difference they see between the two is that one requires sacramental confession and the other does not. They forget that both require genuine repentance for forgiveness. The fact is, the difference between the two is that one completely kills your relationship with God and the church (and thus you need to be restored to communion. You are quite literally excommunicated. Not in the canonical sense but in a literal sense. You are outside of communion. (There are mortal sins that are automatic excommunications in the canonical sense but that is not what I am referring to). Venial sins damage your relationship with God. To put this in perspective, let’s imagine that a person’s body is the relationship. People see a venial sin the same as being a papercut. No. A venial sin is like having a cannonball blow your arm off. Yes, you will live, but it’s not something you just brush off.

A mortal sin is like being shot in the head. There are different and worse ways to die as well. Likewise, a mortal sin can be anything from sexual immorality to murder. Murder seems like the worst thing a person could commit, but masturbation can also be a mortal sin. These two sins are very far apart in their degree of gravity. But that isn’t what mortal sin means. It means your relationship with God and the Church is severed. The ironic part is that all sins are infinitely evil. All sins are worthy of death, and we do receive that punishment. Everyone WILL die. Mortal sin doesn’t mean sin worthy of death. All sins are worthy of death. An example would be someone who is diseased. A person with the flu would stay in bed, drink water and take medicine. In a few days, they would be healthy again, provided they followed the treatment plan. They wouldn’t need to present themselves to a priest. However, a leper would be cast out of the community and before being able to gain admission, would have to present himself to a priest to be declared clean. Only then could he be readmitted to the community.

Venial sins are something you want to avoid if you are seeking a godly life. They aren’t a free pass at a sin with the assumption that it is automatically forgiven.

Follow Your Heart: An Orthodox Journey to God

That’s right folks, I said the “O” word. A lot of Catholics freak out when they see the word “orthodox.” They immediately think of the Eastern Orthodox church, which, as we know is not in communion with Rome. And worse, when Eastern Catholics refer to themselves as Orthodox in Communion with Rome, the immediate image that comes to many peoples mind is that these folks are nominally catholic but adhere to all the teachings of the Orthodox Church and thus deny things such as Papal Supremacy and Papal Infallibility. While there are certainly factions within the Eastern Catholic Churches that do ascribe to such things, the very fact of the matter is that Orthodox simply means “of true belief” or better yet “true-believing.” So, we are in fact Orthodox Christians. We are Orthodox Catholics in communion with the Pope of Rome. But when I said “Orthodox” in the title, I am more referring to Eastern Orthodox spirituality.

Why are we so afraid to embrace anything that has to do with Eastern Orthodoxy, save the liturgy and some devotions, such as the Chotki? The Eastern Orthodox Church does not have a monopoly on Eastern spirituality, and furthermore, Eastern Spirituality is by no means heretical. The Eastern Spirituality is the other lung which Pope St. John Paul II spoke of. If we are to be that Eastern Lung, we must bring all we can to the table. We shouldn’t imitate the Western Lung, otherwise we are compromising our own functionality, and thus the functionality of the entire Church! The fate of the Church truly depends on us being as fully Eastern as we can be, and by doing such, will support our Western brothers by supplying to the Church the grace of our prayers. We MUST pray the traditions that were handed down to us. We cannot try to hybridize the East and the West into some universal individual lung. The Roman Church tried that after the Second Vatican Council. That attempt is known as the Novus Ordo, or among some Neo Conservative circles as the “Ordinary Form of the Mass.” And we know what effect that is having on the Church. We cannot turn our own traditions into an Eastern Novus Ordo. We must preserve our traditions. If both feet curved to the same direction, we would stumble. If both hemispheres of our brains were the same, we’d only have half the functionality of a full brain. We are the mirror to the West, just as the West is a mirror to us! So, with that being said, without further ado, let us proceed to the matter at hand.

FOCUSING ON OUR HEART

In Eastern Orthodox spirituality, there are two main centers in our body. That is our heart and our mind. With our mind, we produce rational thought, we contemplate things, we form opinions, and we learn. In fact, we spend most of our time using our minds, and furthermore, it is with our minds that Satan convinces us to fall into sin, time and time again. Our heart is different. Our heart is where the law of God is written upon. It is written on everyone’s heart, and this is in a multitude of scriptures. While our mind has to learn the law, our hearts already know it. It is almost as if our heart has a homing beacon set on God. It is for this reason that Christ teaches “Blessed are the Pure of Heart.” No where in the beatitudes does Christ say “Blessed are the Brainiacs” or “Blessed are the Scholars.” Yet, he mentions the heart. In fact, some people believe that we don’t need to read a lick of theology, listen to any sermons, or even know a single verse of scripture since the law is written on our hearts. If we listen to our hearts, we will know all that we need to know. In fact, there is a line in the Imitation of Christ, a Western work, which states “It is better to feel contrition than to know how to define it.” This feeling stems from the heart.

It is further believed that the heart is the one place in the body that is free from carnal desires. In the mind is pride, jealousy,  envy. In the gut is gluttony, lust, and sloth. Between the both is wrath shared,  but in the heart, since it is where the Holy Spirit dwells within us, is the one place free from these vices. That is why we are told to not harden our hearts, since from our hearts flows any hope we have for holiness. We fast from food to weaken our gut. Our lengthy prayers strain our minds. But in both, our hearts grow stronger. This is one aspect of the theology behind the Chotki.

CHOTKI: THE PRAYER OF THE HEART

The Chotki is a prayer used by Eastern monks. The prayer recited is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is this basic prayer which sums up what it means to be a Christian. We acknowledge Jesus as the Lord, the Christ, and the Son of God, thus making him God the Son. Through this we acknowledge the Trinity. We beseech mercy, and in doing so, thus repent of our sins and ask Him to pour out His grace upon us so that we may be healed from our sins. The last part is the acknowledgement of our sinfulness. That is our confession. We sinners acknowledge that the Lord is God and has revealed himself to us, and that through Him our sins will be forgiven, and we will be healed. There have been entire books written on that one small prayer.

However, the Chotki is more than a mindless repetition of those words. The first step of the Chotki is to control your breathing. The goal is to have your body pray along with your mind. With praying these words as every breath enters in and out, we fulfill the commandment to pray without ceasing. But it goes even deeper than this. The next step is to have the prayer start matching the rhythm of your heartbeat. It is advised not to attempt this until you have been praying the chotki for many years. I do not know the exact reason behind this, but I can speculate that it is more of a physical concern as opposed to a spiritual concern. The greatest concern monks have for new people praying this prayer is that they will damage their lungs and  for no avail, since they are praying it wrong.

The last step is to move your consciousness to your heart. This is by far the most difficult step. The idea behind this is that you will be able to follow your heart closer to God and that by doing this you will slowly but surely turn away from all sins. The danger here is indeed spiritual. The monks caution people to not try this without being under the direction of someone who is  experienced. The danger is that one could bring their prayer down to their gut, which is the seat of carnal desires and thus become enticed into sin. I am certain that these monks speak by experience and not by conjecture.

So, how ought we pray it? Unless you have a good spiritual father guiding you in this, I strongly recommend you heed the monk’s warning. The Jesus Prayer is indeed a powerful prayer and if you do not pray it properly, you can easily be deceived by Satan. As crazy as that sounds, we know that Satan prowls about like a lion to devour his prey, and that he comes disguised as an angel of light. We are the most vulnerable in prayer since that is when we least expect the onslaught of the enemy. Thus, an experienced Father can guide us and help us to know if it’s God we are experiencing or something more sinister.

For those of us who do not have an experienced Spiritual Father or are just starting out, you begin with focusing on your breathing pattern. There is a wealth of information about this online. You focus on the words and try to clear your mind. The Jesus prayer isn’t meditation like the Rosary is. We aren’t contemplating events or feelings or anything. This is in sharp departure from most Western Catholic perspective. Western Catholics think it is dangerous to try to pray without utilizing the full faculties of your mind. They are correct. However, Western Catholics, especially those who follow the method Ignatius, follow spiritual exercises which  are completed totally within the imagination of the mind. Eastern Catholics also say this form of rationalization is dangerous. The overall point here is that something being dangerous doesn’t mean it is wrong or bad. It means that you should not pass without a guide. The path to heaven is full of dangers and perils. A wrong step can misdirect you onto the path of hell. Follow your guide . It is their job to lead you to heaven.

Fasting in our Church

For Eastern Christians, Fasting is a common occurrence. The Roman Catholic is expected to abstain from meat every Friday (with a couple exceptions), and to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. A fast for the Roman Catholic is 1 meal and two snacks that together would not equal a full meal. They are encouraged to do extra penances during Lent (and some do it during advent) but it isn’t required. The attitude I’ve experienced from Romans regarding fasting is that they do the requirements. There seems to be a hostile attitude to those who go above or below the norm. To go above is to be sanctimonious to some, to go below is to be in violation of Canon Law, thus putting them into mortal sin.

Now, let’s look at the Eastern Orthodox. They are required to fast every Wednesday and Friday as provided by Chapter 32 and 33 of the Typikon. In addition, there are 4 fast seasons. A fast varies depending on the nature of the day it occurs on. The Strict Fast prohibits meat, dairy, wine, oil, fish, and requires one to not eat until the 9th hour (that is to say 3 P.M.). Then there are days when oil and wine are permitted. Then there are days when fish, oil, and wine are permitted. Then, there is a week known as cheesefare week when everything, except meat, is permitted. But as for the legal requirements, it differs from Church to Church. The typikon is viewed as a guideline on how to fast and fasting rules are developed for each individual by their spiritual father. The Greeks say fasting is required but there is no sin if you don’t fast, however, you may not partake of communion the following Sunday. The Russians say, you must fast if you want to go to communion, and if you don’t fast, you have also committed a sin and must go to confession.

Eastern Catholics, however, have a different view. We still maintain the same guidelines provided in the Typikon. However, they are not mandatory, but rather strongly encouraged. What is mandatory (using the Ruthenian Rite for an example) is fasting from meat every Friday of the year with the exception of the four fast-free weeks. On the first day of Lent and on Good Friday, Cheese and Meat is abstained from. Also, Wednesday and Fridays during the fast are days of abstinence from meat. So we have the minimums and the guidelines, and most people usually hit somewhere in-between.

In my opinion, having the ability to fast according to one’s ability is one of the greatest strengths of our church. It changes fasting from a legal observance to an observance of love. Love for God. There are many reasons why we fast, which I explained in a prior post, and if we fast earnestly and for the right reasons, we will have ourselves a tool to pull us into heaven. A sword is sharpened by grinding it against stone; metal is purified by heating it to extreme temperatures and scraping the impurities off the top (repeatedly). Fasting is how we sharpen our ability to combat sin, and through fasting, we purify our souls.

Life as a Bipolar Byzantine Catholic

I am a Ruthenian Rite Byzantine Catholic. And I have also been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. That may not sound very profound but there are many people out their who view their mental illness as proof that God does not exist or that it is a “curse from Satan” or that their mental illness doesn’t exist and that it is something that gets in the way of their worship of God. Let me tell you. Mental illness is real, and if you have mental illness, you can live a fulfilling life within the Catholic Church.

My first indication that I might have a disorder was when I was 18 in my Freshman psychology class. The professor was going through slides on mental illnesses and when the bipolar slide came up, my friend whom I sat next to every class, looked at me and said “Dude, that’s you.” He wasn’t trying to be insulting or funny. He said it with a very concerned look. Now mind you, at the time (conversion to Eastern Catholic in later post) I was a Roman Catholic bent on going to the seminary, and I thought this would be the death of my chances. I refused to acknowledge it. However, even though I remained close to the sacraments and continued to push myself in my prayer life, my symptoms got worse until I forced myself to see a counselor. It was then that I received my formal diagnosis.

Bipolar is a mental illness that will never go away. It is with you for life, and you have to manage it. This mental disorder is indeed a cross. But I discovered Eastern Catholicism shortly before my mental breakdown, and throughout the following months, I became involved with Holy Synergy and started to learn more about our traditions as Eastern Catholics. We have many different prayers, and yet there are two distinct prayer styles. There is a calm, meditative prayer style known as Hesychasm. Hesycham literally means “stillness” and it calls us to calm our minds and bodies as we pray “Lord Jesus Christ, Have mercy on me a sinner.” It is known as the prayer of the heart, because it diverts our consciousness away from our minds and to our hearts, where it belongs. Our hearts are the ones that follow God. Our hearts know the truth. Our minds are the ones that rationalize why sins are okay.

But, the takeaway is that hesychasm calls us to interior stillness, and with a little practice, it can be achieved. We may not be experts on it like the monks, but we can certainly grow into it. The other prayer style is our active liturgy. We have the offices of the day (matins, vespers, etc.) as well as our divine liturgy. These prayers require a lot of focus and keeps our whole bodies active and engaged. Now the ideal state of prayer is to maintain that stillness that is achieved through Hesychasm while being active in the body, but again, that takes practice.

So how does this relate to bipolar disorder? Bipolar disorder is characterized by periods of mania and periods of depression. Mania is when you feel like you can do anything and everything. Depression (as an energy state) makes you not even want to get out of bed. This is a very simplistic explanation and in reality depression will make you lie down in bed not wanting to do anything because “what is the point anyways, I just wanna die” and mania is like “I’m going to do all the prayers and fast perfectly the whole week and go to 7 liturgies a day and etc.”

These prayers can help us. Hesychasm is good for the manic episodes. Hesychasm forces us to be still, and even the most energetic person can sit down for 5 minutes, pray the chotki, and feel calmer. The active prayer is good for the depressed person because it gets us moving and praising God. And plus, there is no better antidepressant out there than the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Eucharist is EVERY Catholic’s prize, devotion, and need. It is only through the Eucharist that any one of us can be saved. We receive the Eucharist for the remission of our sins, and for the healing of soul and body.

So yes, mental illness, and Byzantine Catholicism are very compatible. We all need healing from God. Why would bipolar disorder be any different.

Apologetics 2:2 – Apostolic Succession

IMG_9731.JPG

Minor Mysteries (or sacramentals to Latin Catholics) are known to be outward signs of inward graces. Being that vestments express these graces in different degrees depending on the rank of the individual cleric, it’s quite evident why these Apostolic Crowns are worn by Popes, Patriarchs, & Bishops; in addition to also being decorated the way that they are – to show the importance of the role that Bishop has; that being the authority to guide the church and to teach the flock.

 

Catholic Teaching on Apostolic succession:

 

CCC 77: “In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority. Indeed, the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.”

 

Biblical proof for Apostolic Succession:

 

• 2 Timothy 2:2: “And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well.”

 

• Acts 14:23: “They [the Apostles] appointed presbyters for them in each church.”

 

• Acts 1:16- 20: “My brothers, the scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand through the mouth of David, concerning Judas, who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was numbered among us and was allotted a share in this ministry.  He bought a parcel of land with the wages of his iniquity, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle, and all his insides spilled out. This became known to everyone who lived in Jerusalem, so that the parcel of land was called in their language ‘Akeldama,’ that is, Field of Blood. For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his encampment become desolate, and may no one dwell in it.’ And: ‘May another take his office.'(Emphasis)

 

Acts 1:25-26 Concerning the replacement of Judas:

 

To take the place of this ministry and apostleship , from which Judas hath by transgression fallen, that he might go to his own place. And they gave them lots, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”

 

Paul is succeeded by Timothy, who will be succeeded by “faithful people”, who will be succeeded by “others as well’.

 

Titus 1:5: “For this reason I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you.”

Note: Titus is instructed to guide the flock, to teach, and to silence heresies from those outside of the true church that lack Apostolic Succession. (See Titus 1:10-11)

 

• Titus 1-10-11 “For there are also many rebels, idle talkers and deceivers, especially the Jewish Christians. It is imperative to silence them, as they are upsetting whole families by teaching for sordid gain what they should not.”

 

Note: the silencing of heretics is what you find within the Catholic Church by the magisterium, that being the Apostolic Tradition to anathematize heresies and individual heretics that do not recant their heterodoxy.

 

•2 Peter 1:3-4 bares witness to the teaching that Jesus Christ has promised the apostles and their successors guidance to teach truth by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

“His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power. Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.”

Early Church Fathers on Apostolic Succession:

 

Pope Clement I

“Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. . . . Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry” (Letter to the Corinthians 42:4–5, 44:1–3 [A.D. 80]).

Hegesippus

“When I had come to Rome, I [visited] Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And after Anicetus [died], Soter succeeded, and after him Eleutherus. In each succession and in each city there is a continuance of that which is proclaimed by the law, the prophets, and the Lord” (Memoirs, cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4:22 [A.D. 180]).

Irenaeus

“It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about” (Against Heresies 3:3:1 [A.D. 189]).

“[T]he Church is one, and as she is one, cannot be both within and without. For if she is with [the heretic] Novatian, she was not with [Pope] Cornelius. But if she was with Cornelius, who succeeded the bishop [of Rome], Fabian, by lawful ordination, and whom, beside the honor of the priesthood the Lord glorified also with martyrdom, Novatian is not in the Church; nor can he be reckoned as a bishop, who, succeeding to no one, and despising the evangelical and apostolic tradition, sprang from himself. For he who has not been ordained in the Church can neither have nor hold to the Church in any way” (Letters 69[75]:3 [A.D. 253]).

St. Jerome

“Far be it from me to speak adversely of any of these clergy who, in succession from the apostles, confect by their sacred word the Body of Christ and through whose efforts also it is that we are Christians” (Letters 14:8 [A.D. 396]).

A common question by non Catholics: “Who and how does one gain Apostolic Succession?”

Answer: Apostolic Succession is given to men alone. These are men that were given formation in the faith and have been ordained via the Mystery (Sacrament) of Holy Orders. These apply to deacons, priests, and Bishops.

In laymen terms, these are clerics that were ordained by a Bishop in whom passes on this Apostolic Succession through the laying on of hands (Ordination) . Ordination must come from Bishops in whom were ordained validly and can trace their succession back to the apostles. This can be found only in the Catholic Church – with the exception of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and the Assyrian Church of the East.

CCC 1536 – Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate.

Biblical Support for Holy Orders:

•Acts 13:2-3 – “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, completing their fasting and prayer, they laid hands on them and sent them off.”

•Acts 14:23 – They appointed presbyters for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith.

Paul and Barnabas appointed presbyters (priests).

• 2 Tim 1:6,9 – For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. … He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began.