Sunday, November 22, 2009

Worship Without Words: the Signs and Symbols of Our Faith

Paraclete Press sent me a complimentary copy of Worship Without Words: the Signs and Symbols or Our Faith. It explains the symbols that you find in churches that have some kind of historic architecture as well as words used during the service. The author is Roman Catholic but she covers Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches as well. I found the section on architecture to be the most helpful. I'm always getting words like chancel, sanctuary, nave, and narthex confused in my head. This book has some very helpful diagrams. One is an overhead shot diagramming the various parts of a church with a cruciform floor plan. Another gives a view from the nave looking towards the sanctuary. In many Protestant churches when people talk about the sanctuary they are referring to the area that people sit in but this is really the nave. As the book points out "nave" is the Latin word for ship and "In ecclesiastical art, the Church is represented as a ship sailing toward heaven. The ship's "passengers" are the parishioners who sit in the main part of the church." This isn't the type of book you are likely to read all the way through but it's an excellent reference.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Music from the Lutheran Service Book

If you wonder what Lutheran liturgical music sounds like or are trying to figure out how certain parts from the Treasury of Daily Prayer should be sung, check out the free LSB audio files.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale and am mildly embarrassed that I agreed to review it. Is this book profound? No. Will it change your life? I sure hope not. Is it a fun read? Sure. Throughout the Internet you will a number of sites dedicated to so-called "Chuck Norris Facts" created by all kinds of people. This book is a compilation of Chuck Norris' 101 favorite facts such as "When Chuck Norris does a push-up, he isn't pushing himself up. He's pushing the earth down" or "When Chuck Norris wants an egg, he cracks open a chicken." Most of them are pretty funny. Then Chuck Norris provides some story in his life that relates to the particular Chuck Norris fact. Usually they are stories about how Chuck Norris pulled himself up by his boot straps and how you can too. There is mention of God but usually in a very general creator sense. It's all the theology of glory for you Lutherans out there. Then we are given a quote from some famous person (modern military leader, contemporary Christian musician, George Burns, or C.S. Lewis). They are most often of the "Be strong!," "Carry a gun!," "Don't be afraid!" variety. Then Chuck Norris tells us about the code he lives by which usually involves something about not giving up or staying out of debt or learn to laugh with people. Do I recommend the book? The "facts" are funny but you can find them all over the Internet and the rest of the book isn't very good. I guess it could make a fun gag gift.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Jack Daniel's: the Spirit of Tennessee Cookbook

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson. I'm not much of a cook. I like to grill but anytime I have tried something fancy in the oven, things have not gone well. But I found this book intriguing. I like things cooked in alcoholic beverages. I like to use beer or wine for marinating meat but I had never cooked with Jack Daniels before. I was missing out.

The book is attractive and filled with nice pictures. It has some nice, short articles about people of Tennessee. Not all of the recipes contain Jack Daniels but many of them do. There are recipes scattered throughout such as "Possum and Sweet 'Taters" that seem to be intended as something fun to read than actually do. It includes directions on how to capture the possum, prepare him, and kill him. I would consider trying this but would probably fail.

So far I've made five of the recipes and have succeeded at four of them. I made the banana pancakes but failed miserably because of my own poor pancake making skills. There was lots of burning despite the fact that this was the one thing I didn't light on fire. My wife was able to successfully cook the second half of the batch. They were pretty good but I'm not a huge pancake fan. I successfully made the spiked pancake syrup. I'm not big on pancake syrup either but it was pretty good. The intoxicated chicken turned out well and was very good (which involved whiskey and the igniting of it during the cooking process). Better yet was the corn chowder (which also involved the igniting of whiskey during the cooking process. It was delicious. But the best recipe of all was the Flaming Tennessee Tenderloin. It was the best pork I've ever had and was impressive from the presentation point of view as well. My wife arranged the sliced pork in a heart shape and I poured the ignited whiskey on top of it to create a flaming heart.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cycles of Grace: Hymns from the Great Feasts

This is the last of the albums by Fr. Apostolos Hill that I received as complimentary copies from Liturgica. It's just as beautiful and there is enough variance between them to warrant buying all the albums. This one is a 2-CD set. The numbering of the tracks is a little confusing because rather than starting over at the number "1," the CD case simply continues numbering at "20" which means you have to brush up on your math skills and subtract 19 to figure out what track you are on. The liturgical texts span the liturgical year.

The first two tracks are not liturgical texts about the Nativity of Christ, but the Nativity of Mary--the Theotokos. The tracks rely upon church tradition.

Tracks 3-6 cover the Exaltation of the Cross which commemorates the finding of the cross that Christ was crucified on. These are some of my favorite texts on the album. The first ode from track 5 says:
Moses marked a straight line before him with his staff and divided the Red Sea, opening a path for Israel who went over dry-shod. Then marking a second line across the waters thus inscribing the invincible weapon of the Cross, united them in one overwhelming the chariots of Pharaoh. Therefore to Christ let us sing, for He has been glorified.

The second ode finds the cross in Aaron's rod. The fifth ode says:

O thrice blessed Tree where on Christ the King and Lord was hung. The foe who tempted mankind with a Tree was caught in the trap set by He who in the flesh was nailed to You, granting peace unto our souls.

The sixth ode finds the cross in the figure of Jonah stretching out his hands to God in prayer while inside the fish. The seventh ode tells how Christ was present with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. The ninth ode refers to Mary as a "mystical paradise" and I have no idea what that means. Track 6 says:

The Cross is the guardian of the whole earth; the cross is the beauty of the Church. The Cross is the strength of kings; the Cross is the support of the faithful. The Cross is the glory of angels and the wonder of demons.

Today the Cross is exalted and the world is sanctified. For Thou who art enthroned with the Father and the Holy Spirit hast spread Thine arms upon it, and drawn the world to knowledge of Thee, O Christ. Make worthy of divine glory those that have put their trust in Thee.

Tracks 7 and 8 are for "The Entry of the Theotokos Into the Temple." She is seen as the fulfillment of such Old Testament imagery as the jar of manna, Aaron's rod, and the tablet of the Law.

Tracks 9-13 are some excellent liturgical texts on the "Nativity of Christ." Track 9 reads:

Today is born of the Virgin Him who holdest all creation in the hollow of His hand.
He whose essence is untouchable is wrapped in swaddling clothes as a babe.
The God who from of Old established the heavens lieth in a manger.
He who showered the people with manna in the wilderness feedeth on milk from the breasts...

Tracks 14-19 are for the "Theophany of Our Lord." Track 14 ties the passing of the Israelites through the Red Sea to the baptism of Christ.

Tracks 20-23 are for "The Meeting of Our Lord." They contain portions of the Nunc Dimittis and I kept wanting to hear the whole thing.

Tracks 24-27 are for the "Annunciation of the Theotokos." I had some problems with some of the theology in these tracks.

Tracks 28-29 are for Pascha. I would have liked to hear more Pascha texts.

Tracks 30-31 are for the Ascension.

Tracks 32-34 are for Pentecost.

Tracks 35-38 are for the Transfiguration.

Tracks 39-40 are for the "Dormition of the Theotokos." The texts seem to be based mostly on church tradition. The texts are not my favorite but musically they are very interesting.

If you are at all interested in Byzantine Chant I would highly recommend this album.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Hymns of Paradise: Hymns of Life and Hope

This is the second of three albums of Byzantine Chant in English by Fr. Apostolos Hill that I received a complimentary copy of from Liturgica. The chants on this album are a collection of liturgical texts for funerals and are just as beautifully chanted as the chants on the first album I reviewed. This is the only funeral CD I own and if you only have the cash to buy a single funeral album this should probably be your first choice. I don't like the liturgical texts quite as much as those contained on Gates of Repentance but it's still an excellent and very peaceful album and some beautiful female chanting.

The album begins with a beautiful prayer requesting God to give rest to the departed. The Book of Concord does not forbid prayers for the dead and neither do I. There's a petition at the end addressed to the Virgin that I don't think is entirely inappropriate but I'm not sure why we are saying that we are her servants.

The third track is a beautiful version of the Trisagion Hymn where we call upon God to have mercy on us. The album has a number of beautiful chants of various Psalms. Track seven is one of my favorites and part of it says:

The choir of saints has found the fountain of life and the door of Paradise. May I also find the way through repentance, the sheep that was lost am I, call me up to You, O Savior, and save me.

Tracks 9-16 are funeral hymns by St. John of Damascus. The rightly show how empty, sad, and fleeting life can be and how rest can only be found in Christ. Track 10 reads:

Like a flower that wastes away, and like a dream that passes and is gone, so is ever mortal into dust resolved; but again, when the trumpet sounds its call as though at a quaking of the earth, all the dead shall arise and go forth to meet You, O Christ our God...

Part of Track 16 reads:

The death which you have endured, O Lord, is become the harbinger of deathlessness; if You had not laid in Your tomb, the gates of Paradise would not have opened; wherefore to them now departed from us give rest, for You are the friend of mankind.

Track 18 is a chanting of the Epistle reading--1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. Track 19 is a chanting of the Gospel reading--John 5:24-30. The chanting of the Gospel reading is the most beautiful chanting I have heard anywhere. Someone needs to make Fr. Apostolos Hill do a chanting of the entire Bible.

Tracks 21 and 22 are Greek versions of tracks 2 and 3.

If you are really anti-prayers for the dead you will probably have more theological problems with this album than Gates of Repentance but otherwise there is less objectionable material. If you are interested in liturgical chant I highly recommend you make both of these albums part of your library.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Gates of Repentance: Hymns from Great Lent and Holy Week

Liturgica has been kind enough to send me complimentary copies of all of Fr. Apostolos Hill's recordings of Byzantine Chant in English. These are the most beautiful recordings of Byzantine Chant I've ever heard and some of the most beautiful recordings I've ever heard of music in general. The liner notes are so thick that they are hard to get back inside the case. They contain lots of information including the lyrics to all the songs. I do have some theological problems with the album but that is because I have some theological problems with Eastern Orthodoxy.

Byzantine Chant is monophonic but often accompanied by a bass drone called an "ison." The ison adds beauty to the recordings and really made some of the chants stick in my head. I had a hard time getting the following from track 12 out of my head while I was trying to take an insurance exam:

God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us, blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.

This particular album is a collection of hymns from Great Lent and Holy Week. Samples can be heard on the website. The album begins by asking God to grant us repentance, rightfully recognizing that repentance itself is a gift from God. My favorite songs on the album compare the singer to a Biblical character. Track 4 places the singer in the place of the Publican:

Mine eyes are weighed down by my transgressions, and I cannot lift them up and see the height of heaven. But receive me, Savior, in repentance as the Publican and have mercy on me.

Track 5 uses imagery from the story of the Prodigal Son:

When I disobeyed in ignorance Thy fatherly glory, I wasted in iniquities the riches that Thou gavest me. Wherefore, I cry to Thee with the voice of the prodigal son, saying, I have sinned before Thee, O compassionate Father, receive me repentant, and make me as one of Thy hired servants.

Track 21 is based on the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Track 22 is based on the Parable of the Wedding Feast:

I see Thy Bridal chamber adorned, O my Saviour, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter therein. O Thou giver of light make radiant the vesture of my soul and save me.

Track 26 identifies the singer with the thief on the cross:

When the thief beheld the Origins of Life suspended on the Cross, he said: were not He is crucified with us incarnate God, the sun would not have hidden his rays, nor the earth quaked with trembling. But You who endured it all, remember me, O Lord, when you come into Your Kingdom.

Track 19 speaks of Christ defeating death already in the resurrection in the resurrection of Lazarus:

By means of Lazarus has Christ already plundered you, O death. Where is your victory, O Hades?

Track 22 is a profound meditation on the crucifixion of Christ:

Today is suspended upon the Tree, He who suspended the land upon the waters. A crown of thorns crowns Him, who is the king of the angels. He is wrapped about with the purple of mockery, Who wrapped the heavens with clouds. He received smitings, He who freed Adam in the Jordan. He was transfixed with nails, Who is the Son of the Virgin. We worship Thy Passion, O Christ. Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection.

There were also some tracks that caught me off guard. Track 20 speaks of God sending fire to devour our adversaries and contains this imprecation:

Bring more evils upon them, O Lord, bring more evils upon them who are glorious upon earth. Alleluia.

Track 25 is the most politically incorrect of the tracks:

The Jews, O Lord, condemned You to death, O Life of all, and they whom You did cause to cross the Red Sea nailed You to the Cross. They to whom You gave honey from the rock to eat, offered You gall.

Although there is nothing false in the statement above, I think it would be better to say, "We, O Lord, condemned You to death..." and continue the same pattern of placing the singer in the place of the villain.

When the songs on the album stick to the Biblical events they are superb. When they deviate I start to question their theological accuracy. The album contains songs which are prayers addressed to Mary and the saints. I don't believe it is necessarily always wrong or sinful to call upon Mary or the other saints to pray for the church because we are told in Scripture that the saints do pray for the church. However, we do not have the promise that they hear our prayers. But I don't believe it is necessarily wrong in a general way to call out to the saints to pray to the church the same way perhaps that the Psalmist calls upon every creature that has breath to praise the Lord. If I chant that Psalm I don't expect all or even any of the creatures to hear me or understand what I am saying. In the Lutheran Service Book we have a hymn written by an Anglican based on the Orthodox liturgy that calls out to Mary and all the saints in heaven to praise God:

Ye watchers and ye holy ones, Bright seraphs, cherubim and thrones, Raise the glad strain! Alleluia!....
O higher than the Cherubim, More glorious than the Seraphim, Lead their praises. Alleluia! Thou, Bearer of the Eternal Word, Most gracious, magnify the Lord. Alleluia...

I believe that all of the above is entirely appropriate. Mary is higher than the angels because she was given the great privilege of the Theotokos (God-bearer). Mary was given a special calling far above that given to any man. I am convinced from the Scriptures and the tradition of the church that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life on earth and that her virginity even remained intact through the birthing process. She is rightly honored by the church and all generations should call her blessed.

However, some of the songs on this album go to far. Track 2 calls upon the Theotokos for purification. An Orthodox Christian might say that they are really calling upon Mary to pray for their purification but it really sounds like Mary is the one doing the purification. Track 6 refers to Mary as the "Queen of virtues" and that she is bringing us "fortune of good deeds" making it sound as if the good deeds of Mary are contributing to our salvation. Wasn't the work of Christ enough? We are called to wash ourselves in the blood of the Lamb, not the blood of Mary. Track 13 refers to Mary as the "Champion Leader"

To thee the Champion Leader, I thy servant ascribe thank offerings of victory, for from all terrors hast thou delivered me; and since thou hast that power which is unassailable, from all dangers set me free, that I may cry out unto thee, "Hail, O Bride without bridegroom!"

With songs like that it's no wonder Mohammed thought that the Trinity consisted of God, Jesus, and Mary. Discernment is definitely required for listening to this CD but it is well worth it. There is so much beautiful and unique music.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Beyond Smells and Bells: the Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy

Paraclete Press provided me with a complimentary copy of this wonderful little book. It offers a nice defense, written in simple language, of the historic Christian liturgy. Mark Galli is an Anglican but focuses on the similarities between the historic liturgies in the Western church. He shows how the liturgy brings us into the Biblical stories and makes us contemporaries of Biblical events. He tells us how the liturgical calendar can help us order our lives and draw us into community with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It's the perfect antidote to the Jesus and me attitude of many American Christians. The liturgy shows us how to properly approach a Holy and Loving God. The liturgy keeps us from idolatry. Without the liturgy we are easily drawn into idolatry. We determine what is true and our own standing before God based upon our feelings and ideas. Apart from the historic liturgy we can easily get sucked into thinking that whatever makes us feel spiritual must be the best way to worship God. Our feelings become our god. The liturgy shows us what is important and what is objectively true and show us that God does not fit inside of our brains or heart. The Trinity is a great mystery and true Christian worship can only be worship of the Trinity and centered on the Trinity. Modern worship tends to be focused on the worshiper. Christian worship must be focused on Christ and His work. The historic liturgy is all about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

This book could be used for a variety of situations. A liturgical church could use it to educate their members as to why the historic liturgy is important. A non-liturgical church could use the book to try to transition itself into a liturgical church. Church bodies with a liturgical history that are departing from historical liturgy should seriously consider this book. There are plenty of seeker-sensitive non-denominational churches out there and they can probably do contemporary worship a lot better than you can. Pastor Baby-boomer man: I know you think you're hot stuff up there with your guitar and quite the rebel. I know you think you know how to communicate to the youth. But you're just preparing the kids to go to the mega-church down the block. Why would the kids want to see the Sha Na Nas when U2 is down the street? Meanwhile, there are lots of younger people who are really interested in worship that is more mysterious. If you want the kids to come, you might want to consider buying some incense and doing some processionals instead of the PowerPoint and the guitar. Kids are tired of watching their teachers at school fumble with the PowerPoint, they don't need to see you trying to muck with it. The historic liturgy is even toddler-friendly. Little kids that can't read will quickly memorize the liturgy.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cyril Lucar, the Synod of Jerusalem, the Clarity of Mud, and Slander

I have great interest in Eastern Orthodoxy. I have no intention of converting but I would very much like to understand this particular manifestation of the historic Christian faith. There are things like their synergistic view of salvation that I completely disagree with but I would like to understand them better. Unfortunately, every time I think I am starting to understand them I run into a giant wall of mud.

My most recent attempt to understand Eastern Orthodoxy involved a conversation I was having on another blog about the Synod of Jerusalem (1672) which met to refute the Calvinistic teachings of The Eastern Confession of the Christian Faith (1629) by the Patriarch of Constantinople Cyril Lucar. Timothy Ware, Pelikan, and other Orthodox scholars that I've read write under the assumption that Lucar was a Calvinist and that he did author these documents. Other Orthodox scholars deny that Lucar could have ever written such a thing. After reading the arguments for and against I find the arguments that Hadjiantoniou makes that Lucar is the author of this document pretty strong. Kevin Edgecomb has a very interesting blog and disagrees with me but his argument that Lucar could not have written this confession seems to beg the question. Kevin argues that this is a forgery done by a Calvinist. But it seems to me that if this were so, the Confession would also conform to Calvinist teaching on sacraments and the icons but it definitely does not. Kevin says that an Orthodox writer would never write such a document with "bare listings of Biblical citations as evidence." But if Lucar was drinking from the wells of Geneva as those who believe he wrote this document claim, isn't it possible that he might start writing as they did? He seems to be someone who didn't buy into the entire Calvinistic system but who appreciated the reverence that they had for Scripture and came to believe certain things that they did that were not specifically addressed in the Seven Ecumenical Councils.

Perhaps I'm completely wrong in my belief that Lucar is the author of this document but that wouldn't make the wall that I ran into any less muddier. The Synod of Jerusalem not only addresses the false teachings of Calvinists, it also addresses the supposedly false teachings of Lutherans. I've often wondered what authority this document has for Orthodox Christians. Kevin Edgecomb claims that this is not considered an Ecumenical Council but it is ecumenically received and has ecumenical application. Decree 17 says:

In the celebration of this sacrament we believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is present, not typologically...nor by impanation, so that the divinity of the Word would be united hypostaticallly to the bread of the Eucharist that is set forth, as the followers of Luther most ignorantly and wretchedly suppose...

The Lutheran Confessions explicitly reject impanation. If I claim that someone else is ignorant because they believe something and they do not really believe that thing wouldn't that mean that I am actually the ignorant one? Later on Decree 17 says:

The body and blood are present, not by superhuman grace...nor by impanation, as though the body of the Lord, being infinite, perhaps by being united with the divinity of the Only-begotten, is also united to the bread that is set forth in the eucharist, so that the bread is body and the wine blood by a metonymy and not by a change (as the madness of Luther claimed)...

I can't find anywhere that Luther teaches any of this nonsense. This amounts to nothing but slander and if anyone reads a treatise by Luther on the Sacrament of the Altar and comes away thinking that Luther was teaching that "the bread is body and the wine blood by metonymy" then that person is truly mad.

Decree 15 says:

We believe that there are in the church sacraments of the Gospel, and that they are seven in number...any number of the sacraments other than seven is the product of heretical madness.

However, some Eastern Orthodox believe that numbering the sacraments is a false teaching. Wouldn't that mean that Orthodox folks who believe we should not number the sacraments are mad heretics?

Decree 18 asks the question:

Ought the Divine Scriptures be read in the vernacular by all Christians?

It answers:

No. For that all Scripture is divinely inspired and profitable we know, and it is of such necessity that without it it is impossible to be Orthodox at all. Nevertheless it should not be read by everyone, but only by those who with fitting research have inquired into the deep things of the Spirit and who know in what manner Divine Scripture ought to be searched, taught, and read. But to those who are not prepared this way, or who cannot distinguish, or who understand what is contained in Scripture only in a literal way or in any other way contrary to Orthodoxy, the catholic church, knowing by experience the mischief arising from this, forbids them to read it. Thus it is indeed permitted to all Orthodox to hear the Scripture, that they may believe with the heart unto righteousness and confess with the mouth unto salvation; but to read some parts of the Scripture, and especially of the Old Testament, is forbidden for the reasons mentioned and for other similar reasons. For prohibiting unprepared persons from reading all of Sacred Scripture is the same as requiring infants to abstain from solid food.

I agree that Scripture should be read and studied within the context of the church but the above goes much farther and would seem to make both the EOB and the OSB heretical projects. Why would you want to encourage even more people to read the Bible in the vernacular if you believe what the Decree says above? Shouldn't Orthodox bookstores require people who buy Bibles to prove that they are under the guidance of a priest?

Article 17 teaches transubstantiation but I've heard modern Orthodox theologians reject the term for the same reasons that Lutherans reject the term.

There is even disagreement in the Eastern Orthodox church as to who is a "heretic." I've been listening to an interesting podcast on Ancient Faith Radio. In it, Fr. Andrew defines various terms and talks rightly defends the teaching that what we believe about determines what kind of god we worship. He explains that only someone who was once part of the true church can rightly be called a "heretic." Kevin Edgecomb applies the label to Martin Luther which would only make sense if the Eastern Orthodox taught that the Roman Catholic Church was the true church. Obviously, Edgecomb does not mean this but everything gets pretty muddy when different definitions are attached to the same word.

A convert from Lutheranism to Eastern Orthodoxy wrote "There is No Lutheran Church." But if the same type of criteria were applied to the Eastern Orthodox Church we would have to conclude that "There is No Orthodox Church." It is certainly true that the Eastern Orthodox Church has done a better job than any other denomination in adhering to its own confessions among very diverse peoples but it does not have the complete adherence that it claims to have. Those who confess "one holy catholic and apostolic church" will have to either conclude that it's a myth or that it's something other than what the Eastern Orthodox claim it is. The author of "There is No Lutheran Church" presents some legitimate problems within Lutheranism along with some misunderstandings. We should pray that these inconsistencies be removed from the Lutheran church.

Collectively, as church bodies we should never be gazing about the church bodies around us and saying, "Thank God that we are not like these other denominations..."

We must always be beating our breasts and saying, "God be merciful to us sinners. Purge out the heresies that we practice."