Every year on Tuesday evening of Holy Week the “Hymn of Kassiani” is sung.  The text references the reading for Holy Wednesday morning, the story of a woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with costly ointment, foreshadowing his imminent preparation for burial (Matthew 26:6-16).  The hymn is written by a woman, it is about a woman, and it is traditionally sung by women.  As a woman, I have joined with other women to sing it many times.  Every year, I meet this moment with mixed emotions.  As with many iconic and hymnic references to women, this undeniably beautiful piece highlights the redemption of a particularly sinful woman whose sin is, of course, related to sex.  I say “of course” since if one was to attend carefully to the various references to women in our theological literature, sexual sin seems to be the particular purview of women.  A friend of mine (not Orthodox), with whom I had discussed the ever-bizarre world of “what does one do or not do with one’s significant other while dating,” commented after coming to hear me sing the hymn: “No wonder you have all this angst about dating when every reference to a woman is paired with ‘sin’ and ‘sex.’”  The fairness of her comment about my angst aside, the frequency of this pairing is quite disturbing.

Which is why I was so delighted at the way our priest chose to frame the hymn last night.  You see, St. Kassiani (Sep 7), the woman to whom authorship of this (and many other hymns) is attributed, was not even remotely angst-filled.  Rather, she was bold, cheeky, and quite willing to take on authority.

Some excerpts from Jim Wallis's recent post, "Woe to You, Legislators!"

It is reported that Congressman Paul Ryan makes every member of his staff read philosopher Ayn Rand, the shameless promoter of the gospel of aggressive self-interest. This makes sense to me as I read Congressman Ryan’s new budget proposal. I wish he had his staff reading the Bible instead.

...

Ryan’s budget seems to follow, almost line by line, the “oppressive statues” Isaiah rails against. Ryan’s budget slashes health care for the poor and elderly by gutting Medicaid and undermining Medicare, and cuts funding for food stamps, early childhood development programs, low-income housing assistance, and educational programs for students.

Cuts of this magnitude for people of modest and low-incomes will result in a direct increase of poverty and misery in America. Furthermore, poverty-focused international assistance proven to save lives is under continued attack. As Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson said, not all cuts are equal because some will lead to “a fever and a small coffin.”

...

Ayn Rand said, “Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue,” and she made no apology for not liking the teachings of Jesus. But for those of us who do aim to live out the teachings of Jesus, the Paul Ryan budget is a moral non-starter.

Read the full post here.

In my previous post, I briefly noted the history of the Kiss of Peace, its often disruptive quality when misunderstood and poorly practiced, and the importance of teaching us to practice the Kiss of Peace a respectful manner.  Here, I would like to address my concerns regarding the reasoning offered by two advocates of ending the practice, a currently practicing priest and an active Metropolitan.

I have had recent opportunity to consider the practice of the Kiss of Peace during the liturgy.  Apparently it is seen as disruptive by some members of the Orthodox Church.  I am offering (at least) two reflections, the first on its practice, the second on concerning elements which seem to underly the reasons offered to no longer allow or encourage the exchange of the Kiss by the laity as well as clergy.  The Kiss of Peace is a longstanding tradition that has important meaning for our Christian practice.  I offer these reflections in the hope that both laity and clergy take the opportunity to learn both the significance of the action as well as how to do it with a dignity appropriate to its meaning.  

Today, we were invited to bring our children to the church of God, presenting them much like Joachim and Anna presented the girl Mary.  In her delight at being dedicated to God, Mary ran up the steps of the temple.  Tradition says she danced on the steps before God.  There she was welcomed by her relative, the levite Zacharias who took her into the holy of holies, that sacred space into which the high priest entered only once a year.  A young girl stood in the place where God, according to Jewish practice, stood.

Editorial note: It seems that the Reuters interview either exaggerated or outright mischaracterized Met. Hilarion's original address, in Russian.  It appears that his comments are directed towards "militant secularism", an ideology at whose hands many religious practitioners in Russia have suffered extensively.  Hopefully, clarification on his actual views regarding evolution will be offered at some point.  It is certain that there are Orthodox in both Russia and the U.S. who are concerned with evolution and take the tact identified in the Reuters article, so my post will remain.

Dear Metropolitan Hilarion,

I write as a North American Orthodox, a lifelong member of the Orthodox Church, an Orthodox theologian and ethicist, and the daughter of two educated scientists, a physician and a geologist.  I am acutely aware of the confusion and conflict generated as a result of misunderstandings regarding science, the teachings of Darwin, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Here, in the U.S., some Protestant Christians are fighting tooth and nail for precisely what you are asking: the demotion (or even removal) of Darwin and the theory of evolution from the classroom, and the inclusion of various other theories, usually Creationism or its new incarnation, Intelligent Design.  While these Christians are fighting a battle they believe to be in accord with their faith and their interpretation of Scripture, their views are not compatible with Orthodoxy.

Michael Pollan reviews five books on the rise of the increasingly visible food movement.  The article alone is worth reading, providing excellent summaries as good reviews are supposed to do.  His closing comments on Janet Flammang's book are particular interesting given the tension created by the apparently conflicting values of women in the workplace and the importance of shared meals perceived as "women's work."

The full article is here

John Sanidopoulos, whose posts on tidbits of Orthodox tradition and the Saints I enjoy reading, re-posted an article by Alice Linsley today.  Linsley is a former Episcopalian priest who left the priesthood and eventually joined the Orthodox Church.  She appears to be a sort of living proof-text used by some Orthodox assure us that women are not called to the priesthood (except, as she says in one explanation of both her call and eventual departure, when men fail to serve.  Only then does God call women to serve in this capacity.)  Since my response was a bit longer than most comments warrant, I decided to post it here.  

The Mystagogy post is here, and the original post at Preachers Institute is here.

The devotion below has been circulating the internet in the days since it was posted, particularly among the Orthodox.  It is, frankly, quite nice to have such sympathetic attention drawn to Orthodox liturgical practice.  I suspect much of its popularity is precisely because of such sympathetic attention on an otherwise quite Protestant website.  In addition, it highlights a number of aspects of Orthodoxy which are true, or, more honestly, which some of us would like to be true.  So while I appreciate elements of its characterization of Orthodoxy, and certainly resonate with the danger inherent in cults of personality, there is quite a bit here that is disingenuous.  I wouldn’t think the more disingenuous elements worthy of comment except that they are rhetorical descriptions which are voiced by many Orthodox, and I am not at all sure they are true.  They feed into a construction of ourselves, and a construction of us by others, which seems more about how we want to portray ourselves (or be portrayed) than about how we really are.

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