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United by Light: The Holy Icon of St Silouan Athonite


A Reflection on the
St Silouan Athonite Icon

An Icon Written by Sister Cecilia of the Nuns of New Skete, Cambridge, New York.

St Silouan Athonite
An Icon written by Sr Cecelia of the Nuns of New Skete

A Reflection by Proto-Companion
Rev. Ch. Harold W. Vadney B.A., [M.A.], M.Div.

It can be no coincidence that the first church constructed by the Monks of New Skete in Cambridge, NY, was called Transfiguration.
The icon is transfiguration. It does not receive its light from the outside, because the Light is its essence. Just as it’s impossible for anyone to illumine the stars, one cannot simply endow the icon with the Light, the iconographer’s inner vision has to become “theology” through deep, practiced spiritual contemplation. The circumincession, the perichoresis, if you will, of the artistic element with mystic contemplation matures to become the germ of a visionary theology, expressed through the iconographer’s authentic faith and living, the fertile ground from which the icon will emerge.

Compare the naturalistic photograph of St Silouan Athonite (left) with the iconographer’s depiction of the saint (right). While the saint is easily recognizable in the iconic depiction, the iconographer has incorporated a wealth of symbolic elements without lapsing into what we could term decadent iconography, an excess of stylistic detail.

Sister Cecilia’s icon is a beautiful rendition of the Orthodox saint, Silouan of Mount Athos, which I commissioned in 2017, and received on September 19, 2017, at New Skete Monastery (OCA), Cambridge, New York.

Generally, the icon shows the full torso view of the saint in his monastic attire, one hand in the gesture of deisis and the other holding a scroll showing one of his quotes in Church Slavonic. His name, the Venerable Silouan, appears on the left side in Church Slavonic, and “Athonite” on the right side in Church Slavonic. The Saint is depicted on an effulgent background of gold, symbolizing the Divine Light, and is gazing upward, to the vision of the Christ in the left upper corner, who from the heavenly realm is issuing rays of the uncreated light, which appear to be embracing the saint.

The icon in its style and execution is a masterwork of iconography.

Comparison of a photo of St Silouan with Sr Cecilia’s Depiction in the Icon.

The traditional execution of a holy icon is by intent and purpose not naturalistic, as I shall discuss below in terms of its stylized features, its flatness, two dimensionality (absence of depth or 3D perspective), and its points of convergence, traditional elements of style, color symbolism, etc.
Most remarkable is how Sister Cecelia was able to capture the naturalistic features of St Silouan’s face and render them faithfully but symbolically expressive in the holy icon of the saint.

When viewing an icon I find it especially important that the iconographer does not overemphasize the strictly personal and unique natural features of the subject but that the sacred artist renders them symbolically, which opens them up rather than focus the viewer’s gaze on a uniquely individual face. The face, though superficially true to the embodied saint, appears to transcend the physical, it is beyond the here and now but is yet present here and now. The depiction shows the saint not bound in chronos but liberated into kairos, divine time, right time. Correctly contemplating and engaging the saint’s countenance does not draw us into the icon itself but draws the iconic countenance — and all of its content — into the observer. Quite the opposite approach and effect that many might have or experience when observing a secular work of art or even some of the more naturalistic religious art.

Upon seeing the icon for the first time on September 19, 2017, at the Monastery of New Skete, my very first impression was focused on the eyes and the cheeks of the saint; it was as if a sob was swelling in my chest, as if I would at any moment feel the warmth of tears rolling down my own cheeks. The icon had entered me, filled me, and almost overwhelmed me. The softness of the overall expression is one of deep love, compassion, a hint of mourning but not the mourning of grief or loss, it’s an expression of the mourning of “not yet but soon,” a focus upon an unfathomable, ineffable point in infinity but attainable, a certain twinkle, if you will, in the eyes and just the hint of a hidden smile. Did the iconographer actually capture the essence of holy nepsis (νῆψις) in this depiction? Do all of these elements I perceived in the saint’s countenance distill down to holy clarity, nepsis? If ever I attain the gift of silence, I hope I can continue to receive the icon with at least a scintilla of such clarity.


We note the saint’s drawn face, the strong lines and the modeling around the saint’s cheekbones symbolizing the life of fasting and sobriety. The iconographer avoids the impression of harshness, though, by balancing these features with an expression of gentleness and dignity.

I find the expression on Silouan’s face to be one of enlightenment; it is opened by, to, for and through his love for God and, in consequence, his love for all of creation, for the “other.” The Light in the saint’s face is the light of Love and comes from contemplation of the infinite transcendence of the Divine. Another one of my favorite Greek words is χαρμολύπη (harmolipi). It’s a compound word based on the words for joy (think: “harmony”) and sorrow, “joyful sorrow” or a harmony of joy and sorrow. This is an emotion elicited by the facial elements of the Sr Cecilia’s icon, and is elicited by the inspired rendition of the saint’s facial elements.

Facial elements: While symbols, gestures, colors, objects all provide clues to the nature and the role of the saint being portrayed — the face is eminently important — particularly the eyes, lips, the brow and the forehead. These elements of the portrayal express salient characterological qualities to which our attention is being directed. St Silouan is depicted with the modeled sharp lines of the ascetic in high cheek bones and shallow cheeks. His wisdom is represented by a high forehead. Silouan’s gentleness an dspiritual power and compassion are clearly discernable in the iconographer’s rendition of the eyes — there is nevertheless a calm stillness in the facial expression. The one eyebrow is raised in a high arch, while the right brow is lower — the contrast of great understanding with great gentleness. The shadowing between the brows makes the impression of a puckering, an indication of sadness or compassion which, together with a hint of a smile on the lips created by the shadow along the saint’s beard flowing around the lips, compatible with the concept of harmolipia.

Eyes: Compare and contrast Deep set eyes, but not hollow, and with the effects of the brows — note that one (right) is higher than the other (left) — this emphasizes two contrasting aspects as represented by the effects on the eyes of the saint.

Mouth: tightlipped silence with a slight nuance of smile. The mouth in icon figures is never open; silence is a virtue perfected and embodied in those transfigured.

Cheekbones: high bone structure deep cheeks, the indicators of an ascetic life of fasting and moderation.

The beard is not disordered or in disarray, it is smooth, flowing, grey. The flow of the beard suggests a calmness, a peacefulness, a softness. The grey of the beard might symbolize a long life of commitment, engagement, experience, wisdom.

The saint’s attire is highly symbolic and in keeping with the holy tradition of the use of symbolic color in writing holy icons. For example, we note the color of the outer robe, the riassa; it’s a dark shade of grey with nuances of green. Earthy colors, the colors of humility. Likewise the rose-colored podryasnik or podrjaznik(подрясник), (under)cassock is a traditional earth color, the color of clay, the substance of humankind, a symbol of mortality and humility.

In iconic symbolism the robes of the great ascetics and monastics are depicted in black, symbolizing a life of renunciation of the world and ascetic discipline. In this depiction the ascetic’s or monastic’s undergarment are frequently rendered in earth tones, symbolizing poverty. In the St Silouan icon the saint’s undercassock is depicted in an earthtone, an Indian red hue or caput mortuum shade.

Noteworthy in this icon is the blue of the saint’s kalimavkion (καλυμμαύχιον), kalymmavchi (καλυμαύχι), or in the Russian tradition, the kamilavka (камилавка) and veil. In holy iconographic tradition, blue may signify heavenly or imperial characteristics, depending on the hue. Here, we can discern a certain divine spirit in the bluish component of the saint’s kamilavka. The nuances of blue in the kamilavka offset the harshness of the black of the vestment and serves to add a spiritual element to the harshness of ascetic life suggested by the black; if the kamilavka were rendered in total black, it would suggest a darkness or a shadow element alien to the holy icon but especially alien to this saint. It would be an inconsistent contrast with the divine, uncreated light that forms the background of the saint.

Hands Comparison: The Left is the right hand of St Silouan as depicted in the icon; the image on the right is the right hand of a conventional depiction of an icon martyr (note the long palm and slender fingers).

I found that the hands of this peasant saint to be uniquely expressive. The right hand is raised in a gesture of deisis (δέησις, “prayer” or “supplication”), the liturgical gesture of intercession and supplication. The deisis gesture is accompanied by the saint’s eyes directed towards the heavenly realm, towards the Word, suggestive of Silouan’s vision of the Christ, and towards the emanation of the Divine Uncreated Light (upper left corner).

The saint holds in his left hand a scroll, the symbol of the teacher, and on that scroll, in Church Slavonic, are the words of his teaching.
If one were to compare St Silouan’s hands as depicted in the icon by Sr Cecilia, it would be clear that they differ from the typical stylized hands seen in many icons. Unlike the delicate, slender fingered hands in many icons, Silouan’s hands are heavy with thick fingers, the hands of the hard-working peasant. This is a brilliant touch that I believe is intended to remind us that this saint, as blessed and as transfigured as he is, was still a creature who lived close to the earth. These are the hands of a human being who knew the travails of the flesh and yet attained remarkable spiritual maturity.

The Christ Vision

 

Detail of Text: “Venerable Silouan”

Text Detail: “Athonite”

Detail: The Scroll

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Get it Right the First Time…Hire a Bereavement Chaplain!


The subject of clergy involvement in the funeral or memorial service comes up again and again. Most people feel that spiritual or religious content is very important in the funeral or memorial service, and I agree. I can’t even start to count the number of families who start off the conversation with me with something like, “He used to go to church but stopped going” or “She wasn’t a churchgoer but she did believe in God and prayed.” My question, sometimes asked aloud, is “Why is that important?” I ask that question because I do not feel that a person’s spirituality or sense of a transcendent God is determined by how often one sees the inside of a church, or whether the individual wears his or her faith on their sleeve, or quotes chapter and verse with every breath. In fact, I’m sometimes very suspicious of such people and smell hypocrisy in much of that behavior. Your essential and core spirituality is how you live your life, and that’s what I as a professional bereavement chaplain explore in my meetings with the bereaved when planning the funeral or memorial service.

I frequently get involved because the bereaved do not want “clergy” involved because they’ve been wounded by their “clergy” or the faith tradition represented by their clergy. The ineffectualism of mainstream clergy is a whole discussion on its own, however, but let’s just say a few words about it. “Clergy” as used in the non-clergy community means anyone who provides some sort of pastoral service, or anyone who has some sort of leadership role in a religious congregation. “Ordination” is a canonical or legal term that means that the particular person is approved by a particular denomination to provide pastoral care to that specific denomination. Regrettably, adhering to the rules of that denomination may not provide much relief of the suffering experienced by the bereaved; it may have just the opposite effect, leaving them with a sense of emptiness and loneliness, and asking the question, What was that all about?!? But it doesn’t have to be that way and shouldn’t be that way. Spirituality and meaning-making is quite different from religion and religious doctrines and notions of popular piety.

Don’t Let This Happen To You! Get Personal!

In all honesty and fairness, and in my personal experience, clergy is not really what it’s hyped up to be. In fact, clergy tend to deliver the most boring, impersonal, and unsatisfying services imaginable. While there are good reasons for the deficient performance, a lot of the blame should be placed on the funeral home’s hands-off spirituality attitudes, and their failure to provide reliable recommendations to the bereaved. Simply handing the bereaved a clergy list at the arrangements conference is a bit irresponsible. What’s worse still is if a funeral director or funeral home staffer attempts to play chaplain and deliver some insincere “words of comfort” or preside over a prayer vigil. It’s generally like the plumber doing the catering.

Where was I? What’s his name? Where am I?

Even considering the ignorance of many funeral services professionals regarding the psychospirituality of funeralization rites and ritual, calling an individual a clergyperson can be very misleading. First of all, only the mainstream denominations really have an “educated” clergy; that means attending a seminary or seminary college, assuring that the “seminarian” is properly indoctrinated. Most other non-mainstream, storefront or megachurch, clergy may have attended a so-called Bible college or something like that. Basically all that is is a glorified Sunday school for adults. There are many problems associated with both mainstream and non-mainstream clergy. First of all, most are poorly trained in handling existential crises like death and its sequellae grieving, mourning, healing, transformation, and will turn to their denomination’s religious teachings, their doctrines, first, since that’s all they have. Secondly, they don’t have the necessary training or education in death, dying, grief and mourning. Thirdly, they lack interfaith, intercultural training to be able to understand the cultural dynamics that occur in the particular family system. Fourthly, they very rarely take the time to get to know the deceased, much less the key mourners and the family in general. Fifthly, most clergy do not understand the importance of continuing bonds of the living with the dead. In fact, most have a rather antiquated Freudian approach of the need to cut any continuing bond with the dead and replace the bond with something else. That’s a very psychospiritually unhealthy attitude indeed. And last but certainly not least, since I could go on with this list, most clergy have parishes or congregations to run and can’t really provide the kind of service or care required for funeralization and aftercare. The result is what I call the cookie-cutter service with all of its failures and insincerity. The clergyperson, a priest, minister, deacon, or layperson – sometimes, embarrassingly, even the funeral director – steps up at the appointed time, opens a book or recites a formulaic prayer, and it’s all done and over.

Let’s do a prayer now. OK. We’re done.

Sometimes there’s the de rigueur church service that’s all but meaningless to most attendees and represents only an additional expense (can approach more than $600 in some cases). Practically and theologically, the dead are in God’s hands, there’s little the living can do to change things, despite what the minister or priest may preach. Most of these characters are mere sock-puppets anyway, ventriloquist’s dummies.

For all of the reasons given in the above, the best choice for the spiritual or religious care of the bereaved is, believe it or not, the experienced bereavement chaplain. An experienced bereavement chaplain is a specialist in dying, death, psychospiritual care, and aftercare. The experienced bereavement chaplain is not only trained in the disciplines relating to interfaith practices, rite and rituals associated with death, psychology and spirituality of dying, death, and survivors, technology of deathcare, and much, much more that is of essential benefit to the dying and to survivors. No funeral director and no denominational clergy can offer the scope and depth of services that the interfaith bereavement chaplain can offer.

It’s the scope and depth of expertise of the interfaith bereavement chaplain that make him or her the go-to when a family is faced with the dying process, death and deathcare, grief and survivor care. It’s that expertise that makes the interfaith bereavement chaplain an essential member of the care team at all phases of the bereavement process. The professional interfaith bereavement chaplain does what neither the funeral director nor the cookie-cutter clergyperson can do: the chaplain makes death a meaningful and survivable experience.

When a family considers spending $2000 to more than $10000 on a casket alone, or when the family opts for an economical funeral package of say on average $3,000-5,000 does it really make sense to do without an essential service costing a mere $200-300, in most cases less than 5 % of the total cost of the funeral? When survivors consider spending up to $800 on embalming which won’t last more than a couple or days or a maximum of a couple of weeks before decomposition sets in, and embalming is not even required by law in the majority of situations, even when there’s a viewing planned. Why would any family not request the services of a professional interfaith bereavement chaplain with all of the long-term benefits to the survivors socially, psychologically, politically, spiritually that are associated with dignified funeral rites and rituals, and aftercare by a deathcare specialist? You’ll consider several hundreds of dollars for unnecessary embalming, several thousands for a casket, a couple of thousand for a vault, but will go cheapo when it comes to dignified, personalized, meaningful spiritual care? Go figure!

I personally serve the Albany-Rensselaer-Schenectady-Greene counties region in New York state, and have been requested by families in the New York City area for special services, but this blog is read internationally. Given that this blog attracts an international audience, I would like to provide some very general recommendations taken from my local practice, which can be applied to most North American and European regions with little or no adjustment for local conditions. Here is how I practice and what I recommend for families, survivors, and others involved in deathcare:

  • As soon as it becomes obvious that a death is about to occur, whether hours or days, contact a professional interfaith bereavement chaplain. Please note that denominational clergy have their place if the dying person has had a personal relationship with the clergyperson or was active in a faith community. Please note further that hospital chaplains are OK for certain interventions but their competencies are mostly restricted to the hospital setting. Hospice chaplains, too, have their place but are agenda and program driven, and have limited effectiveness outside of the hospice setting.
  • If the person is in the process of dying, you may want to ask for presence or companionship during the dying process. This presence/ companioning can be for those around the dying person as well as for the dying person. If this presence / companioning is to be provided in an institution such as a nursing home, hospital, or hospice, an institutional chaplain may be available, and the interfaith bereavement chaplain will coordinate care visits with the institutional chaplain(s). Nevertheless, when death is imminent, it may be helpful to have your interfaith bereavement chaplain present for the dying person and for the family. Consider the options carefully.
  • Make an appointment to meet with the interfaith bereavement chaplain to discuss your situation. The chaplain will listen attentively and will hear what you need even before you know it. It’s important that you hear what the chaplain has to say, and to share your interpretations with him or her. You should be doing most of the talking during this initial meeting; if the chaplain does most of the talking or interrupts, he or she may not be the ideal choice. Try again. Only after you have explained your situation and the chaplain has had an opportunity to ask some important, brief questions seeking a better understanding, should he or she start making any recommendations.
  • Once the person has died, you may want the chaplain to remain with the body until the funeral home sends a care to take charge of the body. I do this out of respect for the family and to ensure that they know the body will be watched over. This is very important in the initial hours following a death. The bereavement chaplain is also an advocate for the family if the family wants to spend more time with the body.
  • Once you have established a rapport and trust with the chaplain, and if you haven’t already given your funeral director the chaplain’s name, contact details, and the information that you have spoken to the chaplain, you should do that when you make the initial call to the funeral home for removal of the body. Inform your funeral director that you’d like the funeral director to contact the chaplain to discuss the arrangements made and any details if the chaplain is going to do the funeral for you. You may want to ask the chaplain to be present during the arrangements meeting with the funeral director. I find that families are less stressed if I am present.
  • Be sure to discuss aftercare with the chaplain. You should ask about regular contacts with the chaplain for at least the first year after the death. He or she should be available on what are called trigger dates (birthdays, holidays, special dates) when grief may be particularly noticeable, or if you find you need some help in getting through a particular day. The chaplain will likely have discussed grief and grieving with you so that you know what to expect. That discussion is standard practice during my initial meeting with the family.
  • Remember always, that the interfaith bereavement chaplain may be your independent choice or you may receive a recommendation from the funeral home you choose. Do not accept a mere list of clergypersons. You want an interfaith bereavement chaplain. If the funeral home does not have one on call or on staff, maybe it’s time to find another funeral home that can provide a complete range of services.
  • Beware of the funeral home chains and factory funeral homes. Their sole interest is in their bottom line and their shareholders; you are just a consumer to them. You’ll find chain funeral homes and factory funeral homes almost everywhere. I call them Walmart-funerals, because they are there to sell you everything because that’s what they do; they sell funeral goods and services. What you need is deathcare services not a sales pitch and a huge bill.
  • The worst time to do any of the above is when a death occurs. I usually counsel my clients not to make any major decisions for at least 6 months to 1 year after the death but now you have to make some major decisions within hours of the death. It’s an incredibly confusing and draining expereince. That’s why I unconditionally recommend that you really should seriously make pre-arrangements so that when a death occurs, you can deal with the grief you will experience, and will have everything else under control. We highly recommend advance directives and pre-arrangements. We also recommend having an interfaith bereavement chaplain present when discussing and finalizing both advance directives and pre-arrangements. You many know what you want but it’s always good to have an impartial presence who can do some impartial thinking.

In upcoming articles I will be discussing the importance of revival of traditional funeral rituals and why they are so important to the living. As a sequel to the discussion about traditional funeral and memorial rituals, I’ll share with you why the family’s participation is so very important, and how we can personalize the rituals and ceremony so that they have lasting psychospiritual benefit for you. I’ll also be writing about continuing our bonds with the dead and why it’s normal and healthy to do that.

But in the meantime, if you have any specific questions or would like more information, please contact me directly at compassionate.care.associates@gmail.com. I’ll be pleased to help in whatever way I can.

Peace and blessings,
Rev. Ch. Harold Vadney

 

 

 


The Editor’s Response


Dear Readers:

With permission from the publisher and the author, I recently republished an article of interest from the Smalbany blog and retitled it on this blog, “Do Funeral Service Providers Police our Spirituality? Character is important?” I found the article interesting, relevant and topical and completely compatible with this blog’s purpose. I continue to be of that opinion, while taking especial care not to take sides and to offer the information as information to my readers, and not necessarily my personal or professional opinion of the parties involved. That having been said, I do agree in principle with what the publisher and the author have to say.

Apparently the original article has been receiving some considerable attention and the Editor of the Smalbany blog has published his/her personal remarks on the article, and I’d like to share those remarks with my readers.

While I can understand that some readers of the original article and perhaps even the republished article which was unedited and republished here in its entirety may have found it difficult to get their arms around the message, I find that the editor’s concern and care in responding to some of the comments he/she received is intelligent and responsible. I found them interesting and clarifying so I’d like to provide my readers with a link to those comments. Please take a moment to read the Editor’s comments. You may find them helpful.

Here’s the link: The Smalbany Blog Editor’s Response to the Deathcare Exposé

Peace and blessings!
Ch. Harold


Is there a sinister relationship between careerist clergy and dilligent funeral service professionals?


what-we-do


My recent article was actually meant for funeral services professionals but since it has important relevance for all of my readers, I decided that I would post it for the general readership. This is just an abstract of the whole article, which and be downloaded or read on line at What we do and how we do it makes the ultimate difference!

We have to think about what we do...

We have to think about what we do…

There is a disturbing trend in the funeral services industry that threatens to undermine the most sacred rites of passage and transition human beings ever experience, and its aftermath is likely to be worse than we ever could have imagined. This trend is incarnate in amateurs and dilettantes foisting their services as funeral and memorial celebrants on the unwary and vulnerable bereaved. In the past, the worst we had to deal with was indifferent boring clergy and finicky funeral directors offering cookie – cutter funeral and memorial services. There was a pitiful collusion between the funeral director and certain clergy, who held their congregations in a strangle hold of obligatory, staid, incomprehensible rituals. Another factor in this deplorable development is the fact that although we wallow in abundance we sleep in the lap of self–centeredness and abandon much of what might distinguish us as compassionate beings; we allow our customers to abandon all notion of proper care and dignity for our dead, opting for cut–rate funerals, abridged opportunities for closure, quick fix funeralization, the worst of which is direct burial and cremation. Today’s western culture seems to have enough money for flat – screen televisions, multiple cars in the driveway, every conceivable electronic toy but not enough money to give grandpa, mom or dad a decent, dignified, loving send – off. It’s really embarrassing how families today are so dysfunctional and how they have marginalized even their dead. And Yes! we funeralization professionals can all meet our obligations while serving our families and avoiding the impression of cookie – cutter services, and “one size fits all” routines, or the ever – present risk of making a judgment and then having to make an apology. So this paper is about boundaries and competency, about establishing relationships, about communications, about you and your appreciation of the boundaries between the mortuary services you provide and the spiritual care services the chaplain provides. Boundaries should not be viewed as obstacles but as safeguards and reminders of the essential humility of our professions. I do not believe that by meeting our obligations as death – care professionals we are not violating any boundaries by gently but firmly educating our the families and survivors we serve about their traditional family obligations even, especially in the difficult moments surrounding bereavement.

Please download or read this revealing and thought-provoking article by clicking this link: What we do and how we do it makes the ultimate difference!

funeral-life-lifetime

Thank you all! Peace and blessings at this wonderful winter holiday season!

Rev. Ch. Harold


Thanatology Café – Mark your calendar.


The Next Session of Thanatology Café will be on

Saturday, May 7, 2016, from 2:00 —4:00 p.m.
in the Community Room
RCS Community Library
95 Main Street
Ravena, New York

We ask that you sign up at the RCS Community Library or at thanatology.cafe@gmail.com so that the organizers have some idea of how many participants will join us and so that we can plan for refreshments.

The topic of the session and the accompanying video for discussion will be:

May 7, 2016, Video 2. The Dying Person
When we are told that we are terminally ill, we are defined, more than ever, by the limits of our bodies. In this program, we meet three women — each diagnosed with a different form of cancer — who handle their limitations in different ways. The role of palliative care is viewed in depth, as well as how family relationships change under the pressure of the diagnosis.

The recent National Geographic articles on death and Victorian mortuary photography will be part of the discussion on the topic of how we view death and dying.

One-on-one discussion will follow with Ch. Harold for those who want to discuss personal issues.

 

Let's talk about it.

Let’s talk about it.

We are working on offering the Thanatology Café program at the Albany Public Libraries, the Guilderland Public Library, Troy Public Library and the Bethlehem (Delmar) Public Library. If you live in those areas and are interested in joining the conversation, please let us know. We’ll be happy to start a local program near you. Just let us know at thanatology.café@gmail.com.
You can also follow this blog and receive automatic notification whenever a new post appears or a comment is posted.


Bigotry Abounds: Religious Censorship on Facebook


The Prime Minister of England, John Cameron, rose to the occasion of the Easter season in a beautifully crafted public address on England being a Christian nation, the good works of the Church, remembering persecuted Christians around the world at Easter. It was enormously refreshing to have heard a high statesman affirm his faith tradition without having to demean any other faith or belief system, and drawing our attention to remembering what Christianity is…or ought to be.  (Click here for a link to the video.) How very different from what we have here in the United States, where a politician can be shunned by Christians themselves for affirming his Christian Faith.

Blevin, an Antiochian Catholic cleric,
Deletes Cameron’s Easter Message!!!

I noted the term “bigotry” and “censorship” in the title to this post because I was appalled at the heavy-handed censorship exercised by one despotic moderator of a Facebook group calling itself the “Anglicans, Old Catholics, Western Orthodox, and Lutherans Discussion Group,” manhandled by one Mr Gregory Blevins, who will be very quick to correct you by informing you he’s “Father” Blevins. In our book he’s “Bigot Blevins”.

Gregory N. Blevins

Gregory N Blevins

According to his Facebook profile, Blevins claims to be a presbyter of the Antiochan Catholic Church in America— which could mean just about anything — but one thing is certain, Blevins, if you read some of his posts is a very angry old man, he’s cantankerous and not very pleasant. We have clerics like him in every denomination and they generally do more harm than good in their self-righteous pseudopiety.

One of the group members was thoughful enough to have posted Mr Cameron’s beautiful and articulate Easter message on Mr Blevins’ site but when Mr Blevins found it, he almost immediately deleted it from the site saying that it was anti-Obama, anti-US, and political; Mr Blevins doen’t want “political”  in his group. (In my experience, the Eastern rite churches are very political; burt Blevins doesn’t like your political, only Blevins’ political.) Our conclusion:  Mr Blevins’ is a hypocrite judging from his discussion group practices compared with the posts on his personal page!

You see, Blevins claims to be Ecumenical and Social Concerns Representative for the Antiochian Catholic Church in America. The ACCA is a recently founded “church” and has no roots of its own but claims to derive its authority and tradition from the ancient Syriac Orthodox Church and the Indian Orthodox Church. The truth is that it illicitly claims these authorities based on apostate or maverick lineages, and is one of those so-called churches that are founded by non-conformists, usually excommunicated or defrocked, who can’t tow the mark with a mother church. Problem is they lead a lot of faithful astray with their heterodox teachings and phony sacraments.

Back to PM Cameron, in 2013 the Daily Telegraph reported that at “[a] Q&A in August 2013, Cameron described himself as a practising Christian and an active member of the Church of England.[320] On religious faith in general he has said: “I do think that organised religion can get things wrong but the Church of England and the other churches do play a very important role in society.”[321] He says he considers the Bible “a sort of handy guide” on morality.[322] He views Britain as a “Christian country” and aims to put faith back into politics.” So where does that place Mr Blevins as the ACCA’s representative on ecumenical and social concerns. There seems to be a very serious contradiction in Mr Blevins’ actions, words, and his role in his tiny maverick church! We’d love to hear from Mr Blevins with some sort of explanation. Or from his metran, or archbishop, Victor Mar Michael Herron.

Anyone who heard Mr Cameron’s message would have been proud to hear a western leader affirm his Christianity but not Mr Blevins. Mr Blevins is more interested in playing mini-pope and acting like Goebbels’ mini-me with his censorship notions.

I wrote to Mr Blevins expressing my surprise at his heavyhandedness and his misinterpretation and misapprehension of Mr Cameron’s video. I told Mr Blevins that his censorship was not appreciated. I further mentioned that here in the US our own POTUS, Christian, Muslim whatever he claims to be today, should have such courage to make such a profound statement at Christianty’s most holy of holy seasons.

Shame on you Mr Blevins. I’m unfriending you and your group forthwith. Have a good life.

Ab illo benedicaris, in cujus honor cremaberis.
(May you be blessed [Mr Blevins] by Him in whose honor you will burn.)

Abba Silas, Heresiarch

Abba Silas, Heresiarch


The Outrageous Ignorance: Instead of a Homily a Pop Tune at Christmas!


Good Roman Catholic preachers and their homilies are rare, indeed. Even instructors of liturgical preaching will admit that the Protestants and non–mainline denominations leave Catholic preachers in the dust. So-called Roman Catholic pastors like Fr Mario Julian of St Anthony of Padua church in Troy, New York, make that observation an understatement!

Ignorance of, or worse still, Indifference to the Role of the Homily is Unforgivable in a Pastor!

“From some fissure the smoke of Satan has
entered into the temple of God.”

(Pope Paul VI, June 29, 1972)

Mario Julian, Pastor of St Anthony of Padua, Troy

Mario Julian, dog and assistant.

Quite frankly and regrettably, I have to admit this is true, and the truth is right before our eyes in our Eucharistic liturgies on Sunday morning (or Saturday evening for you good Catholics who need to sleep in on Sundays).

Catholic preaching instructors and Catholic schools of theology and ministry rely heavily on non–Catholic sources

I can vouch for the fact that Catholic preaching instructors and Catholic schools of theology and ministry rely heavily on non–Catholic sources for their preaching resources because I was at the receiving end of that insidious and shameful practice. I say insidious and shameful because Roman Catholic seminary instructors have a wealth of Tradition and tradition to draw on for good preaching, but they appear to be pitifully ignorant of those great resources; admittedly, the great Protestant and Reformed tradition preachers are great presenters from their rather slanted heterodox perspectives, and it’s embarrassing for someone steeped and educated in Roman, Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Traditions and traditions to have to deal with that, especially when I appreciate the immense sacramental value of a well–wrought homily or sermon.

Too Many Roman Catholic Priests and Deacons Preach Pitifully Poorly

A recent experience proved that not only to too many Roman Catholic priests and deacons preach pitifully poorly but that some have no clue what a homily is, and they are apparently totally ignorant of the guidelines on homiletics that govern preaching in the Roman Catholic assembly, especially on high holy days and on Sundays. As one early saint observed: “Our priests are ignorant and have no faith.” I’d add that they are egregiously ignorant of Holy Scripture, the writings of the Church Fathers, and even of the most recent guidelines provided for them by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops!

fat preacherThe preacher should devour and digest Holy Scripture so that it becomes spiritual girth; Mario Julian’s girth has not come from devouring Holy Scripture, that’s painfully obvious.

That recent experience comes from a parish in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany in New York state. The parish, St Anthony of Padua church in Troy, New York. The so–called pastor, if I may so so loosely use the term, was a Roman Catholic priest, Mario Julian. The event: Christmas midnight Mass on December 25, 2015. The sacrilege: Julian didn’t provide a homily but played a secular Christmas pop song, “So this is Christmas,” and after the tinny recording had finished, launched directly into the Creed. If the local ordinary, Edward Scharfenberger, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, lets this peccadillo go unnoticed, he, too, should be sent to a remote monastery to relocate his spirituality!

What’s worse still is that Julian apparently has the time to write a blog but doesn’t have time to craft a suitable homily for a major Christian feast day. That’s reprehensible.

St-Bernards-School-of-Theology-and-Ministry

When I was doing my studies at Saint Bernard’s School of Ministry and Theology (outlets in Rochester/Syracuse/Albany), one of my degree requirements was Liturgical Preaching. It was taught by a local priest—in all honesty a very clever fellow and a good preacher—and was a requirement for masters of divinity, training for the deaconate and the presbyterate, etc. The course was based on required readings, and practical homily writing and presentation. The readings were exclusively non–Catholic authors. I found that odd; wouldn’t you? I aced the course but left with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. It seems that even a Roman Catholic seminary college is following the mercenary lead of the secular colleges; short on education big on fees.
fulfilled in your hearingJust for the sake of argument, let’s assume that you are a Roman Catholic seminarian or master of divinity candidate, and you are required to take a course in liturgical preaching. Wouldn’t you at least expect to learn something about the great RC preachers like Origen, Augustine, Chrysostom, Bernard, Aquinas, Newman (by way of exception I would include here even John Knox, the great Reformation theologian and dynamic preacher), among others? The works of Dante, Manley – Hopkins and Chesterton could and should have been included in the readings. Or at least the principal instructions on homiletics promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (see below)? Nope. Not a mention of any of these in the entire course!

For The Express Benefit of the Ignorant and Lousy RC Preachers Out There, Let Me Just Point Out the Two USCCB Documents You Should Consult on Preaching

fulfilled in your hearing_coverSo, for you ignorant and lousy RC preachers out there, let me just point out the two USCCB documents, to which I’m referring and let’s see if you can admit honestly that you’ve ever heard of them, much less even read them: “Fulfilled in Your Hearing. The Homily in the Sunday Assembly.” (USCCB ©1982) and “Preaching the Mystery of Faith. The Sunday Homily” (USCCB © 2012). I’d also briefly mention by way of example Vatican II documents like Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, esp. No. 8); Pope Paul VI call for missio ad gentes, Evangelio Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World),  revitalized by Pope John – Paul II in his Redemptio Missio (On the Permanent Validity of the Church’s Missionary Mandate, No. 3) Pope Benedict’s exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis (The Sacrament of Charity, esp. No. 46). Verbum Domini (The Word of the Lord, esp. No. 1, 12, 59, 86 – 87122), and the list could go on ad infinitum ad nauseumque! But why bother. My point is made.

preaching the mystery of faithThe more recent Preaching the Mystery of Faith (2012) either includes directly or paraphrases its precursor Fulfilled in Your Hearing, the latter being more to the point of giving helpful instruction on how to craft an effective homily for the Sunday liturgy. “Preaching the Mystery” goes into somewhat wordy detail in spelling out the reasons for its main points. You’d think that wouldn’t be necessary since the document expressly targets those “who by virtue of presbyteral ordination, share in the apostolic office to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ [citing the Code of Canon Law (CIC), c. 767, §§1 – 2]…also…those who are responsible for the formation and training of future priests and deacons as well as those who conduct continuing education programs for the clergy.” Now that’s pretty clear, isn’t it. If the “ordained” ministers of the word should be aware of these documents but if they are not those responsible for their formation and training should be. Who dropped the ball?

Preaching the Mystery” calls the homily “an ecclesial act” and requires that the preacher be “a man of holiness” and “a man of  scripture”, “a man of tradition” and “a man of communion,” and goes on to describe these concepts in detail. But as to the homily, and here’s a very important point, it states that “[e]very homily, because it is an intrinsic part of the Sunday Eucharist [viz. the Liturgy), must therefore be about the dying and risking of Jesus Christ, [H]is sacrificial passage through suffering to new and eternal life for us.” Now, Fr Mario Julian of St Anthony of Padua RC church, where did you find that message in “So this is Christmas”?

Fr Mario Julian: How on earth you could commit the sacrilege of bringing in a popular secular tune in lieu of the homily, an “intrinsic part of the liturgy?”

sacrosanctum conciliumIn fact, Mario, Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, No. 52), reminds us that “the homily is an integral part of the Eucharist itself”…it [the homily] is  meant to set hearts on fire with praise and thanksgiving…a feature of the intense and privileged encounter with Jesus Christ…connects the two parts of the Eucharistic liturgy as it looks back on the Scripture readings and forward to the sacrificial meal.”  The homily is a “connection between Eucharist and mission” and “[a] homily that does not lead to mission is, therefore, incomplete.” So, Fr Mario, I’m all ears as to how you managed to completely fall on your face when failing in all respects in the express purposes of the homily and how on earth you could commit the sacrilege of bringing in a popular secular tune in lieu of the homily, an “intrinsic part of the liturgy?”

Priests Don’t Know Shite from Shinola When it Comes to Homiletics

Maybe Bishop Scharfenberger will step forward to explain why his priest, his priests don’t know shite from Shinola when it comes to homiletics? How does one keep the faith when our priests cause scandal?

I think we all know and have seen the results of this sort of rubbish pasturing: its obvious effects is an insult to faith, a bastardization of the liturgy, a perversion of the ministry of preaching. When it goes uncorrected by the chief pastors and teachers of the church, the bishops, it is a clear and egregious dereliction of sacred duty, a direct violation to the Mystical Body. Just as we would prosecute and punish anyone who would assault and harm the physical person of another human being, we should not allow such spiritual assault to go unnoticed.

Shame on you Mario Julian and shame on you, too, Edward Scharfenberger

My heart goes out to those few remaining faithful who venture out into tNarcissushe night on that most special of eves to celebrate the coming of the Messiah, the miracle of the Incarnation, and who were spiritually abused by an incompetent and insensitive pastor, Fr Mario Julian, and subjected to a pop tune instead of a beautiful exegesis of the Christmas Gospel.

Shame on you Mario Julian and shame on you, too, Edward Scharfenberger, if you, too, are derelict in your obligations, and do not discipline Julian for this insult to the Church. And we all know the story of Narcissus, don’t we?

“Now the true soldiers of Christ must always be prepared to do battle for the truth, and must never, so far as lies with them, allow false convictions to creep in.” (Origen of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Book VI)

Abba Silas, Heresiarch

Abba Silas
Heresiarch Mystagogue

If you haven’t read enough here, you may want to read “Preaching the Strange Word” by Bishop Robert Baron auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. (Bishop Robert Barron, “Preaching the Strange Word”, The Catholic World, Report, October 27, 2015 http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Blog/4322/preaching_the_strange_word.aspx, last accessed on January 29, 2016)

Is there a certain Marist priest who is celebrating the Eucharist in a local funeral home on a regular basis? Yes! That’s pretty bizarre and weird—and it’s canonically unlawful—but it’s being done right under bishop Scharfenberger’s nose. Is he informed about it? We’ll make certain he can’t deny knowing about it. And we’ll have a closer look at other abuses in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. Stay tuned.

“Qui tacet consentire videtur ubi loqui debuit ac potuit.”
“Silence is admission when when the accused ought to have spoken and was able to.”

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