In what began as research for a novel but turned into genuine and unconditional interest, I’ve been researching other religions for the past six months (mainly the big ones: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism). I’m convinced that it’s impossible to fully understand another religion – or even come close to it – without immersion in the communal life, so in an attempt to do just that, I’ve been attending a mosque on and off for the past few months. (Hindu temple is next – I discovered one just a two minute walk away from me. How was a Hindu temple able to stay hidden from me in my own neighbourhood for the past three years, you ask? The answer involves a combination of an inconspicuous exterior and my own failure to explore the OTHER side of the main street near my house.) Continue Reading »

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(Continued from Part 1: Age of Ultron and William Blake)

So does Age of Ultron want us to accept a dualistic view of divinity? Maybe this would be the case if the Urizen/Orc type of dichotomy were the only theological image and idea at work here, but as it is, there are other factors to consider. This brings me to thesis number two: the triumph of Vision over Ultron can be legitimately seen as the triumph of Orthodoxy over heresy and paganism.

First off, let me define my terms. Particularly in the first millennium of Christian history, orthodoxy was determined by reference to incarnational theology, which holds Christ to possess the fullness of both human and divine nature. Thus, the Church rejected Arianism because it denied Christ’s full divinity, and Nestorianism because it denied Christ’s full humanity. At the Seventh Ecumenical Council, whose feast in the Byzantine churches today is known as the Triumph of Orthodoxy, the Fathers affirmed the legitimacy and even the necessity of icons, and condemned the iconoclast heresy. The reasoning of the likes of St. John of Damascus and Theodore the Studite was that Christ, in becoming man, has fundamentally transformed both divine and human nature, incarnating the former and deifying the latter. Formerly images of God were forbidden to his people, as God’s nature was unknowable in his essence and could not be accurately depicted in pictorial form. But it has always been possible to depict humans in visual art, and when God took human nature into the divine, that possibility of depiction was extended to God as well. Continue Reading »

I went to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron last week. It was fun. I enjoyed it. Critics such as Steven Greydanus have written on the film’s merits and downfalls already, and honestly I’m still processing it as a movie, so I’m not interested in writing a review here. (I will share my first impression, though, that while the film upped the plot and character quota to the point that it verges on overstuffed, I didn’t feel like the whole thing upped the ante in terms of overall quality when compared with its predecessor—contrast with the way a film like Winter Soldier raises the bar from the first Captain America flick, or, conversely, the way Thor: The Dark World noticeably lowers it.)

What I’m interested in looking at is the theological overtones at work in the film, which are present—obtrusive, even—to a markedly different extent than any other Marvel film to date. The aforementioned Greydanus himself confesses that he’s “not sure yet what to make of all Ultron’s God talk.” I’d like to offer some possible interpretations—two, to be exact, although there’s overlap between them—as to what’s going on here. (Spoilers, naturally, will abound from this point onward.) Continue Reading »

Coming Home

As is now common knowledge, thanks to the great deal of positive press the Ordinariates and our church here in Ottawa have been getting, the ACCC parishes in the Ottawa region (Annunciation, Holy Nativity, and St Barnabas in Spencerville) were received, individually and corporately, into the Catholic Church on April 15th 2012. (You can find various links to pictures and coverage of our service of reception at Foolishness to the World – search in the April 2012 archives.)

I don’t actually have much to say about the fact that I am now Catholic. It is a marvellous feeling to be reunited in full communion with the Successor of Peter and the apostolic churches under his care, but I confess not a great deal has changed in my day-to-day life as a result of this. I have tried saying the Rosary a few times (I need more practice and instruction in this), I have confessed in both the Byzantine and Roman rites, and a couple of weeks ago I attended the first “Novus Ordo” Roman Mass I have been to in some three years. Other than that, the most significant noticeable change is that the Sung Eucharist at Annunciation on Sundays is now at 12:30pm instead of 10:00am to accommodate Fr. Francis Donnelly, our chaplain until Carl Reid (former ACCC bishop and current administrator at Annunciation) is, God willing, ordained a Catholic priest. I keep meaning to take advantage of this later service time by visiting other churches in the morning before going to fulfill my thuriferal duties, but a number of late Saturday nights in a row have prevented me from doing this as yet. Continue Reading »

Incense

One of the disadvantages of being a snobby Anglo-Catholic in a snobby Anglo-Catholic parish is that one is never satisfied with being simply Anglo-Catholic; one begins to want more and more liturgical trappings until before one knows it there are twelve acolytes serving for every Mass (two of whom’s job is simply to hold the priest’s cope so he doesn’t trip over it) and the celebrant is trilling all his “r’s” and the organist is playing what sounds like a Bach concerto for all the propers. This is, I suspect, the reason why one never sees small, quiet, unobtrusive Anglo-Catholic parishes anymore: they are not content to remain as such.

My parish does not have quite this problem, as we are extremely small, to the point of having barely enough room for three or four acolytes at each Mass as it is. However, I am symptomatic of Anglo-Catholic snobbery in that, as thurifer, it was soon not enough for me merely to burn the incense and swing the thurible around. Never mind that many liturgically-inclined Anglicans and Catholics would kill to have incense in their services at all — the snobbish spirit of which I speak breeds dissatisfaction with even the most immaculate (no pun intended) of High Masses.

The fact is that I have a peculiar weakness for the Byzantine churches. I love their liturgy, their style of chant, their theological language — even their ethnic and cultural tensions cause me to crack a smile more often than not (terrible of me, I know). But what strikes me first upon enterting a Byzantine church for Divine Liturgy is not the great host of icons which crowd the walls and ceiling, or the Psalms being chanted off to one side. What strikes me first is the glorious aroma of their incense. When we get to heaven, I am fully sure that it will smell like the interior of an Orthodox church. It took me some time to realize it, but Orthodox incense is the best incense on earth.

About the same time I realized this, I began to be dissatisfied with the incense that I heaped on coals every Sunday: the type we used was composed of grains of many different types of incense, and certain combinations thereof had the tendency to evoke the odour of a burning rat — a phenomenon neither conducive to a prayerful spirit during the Mass (particularly not for me as I censed the gifts at the Words of Institution), nor, I suspect, at all pleasing to the Lord. Thus, I decided to experiment with new kinds of incense.

A trip to Three Deacons Liturgical Supplies here in Ottawa — located in the basement of the city’s other Annunciation Cathedral, that of the Orthodox Church in America — supplied me with my first box of Byzantine incense, straight from Mount Athos and recommended to me by one of the titular deacons who run the store. I was soon to discover, unfortunately, that my congregation did not wholly share my taste in incense, nor indeed did the bishop himself. While I was away the Sunday following my purchase (at Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church,* as I recall, giving my younger brother his first taste of authentic Orthodox worship), the bishop and other thurifer used the incense in my absence, and, as I was later informed, its reception was not particularly positive.

Undeterred, I returned the Byzantine incense to the Three Deacons, and the deacon was kind enough to let me exchange it for a box of Athonite Myrrh. In addition, a group of Romanian Orthodox celebrates Divine Liturgy in our church building on Sundays after our Mass, and I consulted with the boy who handles the incense in their services to make sure I was burning the incense correctly; the bishop found it produced a somewhat acrid smell after burning for a few minutes, and I confirmed this when I tried burning it myself, leading me to wonder if I was doing something wrong. Since then I have found this only to be the case when one is standing in close proximity to the thurible, and that the aftersmell of the incense soon overpowers the residual, bitter odor of the burning resin.

I have also discovered that the bishop simply does not share my taste in incense. In addition to the myrrh, the Romanian boy quite generously gave me some of their own incense (a kind derived from spikenard, as far as I can tell, and my favourite incense so far — regrettably, I have not been able to find it for sale anywhere in Ottawa). I tried burning this during the Mass at one point during Advent, mixed together with the “blue stuff” which we generally used during that season (a sort of blue powder that had the tendency to smell quite awful); the bishop had some trouble breathing when I did so (a fact most puzzling and frustrating to me, as I personally found it much easier on the lungs than either our normal “grab-bag” incense or the “blue stuff” on its own — moreover, I had done the same thing the previous week without either complaint or detection thereof on the part of the bishop). I have not yet used the myrrh during a Mass (except when the bishop was away and a visiting priest was celebrant — all except the deacon’s wife seemed to like it then), but at this point I think it’s probably best not to risk the bishop’s asphyxiating mid-consecration in the pursuit of liturgically aromatic beatitude.

The bishop recently obtained some new incense of the grab-bag variety which has not, so far, displayed its antecedent’s predilection for recalling the scent of an immolated tire: a blessing indeed. Still, I quietly await that day our deacon, who has a higher respiratory tolerance for Eastern incense, is ordained presbyter and instituted as a regular celebrant…

*In a rather amusing turn of events, this particular church, part of the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA, is located directly across the road from the OCA Cathedral. For authentic Orthodox worship conducted (largely) in English, coupled with beautiful icons, a welcoming and close-knit parish family, and a brilliant and insightful homilist in Fr Maxym, it is unparalleled in the Ottawa region (with the exception perhaps of the afore-mentioned Cathedral, which, regrettably, I have not attended in some time).

And a good day to you, sir

Welcome! Please have a look at the “About” page to learn a bit about me and this blog’s mission.

A little more background on my personal ecclesiastical/theological “journey” is perhaps in order. I was raised Baptist by devout evangelical parents, later of the Reformed stripe when they realized the need for a deeper theological awareness both in their children and in themselves. In my teen years I began to incline sharply towards Roman Catholicism after stumbling across Catholic apologetics sites and subsequently reading such authors as Peter Kreeft and Thomas Howard (this form of “teenage rebellion,” unconventionally theological in nature on my part, brought me into sharp conflict for a number of years with my then very Calvinist mother). During my time at Augustine College I had the opportunity to attend a Roman Catholic mass for the first time, and, deeply disillusioned with its liturgical and homiletic tepidity, I became less sure of my teenaged convictions (which were, in retrospect, rather naive) as to the truth of Roman Catholicism.

After exploring a number of other ecclesiastical traditions and “church-hopping” for some time, I turned in the direction of High Anglicanism, eventually electing to be confirmed in the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada at the Cathedral of the Annunciation. I learned a great deal about traditional and sacramental Christianity in the months that followed; initially distrustful of Roman Catholicism (as a result of my theological and liturgical studies up to that point, in addition to my practical experience of it) and perplexed as to the plurality of sacramental churches all claiming to be “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic,” I gradually came to see the essential rightness (despite some doctrinal and canonical questions still subsisting amongst them) of all four ancient apostolic communions and thus the need for unity amongst them: the Roman Catholic Church and all those under the Pope of Rome; the Eastern or Byzantine Orthodox Churches; the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and the Assyrian Church of the East.

Less than a year after I had first begun attending the Cathedral, Pope Benedict XVI issued the document Anglicanorum Coetibus, and we of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada began our slow and very troubled journey towards unity with Rome. It was a move I had been in favour of and prayed for for a long time; regrettably, as time went on, it became increasingly clear that there were many within High Anglican circles (including a number of our own now-former parishioners) who did not share this view, and that there were many on the Roman side of the fence (including members of the clergy and hierarchy) who were less than happy about the exact nature of this impending unity, and who seemed hell-bent on obstructing it in whatever ways they could. Despite these struggles, however, we have retained internal unity as a parish and we are now nearing the end of our journey; I look forward to being received into full communion with the Catholic Church during this year’s Easter season.

I shall undoubtedly pursue in detail many of the topics I have here touched on in later posts. It behoves me to say at this point, however, that while I am firm in my intentions of becoming a full member of the Catholic Church,* there are a great many things about Roman Catholicism which trouble me greatly; these are largely current theological and liturgical tendencies and practices, all of which one may disagree with while remaining a fully orthodox Catholic, but I freely admit that there are yet some Roman Catholic dogmas which do not sit particularly well with me. Nevertheless, I consider these quibbles insufficient to deter me from being received into the Church; I am a Western Christian, and as such I feel it my duty to submit to the one Western ecclesiastical body which is apostolic in succession, orthodox in theology, and catholic in faith. It is only by becoming a full member of this Church that I can help to reverse some of those lamentable theological opinions and liturgical practices which have become so widespread in Catholicism; and it is my fervent hope that as I continue to learn and grow in faith, I will find that my unease with certain Catholic dogmas is in fact directed towards specific understandings of these doctrines, rather than towards the dogmas themselves.

Of course, if my disappointment with what I find upon being received into the Catholic Church proves too all-encompassing to continue in it, there is always Orthodoxy.

*Members of Anglican Use parishes will be, in the very strictest sense, Roman Catholics (or Latin or Western Catholics, as we would say when speaking technically of our particular rite), as opposed to members of any number of the Eastern Catholic Churches (who, as members of a rite distinct from, yet fully in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, are termed Ukrainian Catholics, Melkite Catholics, Chaldean Catholics, etc.) — despite this fact, we prefer to be called Anglican (Use) Catholics, as a means of distinguishing us liturgically and culturally from our Roman brethren.