Religious Freedom

Today’s assignment in the blogger challenge (and make sure to check out the other participating blogs here) is Eden.  Eden, if one thinks of it as having been a real place, has traditionally been associated with Mesopotamia – the land between rivers.  Tonight we had our annual Marlborough-Hudson Interfaith Association’s Thanksgiving service.  Normally at this event I do a prayer or hymn from our Orthodox tradition but I did something a little different this time.  In light of what has been happening in Iraq and the Near East with ISIS, I thought I would talk about how we should be thankful that we are free to worship, talk about our faith, and gather with people of other faiths.  To this end I read Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which was a predecessor of the First Amendment to the Constitution.  Authorship of it, along with of the Declaration of Independence and founding the University of Virginia, were the three of his many accomplishments that Jefferson chose to put on his epitaph.  I went to UVa and so I have a natural affinity for Mr. Jefferson, as we ‘Hoos are supposed to call him.  He was also a philhellene and a supporter of the Greek revolution (although he considered the Orthodox Church to be monkish tomfoolery).  Here is the complete text of his Statute:

An Act for establishing religious Freedom.

Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;

That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do,

That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;

That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions, which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical;

That even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the Ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind;

That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,

That therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right,

That it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it;

That though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;

That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;

That it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;

And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

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November 20th, 2014 by Fr. Greg

Day 32: Blogger’s Choice #3

Once again we have free rein (correct usage, although “free reign” is so entrenched in our language that it too is considered correct) to choose our own topic.  Today I want to go with some random observations I have been making lately.  As I have written here, we enjoy the Advent season in our house and don’t go crazy with gifts, etc., and I feel this gives me some clarity in cutting through the craziness of the season.  I am looking forward to our church Christmas pageant Sunday as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services.  This is all despite the extreme cold we have had lately and some auto troubles, particularly a dead car battery the other day.  Here goes:

-The poem is called A Visit From St. Nicholas, not Twas The Night Before Christmas.  Let’s get this right.  The wiki article is interesting – I had no idea there was a controversy over authorship.

-We have had a lot of snow recently which is not always the case for December.  I am appalled at some of the driving I have seen.  Massachusetts people like to pride themselves on their ability to deal with the weather and their driving skills – talk to any Mass. person who has lived elsewhere and see what they think of drivers there.  So, what has happened?  Did we forget how to drive?

-I was driving the other day when one of the local high schools let out and noticed a crossing guard for high school students at an intersection that had crossing signals and a short distance between sidewalks.  Do we really need a crossing guard for high school students, especially when there is a signal?  We are a long ways away from the days of the pioneers.

-Now that Oldies 103 is gone, we listen to a station out of Rhode Island for Christmas music.  It is nice hearing the classics, but it really seems like their playlist is on repeat every hour.  On a recent trip to see my father in the Merrimack Valley area, we lost the signal and found a station that is NH based (I think).  It was refreshing to hear different Christmas tunes.  Of course, in the MP3 and streaming era it is hard to complain about this stuff – we can always make our own playlists.

 

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December 20th, 2013 by Fr. Greg

Day 24: The Zygote

Fr. John chose this topic for our assignment because Day 24 was the feast of the Conception of the Virgin Mary – very fitting!  The idea here is, I think, to talk about life and the abortion issue.  At times in the Orthodox blogosphere and in social media our bishops have taken some shots for supposedly not speaking up about life issues.  I disagree – I think it is more that our bishops leave the political stuff to the politicians and prefer not to meddle with such things.  In our own Metropolis, His Eminence has always spoken out forcefully on moral issues.  He recently received national props around the blogosphere for his address to the Metropolis Clergy-Laity assembly, but to those of us under his jurisdiction we were not surprised – he has always spoken from the seat of Moses when necessary.  A typical, and unreported, example happened several years ago at a Greek event where a congressman (who is not Orthodox) spoke.  The MC introduced him and mentioned, among other things, that he was pro-choice.  Later in the program Metropolitan Methodios got up to speak and, before he began his remarks, he looked over to the gentleman and said “Congressman _____, I hope your choice is pro-life”.  He then went into his talk on another subject.  It was awesome – I started furiously texting friends (discretely, since I was at the head table).  It was the perfect moment, and I hope it made the congressman – a very good man whom I consider a friend – do some thinking.

40DAYSBLOG

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December 11th, 2013 by Fr. Greg

Avarice?

Today’s topic is avarice – the Latin word for greed – and I imagine we were assigned this topic today because it is “Black Friday” – the biggest shopping day of the year.  The fashion, from what I have discerned from reading Facebook posts, is to decry Black Friday shopping and the commercialization of our holidays.  I tend to take a contrarian stance. Some thoughts:

-If you don’t like Black Friday, don’t participate.  Lord knows there are plenty of other things to do.  An understandable dissent to this is that Black Friday madness induces people to work on Thanksgiving evening.  This is unfortunate, but…

-…Black Friday does put many stores in the black.  The economy is important and helps us pay our bills.  Is there room for improvement or remaking the economy?  Absolutely. I am a true Jeffersonian – unleash the inner yeoman farmer within all of us!  But for now…

-There are plenty (or maybe really just a few, from certain high-crime areas?) stories of problems at stores, but I get the sense that most people shopping on Black Friday are really out to make the most of their dollar and are not actually greedy Scrooge McDuck types who frolic in piles of hoarded money. What is wrong with finding the best price for a laptop or TV and waiting in line for it?

-People who get into Black Friday genuinely enjoy it.  My friend Deepali is out there every year at 3am and she loves it.  What is wrong with that?

-I have noticed a trend of people talking smack about how bad Black Friday is, and then bragging about ordering stuff online.  Really?

I don’t participate in Black Friday shopping.  I actually need to get something from the local music store but held off going on principal.  But I have no problem with the idea in general.  My main dissent is really in the drive to buy Christmas gifts.  I am a huge advocate of degiftifying – not focusing on giving gifts for Christmas.  This becomes the be-all and end-all of the holiday.  Take a step back and enjoy it for the spiritual triumph that it is.

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November 29th, 2013 by Fr. Greg

Hitler Tea Kettle And Twitter

It has been awhile, so here goes…

Everyone so often something “blows up” on Twitter, and today was one of those days.  The interesting thing about learning news via Twitter is that there is only a small amount of text – 120 letters/spaces – allowed, and part of that is often a link.  So when I opened up Twitter to find a retweet that read “JC Penney “Hitler” tea kettle causes social media frenzy, then sells out online” followed by a link, well, I just had to find out what was going on.  And, well, the kettle’s profile really does look like Hitler.  More here.

hitler-jc-penney-tea-kettle

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May 28th, 2013 by Fr. Greg

Paschal Message Of His Eminence

Paschal Message
Of His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios
May 5, 2013

This past year, the Pew Research Center and the Gallup poll reported that a small percentage of Americans are active in their religious communities, and few are attending worship services. But, why is it that on Easter night our churches are filled with hundreds of brethren, even those who attend rarely, if at all? I’m convinced it is a flickering light that draws us to the empty tomb to be engulfed by its unwaning light, to partake of the joy and hope of Easter. Perhaps we do not know why, but, nevertheless, something draws us to church tonight to accept the gift of Life victorious over death. What draws all of us to church is a faith inculcated to the depths of our hearts-one often unconscious and inactive, but very much present. What draws us to church tonight resembles what attracted the Myrrh bearing women whose secret hope was surely not to find and anoint a dead corpse, but to see their Savior alive, risen from the dead.

 

We sinners come to the tomb with our doubts and our failures hoping that we may be exalted in the light of a resurrected faith. We come to have our doubts consumed by the flame which flashes from the tomb. We come hoping our hearts may be filled with divine gladness, that our eyes may glow with the light which radiates from an empty grave. We come that our souls may be filled with joy, and our voices with the victory hymn which echoes to the ends of the earth.

 

Momentarily, we will hear the Gospel of St. Mark informing us that the myrrh bearing women fled from the empty grave bewildered and trembling. In another Gospel we read that on the same day, two disciples, Luke and Cleopas made their journey to Emmaus in sad disappointment because their great hope in Jesus had apparently died with His death and burial. They didn’t recognize the Risen Lord.

 

Sadly, and all too often, we do not recognize the Risen Lord on our life’s journey either. The Gospel of John records Thomas’ doubt in the Resurrection. Like us tonight, those closest to Jesus were blinded by their fears, their doubts, and their fallen expectations. Not unlike the Myrrh-bearing women, we find the tomb a fearsome place.

 

The powerful imagery (which we heard in last night’s service) of the Prophet Ezekiel walking through a valley filled with dead men’s bones is an apt description of so much that is happening in our world. The signs of sin and death devastate us. The moral decay and violence which mark our society-as they did recently in Boston, Cambridge and Watertown-can so overwhelm us, that the hope present in our Lord’s Resurrection eludes us.

 

Like the disciples on their way from the Easter event of Resurrection, we can turn so in on our self-interests-our plans and dreams, our shattered hopes and moral shortcomings-that we fail to recognize the Risen Lord in our midst. And, like Thomas, we can set the narrow limits of human knowledge as the boundaries of our undertaking, rather than grasp the limitless horizons of faith.

 

As have Christians for 2,000 years, let us overcome our fears and our doubts to proclaim that, indeed, Christ is Risen. Easter is the new Passover. It is the Resurrection of Christ which leads us from spiritual slavery to freedom, from sin to righteousness, from sadness to joy, from darkness to light, from death to life, from a culture of cruelty to a community of compassion, from this world to the kingdom to come.

 

My brothers and sisters, on His cross Christ bore our individual sins and shortcomings, our weaknesses, our spiritual sickness and death. Rising from the tomb, He raises Adam and Eve and every one of us to newness of life in Him. It is this message that we are called to share (the message of faith and love) to a world that knows too much pain and division. Let us proclaim to all the world, “Come, receive the light from the unwaning light and glorify Christ who is risen from the dead”.

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May 13th, 2013 by Fr. Greg

A Worthy Organization

Yesterday at Sts. Anargyroi we had the pleasure of a visit from Nancy and Basil “Bill” Tolos, who of course are no strangers to our community.  Bill is the vice-president of the New England Amputee Association, a group which provides support for new amputees.  From their website:

Our team of Amputee Coalition Certified Peer Visitors are ready to assist victims and their families from the recent bombing in Boston. Our Peer Visitors are trained in and offer the following services at no charge:
Moral and emotional support for the amputee and their family
Answers to the many questions about limb loss from the perspective of someone who has been through it
Sharing of experiences and resources
Guidance for “what’s next?” in the recovery process

Bill underwent a leg amputation several years ago, and in true Bill fashion is now a certified peer advisor and VP of the organization.  He understands the difficulty of all of a sudden being without a limb and not knowing what comes next.  We passed a tray at the end of service to benefit the group and raised $400.  For those who were not there or perhaps did not have cash on them you can click on the link above to donate to the group.

A fun postscript to this story – Bill recently got a new prosthetic leg and decided to go all out – it has the Boston Red Sox logo on it!

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April 22nd, 2013 by Fr. Greg