In the early hours of April 16, Mr. Jeff Maples visited St. Nektarios Orthodox Church in Charlotte, North Carolina for what he would later call a “Holy Saturday service.” Around the same time, I was attending the same service at my own parish, but our observations could not have been more different. In his post about it, Mr. Maples takes issue with any and everything about the Paschal Vigil he attended, starting with the length of the service. He complains that despite having started at 11:30 p.m., there was no sign of slowing down at 2 a.m. In addition, Mr. Maples complains that the smell of incense brought him back to his college dorm days filled with (him or others) "smoking weed and blowing the smoke through toilet paper rolls stuffed with dryer sheets." Neither was the music up to his taste, as he observes that almost everything consisted of "eerie Byzantine chant."
He acknowledges that there was quite a bit of Scripture reading, but "eerie chanting" aside, he did notice a dreadful lack of preaching. That may, of course, have been because he ducked out before the end of the service, seeing how the Paschal Liturgy is the only one where two sermons are canonically mandated: the Paschal sermon of St. John Chrysostom and the celebrant's own. That said, it doesn't seem Mr. Maples would be the kind of person to bother himself with such details.
Mr. Maples is a writer for Pulpit and Pen, a contentious Protestant blog which has set off quite a few storms both within Protestantism and without. I do have some observations in response to his. Being in charge of the censer at my parish and having dealt with a number of marijuana-related issues in my three years as an RA, I can confirm without the shadow of a doubt that incense and marijuana smell nothing alike, though admittedly I know nothing of blowing smoke into dryer sheets. Secondly, most people that hear Byzantine chant don't find it to be eerie, but that assumes a certain level of musical appreciation. If you bring a rebellious adolescent to a Beethoven concert, he may well find that music eerie. Ultimately, I suppose the "different strokes" rule must apply.
It seems that others have pointed out such critiques to Mr. Maples and Pulpit and Pen. This triggered J.D. Hall—the founder of Pulpit and Pen—to write an apology to the Orthodox Church, in which he apologizes for having only identified the Pope as antichrist in their statement of faith and promptly promises to include the oft-forgotten Orthodox in the future. In addition, he pokes fun at Orthodox liturgical aesthetics, the Sacraments, and Orthodox doctrine. It is a blessing that Pastor Hall's recent unsuccessful attempt to become president of the Southern Baptist Convention has given him the extra time to pen this thoroughly mature and well-researched piece, otherwise the 2000-year-old Orthodox Tradition would have had to wait for another similarly skilled preacher to contend with it for some time.
But why is Pulpit and Pen directing all its ire at the Orthodox Church? It turns out the whole issue is over the recent conversion of Hank Hanegraaff, or the Bible Answer Man, who joined the Orthodox Church on Palm Sunday. Mr. Maples had intended to confront Hanegraaff on Easter Sunday, but it seems that he lacked the constitution to stay through the vigil in order to engage in the post-liturgical banter he intended. Having failed to do so, he took to his blog outlet to write out his feelings, in what could be the single positive piece of evidence for Twitter's 140-character limitation.
As one can imagine, following these two excellent pieces of apologetic, Orthodox people are pouring out of the Church and into Pulpit and Pen by the millions. I would have done so myself, had it not been for something my dad told me when I would air out all my feelings as a child, "Only dogs find the barking of dogs persuasive."
Well, so much for tales of people who speak out of ignorance and irreverence. For my part, I wish Mr. Maples would return to an Orthodox Liturgy. Luckily for him, the regular ones are a bit shorter than the one he attended, so hopefully he can make it to the end this time. I am nowhere close to him, but if I were, I'd love to explain to him why it is that we do what we do. I can only hope that someone else will take up that job.
As for Mr. Hanegraaff, I think I speak for the whole Church when I say that I am thoroughly joyful and excited to hear of his joining the Body of Christ. If I may share with him another piece of dog-related Albanian popular wisdom, "Let the dogs bark, so long as the cart keeps moving forward."
At this point, you may be wondering what the point of this article is. I have two basic points. First, ridicule is the debt owed to the ridiculous, and Pulpit and Pen have gone beyond the measures of ordinary decorum. Second, these kinds of pieces accomplish nothing. The Orthodox confess—and hopefully the writers at Pulpit and Pen as well—a God who is the source of reason and logic, so we have a consistent means of settling these discussions, namely, reasoned discourse. That said, if they be not persuaded by beautiful speech, perhaps they will be persuaded by holding up a mirror so they can see what their tone sounds like to everyone who is not them.