Episode #41 – Fr. Alexander Webster of Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary

Interview with Fr. Alexander Webster of Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary, Fr. Anthony Perkins
Good Guys Wear Black (Ancient Faith Radio) 14 March 2018

In this episode, Fr. Alexander Webster, the Dean of Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary and a retired Army Chaplain, shares his thoughts on the challenges of the priesthood and describes how Holy Trinity prepares men for it. Enjoy the show!

Fr. Alexander Webster and Dn. Anthony Perkins in Bagram Afghanistan (Nativity 2006 or Theophany, 2007)

Episode #36: Hit the Ground Running!

How to Hit the Ground Running!  Fr. Anthony Perkins
Good Guys Wear Black (Ancient Faith Radio) 03 November 2017

In this episode, Fr. Anthony talks with Fr. Theophan Mackey of St. Job of Pochaiv parish in Los Alamos, NM (stjobla.org). He’s only been a priest for three years, but he really hit the ground running (glory to God!). In this “live” episode, he shares his experience serving God as a priest (and jack of all trades) in New Mexico. Enjoy the show!

Your Lack of Work Ethic

Admittedly, this is a provocative title, but it is intended to be. The priest must not be outdone by the layman in persistence – in work, in prayer, in effort, in sacrifice. Persistence, passion, patience, and a solid work ethic.

Got one? Unless you do, you’ll never experience the glory of getting addicted to the victory that only persistence brings. 

by Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and Determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and will always solve the problems of the human race.

But wait, why are we not quoting the Bible, and using Biblical examples of good work ethic, of the power of persistence? Well, mostly because most readers won’t actually take the time to read those Bible quotes, but for your edification, here are a few.

Luke 18:1-8 

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” …

1 Corinthians 15:58 

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 

Pray without ceasing,

Revelation 2:10 

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Galatians 6:9 

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Luke 11:9-10

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Proverbs 24:16 

For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.

Luke 11:5-10 

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. …

2 Thessalonians 3:13 

As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.

Hebrews 12:1-2 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

James 1:1-27 

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. …

Philippians 1:6 

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.

Philippians 3:14

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 15:13 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

1 John 5:15 

And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

Hebrews 11:6 

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

2 Kings 2:1-15 

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” …

Proverbs 12:27 

Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.

Matthew 15:22-28 

And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” …

Hosea 6:3 

Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”

Genesis 32:24-28 

And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Hebrews 13:15 

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

Romans 1:1-32 

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, …

Romans 2:7 

To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;

Titus 2:2 

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

Galatians 2:1-21 

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. …

Genesis 18:23-33 

Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. …

2 Kings 13:15-19 

And Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows.” So he took a bow and arrows. Then he said to the king of Israel, “Draw the bow,” and he drew it. And Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands. And he said, “Open the window eastward,” and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot,” and he shot. And he said, “The Lord’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria! For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” And he said, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them.” And he struck three times and stopped. Then the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.”

Romans 7:1-25 

Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. …

Luke 18:9-17 

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ …

Mark 10:46-51 

And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. …

Ezekiel 18:25-32

“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? …

Philippians 2:4-11 

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. …

Proverbs 10:4 

A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

Judges 13:8-20 

Then Manoah prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, please let the man of God whom you sent come again to us and teach us what we are to do with the child who will be born.” And God listened to the voice of Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field. But Manoah her husband was not with her. So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, “Behold, the man who came to me the other day has appeared to me.” And Manoah arose and went after his wife and came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?” And he said, “I am.” And Manoah said, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the child’s manner of life, and what is his mission?” …

Colossians 4:2 

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

Matthew 15:21-28 

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” …

Episode 28: Narcissism and the Priesthood

Narcissism and the Priesthood by Fr. Anthony Perkins

Good Guys Wear Black (AFR Podcast)  May 19, 2017

Fr. Anthony and Fr. Harry Linsinbigler (UOC-USA priest and Canonist) discuss the difference between run-of-the-mill pride and full-blown narcissism, how both respond (or don’t respond) to Orthopraxis, and the way narcissism poisons the soul and the community. They also call for the Church to be more intentional in keeping narcissists out of seminary and the priesthood, and discuss how we can and should protect ourselves and one another from giving in to the temptation of both pride and narcissism.

How to Get Competent Musical Leaders (Benedict Sheehan)

Addressing the Crisis:  Part II of the Musical Culture in Crisis series.
Benedict Sheehan, The Music Stand (Ancient Faith Blogs)
06 January 2016

Orthodox church music in America is collapsing. What can we do? The first step is simply to recognize that a collapse is taking place. However, before I propose any concrete solutions, let me enumerate some of the more obvious remedies that I think do not work.

1. We can’t continue to lower our musical standards

Humans have a remarkable capacity to inure themselves to almost anything. When faced with bad church singing, and being uncertain of what to do to address it, it’s only natural for us to accept reality and lower our expectations. This process has been going on for a long time in many, many churches. However, confronted as we are now with declining church membership across jurisdictions, and a very real need to either grow or perish, we then have to face the almost impossible challenge of attracting outsiders to a liturgical experience that no reasonable person of good taste would take seriously. This problem does not only affect “old guard” parishes, but it touches missions and missionary dioceses as well, who either receive their standards of musical culture from the old guard, or, what is much more difficult, must attempt to establish a musical practice of their own from scratch without clear models or leadership. The basic problem is that bad singing is a sign of an unhealthy parish, and it will necessarily stunt its growth. If our strategy for coping with mediocre church music is just to accept it as normal, we will almost certainly lose in the end.

2. “Simpler” music doesn’t solve anything

Often I hear people say, “We just need simpler music! Enough with the fancy stuff, let’s get back to basics!” While it is always prudent to tailor your repertoire to match your ensemble’s capabilities—in fact, I strongly advocate it—it’s wrong to assume that doing so will solve fundamental musical problems. A choir that sings out of tune in 8-part music will continue to sing out of tune in unison. In fact, unison singing often makes defects in tuning more noticeable (a fact which may account for why some people think they don’t like unison chant). Orthodox choirs, at least within the historically Slavic churches, are required to sing a cappella, which is a significantly more difficult task than singing with instrumental accompaniment. This means that there is a fairly high level of musicianship demanded of singers in order to sing even the most basic repertoire beautifully and accurately, and, more important (and elusive), in a way that inspires someone to pray.

3. “Congregational singing” won’t solve anything either

There is probably no single theme I hear more often repeated in response to my concerns about church music than, “if we just went to congregational singing, everything would be fine,” or something along those lines. Without wading too deeply into what is a complex —and sometimes heated—topic, let me point out two basic difficulties in this line of thinking.

First, there is the fact that “congregational singing” is an inherently ambiguous term. What does the congregation sing? If the answer is “everything,” then how do we manage services like Vespers or Matins that are primarily made up of changeable hymnography? Perhaps the answer is to supply everyone with service books or packets that include everything needed for a given day. Well and good, but be prepared for the host of practical challenges that necessarily accompany an effort of that kind, and in particular the need for someone competent to take the lead in assembling singable music in a usable form. If the answer is “some things,” then how to establish order? And in that case, you still need a choir or a chanter that knows what they’re doing.

Next, there is the problem of the congregation learning hymnography in the first place, and, though it may seem quite mundane, the practical problem of starting the singing in the services. Both of these things require capable leadership: one to know the hymns and have the ability to teach others to sing them (assuming they come to rehearsals); the other, the vocal strength and musical skill to start each hymn on the right pitch, in the right mode, and to carry dozens of other singers along with you who will inevitably be dragging half a beat behind. While this is not an impossible scenario, it hardly seems like a simple one, or one with a high chance of rendering satisfactory results. And it requires capable leadership, the lack of which is the whole point of this article. Of course, it may be that a congregation already knows a large body of liturgical repertoire and has been singing it for generations, in which case both aspects of the problem are somewhat mitigated. However, it is precisely these kinds of vibrant traditions that are suffering today from the demographic declines in many churches, as well as from the overall loss of musical culture I mentioned in my previous post. Cultures like this have to be energetically maintained, and that has not been happening in most places for more than a generation.

So let’s ask the question again, what can we do? How can we start producing leaders who will help rebuild an Orthodox musical culture in America? It takes years of training, often including college and even graduate school, to become a truly competent church choir director or head chanter, and in many ways the technical challenges set by even the most basic Orthodox repertoire and liturgical structure are more intense than those encountered by the average music director at a Protestant or Catholic church. We also demand a LOT more hours out of our musicians. One simple answer for what to do, then, is create jobs. If there are real jobs out there for church musicians, then young people will train and study to prepare for them. Here are three concrete ideas for how we might create jobs for church musicians:

1. Have churches work together

No professional in America today—and trained musicians are professionals—would reasonably be expected to offer his or her services for less than $40-50K per year. (Many Protestant and Catholic churches in fact pay significantly more than this.) Now obviously, this is a significant investment for a church, especially one that’s struggling to pay even its priest a living wage. A possible solution, then, is to have a group of, say, four parishes band together and share the investment in a full-time music director. Perhaps one of the parishes—the best established of the four—could invest a little more, and act as home-base for the director, who would then over the course of each month travel around and work in each of the other three churches. As a full-time professional, his or her job description would include teaching musicians in each church, and helping them organize their music programs, so that the standard of singing in all four would gradually rise over time.

2. Establish full-time positions at the diocesan level

Throughout the Orthodox world, the bishop’s cathedral has historically served to set a liturgical standard for the rest of the diocese. Major cathedrals tended to staff their choirs with excellent singers (the Agia Sophia in Justinian’s time had 25 full-time singers on their payroll), and to employ directors who acted as musical leaders for the diocese as a whole. Such does not appear to be the norm in America today. Many of our cathedrals now have little more in terms of musical resources—and sometimes significantly less—than an average parish. One way to remedy this would be for dioceses to rally their resources and hire full-time diocesan music directors. These directors would be tasked with assembling a sufficient core of singers to maintain a high musical standard in all services at the cathedral. They could even, if necessary, travel with the bishop on his visits to other parishes, thus helping to ensure an appropriate level of liturgical beauty and solemnity wherever the bishop was present. In addition to leading music in services, the diocesan music director could also help provide liturgical and educational resources for the other churches in the diocese.

3. Take music education for children seriously

Music education in American public schools is weakening today, no question. However, we in the Orthodox Church should see this as an opportunity rather than a handicap. There are still lots of parents out there who want their kids to learn music—every Orthodox parent should want this—and we can help supply this market. Many private after-school music programs, both choral and instrumental, are flourishing right now because schools have dropped the ball. Orthodox churches, either individually or as a group, could undertake to create music programs for children that, in addition to offering employment for perhaps as many as several full-time employees, would have the added benefit of providing badly-needed musical education to our own children.

All of these are only ideas, and maybe none of them will work in some situations. However, it is absolutely crucial that we as Orthodox Christians in America start coming up with creative and practical solutions to our current musical problems. We have to do something. Given the trajectory of liturgical music in America over the last twenty-five years, I fear that, without a serious collective effort to reverse the trend, another twenty-five will take us to a point of no return. However, we can take a little a comfort in this: if musical standards are languishing at your church, you’re not alone.

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Part One of this article is here.