Orthodoxy in America: the app!

A few days ago I downloaded the new Orthodoxy in America app from Orthodox Web Solutions. This free app is a mobile version of the popular Orthodoxy in America website, which is used by many people to find an Orthodox parish. I tested it out on my Moto E smartphone using wifi (I don’t use data unless I am traveling).

According to the app’s description, it “features a church locator for the parishes, monasteries, and seminaries of the Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Additionally, the app aggregates content from major Orthodox news and media providers with the goal of informing, educating, and inspiring.”

I’m not very interested in finding Orthodox content through my phone, so this first impression will be focused on the church location aspect of the app. The screenshots below are covered under fair use.

I am not a programmer. The following remarks are based on my experience as a user.

The start screen (left) is pretty snazzy, but I wasn’t a big fan of the home screen (right). The parish location button was small relative to the other content dominating the screen.

Since this review focuses on the church-finding aspect of this app, I’m not going to make a full comment on the other functions, but here’s a brief overview.

  • Through the News function you can look at articles from various Orthodox websites such as Pemptousia and Pravoslavie.ru.
  • The Social function allows you to see tweets and Facebook posts from Orthodox groups.
  • The Audio and Video functions offer podcasts and videos from Ancient Faith Radio, Orthodox Christian Network, &c.
  • 360 Tours links you to the various virtual tours of parishes developed by Orthodox 360, another project of Orthodox Web Solutions.
  • Finally, the Photos function shows you various photos with hashtags such as #orthodoxarchitecture and #liveorthodoxy.

I clicked on the Locator button and this is what I got:

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I use Japanese on my phone, so there is Japanese on the map.

The screen here looks identical to the desktop version of the Orthodoxy in America page. There is no “locate me” button so I had to manually put my city in the rather small bar at the top. If I was traveling and I didn’t know my exact location I would be in trouble. Here are my results:

The map (there are six states on that map!) was not useful unless I zoomed in. You can filter the listings by jurisdiction (GOA, ROCOR, &c.) and type (parish, monastery, &c.) but you can’t focus the search distance (eg. limiting results to a 15-mile radius). The list of parishes is helpful, but when I click on Detail Map it opens Google Maps within the app instead of letting me open it on my phone’s Google Maps app, making for a clunky user experience. In contrast, the desktop version opens the parish’s map in a new tab.

I hope I don’t come across as too harsh or offend anyone with this review, especially because this is a brand-new app. The people at Orthodox Web Solutions are doing great work in using today’s technology to spread the ancient faith. Orthodoxy in America is a very good-looking app with a great premise. It simply needs to improve certain aspects of its parish-finding function, namely by making an option for automatically locating the user using GPS/WiFi, allowing the user to set a search radius for finding parishes, and a more flexible interaction with Google Maps.

Whether or not you agree with my assessment, the app is completely free so there is no harm in downloading it and trying it out for yourself.

Sts. Peter and Paul

I wish my fellow Orthodox Christians who celebrated today a blessed feast of the holy, glorious, and all-praised leaders of the apostles, Peter and Paul. May our Holy Church be guided and protected through their holy intercessions. I also wish my brother-in-law Peter a happy namesday. Многая лета!

Because of the late Pascha, it was a very short fast, only two weeks. For those who celebrated according to the New Calendar (June 29) it was only two days!

Although I was unable to be at the liturgy because of work obligations, I festively broke my fast with an egg and toast with cheese. It feels like summer is passing very quickly; next week is already the feast of the Royal Martyrs!

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A little more about this blog

My previous blog, Jordanville Journal, was focused on my life as a seminarian at Holy Trinity Seminary. The totality of my existence for five years was focuses at that venerable institution: I lived, worked, at worshipped there. All my physical and spiritual needs were met there. Of course, I went out and had fun—we all did. Most of my time was spent at seminary, though.

Nowadays, I have various roles to fill—husband, office worker, clergyman. My wife and I spend a lot of time on the road between home and church and office. Simply being in the world gives me a lot of source material to think about, so the focus of this blog is a more scatter-shot. Or perhaps it hasn’t found its voice yet.

I want to write a post every day, to see if I could keep up the discipline, and to see if my blog does find that voice. Although in a sense I’m writing more for myself than for others, I hope, dear reader, that you find something interesting or useful here.

Credit card ≠ emergency fund

The other day I read a really bad article on Forbes by Tim Worstall sensationally titled “It’s Simply Not True That Most Americans Don’t Have $1,000 In Emergency Savings.” His basic argument is summed up in this paragraph:

…credit and savings are economically the same thing. They’re both ways of gaining access to emergency funding. That one is not consuming now so as to be able to consume in an emergency, the other not consuming in the future to be able to consume in an emergency makes no difference economically.

It’s very hard to understand Mr. Worstall’s point of view here, but in the real world saving money versus borrowing money for an emergency are two very different things. If I saved $100 a month over ten months I would at least be earning some interest, and foregoing $25 a week is a minor sacrifice. If I had to pay back a $1000 loan over ten months, I would accrue a good deal of interest depending on the source (credit card, payday loans, mafia).

Another reason why saving is preferable to borrowing is that going into debt exposes you to additional volatility by making you depend on your future actions. Imagine, if you will, that you are in a sense three “selves”—a past self, a present self, and a future self. To save money is to forego consumption in the present in order to benefit future!you. To borrow money is to put a burden on future!you in order to be relieved of a present burden.

If you got into an accident and had to save money, you would be depending on past!you. Past!you is a dependable guy. Maybe he made some mistakes, but you generally know what’s up with him. Depending on future!you is risky. Future!you is an unknown. Maybe good things might happen to future!you, maybe bad things. Depending on future!you will expose you to additional risk of harm from volatility, and what is an emergency but one result of volatility? (For further reading, read the works of Nassim Nicholas Taleb.)

Of course, there are some people who manage to game the system and effectively utilize credit cards. The Planet Money episode The Art of Living at the Poverty Line features a woman who takes advantage of zero-interest credit card deals and managed to fund a weekend vacation for herself and her son despite making only $16,000 a year. These people are outliers, and we should not deduce general principles from them. Rather, to say that it’s okay for people to not have an emergency fund because they can borrow is like throwing gasoline onto the fire of debt burning up the earnings of millions of Americans.

La fuerza católica

This is the second part of the “Three Baptisms” series. Click here for Part 1.

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” the priest said as he poured water over my head from a scoop shaped like a seashell. It was the Easter Vigil of 2003, and I had just become a Roman Catholic.

My interest in Catholicism began when I was around fifteen. My earlier, cruder ideological leanings turned into a more nuanced interest in traditionalist conservatism, and through perusing the traditional conservatism webpage I started reading about the Catholic Church. I was also a big fan of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, that “extreme conservative arch-liberal” who was very prolific at least in the earlier decades of the nascent New Right movement in America.

I briefly considered Eastern Orthodoxy, and even called up the local Greek church and left a message, but did not receive a call back. Come to think of it, I might not have left my number. In the end, I embraced Catholicism because it I thought it was more Western, and the sophisticated theological ideas and hierarchal structure were attractive to me.

It took me a while to reach this conclusion, and in fact I wavered in my religious convictions toward the end of my high school years, to the point of considering myself a deist. At heart, however, I was a believer, and by the time I entered college I decided to take the plunge.

At the local parish I enrolled in RCIA classes. RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, is a formal program developed by the Catholic bishops in America to bring in adult converts. Every Sunday I would go to these classes where the catechists would expound on one or the other aspects of their religion. I don’t remember much of it, to be honest, and found it rather lacking in substance. The two things I do remember is one catechist saying that the Church is not the BUILDING, but the PEOPLE, and another catechist denying the Perpetual Virginity of the Mother of God.

I dropped off attending classes but then came back again and decided to enter the Roman Church. Since I considered myself already baptized I expected to be confirmed but the parish secretary requested a baptismal certificate. Since the Protestant church into which I was first baptized did not believe in the sacramental power of baptism, there was no baptismal certificate. I ended up being baptized on the night of Holy Saturday due to a clerical oversight.

After becoming Catholic I became a bit more vocally religious, and started being obnoxious to my secular college friends. I didn’t make any Catholic friends because I hopped around instead of sticking to just one parish. Plus, my interests in Catholic culture, love of reading G. K. Chesterton, and fanatical devotion to the pope did not find much of a response even among Catholics.

I loved the fact that I was in a church with more than a billion people and had such a long and venerable past. Plus, since I have Filipino and Portuguese ancestry, I considered myself to be following the religion of my forefathers. But the actual lived practice of Catholicism in its post-Vatican II form conflicted with my idealized construct of Catholicism. For example, I loved watching the Christmas Midnight Mass at the Vatican and listening to the beautiful Gregorian chant, but when I went to church, this is what I got:

It was at this point that I started becoming interested in Eastern forms of worship and liturgy. My only interaction with the Orthodox had been with them as intellectual opponents online. I perceived them to be stubborn in not realizing that there was no serious difference between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Why not just submit to the Pope? I did like their music, however, and started listening to Ancient Faith Radio.

In January 2007, I visited a small Ukrainian Catholic parish, St. Sophia’s. It was made up of only one family plus a few visitors, and worship was held in a tiny chapel attached to a Catholic school. I do not think the parish exists anymore. I thought the liturgy there very beautiful, though rather simply sung. Nobody had music, and the congregation just kind of sang whatever melody they knew. That made me wonder what the proper way to do things was. To investigate, I decided to visit the Greek church.