An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
My good friend Jason led me HERE where there is a post regarding fasting. Once again we see the Muslims getting recognition for their time of fasting with no mention at all - indeed no apparent understanding at all - of the fact that Christians have a tradition of fasting that goes back to the VERY beginning, nor that today 200+million Orthodox Christians around the world are in the midst of a fast. Good Night! I mean have the protestants of today ventured so far from the anceint path that they can no longer even see what the original path used to look like? Is the forest which seperates the Orthodox path from theirs so dense so as to prevent them from remembering? I fear it must be so! With Machete in hand they are nobly cutting their own ways through the thick jungle, but we - my Orthodox friends - are traveling the path explored in advance by those who have gone before us - centuries, yea even millennia before us. And fasting is apart of that path. Always has, always will.
The same post on this page says (sadly without any explanation) that cuisine oriented fasting is "less plausible" today than "cunsumption-oritented fasting." Now what the author means to say is that we might consider replacing the traditional food fast with a fast from buying material goods, but what the author fails to see is that the two are not at all unrelated and that the sure path of fasting exists for a very explicit purpose. But out there in the woods, I suspect it is difficult to see the signposts on the path, left by the Fathers and Mothers of the Church. My brief comment to the post:
It seems to me that in our time of plenty that cuisine oriented fasting is particulalry needed...the Fathers and Mothers of the Chruch have always taught that the stomach is the tyrant of desires and that living to please the stomach is the most base of all passionate desires. Subject yourself to the stomach and there is little doubt that you are unable to wrestle yourself free from any number of other sinful passions - including cunsummerism.
A beloved relative of mine has engaged me in a dialogue on Atheism and Christianity...a conversation I would usually not engage in if it were not for the fact that our relationship acts as a trusting foundation upon which we can hopefully build a productive and loving debate. As a former atheist myself, I have spent a good deal of time asking myself why I came to believe in God and I have had to come to grips with the fact that the overall reason has to do with my developing a worldview which simply did not mesh with the one neccesarily ascribed to by atheism. I recall a line from the wonderful movie The Mission in which Jeremy Irons' character says (my paraphrase): "I've no wish to go on living in a world in which might makes right." I couldn't agree more...but I would go even further: I do not believe in a world in which "might makes right." My beloved atheist (who shall remain nameless) would say that I have simply succumbed to my emotions and that my emotional "wants" and "needs" are not indicative of what is real. Here is an excerpt from our conversation....
> I often wish that I could believe in a god, but alas, one
> cannot make oneself believe something when your logical mind cannot
> perceive any evidence to support it.
Recall our conversation in which I asked why we seem to ascribe greater
validity for determining truth to our "logic" as opposed to our feelings,
when in fact they both originate quite naturally from the exact same anatomy (ie
brain). Why do we discount human feelings as so often fallible, but not so with
human logic? What makes one a better deducer of truth over the other and by
what means can you determine this to be the case? I mean really, how COULD
we OBJECTIVELY know the answer to my question? And not knowing the answer
you chose one from.........blind faith.
>The god story has no
> justification and panders to the strong feelings that humans have
> for purpose, life after death, and someone to watch over them (i.e.
> it is most convenient and emotionally attractive).
What if those feelings are right and more reliable than "logic"? What if it
is logic that is deceiving you and in fact these feelings, these yearnings
we all seem to have for purpose are evidence for something greater and
Ah yes my religion is little more than a comforting Linus-esque blanket
making my life tolerable. I used to think the same thing as an Atheist. Now
that I am a Christian (and specifically an Eastern Orthodox one) I am
beginning to see how the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and
where the REAL security blanket is. You see, if what I believe is true,
then I suppose in reality that I am better off here with my "security blanket."
But this blanket continuously calls me to work and work and work on leading a
less and less selfish life, to love my neighbor as myself, to not hoard material
wealth, to be concerned about creation (oops sorry, I mean the environment),
to be concerned about how my government's policies affect the third world, to
go out of my way to help a stranger, to be concerned about the poor and the
hungry, to not steal from my work when I could really use the money, to not cheat
on my wife when the oppurtunity presents itself, to not have aborted one of my beautiful
children in the womb when it seemed economically and emotionally unwise to keep them,
or to not abandon my family when the "seven year itch" arrives,
but rather stick it out and work on my marriage even when it hurts and is
difficult. (And let me say, I am by no means tooting my "morality horn"...I
fail all the time to live up to my own values....all I am saying is that I am
committed to working on becoming more and more like the person of Christ.) A
pretty demanding "security blanket."
Now what in atheism would inspire me to such as these things? What in atheism
would lead me to have kept my children while they grew inside Sue? Had I
been an Atheist would there exist today a Nicholas or Joseph? Probably not...without
my "security blanket" which is so damned demanding of me as a person, I
would have chosen the EASY road of just flushing these little lives down the
drain. Or when Sue really pisses me off and my kids are driving me crazy,
what dogma of Atheism will inspire me to humble myself and work on changing
myself to keep my family intact - as opposed to the EASY road of packing up
and leaving all of my troubles and self-sacrificing responsibilities behind.
And what is there in the Atheistic worldview to call me into fidelity toward
My religion ("security blanket") calls me to travel the hard road...the one
laden with difficulty and trials and critical self-examination; the one that
believes in love as the greeks called it: agape - selfless and
unconditional. But Atheism is the easy road...it is the ever present escape
capsule waiting to give us an excuse to abandon others for ourselves (as
long as we do so discreetly when neccesary). Atheism is the real security
blanket because in the end it says: nothing really matters...nothing. And in
so saying, it follows logically (uh-oh) that: there is no judgement and
everything is permisible. Love is little more than chemistry and whenever
we are inconvenienced... we can simply step away and start a new chemical reaction
elsewhere. Serve yourself at the expense of all others...but do so VERY
wisely so as to at least appear to be a "good guy" for in this way you can
further your cause. Any appearance of kindness is ultimately a ruse to
further the cause of self.
I know we've been down this philosophical road with you before - even
recently - but let me reiterate: if I wanted something that would pander to
my feelings: well in many ways I have chosen incorrectly. There are many
times when being an Atheist sure would make me feel good and make my
life easier. And thus I ask YOU....to what extent has atheism pandered to
your "strong feelings" or brought security (or justification) to you regarding
difficult decisions you may have made in life? With this in mind...in all honesty
can you continue to say without a doubt that your belief in Athiesm is founded
on "pure logic" and involves no "strong feelings"?
more later....comments, emails, and prayers are all coveted
The Nave of the Church is illumined by two sources; the first being some hundred or more candles ignited by worshippers as they enter in and immediately offer their honor and love to the persons represented by the three prominently placed icons of Christ, the Theotokos, and the festal icon for the day. The second source of light is a powerful and definitive beam emanating from a rarely seen November sun. The tightly gathered beam, of some three square feet, clearly enunciates the vast amounts of incense smoke, which permeates the room. As people file in and the clergy dance their liturgical dance I can see their bodies passing through the smoke – both absorbing it and sending it swirling in all directions. I take a deep breath through my nose and notice that I can hardly smell the sweet perfume which surrounds me…not now at least, but when I arrive home later it will have followed me in my clothes and hair as well as my children's. I adore restful sunday afternoons smelling our prayers on my kids.
As the dance continues, I notice that the beam of light doesn’t seem to be moving much, which is rather surprising to me. And it reminded me of the timelessness of the Divine Liturgy and that in a real sense when we enter into the Liturgy when are manifesting the Kingdom which is beyond time. The swirling smoke of the incense seems to move in slow motion, and the small passionless flames of the vigil lamps and candles offer no hint of movement or inconsistency, but rather shine forth a continuous stream of unaltering light, the Icons bring into our presence and remembrance the persons depicted who have long since left time, and the words…yes the words of the Liturgy speak of the past and the future as all being present.
Recall in the Anaphora, the priest says:
Remembering, therefore, this command of the Savior, and all that came to pass for our sake, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand of the Father, and the second, glorious coming…
And yet, how can we remember the second coming if it has not yet occurred? Well, it has occurred when we have stepped out of time.
Furthermore, the appropriate festal Troparions and Kontakions of the church remind us that we are not merely remembering past events, we are in fact experiencing and participating in them! The recent feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos offers a good example…
Troparion Today is the preview of the good will of God,
Of the preaching of the salvation of mankind.
The Virgin appears in the temple of God,
In anticipation proclaiming Christ to all.
Let us rejoice and sing to her:
Rejoice, O Divine Fulfillment
Of the Creator's dispensation!
Kontakion The most pure Temple of the Savior:
The precious Chamber and Virgin;
The sacred Treasure of the glory of God,
Is presented today to the House of the Lord.
She brings with her the grace of the Spirit,
Which the angels of God do praise.
Truly this woman is the abode of Heaven!
You will hear it over and over again in the hymns of the Church: “Today is the day…” or “This is the day…” And even in our great Paschal Hymn:
Christ is Risen from the Dead,
Trampling down death by death,
and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
Strangely, the tombs remain full...and yet, paradoxically, they are empty in the Kingdom which is to come...and yet is within us all.
By the time that the work of the people has wound down, I do notice that the sun has moved along its southern horizon hugging path and the beam of light has found its way into the next window westward. They say that time flies when you are having fun, but maybe in this case it stands still for a period and then suddenly catches up later. All of salvation history lived and experienced in 4 hours of Matins and Liturgy…whew, I’m ready to eat!
Did I mention how much I am missing meat and cheese?
He who dabbles in theology while still in the passions is like one who tries to swim with his clothes on. - Saint John Climacus
I was reminded of this article at our Men's fellowship and managed to find it online. When I first read it - quite awhile ago as I believe this link takes you to a reprint (by the way, the article is on page 6) - I was really floored by it. There is so much truth in St. John's statement (as well as the article) that I hasten to offer any explanation on my own. It reeks of truth and beauty and I've no prerogative to venture into such realms right now.
Everyone, go now and read what Huw-Raphael wrote here. Besides all of his excellent and direct points, Huw-Raphael also made me think about the scandal of particularity found in Orthodox ecclesiology. Hmmmm....parallel truths?
If you feel attracted by someone’s beauty, bring to your mind the thought that under this attractive exterior hides the serpent of hell, ready to slay you, or at least wound you, and say to it: ‘Accursed serpent! It is you who stand here like a thief, seeking to devour me! Vain effort, for God is my helper!’ Then, turning to God, say: ‘Blessed art Thou, my God, Who hath revealed to us our secret enemies and “hath not given us as a prey to their teeth”(Ps. Cxxiv. 6).’ Thereupon take refuge in the wounds of Him, Who was crucified for us, dedicating yourself to them and thinking how much our Lord suffered in His holy flesh, to free you from sin and instill in you a disgust of carnal lusts.
I remind you of one more weapon to repel the seduction of physical beauty, namely: when you fall into it, hasten to sink your mind deep into the thought of what this creature, so attractive to you now, will become after death? Stinking putrefaction filled with worms.
When you are walking somewhere, think at each step that every stride takes you nearer the grave. Seeing birds flying in the air, or rivers with swiftly flowing waters, reflect that your life flies still faster, hastening towards its end.
I heard a radio interview this morning that was once again lamenting contemporary american christianity. Honestly I am not even sure who the guy was (it was some small time local AM Christian Talk radio show), but his words were all too familiar to me (my lame paraphrase): Christianity has just become a handy philosophy for pampering SUV driving middle class republicans. It's time for something new, it's time for a change, the church must become something new in order to affect change...etc etc.
It's always time for something new....always...so they say.
But as the guy went on and on to describe "pampered american christians' lives" today, I found what he was saying to be more and more unfamiliar to me. As I listened, I sat in my chair craving sausage, eggs, and milk...from which I have only been abstaining for less than a week. At the same time I find myself daily struggling with not praying enough and sinning too much. I read about Saints and Martyrs and their heroic struggles with themselves and the devil and I long to see and wrestle for similar victories in my own life. I lust for women, money and STUFF too much and strive to avoid temptations which I so easily succumb to. I note, weep for, and work on my many failings as a husband and father. I stand in the mirror and stare at my own hypocrisy and sometimes I defy it - but always I struggle to be aware of it. I try at every moment to be aware of God...to never forget Him as the Father's so often suggest. In a word, I am learning what it means to try and live an ascetic life and though I am by no means succeeding, I am indeed trying. Am I a "pampered american christian"?
Maybe...well certainly in the same sense that ALL americans (christians or not) are pampered...but man I am telling you my religion does not pamper me. My father, who is an agnostic, tells me that I became a Christian because it "does" something for me...something that makes me feel good. Well, maybe...but keep in mind, for us Orthodox we have no guarentee for eternal life after having prayed the "sinner's prayer." When we enter into the Faith, that is when the real work begins! Let me be frank...Orthodoxy is kicking my ass...like a friggin drill seargant. Everywhere I turn I find things in my life that need improvement. We are not allowed to shrug our shoulders and say "ahhh....everyone sins", for I believe such an attitude is responsible for our evangelical collective forgetting about the saints: "they were miserable sinners just like the rest of us...so what need is there for some serious kick-ass work on improving?"
My priest warned me at my first Confession (again my lame paraphrase): "James, do not listen to people who tell you there is an easier way...there isn't...take the hard path, the steep path, the path fillled with boulders and thistles. Follow the path of the Father's which they have laid out over the centuries...the way of ascesis...self denial...the way of life."
Is this what "pampered american christians" need? A rediscovery of the path of the ascesis? I have come to believe it is most definately what I need. But, if it is what we need, then we cannot say that it is time for something new...instead it is time for something very old.
Bishop Seraphim has posted a remarkable document of Praise to God which was apparently written in a Soviet Death Camp during one of many times of persecution for the Orthodox Church. You can read it HERE. Taking Bishop Seraphim's advice, I am spending some quality time with this...so should you. (IMHO).
Today is one of the seven great feastdays associated with the Theotokos. According to Tradition the Theotokos was brought as a very young child to be raised among the virgins dedicated to the service of the Lord until they were to be betrothed in marriage. Her entrance into the Holy Place would be a time of consecration for she herself would become the "'holy of holies' of God, the living sanctuary, and the temple of the Divine child who was to be born in her."
Mary becomes the proto-type of the Church and of all Christians and we see in this feast the beginning of the New Testament era - the Virgin enters the Temple of God in order to set in motion the great change in which she herself (an indeed ultimately all of us) becomes the Temple of God. The Theotokos will literally and physically fulfill the prophecies in which God will take leave of the Temple and dwell instead in the human person.
The story of Mary's birth and life is related to us in the The Protoevangelium of James which was written down in about 150AD and although not directly authored by my patron St. James (as is claimed by the work itself - a strange but common practice of the time) may have certainly been based on older oral tradition originating from him. The work did not become apart of the canon of Holy Scripture (obviously) but it was widely revered, accepted, and copied in the early Church. And in fact, it was included in more than one early list of authoritive books.
With all of this being the case, a few years ago I began to to realize that the people of the early church had a much different perspective on the Virgin than I did. My view had always been that she was just like me (God forbid!) and that there was nothing special about her - indeed nothing special about any of the "SAINTS." After all, aren't we all Saints? Well, to use a rather base analogy: we might all be NBA players, but we ain't all Micheal Jordan's, are we?
Who am I, with all my protestant american cultural baggage intact, to look back at the ancients and stand in judgement? No...may it never be so...let those who were discipled by the Disciples stand and judge us. Let the living continuity of the original community which today continues to celebrate this blessed feast day stand in judgement of my arrogance and ignorance.
Troparion Today is the preview of the good will of God,
of the preaching of the salvation of mankind.
The Virgin appears in the temple of God,
in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all.
Let us rejoice and sing to her:
Rejoice, 0 Divine Fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation.
Kontakion The most pure Temple of the Saviour,
the precious Chamber and Virgin,
the Sacred Treasure of the Glory of God,
is presented today to the house of the Lord.
She brings with her the grace of the Spirit,
which the angels of God do praise.
Truly this woman is the Abode of Heaven!
from the Video Lecture series Marriage a Pathway to Salvation, by Fr. John Mack:
"...marriage has been sold to us westerners as an institution along utilitarian lines..."
Now think about this for a minute, like I did last night during the class: What exactly is Marriage and why do we enter into the instituion? To what extent are our answers to these questions centered around utilitarian prinicples? Do we find ourselves basically answering that marriage exists to meet our natural human needs? And is there something wrong with this perspective?
What happens when our needs are no longer being met? What happens when the utilitarian principle isn't there anymore? And note also the personal passivity that prevails in people's attitudes in regards to divorce: "my marriage didn't work." I mean, how long are we likely to stay engaged in any utilitarian activity that has apparently lost its utilitarian appeal?
So, if marriage isn't a legal contract granted by the state for the meeting of our needs and witnessed by Pastor Bob, the wedding party, and God...what is it?
Naturally as I metioned in the previous Marriage post a week or so ago, the Orthodox Church upholds marriage as a Holy Mystery of the Church...but in specific detail: marriage is a mystery of the Kingdom of God. It is an entering into eternal life and those who participate in the mystery share also in the union between Christ and His Church. It is Holy, it is sacred, it is salvific, and it is Transformational. It does not exist to satisfy your need for sex or companionship, it exists to heal and save your soul.
Marriage is to married couples, what a cell is to a monastic hermit. It is their path to salvation.
Marriages fail when one or both of the persons in the relationship forgets (or never knew at all) all of this and returns to the mindset that marriage is intended to fulfill personal needs.
AND, consider that all of this throws quite a wrench into our culture's dating habits in which we seek out people who will seemingly meet our marital needs, and though I am not neccesarily advocating it, one might also take a moment to consider why arranged marriages in other cultures are so much more succesful than our American marriages? I am sure all sorts of answers could be posited (oppressed women etc etc) but what about the possibility that the key factor is in actually their underlying understanding of what marriage is to begin with?
And one other thing that struck me during last night's discussion: all of the arguments offered in order to justify "shacking up" or pre-marital sex in general are rendered totally moot by the Orthodox understanding of marriage. Whereas from the utilitarian perspective one is forced to engage the arguments.
For the first time in 12 years I stepped foot into an evangelical protestant church and for the first time in at least as long I attended a Christian concert.
The Lost Dogs played a wonderful concert last night to benefit Cystic Fibrosis Research via an orginization called Andy's Angels Records. Check them out and consider supporting their efforts.
It was an odd experience, but not as odd as it could have been. The Lost Dogs probably don't quite have the same appeal as many other modern Christian bands (most of whom I know anything about) because they have a sort of country/folk influence that no doubt appeals to older farts like me. Not to mention their lyrics have that beloved edge that Terry Taylor so often brings to the music he is associated with and which typically don't mesh well with altar calls (you can also hear the influence Eastern theology has had on Terry). Darn good harmony from these guys - very nice.
Of course, no Christian band can compete with the Free Monks of Greece.
Well, what can I say...
Jesus said: "When you Fast..." not "If you Fast..."
In the Didache we see the first sign of the Church breaking away from the traditional fasting days of Judaism by adopting a weekly Wednesday and Friday pattern - a Tradition we Orthodox continue to uphold, nearly 2000 years later. We also have several longer periods of fasting throughout the year including Lent, The Apostle's Fast, The Dormition Fast, and of course the now begun Nativity Fast.
When I was a protestant, I fasted very rarely and as I recall we typically fasted when we felt it was neccesary - usually because of some important prayer need. If, at the time, I were asked if I were trying to bargain with God by fasting I would of course vehemently deny such a thing. But honestly I cannot recall any reasoning for why I fasted back then except to say that it was biblical.
The Orthodox understanding of fasting is quite different and contains within its practice a very definitive goal and purpose. It is all about growing, challenging, and learning.God can live with or without our fasting, but we on the otherhand cannot.
I offer the following short article as an introduction. During this 40 day period of self examination and self-denial I expect to write much on such matters.
Today is/was my Godfather's nameday who took the name Gregory after the 14th century Saint Gregory Palamas. St. Gregory was known as the defender of Hesychasm. Hesychasts believed that through intensive contemplative prayer, one could come to see the "uncreated light" of God. In his book The Orthodox Church Bishop Ware describes St. Palamas' position as thus:
From this, Gregory [Palamas (1296-1359), Archbishop of Thessalonica] turned to the main problem: how to combine the two affirmations, that man knows God and that God is by nature unknowable. Gregory answered: we know the _energies_ of God, but not His essence. This distinction between God's essence (ousia) and His energies goes back to the Cappadocian Fathers. "We know our God from His energies", wrote Saint Basil, "but we do not claim that we can draw near to His essence." ... But however remote from us in His essence, yet in His energies God has revealed Himself to men. These energies are not something that exists apart from God, not a gift which God confers upon men: they are God Himself in His action and revelation to the world. God exists complete and entire in each of His divine energies. The world, as Gerard Manley Hopkins said, is charged with the grandeur of God; all creation is a gigantic Burning Bush, permeated but not consumed by the ineffable and wondrous fire off God's energies.
It is through these energies that God enters into a direct and Immediate relationship with mankind. In relation to man, the divine energy is in fact nothing else than the grace of God; grace is not just a "gift" of God, not just an object which God bestows on men, but a direct manifestation of the living God Himself, a personal confrontation between creature and Creator. "Grace signifies all the abundance of the divine nature, in so far as it is communicated to men." [V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p 162] When we say that the saints have been transformed... by the grace of God, what we mean is that they have a direct experience of God Himself. They Know God--that is to say, God in His energies, not in His essence.
Though St. Gregory suffered a good deal of persectuion initially, the Church eventually upheld his view.
Troparion of St Gregory of Palamas Light of Orthodoxy, Pillar and Teacher of the Church,
adornment of monks and champion of theologians,
O Gregory, wonderworker, boast of Thessalonica,
preacher of grace, pray that our souls may be saved.
Kevin Rains was touting the goodness of having church in a house and the badness of having it in a specialized building. Now I grant that Kevin is proceeding from a radically different paradigm than us Orthodox, and yet I felt the need to at least try (feeble though my little brain may be) and communicate the Orthodox perspective. It has alot to do with worship, which is a topic recently brought up by Wayne Olson and fits right in with what I have to offer below. Since I have no idea whether Kevin or anyone reading his blog ever ventures over to read my blog, I thought I might tempt being overly repetitive and share here what I wrote over there.
First I offered one of my old posts on the matter: HERE.
And then in reply to Kevin's gracious response, I wrote the following:
Eastern Orthodox theology and experience calls us to bring all the best of our creative beauty into our religion and specifically our worship...we want to see, smell, touch, and even taste our religion and worship - indeed this is, we believe, apart of our human nature to relate intimately with such things. It is how we experience our world and it is thus how we experience our prayer, worship, and God Himself in His energies.
Hence we bring to our community the incense, the Icons, the Chalice, and even the architecture of our building itself. All is intended to express and manifest the most profound beauty known to man - worship of his creator.
Indeed small can be beautiful but so also can be large.
Some say that Art for Art's sake is a wonderful thing, but how much more wonderful is art for God's sake. And I do not feel that I personally am in any position to judge the expense of any project of beauty when I see all of the money I waste on selfish and admittedly ugly things.
If we must tell the architects to put their pens (or CAD’s) down because we believe the resources are better utilized elsewhere, then we ought also to tell the musician to sell his instrument, the poet to put away his pen, the artist to sell his canvas, etc etc. Tell them all who create beauty that their time and money can be better spent helping the poor! If size is the issue then we must ask: How big of a canvas is too big? How long of a poem is too long? How much time “wasted” painting or writing is too much? Who could dare to draw such lines?
But do we really have to do all this? Isn’t there in truth enough money and resources in the world to feed everyone AND allow creative beauty to flourish – even expensive creative beauty as might be found in a magnificent Cathedral that will call to worship generations of believers?
In terms of best “developing” community…first off I’d say that Holy Scripture is fairly clear in that we as the Church are MUCH more than a family. Community from the Eastern perspective exists and is manifested in the sharing of the Body and Blood of the Eucharist and cannot properly be accomplished through sociological techniques such as small group dynamics. To think it can, reduces our gatherings to little more than a social club or AA meeting and ignores or at least downplays the mystical aspect of our mutual union with Christ in the Eucharist, which was so crucial in the opinion of the Fathers and the early church.
Recently I have noticed how my passions play off of one another and I am truly sick of it. As I allow a passion to manifest itself it seems to grow like a cancer. While groveling in the muck of my sin, other situations and occurances arise and I find myself quickly and easily sliding into other passions - entertaining them, welcoming them, embracing them, and loving them. Darkness falls and the passions compound and multiply.
Perhaps this is how it was in the beginning when sin and death first entered into the world?
I will on occassion get a parking ticket, but this does not seem to destine me to getting more of them or to go on breaking even more laws. Furthermore it does not condemn my children to also suffer from parking tickets. Oddly, sin doesn't work like the breaking of laws, does it? No it is more sinister than that and seems to have a sort perverted and twisted "life" of its own. A "life" that is in fact death and it is passed on and does multiply in our hearts.
The Eastern Father's prefer to liken sin to sickness. Now, I work in a virology lab and am seeing more and more how sin is VERY much like a virus. While not technically "alive", a virus mimics life by entering into, pirating the resources of, and ultimately overwhelming that which is truly alive - killing it - and thereby propegating itself.
Sin does the same in us, and many Father's take the analogy further referring to the Church as a Hospital.
Sin is contagious and one strain can quickly mutate into another.
Thank God that Advent is nearly here and we are preparing ourselves to greet the Great Physician who has come into the world to heal us.
From The Oooze I ran across this article and while somewhat interesting there was a general sense in which it disturbed me. It purports to tell us "10 reasons why your church sucks" And one of the reasons is as follows:
your church is old. Your church is filled with old people who have no reason to move ahead. They have more life behind them then they do ahead of them
Hmmm...perhaps I am the only person who has a problem with this? In our culture today, I suspect that precious few of us see some inherent and profound worth in people who have "have more life behind them that they do ahead of them"? Hell I wish there were ALOT more old people in my Parish like a really old Babushka who will no qulams in telling it like it is!
No reason to move ahead? Well maybe in protestant theology this may be true, but in Orthodox theology we are ALWAYS moving ahead. But this is not what O'Keefe means...he's talking about not moving ahead in terms of things that sadly have no choice but to be much less important than what I was talking about.
The way that the elderly are referred to in the article literally sickens me. I mean I am on the verge of tears here thinking about how our culture has rejected our aged people who have so much to offer us and here in this article they are treated and referred to essentially as being irrelevant because they won't ride the wave of popular opinion or preference. I WANT old people in my church....lots of them...I want my children to learn to respect them, to honor them and mostly to listen and learn from them. But O'Keefe seems to see this as a fruitless venture that will profit you nothing....rather we ought to be guzzling our Mountain Dew, doing some extreme sports, using all the latest lingo, and in general keeping up on all the latest fads in order to be relevant. No thanks. Better I spend one hour listening to an old Russian man tell me about his experience in a Communist deathcamp than a lifetime listening to a 20-something babble about how cool the skateboard park is.
Mr. O'Keefe....send your old people down the street to the church with the three-barred cross on top.
Kids, we are buying into our culture wholesale and we think by keeping the church hip we can keep it relevant....but my goodness the problem the Church is SUPPOSED to be addressing has not a damn thing to do with the latest fad, the hottest rage band, or even the newest and coolest technology that our poor and apparently distrusted old people cannot (or will not) keep up with. But I'll tell you what, those old people know alot about stuff that - LET'S FACE IT - really matter! The Church addresses ETERNALLY relevant issues that do not come and go like the sulfurous wind of Fox reality television or heaps of mindless MTV refuse.
Eighth, your church doesn’t share a relevant message for a relevant time. You’re so concerned with doctrine, you are not allowing me to explore the faith and question the unquestionable
And here again is where I further part company with the "post-mod" movement, if indeed this is their general mantra. I've been down this most dangerous road as an Episcopalian and it leads, quite simply, to hell. Denying the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is just around the corner for you folks...why? Because it is not culturally relevant - no one believes in that sort of thing anymore - so let's deny it happened literally and ascribe to it somesort of inner and secret meaning. We are allowing the Faith to be bled by the leeches of the all-mighty and ever-wise culture we live in. I mean come on...why are we giving so much power, importance, and authority to a mass of people who create and happily sustain a social environment in which elephant fecal matter splattered on a canvas is considered art and whose nous are blind to the things of God?
O'Keefe says "your church is out of touch with the 21st century"
YES YES YES...again I say YES!
This is nothing new....read your history. The same accusation has been made time and time again throughout our history and the Holy Martyrs were ultimately willing to lay down their lives rather than sacrifice their beliefs to the god of popular notions.
We ought to be bowing before the elderly and beseeching them: "Father or Mother, please give me a word..."
But no..."Jackass: the movie" is out and THAT is where we can find really important things worthy of the church to mimic in order to be relevant. Geez, my kids would probably prefer me to do many things differently as a father that would be "more relevant" for them, but that doesn't mean it's what's best for them.
"By the power vested in me by the state of ______________ (insert state name here)"
Most every wedding in the United States includes this phrase uttered by the pastor, minister, or public official as he/she introduces the newly married couple. But you will not hear it said at an Orthodox wedding (or at least you shouldn't :) )...because the authority to marry people is NOT vested in anyone by the state...but by the CHURCH! In marriage the Church offers the Holy Mystery of marriage, rather than officiating at a legal ceremony.
Our theology of salvation seems to be reflected in our theology of marriage.
Apparently, in predominantly Orthodox cultures, divorce is virtually unknown. And according to the speaker of a seminar I watched today, this is due in part to a proper understanding of WHAT marriage is. And what marriage is NOT is a legal agreement fostered by the state.
In the end, the state or even society can redefine marriage all they want (such as same sex marriages), but ultimately a proper understanding of marriage limits such authority to the Church and the Church alone.
When I used to be a Pentecostal I can recall that we used to put a great amount of emphasis on coming into and experiencing the "presence of God." Worship services sought and, if we were lucky enough, would often have very special "manifestations" of the Holy Spirit. Overall, feeling God's presence in a somewhat esctatic sense, seemed to be the goal of pentecostal praxis.
But what about all those times when we'd feel like our prayers were "bouncing off the ceiling"? When there are no warm fuzzies or sensations of rapturous bliss?
Our Men's Group which meets every other Saturday morning is currently reading through a fantastic book entitled Beginning to Pray by Archbishop Anthony Bloom who offers a very different take on this perceived absence of God, and it really stuck with me this morning:
...a meeting face to face with God is always a moment of judgement for us. We cannot meet God in prayer or in meditation or in contemplation and not be either saved or condemned. I do not mean this in major terms of eternal damnation or eternal salvation already given and received, but it is always a critical moment, a crisis. 'Crisis' comes from the Greek and means 'judgement'. To meet God face to face in prayer is a critical moment in our lives, and thanks be to Him He does not always present Himself to us when we wish to meet Him, because we might not be able to endure such a meeting. Remember the many passages of Scripture in which we are told how bad it is to find oneself face to face with God, because God is power, God is truth, God is purity. Therefore, the first thought we ought to have when we do not tangibly perceive the Divine presence, is a thought of gratitude.
It almost made me want to convert all over again, but I don't think my priest would let me be Chrismated a second time. Too bad the second part of the article is not available online, but you can order a print copy.
Sometimes we Orthodox experience a cultural clash. I have just been invited to a "Christmas" Party some two weeks before Christmas - smack dab in the midst of our Advent Fast.
Though I do not know what things are like now, as early as 50 years ago, Christmas in Western Europe was "celebrated" quite differently than what had and has evolved here in America. I recall my priest relating a story about the Von Trapp family (of Sound of Music fame) when they had experienced their first Christmas in the USA. Apparently Maria was shocked to hear Christmas Hymnns being played in the local market well before Christmas day had arrived. The reason she was so shocked was because the Christian Tradition is NOT the commercialized, "party-it-up", weeks in advance attitude we seem to have regarding the so called "holiday season."
You always hear people complain about how early the commercial "celebrations" begin and indeed I was amazed to see snow-ridden landscapes and scarf wearing sales models on television ads last night...at a time when I don't think ANYONE in the continental US has any significant snow accumulation yet...do they? Anyway, there is no sign of Advent in our general society...absolutely none and it is tragic. And even more tragic is the fact that in the vast majority of christian sects here in the US there is also no consciousness of Advent. I suppose a period of self-denial does not fly well for sales records.
Maria Von Trapp was amazed at the pre-mature celebration of Christmas during the time that was supposed to be reserved for self-reflection, self-denial, prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and general spiritual preperation - NOT partying. And this was merely 50 years ago! Folks, this is why I know Tradition (paradosis) is SO important, because it is a living moral and theological compass...but we here in the good ole USA have maligned Tradition to the point that now we gleefully hear pretty toe-tapping Christmas muzak at Nordstrom in early November and then bitch and moan about how commercialized Christmas has become all the while not having a clue as to what Advent is.
The great liturgical dance of the Church during Advent is meant to re-live and re-present the historic time in which all the world was/is awaiting the birth of the Savior. The celebration does not end on Christmas day, oh no....that is just the beginning of the celebration. I believe any attempts at de-commercializing Christmas without embracing the historic Christian Tradition of Advent is really quite vain and empty.
As the Muslim time of fasting and prayer begins I am hearing tons of news stories about it. Interestingly enough I even hear Christians talking about how "cool" this Muslim Tradition is. In fact, one article I saw in the paper (sorry can't find it online) called for a "Christian Ramadan" and another in the commentary section of the same paper claimed that the discipline exhibited by Muslims shamed us Christians who "have no set obligatory time for fasting." WHAT!
Have the evangelicals so completely lost track or respect for the Church calender that they have no comprehensive recollection of ADVENT?!? We needn't look to the Muslim faith and lament about what we lack in our own faith because we have never lacked such a thing in our Tradition! It is very likely that the Ramadan fast evolved out of the early contact that Muslims had with Middle Eastern Christians who'd been fasting during this time frame for hundreds of years before Muhammed was even born.
Beginning next week, Orthodox Christians around the world (though some still on the Old Calender will be 13 days later) will once again begin the Nativity Fast which will last for 40 days, culminating in the great Nativity feast on Christmas. So, if you look longingly at Muslim Tradition, why not check out your own "lost" tradition and join us? Like the Muslims, the emphasis is on prayer and fasting...and for the Orthodox it is also a time for practicing general self-discipline and other selfless habits.
The Fast is basically abstaining from meat and dairy products, as well as wine and oil (though wine and oil are usually permitted on weekends) - let me know if you will participate with us.
I finally broke down and purchased the Gladiator DVD. Yes, a shameless waste of resources that could have been spent helping the poor...please pray for me. That said, it is infact a wonderful DVD full of extra features including ALOT of deleted scenes - one of which portrays the martyrdom of Christians during the games. The time frame of the movie is of particular interest as well (the late 2nd century) which would be about the time that our family's patron Saint Irenaios would have been writing and ultimately been martyred himself. I was moved by the scene.
The Orthodox Church does not relegate these martyrs (or any martyrs for that matter) to dusty old history books. Truly we have not forgotten these people, the dance of the ecclesiastical calender brings their many testimonies to our collective memories most everyday. And the stories of their brave sacrifices are not left untold...we keep them alive, we study them, and we daily honor those who endured them.
Silouan has a short but excellent list of mostly ancient works describing the martyrdom of some key saints. Furthermore, as a college assignment I wrote a lengthy paper on the Roman persecutions which can be found HERE.
St.John's Revelation reminds us that the Martyrs are under the Heavenly Altar (mirroring this - every Orthodox Altar contains the relics of a saint) beseeching God on our behalf. Here I sit, hardly able to overcome the most basic of passions, and I dare to wonder if I would subject myself to having my privates burned off, my body soaked in lamp oil and lit on fire, and/or being sewn into a sack with a few wild beasts (to name a few of the torments) rather than simply burn a pinch of incense to Ceasar and chalk it up as not really counting or just meaningless incense.
Well, I dunno, inspiring the thoughts I am having right now perhaps this DVD was not too much of a waste.
For my fellow geeks out there: An old article in which Fr. Dn. Lev Puhalo ponders some strange connections. I should like to talk to Fr. Dn. Lev about The Matrix which is ripe with Orthodox Mystical Theology...in fact I recently watched the film again and was even further amazed at the parellels.
Morpheus says of Neo: "He is learning the difference between knowing the Path and walking the Path."
Oh how I have learned this lesson from Orthodoxy. Intellectual assent is not enough...we need to start moving. And I don't just mean here doing good works because we are saved. Nonsense. What I mean is Salvation itself, because salvation is NOT being made legally right with God...thankfully I am beginning to not even understand what that means anymore. Salvation is Theosis...see below.
There is an interesting dynamic that goes on between Neo and Agent Smith. Over and over again Agent Smith refers to Neo by his real name "Mr. Anderson." And at one point while struggling with the agent in the path of an approaching subway train, Neo protests : "My...name...is...Neo." Later, when the agent finally kills Neo, Smith makes a rather prophetic statement: "Goodbye Mr. Anderson." Yes indeed, Mr. Anderson is gone.
It is quite common for Orthodox Christians, when being received into the Church to take a new (Neo) name. It is symbolic of our participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. We sing, as the newly illumined are processed around the font "As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ Hallelujah." As Christ overcame death and sin (in the same sense that Neo overcame the Matrix), we now are afforded the oppurtunity to overcome by "partaking of the divine nature." This is the process of Theosis also known as deification. Becoming perfect just as He is perfect. It is within our reach because He put it there.
This is another critical difference between Orthodox and Protestant practical theology. In participating in God's life we Orthodox believe that we CAN and should overcome sin. The belief that we cannot is apart of the deception (the Matrix). In and through Christ we fulfill our destiny to be in perfect communion with God, to become fully the IMAGE and the LIKENESS of God. In this sense I see Neo's character as being not only a type of Christ, but also a type of the Church (you and me). The pathway, created by God in the beginning, was obscured and hazed over by sin and darkness, but when Christ assumed full humanity he enlightened and restored to us the Path and now we must begin walking it. We must begin training, working, and struggling to bring light and life into the world using the ascetic tools which the Church, in her 2000 years of experience, has given us.
Kill the Passions! Practice the Virtues! Partake of the Divine Nature! Overcome!
We can do it, really we can.
A member of our Parish developed this chart based on The Ladder of Divine Ascent, a seventh century work by St. John Climacus. I find it particularly useful when taking the advice of Unseen Warfare to kill the passions by practicing their opposing virtues. One will also note, from the chart, that the "father" of the passions is PRIDE and the "father" of virtues is HUMILITY.
Having mentioned St. John Climacus' work, I have changed our icon to The Ladder of Divine Ascent which is of course based on his book.
The Abercrombie & Fitch clad pastor raised his bible into the air with one hand and with the other he points to the pew ridden, wide eyed crowd. He speaks with great confidence, “The Greek in this passage is quite clear…”
The Klaxon alarm begins to shriek…I know for a fact that this guy took as little Greek as I did.