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.
I ran across this quote recently and really found it insightful and I believe it may speak to us as Christians on a much more profound level – in the sense that we may be tempted to capitulate to “pop culture” and in so doing use music, books, and food to sell our faith. OR, worse yet, turn our Christianity literally into “pop culture” and abandon the more apropos (IMHO) “high” and “folk” culture.
Pop culture is the attempt to turn cultural artifacts—music, books, food—into commodities to sell and consume. Whereas high culture turns such things into works of art and whereas folk culture uses them to transmit traditional values, pop culture is interested primarily in selling them to a mass audience. This means that they must appeal to the lowest common denominator. They typically avoid being very demanding—which might exclude some consumers—preferring instead to offer "pure entertainment," often titillating the reader with sensationalism and the familiar "sex and violence." These works tend to follow an easily reproducible formula that has been found to attract customers.
Gene Veith, World Magazine, January 25, 2003
Now, you may – perhaps….umm hopefully – subtract the sex and violence aspect and still see the means by which we market the church. And whether we admit it or not, we are ALL marketing the Church…even us Orthodox – albeit without doing much in the realm of changing practices and such. But this topic is of lesser interest to me than what I was to discover below.
Having no idea who Gene Veith is, I did a web search to see if I could find any information about him. In so doing I found this article by him:
Postmodern Times, which although a little out of touch with the newest expressions of postmodern christianity that I have seen, is still an intriguing piece and has gotten me thinking.
I am currently working on a rather lengthy post, which may appear in parts. A working title:
Where the West is headed now, and how the Eastern Church might play a role
Cliff cites a news article in which a couple of boys made use of some grisly knowledge obtained from a television program in order to try and hide the fact that they had murdered their mother. Being the Philosophy grad student that he is, Cliff also cites Plato who reminds us that while educating our society we ought to refrain from using sources that “provide a means for the imitation of vice.” What ensued was a discussion on whether there can be made a distinction between popular culture and education – was their such in Plato’s time (and if so to what extent did he have that in mind in his writing on this topic) and is there a distinction made in our time?
About once a week it seems we hear the sorry tale of some kid getting maimed or killed while trying to duplicate a stunt seen on television (typically fingered for blame is a program named after a donkey on my very favorite “music” network – please note sarcasm). We are amazed when family members of the failed stuntmen then sue the network which throws up its hands and says: “Hey we warned you not try it at home!!!” And then we further ask in amazement: “How stupid do you have to be to try such a reckless stunt?” Now I agree, you’d have to be a pretty dumb “jackass” to try such stunts, but lets face it, there are a lot of dumb people in the world. Just look at history and see how people have time and time again been duped into doing some incredibly stupid and often downright evil things. If someone would like examples feel free to email me...I'm sure I can provide some very personal ones.
Can we hold a network responsible for the deaths of stupid kids? Probably not legally, but I would argue until I am red in the face that they bear some moral responsibility. I have often heard it said that it is up to parents to police their children and NOT society, but I can only agree with the first half of that sentence: of course parents should police their children…but alas, not all parents do. My kids will have to grown up and live in a world full of such kids who have had no significant parental supervision. At some point and time we, as a society, will have to bear the burden of such people.
The fact of the matter is, most people (perhaps ALL people) will spend more time watching television than they ever will inside a classroom. I cannot address the issue as to whether or not Plato might have intended to expand his counsel on the subject at hand to the realm of popular culture, but I don’t think we can escape the fact that American television programs and commercials do in fact educate the masses – and furthermore would have thoroughly humbled the propaganda machine of the Third Reich.
What are they propagating? Hedonism…plain and simple hedonism. And it seems to me that as people (not just kids) are watching and listening - they are learning. As I mentioned on Cliff's blog, I am beginning to doubt whether the average person can discern a difference between a philosophy lecture and a Bud-Lite commercial.
...they aren't really recognized or appreciated until well after they die.
Patriarch John Chrysostom of Constantinople often found himself in hot water with the wealthy "powers-that-be" of the Eastern Roman Empire (aka Byzantine Empire). St. John issued many reforms and changes in the ministry of the Patriarchate which challenged the aristocracy of Constantinople and he preached many sermons that unabashedly attacked the abuses of the wealthy and privileged of society - including the many morally lax clergy. While he made many enemies amongst the elite (including the Empress Eudoxia), he very quickly became a "man of the people" and was much beloved by the Church at large.
St. John was exiled once, but returned after a huge public outcry and a powerful earthquake convinced the Empress that it might have been a mistake. But alas, St. John would not give up his seemingly prophetic call and eventually he was exiled one last time. He died while in a state of exile in 407AD. But the story doesn't end here.
Thirty years later, we'd see the Empress Eudoxia's son Theodosius II, the new Emperor, publically repenting of his mother's treatment of St. John and ordering that the Patriarch's relics be returned to Constantinople where the Emperor himself would tearfully venerate the great Patriarch. Today, we remember St. John Chrysostom and his triumphant return to Constantinople. He is arguably the most well known and beloved saint of the Eastern Church. Each Sunday we celebrate the liturgy which bears his name and it is his sermon you will hear each and every Pascha in each and every Orthodox Church throughout the world.
Troparion Grace like a flame shining forth from thy mouth has illumined the universe,
and disclosed to the world treasures of poverty and shown us the height of humility.
And as by thine own words thou teachest us, Father John Chrysostom,
so intercede with the Word, Christ our God, to save our souls.
Kontakion The Church rejoices at the recovery of thy holy relics.
She kept them hidden, like most precious gold,
and by thine intercessions she unceasingly grants healing to those
who praise thee, O John Chrysostom.
Hey! Right on! The Baptists have done their math and have got it all figured out. Apparently there are roughly a total of 10,000 christians in Moscow!
And these guys have the AUDACITY to wonder why Russians look at their incoming missionaries with suspicion and even seek legal protection from the state to prevent them from coming or at least inhibiting their efforts to convert "non-christian" Orthodox Christians? Figure it out you brainiacs!
God forgive me, but I do hope their mission fails.Given their attitude, the people would be better off remaining as "pagans".
Once in awhile I'll be nonchalantly reading something of little importance, and a part of it will suddenly stand out to me as being amazingly profound. Such is the case for a small article in a newspaper left in the breakroom of our work yesterday.
The article was about the apparent falling ratings of a program on MTV called The Osbournes, which as I understand it, is a sort of "reality"series which follows what must be the astounding everyday life of a worn out heavy metal rock star and his family. I've not had the pleasure of seeing it myself...but I digress, I don't mean to post about Ozzy. What is interesting is a little statement made by MTV executives which in essence reveals the secret of their network's success:
...MTV's business model relies on quick sensations that burn out fast.
Hmmmm...I wonder if the creators of any of the programs ever on MTV were aware of this plan? But seriously, I really believe that this "business model" says volumes about our culture today. It seems to me that people - especially young people - have a life strategy that relies on quick sensations that burn out fast. And then it's on to the next sensation. We even have a tendendy to succumb to such things in our Christian life, whether it be our seeking out the latest fads in church-life or the building of an entire spirituality around "sensations."
In our reading this morning I came accross this interesting quote in Met. ANTHONY's book Beginning to Pray:
And when Christ says 'those who love me will keep my commandments' He does not say that 'if you love me you will go from one emotion into another, one state of rapture into another, one theological vision to another,' He just says 'If you believe my words, then live up to what you have received.'
Met. ANTHONY's point in this section of the book was that we should pray no matter how we feel about it. The last thing that the Christian life is is a series of quick sensations that burn out fast. There is no such thing as "MTV christianity", because christianity is about commitment, selflessness, devotion, carry one's cross, suffering, and struggle. It is hard work and Christ Himself makes it very clear what is required of anyone who would come after Him: Deny yourself. Not at all something you'd likely hear from MTV...or our culture in general.
It kinda makes me wonder: is there a complimentary relationship between quality and longevity?
Wow...pretty intense. Not exactly something I'd put up at our family Icon corner, but it is a very graphic (no pun intended) reminder of the horror of abortion. For an explanation of all that is depicted in this recently written Icon, click it above. Included on the linked page is the Orthodox prayer for the victims of abortion.
I can remember back in my evangelical days that I'd occasionally run across one of those believers who are sick of other christians and the "church" in general. They proudly proclaim that they've no need to go to church and are perfectly able to worship God anywhere they wish and in their own way. I'd toss out the little proof text from St. Paul (I think?) about not forsaking the gathering together of the brethren...or whatever it was. But beyond that, I had little else to say: it just seemed like God thought it was important according to the Bible. Couldn't really say why - except for some ultra-utilitarian ideas.
There's always more than meets the eye.
Karl presents, in his most recent post, some intriguing thoughts along these lines and Clifton's Revolutions still have him navigating the question of Church as well. And the matter in general continues to inspire Orthodox bloggers around the web, as Huw takes his turn to run with the ball. I really have nothing much else to add to what Karl, Clif, and Huw are saying, excpet to further emphasize the importance of the question at hand.
Church matters in a paramount way, and how we view the Church is as important as how we view the person of Jesus Christ. As Karl notes, the church made it into the creed, which ought to tell us something of its perceived importance to the ancients. You cannot be a Christian and shun the Church as a sort of non-issue. And in turn, if we see the Church as nothing more than a utilitarian institution we even further miss the crux of the matter. It seems to me that if you over-materialize or over-spiritualize the church, you dismiss the church.
Look to the Incarnation...the answer lies therein, in my humble opinion. As Clif has demonstrated before, the question: "What is the Church?" must neccesarily lead to "Where is the Church?"
All of my Christian life, I have been taught that to be "born again" meant simply that you "accepted Jesus into your heart" - a phrase which is curiously absent from the New Testament - and yet much used by those who stake all of their religion on what is and generally only what is in said writings. Being "born again" for the Orthodox is to be born of water (baptism) and the Spirit (chrismation). Interestingly enough we regularly baptize and chrismate infants, who I suspect alone are able to say that it was none of their doing - it is wholly the work of God, as our Lord taught.
Fr. Thomas Hopko relates an intriguing and somewhat humorous story concerning the Martyrdom of a Saint Christina (3-4th century I believe) who was after numerous tortures finally drowned. According to the story as she was being drowned, the people there present witnessed a miraculous vision in which the Saint was seen being held in the arms of Jesus. As she was going under the water the people heard Jesus saying: "The servant of God, Christina, is baptized in the name of the Father, ME, and the Holy Spirit."
A personally resonating quote from a very popular source these days
From my newly aquired Anglo-Catholic blog friend Jeff I find these words:
'Trends' in the Church are ...serious, especially to those accustomed to find in it a solace and a 'pax' in times of temporal trouble, and not just another arena of strife and change. --J.R.R. Tolkien
As much as I like this quote, I'd say there are much more serious problems with "trends" in Christianity rather than it just making us traditionalists feel uncomfortable. Tradition (paradosis) has been so maligned in these last few decades (perhaps centuries?), and it is really quite unfortunate because let's face it, the material with which our religion was built is Tradition. Many christians are so anti-tradition that they actually try and use the New Testament to deride it...to the point that they are even willing to deliberately mistranslate the namesake of my blog when the NT speaks favorably of the term.
What, of my christian faith, will I hand down to my children and how will I do that? Will I simply fill them with head knowledge of Christ and hopefully some semblance of an example of how we should behave as christians (God help them if I rely too much on that!)? Or will I, like the ancient Church, pass on to them a living Tradition: A cornucopia-esque body of beliefs and practices that communicate an encompassing truth? Let me elaborate:
The Litrugy, the Holy Mysteries, the Prayers, the Life of the Saints, the Holy Scritpures, the writings of the Fathers and Mothers, the Councils, and the Creed do not make up the body of Tradition because somebody at some point in history thought them "cool." Rather they are landmarks left by the Fathers. (Proverbs 22:28) And this is the Body of Tradition I will hand down to my children.
As we look derisively at the "unenlightened" traditions of the past, we feel free to begin to make changes. We teach our children that change is good and that all that really matters is that we maintain the essentials. (By the way, how do we decide what is "essential"?) We make small changes, our children make their own changes, and their children in turn make their changes. Before long, things are looking pretty radically different. But, thats okay, right? The real question is: has what had been deemed essential been altered? Uh-oh! Perhaps what we considered essential changed? Are we on the road to Nilhism?
If we ignore landmarks from the Fathers, what can we expect our children to do with any landmarks we attempt to leave them? Each generation is left to figure it out on their own. Some have already abandoned the New Testament, some question the miracles, some reject the sacraments, some turn christianity into a social philosophy or worse yet a politic, some hold christianity up as one truth amongst many, some feel the freedom to pick and chose from the Scriptures, some believe that Jesus died to make us healthy and wealthy, and who are we to tell them that they are wrong? How can we tell them that they are wrong? Except to say that they have walked away from the ancient landmarks left by the Fathers. Landmarks that are neccesary, I think, to truly tell us what Christianity is. And It's not a dead historical issue waiting to be rediscovered...it is alive. It must be, no?
I worry about our society whose hindsight is rarely used and when it is, is nothing but arrogance. You can see it in how we treat our elders...they are a burden to us and we leave them in our trailblazing dust on the way to collectively bow before the god of newness. New new new....forget the old. It is progress for the sake of progress...not unlike the Titanic, such blind arrogance will founder. I think we are beginning to see such in the moral decay around us. Why is it that we christians are so quick to condemn the material cult of newness, but cannot seem to bring ourselves to critically see the same in our own spirituality? What has become of our landmarks?
The tyranny of the newest, be it toys, gadgets, and trends...what is the difference? I'm with Tolkien, let the world run with them - like scissors - but the Church has no need of such things.
Essential to the Christian life, and essential to marriage.
From the Marriage class tonight we are reminded of an amazing 7th century saint named Dorotheos who in offering advice about the Christian life recommends the title to this post. As a want, deisre, or presumed need crosses our mind, take that opportunity to simply deny it - no matter how insignificant or unsinful the object of desire may be. Consider it ascetic weight lifting.
Monasticism: America's Forlorn hope? Last saturday we had the pleasure of spending some time with a young Monk named Kyrill from The Monastery of St. John of San Francisco. The monastic life has always been intriguing to me, even in those times when my christianity was a slave to secular utilitarianism and I believed monasticism to be a waste of time. Now days, I am virtually enamoured by these men and women who have followed St. Anthony in fully rejecting the evils of our culture.
Fr. Thomas Hopko said (my paraphrase) that in Russia, what the atheistic soviet death camps failed to do, McDonald's and the floppy Disc may yet accomplish - which is the death of the human soul. As we Americans continue to strive to make the world like America, we need to stop and ask ourselves if the product we are peddling is really all that great. If freedom, democracy, and evangelical protestantism make for such a great society, how do we explain our culture today? How do we explain the most popular TV shows? How do we explain the sometimes unfathomable moral laxity? How do we explain the Top 40? How do we explain Hollywood? How do we explain Enron? How do we explain Abortion? How do we explain the rampant commercialism?
I like to tell me eldest daughter (who has of late become quite a fan of Star Wars) that our Monks are like Jedi Knights. Wielding their chotki instead of a light saber, they fight evil through prayer and self-denial. Besides all the other good they do, they also serve to remind us of what is truly important in this world...by the very fact that they have stepped away from the world and yet live. Indeed, I believe they live more abundantly than we can imagine.
There are not enough Orthodox monasteries here in the US and I believe that it is unhealthy for the Church. America desperately needs to see THIS alternative lifestyle (as opposed to the one's more prominantly displayed on TV). Fr. Kyrill tells us that they are forced to turn away many many people who yearn for the monastic life simply because they do not have room for them...not now at least. There is great hope for establishing a new and potentially large monastery right here in the Northwest and I could not be more excited about it. As I look around this world, I can think of nothing we could use more than a bigger dose of a literal acceptance of Christ's commands in regards to the world. Indeed it was the words of Christ which lead our father St. Anthony (whose feastday it is today...MANY YEARS to my godson Jared-Anthony) to go into the desert.
If you build it, I believe they will come...in droves. As young people begin more and more (through the prayers of our Holy Fathers and Mothers) to realize the absurdity of our hectic lives, they will seek peace in something radical, something real, and something exceptionally Holy. The extent to which this hope is forlorn, I suppose is simply up to us and the rest of America...having seen too much TV lately - I'm not holding out too much hope.
Troparion Thou didst follow the ways of zealous Elijah, and the straight path of the Baptist, O Father Anthony.
Thou didst become a desert dweller
and support the world by thy prayers.
Intercede with Christ our God that our souls may be saved.
Kontakion Thou didst abandon the world's tumult and live in silence, and emulate the Baptist, O Anthony.
Wherefore we acclaim thee with him,
thou summit of the Fathers.
Many of my friends will appreciate the following article from the Seattle Times on what is popularly called the "emerging church."
I honor and appreciate all sincere seekers, but obviously I have made a conscious decision to not be in the "emerging church" movement but on the contrary have joined myself to one of those old "traditional" churches mentioned in the article...you know, the kind that "lack flexibility and openness to new styles." And furthermore, not just "one of those" old traditional churches, but what is arguably the oldest and the most traditional. As such I feel compelled to point out a couple of stumbling blocks I run into while reading what is written and/or quoted in the article and thereby perhaps explain why I (who am still barely in the prime demographic for "emerging churches") am not on that particular bandwagon.
I will only briefly at this point address the problem I see in catering to culture. I think that having as a foundation the need to adapt and change in order to better be accepted by popular culture is a dangerous precedence. I think caution is advised, lest we end up amidst extreme relativism as sadly can be found in many mainline denominations today.
from the article:
Often these churches are relatively small, dedicated to fostering personal relationships among members and not setting the pastor above the members...'Ultimately,' Ward says, 'emerging churches are about asking: What was it that caused the church to grow in the early days? I think it was the authenticity of the way of life. It wasn't an institution at all then. It was people following in the path of Jesus' way of life.
Sadly this demonstrates a profound, albeit common, misrepresentation of history. The conception of the church being just a group of regular people who hung out together with little structure and no authoritative leadership flies in the face of many of those ununderlined verses in the New Testament. Furthermore, it shows a complete lack of knowledge of the writings of the earliest post-NT texts which clearly demonstrate an early church which was well organized and very much hierarchal. I once mentioned to a friend that I had some serious historical problems with quite a few of Wolfgang's Simson's (a fairly popular author amongst those in the "emerging church") 15 Theses and they asked for details - I have uploaded that rather lengthy response: here and it addresses in detail some of the problems with these popular perceptions of the early church.
also from the article:
'Everything the church has is in the treasure chest that we can use,' Ward says.
Am I the only person who hears this comment and finds it reminiscent of the attitude of Jurassic Park scientists? Let me elaborate: is there an inherent arrogance in standing above said 2000 year old "treasure chest" picking through it and saying in essence: "Well, we are going to do it right this time...we're not going to make their mistakes, but none-the-less I need this chalice, and this icon, and I'll try this prayer rope....ooooh this copy of the Philokalia is kinda cool!"
Let me urge, and I mean REALLY urge caution. It is generally perceived by the medical community as a very bad idea for doctors to self-diagnose and prescribe treatment, and the reasoning for this is not at all dissimilar to the reasoning why in Orthodoxy we have the much forgotten concep of obedience. You see as an Orthodox Christian I do not diagnose myself and neither do I prescribe treatment...instead, relying on the fullness of the Tradition (as opposed to buffet style picking and chosing) I seek the guidance of my Father-Confessor whose job it is to guide me into the Orthodox Way.
Pulling random items out of the "treasure chest" can be literally dangerous. Time and time again the Fathers warn us about reading certain writings or doing certain ascetic practices without having them given to us under the obedience of a Father-Confessor. Spiritual pride and deception seems to be the biggest problem mentioned by the Fathers when "going it alone", but another issue in this peculiar modern case revolves around the tearing of certain practices away from the fabric of their being and how that could very well be problematic. The many practices of the ancient Orthodox faith did not develope independently of the rest of Tradition, but rather evolved naturally and continues to be nurtured by all the other Orthodox practices and most especially Orthodox theology. Tinkering around, non-chalantly in the Church's "treasure chest" seems to me to be a most unsober thing to do. Perhaps, on further thought, it's really not all that different from protestant Biblical interpretation - which is itself arguably unsober.
I liken both (protestant hermeneutics and tinkering in the "treasure chest") to baking a cake. You can look at a well known (ancient) recipe and follow it exactly and end up with the cake as intended, or you can choose only those ingredients you know you like and hope for the best. I've embraced the whole of Orthodoxy because I know I am a bad cook and cannot rely on my ability to rummage through the "treasure chest" to find what will "work" best for me. The prophet Jeremiah was speaking of me when he said: "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? "
Noting the much out of date info to the left of the screen here, I offer a much needed update: The books I am currently reading, a new Monastery link, some new articles I've found interesting, and some outstanding quotes from the Fathers. Hopefully you'll find them edifying and useful.
Some insights from the marriage seminar last night…
Addressing the issue of what marriage is to begin with is something I’ve done in the past and I’ll not rehash that here and now – suffice to say that if we view it as a legal contract done before God and the state, then we are going to run into problems. From the Orthodox perspective, marriage is a Holy Mystery, which has less to do with companionship, and much more to do with salvation. Marriage, like many things at varying levels, is a path to salvation.
If the husband and wife understand this from the outset, it will hopefully inspire an attitude in which we enter into matrimony knowing that it is a cross to bear. We need to be very aware of the fact that we live in a society in which it seems the primary goal in life is to bear no crosses…to live fully cross-free. If we fall into this lie, then we begin to believe – along with most of the world today - that anytime our marriage feels like a cross, then something is wrong and needs to be fixed. Hence, the foundation of most marital counseling is born - fix it.
In the Orthodox wedding service (as Jeremy and Katherine have no doubt become recently familiar), the bride and the groom take part in a crowning ceremony in which the couple both receive crowns – the crowns of martyrs. In no small way, we ought to see the marriage ceremony as being a literal embracing of the cross we intend to bear.
In our spouses, God blesses us with a person we need in our lives in order to bring us to Theosis. The bad habits and actions of one, is an opportunity for ascetic living to the other and if viewed properly the marriage can and ought to become a wonderful cyclical dance in which the partners are working together even when it appears they are working against one another. Lord knows I give my wife plenty of opportunity to practice asceticism…but hopefully that will become less as I practice my own asceticism and we will both learn to see "bumps in the road" as a means of seizing the Kingdom.
Underlines and Highlights in my leather bound, name imprinted, NIV Student Bible
A popular mantra you’ll hear in Orthodox circles is often rendered thus: “Orthodoxy: all the verses you didn’t underline.” Kinda cute…and also kinda very true!
Digging out my old protestant bible I thumbed through the much highlighted and underlined text to look at some specific passages I have in recent years been made aware of which I suspected would not have made much sense to my old religious world-view. Sure enough…none of them were marked, save one that happened to have a BIG question mark laid beside it. A question I guess I never got answered…at least not until now.
Anyway, a good example is found in St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, here is the verse from chapter 2, I gleefully underlined:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast.
However, the very next verse remains mysteriously unaltered by any writing utensil of mine:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Also, I notice that a good deal of St. James’ epistle remains as the text was originally published and Hebrews contains a few question marks. The “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews is left pristine. The troublesome text of Matthew 23:2 finds itself un-underlined, as does this little gem from earlier in St. Matthew’s Gospel (11:12):
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.
My Orthodox New Testament (a completely new and very literal translation which is available here) renders this verse as: And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of the heavens is being taken by force, and the forceful seize it.
This passage made no sense to me, until now when I have learned that this “violence” has been traditionally understood by the Church as the ascetic struggle necessary to the Christian life. This concept (of ascetic struggle) will lead me to the next car in my train of thought…momentarily and in the next post.
As I thumb through my old Bible…the notes and comments I have pasted throughout the book really testify to how I have changed my faith in recent years. I also come to realize that I have not done ANY underlining or highlighting in any of the Bibles I own since becoming Orthodox…I wonder why that might be? I suspect perhaps the pens with which I used to mark that NIV Student Bible were literal instruments of my personal hermeneutics – in no small way I was selecting those parts of Holy Scripture, which I somehow deemed important, and at the same time neglecting those that didn’t fit well – or at all – into my little box of understanding.
Our Men's Fellowship Group has been reading through Archbishop Anthony Bloom's book Beginning to Pray and we came accross a little story related to us by the Archbishop which is apparently taken from Jewish folklore. I was quite moved by the little story and thought I'd share it word for word as expressed in the book.
Moses finds a shepherd in the desert. He spends the day with the shepherd and helps him milk his ewes, and at the end of the day he sees that the shepherd puts the best milk he has in a wooden bowl, which he places on a flat stone some distance away. So Moses asks him what it is for, and the shepherd replies 'This is God's milk.' Moses is puzzled and asks him what he means. The shepherd says 'I always take the best milk I possess, and I bring it as an offering to God.' Moses, who is far more sophisticated than the shepherd with his niave faith, asks, 'And does God drink it?' 'Yes,' replies the shepherd, 'He does.' Then Moses feels compelled to enlighten the poor shepherd and he explains that God, being pure spirit, does not drink milk. Yet the shepherd is sure that He does, and so they have a short argument, which ends with Moses telling the shepherd to hide behind the bushes to find out whether in fact God does come to drink the milk. Moses then goes out to pray in the desert, The shepherd hides, the night comes, and in the moonlight the shepherd sees a little fox that comes trotting from the desert, looks right, looks left and heads straight towards the milk, which he laps up, and disappears into the desert again. The next morning Moses finds the shepherd quite depressed and downcast. 'What's the matter?' he asks. The shepherd says 'You were right, God is pure spirit and He doesn't want my milk.' Moses is suprised. He says 'You should be happy. You know more about God than you did before.' 'Yes I do,' says the shepherd, 'but the only thing I could do to express my love for Him has been taken away from me.' Moses sees the point. He retires into the desert and prays hard. In the night in a vision, God speaks to him and says, 'Moses, you were wrong. It is true that I am pure spirit. Nevertheless I always accepted with gratitude the milk which the shepherd offered me, as the expression of his love, but since being pure spirit, I do not need the milk, I shared it with this little fox, who is very fond of milk.'
I never really wanted kids...in fact I never really liked them much at all. In my mind, kids were noisy, messy, smelly, selfish, destructive, sleep disturbing, and the ultimate style cramping mechanism. I had no qualms in saying that I wanted nothing to do with children and certainly wanted none of my own. I cannot say in all honesty that my assessment of children was wrong, nor has much really changed in my attitude since then, except that I happen to live with four little children of my own.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I adore my kids and I could not imagine going to back to the freedom of being childless at the expense of not seeing their smiles anymore. But that being said, I struggle as a parent.
As I write, it is almost 1AM and I am up with my two-year-old son who is sick with some sort of stomach flu. He is sound asleep at the moment, but if he maintains his schedule he will start to puke in about 15 minutes and if I am not awake to catch it in a pan, I’ll be scrubbing the carpet or sofa. I’m tired and not looking forward to the soon to come sunrise which will herald my need to head off to the lab. Some days, it seems that nothing goes right and the kids all seem to get sick at once or they refuse to go to sleep at bedtime, or they have a nightmare and put an abrupt end to Mommy and Daddy’s “date night” or “movie night.” All of you out there who have kids can understand I am sure (even if you don’t have four of them under the age of 6.)
The fact of the matter is, I don’t / didn’t like kids because I was / am a self-centered, arrogant, and mean bastard. Much of my confessions to my spiritual father revolve around the handling of my kids: how I lose my temper; how I have so little patience; how I feel put-out by them; how I discipline them in order to appease my anger and NOT so much to correct bad behavior. Many times I find myself regretting how I have handled a particular situation with my kids – realizing that I have not loved them as I love myself…by a long shot. And if I cannot do that, then how can I do so for strangers? Furthermore, I cannot claim to follow the teachings of Christ and His Church and NOT be a damn good father. Which entails being selfless, humble, and kind. Folks, if it ain’t happening at home, you can bet it ain’t gonna happen for real on the streets. In fact, I’ve no business taking my Christianity to the world when I don’t believe I am presenting it properly to my own children.
I am counseled by my priest to see my fatherhood as the fulfilling of a martyric life to which all Christians are called. In one way or another, we (meaning YOU and I as followers of Christ) MUST give up our lives. Having four human beings live with you who are also WHOLLY and I mean WHOLLY dependent on you for their lives – both physically and spiritually is one such path that is most difficult to follow. Too often I take shortcuts to ease the journey…but this is NOT the way of the martyr. The way of the martyr is to give your life as a ransom for many.
Each day I will strive to give my life as a ransom to four…which by today’s family standards is indeed many. My living room is a ripe mission field...like no other and while I bring salvation to them, they bring salvation to me.
Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. I hear Nicholas stirring, I’d better get his pan.
Orthodox Pics from around the world With the conjunction of New Calender Theophany and Old Calender Christmas, it is a fabulous time to find some really great news photos of Orthodox celebrations around the world. Searching under News Photos using the term "Orthodox" at Yahoo News always seems to yield interesting results. The pic above is of Patriarch Pavle, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church and I think he looks really bitchen (yeah baby the 80's!) and I wonder what he'd think of my thinking thus? Another gem is that of Mr. Putin below, crossing himself...a viable symbol of how things have certainly changed in Russia.
I never had a chance to post this in the midst of all the happenings yesterday. It was odd to see the world going on as if it were any other Monday, seemingly oblivious to the important day that it was. Anyway, here is what I wrote yesterday morning before Liturgy.
This morning we are preparing to head off to church for the great Feast of Theophany. Just before we leave we will take down the Nativity Icon from its central location and replace it with the icon of Christ’s Baptism, which is quite similar to the one seen above. Theophany (called Epiphany in the west) essentially means the revealing of God and is the culmination of the Nativity Feast. In fact, Theophany is generally seen as the most important Orthodox Feast, second only to Pascha.
We see God revealed in two important ways through the event of Christ’s Baptism: first we see God revealed as Incarnate, in other words Jesus is publicly revealing who He truly is – both Messiah and Son of God. Which leads us to the second revelation: The Trinity. It is, really, the only account in the New Testament where we see all three persons of the Trinity revealed as being “present” and interacting. An amazing thing indeed and it is reflected in the Theophany Troparion:
When Thou wast baptized in the Jordan, O Lord,
the worship of the Trinity made its appearance.
For the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee
when He called Thee His beloved Son.
And the Spirit in the form of a dove
confirmed the truth of the word.
O Christ our God, Who hast appeared and hast enlightened the world,
glory to Thee!
But in addition to this, I need to make mention of water. A few months ago, shortly after I began recovering from my surgery I went through an intense time of dehydration and I felt what real thirst is like…certainly beyond the sensation of a simple dry throat. I could think of virtually nothing but fresh cold water in massive quantities. It was a difficult time, but I think back on it now and see a valuable lesson – the supreme importance of water. As we know, we are made up mostly of water and if denied food and drink, it will be the lack of drink that will seal your fate LONG before starvation will occur. Physically, yes of course we understand the importance of water…but it is also very important spiritually. I am not sure we ought to even make a distinction between water’s physical and spiritual importance since I have come to believe that the two (body and soul) are not dichotomous, but on the contrary harmonious for us humans. The Mystery of Baptism must never be far from our thoughts when we consider the importance of water.
Water has a great deal of religious significance as can be seen in the Old Testament: the Flood, the crossing of the Red Sea, the rock which sprung forth with water, and the crossing of the Jordan all of which are undersatood as prefigurements of the Mystery of Baptism. Early Judaic Baptisms – such as is evidenced by St. John the Forerunner – were seen as cleaning the soul of defilement in the same sense that water is used to clean dirt from the body…indeed the analogy feels exceptionally right, does it not? But when Jesus entered those waters of the Jordan River to participate in St. John’s Baptism, something new was being ushered in. Instead of the waters purifying Him, He in fact purified the waters and in essence cleared the way for Christian Baptism as the means of "putting on Christ."
from Thephany Matins...
You were baptized in the Jordan, O Savior;
You have sanctified the water.
Accepting a servant's hand upon Your head,
You heal the passions of the world.
Great is the Mystery of your saving providence!
O Lord, and Lover of mankind, Glory to You!
The True Light has appeared, and illumines all;
Christ, who is above all purity, is baptized with us.
He brings santification to the water,
and it becomes a cleansing for our souls.
That which is outward and visible is earthly;
that which is inwardly understood is higher than heaven.
Salvation comes through washing, and the Spirit through water;
By descending into the water, we ascend to God.
Wonderful are your work, O Lord; Glory to You!
If a body of water is close enough, many Orthodox parishes will meet or even perhaps process there, and the priest will bless the waters. I have seen scenes from Russia in which people will actually hop into the icy waters after the blessing...this is Russia in mid-January mind you! Yikes...brave souls. In our humble little Parish we have a large bowl of water which is blessed and the people will take a portion of it home to keep at their Icon Corner. We are encouraged to annoint ourselves, the house, and our family members whenever we like - as well as taking a taste now and then as well.
After Litrugy we will have a little feast and then go enmasse to a series of house blessings, which is another thing we Orthodox usually do in the period following theophany: each of us will have some friends over along with the priest and then have our house blessed. It's quite a neat experience and hopefully this year we will have ours done in a new (to us) home much closer to church.
Clifton continues to wrestle with this question and has posted his newest essay in a series which address the topic in detail...they may be found via his blog linked previously. I am still reading through the latest essay (which is - typical of Clifton's writing - most excellent), but I thought I might post a few thoughts that keep popping into my mind in regards to the question - the one, which I know many of my friends out there are wrestling with to varying degrees. I certainly agree with Clifton, it is a very important question.
Well, everyone has an opinion on the matter as is evidenced by the many, many diverse postings one can find on weblogs and such that specifically address the question. Most of the proposed answers, at least in my admittedly limited experience, proceed from a seemingly mutually agreed upon affirmation, and using as a jumping platform, the basic protestant understanding of the ontology of the Church. From this, the question "What is the Church?" usually devolves into a completely different question which is: "What does the Church do?" OR "How does the Church function?"
Clifton's conclusions on "What is the Church?" (And mine as well) leads us into an entirely different direction AND to the title of his newest essay: "Where is the Church?" Which is a questions that is frankly nonsensical in the protestant paradigm. Typically for the protestant, the Church is a spiritual reality composed of all those who are truly following Christ and are saved by Him. With this in mind, it is no wonder that the Orthodox Church's self understanding can be so rebarbative to them. But in truth, I think our differing ecclesiologies cause us to talk past one another and thereby often cause scandal.
Anyway, I'm not terribly interested in all the different modern opinions about what the Church is, but I am very interested in what the Ancient and Earliest Church's self understanding was/is. And there is no better place to find this than in the writings of St. Ignatios, late 1st/very early 2nd century Bishop of Antioch. St. Ignatios' understanding of the Church is heavily linked with the Eucharist and with the office of the Bishop (which as I am sure you'll agree is quite a different starting place than what is found in evangelical circles today). Of course, St. Ignatios is not alone in this understanding as you'll also find similar themes running through the likes of St. Justin Martyr and St. Irenaios of Lyon to name a couple.
I highly highly recommend The Ecclesiology of St. Ignatios of Antioch by Fr. John S. Romanides. In it he really details what the Early Church thought of itself, which I think is something of supreme importance to note.
The link between the Eucharist and the Church cannot be underplayed, and I think it is not coincidental that typically how a Christian approaches the Eucharist is often comparable to how they also approach the concept of the Church. In other words if we say that Communion is simply a memorial and that the elements are merely empty symbols, then usually we will also say something quite comparable in regards to the Church (i.e. invisible, spiritual, not material). For the Orthodox, the concept of the Eucharist and the Church (as indeed ALL of theology) is intimately tied to the Incarnation - the WORD becoming FLESH. This is the eternal and fleshly and material mystery which we celebrate during this wonderful Feast and indeed which we continue to celebrate each Sunday at the Eucharistic gathering of the Body surrounding her Bishop - almost as if St. Ignatios wrote his epistles yesterday.
a friend just emailed me to tell me about a hip new church in the seattle area having checked it out something occured to him that hadn't to me apparently to be really hip and cool and to avoid all semblance of being "traditional" you need to stop using capitalization well not to outdone ive decided to do the same here but ill do them one up and not use any punctuation either hell i might even start making up words i'm so cool.
crap i promised to try and get away from negativity please make note of my sig below
We interrupt the Glorious Feast of the Nativity according to the Flesh of our Lord, God, and Savior to bring you this special bulletin...
During this Nativity season I have really tried to avoid things that bring out negative emotions, which typically lead me into sin. But, I am afraid I will have to stand up and say something here, though I suspect none of the few people who read this blog are any big fans of what I am about to slam.
Someone I know from work once told me that a great movie to watch is The Omega Code 2. I smiled and said "Hmmmm..." knowing all the while that I had no interest in the protestant end-times nonsense. However, I like this this guy at work and he is a devout Baptist. He and I chat on a semi-regular basis, though I think he has no idea what I mean when I tell him I am Orthodox. Anyway, last night I was relaxing in front of the mind-numbing television set and began my typical channel surfing while pausing on the local religious (oops I'm sorry "having a personal relationship with Jesus") channels and was suprised to see Michael York in some movie on TBN. As it turns out, it was the very movie I was advised to check out by my friend at work...so I lingered, and how I wish I hadn't.
I chimed in right as the Anti-Christ was making his blasphemous proclamation in the newly built Temple in Jerusalem amongst a modest live crowd and a perceived huge world-wide crowd by television. What jumped out to me was that in the crowd richly applauding the anti-christ were all the people (I assume) who missed what is known in evangelical circles as the "Rapture" - in other words all those folks who didn't really know Jesus. And prominantly displayed in that crowd was a man who was obviously dressed as an Eastern Orthodox Bishop. Now don't get me wrong, I don't doubt that an Orthodox Bishop can be deceived - Lord knows that more than one has been declared a heretic by the Church...but I suspect that TBN (who produced the film) had more in mind by including this man (As you'll see later). Of course shortly thereafter we see this "bishop" crossing himself and he does so with a fully open hand, so obviously the film makers didn't do much homework.
Later we get a glimpse at the Anti-Christ's office and I noticed a couple of things: One was a religious vessel prominantly placed on the beast's desk, which I recognized as being a container used by Roman Catholics to hold the Host during Eucharistic Adoration (A practice we Orthodox do not do). And just accross from this I noticed a Byzantine Icon of Christ as well! Hmmmm...all on the desk of the Anti-Christ? And anti-Catholic/Orthodox message? From TBN? Couldn't be! (please note sarcastic tone)
Toward the end, we get another appearance of the Orthodox Bishop who finally rejects Anti-Christ. But being unenlightened, the bishop cannot see him for who he really is and the best that he can offer is to proclaim the Anti-Christ a heretic. Ahhhh...if only the good bishop had read Hal Lindsey....if only he had watched TBN....or read the Left Behind series, he might have know. Indeed, if only the bishop had truly accepted Jesus Christ, he would have recognized the beast. (sigh).
Besides all of this (and I only saw about 20 minutes of this rubbish), it was done with all the quality I have come to expect from TBN movies. Want to know why I am sometimes bitter about my experience in evangelicalism? Watch the ignorance displayed in this movie.
One more rant...I did a little searching on this movie just prior to writing this and was suprised to find numerous christian websites that lamented about how inaccurate the movie was in portraying what is REALLY going to happen in the end and of course they set us straight on the matter. Let me be clear: any protestant blowhard who says they got St. John's Revelation and the End Times all figured out ain't worth the bandwidth they wrote in.
Rubbish Rubbish Rubbish....
Ok, now we leave the world of negativity and return you to the Feast of Christ's Nativity already in progress...