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'm not a poet and will never claim to be one. However, there are times when I'll tinker with words in order to express a deep sentiment. Such was the case recently during the Holy Week services when I found myself falling even more in love with the Church - and feeling more and more in touch with that continuum of ages. Please, poetry critics, resist any temptations you may have.
Graft me into the Living Tapestry;
That Great Tree, the continuum of ages.
I want deep roots,
that reach further down and further back
feeding life to me above and ahead.
I want to be nurtured like a sapling at the foot of the venerable sequoia;
New life sprouting forth from the ancient seed – wholly connected and undivided.
Dissect not for me a dead tree and in this manner teach me the “long since lost” way of the Tree,
and do not enlighten me with presumptuous understanding on how to emulate the Tree.
Graft me into the Living Tapestry;
That Great Tree, the continuum of ages.
I know that the Paschal season is a time when many non-Orthodox may visit an Orthodox service, and having attended the Paschal Vigil and Liturgy may be wondering:"What the heck was THAT all about?!?!?!"
Well remeber that little bit in the Gospels that tell us that when Jesus died many people rose from the dead and went into the city? Wierd, huh? Well, anyway, there is an ancient manuscript (4th century) which provides further information on this theme. Though originating sometime in the fourth century, its antiquity may actually go back much further in the mind of the Church. The Orthodox Paschal service is based very much on what is related to us in this story: The Harrowing of Hell. Enjoy.
Let God Arise...and let my children's clothes be grass stained
Come receive the light… A sleeping 2 year old drools on my shoulder, while a miserably sleep deprived three year old grumpily yanks my shoestrings and thereby unlaces my shoes. In my shirt pocket there is a snotty sheet of crumpled up tissue paper, and the front of my shirt is marked with the saliva of the sleeping one who had until recently been busily eating my baptismal cross. I look as though I have been lactating. During a pause in the service I turn back to people standing behind me whose daughter was sprawled out asleep on the floor like a discarded rag doll and I said: “I feel just like that!”
Later, at the Feast, I would repentantly have to face the righteous anger of my wife after losing track of the time and spending far too long in the cigar section with the “fellas.” Sometimes I can be a real bonehead…but I am pretty sure that she has forgiven me after I offered to give her Bright Monday to herself, and I am now facing that which my saintly wife faces every single day – ALL FOUR KIDS…all by myself! No worries, I can handle it! What was that noise?
Anyway, despite all of the crazy events of the day, I am no less moved when once again hearing and remembering the beautiful words of our Father amongst the Saints, John Chrysostom, whose Paschal Homily is read each year:
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into hades and took hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, "Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions." It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
"O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.
To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.
To all those who celebrate the Feast: KALO PASCHA, and:
Entering the Nave on friday morning for the sixth hour prayers, my youngest daughter lets slip out a small gasp at the sight of Jesus hung on the cross and set before the royal doors. We hung Him there last night, I remind her.
Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree. The King of Angels is decked with a crown of thorns He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the cross with nails
As we enter, we approach the icon of the crucifixion and we prostrate ourselves before it. Then, we move on (awkwardly with the little ones doing the best they can to mimic our bodies' display of reverence) to stand before Jesus - bowing down, we press our lips against his nail pierced feet.
All creation was changed by fear When it saw you hanging on the cross, O Christ The sun was darkened, and the foundations of the earth were shaken All things suffered with the creator of all
As we take our place I notice a bright beam of sunlight (in western washington?!?!?!?!) entering into the Church through a window in the dome. It illumines the icon of the Theotokos, which rests beside our dying God.
Today the blameless virgin saw you suspended on the cross, O Word She mourned within herself and was sorely pierced in her heart She groaned in agony from the depth of her soul
Though we stand outside time, the earth continues to spin and the sun moves. I watch as its light crawls across my God's outstretched arm. Jesus is now dead upon the tree. His face is illumined by the sun at the exact moment that His nails are removed. Life's funeral is about to begin.
Joseph of Arimethea took you down from the tree The Life of all, cold in death
As our Lord is brought to the tomb, I notice the empty cross now fully bathed in the light of the sun. In Hymn we hear the voice of my son's patron Joseph:
O my beloved Jesus A short while ago, the sun beheld you hanging on the cross...
Our God is in His tomb now, and we keep vigil...watching and waiting...
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:13 PM [+] +++
Thursday, April 24, 2003
The Community is Alive…
One of the things I most adore about the Paschal season, is the sense of community I get from my Parish. There is no need to try and synthetically create community through new and inventive strategies, no it is experienced through the collective events we all will experience and participate in throughout the Church calendar, but especially in this Holy season.
As I am preparing for the meal to follow Holy Thursday evening services, I see the hustle and bustle of a community preparing for all that is to come. We all know what to expect. We all know what needs to be done. We all recognize the profundity of what we will be participating in. We prepare together to pray, to worship, to lament, to repent, to keep vigil, and at last to fully celebrate the new life given to us.
I watch as a number of parishioners flutter in with many flowers for Holy Saturday and begin to prepare them for Fr. James to gleefully announce the Harrowing of Hell by showering us with rose petals. Others quietly slip in and begin laying tablecloth on the tables while still others are arranging center pieces. As I mix the apple juice, a coordinator comes in with paperwork showing all of the volunteers who will have roles to play in the preparation of the Feast, which she asks to have me post in the kitchen for reference. More people arrive with food for the evening. Someone is outside putting the finishing touches on the landscaping while a new arrival inside is preparing the big church ovens for use.
This scene will be repeated tomorrow (save for any hint of food preparation – it is after all a full fast day), but with even more intensity, as the tomb of Christ is prepared with hundreds of flowers and other décor. We will be attending a funeral service fit for a king! More cleaning, more preparing, everyone is readying themselves and the Parish for the great community celebration. There is an inherent unifying aspect in this life handed down to us by the Church in her wisdom. Like a great big family preparing for a wondrously formal Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house, so are we preparing for Holy Pascha. It all feels like home to us…you just wanna run up and hug the people laying candles around the Church for the Paschal procession, or the young teen girl adding flowers to the Bier, or the long bearded reader vacuuming the Nave floor, or the couple that blessed the Holy Thursday potluck with whatever that middle eastern leaf wrap thingy was, or the fat bald guy with the goatee making juice in the kitchen.
Sometimes it all seems like some strange and beautiful bastardization between Cheers and Fiddler on the Roof, and I absolutely adore it. On days like today, I thank God that I am apart of this venerable faith and community that spans the centuries.
We wrap preparatory things up in the kitchen and head upstairs to eat God. After the service we’ll eat again…this time a solemn meal downstairs. Finally as the sun sinks below the horizon, thus announcing the beginning of Holy Friday, we will go upstairs and kill God.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:21 PM [+] +++
It has descended upon me seemingly almost without me realizing it. I hate being at work during this Holy time, yet I’m not sure that in my current state that I would be able to readily substitute these laboratory experiences with those of Christ’s Church. Where is my head at? I have really failed to connect with the liturgical dance of the Church this week.
My wife was encouraged yesterday via a beloved Orthodox friend, reminding her that satan has every interest in keeping our minds focused on the mundane and away from the holiness of this time…this wonderful time, sanctified by the Church. The everyday life of being a BIG family (in the modern sense) seems to particularly complicate our chronological pilgrimage this year.
I commit to seeing through this demonic haze. Harsh words, yes I know, but fitting I think.
All of life seems to be spiraling in on me and my family, and as we move into Holy Thursday the whirlwind is obviously beginning to move faster and faster. With each passing moment the wind and speed seem to accelerate and like a time bomb with no white wire to snip, the explosion of Pascha will at last end the dizzying spin. A climax, like no other, awaits us this weekend…the Paschal promise of peace and joy which awaits us, now helps me embrace this time of discomfort and ill-ease.
I suppose the end of Holy Week is a time for such things like discomfort and ill-ease. My daughter returned from Pre-sanctified last night and wearily announced, “Wow, Daddy, there were a lot of frustrations at church tonight.” Initially I thought she might have overheard my wife lamenting the behavior of one of our children, but soon came to realize that she was referring to “prostrations.” I laughed, but then thought twice: Holy Wednesday, a time of frustration? Perhaps.
...so Clifton tells us in his post from Wednesday April 23rd (for some reason blogspot's archive linking seems faulty today). He writes:
There's no lecture, complete with diagrams. This isn't ten easy steps to becoming . . . well, whatever. "I do. You do." This is how children are taught the faith. It is how converts down from the first century learned the faith. Do. Then think.
We Protestants have it the other way around. Following Kant's ethic of autonomous integrity, we want to first make sure we're "okay with it." If it fits our presuppositions, or can be made to, then we're fine. The Church says, "Do. Then think."
As I pondered this, I was reminded of the Last Supper in which Jesus also tells us to "Do. Then think."
Sky (aka Sean, soon to be aka Michael) and I were unintentionally reintroduced through our mutual friend Imran’s bulk emails (thanks Imran!) He and I had met quite sometime ago, and unfortunately somewhat superficially. Via Imran’s emails I discovered that he had in recent months or years(?) developed a keen interest in Eastern Christianity and in turn, he learned that I had actually taken the official plunge into Eastern Christianity. Lengthy email discussions ensued.
Since then, he and the “three (Orthodox) amigos” of the SCCA have been meeting regularly for lunch on Tuesdays. It has become to me, a precious thing, and I look forward to the informal time of discussing our journeys and the many discoveries made therein. Not infrequently we will call to mind stories from the Desert Fathers and this one was particularly striking to us today:
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, "Abba, as far as I can
I say my little rule of prayer, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I
live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can
I do?" Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards
heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him,
"If you will, you can become all flame."
Sitting here in this airplane and I am feeling somewhat melancholy and suddenly realizing that this is often the case for me when I travel alone like this. Waiting (or being virtually stripped searched) in the airport and then boarding a crowded Boeing, I still feel eerily alone - very contemplative.
It's like a void or a pause in life to me. I am leaving dear friends and spiritual family (which is sad) in order to return to my beloved, our children, and other spiritual family (which is wonderful). But, now, I am in limbo. I am alone. I can almost see the flashing letters in my field of vision "GAME PAUSED", sadly there is no "RESUME" button...I shall have to wait.
I find myself reflecting on the past few days and the "new" friends I have come to know. I cannot say it enough: wonderful, wonderful, wonderful people. I'm no big fan of southern California, but with people like the newly illumined Chance, Cybil, Grace, Ben, Aaron, Sarah, Cameron, John, Toy, Nava, and Isabella - I think I'd joyfully endure my comparatively petty dislikes of LA.
Please keep them in your prayers!
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:38 PM [+] +++
The End Time update
Well, all I was doing was innocently reading the news online and was accosted by a banner ad that I was unable to resist. I clicked it, and had a good laugh but shortly thereafter grew a bit scared. View at your own risk, but keep in mind: you can have Your questions answered by LaHaye, Jenkins and Hitchcock
I drove down to San Clemente today to meet Rick and Jason, both of whom are a part of Matthew’s House. What a joy it is to spend time with these men whose hearts are beating for God…it is always a savory experience to be in the presence of such people. I suspect that when I leave California that this will be my general sense of the journey – being wholly surrounded by people who are flowing with life and challenged with a desire to work out their salvation. It feeds life to me in return - not unlike the Holy Eucharist...sacraments abound!
Indeed, Rick, Jason, and I solved all of western Christendom’s problems – albeit with slightly different solutions - organizationally speaking. None-the-less we were united in what the “goal” is. It is a delicacy to me, as an Orthodox Christian, to be with non-Orthodox Christians and not feel pressed to defend the Eastern Faith with cleverly formed historical and theological arguments complete with proof-texts. On the contrary, these two folks listened patiently to my ruminations (my word for the day) about where I am and how I got here.
Alas, the time passed too quickly. I did not get to ask many questions I had intended – even some of the simple ones like about family life and such. Ahhhh…timelessness, indeed something we yearn for…something we need.
Blessed is the Kingdom…. Thank you Jason and Rick, my prayers are with you and all the people of Matthew’s House…
now and ever and unto ages of ages, amen.
Is it just my perception or did I use alot of food terminology? Sucks being down here and having to pass on In-n-Out Burger.
Top 10 Indicators that you are in the midst of endless urban sprawl Ruminations while passing through the I-5/I-405 intersection in Irvine California
As a side note, did any of you realize that one possible definition for the word rumination is the “act or process of chewing cud”?
Actually, it seems to me that the city of Irvine somewhat forms the southern barrier of the urban sprawl we might try and call greater Los Angeles. I feel somewhat like a country bumpkin down here who hails from little ole Seattle with it’s measly half a million people. Heck, Baghdad has 10 times as many people than Seattle, as we have now grown accustomed to hearing over and over and over again.
Okay, let’s see if I can – from memory – recall all 10 (in no particular order) that I came up with during the drive. I assumed it was illegal to type and drive at the same time.
1.The only hint of green you see is found hanging from posts and is swathed in white lettering.
2.The only indication that you have passed from one city to the next is number one.
3.When using the “seek” function of the FM Radio, one cannot advance more than 3/100’s in frequency before finding another station – consequently an hour long voyage may not afford you the time to scan the whole FM range.
4.In searching for a station syndicating NPR, you will find at least 5…even more if you drive more than an hour.
5.Every 5th radio station will be in a language other than English, with an overall minimum of at least three different languages.
6.In any given two mile radius you will find a minimum of two major freeways each comprising at least four lanes in each direction.
7.At any given time, at least one of said freeways will be in congested.
8.Traffic reports require commercial interruption.
9.You have as many major airports to chose from as you do Lord of the Rings DVD bundles.
10.While playing MIcrosoft's OLD Flight Simulator, the same old, generic, and multiply-used ground imagery bitmaps being spliced together endlessly to simulate the cityscape as viewed from altitude, no longer looks unrealistic to you.
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved airplanes. Still to this day, in fact, I will occassionally bust out the flight simulator and take a Boeing out for a cruise around and above (for the most part) Puget Sound, or perhaps if I am really bored, a cyber trip to Reno. But today I am, in reality cruising at 35,000 feet above the earth and am supremely enjoying myself. I enjoy flying...but have jus enough understanding of how to fly that I can worry some about the ease with which humans can make errors - stupid errors - that can result in hundreds of lives being snuffed out.
In 1987, a Northwest Airlines MD80 crashed on take off at Detroit Metroploitan Airport (Jeez I hate talking about airline disasters while on an airliner...seems like I am dangling a much too tampting treat before the face of irony). It was determined that the pilots had failed to lower their flaps properly for takeoff and so the wings of the plane generated substantially less lift and the aircraft aerodynamically stalled and crashed as it tried to gain altitude. Something even us cyber-pilots know very well: YOU MUST HAVE YOUR FLAPS EXTENDED FOR TAKE OFF!
Let's face it, such errors happen all too often. So much so, in fact, that airliners have built in systems to warn pilots when they make such basic and yet critical mistakes - unfortunately, Northwest flight 255's warning system was found to be defective and so the pilots error was left unnoticed. It was also theorized that the plots themselves might have diarmed the system because the warning bells were terribly annoying. Nowadays, in recollecting this story, I always check the flaps on the wings of my plane to make sure that before we begin to speed down the runway that they appear to be properly lowered. I fully expect to one day have to scream out to the crew to remind them...I'll probably get tazered and arrested.
If the backup system fails, as it did for the poor souls on that aircraft in 1987, it leads to disaster. I think Spiritual Fatherhood could be likened to backup warning systems - no mater how smart or adept we might truly be (or believe ourselves to be), one day we are innevitably going to forget something very important. And when we do, if there is no backup system...well, you get the picture. Don't unplug the backup system - no matter how annoying you may feel it is! And, if you don't have a backup system, maybe consider getting one.
Wow...That's L.A. down below me...I'd forgotten what REAL urban sprawl is all about. Time to make our final approach...I'm watching the flaps...
Well it's been at least 10 years years since I've been to Southern California and as I expected, it is rather surreal to be down here again. I am here to witness the reception of numerous wonderful people into Holy Orthodoxy at St. Baranabas Parish in Costa Mesa. Now, let me see if I can get everyone straight...please keep in mind that I'm lucky to be able to remember my middle name!
Those I "know" (in various senses of the term) who are being Chrismated:Chance and his betrothed Cybil, Aaron and his beloved Sara(h?), Ben and his not yet officially betrothed Grace (who was unfathomably gracious enough - living up to her name - to provide me with transportation from the obviously well guarded LA airport), Cameron, and of course John and his lovely family.
Hopefully I've not forgotten anyone! In any event, please keep them all in your prayers! And rejoice with us as we welcome them all home!
Everyone is working now, and so I am afforded the opportunity to offer a post I scribbled out on the way down here.
As I pull into the parking lot, I notice that nestled in between Circuit City and the Lowes Home Improvement Center is a small strip of land with a small slow moving stream and a clump of evergreen trees. Odd that I am unable to discern from whence the stream comes amidst the asphalt parking lots and thoroughfares, nor where it might find a means of progressing on toward Puget Sound. It seems to be an impossible little oasis in the midst of urban sprawl. Sometimes I miss Sultan.
The water is not unlike the Holy Spirit: He is an impossible oasis to me, amidst my own interior urban sprawl - the hardened asphalt, passionate thoroughfares Circuit City's and Lowes' of my heart.
The sign says "Nature Preserve" I notice as I drive by. I park the car and go inside to search for my fence building lumber.
The evening light will come soon and along with it will come a different sort of "preserve."
Let my prayer arise in your sight as incense
and let the lifting up of my hands
by an evening sacrifice.
Lord, I call upon you; Hear me.
If you are a protestant in the same manner that I was a protestant, you’ve likely never heard the term nous before. It is one of those curious Greek words for which no English translation can fully suffice. Sometime it is called the eye of the soul or the eye of the heart, and sometimes it is bent out of shape in order to be translated simply as mind, intellect, or heart. None of these really go far enough, or in some cases go too far. I’m not really sure that I can wholly grasp the concept, but am content for now to understand it as the faculty by which we perceive and relate to God. Very often, one will find the term untranslated in Orthodox writings.
At work, I tinker with DNA - viral DNA (and RNA) to be specific, and so it is not coincidence that as I continue reading Orthodox Psychotherapy the means by which Met. Hierotheos relates the Eastern Patristic understanding of the effects of original sin immediately call to my mind the idea of genetic disease. Again, avoiding the judicial image of sin (I mean really how can God hold us kids responsible – legally – for the sins of Mom and Pop?) what the fathers more aptly describe is likened to illness. From the Orthodox perspective, in the Fall the Nous was darkened, blinded, sickened unto death. This is what is understood as being dead in our sins.
Now, if you damage the DNA in one of your skins cells (through prolonged exposure to UV light) and the genetic damage is not repaired before the cell divides, the cell passes the error on to the new daughter cell. And the error in that daughter cell’s genome will go unchecked and could result in cancer. Every cell which that daughter cell subsequently produces will have the exact same defect, and though it will seem to be perfectly normal (in other words there is no "understanding" in the cell's natural mechanism that something is awry)….it is not. I see this darkening of the nous to be like a genetic defect in humankind. (Now don’t take me too literally here…I’m just making an analogy.)
Adam and Eve (like the original skin cell) had their very natures altered by an exposure to darkness (UV light). And this nature, they passed on to their ancestors (just like the mother cell passes on its genetic defect to the daughter cells). What you end up with is a colony of cancerous cells that continually propagate themselves.
According to the teachings of the Father’s, because of our Lord's incarnation, we are able to participate in Him through the sacrament of Holy Baptism and are thus “REBORN” and made new – without the "genetic defect"! Jesus’ work heals the nous and this is why we refer to those being Baptized (yes even infants!) as being “newly illumined” because we believe that their noetic power has been restored to them. I initially thought it strange to call my infant son: the "newly illumined Nicholas" but now I see the logic - and more importantly the beauty - of it.
However, being newly illumined does not mean that it's all a done deal! Whereas Jesus might have raised our nous from the dead, our personal sins and passions can still darken and imprison it. We must strive to maintain a healthy nous as we continue on in a world so filled with darkness. You see, the nous need not remain in such darkness – that is the good news! We are indeed, “new creatures” in Christ!
Okay, I've received a couple of emails asking for more information about and or criticizing me for expressing a greater affinity for the Buddhist tract than the Baptist tract. So, let me explain.
The Baptist tract was pretty standardized and began with the ever popular question: If you were to die today, would you go to heaven? And then it offered a host of scriptural proof texts to show me that if I didn’t know the answer, I should. Well, sorry folks, contractual certitude is utterly foreign to Orthodoxy. Yes, we trust and believe in the mercy and inexpressible love of God, we just don’t see salvation as intellectual assent representing a sort of “signing on the dotted line.” The rest of the tract went on to describe traditional substitutionary atonement and so on and so forth.
The Buddhist tract, on the other hand, talked about the foundation of Buddhism: the Four Noble Truths. Which are thus – expressed in my own vernacular (and anyone more knowledgeable than I can feel free to correct me where and when I err):
1. Life and suffering come hand in hand. Shit Happens.
2. Shit Happens because we are so attached to the world. We crave and desire. We are selfish and perceive the world as being all about fulfilling our needs and pleasures.
3. We can escape shit happening by eliminating desire and craving. We seek to become fully dispassionate (hmmmm) and thus reach Nirvana, a state in which we are completely free of worldly desire.
4. There is a defined 8 fold path for obtaining this state of dispassion, and if you so desire you can read about that: HERE.
Now, I ask you, who cannot hear in this thinking (both in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path) the ascetic teachings of the Fathers? Who cannot read Buddhist literature and see many English words translated exactly in the same manner than you will see in a good deal of Orthodox texts. It is fascinating to see the parallels.
But in the end, the comparison breaks down – naturally it must. Buddhists affirm that in order to reach Nirvana you must overcome the illusion of self. Whereas the Orthodox do not believe that in Theosis we lose our individuality or even our sense of self – at least not in the sense that it is described in Buddhism. We affirm that we can maintain our self-existence and yet still overcome the self – the passions. Of course we all know the key difference is found in the person of Jesus Christ. We Orthodox see death itself as the ultimate expression of dukkha (shit happens – noble truth #1) and that it is overcome NOT by simple illumination (for indeed we understand these “things” to be REAL), but by the work of Jesus Christ, our God. Now, don't feel the need to further elaborate all the other areas where Orthodoxy and Buddhism part company, I think we all recognize these areas. Is it not fascinating, though, to see how sometimes Orthodoxy can be seen to have as much in common with a non-christian eastern religion as it does with a western protestant Christian religion?
I appreciate Buddhism a lot; it resonates with me. But as I told my friend it doesn’t seem to address the larger issue of death as the supreme Dukkha.
Huw-Raphael (HR) directed me to a neat little article which showed some fascinating parallels between the movie and Gnostic Christianity. I’ve often maintained that the movie’s Christian shadows fit better in the context of Eastern Christianity rather than western. In this article the author says that the great human dilemma is solved by enlightenment…a term typically foreign to Protestantism, but quite familiar to the East in which we understand the spiritual journey to be staged in three parts: purification, illumination (enlightenment), and Divinization (theosis). One could argue that Neo’s journey is not dissimilar to the journey we as Christians are on as we move toward transfigurment. And in the end, Neo in a state of Theosis is able to overcome the world.
The analogy, of course, will eventually break down and can also be multifaceted – certainly Neo is also an archetype of Christ. The author of this work makes some great points about Gnosticism in the film…the unreality of reality (the Matrix itself) fits well within Gnosticism – at least certain forms of it. I do not think Marcion denied the existence of the world, but rather ascribed to a view that posited that the created world was evil (our bodies included). From the Orthodox view, I saw the Matrix as representing our false interpretation and perception of the fallen world as being “normal.” And in this “normal” world we are trapped in sin, death, and darkness. We escape it by participating in the Life of Him who overcame it, and also by overcoming ourselves.
You know, there really is nothing in Buddhism that I wholly disagree with. In fact recently, as strange timing would have it I received two religious propaganda tracts: one from a local Baptist Pastor at more doorstep, and the other from a friend investigating Buddhism at work. Now I’d studied Buddhism in school, but had forgotten much and so I read both tracts. When I was done, I found myself having more affinity for the Buddhist one. Hmmmm….
A few posts ago, Joshua commented and asked about some examples on how the Fathers viewed salvation. With this in mind I thought I might post some lecture notes I took during a lecture on Orthodox soteirology by Fr. Stanley Harakas. Keep in mind, these are pretty rough and may be a bit choppy, but by the same token may yet be useful and or interesting to some. Linked HERE. Any errors contained therein are no doubt mine and not the good father's.
Yep, nine years ago today, my wife and I stood before the altar of an Episcopal church and exchanged wedding vows. It seems an eternity ago, while at the same time I sometimes wonder where the time has gone and who these four maniacal little people are running around our house! My wife doesn't really read my blog (as a homeschooling Mom of four...well, you know) and so there's no brownie points to be earned by my lauding her here. None-the-less, she is an amazing woman - by no means perfect - but certainly an example to me in many areas. I am particularly blessed in that she eventually and purposefully followed me into the Orthodox Church, though the road was not without speed bumps (much of them my own doing.) Today, she has really picked up the Faith and run with it, often keeping me in line with the Way of Life.
My Godson just told me that reading Mountain of Silence has been life-changing for him. I told the person who originally recommended that book to me pretty much the same thing. I think another gem has been recommended to me again. The title, as noted above, certainly warrants curiosity. The author, Metropolitan Hierotheos, is not, despite the title, addressing the means by which Orthodox Christians treat mental illness; instead he is proceeding from the assumption that we are ALL ill and in need of treatment and therapy.
…the incarnation of Christ and the work of the Church aim at enabling the person to attain to the likeness of God, that is to reestablish communion with God. This passage way from a fallen state to divinization is called the healing of the person, because it is connected with his return from a state of being contrary to nature, to that of a state according to nature and above nature.
Hence, Met. Hierotheos, refers to the praxis of the Orthodox Church as a therapeutic method to heal the human person. The fasting, the liturgy, the prayers, etc are all apart of the tried and true method handed down to us by the fathers and mothers of the Church by which we can be made well. None of which would be possible were it not for the salvific work of Christ. This, as I have recently told an inquiring friend, is the heart of Orthodoxy: healing and making whole. All of the lofty and numerous theologies and religious practices in the world which do not in some way connect to and make manifest this healing is like a bad alternative ending on a DVD.
I imagine that pride is not typically a problem which slaves have to wrestle with. In Fr. Jonah's talk about "Shame" he mentions that internalized shame is very closely related to the sin of pride...though they are the polar opposite, both are centered around an unhealthy attention being given to oneself. I digress, my point is this: slavery is key to my life right now. Allow me to explain.
I am not all that great of a father. Raising a kid is hard. Raising four kids is amazingly hard. Raising four kids all under the age of 6 requires a profound breach in the space-time continuum, and sometimes a dose of valium can be helpful as well. I have always known that I do not have the patience for kids, I am just too selfish and too lazy. I mean, really folks how many millions of itsy bitsy legos can one meticulously pick up off the floor after having them pierce the epidermis of your foot, how many green beans can you accidently step on and smash into your carpet, how many times can you fish grass trimmings or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches out of your VCR, how many more times will you find another prized book painted, torn, written upon or soaked in a mysterious liquid, how many times can you tell a child NOT to lay in the dog's bed, how often can you tell a child that Daddy's cell phone does not belong in the toilet with the "poopie", how many thousands of plans must be abandoned at the tyrannical whim of a three year old, and how many billions of times can you say "no", "stop that", "please don't", "I wish you wouldn't", "put that down", or "watch out its gonna spill" before you simply lose all patience and explode?
If I could, I would waste my life away reading, writing, drinking Guinness, and fishing for Salmon. Ahhh, the providence of God! Enter, from stage left, four kids.
Orthodoxy makes much ado about asceticism. As I have mentioned time and time before I realized that my wife and my kids are a major part of my asceticism...they are the embodied opportunity for me to deny myself. But, boy do I struggle! I lose my temper all too often and just want to escape to ....to what? Well to be by myself. To do what I want to do. To be "free!" Everything in our society screams out to us, telling us that THIS is what it is all about: choice and freedom to do what we want when we want it. In every aspect of our lives we live this modern moral imperative - even, sad to say, in our religious life. But this is not real freedom, this is not even real choice. It is enslavement to self. Real freedom is found in submission....strange paradox that it is.
I am a slave to my wife and to my children. And as I pound that viewpoint into my head - once a second or as needed - I find that the day to day "problems" enacted by my beloved children (numerous though they may be) aren't really as bad as they seem. And that my masters (tyrannical and unrelenting though they may seem) are in fact a joy, a gateway to real freedom, and a path to salvation. I'm the luckiest Bondservant in the world!
Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.
Jesus, a sinner? Part 3: Well, I might as well have died for your sins
Now we all recall the whole “spotless lamb, without blemish” concept noted in Scripture and often quoted by those clinging strongly to the substitutionary view of atonement as a means of proving the necessity of Jesus’ sinlessness. It harkens back to the pagan idea of a “virgin” sacrifice, in which we kill an innocent in order to set free the guilty. Well, there can be no doubt that the New Testament presents this as an image of the atonement, but in the end it must be viewed – along with all of theology – as a condescension to our understanding. It is a facet of the atonement not much emphasized in the East for we do not recognize it as a factual, literal understanding of how we are saved. You will not often here us say: “Jesus died for your sins” but rather “Jesus conquered death for your sins.” The difference is critical.
I will not therefore say, in my attempt at showing the necessity of Jesus’ sinlessness that God needed a “virgin” upon which to pour out His righteous wrath, banish the thought – THIS IS NOT CHRISTIANITY! Rather, what Man needed (and note here: NOT GOD) was someone to overcome darkness, sickness, and death. But that someone could not do so if they themselves were participating in anyway in darkness, sickness, or death. You see Jesus’ resurrection was not a simple miracle as that which was performed by Jesus over the tomb of Lazarus, it was a great deal more than that. In truth, the Resurrection was a natural consequence of Death coming into direct contact with Life HIMSELF. Consider the wonderful Hymns of Holy Saturday in which Hades (death) is personified…they are without a doubt my favorites:
Today Hades cries out groaning, “my power has been abolished; I have received a
mortal, as one of the mortals; but this One, I am completely powerless to
contain; with Him, I have lost all those over which I have ruled. For ages
I had held them dead; but behold, He raises them up all.”
Today Hades lets out a groan: "Would that I had not received the son of
Mary: for when He came upon me He dissolved my power; He shattered the gates
of bronze; the souls I had held captive, as God He raised up."
You see, the personified Hades made a terrible error in judgement…taking hold of Him who he could not have a hold on. You see, death had tried to overcome LIFE and it was not to be. From the western perspective, God could have put ME on that cross and poured out all the sins of the world upon me. Would this have redeemed YOU? I have no idea…but I know for certain that since I have spent a lifetime engaged in darkness, sickness, and death that Hades would have contained me quite readily. Not so with the Theoanthropos, as the hymns suggest…Hades was rendered powerless by the nature of Him who he had embraced. It is in the resurrection – not the cross – that we have been given our salvation, and the accomplishment of the resurrection had to be done by Him over whom sin had no power. Jesus is more than just sinless…He is sinlessness personified.
To say He sinned is to say death had a rightful claim on Him. Nonsense.
Jesus, a sinner? Part 2: I am not a theologian, but I play one on the Internet
A quick review of what I babbled previously. We do not HAVE to sin. We are not, by nature, sinful beings. Our love of darkness is unnatrural. Our propensity towards sin is unnatural. There is NO such thing as a “natural” death. Furthermore, God is to sin as black is to white. Since humanity and sin are not synonymous or neccesarily connected in any way, and God and sin are contradictory; the God-Man could not have sinned. And therefore what we see in the incarnation is a fulfilled human being, sinless and united to God. Jesus, then, is our example to follow.
Now, pay close attention here, because this is where I delve into realms for which I am supremely unqualified and yet none-the-less will shoot off my mouth...err umm...fingers. By saying that Jesus is our example, I do not mean in the mere and insignificant sense that he is a doer of great charitable works and that we ought to emulate Him…no, no, no…I mean much more than that. Jesus is our example in the ontological sense of who He is, that which we also ought to become. Be careful…I am not saying we become by nature God…no, the scripture tells us though that we will share in Jesus’ nature and be grafted into Him and become partakers of the Divine Nature.
You will often hear the Greek term synergy used in Orthodox circles. Basically, as I feebly understand it, the word is in reference to the perfect submission of our human will to the will of God. And it is from the Theoanthropos that we derive this understanding. St. Maximos the Confessor would face torture in order to insist that Jesus had both a divine will and a human will in the face of opponents who refused to acknowledge this, under the general assumption that it would leave Jesus as a sort of indecisive schizophrenic (as is arguably portrayed in The Last Temptation of Christ). But St. Maximos upheld the ancient patristic and apostolic concept which would time and time again rescue the Church’s Christology from heresy: “That which is not assumed is not healed.” Jesus MUST have had a human will and that that will was in perfect synergy with His Divine will. In this way OUR wills are now healed and able to follow our Lord’s example. A will in perfect synergy with God simply cannot sin.
St. Maximos, by the way, lost his tongue and hand over the matter.
My friend Paul over at Prodigal offered a recent post in which a couple of folks posited and/or asserted that in order for Jesus to be fully human He would have had to have sinned. I offered a word or two of disagreement, but it got me wondering why in my Eastern Orthodox tradition we view it as being essential that Jesus was sinless and yet it seems that more and more western traditions are entertaining the idea that Jesus’ humanity might, probably did, or even had to include sin. What differences in our thinking account for this?
Now I realize, having been in the ECUSA for a spell that many folks would be willing to affirm a sinning Jesus, but that typically these are the same people who have no qualms in denying a literal resurrection. To them I really have nothing to say on this matter, it has become clear to me that we are apart of two different religions. But, are more theologically "conservative" people coming to affirm a Jesus who might have sinned?
I wonder if the difference may be growing forth from diversified understandings of the nature of humanity, the Incarnation, and our salvation. It may be, I am sad to say, further evidence of the vast religious distance between here and there. But, not an unbridgeable distance I should think.
The claim is made that to be human in some way delivers forth a default “sin” attachment. I suppose I can understand this thinking, for certainly this has been our experience in the world, no? However, in the Orthodox understanding of human nature we do not affirm a “total depravity” or anything akin to it. Rather we uphold a much more positive image of humanity in that our “normal” state of being is just the opposite of sin: it is to be in perfect union with God. This is the Eastern Patristic understanding to be found in Genesis, whereas IMAGE and LIKENESS are recognized as distinct. We have the IMAGE, but must yet grow into the LIKENESS of God. Hence, this is how Adam and Eve were so easily tempted and deceived – they were offered a quick shortcut to what they intrinsically knew to be their “goal” in life. However, in detouring around God in order to become God (this is patristic language folks, not mine so don’t freak out on me!) they do not enter into Light and Life, but instead partake of darkness and death: sin. In so doing, they damage the IMAGE and lose all hope of the LIKENESS. The goal of perfect union with God appears lost and humanity is plunged into the most unnatural state of sin, sickness, suffering, and death – all the “natural” consequences of turning from Him who embodies the ontological reality of the very opposites of these things.
Salvation is, in the Orthodox understanding, a restoration of the IMAGE and LIKENESS to us. We are brought back into the pre-fall state in which we are free to pursue a perfect union with God - to fullfill our LIKENESS. We must be clear about this, in no way can we affirm that it is “normal” for us to sin, that it is “natural” for us to embrace death, or that we ought to capitualate to our love for darkness. The natural and normal state of being for us is to “partake of the Divine Nature” and to be Holy just as He is Holy. Sinlessness IS OUR NATURAL CONDITION. And so to say that Jesus is FULLY human does not in any way necessitate the presence of sin…as I have said, just the opposite is the case. Jesus is FULLY human in the same sense that you and I are probably NOT FULLY human yet.
Let me try my hand at a little human logic and reason…yes, I know, a dangerous game to play – especially in the hands of someone like me. Let me preface with that fact that Jesus’ sinlessness is a revealed truth (I think we could play a scriptural proof text game, but that REALLY bores me these days) fully upheld by the Paradosis (*ding*ding*ding*) of the Church…and so logic and reason can take a seat at the right hand of Paradosis. But for the sake of fun-filled, “damn I want a Whopper”, Lenten argument, consider this:
Jesus is fully human and fully God. Now, I think we can all agree that God cannot sin…I mean I believe I have made my point that sin is anti-God; God sinning makes as much sense as black being white. Now, in the person of the Theoanthropos, how can sin be present? And since I am arguing that sin is not a necessary part of being human, it makes perfect sense, YEA even necceary sense, for Jesus, being both God and Man, to be wholly without sin.
But, it doesn’t end with simple plausibility or even solid hardcore “CSI” proof. With Orthodox theology it never ends, it goes on and on and on…and it will all come back to the beginning and hopefully you’ll say: wow!