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.
Our Parish men's group has been reading On the Incarnation and have found it to be quite appropriate to the season. It is a great work, and those unfamiliar with it ought to put down whatever they are reading right now and get a copy (or read it online!) An interesting portion of the book though, I think I may disagree with...while recognizing that minds loftier and hearts holier than mine have tackled this issue on both sides, I brave to enter into the debate anyway. I once heard someone postulate that Christ needn't have died on the cross (as a sacrifice) but could have just as easily destroyed "death by death" by dying as we all might hope to do: a very old man in his sleep. Here is what St. Athanasios says:
"Well then," some people may say, "if the essential thing was that He should surrender His body to death in place of all, why did He not do so as Man privately, without going to the length of public crucifixion? Surely it would have been more suitable for Him to have laid aside His body with honor than to endure so shameful a death." But look at this argument closely, and see how merely human it is, whereas what the Savior did was truly divine and worthy of His Godhead for several reasons. The first is this. The death of men under ordinary circumstances is the result of their natural weakness. They are essentially impermanent, so after a time they fall ill and when worn out they die. But the Lord is not like that. He is not weak, He is the Power of God and Word of God and Very Life Itself. If He had died quietly in His bed like other men it would have looked as if He did so in accordance with His nature, and as though He was indeed no more than other men. But because He was Himself Word and Life and Power His body was made strong, and because the death had to be accomplished, He took the occasion of perfecting His sacrifice not from Himself, but from others. How could He fall sick, Who had healed others? Or how could that body weaken and fail by means of which others are made strong? Here, again, you may say, "Why did He not prevent death, as He did sickness?" Because it was precisely in order to be able to die that He had taken a body, and to prevent the death would have been to impede the resurrection. And as to the unsuitability of sickness for His body, as arguing weakness, you may say, "Did He then not hunger?" Yes, He hungered, because that was the property of His body, but He did not die of hunger because He Whose body hungered was the Lord. Similarly, though He died to ransom all, He did not see corruption. His body rose in perfect soundness, for it was the body of none other than the Life Himself.
Let me ask: at what point does Jesus' passion begin? I am of the opinion that it began at the moment of Incarnation...the conception of God. Certainly St. Paul reminds us in his epistle to the Phillipians that Jesus' humility is fundamentally expressed in this event. And in the incarnation, did not our Lord take upon Himself human nature - even in its weakness? If His body was subject to the scourging of Roman whips, or the piercing of iron spikes...would He not also be subject to the infection of viruses and bacteria? Would this not be apart of the lifelong passion? I guess I don't see the disconnect between death and sickness that St. Athanasios seems to be making here, on the contrary I perceive them to be inherently linked. And yes, He demonstrated His power over both and we know for certain that He allowed Himself (for a time) to be subject to death...why not sickness? He condescended to be subject to many things in Incarnating Himself: cold, heat, fatigue, the need for His mother's breastmilk, gravity...and yet paradoxically we recognize that He could in an instant reveal His mastership over all of these. But He didn't...just as He didn't call upon those legion of Angels which could have rescued Him from the aftermath of Judas' kiss.
What do you think?
UPDATE: Basil is tackling the issue in a couple of posts.
With fear of God, and with faith and love, draw near...
As communion begins, and with our children safely stowed away with Godparents (as we typically have our kids receive the Eucharist with their Godparents...I guess I'd do the same, but I think TRG would have a hard time holding me), I step aside away from the forming line. A dear friend does the same and stands next to me.
"So you join the ranks of the impious?" He says to me.
"Yes," I reply and while nodding toward the chalice, "it would kill me today."
"Me , too." He offers.
Such has been the state of my Lent. I could count on half a hand the number of pre-sanctified services I have attended, I think our entire family together has been able to attend all of about two liturgies (having been racked with illness after illness), and the extent to which I have fasted has been negligible at best. Meat is easy...generally...but oh how I struggle with dairy!
Have I prayed more? Have I given alms...a bit I guess, not all that much. In one sense it is good for I am very keenly aware of my inability to judge other people's lenten disciplines...without having to appeal to the somewhat less practical application of God's commands. O focurse this is no excuse...none of this is to earn God's love, but like any good exercise program, I do myself a disservice in not fully participating.
I long to hear those words of St. John on Pascha...oh those glorious 1600 year old words that so imbue me with God's love, mercy and victory. I often heard it said that St. John's sermon would be very appropriate coming from a large african-american southern pentecostal preacher...sweating profusely, complete with many amens, hallelujahs, and thank you Jesus's from the congregation. It would be interesting to have heard how St. John originally delievered his version.
Many thanks and admiration goes out to Pope John Paul for his recent words against the secularization of our days. Why make certain days special? Because the excuse that we ought to make everyday special is typically just that: an excuse.
Sundays are like classical music.
Oddly enough (or perhaps not) Yahoo news saw fit to place the news of these pontifical points into their "Oddly enough" section.
You ever notice that certain movies (indeed most) generally require a real symphony played soundtrack in the genre of "classical music"? I have been thinking about this alot lately - especially since I have been listening to portions of the Lord of the Rings soundtrack.
I have always loved movie soundtracks, I can recall as a kid joyfully listening to the resurrected and transfigured 1960's TV Star Trek theme in the Soundtrack to The Wrath of Khan. Though I no longer have the cassette (can you imagine!), I can still hum the songs from memory.
Anyway, it seems that any film which intends itself to be taken seriously must have a classical soundtrack. Attmepts made with synthesizers (e.g. Chariots of Fire) or pop music (name any teen flick) are doomed to date themselves. Remember that movie Flash Gordon which had a soundtrack put together by the band Queen? Just thinking about it makes me feel a little queasy. And going back to watch that aformentioned fantastic movie Chariots of Fire was really difficult, because the soundtrack(while cool in the 80's) really grated againts me...from my perspective it darned near ruins the movie now.
One cool thing that alot of films are using now is the inclusion of choral music...one of my favorites and earliest that I can recall is found in the movie Glory in which the Harlem Boy's Choir belts out some beautifully dramatic works.
I am thankful for soundtracks - good soundtracks - can you imagine the Battle of Helm's Deep being done to the sound of Blink 182's latest hit? (By the way, I had to ask a younger and hipper coworker for the name of some cool teen band here). Sure a lot of pimply face teens would love it, but what would they think in 10 years when Blink 182 is just sooooo passe'? Would the film lose its ability to endure? Would it be like me trying to sit through Chariots of Fire and not be irritated by the fuzzy 1980's computer music?
Why is it that classical music, several hundred years old or more, has such an ability to presevere? Is there something inherent in classical music that connects with us as human beings? Is it timeless?
As you might expect, I ask myself while pondering this vein of thought: What religious lesson may be found therein? Well, what is the soundtrack of our church? Will it endure? Does it matter? Or shall we be constantly content with making the ecclesial equivalent of teen movies?
In the comments to the previous post, I was asked to explain what I found in the American Heritage Girls SOF which prevented me from allowing my daughters to be a part of their orginization.
Well Basil and Huw pretty much covered what I would have said in the commenting. But I will offer a few additional details on my thinking. I might also add that I think Basil is perhaps partly mistaken about the fathers never referring to the Bible as "Word of God" but I would not lay money on the issue either way. Regardless it is inconsequential to the issue at hand.
If the fathers did use the term, it does not make Basil's underlying statement untrue, quite the contrary. The AHG SOF nails its authoritative colors to the mast: Sola Scriptura. In my sense of things (as I am teaching my children and as I believe the Church clearly upholds) the "authority" of Scripture is firmly and neccesarily rooted in its relationship with the Church and that to give authority to Scripture (can words in and of themselves wield authority?) without a notion, or any mention at all, of the authority of the Church (which we must recall determined the canon to begin with) is patently absurd.
Cartainly the present divided state of Christendom is ultimately caused by the so called "authoritative Word of God" (Notice how they capitalize the "w" in teh word word? This is telling I think). And, I think if we are to be honest, the term tranlates into each and every individual being an "authoritative Word of God." And therein do we find the most frightening sense of individuality.
Nope, not for my daughters, thank you. It is a Protestant statement of faith which even in its watered down state (the ever present quest for unity via the lowest common theological denominator), cannot escape its own birthmarks.
Many "christians" have decided that they need to boycott Girl Scout cookies. (Jeez, what is it with Christians and boycotting obscure things? Why the hell can't they seem to find things in their personal life to boycott? TRY LENT PEOPLE!) Now, as a father of a Girl Scout, I too am concerned with the examples that might be shone (let's try this again) shown to my daughters...and our future participation is likely "up in the air"...however I'll be damned if my daughters will ever be an"American Heritage Girl"..for some reason they just seem weird, not to mention you apparently have to affirm their "statement of faith" which I cannot locate on their website. My daughter already has a "faith statment" which predates both the GSA and the AHG. Come to think of it, I didn't expect my daughter was joining a "christian" organization in the GSA...but I digress.
Apparently while trying to sell cookies one of my daughters friends and mothers (who knew nothing of the "controversy") were confronted by some "well-meaning" evangelical chrsitian who took it upon themselves to explain in detail why they would NOT buy their cookies. Thus an 11 year old girl was treated to such a conversation...wonderful! Well done...I hope this "christian" goes home and feels great about taking a stand and making such a powerful statement against Planned Parenthood. Meanwhile, a mom is left trying to explain to her daughter what it all meant.
You ever get the feeling that sometimes Christians are just knee-jerks waiting to happen? Waiting for some issue to arise for which they can be opposed and suddenly put their Christianity into action? Could this be the protestant spirit? I can recall Baptists (BAPTISTS mind you, not JW's or Mormons) coming to our door and not at all being satisfied by my wife's answer that she was a Christian already and further pressing her with probing questions to try and determine the reality of her religious status...always looking to find something to be opposed to. God deliver me from such stupidity in my own life.
As soon as lent is over I am eating a crap load of Girl Scout cookies!
Yesterday during our first High School Christian Education class we were discussing in general the three primary aspects of Orthodox Lent: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. Steve and I, recognizing that in general we Orthodox naturally or plainly are inclined toward increased prayer (consider the MUCH longer and greater frequency of the services) and fasting (obviously), but it seems we may be abit light on the area of almsgiving. And so our underscoring fell under this topic.
But in general it seemed that through our discussions, much ado was made of the idea of "distractions." Those things in life (oh so very many things) that pull us away from our most important priorities and blind us to, or confuse us about reality. It occured to me that we might perhaps be the most disctracted people ever to inhabit the planet, espeically given the media that so fills our everday life. Doubt it? Try driving home from work today (assuming you have more than a 10 minute commute) without the background of a radio, a book (if you take the bus like me), or a cell phone...then try it without driving...just sit in silence alone in your bedroom. In my case, when attempting to do this I can hear my mind screaming with recollection of media bombardments which I have mysteriously memorized. The silence is sometimes deafening.
Well, we went on to talk about the silent and almost secret realm of being, where we are left to ourselves and we begin to sense need. A strange need, a sort of unnatural aloneness that grieves us. We begin to sense our lack of self-sufficiency; Our helplessness in the face of a seemingly unknown foe or dilemma. I believe that in a way, all the things that we do during Lent is intended to lead us away from distraction and into that realm of need-sense.
Okay, so it took me forever, but it is back up now. Since switching ISP's I have been terribly slow in updating things and getting them back in order. While still being covered in cyber-drywall dust, it at least functions minimally now.
In relative secrecy, Jared (my friend and Godson - seems so weird to say that) has been blogging on and off for quite a long while. Recently his posts have become open to the public and so I link them here. Stop in and say hello.
Well I knew it would happen as soon as I began to hear that Mel's movie was making money...ALOT of money. Andy Rooney called him a wacko and added: My question to Mel Gibson is: "How many million dollars does it look as if you're going to make off the crucifixion of Christ?"
Yes yes yes, Initially he was wrong to make it because it would fail and NOW he was wrong to make it because it is going to succeed. Whatever. Deal with it Hollywood!
And it appears they are. See. Looky there folks, we Christians are a profitable market niche!
As a side note, in conversing with my Godfather over the weekend he has given to me what I take to be a wise perspective and thus personally applicable advice. As I have said, I have misgivings about Mel's film and though I plan to see it (as does my Godfather), I will wait until after Pascha...I don't want Mel's (or anybody elses) personal vision of our Lord's suffering running freshly through my head during Holy Friday services.
Quite awhile ago, according to the heretical internet calender, Felix and I danced with one another over the topic of Orthodox Traditions and practices. If memory serves it all started with a comment a pomo guru said about being thankful for the Orthodox Church because we have kept alive so many traditions that others might never have known about. Anyway, not to rehash all of that, I promised a written attempt at explaining why we Orthodox Christians do what we do, and furthermore why we are so apprehensive toward changing what we do. At last I have thrown it all together, and while I make no claims that it is well written, concise, or properly organized - it does none-the-less express my sentiment (albeit rather scatterbrained) on the matter. Comments may or may not be warrented, I'll let you the reader decide. But in the end, I hope it can perhaps illumine some who might criticize us for being so "out of date" and archaic for not wanting to change all that much.
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
Clifton is engaging an interesting topic in the commenting on his post Tradmarking Christianity. Here is a part (a lengthy part) of what he says in one of his comments, which I found particularly intriguing:
I think at issue here, though, is the battle between Western senses of individual autonomy and what it means to be a person. There is the view that if somehow I have to believe a certain thing--especially if I have sincerely come to believe something which differs--that acquiescing to a have-to belief is somehow inauthentic and a violation of my personhood. It's heteronomy instead of autonomy.
But it is my contention that this is a mistaken emphasis which damages what it really means to be a person. Yes, there is a sense in which singular persons are autonomous, but autonomy is only a part, and not the main part, of what it means to be a person. According to Christian teaching, we are not individuals, we are persons. We are always already born into communion and cannot escape the implications of that.
Therefore the Christian paradigm is not to find out what I believe as an individual so I can live authentically. Rather the paradigm is how can I fully live into this communion which has given me life and sustaints me? And if I cut myself off from it, to what extent do I participate in the diminishing of my personhood? If I concieve of myself as in opposition over against those with whom I share life and living, then how am I any longer a person in communion, that is to say, a person at all?
I personally think alot about the philosophical presuppositions that led (fueled?) the Protestant reformation, and indeed to a lot of political reformations as well. Fundamentally I am seeing more and more that what Clifton describes here is the inspiration for how we have evolved our Protestant christianity today. Individual autonomy.
That phrase has become the rallying cry (sometimes silently and sometimes deafeningly) for our generation and though we may try and hide it in ourselves with words and/or notions like "community" or "postmodern", I think we needn't peel off to many layers to hear us all singing "I did it my Way!"
By the way, am I the only person who sees the devil in those lyrics?
For some reason I find myself contemplating beauty this morning, and so as my plastic plates filled with digesting human body fluids is incubating as apart of my ever present laboratory quest for viral genomic material, I thought I might type out a few of my thoughts.
What is beauty?
I frequently think I perceive (see) it, usually in the face or body of a woman - but I have noticed that the recognition of this sort of "beauty" illicits an altogether different response in me than the more nobler sense of beauty which I am thinking of. The former beauty illicits desire, while the latter typically doesn't...it tends to illicit "connection." As best as I am presently able to describe it: perhaps communion?
Feelings? The former almost always a smile and a burning, the latter often yields a welling up unto tears. Real beauty, as I am thinking of it, always calls me outside of myself - either to something bigger and greater, or to another human being. That great grand thing of which I so often speak...the Trinity so perfectly illustrates the perfection of beauty - perhaps in no small way it is itself the model of all that we perceive to be beautiful?
Practically speaking, beauty is everywhere...I miss it so often. Today while I work I will keep my eyes open. And Today as I go home I will embrace it lustfully. I will relish it. May it save me...along with the world.
You know I try to remain optimistic about "government for the people, by the people"...but there are times when one must wonder if an intelligent and benevolant monarch might not be better. Case and point...stories such as this aren't really terribly unusual. These are our voters.
Interesting Rites of Induction
Orthodox Christians are forbidden from becoming masons...sounds like everyone might want to reconsider.
Imagine there used to be a time when getting old was okay. When being aged earned respect, by default. Experience meant something.
Now, all we want to do is be young. Is it a fear and denial of death? Or just a general social trend perhaps fueled by a powerful reliance upon technology and all that is NEW.
But youth and ignorance often go hand in hand, no?
I recently engaged a loved one in a lengthy discussion (debate) in which I lamented our lack of interest in the collective wisdom of our elders and the past. This person's utter denial of any practical use of such things was staggering to me. Apparently we can learn nothing (or at least very little) from our ancestors?
We are like the children of Israel lost in the desert alone and having no idea how we got there. And all we do is build cool toys and try and forget the dry heat that surrounds us.
But I hear a voice whispering: "Thou art mortal...death awaits...what is REALLY important?"
Thank you to Steve for finally getting off of his butt and writing his promised critique of Brown's book(s). As I read it, I realize it has been worth the wait. Now some of you may laugh old Dan Brown off as being "no big deal" and obviously "fiction" but does the majority of his readership do the same? Obviously his books are becoming enormously popular (though much of what he claims is really nothing terribly new), and even here in my lab it is widely read AND BELIEVED!
Frankly Mr. Brown's history (and specifically, though not exclusively, Church history) is more screwed up than the protestants who affirm the "trail of blood" nonsense.
My daughter came home from school today with her newest calender. Each new month the kids at school make a calender - usually decored with something distinct to the happenings of that period of time. March's calender came to me with a large shamrock. I asked my daughter what it was. A clover. And why is there a clover for the month of March? Because it is spring and the clovers will start to grow. Hmmmm...come March 17th we shall have to have a little talk about Saint Patrick.
Well, perhaps this will be worth watching? Certainly better than sitting in some "irish" pub drinking one green beer after another and pausing for just one brief brief moment to wonder: why?
Holy Father Patrick, enlightener of Ireland, Pray for us!!!!
In all my many years as an evangelical I never met a Christian convert from one of these faiths/philosophies. In the 3 years since looking into and becoming Orthodox I have met five that I am pretty sure I could name if push came to shove (Granted, none of them are native to lands dominated by these faiths...which if you think about it might make their conversion all that much more amazing!). OK, so no grand assumptions here...but let us presume to believe that my experience is indicative of the fact that people with a pension for eastern religions find something very attractive in the Orthodox brand of Christianity. What do you suppose it is? I have a few theories and thoughts, but let's flush them out together. Perhaps some of you converts who read this blog might do us the honor of sharing your experience?
Well I spent a good protion of my weekend here attending a Lenten retreat to hear Fr. Anthony Coniaris encourage us to do that which the title of this post suggests.
Making Jesus number one...such a cliche. It is quite unfortunate though, because there is so much depth to the concept. There were many things which Fr. Coniaris said that really struck me, one example being the story of a disasterous train wreck in which a female survivor was seen frantically wandering about the wreckage weeping bitterly. The cries and moans of the seriously wounded, dying, and/or trapped could be clearly heard as rescuers were desperately trying to assist those in need. As it turned out, the wandering and weeping woman was not seeking a lost loved one but was instead deeply disturbed for the apparent loss of a pair of $200 shoes. Amazing!
I believe I do this all the time. Dwelling in a state of complete obliviousness to my surroundings and to what is really important in life - becoming so wrapped up in myself, my passions, my pleasure that I literally become blind. Like a woman after a train wreck who can see nothing but her lost shoes.
Some questions I am pondering:
Why should my knowledge of a having a remaining lifespan of 10 days make me live my life any differently than now while under the presumption of having 40 years?
If I had my priorities truly in line, would I ever experience boredom?
Every first sunday of Lent (since the 9th century) the Orthodox Church celebrates the triumph of the icons at the 7th ecumenical council. In tune with this celebration, Basil has a nice post on icons in which he says:
Well, knowing that icons speak to us the Truth, I have always made it my habit to discuss the icons with my daughter. I Church, I do not want her venerating and icon and kissing it until she knows what that saint is. As neither do I venerate an icon until I know who I am looking at - because I am not bring veneration to the icon as a physical object, as a work of art, or even simply something beautiful. No, I am kissing the saint himself (or herself) and venerating THEM. How can I do that if I don't know who it is?
Wholeheartidly agree, and so with this in mind...who or what are we venerating in the icon of "The Ladder of Divine Ascent"? Assuming you've venerated it. I have my own answer, but would like to hear others thoughts first.
Today I am reminded of something one of the few ethnically Orthodox persons at our parish said to us recently in regards to "The Passion..."
Pain is a sacred thing, not something you sit and watch while eating popcorn.
Presently I am being taunted by a sinus headache that has rendered me all but useless. Unusally useless. Looking for the sacred..no luck yet.
Prayers sought on behalf of my mother, Brenda. I believe she is on the precipice of entering into faith in Christ and Mel's movie has come along in a timely fashion to further push her in that direction. I pray she enters under the protection of the Church soon. More to come, once the bacteria or viruses stop scourging me.
Every child, at some point, will experience it to varying degrees. It seems that in my experience that it is usually Mom who cannot be done without and Dad is often a sort of substitute sweetener. One of my daughters has recently developed a form of this in which she simply does not like to be along at all – especially in her room with the lights off. Normal I am sure and we are inclined to draw innumerable analogies about our need for social interaction and such.
Is hell a form of separation anxiety? How often have we been told that hell is being thrown into the utter absence of God? “Depart from me, ye accursed!”
Now since all of you are far more illumined, purified, and deified than yours truly, let me try and shed some experiential light on something we miserable sinners sometimes experience. Once in a while I will get so angry with my wife, so upset (almost always wrongfully so) that I can be sitting right next to her and yet be utterly alone. More than that, her very presence near me can become a thorn in my side…a constant source of irritation from which I cannot escape. Thankfully, such times are rare and short-lived, but I can certainly recall and imagine them. Bitterness is the root from which that ugly fruit springs and I am beginning to see how that same root if allowed to flourish will lead us into a permanent state of self-indulgent isolation. We learn to loath the other and the supreme “otherness” is of course God Himself who calls us into communion with Him (hence transcending that “otherness”.)
God’s presence can become to us a bitter thorn in our side…and there will be no escape. He is, after all, omnipresent! Perhaps this post, indeed this thinking, would have been better suited for The Sunday of the Last Judgment. But alas, Lent is here and may we use this time to soften our hearts and to move closer to that grand “otherness” so that when we stand in His unadulterated glory we may on some level relish it and not cower from it.