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.
So, in 2006 "the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s (ISI) National Civic Literacy Board, conducted a survey of some 14,000 freshmen and seniors at 50 colleges and universities. Students were asked 60 multiple-choice questions to measure their knowledge in four subject areas: America’s history, government, international relations, and market economy."
I took it and received a score of 83.33% (50 out of 60). I was disappointed that I did so poorly...or so I thought.
Then I saw the results from colleges around the country. And while I feel better about myself, this does little to encourage me about the future leaders of this country coming from Ivy League schools and knowing about as much about history and civics as my 11 year old.
As I was lying half asleep in the back on my vanpool on the ferry today, I was thinking rather grand thoughts...well at least as grand as my thoughts get, anyway. It occurred to me that the human body (and indeed all of nature) is an amazing thing and what prompted this thought was how my back has, time and time again, healed itself with little to no help from modern medicine (though it certainly helped to make the process less painful!)
At the macro level we are all familiar with the healing of a wound or the recovery from illness, but on a molecular level the process of fixing errors, injuries, or defects is both a common and remarkably complex process. That we have a propensity toward self-repair is pretty amazing because in a way there seems to be this unseen (some would suggest) organizational principal that guides us away from chaos toward order. Many scientists warn us against anthropomorphizing and seeing things like order or design in the universe, sometimes smacking our hands with rulers and chastening us like insecure parochial school nuns: "You must not do such a thing!" But I think we ought to throw caution to the wind in rejecting this advice and wholly free our minds from such tyranny - becoming "free-thinkers"!
Those trapped in their delusional boxes will be quick to point out all the places where the "design" ought to be better or where order could be more orderly as a means of suggesting such appearances of design or order are mere examples of a cosmic luckiness, whereas I am more inclined to ask why there should be something as odd as "order" to begin with! That the universe is inclined toward order to ANY degree is miraculous in my simple little mind. That the universe should organize itself and take form - that any forces should exist to inspire such - and that when form is disrupted there is a tendency toward a prodigal-like return to normalcy. More than that, that the universe should spring into a state of self-awareness...a knowledge of being other than that which surrounds it, well, that is nothing short of being worthy of awe and reverence.
Now, before I wax overly eloquent, of course, I realize this body of mine did not fully repair its back injury and in reality nothing is ever truly "as good as new." Many of us have tasted of the serious limits of "nature's" ability to return itself to a state of order from whatever instituted chaos came upon it. And so in this world there would seem to be a battle between order and chaos and if scientists are right then chaos via the law of entropy will eventually win...but if Christ is right risen, then order will ultimately prevail...or, in a way...it has prevailed if now fully realized at the moment.
I wonder, aloud here if you do not mind, that if perhaps in the grand return to order that we see from to day to day, we are not given signs of the Kingdom. The symmetry and organization that we see around us, are the perhaps icons for us? Sometimes, perhaps in moments of being overly tired, I can see in the world around me such wisdom, beauty, order, and design that I am overwhelmed...and then the fleeting sense is lost. Some would say it should never have been there to begin with, that it was simple imagination. But, I wonder if there is perhaps an unseen - or most difficult to perceive order - in the chaos around us. (That chaos that would lead some to assume that any semblance of order is imaginary.) It is that place where the easy to comprehend and enjoy lamb gives way to the fearful symmetry of "the Tyger?" The place of being where we we confess our inability to see order by saying: "Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know."
We must not underestimate the notion of "order" for to do so could lead one, I suspect, to that very intense Job-like conversation with God amidst a whirlwind. Should it surprise us that it is sometimes easy to mistake order for chaos and vice versa? Perceiving order may sometimes be very difficult and will often require a radically changed perspective, perhaps even a transcendent perspective. I am reminded of the Transfiguration and the fact that nothing in Christ was really transfigured as much as the eyes of the Apostles who were present were simply opened to see.
Perhaps it is a nothing more than a dreary eyed commute home in the back of a van, but I sensed a bit of connection with and a greater comprehension of an orderly universe. In the world around me, whether it be the structure of snowflakes, the colored patterns of a butterfly's wings, the geometric order of a seashell, the commonality of animal bone structures, the beautiful shimmer of green amidst the black of the australorp's feathers that can only be seen in certain light, the DNA's double helix with it's nearly unfathomably complex system of molecular mechanisms and machines, the seasons, the weather and climate with its unquantifiable and unknown variables, that Pi with its seemingly unending chaotic length that none-the-less leads to such geometric and universal uniformity in its utilization, the leaves of the trees, or the whole of the universe whose unseen unifying factors and laws makes all of this and so more possible, I can see design albeit not always in the classic sense of the much limited human means of design. Indeed, there is in my mind a rather large elephant in the room where Darwinists and IDer's choose to argue, and that is the simple fact that God's designs are perhaps a tad loftier than ours. Most theists, I should think, would know this.
But this does not mean we cannot yet see design (in the classical sense of the word) around us through good old fashioned scientific observation, I'm just suggesting a further step. May I also suggest that beauty, however or wherever it may be, is an artifact of intelligence in this universe. Love too. As surely as an archaeologist in finding a clay pot can infer intelligence in its existence, I believe we can see intelligence in the universe by way of almost all that is. Further, where it is harder to see it, I would claim that we have just not had our eyes opened widely enough yet.
The bigger picture will always be Christ. Whatever explanations we may offer, whatever explanations science may offer...they will always be at worse wrong and at best not wholly adequate unless they hinge on Christ. He is the Grand Unification Theory.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
There are somedays when the Psalms sorta fall into your head and as I relaxed and listen to the hum of the ferry's motors propelling us through Puget Sound...this is the Psalm (32/33) I recalled and later dug up:
Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the LORD with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.
For the word of the LORD is right, And all His work is done in truth. He loves righteousness and justice; The earth is full of the goodness of the LORD.
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap;[a] He lays up the deep in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the LORD; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.
The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.
The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He looks On all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works.
No king is saved by the multitude of an army; A mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain hope for safety; Neither shall it deliver any by its great strength.
Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope in His mercy, To deliver their soul from death, And to keep them alive in famine.
Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, Because we have trusted in His holy name. Let Your mercy, O LORD, be upon us, Just as we hope in You.
Seeing such holy items turned into mere "art" or objects of historic interest really saddens me. It's a similar feeling I get when people are assigned to attend an Orthodox Parish for some school project as if they were attending the liturgical equivalent of a civil war reenactment. At least in that case though you had opportunity to show the studious visitors a LIVING faith. The uber-wealthy who will hang these next to their huge flatscreen TV on the walls of their lavish homes will have no such opportunity.
Surprised by Christ When we lived on the east side of the sound, we were blessed to have Fr. James Bernstein as the catechist who led us into the riches of Orthodoxy and then as our spiritual father for several years afterwards. His is a truly unique story, that I look forward to knowing more about via his newly released book. Click the pic above to read more about Fr. James and his book, which as I understand it is far more than just a testimony, but is also an in depth look at the Orthodox Church as the fullness of the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
I've always been the kid who from time to time would shoot a bird with a BB gun and then spend the following weeks lamenting the act and trying to rid myself of images of baby birds waiting for a feeding mother who would never return. But don't rush into thinking this makes me a "touchy-feely sensitive uber-nice guy", because I am finding that generally such sensitivity arises well after the fact. Such as when I deflate my children with a tirade and realize only afterwards that I was a big grumpy jerk. And then feel awful until the time comes for the next tirade. I suppose there is a connection to the two (killing birds and losing my patience with the kids) in that my sensitivity's timing is such that I would take aim and pull the trigger (be it a BB gun or my temper) with little hesitation and only afterwards worrying about what I've done.
Today I killed the second Rooster. And while the novelty of such an act lends to it a certain "coolness", I must say that I personally take ZERO (0) pleasure in it. You know, it's funny, in talking about killing chickens with people, it is amazing how many people I talk to who will reminisce with me stories of their grandpa, grandma, mom and/or dad killing chickens. (the most common story I hear involves the method of neck wringing) And yet I cannot name anyone I personally know who has done so themselves (perhaps from my own ignorance)...but certainly I know of no one who does so now to any degree of regularity. Times have changed and I guess it's just easier to let the ugly factories and machines do our dirty work for us.
I know someone who cannot stand to hear me tell stories about butchering chickens. She's a hardcore lover of animals (spending thousands to give her dog chemotherapy once), and yet she will readily devour chicken bought at a store with their nice sterile looking packages that bear little resemblance to the bird that was until recently alive - albeit packed into feces and carcass ridden cages stacked miles high upon one another and never seeing the light of day. All attempts to nullify the horrors of my death-dealing with the fact that my birds lead a pretty good life is useless. The act of killing is too much for her to bear and while she'll reap the fruit of that ugly labor, she will not consider its reality. Speaking of fruit: She is a low hanging variety for PETA.
I understand people's apprehension toward death. We all know we live in a very sterile culture when it comes to death: we work very hard to maintain the illusion of death not really existing. And even when the illusion is shattered, it's ugliness is usually packaged up like the meat in your grocery stores. Hard words...ugly comparison, I know, but there is some truth here I believe. PETA will show people the horrors of factory farming and they are naturally sickened by it, but for folks who know AND from time to time deal in death (raisers of their own meat), the horror is more found not in the death itself or even in how it is specifically dealt out (though factory death machines often miss the mark and lead to wholly unnecessary and cruel suffering), but rather in the mindless, Orwellian, unattached, distanced, and inhuman massiveness of it all. How the animals are raised and live and then finally put to death...it is the rendering of life into nothing other than material commodity on a massive scale. Like living batteries powering the Matrix.
Looking at factory farms we say simply: "There is a better way."
In the time leading up to the roosters demise, I find myself - if not dreading - at least not looking forward to the deed. I find I get nervous and apprehensive to a degree...I don't really want to take this bird's life which I have helped to raise. Yes, I am motivated by my being awakened at odd hours and the need my family has for the meat, but this gives me no pleasure in the task, it merely fuels it by a certain necessity.
So I grab the high powered pellet gun and my miniature ultra-sharp bowie knife and head outside. I track the bird down and finally catch him...feeling bad for doing so. I grab him by his legs and carry him upside down to the eastern edge of the forest where Susan waits with a bit of rope hung from a tree. I'm not having fun. I hang him there upside down and then very quickly pass the pellet through his skull - demolishing it and then I slit his throat. Though he does flail for a little while, he's actually dead quite quickly.
And so, the deed done and my shirt covered in tiny splotches of blood, I find myself without remorse. A complete contrast to my feelings of birds killed in my youth for "sport." Then, the hardest part was the aftermath of regretting having killed the bird, now, the hardest part is taking aim. I think that is as it should be.
We should always be apprehensive about taking aim. Not only witb BB guns, but also with our temper. I think I have the former down...Lord help me with the latter.
A long-time friend of mine will be visiting tomorrow. And while this would normally be a joyous occasion I just got off the phone with him and have learned that his wife was JUST TODAY diagnosed with melanoma. No news of staging yet. Please, if you have a moment, remember this young family in your prayers: Steve and Ruth.
While the translation is poor, I enjoyed this brief interview none-the-less. Bishop Hilarion's basic point: Taking a good look at the world around us and its history, is it REALLY so hard (given a proper understanding of Orthodox teaching), to imagine hell?
Susan has blogged about Firefly's triplets HERE. It was an adventurous night, primarily for Susan and the girls - I believe they finally made it to bed at around 3am. Of course part of the "excitement" stemmed from the fact that this is the first time for us and so there is is fair amount the "new parent" stress going on. But we have lots of good advice and support from some local more experienced goat ranchers and so things are going quite smoothly. Susan is getting the kids acclimated to taking a bottle and they improve daily, but even still it is making for a good deal of work. I should also note that we've already run into communication problems in utilizing the word "kids."
There's a heatwave going on right now and yesterday we got the mercury (or alcohol) up near 90. Between caring for the "kids", addressing a "left-open" freezer emergency, and tilling up a section of the garden (BY HAND!) for sowing, I spent the day sweating and enjoying the otherwise beautiful day. Yes, it was another one of those days where I relish my choice of lifestyle. A million little projects are still left undone, but the season dictates to us now - especially on days like this one.
While tilling the soil I was accompanied by a Robin who was delighted to be helping him/herself to the worms I was exposing. He or she must have come and gone 20 times. A pair of Pileated Woodpeckers were doing some sort of mating ritual dance along the trunk of one of the trees in the woods behind me, causing quite a racket. I had to admit to myself (once again) how very much I enjoy this sort of work. I'm still trying to grasp why I find it so satisfying though I suppose much of it comes from the idea of working solely for yourself and for your family and of course the natural high that accompanies good old fashioned sweat labor. However, given the unusual heat, I tired quickly.
During one of the frequent breaks I took, leaning on my shovel and fanning myself with a straw hat, I watched Kelsey as she brought the kids out of the barn to their little pasture and I had to laugh at their attempts at the frolicking which will soon be apart of the everyday life. A day old and they know already that they ought to be having some FUN in this big foreign world.
We also planted some cherry trees that our dear friend Rade had given us. So we have ourselves a nice little orchard that includes three cherries, an Italian Plum, a Peach, and three apple trees. The apples are already producing, but I've no idea how many years we'll have to wait for the others. Plenty more gardening yet to do, and time is wasting.
The season also calls for firewood collection, but I'll admit I am apprehensive because of my most recent back injury - being of a different kind that I was unfamiliar with, I'm concerned. We'll see about that.
Then off we went to hit the grocery store and the Feed Store before Vespers. Straightway home after Church to stack some charcoal in the chimney so as to roast some of John Johnson's cow in the form of delicious burgers. The smell of roasting meat, the sun setting, the temperature evolving into some semblance of comfort, prayers sung, and sitting down with a cool IPA all topped off a very nice day.
Over the last week or so, Susan has been faithfully keeping vigil over our Nubian "Firefly." She was due to kid on the 13th, but she began showing intense signs several days before that and thus my hard working and devoted wife has been getting up one, twice, sometimes three times in the night's since last week to check on her.
Well, tonight, as I type Firefly is clearly in labor. I am putting the boys to bed and keeping watch over that task while heading out to the barn from time to time for updates. It's quite exciting and we are all a bit nervous since this is our first kidding and thus Firefly is by far the more experienced participant here and appropriately seems the most relaxed.
Baby #1 has just arrived...I'm going to check!
....adorable...beautiful...Charissa is in awe: "It's a miracle Daddy...hug me!"
Waiting for #2...#3(?)
I expect Susan will have pics in the morning.
O Master, Lord our God, Who has power over all creation: we beseech Thee and we entreat Thee , that as Thou blessed and increased the flocks of the Patriarch Jacob, so too bless the herd of goats of St. Brigid Farm; increase them, and strengthen them, delivering them from the violence of the devil, from strangers and from all other snares of the enemies, and wasting infirmities. Fence them about with Thy Holy Angels, protecting them from all envy, temptation, enchantment, and wild beasts, and from the action of the devil which may come against them.
Beginning in Lent and ever since I have been making Orthodox lectures and podcasts a part of my lengthy commute. What a blessing and encouragement they have been to me - and curiously enough I find they are having an effect on me in ways that watching movies such as "The Transformers" were not.
Presently I am listening to a fascinating lecture series by Fr. John Oliver called "The Astonishing Christ" and I really must commend it to you. I have just this morning finished the second session and truly it was inspiring. In my experience of Christianity in the past, a dichotomy was often created between theology and worship such that you had those who were "dry" in their theological pondering and those who were "sopping wet" in their emotional noisy worship. Sometimes we'd express this dichotomy in our own individual lives as well: theology was like mathematical formulas that we learned and applied toward complex word problems assigned to us - but rarely to REAL life. Worship would be a separate realm where we strove to meet a Person, not an equation. How flawed this dichotomous approach is!
Theology ought to be of such a nature that it does more than just give us head knowledge about a topic, but that such knowledge further and inherently propels us to action and change. WHO Christ is, says much about us, the Church, Creation, and EVERYTHING and it has significance upon everyday life. Even the most seemingly insignificant of things become impregnated with profound meaning in the context of a proper Christology.
Orthodox worship and life rightly incorporates theology seamlessly because theology is far more than "dead" equations. Theology, as is EVERYTHING, is all wrapped into the Person of Christ as Fr. Oliver so well notes in this series (as I've listened thus far.) There are so many gems particularly to be found in Part 2!
Everybody loves the hymn - at least everyone I know. And Kh. Frederica has recently posted a podcast about the hymn that is quite good, but I kinda felt like she didn't emphasize enough what makes the song a favorite, at least to an old softy like me. And that stems from the extent to which the Hymns of the Church speak to us from the perspective of our Lady on Holy Friday and on Great and Holy Saturday. The powerful emotions that they convey to us in the context of her obviously unique relationship to Christ, almost always chokes me up and also moves me to more deeply marvel at the mystery of the Incarnation.
Throughout those powerful services we move around from various perspectives to witness the events of those days "Today." Sometimes from a mystical perspective, other times from the eyes and thoughts (as deemed by tradition) of those actually present. For the Theotokos, they are often songs of tragedy and mourning than any parent can understand and any mother can relate to...painfully. But they often also end with a plea of faithful expectation. Here is but a small sample taken from the Matins of Holy Friday:
BEHOLDING HER OWN LAMB LED TO THE SLAUGHTER, MARY FOLLOWED WITH THE OTHER WOMEN, IN DISTRESS AND CRYING OUT: WHERE DO YOU GO, MY CHILD? WHY DO YOU RUN SO SWIFT A COURSE? SURELY THERE IS NOT ANOTHER WEDDING IN CANA TO WHICH YOU NOW HASTEN TO CHANGE WATER INTO WINE? SHALL I COME WITH YOU, MY CHILD, OR SHALL I WAIT FOR YOU? GIVE ME A WORD, FOR YOU ARE THE WORD. DO NOT PASS ME BY IN SILENCE, FOR YOU KEPT ME PURE.
TODAY THE UNDEFILED VIRGIN SEES YOU SUSPENDED UPON THE CROSS, O WORD. SHE LAMENTS WITHIN HERSELF AND IS SORELY PIERCED IN HER HEART. SHE GROANS IN AGONY FROM THE DEPTH OF HER SOUL. SHE PULLS HER HAIR AND CHEEKS, BEATING HER CHEST AND CRYING PITIFULLY: WOE IS ME, MY DIVINE SON! WOE IS ME, LIGHT OF THE WORLD, LAMB OF GOD! WHY HAVE YOU DEPARTED FROM BEFORE MY EYES? THE BODILESS HOSTS WERE SEIZED WITH TREMBLING AND CRIED: INCOMPREHENSIBLE LORD, GLORY TO YOU!
WHEN SHE WHO BORE YOU WITHOUT SEED SAW YOU SUSPENDED UPON THE TREE, CHRIST, THE CREATOR AND GOD OF ALL, SHE CRIED BITTERLY: WHERE IS THE BEAUTY OF YOUR COUNTENANCE, MY SON? I CANNOT BEAR TO SEE YOU UNJUSTLY CRUCIFIED. HASTEN AND ARISE, THAT I TOO MAY SEE YOUR RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD ON THE THIRD DAY!
And then on Great and Holy Saturday, Lamenting over Death marks the beginning:
TEARS OF LAMENTATION THE PURE VIRGIN SHED FOR YOU. WITH A MOTHER'S GRIEF, O JESUS, SHE CRIED OUT: HOW CAN I LAY YOU IN THE GRAVE, O MY SON?
THE EWE SAW HER LAMB SLAUGHTERED AND CRIED ALOUD IN GRIEF. SHE WAS PIERCED, WITH ANGUISH, AND THE FLOCK OF CHRIST ASSEMBLED TO JOIN HER LAMENT.
MY HEART'S DESIRE, O JESUS! WOE TO ME, MY LIGHT! WOE TO ME, O LIGHT OF THE WORLD! CRIED THE VIRGIN IN HER BITTER GRIEF.
But as most of you know, the services of Holy Saturday shift during their course and we hear in some melodies hints of Pascha and then in the words we see the light of Pascha rising such as when Christ Himself speaks to His Mother:
THE VIRGIN'S HEART WAS PIERCED; SHE SHED HOT TEARS FOR YOU, AND CRIED OUT LAMENTING. LIGHT OF MY EYES, O MY BELOVED SUN, HOW ARE YOU NOW HIDDEN IN A TOMB? DO NOT WEEP, O MOTHER! I SUFFERED ALL THESE THINGS TO GIVE FREEDOM TO ADAM AND EVE. O MY SON, I PRAISE YOU! FOR YOUR GREAT COMPASSION THAT LED YOU TO THIS SUFFERING.
I ESCAPED SUFFERINGS AND WAS BLESSED BEYOND NATURE AT YOUR STRANGE BIRTH, SON WITHOUT BEGINNING. BUT NOW, BEHOLDING YOU, MY GOD, DEAD AND WITHOUT BREATH, I AM SORELY PIERCED BY THE SWORD OF SORROW. BUT ARISE, THAT I MAY BE MAGNIFIED.
BY MY OWN WILL, THE EARTH COVERS ME, O MOTHER, BUT THE GATEKEEPERS OF HELL TREMBLE AT SEEING ME CLOTHED IN THE BLOOD-STAINED GARMENTS OF VENGEANCE; FOR WHEN I HAVE VANQUISHED MY ENEMIES ON THE CROSS, I SHALL ARISE AS GOD AND MAGNIFY YOU.
Followed shortly thereafter by that wonderful hymn of promise:
Do not lament Me, O Mother, seeing Me in the tomb, the Son conceived in the womb without seed; for I shall arise, and be glorified; and, as God, I shall unceasingly exalt all who extol Thee in faith and in love.
And then, at last, at Holy Pascha and indeed throughout the Paschal season with The Angel [who] Cried we heap melodies of joy upon our Mother, the Theotokos. A glorious song because in a way we are able to relate to how much she suffered herself in being witness to Her Son's and our Lord's Passion and we can only imagine her joy at seeing his Holy Resurrection. It is altogether "meet and right" that an Angel should proclaim to her: "Rejoice!" And that we do so as well...while doubly blessed to be sharing in that joy with her!
The Angel cried to the Lady full of grace Rejoice! Rejoice! O pure Virgin! Again, I say rejoice! Thy son is risen from His three days in the tomb! With Himself He has raised all the dead. Rejoice, rejoice, O ye people! Shine! Shine! Shine, O new Jerusalem! The glory of the Lord has shown on thee. Exult now, exult and be glad, O Zion. Be radiant, O pure Theotokos, In the Resurrection, the Resurrection of thy Son!
In Ukraine they celebrated the defeat of Nazi Germany in a somber way as they reburied a great many Soviet soldiers' remains. The sterility of American life - particularly with regard to death - has always fascinated me. We'll watch death endlessly happen on TV or in our movies as entertainment, but we will generally not stand to see its reality shown to us. An equivalent ceremony for American soldiers would certainly not look anything like this:
Yesterday while saying the Thanksgiving Prayers after Communion, I was hit particularly by this portion:
Grant me compunction and contrition of heart, humility in my thoughts, and a release from the slavery of my own reasonings.
Humility in my thoughts? Haha...how easy it is to voice our humility, but it is quite another thing to have humility in our thoughts! Can you imagine it? I suspect there are two things to be had here: humility in my opinions and humility in my perception of myself. And I am abundantly supplied with neither.
I also thought to myself (without humility I am sure): what would it really be like to be freed from the slavery of my own reasonings? I cannot imagine it...and while I can easily point to all manner of people who are far far too sure of themselves, I'm not at all sure I can easily admit I could use a dose of uncertainty in myself. How shall I escape my own reasonings of which I am so certain!
Obedience often means setting outside our own reasonings and just doing what we are told. Consider our kids, in that for them, obedience absolutely entails being "released from the slavery of their own reasoning." For to them, it is altogether meet and right for them to draw with the crayon on the wall. Granted, they often face immediate consequences for their inability to free themselves from their own reasonings, but we can at least see it is possible to do it.
Hopefully, love is the ultimate reason why we are obedient. And, love is in fact a form of obedience, so I suppose there is some circular reasoning here - but you are supposed to be freed from that anyway, so tarry on with me. In those times when we do not feel like loving and yet we do - which is precisely how marriages actually LAST - this is our being obedience to something/someone beyond on our reasonings.
Monastics face an overt form of obedience training, and through them we who live in the world can gain some insight into our own struggles in learning to be obedient. (In my experience, whether in their dis or obedience we can gain insight from our children too!)
I recall a story of a novice being told by his elder to plant a stick in the ground and to tend to it everyday. And so the novice did so for a very long time, watering the stick, obviously to no avail. Finally the novice gained the courage to tell the elder that nothing had happened, the stick had not grown. And the elder told him, "The stick has not grown, but YOU have."
And then this story:
They used to say that Abba Sylvanus had in Scete a disciple whose name was Mark, and that he possessed to a great degree the faculty of obedience; he was a scribe, and the old man loved him greatly for his obedience. Now Sylvanus had eleven other disciples, and they were disturbed because they saw that the old man loved Mark more than them, and when the old men who were in Scete heard of this they were also troubled about it.
One day when they came to him to reprove him about this, Sylvanus took them, and went forth, and passing by the cells of the brethren, he knocked at the door of each cell, and said, "O brother, come forth, for I have need of thee." And he passed by all their cells, and not one of the obeyed him quickly.
But when they went to the cell of Mark, he knocked at the door and said, "Brother Mark," and as soon as Mark heard the voice of the old man, he jumped up straightway and came out and Sylvanus sent him off on some business.
Then Sylvanus said to the old men, "My fathers, where are the other brethren?" And they went into Mark's cell, and looked at the quire of the book which he was writing, and they saw that he had begun to write one side of the Greek letter "omega" (o) and that as soon as he heard the voice of his master, he ran out and did not stay to complete the other side of the letter. Now when the old men perceived these things, they answered and said unto Sylvanus, "Verily, old man, we also love the brother whom thou lovest, for God also loveth him."
God grant that I may be so moved to do God's will before I finish my "omega's"
A friend asked me this question last night. In essence I think what they were aiming at was to find out if the Orthodox Church preaches social justice in the context of political endorsements and such. I generally get the impression that my questioner is left-leaning in that regard and was hoping that they'd see Orthodoxy's teachings expressed that way.
As most of you know it doesn't. Personally I am exceptionally happy that you are just as likely to see a McCain sticker as you are an Obama sticker in our Parish parking lot. Fundamentally we Orthodox all agree on the same things in terms of social justice, the difference is simply in an understanding of the role of government and the best way to accomplish social justice.
What are the limits of government? These sorts of question are not directly answered by the Church and thus, thankfully, the Church doesn't pontificate to us about for whom we ought to vote. Intelligent, conscientious, loving, and Christian people can agree to disagree on the role of government...but not on the teachings of Christ.
Christ Himself avoided political questions...at least as I read the Scriptures. He always seemed (SEEMS) to take all of our questions that we deem important and turn them around in such a way that we realize that the REAL issue is to be found in ourselves...often spinning us about like a top. It is my opinion that fundamental issues of the Christian life are rarely ones that we would direct toward our government for their fulfillment, but this doesn't mean that we ourselves might not translate those fundamentals into a particular vote...again in the context of how we understand the role of government.
Government is HUGE. It is a roaming behemoth in a china shop and when we ask it to work for us (whether on a liberal or conservative cause), it must rumble and lumber about as said large animal in a place ridden with breakables - having vast and far reaching effects. Whether it is a Medicare program or the removal of a dictator in a foreign land, the government has the means of greatly helping people, but it has a great deal of difficulty doing so (being the behemoth it is) without also causing harm to varying degrees. Often times its like doing micro-surgery with an axe. of course, now I'm just laying down my political philosophy...but it explains why I'm glad I don't walk away Sunday mornings feeling exhorted to vote a certain way.
I have been in both sorts of churches that will predominantly have one or the other candidates bumper stickers found in their parking lots. And in both cases I would judgmentally argue that there was a fundamentally flawed reason for this being the case.
The vote I should feel like casting after Sunday mornings is a vote to change ME. A vote to HOPE in Him who is Risen from the dead.
The Orthodox Church has been around for almost 2000 years and has seen her fair share of governments, I expect it will see more in the future. Governments come and go, but people and the illness they REALLY suffer from doesn't change...that's where the Church has work to be done. And in so doing, we'll see real change that begins in ways that we never foresaw: little ways, local ways...in our own hearts, in our families, amidst our friends, amidst our neighborhoods, amidst our communities...
Orthodoxy doesn't translate into politics...it absolutely TRANSCENDS politics by incomprehensible magnitudes!
Much ado is being made about Russia establishing Orthodoxy as an "official" religion...and to some degree persecuting other Christian groups. I don't pretend to fully understand the details of what is going on in Russia, I do know, however that liberal mainstream news media generally do not appreciate political leaders having much of any public religious life - let alone one that is arguably the oldest and most religiously conservative on the planet.
I'm a big proponent of religious freedom, I think I've made that clear enough here. And so I do not and will not support any governmental action to persecute any group or individual for their religious conscience. However...I DO understand Russian Orthodox Christian's concern about the flood of protestant (and even Mormon and JW's) flowing into their country. A few things to consider:
1. The Orthodox Church underwent 8 or so decades of brutal persecution from atheistic communists bent on wiping her out. In that time millions were martyred...MILLIONS! We cannot fathom it. It's effects on the Church were felt worldwide and we still see it today in the jurisdictional problem we have here in the US. In this time, where were the Baptists? Where were the Presbyterians? Where were the Assembly of God missionaries? The Orthodox Church went through this baptism of blood alone. Yes, I know there were a few religious minorities there at the time and sure, the Communist government would not let American Christian's in very easily....but none-the-less...no one can deny this was Orthodoxy's holocaust. And so when the walls were finally knocked down and the Orthodox Church was able to come up mostly out of hiding and be free, you might imagine their disdain for wealth ridden western protestants pouring in desperate to save Russians from the Orthodox Church. I can still recall Paul Crouch of TBN standing by his big TV antenna in Belarus blabbing about how "at LAST" the gospel was going to be preached in Russia! Such ignorance I might just consider allowing for legal action against.
2. Something we American's have a difficult time understanding is the extent to which Orthodoxy is rooted in Russian culture. This is a blessing and a curse for obvious reasons...but none-the-less there is precious little that we can compare this too here in America where diversity is so great and we uphold so few mutual traditions. A completely insufficient analogy might be to compare Protestant missionaries in Russia, to illegal immigrants in America bent on changing the official language here to Spanish. My guess is this would earn the ire of just about everyone, not the least of which being the most conservative people in this country. As I prefaced though, this is not quite the same thing...but then we American's affinity for protestantism isn't comparable to the Russian's affinity for Orthodoxy. We've no concept, generally, of a national religious identity and that too is a blessing and a curse.
3. Another thing to consider is that it is likely that the only thing Russians see with regard to the west is from our Nightly News and Hollywood. So conservative/religious Russians look at Europe and see massive secularism (remember they've had not too good a time with leftist atheism over the last 80 years) and then Gay Pride parades and general moral relativism and the filth served up from our various media sources. "These things are the products of a society built up from western religious beliefs and values?" They may ask.
Now, I'm not saying that they are correct or fair in this assessment, I'm just saying I can understand how one might see things in this way - what do they really know of the similarly conservative-religious types in our country? George Bush? Rather unhelpful to the perception I would think. Is it surprising then that there should grow a certain degree of political expediency in limiting the influence or presence of western sects? And besides, the New York Times article - while trying to sound dramatic and ominous - seems to be trying too hard. The REAL story of religious persecution and intolerance is right under their noses...and geographically right under Russia.
4. Codified into law and (more importantly I think) arising from religious dogma itself is the lack of religious freedom to be found throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Asia. Russia may have protests and its citizen's are thus able to shut down a gay pride parade in Moscow, but in Iran (for example) they simply hang you for being gay. Baptists in Russia may have trouble from time to time getting rental permits, but how exactly are the Baptist missionaries faring in Saudi Arabia? How are the Christians in Indonesia doing these days? I wonder: is it a crime punishable by death to convert from Orthodoxy to Mormonism in Russia? Is it legal to discuss the glories of Seventh Day Adventism on the streets of St. Petersburg?
I can understand the concerns about religious freedom in Russia and as I said I am totally against a state-church marriage and Russia should put the brakes on it. But really, if the New York Times wants to sniff out graduate level religious intolerance...well, ahem...there's a raging pachyderm in the room folks.
In a similar vein, Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev had some wise words for the EU recently.
As I've noted before, as finances allow I am building a humble little liturgical library. Nothing fancy with which I might pour over vast resources and find obscure rubrics and canons to torture my priest with...but rather just a few tools with which I can be a more useful, educated, and prepared Reader.
One that I have struggled to find is "The Apostol" from STS Press. It's been out of print for quite sometime and all attempts to find one sitting amidst dust on some obscure bookstore shelf have failed. The new revised edition is still forthcoming and so I got in contact with Asst. Professor Sergei Arhipov who is working on the revision. Alas, they are hoping to have it available at year's end. Have four children really taught me any patience? Hmmmm....
Well if your cruise through Half-Priced Books and happen to see one, grab it for me.
Unrelated, but worthy of note: we find ourselves amidst a Goat Labor Watch. Another of many signs that I'm not in Bothell anymore (Toto) is when the Abbess comes in from the barn to give me the latest tendon vanishing and mucus flow report.
The following is an excerpt from VDH's blog, for the next time you hear a college professor decrying the evils of WalMart's employment practices. Also, I think his prediction is intriguing and quite viable.
One can collate all the various reasons that have embarrassed the current university—the politically correct curriculum, the relaxation of standards, the political imbalance, the intolerance for diversity of thought, etc. But the one charge that proves the most lethal is this same hypocrisy, or the notion that well-paid tenured professors, with life-time assurances of employment of being on the job only 30 weeks a year, and usually accountable for only 6-12 hours of teaching a week on campus, harangue cash-strapped, working students with sizable loans, about the unfairness of society.
I have never quite encountered an intrinsically less fair institution than the university, at least in liberal terms of egalitarianism and respect for the underclass. A full professor may damn Wal-Mart, but Wal-Mart would never get away with the two-tier system that the university is built upon: the PhD part-timer has no job security, sometimes no benefits, no privileges, and earns usually about 25% of the compensation that is paid to the full professor to teach the identical class.
When one factors in the use of graduate assistants not merely to TA courses, but to teach them in their entirety, then you can appreciate the level of exploitation that the university is built on. And add to the notion that tuition has climbed higher than the annual rate of inflation, and the picture is complete of an institution that is entirely immune from public scrutiny.
I have a modest prediction—just as the bloggers, talk-radio, and cable news began to make irrelevant the grandees at the New York Times and the likes of Dan Rather at CBS, so too online colleges, web-based data archives, and junior colleges are starting to question the notion that one pays $40-50 thousand a year for university training—and often gets biased professors, part-timers and TAs, and a curriculum imbued with popular culture and politically-driven therapeutic courses. Learning and the university are not any longer synonymous, and the divide is ever widening.
Terry Mattingly has an intriguing talk about Mass Media HERE. It is well worth listening to and has some VERY insightful points about the power of media in our lives. I found his practical points at the end to be a little anti-climatic, but the notion that advertising theory is essentially sacramental was fascinating (and frightening).
But I suppose it shouldn't be surprising...much (likely all) of life is sacramental to a degree. I'm not terribly qualified to offer a precise definition of "sacrament" and indeed, perhaps we'll let western theologians attempt to offer a "scientific" definition, but I think the phrase that "you become what you behold" is applicable at some level.
And by "behold" I do not think we mean just "see", but indeed ALL the senses. I think we truly do underestimate the power of these connections to the world around us...and as Professor Mattingly points out quite well, the power of what input we receive.
"Communion" from the mall. "Iconography" from Hollywood. "Sound doctrine" from New York City television studios. "Beauty" from American Idol. "Discernment" from politicians' TV or Internet spots.
I once had a priest tell me that his favorite time of the day is the VERY early morning...before the world wakes up and the insanity begins. I understand what he means. But, as Professor Mattingly suggests, I do not think the answer is to completely tune out...though it is up to each of us to decide whether less might not be best. We turned our TV off nearly a year ago and have since been watching what little programming we watch online (I admit, I enjoy "The Office" and "battlestar Galactica").
But even online, we are inundated with news and images and programs and music etc that are more opportunities for communing with the skewed, the perverse, the slightly to horribly wrong. But, in defense of the internet, one can also find many profitable things (like this blog....LOL!) which you'll likely never find when taking "communion" from the TV.
The scriptures are full of exhortations to guard your heart and minds. "I will set no wicked thing before my eyes" the Psalmist reminds us and St. Paul has these familiar words to say in his epistle to the Philippians:
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
Emphasis is mine of course and speaks to the fact that St. Paul's "media" is something worthy of communing with. What about the "media" we are creating? Odds are it will mimic what we ourselves are partaking of.
Fr. Thomas Hopko's has a great talk on AFR HERE. While themed upon Great and Holy Friday, it cannot - of course - escape the reality of Pascha as well.
If I may paraphrase a particularly moving part in which we try and grasp the salvific reasoning behind Christ's death, Fr. Hopko reminds us to focus on Christ's perfect righteousness. And that when beauty meets ugliness, beauty triumphs; when justice meets injustice, injustice is destroyed; when love meets hate, love conquers; when light meets darkness, the darkness if overcome; and when LIFE meets death, death is trampled upon.
I really personalized this and looked at it through the lens of my day to day struggles with sin and I can affirm that when we let the victory of Pascha into our daily lives that we CAN be victorious over our passions. Everyday, for us, we can overcome our ugliness with beauty; our hatred with love; our injustices with justice; our darkness with light; and ultimately even our death will be overcome by LIFE.
Is this not what - in part - it means to "put on Christ"?
Boy, do I know it's not easy...but I find myself invigorated by Lent and Pascha to fight all the more so that in each and every moment I may choose to let light reign over darkness. Oddly enough in the very midst of the second by second struggle, once you even begin to lean toward what is good it will have a sudden tidal wave-like effect and the darkness is swept away by blinding light. AND, it makes the next struggle all the easier to engage as well.
As they say in 12 step programs: "Keep coming back." There is wisdom there: never give up.
Hell took a body, and discovered God. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.