Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dry leaves blown about aimlessly

OUR ENTIRE STRUGGLE in this life is aimed at discovering our 'deep heart' because that is the place where God manifests Himself. Above all, we aim to uproot the passion of pride within us, because this is the passion which buries the heart, leaving us feeling as if we no longer had a heart. 'Pride stops us from loving,' says St Silouan. Indeed, true love proceeds from humility, for the humble man has room in his heart for God and his fellow-men. As long as we are proud we will be separated from our heart; we will live only according to our little minds, totally missing the ultimate purpose of our coming into this life, and will end up as dry leaves blown about aimlessly by the wind. If, however, we succeed in finding our deep heart, then our mind will drop anchor not only in the heart, but also in the depths of heaven where our life is 'hid with Christ in God' . And God will come and make His abode in us.

Archimandrite Zacharias in "Remember Thy First Love"

Thursday, December 9, 2010

On Icons and Tradition.

So we ran into this painting of Jesus which apart from scaring us a bit, raises what I think a few questions worthwhile considering.

To the Orthodox the painting would obviously not qualify as an icon. But precisely why not? As one commenter aptly wrote, "'Decorative Jesus' can look like anything you want; it's only when you have to kiss an image that it gets personal." Very well. So it is suggested we look to Tradition to guide us, just as in theology, toward that which is believed to be true, right and faithful. (as an aside, would it not be harder to judge an image (icon) to be orthodox than it would doctrine?). Another commenter mentioned (I am paraphrasing) that individual opinion thus doesn't play a role in the church, that the church is a collective of sorts. Is that an accurate way to describe the issue? Do our opinions not count? Are our persons absorbed into a collective?

Icons and in particular icons of Christ are not new to controversy. What is it that an Icon of Christ depicts - does it depict Christ 's humanity, or Christ's divinity? We can't describe His divinity (which by definition is uncontainable and indescribable), nor His humanity apart from His divinity - the two natures are inseparable, Christian theology is quite clear about that. Also, why is it that the Orthodox church decided that as far as depicting Christ, symbolism (such as a lamb) is not acceptable? Whatever the answers, one thing is clear, the meaning and justification for icons is closely related to theology.

So, back to the present painting purporting to depict Christ. Besides not being to our particular taste, what's wrong with it?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Infinity and Beyond.

"People never cease to project on to God their individual and collective obsessions, so that they can appropriate and make use of him. But they ought to understand that God cannot be apprehended from without, as if he were an object, for with him there is no outside nor can the Creator be set side by side with the creature."

- Olivier Clement

"Most people are enclosed in their mortal bodies like a snail in its shell, curled up in their obsessions after the manner of hedgehogs. They form their notion of God's blessedness taking themselves for a model. "

- St. Clement of Alexandria

"Every concept formed by the intellect in an attempt to comprehend and circumscribe the divine nature can succeed only in fashioning an idol, not in making God known."

- St. Gregory of Nyssa

"The infinite is without doubt something of God, but not God himself, who is infinitely beyond even that."
- St. Maximus the Confessor

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On Christian Fasting

Father Stephen Freeman has a terrific and timely post up on fasting:

"Fasting is not dieting. Fasting is not about keeping a Christian version of kosher. Fasting is about hunger and humility (which is increased as we allow ourselves to become weak). Fasting is about allowing our heart to break."

"Christianity as a religion – as a theoretical system of explanations regarding heaven and hell, reward and punishment, is simply Christianity that has been distorted from its true form. Either we know the living God or we have nothing. Either we eat His flesh and drink His blood or we have no life in us. The rejection of Hesychasm is the source of all heresy."

Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Preview & Anticipation of God's Will.

We are quickly approaching one of the major feast days - the Presentation of the Theotokos celebrated on November 21/December 4. (The feast is also called the "Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple" or the "Feast of the Entrance".) I would like to share some of the hymns we will be singing this coming Saturday (as well on Dec. 4 in San Diego) and a brief reflection or two.

It's quite interesting to note the vivid "language imagery" that is used, as this feast is seen as a "preview of the good will of God" and a certain "anticipation" - this feast is seen as part and parcel of the Gospel events. It would seem fitting that this feast is celebrated during the Nativity fast as a certain preview and anticipation of that which is to come.

Today is the preview of the good will of God,
Of the preaching of the salvation of mankind.
The Virgin appears in the temple of God,
In anticipation proclaiming Christ to all.
Let us rejoice and sing to her: Rejoice,
O Divine Fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation.

Never shy of paradoxes, in this Kontakion we see the Temple and abode of heaven brought to the temple:
The most pure Temple of the Savior;
The precious Chamber and Virgin;
The sacred Treasure of the glory of God,
Is presented today to the house of the Lord.
She brings with her the grace of the Spirit,
Therefore, the angels of God praise her:
"Truly this woman is the abode of heaven."
Here she is referred to as the "precious Chamber" and the "sacred Treasure". The Mother of God is also often called "more spacious than the heavens" as she bore Him whom heaven could not contain.

Today, let us dance, O faithful,
singing to the Lord in psalms and hymns
and honoring His sanctified Tabernacle, the living Ark,
that contained the Word Who cannot be contained;
for in wondrous fashion she is offered to the Lord
as a young child in the flesh,
and Zachariah, the great High Priest, joyfully receives her
as the dwelling place of God.

These are only a few of the hymns we will be singing. Lots of deep things on which to ponder and to reflect. Blessed feast to all!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why God Allows Wicked Bishops

"This coming Saturday, with God's permission, the thirteenth of November, is the feast of St. John Chrysostom .

He was a good shepherd who was sent by the Good Shepherd. The Lord God provides us with special shepherds so that we may be comforted and strengthened, and so that we may learn. But not always. However, the true shepherd here in any case remains the Lord Jesus Christ. The one who said he will be with us every day until the end of the ages, He is the same one who is and was and will remain the Shepherd of His flock. Regardless of the identities of the shepherds who guide the flock of Christ, Jesus remains personally the eternal Shepherd who cares for all His flock individually, both through His shepherds and apart from them. There are shepherds from above who when they watch us, we see the Good Shepherd who is above and here at once. There are also shepherds who are not from above and are not headed upwards, who are chosen by people's passions and behave according to their own passions. Those also guide Christ's flock in His name by His permission, even if they are closer to being hired servants or wolves than shepherds. They obstruct the work of Jesus for a time, but they are unable to derail it. Whatever bad things they do against the work of God, the Good Shepherd will cause them to be for the good of those who seek the face of their Lord, whatever it may be, through ways that we know and through other ways that we do not know. But the question remains: why does the Lord God permit people such as these to govern his sheep and his flock?! Here is precisely where is hidden the mystery of evil harnessed in the service of the mystery of salvation."

From Fr. Touma's "The Mystery of Sin in the Mystery of Salvation." translated by Samn! Read the whole article here.

A very timely and timeless message, for indeed evil remains with us for a time; for now it remains a mystery of sorts attempting to pull all of creation towards its non-being. Christ makes it clear in the parable of the Wheat and Tares (Matt 13:24-30; 36-43) that for now evil is among us, even side by side His elect, until the very end of time. St. Paul reminds us of one possible reason for this: "there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you" (1 Corinthians 11:19). We see here a process at work, a process of manifestation and of revelation. St. John the Theologian explains, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us." (1 John 2:19). This is not at all easy and not at all clear nor always self-evident to us; however, we do know it is - or rather it can be if we so choose - for our salvation, the Mystery of Salvation, thanks be to our Good Shepherd who Himself visited and has plundered Hades for our sakes.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Complement of Christ's Humanity

The first Eve was taken out of Adam: she was a person who, at the moment of her creation by God, took unto herself the nature of Adam, to be his complement. We find an inverse relationship in the case of the New Eve: through her the Son of God became the "Last Adam", by taking onto Himself human nature. Adam was before Eve; the Last Adam was after the New Eve. However we cannot say that the humanity assumed by Christ in the womb of the Holy Virgin was a complement of the humanity of his Mother. It is, in fact, the humanity of a divine Person, that of the "man of heaven" (1 Corinthians 15:47,48). The human nature of the Mother of God belongs to a created person, who is the offspring of the "man of earth". It is not the Mother of God, but her Son, who is the head of the new humanity, "the head over all things for the Church, which is his body" (Ephesians 1:22-23). The Church is the complement of his humanity. Therefore it is through her Son, and in His Church, that the Mother of God could attain the perfection reserved for those who bear the image of the "man of heaven".

from Vladimir Lossky In the Image and Likeness of God
"The Church is the complement of His humanity" - it is our humanity Christ assumed and in Him we are seated in Heaven; moreover the Church is also the complement of Christ's humanity, the fulfillment of His humanity as was foreshadowed by Eve's complement to Adam.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Imperishable Life of Jesus Christ

"The hope for change...does not then come from inspired programs, but from inspired clergy, that is, when the clergy are truly aspiring to become useful vessels of God. The fate of the Church lies primarily in who the clergy are becoming rather than what they do."

Here is a worthwhile read about a modern-day church scandal which is in the process of being turned around for the glory of God. Nothing flashy mind you. No big programs, clever methods or exalted committees. This is an account rather of how one man's dedication to follow the commands of Christ is transforming the life of a city. This is a story about how the authentic holiness of a simple monk turned bishop (Metropolitan Meletios of Nikopolis and Preveza) became contagious and a veritable evangelistic tour de force. There are some universal lessons to be had from this account.

Even though Stephen Lloyd-Moffett initially started out his decade long study to discover a practical model for spiritual transformation, in the process he came to question the very validity of developing such a model. To his surprise he discovered that Bishop Meletios never set out to develop or use a program. Instead, through his own example, he restored the integrity of his priests; he set out to restore the church experience to its spiritual, aesthetic and traditional glory; and he labored to educate the people and re-establish monasticism.

As surely as Metropolitan Meletios did not use a "model" or program, Stephen Lloyd-Moffett did however analyze his encounter with Bishop Meletios and the people of Preveza in what he calls this "dynamic process in which the ancient faith finds its home in the modern world", and presents these notable principles.

  1. The Church is and must remain "of God" and not "of man". Programs and designs are based on human arrogance, a desire to play God. "The purpose of the leaders of the Church should be to act as a conduit or vessel of the divine, not a marketing arm of God."
  2. The bishop and clergy must lead and witness by their own example. "the hope of the Church is found in each of its representatives living within the imperishable Life of Christ"
  3. The Church must be universal in scope and uniting in action. Christ died for all people and therefore the Church is to remain independent from political affiliation and entanglements.
  4. The Church must cultivate the external elements of faith in parallel to the internal elements. Authentic faith in Christ will influence the external elements of our life.
  5. The Church should integrate monastics into the community. Monastics serve as an inspiration to others by means of their holiness and complete dedication to Christ.

The value of this book is in its refreshing approach it offers to the common struggles the Church faces in the modern world. We must change while remaining unchanged; we must shine while embracing obscurity. The power of true, authentic spirituality is the very power of God in our midst.

"Our hope does not lie in trendy charismatic revivals, clever programs, or well designed worldly motivators. Our hope is not placed in a human institution. Our hope is in God. As long as the true nature of the Church is not forgotten, we will never lose hope and fall into despair no matter what the circumstances we face. Yet this hope is predicated upon an understanding of the Church as the mystical vessel of God's grace and will. It is not an institution we run, but a mystery in which we dwell. Only then will we be energized by the imperishable Life of Jesus Christ."

May we all be energized by the imperishable Life of Christ indeed. There is much work to do, much transformation needed. First and foremost by and in me. May God in His ineffable mercy grant it so.

Beauty for Ashes: The Spiritual Transformation of a Modern Greek Community

Friday, October 15, 2010

Words of Wisdom from the Abbot of the Monastery of Hamatoura

Every day, we ask ourselves, do we know the Lord’s will? Do we love the Lord’s will? Do we do it with yearning and love? For example, the monk who first comes to the monastery, no matter what he read about monasticism or self-sacrifice and the spiritual life and service, he read it from a distance. So very quickly he is surprised once he is in the monastery that he is not able to be obedient, for example, that he cannot sacrifice. If he is hasty, he does not stand firm and does not bear fruit and he leaves himself to boredom and despair, and departs. The one who knows himself perfectly, that he cannot be obedient, that he cannot be humble, that he does not possess true virtues, in his patience and his harmony with monastery’s order and discipline, becomes holy because he acquires these virtues with patience and he bears good fruit. Then, when he talks to you about discipline, you can understand something. If he talks to you before having gained experience, before having reached this point of brokenness, sacrifice, and obedience in all humility, he cannot talk to you because all you hear out of his mouth is gibberish and incomprehensible words, since they do not spring from experience. For this reason it says: they bear fruit with patience, that is that they persist in this every day. Virtue does not come so quickly and we do not quickly become great saints, because it’s not magic and it’s not just a button that we push. It takes the whole life and sacrifice until death in order to bear good fruit.

Read the whole thing Notes on Arab Orthodoxy

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On Union with God

"Beatitude consists not in knowing something about God but in having Him within us."

- St. Gregory of Nyssa

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Apophatic Theology: the End of Knowledge?

It would seem that the apophatic or negative approach to theology would be the end of knowledge, or else a slide into nonsense, nihilism or gnostic subjectivism. The basis of the negative approach after all is the acknowledgment that its subject is that which is by nature inaccessible, beyond comprehension, beyond intellection. This would seem to make it entirely useless as far as the acquisition of objective knowledge. Yet, paradoxically, far from being esoteric or an aberration it is understood to be, and indeed has been, a normative approach by the Eastern Orthodox church from her beginnings. How can this be? How can the apophatic approach then be beneficial to theology, and indeed to the Christian life?

Vladimir Lossky sees this paradox and the implied apophatic attitude as part and parcel of Christian revelation:

"the transcendent God becomes immanent in the world, but in the very immanence of His economy, which leads to the incarnation and death on the cross, He reveals Himself as transcendent, as ontologically independent from all created being."

An apophatic approach then would hardly be optional. God is revealed as beyond our being, beyond being, beyond concept, time, space, thought and understanding. A positive approach (kataphatic theology) then, which affirms God is good, light, just, merciful etc., brings us to a certain point but ultimately falls short. Lossky posits that negative theology offers an "apprehension of supreme ignorance" and a mystical knowledge superior to the intellect, so here we start to see the usefulness of apophaticism:

"The negative way of the knowledge of God is an ascendant undertaking of the mind that progressively eliminates all positive attributes of the object it wishes to attain, in order to culminate finally in a kind of apprehension of supreme ignorance of Him who cannot be an object of knowledge."

So we can speak of knowledge, however it is a knowledge beyond our intellect. But would this not give way to gnosticism as a path to secret, deeper knowledge, or to provide subjectivism fertile ground? Not so if this mystical knowledge is not contrary to the rest of Christian revelation:

Just as iconographic "antinaturalistic" apophaticism is not iconoclasm, so also the antirationalistic negative way is not gnosimachian: it cannot result in the suppression of theological thought without detriment to the essential fact of Christianity: the incarnation of the Word, the central event of revelation, which makes iconography as well as theology possible.

Apophatic theology then is not the end of knowledge but a very necessary method to allows us to go beyond created being, indeed beyond ourselves. And that, to me, seems to be a good thing. Quotes are from Vladimir Lossky's "In the Image and Likeness of God". A related post with interesting comments in the combox can be found at Energetic Procession.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Where there is no love, nothing bears fruit and nothing leavens.

Thanks to the tireless labor of translation by Samn! over at Notes on Arab Orthodoxy once again a terrific article by Archimandrite Touma is ours to partake. Archimandrite Touma is Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite in Douma, Lebanon.

"Most of the problems that believers have encountered across history, as compared to non-believers, are on account of the disappearance of divine love among them. Why did Constantinople fall? Because in general the love of God was no longer active among the people. Why do groups of believers rise up against each other and break communion among themselves? Primarily because of a lack of love. Why did the Lord God permit the emergence of Islam? Because the divine love between us and among us had faded and some of us rose up against each other and so Islam was a great chastisement! Why do some Muslims consider the Christians among us to be crusaders and thus their enemies? Because the Crusaders, in the name of Christ, abandoned the love of Jesus and went to war, maiming and destroying. Why did novel teachings and heresies spread here and there? Naturally, because the Devil is at work, but also because at time because of a lack of love in us we do not properly embrace people and guide them, and so they take offence and go into error. The Lord’s last commandment in the Gospel of Matthew was: “Go and make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19). Why have the believers, or those who are considered to be believers, not succeeded in making disciples of all nations after two thousand years, when the Holy Spirit was given in the Church to the world, but to the contrary a very large portion of them have abandoned the Faith? Because they left their first love (Revelation 2:4) and to a large extent behaved in the spirit like pharisaical Jews. From where did disbelief and worldliness enter the world? From the hardness of hearts of a great many Christians and their disbelief in the faith of the Gospel. From where comes blasphemy against the name of Jesus? From the Devil who does not have the love of Jesus in him and from his workers among the non-Christians, but especially from his workers among those who are called Christians who no longer have the love of Jesus in them and they bear false witness against Him in the spirit. There is much talk of theology today: books, libraries, institutes, studies, all the media, internet sites…. But there is only a little of the Spirit! Many personalities but little spirituality! Why? Because the love of Jesus has faded in our hearts and they have grown cold. Where there is no love, nothing bears fruit and nothing leavens. Labor, however shining its appearance, however profound and fresh and valuable it may be, where there is not divine love, the Devil makes for himself a place to live! To a people who have come to sanctify knowledge without faith active through love in the Church except formally, I will recall the words of the Apostle Paul: “If I have all knowledge… but I do not have love, then I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). I will also say that the richest library of knowledge about God in existence is the Devil’s library! There is nothing more expansive than the Devil’s archives! There, there is everything that can be known about God, but without the Spirit of God and without love!"

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Appearing and Disappearing God

Does God hide?

I don't think I am alone in wondering how and why it is that God seems to appear and disappear - at times to be close and at other times to be quite distant. St. Simeon the New Theologian relates his experience:

I have often seen the light, sometimes it has appeared to me within myself, when my soul possessed peace and silence, sometimes it has appeared only at a distance, and at times it was even hidden completely. Then I experienced great affliction, believing that I would never see it again. But from the moment when I began to shed tears, when I bore witness to a complete detachment from everything, and to an absolute humility and obedience, the Light appeared once again, like the sun which dissipates the thickness of the clouds and reveals itself little by little, bringing joy. Therefore thou, Unspeakable, Invisible, Untouchable One, moving all things, revealing thyself and hiding thyself at every hour, thou hast disappeared and appeared before me day and night.

So it would seem that God is involved in some sort of elaborate game of hide and seek. But is this so, does God hide Himself from us? Is He playing games with us? It certainly does seem like that. But St. Simeon has more to say as he continues relating his experience:

Slowly thou hast dispelled the darkness which was in me, thou hast dissipated the cloud which covered me, thou hast opened my spiritual hearing, thou hast purified the pupil of the eye of my spirit. Finally having formed me according to thy will, thou hast revealed thyself to my shining soul, becoming invisible to me once more. And suddenly thou didst appear as another sun, O ineffable divine condenscension... O thou, who hast no place to hide thyself; for thou hast never hidden thyself from sight, never hast thou despised any one, but rather it is we who have hidden ourselves, unwilling to approach Thee.

So it is not that God disappears but rather that it is we who are like Adam and Eve, shunning our Creator. Is this a game? No,I suggest we ought to understand this as a healing process, as life long path to restoration, towards healing, towards beholding the Light. It is we who are blind, who are sick and need to come to learn to see our Physician who awaits us, who never left nor hid Himself.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tree should be healed by a Tree

There is a great hymn we sang for the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross. Here it is mentioned that Adam by means of a Tree was deceived, but that healing also came by means of a Tree. Quite profound:

Come, all you nations,
let us fall down in worship before the blessed Tree,
by which eternal justice has come to pass!
For he who deceived Adam by a Tree
is caught by the lure of the Cross;
and he who held under his tyranny the creature endowed by God with
royal dignity
is brought down in a headlong fall.
The serpent's venom is washed away by the blood of God,
and the curse of just condemnation is undone
when the Just One is condemned by an unjust judgment.
For it was fitting that the Tree should be healed by a Tree,
and that by the Passion of the passionless God
what was wrought on the Tree should destroy the passions of man,
who was condemned.
But glory to Your dread dispensation for our sakes, O Christ the King,
through which You have saved us all
since You are good and the Lover of mankind!

Fr. Stephen has a great post about this very subject.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Gospel, Earthly and Heavenly Things

“The Gospels do not speak of earthly things, but of heavenly things, teaching us a different life and polity, new riches and poverty, unprecedented freedom and bondage, another kind of life and death, a
different world and other - not like Plato, who contrived that ridiculous Republic of his, nor like Zeno and the other politicians, philosophers, and lawmakers. For all of them had the following common attribute: they revealed that the evil spirit secretly inspired their souls. Our own conscience which protests proves that all their ideas
were demonic devices, and all their teachings contrary to nature”
(St. John Chrysostom, Homily I on the Gospel According to St. Matthew).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Purity, Theology and True Intelligence

Some further reflections on the subject of knowledge, faith and some thoughts as to what comes from what. I have used knowledge and theology in a specific sense, not as it is commonly understood. I ran into this interesting passage by Alexander Kalimoros:

Knowledge is the vision of God and of His creation in a heart purified by divine grace and the struggles and prayers of man. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”.

Truth is not a series of definitions, but God Himself, “Who appeared
concretely in the person of Christ, Who said: “I am the Truth”.
Certainty is not a matter of intellectual harmony; it is a deep
assurance of the heart. It comes to man after inner vision and is
accompanied by the warmth of divine grace. Intellectual harmony, which is the outcome of a logical ordering of things, is never accompanied by this assurance.

The only way to knowledge is purity of heart. It alone permits the
indwelling of the Holy Trinity in man. In this way alone is God and
His whole creation known, without being conceptualized. He is known as He really is without becoming comprehensible and without being diminished in order to fit into the stiffing limits of the human intellect. Thus the mind (nous) of man, living and uncomprehending, comes into union with the living and incomprehensible God. Knowledge is the living contact of man with the Creator and His creation, in mutual love.
We see the same sentiments in Vladimir Lossky, for whom theology is communion, not primarily academic pursuit. "A theology that constitutes itself into a system is always dangerous. It imprisons in the enclosed sphere of thought the reality to which it must open thought." He then goes on to explain the relationship between faith and knowledge:

Christian faith...is adherence to a presence which confers certitude, in such a way that certitude here is first...What one quests is already present, precedes us, makes possible our question itself."Through faith, we comprehend (we think), how the ages have been produced" (Hebrews 11:3) Thus faith allows us to think, it gives us true intelligence. Knowledge is given to us by faith, that is to say, by our participatory adherence to the presence of Him Who reveals Himself.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Epistemology and Reason

Earlier today via email I had a discussion with an acquaintance about a statement I made that theology comes after repentance, understanding and knowledge (illumination) comes after communion. It is not the other way around, i.e. theology first and then repentance, or communion with God after understanding God. Theology is a gift from God, it is indeed communion with God. This clashes with our modern, western accepted modes of thinking about how we come to know what we know.

It is an important distinction, for often it would seem to us that indeed it is the other way around - first I know, then I believe; out of theologizing comes communion with God. Evidence for this, or so the argument goes, is that some sort of knowledge (the existence and love of God for instance) is needed to believe in God. And this is certainly so, but my argument is that this "knowledge" is but a very general knowledge at best, often nothing more than mere intuition. Such as we can see with the Ethopian who did not understand the scriptures and had to be instructed - truly what knowledge did he have? This common knowledge may be a vague intuition, a draw of the heart towards God, a whisper of a calling to turn towards God, a desire for closeness with God. So I hold that repentance comes before illumination and that right belief comes from right communion. The Ethopian communed with the Apostle, and illumination followed. We see this time and again in other examples. Moses meets God and receives understanding after his separation and ascend on Mt. Sinai. Saul of Tarsus receives his sight after repentance; communion with God precedes illumination, Saul becomes Paul the theologizer par excellence. (as an aside, we can see an ontological change in these individuals - they have been truly changed)

From a western, protestant perspective (such as from which I came), it is very difficult to come to terms with this. We like to figure all of it out first, and then give our consent if God meets our requirements (whatever those may be). Such are not the ways of God.

Since we have inherited this western approach to truth (to life, to meaning, to salvation etc.), I think it is important to make this clarification. I know many people who are struggling with this. Sure we should study and reason, but who do we commune with, whose authority will we accept? What is a sure foundation to be the basis for knowledge, and how are we to acquire it? Is the experience of God a possibility?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Barren Field Gives Birth to Fertile Ground

Today we celebrate the Holy and Righteous Ancestors of God, Sts Joachim and Anna.

O Joachim and Anna, holy couple,
from your barrenness a holy root has sprung.
From her shone Christ our God, the Savior of the world.
You have gone to dwell in the heavenly mansions,
to join the most pure Virgin, your daughter.
You dance with the Angels as you pray for the world.
We gather this day to praise in song your righteousness.
Through all-holy Mary, the child of God,
you became the ancestors to Christ.
Intercede with Him to save our souls!

History Revised - Those Noble-Minded Bereans

John at Notes From a Common Place Book has a very interesting post up.

By way of his recent travels he shares his experience as a member of the Church of Christ. It does not cease to amaze me how one's doctrinal position can distort history, the present and perhaps even the future.

Read it here Notes from a Common-place Book: 2010 Travel Notes #16: Those Noble-Minded Bereans

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Beautifying Your Creature

You are wonderful, O God, and wondrous are Your works!
All Your ways are unsearchable!
For You are the Wisdom and perfect Hypostasis and Power of God;
Your working together is co-unoriginate and co-eternal;
therefore, by Your almighty power, You came into the world, seeking to
beautify Your creature,
in an inexpressible manner—from a Mother who had not known man,
yet, not changing in Your Godhead;
for You plan the seasons and the ages to accomplish our salvation, O
Changeless One.
Therefore we cry out to You:
“O Good Lord, glory to You!”

A New Year and Prelude to Joy.

It is very interesting to take a look at the beginning of the new church year which started on September 1. The very first major Feast we celebrate (September 8) is the birth of the Theotokos. This is not insignificant.

Today the gates of barrenness are opened,
and the virgin gate of God comes forth.
Today grace begins to bear its first fruit,
revealing to the world the Mother of God.
Through her things on earth are joined with the heavens
for the salvation of our souls.

The very beginning of our salvation is not the birth of Christ, but the birth of His mother - "today grace begins to bear its first fruit". Through her obedience the Incarnation was made possible, the Incarnation by which "things on earth are joined with the heavens". Truly miraculous, indeed the salvation of our souls.

Today is the prelude of universal joy;
today breezes blow that herald salvation,
and the barrenness of our nature is dispelled;
for the barren woman is revealed as the mother
of her who remained a virgin
after giving birth to the Creator.
From her the One Who is God by nature
takes what is foreign to Him and makes it His own;
and works salvation through the flesh for those who have gone astray.
He is Christ, the Lover of mankind and the Redeemer of our souls.

The barren woman of course is St. Anna, the grandmother of Christ, and through her "the barrenness of our nature is dispelled". Again we come to see the Incarnation, "the One Who is God by nature takes what is foreign to Him and makes it His own; and works salvation through the flesh".

Blessed Feast!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Calm Harbor

"Here in the church there is the one thing needful: Here is a refuge from the vanity and the storms of life. Here is the calm harbor for souls seeking after salvation. Here is incorruptible food and drink for the soul. Here is the light that enlightens all men existing upon earth. Here is the clean air of the spirit. Here is the fountain of living water which flows to life eternal (John 4:14). Here are distributed the gifts of the Holy Spirit, here is the cleansing of souls. The reading and chanting is done in church in a holy language. All Orthodox Christians should learn it, that they might understand the sweet pronouncements of their mother, who educates her children to prepare them for heaven, for life eternal…. Here in the temple, man comprehends the truly noble origin of his soul, the worth of life and its goal and purpose. Here he is torn away from his fascination with earthly vanities and passions. Here he comprehends his temporal and eternal fate. Here the Savior lives in His Life-giving Mysteries, in His salvation. Here he recognizes his true relationship to God and to his neighbor, to his family and to the society in which he lives.

The temple is heaven on earth, a place where intimate union with the Divine takes place. It is a heavenly school, where Christians are taught to become citizens of heaven, where they are taught heavenly norms, the way of life in heaven. It is the threshold of heaven, a place of communal prayer, thanksgiving, and praise of the Triune God, creator and protector of all. It is a place of unification with the angels. What is more honorable and more esteemed than the temple? Nothing. In its Divine Services, as in a blueprint, are severally depicted the fates of all humanity, from beginning to end. The Divine Services are the alpha and omega of the world and of mankind."

St. John of Kronstadt

h/t Word from the Desert

For more about St. John, see here and here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Long way to go yet.

Someone who has actually tasted truth is not contentious for truth.

Someone who is considered among men to be zealous for truth has not yet learnt what truth is really like: once he has truly learnt it, he will cease from zealousness on its behalf.

The gift of God and of knowledge of Him is not a cause for turmoil and clamor; rather this gift is entirely filled with a peace in which the Spirit, love, and humility, reside.

The following is a sign of the coming of the Spirit: the person whom the Spirit has overshadowed is made perfect in these very virtues.

God is reality. The person whose mind has become aware of God does not even possess a tongue with which to speak, but God resides in his heart with great serenity. He experiences no stirring of zeal nor argumentativeness, nor is he stirred by anger. He cannot even be aroused concerning the faith.

St. Isaac the Syrian (of Nineveh), 7th century

Friday, August 27, 2010

Light from the East

Perry at Energic Procession unearthed an excellent quote on Eastern Orthodox Ecclesiology. I really ought to quote the whole passage, it is that good. Here is a fragment:

All the bishops participate in the apostolic succession and all the local churches are for this reason in communon with each other. By regarding the Petrine succession and not the apostolic succession of all the bishops as the origin and basis of this power, the pope isolated himself not only from the community of bishop, but also from the whole Church. Seen in this light, it was quite logically consistent for the First Vatican Council to define the decisions made by the pope ex cathedra as irreversable ex sese, non autem ex consensu Ecclesiae.

Read the whole thing here

About the Archbishop of Australia, see here

Notes on Arab Orthodoxy: Our Lady of the Wind

“O Virgin, calm the tumult of our passions and quiet the storm of our sins…” (from the Paraklisis to the Theotokos).

This is the message of the icon of the Theotokos, Our Lady of the Wind and what is written underneath it. She is lifting up the prayers of the faithful who are drowning in the sea of sorrows and the tempest of temptations to the Lord Jesus who is always present and watching from heaven, which is represented by the sky-blue circles amidst the golden background. He blesses with both His hands in response to the intercession of His mother the sailors who struggle amidst the waves that toss about the fishing boat (and the boat is a symbol of the Church). He leads them to the shore, the place “below the wind” north of Ras Qal’at Enfeh where the church of Our Lady stands. They seek refuge under her serene protection, far from the storms and whirlwinds coming from the sea (a symbol of death and the world of darkness where the dragon plays (the psalm of vespers). The whirlpool which appears along our coasts in the winter is still called “the dragon” by local fishermen and this is reflected in the icon by depicting the storm in this form), from the southwest across from the cliff, but the Theotokos Our Lady of the Wind is standing next to her church, lifting up her left hand in supplication to her divine Son to preserve her children, while with her right hand she repels from them the storm coming from afar.

From Notes on Arab Orthodoxy: Our Lady of the Wind

Thursday, August 12, 2010

From Metaphysics to Life

The roots of the obsession with historicity and empiricism present in western Christianity can be traced back to faulty assumptions. The division rest largely upon the acceptance or rejection of Hellenic categories of thought. For the west acceptance of Hellenic thought meant rejecting the essence and energy distinction as developed by the Church Fathers. God's activity is thus understood to be the same as His being. For God to be, is to act or will. His essence can be known and knowledge then becomes the pivot around which western Christianity has turned since St. Augustine.

The ramifications are huge when God's essence (God as He is to Himself independently of His self manifestation) is confused with His energy (activity).

Highlighting some the practical implications of differences between the eastern and western Christian traditions, David Bradshaw summarizes,

"The East has no concept of God. It views God not as an essence to be grasped intellectually, but as a personal reality known through His acts, and above all by oneself sharing in those acts...this understanding leads to a distinctive view of the role of asceticism and other spiritual practices. For the East these are viewed, not as a way of disciplining the body, but as contributing to an ongoing deification of the whole person, body as well as soul. A similar difference can be observed in regard to religious morality as a whole. For the East morality is not primarily a matter of conformance to law, nor (in a more Aristotelian vein) of achieving human excellence by acquiring the virtues. It is a matter of coming to know God by sharing in His acts and manifesting His Image."

From the Epilogue of Aristotle East and West - Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church there is no such need to "grasp God intellectually", no need to endlessly fret about historicity. (For some further thought on Christianity and history see Fr. Stephen's Time and History)

I will post some further material from David Bradshaw shortly.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The man who does not love his enemies

The Holy Spirit teaches us to love our enemies, so that the soul pities them as if they were her own children. There are people who desire the destruction, the torment in hell-fire of their enemies, or the enemies of the Church. They think like this because they have not learned divine love from the Holy Spirit, for he who has learned the love of God will shed tears for the whole world.

You say that So-and-so is an evil-doer and may he burn in hell fire. But I ask you — supposing God were to give you a fair place in paradise, and you saw burning in the fire the man on whom you had wished the tortures of hell, even then would you really not feel pity for him, whoever he might be, an enemy of the Church even? Or is it that you have a heart of steel? But there is no place for steel in paradise. Paradise has need of humility and the love of Christ, which pities all men. The grace of God is not in the man who does not love his enemies.

O merciful Lord, by Thy Holy Spirit teach us to love our enemies, and to pray for them with tears.
O Lord, send down Thy Holy Spirit on earth that all nations may know Thee, and learn Thy love.

O Lord, as Thou Thyself didst pray for Thine enemies, so teach us, too by Thy Holy Spirit, to love our enemies.
O Lord, all peoples are the work of Thy hands; turn them from enmity and malice to repentance, that all my know Thy love.

O Lord, Thou didst command us to love our enemies, but it is hard for us sinners, if Thy grace be not with us.
O Lord, pour down Thy grace upon the earth. Let all the nations of the earth come to know Thy love; to know that Thou lovest us with a mother’s love,
and more than a mother’s love for even a mother may be forgetful of her children,
but Thou forgettest never, because Thy love for Thy creation is boundless, and love cannot forget.

O merciful Lord, by the riches of Thy mercy
save all peoples.

St. Silouan the Athonite

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Still a Valid Admonition for Today?

Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth. - St Irenaeus, Against Heresies, IV 26:2

Craftily Decked Out

Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outwardform, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself. - St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Preface

Mormonism comes to mind. Cleverly disguised reinterpretation.

Of Guessing at Things Above.

"It is very shameful, and not only shameful, but very foolish, to take from things below a guess at things above, and from a fluctuating nature at the things that are unchanging, and as Isaiah says, to seek the Living among the dead." - St. Gregrory Nazianzen, Fifth Theological Oration, X

The discontinuity of being. It serves as a reminder to be very careful in looking around about (and at myself) and by analogy or deduction arrive at an understanding of God.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Providence and Freewill

Milton in the combox at Notes from a Common Place Book made a comment in passing in regards to God's decree and God's allowance of all that comes to pass. Without clarification such a statement could easily lead to misunderstanding and result in quite serious negative consequences. Let me make clear, my intent is not to put words in Milton's mouth, for I do not fully know his position. I do wish to briefly reflect on this subject here and for those interested we can have a conversation about this topic, and so as not interfere with conversation at Common Place Book (rule #1: never mess with ZZ Top!).

So let me just start by noting that it is important to make clear that by providence we are not to understand that everything that happens is a direct expression of God's will. To put in other words, an important distinction needs to be made between what God wills and what He permits. If this distinction is not made one falls into a dark theological fatalism, a theology of raw and arbitrary Power. We can see this in Reformation theology, in constructs such as limited atonement and predestination. A failure to understand real liberty within creation, without at the same time denying or diminishing God's freedom to will and sovereignty, leads to fatalism. As an aside, this is where a mere reliance on “physics and logic” and "theology by analogy" can easily mislead.

If one does not make this distinction every event is seen as a positive act of God's will and purpose, as if without such events God's plan would somehow be incomplete or not come to pass. There is no room for mere accident. We frequently see such unfortunate pronouncements made during the aftermaths of disasters and human suffering.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Note to Self

"We should therefore pay no attention to such as are deceived by sensory things, and should not uncritically follow those who remain attached to what is worldly because they have never given thought to spiritual realities. To rely upon such men, and to consider that they have made a wise choice in pursuing transitory pleasures, is to put our trust in those who lack any criterion for making a sound judgment; it is like using the blind as judges of color or the deaf as music critics" - St. Neilos the Ascetic