James and Cliff have both written recently about the ideas found in Plato's Republic and the impressionability of children in regards to the teaching of virtue. I thought I'd chime in a bit with something I ran across yesterday.
Ann Mitsakos writes in the most recent issue of Praxis magazine the topic of teaching children and quotes a homily written by St. John Chrysostom entitled, ""Address on Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring up Their Children." She says:
"Chrysostom says a child's soul is like a city, and parents (or teachers) are to think of themselves as lawmakers for the security of the city. In a time when cities were walled, and the only way in and out of a city was through its gates, Chrysostom explains that the gates of this child's soul are [the senses]....The young should not hear evil or harmful stories from anyone who takes care of them. 'Let them not hear frivolous and old wives' tales: 'This youth kissed that maiden. The king's son and the younger daughter have done this.'
One of the great things about the iconographic tradition in Orthodoxy is that the icons help implant in our souls the possibility of the remembrance of beauty. Even when a child is too young to read or be read to, they can still "learn" the stories of the Bible and Church history by gazing at the icons...I have had more than one cradle Orthodox tell me one of their earliest memories is looking at an icon. The image of humility, strength, love and grace that emanated from it stayed with them the rest of their lives. The same goes with the Scripture imbedded in the liturgy. After being immersed in it, it starts to become a part of you, even at a very early age.
I only wish I had heard more of the Scripture as on organic part of my life growing up. I think it is safe to say that when one fills one's mind with unholy images and experiences in childhood, they become lasting influences later in life. I think Plato was on to something here.
I've been looking at the writings of a relatively unknown French writer named Charles Peguy recently and have found some thought provoking lines. Peguy was an early 20th century philosopher and essayist and Catholic turned atheist turned Catholic again! Here are some of his gems:
"Homer is new and fresh this morning, and nothing, perhaps, is as old and tired as today's newspaper."
"A word is not the same with one writer as with another: One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket."
"A review only continues to have life if each issue annoys at least one-fifth of its readers. Justice lies in seeing that it is not always the same fifth."
"It will never be known what acts of cowardice have been motivated by the fear of not looking sufficiently progressive."
A well liked and energetic building maintenance manager here at my office is being shipped off to the Middle East today. He is a active reservist in the Marine Core and will be working in quite possibly the most dangerous place during the war: a war-zone hospital.
If chemical or biological weapons are used against our troops, he will be on the front lines trying to save lives from the horrible effects of anthrax, smallpox and other contagious diseases.
While I support the war effort and believe the case against Suddam is more than enough to justify military action, it is always a difficult thing to say goodbye to those who you know may not be coming back to their families and homes.
Bob, I am proud of you and the work you will do for our country and our soldiers. With all the prayers of the saints, may God be with you.
My wife was looking through the classifieds this past weekend and remarked on a pattern she was noticing in regards to the local "religion" section.
There were literally dozens of ads or announcements from various mainline Protestant churches inviting the public to participate in their newest seminar, church-sponsored activity or sermon topic. Every ad shared one thing in common: all of the activities or seminars were focused on an aspect of an eastern religion other than Christianity. (Note: Christianity IS ITSELF an "eastern" religion!).
But here what I mean is the Far East: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc.
Some examples: A Presbyterian church advertised a seminar on Zen meditation and its integration into the Christian faith.....Another mainline church advertised their next sermon topic on how studying Islam and its cycle of daily prayer can explain how we worship the "same God"... Another church advertised a seminar on how understanding the fasting practices of the ancient Hindus can revitalize one's health and ability to love God....
Having dabbled in Buddhism for 2 years, one of the things about Orthodox Christianity that intrigued me initially was how it seemed to have certain key spiritual elements that western Christianity never had (or at least had lost at some point in history). Fasting, silence, meditation, sacramental and liturgical worship...all of these elements are fast becoming a fascinating topic for western Christians. Why? Because for many, their own tradition has lost that vital and organic link to the way of life Christians are called to live.
It is sad that many feel, as I once did, that they have to go somewhere other than their Christian upbringing or history to find these important elements. What astounded me was to realize that all that is good and profitable in other faiths has been perfected and fully integrated in the history and life of the Orthodox Church.
There is a story relating to this -- When the Dali Lama visited the States a couple of years ago, a story was told of a group of people who asked him for advice in the spiritual life. He responded by asking if they were Christians and they said they were, but eagerly asked for some esoteric "eastern" advice...He promptly told them if they wanted to become more spiritual they needed to mine the riches of their own tradition! He pointed out that within the history and Tradition of the Church there is more than enough spiritual wisdom and guidance if one is willing to place themselves within its life. We'd all be better off focusing more on the wisdom of the monastic desert fathers than the Hindu or Buddhist sages!
Josh Claybourn has a great post that I've reprinted here with my own thoughts at the end:
Thinking you know the truth is arrogant and intolerant: This really comes down to a matter of fact versus opinion. When you believe something is fact, and many who find pieces of "truth" do, then offering it up is not arrogant or intolerant. Consider an extreme example. If someone has fallen asleep on train tracks and a train is headed toward her, it is not intolerant for someone to warn her. Similarly, for religions that believe one is headed to hell unless certain beliefs/actions change, I'm not the least bit offended that they would want to "save" me.
The important thing in life isn't having truth, but searching for it: Circular reasoning at its best. Doesn't that mean you've found the important thing already, so there's no need to search?
Faith hinders the search for truth because it gets in the way of reasoning: If you believe this to be truth, I have a challenge for you. Imagine someone says to you, "All reasoning is bologna." That person is wrong, but can you prove it?
There isn't any truth: Er, except for that truth, that there isn't one...you get the picture. When someone says this just ask, "Oh wow, is that true?"
Maybe truth exists, but we can't find it: Except we can find the truth that one doesn't exist, right? Gosh, all this circular reasoning is making me dizzy.
Maybe we can find out some truth, but not the biggest and most important things: Perhaps the most valid argument, and one that requires more room to address (for another day).
Truth is whatever you sincerely believe: I believe you're sincerely wrong. *End Quote*
The first statement really grabbed my attention because it is a common complaint made against the Orthodox when discussions of ecclesiology get heated. When the Orthodox say "there is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church that is unified in faith, doctrine, and life and has been for 2000 years," more often than not the impression made is that Orthodox people are somehow claiming personal credit for this truth! Far from it! Now, it can be said that Orthodox people, while claiming the truth of the Church, can be arrogant, prideful and triumphalistic about it. But, while this is a sin, this action does not nullify the truth of the claim itself.
My other thought is on the last statement, "Truth is whatever you sincerely believe." My question is what similarities does the statement "Church is whatever you sincerely want it to be" have in common with this, as this is a common refrain among my postmodernist Evangelical friends? Are we free to reinvent the fundamental nature of the church's life and teachings, as long as we sincerely believe in them? If there is no visible boundary to the Church's teachings, worship or faith, why even be a Christian? (as opposed to a Muslim or just nice, tolerant, secular humanist or deist).
I think Leon Podles makes a great point over at Touchstone about the problem with males and literature in schools.
"Most "literature� is the printed version of chick flicks, and produces instant boredom in males."
The problem with school assigned literature is not so much that it emphasizes relationships over narrative or plot. The problem is that most of the books and stories read in school are chock full of political correctness and patronizing propaganda. Rather than reading the great works of the western canon, our youth are subjected to the latest literary fad; whether that be feminist, Marxian, or angry minority screeds.
As the saying goes, obscure writers are obscure for a reason.
"Within late twentieth-century North American Christianity, heresy has become an unpopular word. Can't we all just get along and live together in peace? Unfortunately the answer is no. Peace cannot be purchased at the expense of truth. In 1 Timothy, Paul writes that we are to pay close attention to ourselves and the doctrine and to continue in it, for in doing so we shall save both ourselves and those who hear us (1 Tim. 4:16 ). There is an inviolable core to the Christian faith. Harsh as it sounds, to violate that core is to place ourselves outside the Christian tradition. This is the essence of heresy, and heresy remains a valid category for today. This is not to endorse a McCarthyism that finds heretics under every rock. Nor is it to end the action of God's grace in anyone's life. But it is to own up to the fact that truth is never supplemental but always fundamental to Christian community."
I promised I would post some more from Matthew Gallatin's new book, "Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells." Gallatin describes (pgs 29-39) his initial search for truth and how he attempted to reconcile the apparent contradictions within his Protestant experience. I think his thoughts may add a new twist to the discussion on what the Church is, the nature of truth, etc. I'll leave my comments for another post. Here is what he has to say:
"It seemed to me that I could avoid this problem [ecclesiastical relativism] if I could convince myself that either 1) it is not important that our beliefs about God are actually true or 2) God wants his children to have different views of truth, or 3) all of these distinctive, contrary versions of truth are somehow equally true.
The first option was appealing. It was easy to chuckle and say to myself, "You're just playing theological games here. These issues aren't important. To be a Christian, all you have to do is love Jesus and live a good, moral, Christian life. God's not going to judge you on your theology."
[But] what does it matter if I live a good Christian life and call my Savior Jesus? If the God I love and worship is not real, I am no different from all the fervent, kind hearted heathen, or the pious, morally upright pagan....[maybe] one can always fall back on the failsafe position, "Hey, even if I'm wrong when it comes to everything else about God, I trust that His Love is deep enough that He will overlook my errors in thinking and save me anyway."
...When one envisions the broken and bleeding Lamb of God sacrificing Himself on the Cross, it seems like compelling evidence for such an all-encompassing, unqualified acceptance....[but] different schools of Protestant thought have contrary ideas about what Jesus accomplished on that Cross....Obviously, my assumptions about God's designs for His human creatures affect even my definition of His Love and what His Love will lead Him to do....
The crux of [the second] argument is that the current situation, in which different Christian groups have divergent views about the truth of God, is exactly the state of affairs that God wants. These teachers suggest God intends to bring all His children to a full knowledge of the truth at some point in the future. But for now, He has decided to scatter the truth like puzzle pieces throughout the various denominations...when Christ returns...a beautiful mosaic of truth will be revealed....[However], if each group of denomination has only a piece of the truth, then the rest of what each group believes must contain falsehood. ...
Still desperate to find a way to view all believers as real Christians despite their contradictory concepts of truth, I turned to an oft-invoked axiom [the third argument]. It seems to be the defense most Protestants raise when asked to account for the legitimacy of their particular beliefs in the face of the wide variety of Protestant beliefs and practices. The maxim goes: 'You don't have to be concerned that other people have a different understanding of the truth. You just have to be true to your own convictions. One's relationship with God is an entirely personal thing. Just live up to "the light that you have," to what you believe the truth to be. That's what God expects.'
Of course, if this is the way things work, it means every person's version of the truth is correct--or at least correct enough to establish him in a saving relationship with God....[but] such thinking makes sincerity of conviction the key to salvation. But this idea presents enormous problems. For instance believing that sincerity is all it takes to make my faith a saving Christian faith necessarily implies I can believe absolutely anything about God and still confidently call myself a Christian." *END QUOTE*
"A certain person went to a medical center and inquired of the doctor,
"Do you have a medicine that would treat sins?"
The doctor answered with a discourse: "We have--Take a root of
obedience, add a leaf of patience, the flower of purity, and the fruit of
good works. Crush it together in the pot of silence, and sieve it through
the discernment of humility. Blend it into water from tears of prayer and
pour into a melting pot of fellowship. Heat it with fiery divine love. Cover it with
charity, and when it is ready, salt it with brotherly love. Take it with a
spoon of repentance, and you will be healthy."
(Taken from the life of Schema-Nun Sarah of Borodino)
There are a couple of aspects of Orthodox spirituality that continue to amaze me that are illuminated in this little anecdote:
1) Salvation is relational, not juridical.
2) Salvation is therapeutic, not legal.
Not that the legal metaphors are of no use. Penal-substitutionary theory has a place in Orthodox soteriology-just not the place of primacy it has in the West. In the West, there is a tragic misunderstanding and experience of salvation and much of that is due to the loss of the therapeutic model used by the Fathers.
A friend of my sister-in-law's is interested in Orthodoxy, but she is very upset by the Orthodox position of closed communion. To her it smacks of arrogance and pride. "How can they deny me, a Christian!, the chalice?" During the discussion, we asked her, "Does it make you angry or hurt that, as a non-Orthodox, you can't participate in the sacrament of confession? Or that you haven't worked out a rule of prayer with a spiritual father?" Stunned silence. "Well no, I guess not." she said.
The questions is this: if salvation is union with God, union with our neighbor and the eradication of our sinful nature, why do we tend to compartmentalize the different aspects of the spiritual life? --- "I want communion, but not confession....I want truth, but no doctrine...I want fellowship, but no common life...I want humility but without having a spiritual father"....etc.
More often than not, we usually aren't willing to follow the historic, tried and true way-- the Church's "prescription." Why? Because the it is a lifestyle of self-denial within a communal commitment to the visible body--two things that go radically against the grain of our individualistic and self-gratifying culture.
Matthew Gallatin makes this point so well in his new book, "Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells"--
"[Life in the Church] is a way of life totally devoted to self-sacrificing, obedient, loving service of Christ and our neighbors. The Lord provides a remedy for the those who are struggling to find the truth, who are seeking authentic union with Him. He also provides a path for those who are already "Orthodox" in name but who have failed to really live out, with God's grace, the Orthodox life. Healing and transformation will come for both, as each responds to the call to actually BE ORTHODOX! But they must embrace the WHOLE of the ancient Faith, and PRACTICE its truths and ways diligently."
(I will post more of Gallatin tomorrow...I think he may shed some light on the continuing discussion between Tripp, Cliff, Jeff, James, Huw....)
"This sounds profound, and the writer certainly seems to have thought it profound, but it is not a very useful idea. The �religions� he rejects are those bodies and traditions that tell us who God is...What he is really saying is that he believes in God but that he refuses to give that term any meaning, which is to say that he really doesn�t believe in God at all."
The bishop's comments beg an important question: Is there such a thing as "Churchless Christinaity?" Cliff continues to ask for an answer to this intriguing question in an intense debate at Tripp's blog:
"Is there a content to Christian belief? If yes, on what authority do you assert that claim (i. e., Scripture, the Church, the Ecumenical Councils, Kantian autonomy, personal preference, etc.)? And on what grounds do you assert that authority? ... what are the implications of your claim?"
As I have reflected before, I think it is very important to note that the Nicene Creed lists the Church as an article of faith equal to that of the three members of the Trinity. For Nicene Christians, to believe in God includes belief in the Church. They are organically all part of what it means to say, "I believe in one God..."
Now, one can argue about how the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church" manifests itself or what those 4 adjectives actually mean in terms of the visible nature and history of the ecclesia...but what the creed (and all of Christian history makes clear) is that to say one "believes in God" but doesn't believe in the Church is a total contradition...if one wants to be a Christian in any historic sense of that word.
The dogma of the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) said that Jesus had both a divine and human nature that were united "without confusion or division." This doctrine must be applied to the Church as well as to Christ. Just as Christ the God-Man has two natures, divine and human, so in the Church there is a synergy or cooperation between the divine and the human. The Church Herself is thus the proclamation and visible presence of "Jesus come in the flesh" (1 John 4:2). The Church's nature and essence are totally dependent upon His nature and essence. One's perception of the Church must rest squarely on who Christ is. A faulty view of Him will yield an equally defective view of the Church. And a faulty view of the Church will yield an equally defective view of God!
Several of the computer techies here at St. Nicholas have finally finished our parish website. It is still under construction, with articles and other links forthcoming, but it is in workable form now.
In an earlier post, I promised I would write about one of the new books I am reading, "The Feast of Friendship" by Fr. Paul O'Callaghan.
While Fr. Paul's book is not as scholarly a work on the subject like John Zizioulas' "Being as Communion" is, it still is a very succinct and well written overview of the nature of friendship.
Something in the epilog caught my eye. Here is what he says:
"As this book was being prepared for publication, a bishop from overseas visited our parish. After he had completed the retreats and seminars, I accompanied him to the airport with our local bishop and a monk....As he moved up the line [past security check points], he did a curious thing. On two occasions, he turned fully around with his back to the gate and simply looked at us. He didn't gesture or attempt to communicate. He just looked at us. At that moment, I realized what we all knew: there was a good chance that he would never see us again."
When we talk about friendship or community, one of the most important features of healthy relationships is just the simple awareness and recognition of the "Other." So often, we don't take the time to really listen or even to just look and be aware and thankful for the neighbor who is before us. To see Christ in every person who we come in contact with.
Again, C.S. Lewis puts this so well in the last paragraph of his essay, "The Weight of Glory":
"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if it all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. You have never talked to a mere mortal....Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses."
Out here in blogosphere, this kind of recognition is tough. Internet community is in many ways a shell of what true community is (there are lots of Incarnational ideas wrapped up in that), but those of us who blog, can and do create meaningful, rich friendships. We do this by being aware of the text on the screen and reading it through every possible lens we can so as to make sure we are not misunderstanding the intent. Being aware that the text hides a real person behind it is one of the hardest things a blogger has to do. But I love the challenge!
I think I've figured out how to get the commenting feature to work.....
I've added commenting links to the previous 2 posts and will try to add them to all future posts....try them out....hopefully it will work this time!
You can always comment on a post, ask a question, or send me a note via the email link at the top of the page.
I ran across this old quote from an email discussion group I am a member of. It is a short observation about the different worldviews between East and West. Here it is:
"It seems to me that the very most basic difference between East and West
may be this: that Protestants and Catholics concentrate upon God's
acts: what He says, what He does. Orthodox concentrate upon Who God
is.....The ramifications of this difference flow right through everything else.
Take soteriology, for example. Protestants think of salvation as when
your sins are forgiven. Orthodox think of salvation as when your sinful
nature is cured. Protestants think of grace as something God gives;
Orthodox say Grace is part of Who God *is*. For Protestants, sin is a
moral issue (what you've done); for the Orthodox, it is ontological (who
you are). Protestants speak more of the God Who gives Life; Orthodox
speak more of the God Who *is* Life.
Or how about ecclesiology?--Protestants think of the church as a human
institution Christ has created....For the Orthodox, the Church is something Christ *is* as His very Body (Eph 1:22-23), here
on earth in visible, incarnational fullness, and hence vastly more than merely human.
Christian life and growth:
For Protestants, it tends to be a matter of learning to do what's right and not to do what's wrong. It's learning to bring forth good fruit. For the Orthodox, it's learning to become a different tree.
For Protestants, it's learning to please Christ; for Orthodox, it's learning to be Christ. Protestants emphasize fellowship with Him; Orthodox emphasize union with Him." *End Quote*
Now obviously this is a little simplistic and much more could be said and clarified. The complexities go much deeper than just categorizing the divide in such "either/or" categories (legal vs. personal; forensic vs. relational), but there is still much truth to this analysis. For Western Christendom, whether it be Catholicism or one of the many varieties of Protestantism, share much of their assumptions in common.
In his Introduction to "The Orthodox Church," Bishop Kallistos Ware wrote about this phenomenon (to read more click HERE):
"In the west it is usual to think of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism as opposite extremes; but to an Orthodox they appear as two sides of the same coin. Khomiakov calls the Pope 'the first Protestant', 'the father of German rationalism'; and by the same token he would doubtless have considered the Christian Scientist an eccentric Roman Catholic. 'How are we to arrest the pernicious effects of Protestantism?' he was asked by a High Church Anglican when visiting Oxford in 1847; to which he replied: 'Shake off your Roman Catholicism.' In the eyes of the Russian theologian, the two things went hand in hand; both alike share the same assumptions, for Protestantism was hatched from the egg which Rome had laid.
'A new and unknown world': Khomiakov was right to speak of Orthodoxy in this way. Orthodoxy is not just a kind of Roman Catholicism without the Pope, but something quite distinct from any religious system in the west. Yet those who look more closely at this 'unknown world' will discover much in it which, while different, is yet curiously familiar. 'But that is what I have always believed!' Such has been the reaction of many, on learning more fully about the Orthodox Church and what it teaches..."
I ran across this interesting question written in a preface by Fr. Alexander Schmemann (+1983) about Tradition. Where do you stand on this question?
"The question of tradition stands at the very center and challenges us with essential questions. What is it? Is it the living memory and consciousness of the Church, the essential unbrokenness of the Church's life and identity during her pilgrimage through history? Or is it itself a product, or a sequence of products, of history, in the light of which it is to be reevaluated, judged, or rejected?"
For my Protestant brethren, it seems many prefer the latter definition--and in part, I agree with it myself. Tradition is, in ways, a product of the life of the Church. But Tradition is itself also the very heart of the Church because it is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Another paradox it seems....
If tradition (and thus the Church) is to be judged or rejected (or modified) by us, then in what way should we go about doing that? How does that square with the admonition found in 2 Thess. 2:15? Can we possibly judge or modify what has been passed down at all without already having acquired the "mind of Christ"? How do we know that the new definitions, creeds, doctrines, practices etc are themselves of God?
One thing that continues to elude many is this: To say that Holy Tradition and the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" has and contains "the fullness of the faith delivered once to the saints" (June 3) is not hubris! To admit the truth in no way necessitates pride and arrogance! Consider the following statements: "fire burns" or "my car needs gasoline to run" or "human beings need water to live." Submitting to these truths (or "structures"--my Protestant friends seem to love this word!) in no way limits my freedom! If anything it makes me more free, because it makes me better able to live according to reality. To choose unreality and falsehood against truth is the very definition of the word heresy--"choosing" in Greek. The cruelty of heresy is this: it limits and destroys true freedom because it panders to sin and to our fallen human nature by making us think we can choose something other than the Tradition and the Church that has been handed down. However the paradox here is written about so clearly by St. John Chrysostom when he says:
"If we hold the dogma [of Tradition and the Church] and give no thought to our conduct, we shall find this of no use; and also if we give thought to our conduct and neglect the dogma, we shall receive nothing useful to our salvation. If we wish to be delivered from Gehenna and obtain the Kingdom, we must be adorned from both sides; with both true Faith and uprightness of life."
So in a sense, it is neither enough to be a Pharisee, with the fullness of truth; nor is it enough to be a Samaritan, with "good works" and fruit and zeal, but no truth.
James has a great post in regards to one of my favorite phrases:
Orthodoxy is all the verses in the Bible you didn't underline!
I have another favorite to add to his list: 2 Peter 1:4--
"by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature."
This "partaking of the divine nature" made no sense until I discovered Orthodoxy and its doctrine of theosis. (See also Wayne Olson's great review of this article HERE.)
A friend of mine and I were recently talking about the evangelical phenomenon of underlining texts in the Bible and he remarked that his pastor always used the phrase "anchor text" during his sermons. At the time my friend didn't really notice but eventually it became clear that the same 20 or so verses and passages were the ones used as the "anchor text." He began to wonder why there was so much of the Bible not talked about in most sermons.
Speaking of this, here is a pet peeve of mine:
The Word of God is not the Bible!! The Word, the Logos of God is Jesus Christ!
But then again, that is why the Orthodox have no need of "anchor texts"....
My wife teaches math at a private Catholic middle school (grades 6-8) here in Portland. She also teaches religion to the 8th graders and she has the distinction of being the first non-Catholic religion teacher in several years at this school. It has been an interesting experience to say the least!
One thing that stands out to her is the lack of basic religious knowledge and spiritual acuity among the students. Very few of them could tell you more than 3-4 books of the Bible and certainly couldn't tell you what Testament they were from. Most go to church because their parents make them and many have no serious prayer life. And they have no deep understanding or knowledge of basic creedal truths or church history.
Now, of course, one might ask how many of us were that interested in Christianity in middle school? True...but there is another element to this that is disturbing.
The other day my wife was explaining the traditional way of doing the rosary. Several students, with no sense of sarcasm, asked the following questions:
"Will I go to hell if I forget one of the sorrowful mysteries?"
"How angry will God be if I don't say the rosary every day?"
"How many masses do I have to attend and still not have to go to hell?"
These types of questions follow a similar pattern--all year, most of the questions from the students about spiritual matters and the practice of the Christian faith revolve around one thing and one thing only:
Avoiding hell and the wrath of God at all costs.
It has been a real eye opener for my wife as she sees first hand the devastation done to the spiritual life of her Catholic students by the western, forensic, rationalist theology that has shaped their Christian upbringing. She commented to me the other day how similar her Protestant friends' soteriology is to her students in that both groups are obessed with their own salvation.
Both are saturated in the "asbestos suit" theology which, simplistically stated, is that Jesus comes to earth to shield us from the hatred of the Father and protect us on our way to heaven. He becomes our ticket to heaven and our "get out of hell free card."
My wife has a new saying now:
Protestantism is about trying to get into heaven.
Catholicism is about trying to avoid hell.
Orthodoxy is about being obsessed with neither.
A little exaggerated of course...but it rings mostly true.
I just started reading a new book this weekend--"The Feast of Friendship" by Fr. Paul O'Callaghan. This past year, I have been doing a lot of thinking about the nature of friendship, the importance of community, and the central place of the Church in building true friendship and community. I am excited to read a book that is not only devoted to these issues, but written from the Orthodox perspective.
I've only read a few pages, but it looks good so far. I'll post more about it later this week.
Huw over at Doxos has a great reply to James' brutally honest comments about being a parent. I love Huw's great haiku:
open give empty
forget self and pour out
Love fill up repeat
I am not a parent....but I know it will all be about kenosis. Hang in there James. We're praying for you....and for all the parents out there who are, as the intercessions for Compline say, "weary in well doing."
Paul Fromont recently posted an interesting article about postmodernist worship in a New Zealand Presbyterian Church.
Part of my senior thesis at Pacific University was on the issue of communication of the gospel in worship. I never finished the paper, as I ran out of money and had to drop out of school. I'm not sure I would have ever finished it on time anyway--the rough draft was almost 150 pages.... without the 25 page bibliography!
One of the points the article makes is that postmodern Christians are increasingly not interested in, what my wife calls, the "3 hymns, an offering, and a 45 minute monologue" style of worship. Many Protestant churches are trying to create a more experiential worship that engages the congregation and allows them a part to play in the liturgy.
Friends of mine tell me their Protestant churches now have special "contemplative" worship services where Gregorian chant is played, candles are lit and various Scripture passages are read. Some churches project pictures of Byzantine icons on PowerPoint during praise songs or attempt to introduce sacramental practices such as frequent communion and baptism into their services. These developments, via the postmodern imputes, fascinate me.
The funny thing is in the Orthodox Church all of these things have been kept in their fullness in the liturgical tradition! The liturgical life of the Church is the daily living out of the Incarnation. The use of water, oil, bread, wine, icons, incense, etc are all part of the mystery of God's continual and sanctifying presence in the Church, and through his Body, the whole world.
One of the things that attracts so many to the Orthodox Church is an experiential worship where all 5 senses are utilized in the liturgy. Whether it is the smelling of the incense, the tasting of the Eucharist, the hearing of the chanting, the seeing of the icons and the physical expressions of piety such as the sign of the cross, Orthodox liturgy is intensely participatory! (If you don't believe me, go to a Lenten service this spring--the prostrations alone will make your thighs hurt for days!)
In a lame attempt to add a commenting feature to the blog, I inadvertently deleted half the blog's contents and archives! In a panic, I played around with the HTML for about an hour and I think I was able to restore everything....except the commenting feature!
I'm still trying to figure out how to do that (I was trying install comments using http://www.enetation.co.uk/ since HaloScan isn't taking new users).....hopefully it will be working soon!
In the meantime, feel free to continue commenting via email.
Today's reading from the Prologue was interesting, especially as I continue to mull on issues regarding truth and the leading of the Spirit:
"The Orthodox Church, in teaching men perfect love, at the same time teaches perfect obedience, from which flow both order and harmony among the faithful. The bishops owe obedience to the Lord, priests to the bishops, and the laity to [the Lord, bishops and priests] and to each other. St. Ignatius writes, "It is your duty to obey without hypocrisy; he who would deceive his visible bishop would scorn also the Invisible [Lord]....I beg you, fulfill all in the unity of God, under the guidance of your bishops, who occupy the place of God, and the priests who constitute the assembly of the Apostles...not thinking that whatever may seem to you to be right, that should you do this on your own in isolation."
So to those who see a disconnect between following the promptings of the Spirit on the one hand, and following the guidance of the historic Church on the other, it seems that this tidbit from St. Ignatius might be helpful. These two ideas are not contradictory; they are paradoxically true at the same time! We can achieve "unity in God"--but this is achieved, not by individuals coming to their own conclusions about the leading of the Spirit, but by each of us, in perfect freedom, willingly obeying those in spiritual authority over us and trusting in the Holy Tradition of the Church.
In the East there is true freedom in obedience because no one bishop hold more spiritual authority than any other. The concilliar nature of the church's life makes it possible for us to trust the bishops and priests. And because of the nature of Holy Tradition, even the Church Fathers and Mothers of old still hold sway in the Church today. But no one bishop or priest has ultimate "veto power" over any other, but in union with the whole Church, and thus with God.
"Unity in Christ" is not a means to church harmony or to understanding the truth, but a sign that harmony and truth have already been reached! Unity in doctrine, belief, practice, faith etc are not means, but the end; the perquisite for union with God! That is why trying to achieve "unity in Christ" apart from the Church is, ultimately, a doomed experiment. (1Cor 12:12-13).
As G.K. Chesterton said, "Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities."
In terms of Christianity, this responsibility that we must not be timid in is set forth by St. Paul: "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter." (2 Thess 2:15)
By doing this, in humility and love, we will be able to know the leading of God. But then this begs another question: What are the "traditions?"....*wink*
Like many of you, I have been fascinated with the ongoing discussion between Clifton, Tripp, and Jeff on the nature of the Church, where THE Church can be found, the nature of freedom, etc. Check them out!
In discussing these things with some of my Protestant friends, I keep running into an idea they all seem to share: that somehow the fact that there might be one, complete church that contains the fullness of grace and truth is somehow antithical to "human freedom." It seems that hidden in this assumption is the idea that there really is some mystical "mere Christianity" that if we could just get rid of all these rules, canons, structures, liturgies, creeds, dogmas etc...then we might be able to have "unity in Christ." I must say I love C.S. Lewis. But I think he was dead wrong in regards to the idea of "mere Christianity."
I think it must be said, first off, that God Himself is never "minimalistic" because Jesus Himself never taught a minimalistic faith. He is "THE way, THE truth and THE life." (John 14:6). The calling of the Church is to manifest the Truth (that is Jesus Christ) in all of His fullness. Truth is the very foundation and nature of the Church, its Head being Truth Himself. (John 14:6). To confine God (and His Truth revealed to us in the Church) to just the "top ten" proposition needed to "be saved" or "be a Christian" implies that the other eleven to infinity are not really important. Thus, according to this reasoning, there is such a thing as "irrelevant" truth. And this, of course, is relativism. And relativism, in all its forms, is incompatible with the Christian Faith. And why?
Because relativism is inconsistent with the very nature of truth itself. Truth does not depend on one's personal convictions because what the truth of God is true for everyone at all times and in all places. One can either accept the truth or defy it. What one can't do is treat truth (and therefore God!) as if some part of it "doesn't matter." Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead the Church "into ALL(!) truth" (John 16:13). Orthodoxy is holistic and totalizing in its outlook on all parts of reality because that is the nature and way of God.
While we are not to be relativists in regards to the truth, neither can be become like the Pharisees, claiming the truth as our own possession. Accepting the truth of the Church makes one less dependent on themselves and more reliant on God. The truth and reality of the Church does not give someone who is Orthodox the right to boast or lord it over others. "Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required" (Luke 12:48). With humility, it is imperative that we remember that, in the Final Judgment, God only judges us based on the truth we were given and the love by which we responded to that truth. Thus the Orthodox have more of a burden in this regard than anyone, for just like the Pharisees, we have no excuses! In the Church, there is nothing lacking to guide us while we "work out our salvation in fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12b). All that may be missing is our own free will.
And that goes back to the idea of freedom. We don't need to create our own theologies; we don't need to create "meaningful worship experiences", and we don't need to recreate or dumb down what we think "Christianity" is in order to have the spiritual freedom with which God can lead us and guide us. True freedom is being in the truth, being in and participating fully in reality. If the Body of Christ, the Church, can't provide this, then God has failed.
Consider this: Jesus didn't come to establish "Christianity"! What he did establish was His Church!
But then this begs the question all over again: What is the Church? And WHERE is the Church?
One of the local radio personalities here in Portland is famous for giving telemarketers headaches when he impersonates famous celebrities or by pretending to be several different people at once while talking to them. If I could do a decent impersonation, I would try that....
My wife and I don't watch many movies that would be shelved in the "comedy" section of your local video store. They tend to be infantile, vulgar and have very little in the way of serious character development, plot or point to them.
But I must admit we do turn to TBN once in a while for a bit of humor. Usually it makes us laugh. Sometimes (and lately more often than not) makes me very sad.
The other night we flipped past it just as a young, Gen-X "youth pastor" was finishing an alter call at what at first looked like a rock concert. My wife had to remind me this was a Protestant worship service. (My wife, having attended a evangelical college is much more adept at spotting the signs of pop-American Christianity than I am).
One of things these pastors usually do is attempt to encourage people that they can be "fully filled with the Spirit" if, AND ONLY IF, they pray the simple sinners prayer. All it takes to be assured of your salvation and of having the most intense and deep relationship with God is this simple action.
My questions is this: I wonder how many of these pastors would agree to marry two people who had just met a few hours ago at a rock concert?
There is something very shallow about starting a "personal relationship with Jesus" with no discipleship, no teaching, no prayer and fasting, no church, no sacraments etc.
It is the equivalent of having a one night stand with God!
We wouldn't make the life long commitment of marriage to another person without first learning about them, their history and their family. We wouldn't marry someone without going through an intense time of preparation and counseling. Why should our life with God be any different?
There was an article in Christianity Today this past year about a growing Orthodox church in Dallas; a city where mega-churches, pop-evangelicalism, and big money dominate the Christian church scene.
"When he founded St. Seraphim as a brand-new priest, back in 1954, [Fr. Seraphim] had five or six people attend each Sunday; currently there are 300�and 32 more are preparing to join the church. "Things are booming, and I quake to think what God will do next," he says.
In the land of Texas-size mega churches, those figures seem laughable. How can 32 new members be "booming," when a big church in North Dallas might add hundreds to the roll every week? Dmitri cites the rigor of Orthodox catechizing and practice, and contrasts it with the way he sees things done in the big, busy churches: "Becoming a Christian involves a whole change of life. You have to follow Christ. If there's no follow-up, no accountability, that's not likely to happen."
Fr. Seraphim is dead-on. That is why in the Orthodox Church, those inquires to the faith must first go through an intense catachumante. This is necessary because the Christian life is just that: a life! It is not an intellectual game, it is not an emotional decision. It is a lifestyle that should change every part of one's life. It is only through a proper discipleship and arduous preparation that one can confidently embrace the Christian faith in its totality and fullness.
I wonder how many of those young people at that worship service who enthusiastically "gave their life to the Lord" are still living a Christian life? I wonder if very many of them have gotten sound, patristic, historically accurate teaching on church history and dogma? I wonder if any of them have a spiritual father whom they regularly meet with for confession or, at the very least, "spiritual accountability?"
If not, they will be effectively inoculated against the true Faith. I can't even begin to count the number of secular materialists, neo-pagans, and full blown atheists I have met who "were saved" during their childhood at some summer camp or "worship concert." Those of us in missions or evangelism need to seriously examine whether we are sharing and giving people the true Faith and if we are willing (and able) to do everything it takes to help people actually LIVE the Christian life!
I can say one thing: it will take much more than a bunch of para-church missions groups and rock concerts!
What it will take is a historically grounded, sacramental church community guided by the patristic witness and the Holy Spirit. It is only in real, authentic, communion with the Body of Christ that we are able to live out the Christian life. And if we can't actually live it out, it does us no good.
"You come to grips more frequently and thoroughly with yourself and your environment than do most people. You detest superficiality; you'd rather be alone than have to suffer through small talk. But your relationships with your friends are very strong, which gives you the inner tranquility and harmony that you require. You do not mind being alone for extended periods of time; you rarely become bored."
I just received a very distressing phone call. Then, about 5 minutes later, a very upsetting email. Not the most pleasant way to start off the day.
The phone call was from one of my assistants at work. His father (Curtis), 59, died suddenly and unexpectedly over the holiday. My assistant was in tears on the phone and I could hardly hear him through the sobs.
The email was from my best friend in middle school and high school. I was his best man at his wedding 5 years ago and we have stayed very close over the years even though he has been in medical school the past year. He emailed me to tell me his wife has been diagnosed with MS and, due to the deterioration of their marriage, that they have decided to separate.
Needless to say, this has been a tough morning.
It is amazing to see how fast one's life can change in an instant. We think we have such power and control over out lives. Too often, I catch myself thinking about what I will do when I finally go off to grad school, or what my kids will be like, or a thousand other future plans. Being a type A personality and being a bit obsessive-compulsive helps me forget my own mortality. The Scripture is pretty clear about those who forget to hold their plans and their lives lightly:
"Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain"; whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that." (James 4:13-14)
"Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day." (Matt. 6:34).
As I start this new year, making resolutions, planning the coming years activities and schedules, I hope I can remember how fast things can change and how feeble and vulnerable I really am. As C.S. Lewis said, "The present moment is the point at which time touches eternity." I pray I can stay watchful, vigilant and full of prayer in the present moment of every day God gives me.
"How precious is the time of this life! Every minute has great worth, for
within one minute we can think so many things, either good or evil. One
godly thought can raise us to Heaven, and one diabolical thought can lower
us to hell. So then, behold how valuable every minute in this present life
is. Unfortunatelly though, we do not think about this, and hours, days, and
years pass with no profit - but is it merely with no profit? How much
damage we have all suffered, and I first - without realizing it! But some
day, when our soul is about to depart from the body, we shall realize it.
But alas, it will be too late;there is no room for correction then. We
must realize this now when we can still make a start. We should take
advantage of the precious time of our life. Truly blessed is he who compels
himself and makes a start, because some day he will become spiritually rich."
Elder Ephraim of Philotheou, Counsels from the Holy Mountain