My Latin professor teaches a 100 level class on ancient Greek and Roman literature. He was reading some of the papers to our Latin class the other day when he came upon a rather amusing sentence. The paper was on St. Anthony, the founder of Christian monasticism and said this about him:
"St. Anthony spent many years in the dessert and endured many hardships, but especially was tempted by satin."
Read that sentence again...your eyes did not deceive you.
Ah, yes. Picture it with me now....
An old man in sandals and a cassock, trudging through a slippery mass of vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup is going back to his cell (which is, of course, a hollowed out M&M). When he arrives, he spends a few hours trying to get the stickiness out of his clothes.
For many years, poor St. Another has suffered with dirty, messy, ice cream coated clothes.
Suddenly, an angel appears in the cell, bearing new soft, shimmering robes. He urges the old man to try them on, whispering how good these new robes will feel on his skin.
"Fasting, all-night vigils, and trials of many kinds--none of these compares with the temptation now before me," says our hero. "Truly, I have been tempted by satin now."
"[An] analogy is when you compare something simple to something complex and unrelated. This serves three purposes. The person who really understood what you were talking about will be baffled. The clueless neen who had no idea what you were on about will be lulled into a false sense that they understand. And the annoying idiot who was only pretending to understand will stop asking all those stupid questions....Analogies invariably confuse me more than simply talking about the thing itself."
There are several people I know who have a rule about new books--they must finish the most recent book they purchased before buying new ones.
While I understand the benefits this may provide those on a tight budget, I've always thought this rule to be a little bit ridiculous. It seems to me that the optimal mode is to be reading at least 3+ books at any given time. My typical menu consists of one deep, complex theological/philosophical work, one book on practical spiritual matters (prayer, meditation, personal reflections etc), and one work of fiction. I may also include some non-fiction/historical works as well. (Although they tend to fit into the first category most of the time).
This way, depending on what mood I'm in, I've always got something on my plate to dive into. Being able to move from book to book also allows one to ingest powerful works without overdosing. For example, imagine being stuck trying to finish "Being as Communion" by John Zizioulas without something lighter in the mix!
But the main reason I don't care for this rule is that it restrains one from picking up bargains at the local sale racks at bookstores!
Here is a short list of some of my most recent acquisitions this past week. Between the local Powell's in downtown Portland, PSU's bookstore, and a church sale, I managed to pick up the following books for less than $40 *total*:
* "At the Corner of East and Now" by Frederica Mathewes-Green
* "Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness" by Jim Forest
* "The Monastic Journey" by Thomas Merton
* "Everlasting Man" by G.K. Chesterton (I know, you can find this on the Net, but I like having hard copies of classics)
* "Women of God" by Freida Upson
* "Henri Nouwen--Selected Writings" ed. Robert Jonas
Speaking of new reads, for those interested in studying more about the relationship between "Just War" theory and the Orthodox Church, as well as the role of repentance in war, check out the latest issue of St. Vladimir's Quarterly Journal (Vol. 47, Issue #1 2003)
The entire issue is devoted to the topic and, while I've only read a few pages, it looks to be a stimulating read.
(Derek, you may find some answers to your previous questions here).
Something to ponder, especially in conjunction with the article I linked to in my last post:
"For the silence, which you are asking me about, you must know that this does not lie only in the silence of the tongue, but especially in the silence of the thoughts. If that is your tongue is silent, your thoughts however are judging and condemning others, well! Then this is not silence. It is written somewhere: "You might be speaking all day long, and nevertheless internally have a blessed silence, because you won't be saying those things which are not proper. And you might be silent all day long, and nevertheless not be keeping silence God-pleasingly, because your thought is gabbing and criticizing."
"Just as good silence exists, there also exists the evil one. Just as good speech exists, there also exists evil speech. Good silence is humble, internal, that which is accompainied by prayer, and fills the soul with joy. Evil silence is accompanied by cowardliness, internal criticizing, faintheartedness, grief, despair. Good speak says the correct and necessary things. Evil speech is vain talking, jokes, flattery, hypocrisy, anger, wrath, lewd talking, criticizing, slandering and all the similar things. So we must obtain "the mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2:16), so that we can distinguish when we must speak and when we must be silent."
For those of you interested in thinking more about "the cult of the nice" as it relates to preaching, blogging, writing, or communicating the Gospel in general, take a peek at this little gem of an article. It is written by our favorite Touchstone editor, David Mills.
I found the article via Mark, who writes a very nice introduction to the theme of Christian polemics before linking to the article (May 27th post).
Speaking the truth in love...while not comprimising either. A very hard task, one impossible without both courage and prayer.
Noetic Knowledge: More on Apophaticism and St. Gregory
In my last post, I metioned the importance of St. Gregory of Palamas' teachings on the nature of knowledge. St. Gregory has much to say to us postmoderns in our search for authentic experience in the Christian life and for true knowledge. In Orthodox thought the dianoia is the discursive reasoning, the knowledge of the created realm whereas the nous is the innermost part of man's heart, that which acquires spiritual knowledge. While Orthodox thought sees a distinction between knowledge of the created realm and spiritual knowledge, western scholastic philosophy blends them together.
"This can be shown by an examination of the Latin Vulgate...Examining all NT references to 'nous' and 'dianoia'and examining the Vulgate to determine how these Greek words were translated, one finds that 'nous' is variously rendered 'mens'/'mente', 'sensus'/'sensum', and 'intellectum'; 'dianoia' is variously rendered 'mente'/'mentis', 'sensu'/'sensum', and 'intellectum'. IOW, there is no distinction between 'nous' and 'dianoia' in the Latin!" [quoted from old notes]
Orthodox Christian teaching, OTOH, has always recognised that there is an infinite difference between the created order -- including man's intellect -- and the Creator. It has always understood that the *only* bridge between this difference is that greatest of all miracles, the Incarnation. It acknowledges that God's *existence* can be recognized from His creation, but has always recognised that He cannot be *known* from His creation. Orthodox Christianity has always taught that God can only be fully known via Divine Revelation: something that only occurs to the pure in heart who have their nous enlightened by God. St. Gregory did not think highly of those who put reason over prayer, philosophy over theology, information over wisdom:
"What then should be the work and the goal of those who seek the wisdom of God in creatures? Is it not the acquisition of the truth, and the glorification of the Creator? ... Is there then anything of use to us in this philosophy? Certainly. ... but somewhat as in a mixture of honey and hemlock. So it is most needful that those who wish to separate out the honey from the mixture should beware that they do not take the deadly residue by mistake. And if you were to examine the problem, you would see that all or most of the harmful heresies derive their origin from this source.
If you put to good use that part of the profane wisdom which has been well excised, no harm can result, for it will naturally have become an instrument for good. But even so, it cannot in the strict sense be called a gift of God and a spiritual thing, for it pertains to the order of nature and is not sent from on high.... our mind possesses both an intellectual power which permits it to see intelligible things, and also a capacity for that union which surpasses the nature of the intellect ... The intellectual faculties become superfluous ...at such a time man truly sees neither by the intellect nor by the body, but by the Spirit."
Unfortunately, the Western mindset is so rationalistic that it is very difficult to become free of the misconception that spiritual knowledge of God can be primarily acquired through rational analysis, etc. That is why RCism appeals to so many people: it is the most rationalistic form of Christianity. It fits the a priori assumptions of those who regard man's intellect as having supreme importance, who are convinced that the world is a logically ordered creation which can be studied to uncover knowledge of the mind of its Creator.
Hieromonk Damascene's introduction to "Christ the Eternal Tao" includes this statement, which, IMO, puts it very well: "Having removed from Christianity the Cross of inward purification [of the nous], the churches [in Western society] have replaced a direct, intuitive apprehension of Reality and a true experience of God with intellectualism on the one hand and emotionalism on the other."
Apophatic Theology: Thoughts from Fr. Thomas Hopko
In recent blog discussions between Tripp, Clifton, and in this discussion over at Kevin's blog, I have noticed a common theme cropping up about the nature of knowledge, specifically in regards to the essence of God and the Church.
There seems to be a popular sentiment running through many Christian circles saying that *all* of our words, concepts, "institutions," and such are only mere approximations. They do not really explain or get to the heart of what we are trying to describe or experience. Thus, they feel justified in jettisoning (or at least tweaking) traditional teachings, churches, practices etc. Having juiced up traditional apophatic theology with a bit of postmodern deconstructionism, this way of thinking runs dangerously close to moving from a proper apophatic vision grounded in revelation, to nihilism and despair.
For example this comment was recently made by someone over at Kevin's blog:
"What you deem as 'traditional Christianity' is what I define as man's foiled attempts to understand, 'bottle', define and package God.
"It's ludicrous to think that we, with our finite minds, will ever, truly know God until we stand before Him."
Father Thomas Hopko wrote an interesting essay a few years back about the nature of apophatic theology that might be helpful in these discussions. In the essay, he responds to critics who claim he usurped the boundaries of apophaticism in a previous essay. He summarizes their arguments when he writes, "They [words] are rather the confession and expression of limited human experience of the divine and are psychologically, socially, subjectively and culturally determined....in different times and places men speak differently about God."
This sounds like what I've been hearing. And of course this is true, as far as it goes. No one is about to deny the fact that all human language is fundamentally *shaped* by culture. The difference is that the Orthodox do not accept that all words and concepts are fundamentally *corrupted* by culture. Fr. Hopko explains,
"Apophaticism in theology is not the same as total ignorance. It is not the claim that we know nothing whatsoever of God, in reference to whom our human expressions are ultimately meaningless and useless. It is rather a way--the traditional Orthodox Christian way--of knowing God: of knowing and affirming the fact that the God who reveals himself in creation and in the dispensation of salvation in his Word and Spirit is ultimately beyond creaturely comprehension."
It wasn't until I encountered Orthodox theology, specifically the teachings of St. Gregory Palamas that I started to see the paradox we must uphold. In St. Gregory's teachings, we see that God is made known to His creatures by means of His energies but will never be known in His essence. Yet, His energies communicate, in ways we can understand and experience, His essence!
One of the hymns for the Feast of the Transfiguration says "Thou wast transfigured on the mount. 0 Christ God, revealing Thy glory to Thy disciples as they could bear it. Let Thine everlasting light shine upon us sinners. Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Giver of Light, glory to Thee."
We can know God "as far as we can bear it" through his energies. Thus the Orthodox teaching is that, while sin breaks our communion with God, we can (through repentance, the sacraments, and prayer) have true "gnosis" of God that is not limited to words, concepts et al. These tools neither limit our knowledge, nor comprise it--they are signposts along the way. That is a fine distinction, but a critical one. Falling to either side (prideful scholasticism or sophistic relativism) results in heresy and ironically *both* end up "putting God in a box." Later in the essay, Fr. Hopko writes back against his relativist critics when he says,
"All too often the apophatic way is wrongly understood to be the denial of any real knowledge of God at all, with the corresponding denial (often parading under the guise of self-deprecating humility) that our theological words and concepts have any meaning at all. Such a denial is in fact a denial of divine revelation and of theology itself."
One of the chasms between the Orthodox and the west is the different understandings of just what "theology" even is (I'll post about that soon). Simply put, for the Orthodox theology is the actual experience and mystical union of God with his creature. In fact, the Greek word for "knowledge" when used in the Bible always carried with it a "nuptial" connotation. Knowledge is not information about something or someone--it is intimate experience and union with said object or Person.
Fr. Hopko concludes by raising an important question. He says, "If there are indeed no "words adequate to God"--to the extent that any human expressions are adequate to the divine reality--then we humans are left ignorantly wallowing in the subjectively created imaginations of our own invention."
If it is true that our words, concepts and even churches are, as my friend Tripp has said, "all straw" then here are a few questions for them to answer:
How do I know that is true, since even the words employed to say words are useless are bound by culture and subjectivity? In other words, why should I believe you when you say that the truth of God and his Church is fundamentally unknowable, or at least so ambiguous that we can't know anything for sure? How can I know you are speaking truth if every tool by which I could determine the truth of your statement is "all straw?" If you call yourself a Christian, how can you *know* that your creed, church, beliefs are true if the words, histories and concepts used to communicate them are fundamentally flawed?
"The Teacher appeared and taught The Play to a small troupe, but without a script. The actors learned The Play through hearing the Teacher repeat the lines and by observing the Teacher's movements. In learning The Play, they acquired a real understanding of the play's main character.
The troupe performed The Play for others. Repeatedly. In many places. They performed The Play so many times they all knew everyone's lines, everyone's movements. Most importantly, they all acquired a real understanding of The Play's main character. Others began to join the troupe. At first, newcomers learnt The Play the same way the original cast had learnt it: without a script. But, between a few of the original cast and some of the newcomers, most of the lines were written down and even some of the movements. But not everything was written down at first. It took more years and a few generations before that happened. Some of the experienced actors wrote notes offering insights into the play and it's main character. All the texts provided help to the newcomers -- especially the pages containing The Play's dialogue -- but they didn't replace rehearsals. The newcomers still had to learn The Play. All the lines and all the movements. And they had to acquire a real understanding of The Play's main
character in order to play the role correctly. They did this through a variety of theatrical exercises; voice training, acting lessons, etc...
Enough newcomers were added to the troupe that it was able to spin off new troupes. This meant The Play could be performed in even more places. Over the years, the number of troupes grew, but The Play remained unchanged. The actors changed, but the lines and movements of the characters did not change. The Play was translated into different languages, but the story was
not changed. All the actors in every troupe acquired a real understanding of The Play's main character. Some actors wrote notes after many years of experience which enabled them to acquire insights into The Play and its main character. These notes weren't as important as the script, but they contributed to other actors' understanding and were quite helpful for rookies.
With the passage of years and generations, there were some who wanted to make changes to The Play. The troupes accepted -- very reluctantly and quite slowly -- very small cosmetic changes such as updating the language in order for audiences to better understand. But some wanted more radical changes, even changes to The Play's main character. These were firmly rejected. Nevertheless, some of the more persistent proponents of change made changes without the approval of their troupe, right on stage. Whenever something like this happened, the rest of the troupe recognized the change immediately (of course!) -- they didn't have to refer to lines of script or other notes. The wayward actor was corrected, and if he persisted, the troupe dismissed him.
Unfortunately, sometimes dismissed actors would get together and form a group that would deviate from The Play's original version. Some of these went so far as to change The Play's main character. But the most pernicious groups were those that introduced reinterpretations and claimed these reinterpretations were just as valid because they had retained the lines of the original script. These innovating groups tried to argue that just because troupes had been performing The Play with the same interpretation
for years didn't mean they were correct. Rejecting the notes written by actors through the years and insisting that only scripts were reliable, they challenged the troupes who continued performing The Play with the original, traditional interpretation to prove why the traditional interpretation was the only correct one.
Because the troupes maintaining the original, traditional interpretation were unable to provide proof within the limitations artificially imposed by the innovators, the innovators continued to maintain the validity of their reinterpretation. But the troupes maintaining the original, traditional interpretation knew the innovating reinterpretation was wrong. They could recognize the changes. They could say, 'The way we perform The Play is the way The Play has always been performed, wherever it has been performed, regardless of who has played the various roles.' They may have lacked the type of 'proof' demanded by the innovating groups, but they knew how The Play was supposed to be performed."
This piece was posted a few years ago on the Evangelical-Orthodox Discussion Group. Where do you see the analogy begin to break down? Or does it break down at all? How could it be improved?
This also raises a more general question: How useful are analogies when discussing theological issues?
I was sitting in a metal chair watching small tufts of blond hair cascade down a glorified bib, falling silently onto a recently swept floor. I looked around the barber shop and gazed at the old pictures on the wall, probably purchased before I even had hair. My eyes fell on the seemingly ancient juke box that would play 50�s music if you put a dime in the slot. The barber leaned in close to inspect his most recent snip, and I noticed a very faint, yet surprisingly inoffensive, scent of cigarette smoke on his breath.
My barber was making small talk, as he usually does, and asking me questions about politics and what not. I listened with only half an ear as he, being slightly hard of hearing, would not really notice the inattentiveness of my �Hmm�s� and �You got that right.�
My barber is what some would call �an old boy.� He doesn�t trust the government, the checker at the local grocery story, or anybody with power. A Vietnam veteran, he doesn�t have many good things to say about the local high-school student�s anti-war demonstrations. He values hard work, respect, and a good BBQ.
�So what are you going to do with your degree when you graduate?� he asks, catching me unaware.
He starts in on my bangs. �Well, I�m not sure yet,� I stutter, realizing this is probably the millionth time someone has asked me this asinine question in the past year. �Probably teach philosophy or literature.� I spit out after a moment of silence. With my bangs only half cut, he pauses.
�Well�,� he intones with a drawl, giving a subtle warning for those who know him that he is about to offer a morsel of wisdom. He continues, �What is philosophy anyway? Is it truth? Is it myth mixed with fact? Is it just about words and power?�
�Probably all of the above,� I say, as he finishes my bangs.
�Every man has his own philosophy.� he says, continuing his line of thought as if he didn�t hear me. He probably didn�t hear me. �Each man has to have his own philosophy because each man has his own truth. All truth is relative anyway.�
I smile. �But Mike, that last sentence is a totalizing, absolute truth statement. Truth, by nature, can�t be relative.�
�Well, that�s your truth,� he grunts, and begins to wrap up my haircut.
It never ceases to amaze me how postmodernism has seeped into the very heart of modern man�s consciousness. It just goes to show: you don�t need a college degree to have been infected with it.
I promised a few days ago I would post more thoughts on what I call "the cult of the nice." My blogging friend Jakob from Denmark posted a personal thought that really resonated with me and reminded me of the "cult." He reflects,
"Today, some minutes ago, I was again taken by some kind of nausea by observing the incompleteness of much of what I am doing, much of what others are doing and much of what we do to each other. Much energy and human endeavor is being put into a living that consists of working and consuming and trying to be persons that we aren't and never will be."
Jakob is describing, in a very raw sense, the angst of those who fight against "the cult of the nice." (See the second half of my 12/19 post for more on this...)
We are surrounded on all sides by a culture that fears the struggle for authenticity. We don't want life to be unpleasant, we flee from conflict, we like the masks we wear and we grow to love them more than our real selves. The Christian life is nothing more than the struggle to remove these masks and to "become a real human being", as Met. Anthony Bloom said (quoted HERE) Becoming a real human being requires us to reject the world's frenzied drive for "happiness" and strive to become "blessed."
As Jim Forrest writes in this article, being blessed and being happy are not necessarily synonymous. Too many of our contemporaries (even, or dare I say, especially, in church) would rather choose happiness over being blessed. SockMonk wrote this comment over at Chris Davis' blog and it sums up the difference pretty well:
"When my parents and sister died suddenly as a result of a car crash, I got depressed. I didn't feel very much like praying. I didn't feel like feeling happy. The evangelical chorus-singing church I was part of, and other similar gatherings I went to, were worse than useless to me, since they measured my spirituality by how happy I acted, and their first remedy for my depression and inability to pray seemed to be to "Rejoice in the Lord!" with a goofy grin. When I turned to Orthodoxy, I was given words that I could pray regardless of how I felt. Emotion was no longer a prerequisite for spirituality. And eventually, instead of milk and maple syrup, I started to find some real meat through the grace and mercy of God.
I don't say this to be judgmental. I say this because I'm worried about how many other people are being hurt or left without the resources they need to be healed of their own wounds. I've run across too many stories like my own, including dear family members and friends. Orthodox Christians have no grounds to be proud of their own accomplishments or lofty spirituality. But please forgive us if we insist on pointing to the most competent and effective hospital we have been able to find for our own diseases and hurts."
This is a great example of how our theology dictates how we live whether we realize it or not. Western theology, being foundationally judicial, takes the sin nature and attempts to either eternally condemn it or (just as easily) deny its stark reality. Of course, these are two sides of the same coin--the classical western dichotomist framework. We see this played out in our society by the two main reactions to sin: angry condemnation and judgementalism on one hand *or* relativistic rationalization on the other.
The only way to break the "cult of the nice" is to participate in a way of life that actually treats our fallen nature as something to be *healed,* rather than something solely to be condemned or ignored. Our sinful nature is a disease and one that will leave us in a "second death" if we do not work with God to treat it here on earth. Repentance, tears, prayer, fasting....all of these (and many others) are the tools we are called to use to fight back the tendency to assimilate into the "cult of the nice."
The cult says, "Judge others and turn a blind eye to your own sins." It cajoles, "Do not rock the boat of popular opinion." It winks and says, "Hide your true feelings and fears and pretend that nothing is wrong with your soul." It urges, "Do what ever you can to blend in and be like everyone else." Above all it demands we stop searching for truth, that we believe we have already arrived at perfection and that preserving our earthly life with all of its comforts and pleasures should be our main goal in life.
I think Jakob nailed it when he said he was "nauseated." IMO, that is the only proper reaction to the "cult of the nice" we should ever have--followed closely by tears for how much we have already lived our life according to the philosophy of the "cult."
From a lecture delivered at Oxford on May 25, 1982 by Fr Alexander Schmemann
on "Liturgy and Eschatology"...
"What is needed is not more liturgical piety. On the contrary, one of the greatest enemies of the Liturgy is liturgical piety. The Liturgy is not to be treated as an aesthetic experience or a [mere] exercise. Its unique function is to reveal to us the Kingdom of God. This is what we commemorate eternally. The remembrance, the anamnesis of the Kingdom is the source of everything else in the Church. It is this that theology strives to bring to the world. And it comes even to a "post-Christian" world as the gift of healing, of redemption and of joy."
One of the pitfalls of having a beautiful, multi-sensory worship is the tendency to treat it as an end rather than a means. James posted yesterday about the phenomenon of how a typical Orthodox Church will attract many "field-trips" of curious people from other churches or colleges. I can relate to this. On an average Sunday Liturgy, my parish will have sevearl visitors from local churches and colleges. "Worship leaders" from an evangelical church accros town, a Greek art class from the local university...Orthodoxy will attract many people who come to primarily experience, not the worship of the Triune God, but merely the aesthetics of Orthodoxy. Sadly, some who even become communicants may have a hard time shaking this mindset.
Protestant converts to Orthodoxy (me included!) have a hard time not looking at worship through the lens of "What am I getting out of this?" That particular question may never form so concretely in our minds, but that attitude may creep into our subconscious. We may get angry when the choir director is absent and the perfection of the chant is compromised. Or perhaps we chafe at a visiting priest's way of chanting the words "ages of ages." When we visit another parish, do we bristle at the pews (or lack of pews!) in the church? Rather than asking ourselves the question, "Is this true?" we ask ourselves, "Is this nice?"
The danger of over-zealous liturgical piety is always a temptation we must fight against, as Schmemman noted so well. We must not let the Liturgy distract us from what the Liturgy actually calls us to be and to do.
One can tell the values of a culture by how many different types of words it employs to describe a single object or concept. Some examples:
--The native Alaskan tribes have several dozen words to describe "snow."
--English has several words for the concept of "money."
--In Japanese, there are many different words that mean "quiet." An old friend sent me a short description of some of those words:
"In English, *quiet* is defined by passivity, a negative absence. In contrast, the Japanese language has five words that describe the aesthetic quality of a full, voluptuous quiet.
The *loneliness* of "sabi" is the beauty of the solitary, the isolation by space, circumstance, or history, the wear of time or uniqueness of an object. "Sabi" is the ancient, lone pine on a mountain whose branches are molded by the wind.
"Wabi" denotes beauty in the "poverty" of the simple, the wonder in the commonplace, the poignancy discovered in the obvious. "Wabi" is the amazing quality of things just as they are.
"Shibui" is the "bitterness" of strong green tea. The beauty of "shibui" is an absolute simplicity that reduces something to its essentials and nothing more.
"Aware" is the beauty of fragility, a sensitivity to everything's transient nature. The "pity" of aware implies the ultimate submission of
everything to a vast fate.
"Yugen" means both "hidden" and "obscure," the beauty of the unrevealed, the reality behind appearances: The snowy heron hiding in the bright moon, the vague object at the bottom of a clear pool. "Yugen" is unfathomable depth."
Several women from my in-law's church recently spent a weekend up at the monastery in Goldendale for a women's retreat. They were fortunate enough to be able to speak (with the help of a translator) to the abbess, Gerontissa Eupraxia. One of the questions asked of her was about the martyrdom of marriage. Here was her response (published in the church's monthly newsletter):
"Sometimes God allows for us to have a difficult spouse as an opportunity of causing us to have much prayer, patience, kindness and love. A woman in Greece had an extremely difficult husband. He was a very hard and abusive man. The woman went to her elder and told him of her great difficulties. The elder told her to go home and fill a bowl of water and wash and kiss her husband's feet, asking for his forgiveness in provoking him. The elder also told the woman not to return until she had obeyed. She did in fact obey and did as she was told. To her amazement, her husband's heart was softened and he asked her why she did this. She told him and then he asked to go see the elder. He confessed [his sins] to the elder, and he was a changed man."
I have heard stories like that before, and they always amaze me. The modern mind, steeped as it is in rationalistic ideas of egalitarianism, individuality, and autonomy, naturally balks at these kinds of stories. Questions come bubbling up almost by instinct: Why should she, who had been abused, ask for *his* forgiveness? Why shouldn't she be allowed to leave him? Why should she have to obey her elder's instructions? Etc...
As Clif's recent post illustrates so well, the virtues of humility, prayer, and patience truly work miracles in a marriage. While some situations and marriages may require a spouse leaving, our modern culture has radically underestimated the power of a true Christian response to persecution and relational strife. Even in the case of infidelity, I have seen spouses stay together and rebuild their marriages. But the kind of long-suffering and humility needed to sustain an Orthodox marriage are the very things eschewed by contemporary opinion on relationships.
This truth was highlighted in a lengthy, and interesting debate over at Tripp's blog. It culminated with Tripp posting this: "The divorce thing is easy for me to justify through the Spirit....If the relationship is destructive, then let it die. We are but dust. Why would our relationships be any different finally?"
How different is this than the words of Gerontissa! How different this is than the very words of Jesus who tells us, "He who endures to the end will be saved." (Matt 24:13)!
Now, what this "endurance" may look like for some may be very different than others. Hence the need for an elder, a spiritual father, and a community of believers who share the same journey to help guide us in this discernment. Perhaps another women, with the same problems would have received different counsel from the elder? The point is, this particular women needed to obey these instructions to save her marriage and her soul.
Some relationships will end, and possibly for the better: Even Jesus allowed for an "honorable" divorce. (Matt. 5:32). But we have to start out with the assumption that our relationships are not "but dust." They are made to become icons of God and pathways to holiness. How can they become these things if we are not ready to, literally, "endure to the end" all sorrows they may bring?
Mother Teresa said "we are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful." What would our relationships look like to the world if this was our modus vivendi?
I have the luxury of not being exposed on a daily basis to the rampant political correctness that goes on at the University I attend. This is due in part because I only take one class a quarter and am a commuter student. Thus, the time I spend there is typically short and sweet.
A trickle of the insanity that takes place within the bowels of student government finally crept onto my radar. If it wasn't such a sign of the PC epidemic that has trashed higher learning in this country it might make one laugh.
As I walked into my Latin class this morning, five male students were chatting about the new "Resource Center" being put up on campus. One student was sharing his recent encounter with the administration in regards to this. He was saying,
".....so, I asked the woman in charge why the new center was being called 'The Women's Resource Center' even though it will be used by all of the students, respective of their sex."
Her response was, "Well, the Center will be located in the Women's Studies building and besides, we want to make it clear that we provide services to our minority students."
What is so ironic about that last comment is that females comprise about 58% of the student body!
Sometimes I wonder when the Administration will set up a "White, Heterosexual, Conservative, Christian, Male Resource Center." Trust me, we are the last true "minority" left on most college campuses in America!
(Maybe I should post this story HERE).
In other school related news, I will be finishing up second year Latin this quarter and will be moving on to other degree requirements this summer and fall (Causa celebrationis!)
This summer I will be taking a UD Philosophy class on the history of ancient philosophy. Like most Philosophy departments, PSU's spends much of their energy on analytic philosophy, which IMHO is a travesty. It will be interesting to see what they do to Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Empedocles, Epicurus, and the gang. I am hoping, since the class is a focused study on the ancients, it will be enjoyable.
Conflict in the Blogosphere: Ramifications of the Incarnation
About 7 years ago, I was the store manager for one of the largest Dairy Queens on the west coast. During the summer months, entire softball teams, birthday parties and other random customers would pack the restaurant until the late hours of the night devouring large quantities of "soft serve," making a mess, and generally creating chaos. Those were some of the most stressful nights of my life. (This is going somewhere, trust me!)
Hardly a night went by that I did not have some sort of confrontation with an angry customer. Either they were upset for having to wait in the drive-thru line, or their food was not quite as hot as they had expected, or their dessert did not meet their specifications.
There was one lesson I learned through these encounters I have never forgotten: conflict between persons can only be healed by an incarnated human response that goes beyong mere words. Words do not heal. They can destroy, but never rebuild. On those hot, sticky nights at the DQ there was usually nothing I could *say* that would fix the situation regardless of who was "right." My experience of the "other" was totally based on the words we used, rather than the lives we shared.
It seems I am learning this truth again.
In recent weeks, I have had several exchanges in the blogosphere with people who were offended by something I wrote, either here at St. Stephen's or elsewhere. As I wrote in a post on 1/17/03 entitled "Being Aware of the Text: Internet Community", "Internet community is in many ways a shell of what true community is..." Never have I felt this to be more true than now.
The irony of the blogs is that, while we seem to create instant communication of ideas, the damage done to relationships is almost impossible to fix by the blogs alone. No email, no comment, no letter can ever truly restore persons who have been estranged while interacting in cyberspace. We need those essential non-verbal facial clues; we need the physical touch of a reassuring hand; we need the smile of someone who now understands how the misunderstanding occurred. To work through the difficulty of conflict, we need incarnated community because it allows us to interact within a paradigm not based solely on our words. Sadly, this experience is the one thing blogs can't provide.
We who spend a lot of time in the digital "Matrix" of the blogosphere understand the medium's inherent limitations. And, with all of the tools at our disposal, we try to make ourselves clear, straightforward and authentic while trying to establish cyber-community. But as John Adams noted in this great post on blog ethics, "Most of this animosity [on the Net] seems to have a common root � simple misunderstandings." I couldn't agree more.
St. Philo of Alexandria once said, "Be kind to others, for they are fighting a great battle." Let us remember who are audience is when we write our posts by not writing something that is unnecessary. We do not know what someone is going through and we need to remember that our words can help destroy the soul of another human person. Let us remember the writers when we comment on these posts, by starting off with the assumption that what they wrote wasn't meant to offend. Let's give one another the benefit of the doubt before we jump to conclusions about one another's motives. Most important of all, let us attempt to say what we really mean in our writing. If we have conflict (and we should if we are being real!), let us look deeper into ourselves to find the *why* rather than the *what* of the situation. I say all of this as someone who needs your prayers to accomplish this.
There are days when I despair, thinking that blogging is only difficult, but seemingly inhospitable to living a fully incarnated Christian life. However, it is not the conflict that makes me feel this way, because conflict is not only inevitable, but necessary for growth. My fear is based on what I see happening in the blogs:
1) Either our words do irreparable damage to relationships, or 2) they are just leaves to the wind, forgotten in our archives. Rarely, do they produce lasting community and they usually never bring about reconciliation between the human persons behind the words.
Let us all pray for one another. If you do not already do this, add all those who regularly correspond with you on the blogs to your intercession lists. For if we do not have physical community within which to grow, we always have prayer. Let us use this weapon, above all, to forge community, both in the "Matrix" of the blogosphere and in the real world.
I've posted some new blogger links (welcome, Fr. Hans Jacobse!) , links to some of the websites of the local Orthodox parishes here in Portland, a link to the University I attend part-time, and links to the schools I consider attending in the future, God willing.
5/8 Update: A new blogger has alerted me to his site. Robert is a former Reformed Christian who was recently Chrismated into the Orthodox Church this year. He is off to a great start! Check him out.
This satirical poem was posted recently on the Evangelical-Orthodox discussion group and I still, weeks later, find it amusing. While obviously simplistic and not quite fair to classic Reformed soteriology, it still strikes me as illuminating.
(Sung to the tune of "Jesus Love Me." Sing it out loud--it is even funnier that way).
1. Jesus loves me, this I think,
If I'm wrong, to hell I�ll sink,
Little ones to Him belong,
To save or damn, for He is strong!
Yes, He may love me,
And has elected,
Or else rejected,
Me ere the world began.
3. Though it would have cost no more
If all men came through the door,
He who paid the highest price,
Just for some gained Paradise. (Chorus)
4. Little ones with souls pre-damned
Into praising Him are scammed,
Taught to call Him their dear Friend,
Who their souls to hell will send. (Chorus)
2. Art Thou Friend or Enemy?
Hast already condemned me?
Mercy but to some Hell show,
I interpret Scripture so.(Chorus)
5. And if mercy is for me,
�Justice� first appeased must be.
Jesus dies upon the tree,
God kills Him and maybe me. (Chorus)
6. And if Thou has chosen me,
And if godlike I would be,
Must I only love the ones
Predestined to by Thy sons? (Chorus)
7. Dread Lord, sure none could love Thee,
Draw me irresistibly,
Force me, Jesus, to love Thee! (Chorus)
I've always hated false dichotomies and the Reformed position on salvation has always struck me as one. This spoof seems to beg the eternal question: Does human free will exist, or doesn't it?
Someone in the group pointed out that "if the item at issue is: "Choosing daily to make Jesus Christ the Lord of my life," then the Reformed say that *God* is the one doing that, and that I have absolutely no say in the matter--if I were not elect, then that desire would not even be in my heart. My will is in bondage; God's grace is irresistible, and I cannot but respond to Him in obedience when *He* chooses to draw me.
But when the item at issue is: "Choosing to think that Christianity is complete and utter nonsense," all of a sudden, the Reformed turn their opinion around 180-degrees and say that *I* am the one doing that, and that I indeed do have a say in the matter. God does not make anyone reject Him. *I* chose to sin, to disbelieve, etc. Here my will seems free, and the lack of God's irresistible grace is somehow made to be *my* responsibility.
Yet, if God's sovereignty trumps everything else one-hundred percent of the time, then how can this be? Surely, I could respond, it is not *I* who chose to think that "Christianity is complete and utter nonsense." *God* is the one Who chose not to extend His irresistible grace to me, even though, since He is omnipotent, sovereign, and in control of all things, He could have--had He wanted to save me." So the problem remains....how do I *know* I am saved/being saved/will be saved? The Reformed can only *think* they are saved.
There is a world of difference between a paradox and logical contradiction. It strikes me that classical Reformed teaching falls into the latter group. In the end, it attempts to solve a problem which isn't a problem to begin with. Hence, the philosohpical schizophernia with which it usually defends itself.
The answer is found in one Greek word: Synergy.
Fr. Georges Florovsky has written that Reformed Christology is Monoenergistic at its core. In other words, at a very fundamental level it denies the free will of human nature. Is that a fair critique?
Are You Called?: Brief Thoughts on Women's Ordination
I have never posted much on the issue of women's ordination. Certainly not for a lack of interest in the issue. It is a phenomenon that touches the lives of many in western Christendom and, in a way, is one of the primary outcomes of post-Scholastic, post-Enlightenment philosophy and theology.
It has been said before that every age has its own "schismatic issue." The 3rd and 4th centuries had the Arians; the 5th and 6th, the Monophysites; the 7th and 8th, the Iconoclasts; the 13th, 14th, and 15th, the Anti-Hesychists.
I am convinced that our age (20th and 21st centuries) will be the noted for its abundance of "sexuality and gender" heresies. The chief of these is, IMHO, the rise of women's ordination to the priesthood.
There is a plethera of good info (on both sides!) on this issue. A well constructed piece was published in the April 2003 issue of First Things. The following quote is from a short symposium in that issue "Ordaining Women: Two Views" (pg 36-37). The author of this quote is Jennifer Ferrara, former Lutheran pastor now Catholic laywoman:
"As a Roman Catholic laywoman, my life as a woman, wife, and mother has taken on a new sense of definition. For the first time, I am trying to listen to what the Church has to say about who I am rather than expecting the Church to conform to what I think it should be. In general, modern women and men chafe against revealed authority because they expect the outer life of institutions to be rendered serviceable to the psychological inner life of individuals. Therefore, if a women want to be priests and claim to feel pain because they are not priests, it automatically follows that they should be priests.
Yet nuns and other women who insist that they have a call to the priesthood and use their pain as evidence for an authentic interior call from God are, in fact, using the protean politics of pain and not Catholic theology to explain their experiences. If they truly wish to empty themselves and renounce their own will for the sake of God and Church, they will find innumerable opportunities for service, though perhaps not the sort of self-gratification they seek."
Ms. Ferrara states it bluntly: Those women who "feel a calling" to the priesthood can't be called by the same God as the one she worships, based on the teachings, witness, and life of the Roman Catholic Church. In this regard they have severed themselves from the teaching of the Church in such a radical way as to have changed the essential anthropological (and therefore Christological) teachings of classical Christianity in regards to the priesthood that have existed in the Church for 2000 years.
Those who wish to insist on having women priests/pastors are more than welcome to do so. In some ways, it does not contradict their own teachings. Many of them do and will serve their congregations well, in many respects. I know several women pastors and at times have been edified by some of their teaching. However, based on the historic teachings and interpretations of the Church, they should not call themselves orthodox (little "o") Christians!
The best answer to this issue I ever heard was when Fr. Thomas Hopko (former dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary) was here in Portland a few years back, giving a Lenten retreat on "Gender, Sexuality, and the Church." During the Q&A session a very passionate person asked him for a more concrete answer to why a woman could not be a priest in the Orthodox Church. He looked at the person (who obviously had not listened much during the talk!) and said something like this:
"It all comes down to this: Women, by nature, can not be priests because that is the way God made them. The priesthood is a *paternal ministry* and, as such, can never be accomplished by a woman. She will never be a spiritual father, not because she is not a saint, not because she lacks the fruits of the Spirit, and not even because she couldn't physically perform the duties. What she lacks is both the physical and (more importantly) spiritual ability of being a FATHER. A female priest, by definition, is not a Christian priest."
But, does this mean women have no place of authority in the Church?
Of course they do! This is why, in Orthodoxy, we speak of having Spiritual Fathers *and* Spiritual Mothers. Men and women, while equal in nature, are not equal in function. Both sexes (notice I did not use the word 'gender') bring unique gifts and abilities to the Church. The great spiritual Mothers of the Church participate and build up the Church. Their prayers, lives, and saintliness have been, in many ages, the bedrock of the Church. (Russian Orthodoxy would most likely have been totally wiped out by the Communists if it were not for the faith and courage of the Russian women). And of course, the greatest saint who ever lived was a woman: The Theotokos. A holy abbess or babushka is much better for one seeking the spiritual life than a high ranking but morally corrupt Archbishop. However, the fact is only the bishop (and his priests) can serve at the altar.
However, the nature of the priesthood can not be looked at through the postmodern lens of "power" or "authority" before there arises great misunderstandings. These concepts should *not* be the philosophical starting point of a discussion on the priesthood. When they become the foundatinal points, it proves how vast the theological gulf is between the two parties.
St. John Chrysostom used to say that anyone who seeks out the office of the priest should never be ordained because the desire for the priesthood shows a lack of humility, reference, awe, and dread at the added responsibility and accountability a man takes on when becoming a priest. Anyone who fully understood what was involved with the priestly ministry, both in this life and in the age to come, would never desire the priesthood! A man *may* have a calling or vocation to the priesthood: But, IMHO, only the truly humble man who runs away from seeking ordination should have this calling actualized! As the famous proverb says, "The road to hell is paved with the skulls of priests..."
Imagine yourself sitting in a small, green room with Chinese "healing" music playing softly in the background. Your feet are in a large bucket which contains a mixture of very hot water, sea salts, and an aqua chi machine. The machine gently send an electric pulse into the water to stir up the molecules. In about 15 minutes the once clear water in the bucket will be slowly and methodically transformed into reddish/black sludge. You take a deep breath and wait in anticipation....
On the walls hang beautiful pictures of various photographs of landscapes, waterfalls and sunsets. Sipping a cup of peppermint tea mixed with honey, you breathe in large amounts of recycled office air and pretend you are in Hawaii.
Sitting next to you, receiving a similar foot bath, sits a balding man in his mid-40's. His large and crystal clear blue eyes protrude forth from darkened eye sockets. He looks tired. You notice he is reading a weathered paperback with a title that reads something like "Finding the Inner Light Within."
After a few minutes of silence, he puts down the book, takes a sip of his green tea (which has been steeping on the table next to you) and smiles in your direction.
"Are you into metaphysics?" he asks abruptly.
Hmmm. How to answer that question you think to yourself? "Yes I am," you simply reply, silently thinking to yourself, "but not metaphysics as you understand it."
An interesting conversation commences about the role of diet in spirituality, whether some people can "see auras," how to stay focused during meditation and repel vain thoughts, as well as finding the "inner guide" along the path of life. Your conversation is lighthearted yet each one of you brings a certain intensity to the discussion as well. Not much time goes by before you both realize you are having a hard time communicating, both unable to come to common definitions of the ideas and words being used.
However, he concludes his thoughts by saying that he had once been a Christian but felt it did not offer him the ability to truly heal his soul. And with that comment, all of the sudden commonality comes rushing back into the discussion.....
Two quite paradoxical impressions from this encounter yesterday afternoon struck me:
1) Although it almost goes without saying, New Age Pagan spirituality has hardly *anything* in common with the ancient patristic/monastic/Eastern Christian spiritual Tradition.
2) New Age Pagan spirituality has more in common with the Orthodoxy than much of contemporary American Christian spirituality.
The wave of the future in the realm of missions work for the Orthodox Church (according to the author of a recent article in Again magazine) is with the New Age Pagans. After talking with a bona fida pagan yesterday, I can see why the author would think so. The new pagans have rejected the heresy of their (typically) western Christian upbringing. They have a deep desire for the sacramental experience of God, a life of prayer and discipline, and for a spiritual life that is holistic. While they may have knee jerk reactions to anything that smacks of Christianity, they seem to be more open to the type of spirituality that is found in Eastern Christendom.
However, that work will be very difficult. At least with western Christians, there are some important foundational points of commonality. However, with the pagans there exists such a large divide between the teachings of the historic Church and the hodge-podge spirituality they have created for themselves.
Of course, the New Pagans are not very new. They are in most respects just like their ancestors of old who populated the Roman Empire. But it is clear that many are searching. And many, if shown the True Faith, I think would eagerly embrace their true spiritual home, just as many did 2000 years ago. Time will tell....
There is a new book out by Bill McKibben entitled, *Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age*, (New York: Henry Holt, 2003) which I thummbed through recently. McKibben describes some of the philosophical and practical problems with the coming movement of parents who will be able to genetically "tinker" with their own children's DNA. "Designer babies" as they are called in the media. McKibben takes a more pessimistic view of the enterprise and one hopes his voice will be heard.
A short review can be found on page 68 in the May 2003 issue of Wired magazine. The book is also reviewed in depth in the latest issue of NetFuture. Here is what Steve Talbot writes:
"What will you have done to your newborn", Bill McKibben asks, "when you have installed into the nucleus of every one of her billions of cells a purchased code that will pump out proteins designed to change her?" His answer is stark -- and, I believe, misdirected:
'You will have robbed her of the last possible chance of understanding her life. Say she finds herself, at the age of sixteen, unaccountably happy. Is it her being happy -- finding, perhaps, the boy she will first love -- or is it the corporate product inserted within her when she was a small nest of cells, an artificial chromosome now causing her body to produce more serotonin? Don't think she won't wonder: at sixteen a sensitive soul questions everything. But perhaps you've "increased her intelligence" -- and perhaps that's why she is questioning so hard. She won't even be sure whether the questions are hers. (p. 47)
McKibben repeatedly comes back to this point. A lover of running, he says that "if my parents had somehow altered my body so that I could run more quickly, that fact would have robbed running of precisely the meaning I draw from it" -- the meaning that comes from exertions and achievements he could call his own (p. 48). "If you've been designed and programmed to run, what meaning can running hold?" (p. 55)
Likewise, noting that scientists "have pinpointed the regions of the parietal lobe that quiet down when Catholic nuns and Buddhist monks pray", he surmises that genetic engineers will before long be able to amplify the reaction.
'As a result, the minister's son may be even more pious than he is, but if he has any brain left to himself he will question that piety at the deepest level, wonder constantly whether it means anything or if it's so much brainwashing. And if he doesn't question it, if the gene transplant takes so deeply that he turns into an anchorite monk living deep in the desert, then his faith is utterly meaningless, far more meaningless than the one his medieval ancestors inherited by birthright. It would be a faith literally beyond questioning and hence no faith at all. He would be, for all intents and purposes, a robot.' (p. 48)"
I was sorry I didn't get more time with Fr. John Schroedel when he was here this past week for Holy Week because I would be willing to bet that this topic fascinates us both. He is a Ph.D. candidate in the Ethics Program at the University of Chicago and is working on fleshing out a synthesis between "theological anthropology and bioethics." I wonder what he would have to say about all of this. There are so many issues of free will, faith, the nature of the human person....
One thing Mr. Talbot notes in his review is that McKibben's main argument throughout the book is self-defeating, for it uses the same materialist assumptions that he finds so distasteful. Talbot continues: "If you genetically alter your child and the programming works", McKibben tells us, "then you will have turned your child into an automaton to one degree or another". As we heard above, the monk with genetically reinforced piety "would be, for all intents and purposes, a robot".
But if this is true -- if we are, in this mechanistic sense, creatures of our DNA -- then we are robots in any case. An entity that can be
programmed is already an automaton. That's what it *means* to be an automaton. What difference does it make whether "chance events" programmed us, or someone in a lab coat? If, as McKibben insistently repeats, a twiddled bit of DNA substitutes for my meaningful self, then so, too, does an untwiddled bit of DNA.
A deeply patristic theological anthropology is the answer here I think!...But I don't think I have the qualifications to do it. I *greatly* look forward to Fr. John's thesis work on this and other topics within the world of bio-ethics.