St. Stephen's Musings

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:: Thursday, December 30, 2004 ::

Sex, Marriage and Theosis: Part I

Bill (in the comments of the 12/20 post) asked me if I was familiar with the "traditionalist" critique of Paul Evdokimov in general and specifically an article entitled "New Age Philosophy, Orthodox Thought, and Marriage."

I am, and what follows are my introductory remarks.

First of all, I sympathize with several overall points being made by Archimandrite Luke: a) the sexual act is not a substitute for theosis and the ascetical path to union with God requires a sexuality directed by a purified nous b) sexuality should not be the foundation of our theology or our lives, and c) sexual love should not be confused with the Divine Eros.

I also agree that the gradual acceptance of contraception by many Orthodox clergy and prominent Orthodox scholars (though Evdokimov was not quite as insistent about this as others after him) over the last several decades should raise an eyebrow or two.

However, I would posit that Archimandrite Luke misunderstands the Church's teaching concerning marriage, exaggerates the danger posed by several writers he critiques, and conflates the concept of "carnality" with normal human enfleshment.

As an example of the latter, he quotes St. Mark the Ascetic who said, "If we no longer fulfill the desires of the flesh, then with the Lord's help the evils within us will easily be eliminated"

Right. But St. Mark isn't talking about sex! He's talking about the passions.

IOW, "flesh" in this context doesn't mean simply the material nature of our bodies (much less does it mean the God-pleasing union between a man and woman crowned in marriage) but rather sinful desires, the misuse of the material world, and the passions in their twisted state. Archimandrite Luke would have his readers believe that St. Mark is basically saying, "When you stop having sex with your wife, then you will be able to have a healing relationship with God."

How far this interpretation is from a healthy understanding of the relationship between marriage, sex, and theosis. In a document entitled the "Constitutions of the Holy Apostles" it is noted that "a husband, therefore, and a wife, when they company together in lawful marriage and rise from one another may pray without any observations and without washings are clean. But whoever corrupts and defiles another man's wife or is defiled with a harlot when he arises up from her, even if he should wash himself in the entire ocean and all the rivers, cannot be clean." (Props to Minor Clergy)

Unlike Archimandrite Luke's disdain of marital sexuality and the traditionalists reliance on a very western understanding of sexuality, the Church clearly teaches that the sexual relationship between a man and a woman crowned in the sacrament of Marriage is blessed by God and does not a priori hinder the couple from the fullness of the spiritual life.

In Part II, I will examine some of the specific comments made in the article concerning Paul Evdokimov and raise some questions of my own about what they may indicate.

:: Karl :: 8:07:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Monday, December 27, 2004 ::
On the Feast of Stephen

The 27th of December completes a trifecta for me of back-to-back-to-back celebrations: Christmas (25th), Birthday (26th) and Nameday (27th).

I wrote quite a bit about St. Stephen two years ago and why I admire him so much, so this year I'll re-post a short snippet from last year's Dynamis reading in honor of my patron:

In the portrayal of Christ's Martyr Stephen as one 'full of grace and power' and who speaks with 'wisdom and the Spirit', the Martyr directs our gaze into the heavens to behold 'the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.' Of course, it is the Lord Who is being revealed through the person of His Holy Martyr Stephen.

Just as true icons always disclose the connection between their particular subjects and the Divine Incarnation, so likewise St. Luke's account of Christ's first Martyr, Stephen, manifests the Lord incarnate in His Church. Therefore, let the reader perceive in the account of St. Stephen's witness, a faithful revelation of the Lord of grace and power, of wisdom and the Spirit, and of eternal Glory at the right hand of the Father.

St. Stephen is the Proto-martyr not only in the sense of being the first martyr for the Lord, but also as the proto-type of Christ's martyrs, for all Christ's true martyrs reveal the Lord Jesus acting and teaching through His Body, the Church.

Troparion in tone 4 for St. Stephen:

O Protomartyr and mighty warrior of Christ our God,
You are victorious in battle and crowned with glory, O holy Stephen!
You confounded the council of your persecutors,
Beholding your Savior enthroned at the right hand of the Father.
Never cease to intercede for the salvation of our souls!

Amen. I pray you had a blessed celebration of the Lord's Nativity this past weekend and will continue to keep the Feast these 12 days of Christmas!

:: Karl :: 1:26:00 PM [Link] ::
:: Wednesday, December 22, 2004 ::
Why I Respect Paul Evdokimov

Chrysostomos asked me "What is it that appeals to you about the writings of Paul Evdokimov?"

I esteem Paul Evdokimov for several reasons:

1) He is a great example of someone who not only understood and communicated the Church's teaching and vision through his writings in a way that took seriously both the Church and the world, but who ceaselessly struggled to live the fullness of the Faith in the time and place God had placed him.

He worked tirelessly for the poor, he labored in humble jobs to support his family and numerous charities, and during the Nazi occupation of France he and his family hid people who were targeted for arrest. He later directed a hostel for those displaced by the war and offered safe harbor for those fleeing from Germany. Truly, he was a "doer of the word and not merely a hearer."

2) Several of his books were instrumental for me after I became Orthodox. "The Sacrament of Love" revolutionized my idea of marriage and reaffirmed its value in the painful wake of losing a fiance. His writings about "interiorized monasticism" provide, IMO, an excellent vision of how the monastic ethos can and should be lived out by laymen. His classic "Ages of the Spiritual Life" is an amazing and sweeping tour of the Church's spiritual depths.

3) He had what all aspiring intellectuals and Orthodox theologians should have: an intimate love for Christ, a holistic understanding of the Church's teachings, a penetrating experience and grasp of "worldly knowledge" (philosophy, literature, psychology, history, etc) and how the Church's way of life brings meaning to it all, and a desire to help other people.

My admiration of Evdokimov does not blind me to some of his faults:

1) He was uncritically enamored with Jungian psychology and tended, like many 20th century Russian theologians, toward Sophiology.

2) There are times when the amount of knowledge he tries to incorporate into a text bogs down his argument (see several chapters in "Women and the Salvation of the World" for examples of this)

3) As a member of the Parisian school he sometimes leaned a bit too far in the "ecumenist" direction on occasion (as an official representative of the MP at Vatican II he seemed a little slow to grasp the depth of the chasm between the EO and the RCC).

All of these negatives, however, do not detract from the legacy he left--a penetrating insight into the Church's teachings and a concrete example of how those insights can be lived out in life.

:: Karl :: 7:15:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Monday, December 20, 2004 ::
The Struggle With God

"If we know how to listen, we can hear above the noise of the world the questions put to us by the meaning of things."

One of my favorite theologians of the 20th century is Paul Evdokimov. For those unfamiliar with his work, I highly recommend taking a peek at "The Struggle With God."

:: Karl :: 9:02:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Friday, December 17, 2004 ::

I've been swamped the past several months (and the last two weeks in particular) with work, school and teaching. I have several posts in progress, but haven't had time to polish them. So, in lieu of a "real" post, I give you some of the recent circumstances for which I'm giving thanks:

* The grueling schedule of lectures, papers, and reading for my literary theory and criticism class paid off in the form of an "A"

* Our little unborn baby was thought to be transverse in the womb, but after some naturopathic remedies and the prayers of St. John Maximovitch, the most recent ultrasound revealed the baby had returned to a head down position.

* This Nativity season has proven to me, once again, that I'm a terrible Christian. Why am I thankful for this, you ask? Well, I need humility and there is nothing like a major fasting season in the Church year to help one realize the mercy of God and the weakness of man.

* A series of events at work was slowly bubbling up into an almost full-blown catastrophe. In the last week, several of the explosive problems have been dealt with swiftly and effectively.

* I have grown far more comfortable with teaching than I thought possible and have truly been blessed by the students.

:: Karl :: 9:53:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Wednesday, December 15, 2004 ::
All Get Credit For The Work Of One

Remember this rant about student participation in group discussions?

Clifton's post about the dangers of "group think" is spot on and analyzes the problem in more depth:

"Here's what happens in groups-if you're lucky. One student will take the assignment seriously, two or three will at least be interested enough in watching the serious student do her thing that they'll take part. The remaining four or five are grateful for an opportunity to cease all rational cognition (if they'd ever engaged in any in the first place). In the end, one student does the work of all seven, with minimal assistance of one or two others. And all get credit for the work of one."

I see a similar (although not quite as willful or jaded) dynamic occurring when I teach Latin. Even with only 11 students, the group structure allows students who are struggling to "slip through the cracks" far too easily. This is one reason why I give quizzes and tests often and base grades on a wide range of factors.

Class participation or "group projects" are usually poor indicators of actual learning and mastery.

:: Karl :: 8:14:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Monday, December 13, 2004 ::
The Patron Saint of the Internet

Apparently the time has come to designate an Orthodox Church saint to serve as spiritual guide to internet users. The two finalists are St. John Chrysostom and St. Feofan the Hermit. Good choices.

However, it is a shame the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate don't read the blogs. If they did, they'd realize I solved this problem more than a year ago!

:: Karl :: 8:34:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Friday, December 10, 2004 ::
The Product of a Hurricane in a Marble Quarry

The news that Antony Flew, a British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century, has "converted" to the intelligent design theory has stunned the scientific community.

This reminds me of an astute observation made by Mark Shea:

"It has always struck me as odd to point to the immense concentration of intellect, will, technology and energy it has taken to do relatively small things in the extremely specialized conditions of the lab and argue that this product of white-hot focus of ultra-controlling human intelligence is clear evidence that absolutely no intelligence was involved in the production of all the rest of the vastly more complex life we see around us. ... It's like taking years to build a tiny house of cards and then using this feat to say, 'There! This accomplishment shows the Capitol Dome was therefore obviously the product of a hurricane in a marble quarry.'"

It seems Flew finally understands how silly this argument really is. But you have to admit: the intensity of the religious faith that forms the foundation of modern atheism is truly astonishing. If only Christians clinged to our first principles with such conviction...

:: Karl :: 8:08:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Wednesday, December 08, 2004 ::
The Whole World In Latin

* A pox upon the stenchiferous poltroons! Anthony follows it up with proof that a certain English expletive has interesting Latin roots. Naughty, naughty...but very funny.

* This is a fascinating list of Latin translations of modern objects. More proof that Latin is not a "dead language" after all!
(Props to Clifton and Occidentalis)

* Don't miss this collection of linguistic anecdotes from around the world.

* Oh. My. Gosh. This is hilarious!

:: Karl :: 8:04:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Monday, December 06, 2004 ::
The Works of Faith

What the Fathers are teaching [when they speak about faith and works] is faith as the only true righteousness, as opposed to anything else. This is the teaching of the Apostles, this is the consensus of the Fathers, this is the doctrine of the Church: No amount of good works, done apart from faith, is worth anything.

However, what is not part of the patristic consensus or of Scripture rightly understood, is dividing, conceptually, faith from *its own works*, that is, faith from itself.

The works of faith are to it as the spirit is to a body (James 2:26). They are what makes it alive, what makes it faith.

Belief doesn't yet make it faith--even the demons believe. Trust, if it's only in your mind and heart, doesn't yet make it faith. For all you know, you are imagining you trust him, flattering yourself, like St. Peter. (Luke 22:33, see also Mark 10:38-39) Faith is belief and trust *in concrete form*.

It's "faith which works by love" (Gal. 5:6) that is and always was the only true righteousness. Without love, who am I, a child of God? No, I am a nobody, a nothing. (I Cor. 13:2) Thus, the great chapter on faith, Hebrews 11, turns out mostly to be about works!

Faith's works, that is. For they are God's work in us, and our work in God. In truth, where there is union with God, one can no longer say whose works they are.
They are yours in the sense that it's you, not God, who must put forth the effort; they are God's in the sense that He, not you, makes the effort fruitful.
No, neither faith with its works nor faith without its works will merit you salvation.

Faith apart from the works of the law indeed exists. But Faith without *its* works DOESN'T exist and so isn't worth talking about; it's a human fantasy and nothing more; it cannot be instrumental in your salvation any more than works apart from faith can.

But even faith with its works won't earn you salvation either. Rather, it already *is* your salvation sprouting up (not yet in full bloom). You have already been saved from being any other sort of person than one who lives by trust in God. You have already been saved from a selfish, meaningless existence. You have already been saved from despair, from wickedness, from slavery to satan, from fear, from secularism, from humanism, from countless dead-end isms, from walking death.

So if sola fide means faith apart from works of the law, fine. (Romans 9:32, Gal. 2:16) But if it means faith considered apart from *faith's* works, no. That is purely a figment of our imagination. We do not consider or theologize concerning what doesn't really exist, much less suppose this abstraction could be capable of justifying anybody. (James 2:14-24)

--From the the Orthodox-Lutheran discussion group

Update: "Belief and Faith are not necessarily the same things....God grant me to be a father who unifies belief and behavior in the heart by faith." Amen.

:: Karl :: 8:25:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Friday, December 03, 2004 ::
What About How To Teach?

Yesterday, in my literary criticism and theory class, a vigorous discussion broke out regarding the purpose of education and the place of theory in the classroom.

Fans of playwright Tom Stoppard will enjoy the following bit of "verbal tennis" written by Professor Plum in a brilliant essay on the dangers of Constructivism in modern educational theory. It perfectly describes the mindset of many of my fellow peers in the English and Philosophy departments:

Imagine that the large, empty, circular white room has ten doors leading to a hallway. The hallway, too, is circular. There's no way out of the building. All doors open back into the same white room. Every ten years or so, the inmates head for a door.

"Let's get outa here."
"Yeah, time for a change."
"I think we've said everything that can be said."
"Written everything that can be written."
"Gotten all the grants that could be gotten from the money cow."
"I agree."
"Innovation. That's the key."
"Forward and Upward and Competence and Knowledge!"
"Yes, time for a new initiative."

And so they race out into the hall and race back in through another door.

"Okay, we're back."
"Now what?"
"I don't know."
"Some innovation."
"A new initiative."
"To prepare students for responsible and productive citizenship in a global society."
"What's that mean?"
"I have no idea."
"A new way of knowing!"
"For a new world!!"
"A postindustrial world."
"A postmodern world."
"I think you're onto something, Dr. Mumblemore!"
"Yes. Yes. New courses. New programs. New paradigms."
"What's a paradigm?"
"I don't know. Possibly something."
"A Bachelors Degree in Relativity."
"A Master of Sensitive Narratives."
"A Doctor of Deconstruction."
"We'll have to revise our mission statement."
"And our syllabi."
"And our matrices and rubrics."

[New Guy:] "What about how to teach?"

"You're new here, aren't you?"

:: Karl :: 7:43:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Wednesday, December 01, 2004 ::
You Guys are Arians!

Jim's anecdote about evangelism among the JW and LDS reminded me of a true story about an Orthodox priest I know:

One day, a short time after he was ordained and settled into his new parish, he saw two young JW's walk up to the house.

He invited them in for tea and encouraged them to make their "pitch" (he didn't know much about them and was curious to hear what their beliefs were).

After a few minutes of Watchtower propaganda, something clicked in his mind and he suddenly exclaimed "Oh! You guys are Arians!" [the name given to followers of an infamous ancient heresy that posited that Jesus was not God from eternity]

The two young JW men looked at each other with aghast faces and turned to the priest and said "Oh no! The Nazi's were totally evil and we love the Jews!"

:: Karl :: 8:21:00 AM [Link] ::

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