"Even the lowliest of lay people, such as myself, can have the courage of his convictions and say, 'the Orthodox Church is precisely the Church; it contains the truth; everything else swerves in one direction or another' without looking like an idiot in front of academics or a fool in front genuinely holy people of other confessions."
Unless you count Matushka Olga of Alaska (and one could make a pretty good argument for her), there are no officially recognized female American Orthodox saints.
Come on ladies. We need to see icons of you!
The speaker at this year's lenten retreat, on the subject of theosis, quipped tongue in cheek that "the goal of the Orthodox Christian is to someday be found on the walls of the church."
Well, sort of. In any case it does make for a humorous visual: Can you picture yourself venerating an icon of St. Karl the New Martyr of Oregon? Or how about St. Karl, Enlightener of the Northwest and Equal to the Apostles?
* I received, or better yet, earned a solid A in my winter term class on ancient Greek history. In the one class I'm taking Spring term (which starts today!) I'll be bringing my Latin skills into an ancient Roman history class. A few of the texts I will be diving into are:
Tacitus "Annals of Imperial Rome"
Anonymous "Lives of the Later Caesars"
Polybius "Rise of the Roman Empire"
Suetonius "Twelve Caesars"
* Classic line from the adult Church school class yesterday: "There will never be a time in heaven that you'll say to God 'Been there, done that.'"
* Many of you know I regularly update earlier posts with links and other insights. Be sure to check back with posts farther down on the page. I also keep an eye on the comments of all posts that remain on the front page.
In last year's Annunciation musing, I focused on the angelic hosts and their role in our salvation. I noted how mystically connected we are to the powers of heaven and how, when we open our hearts to God, we can be in communion with all of creation through Christ.
The same is true when Orthodox Christians gather at pan-Orthodox events to worhsip. My wife, who is in Ohio this week visiting a very successful Orthodox Classical School, noted that "It has been so cool to meet so many Orthodox people. It's like we've known these people forever and it's just been a few days. We are all mystically united, but it is REAL. We say it but it's so true. How else can you travel 1500 miles and cut to the chase and go deep with strangers?"
Lord willing, large numbers of Orthodox Christians from several local parishes will gather tonight as one at the Church of the Annunciation to celebrate both the Feast and that parish's patronal feast day.
Whether in worship, fellowship, or anything else in the Christian life....here's to "going deeper."
Ecumenical Discord: Neither Silence nor Capitulation Are Options
There has been quite a bit of excitement here at St. Stephen's Musings the last few days. I seem to have roused the passions of a few of my readers with this post and this follow up and the comments at this last follow-up.
Cathy, a reader who I know personally, made a comment asking in part "why is it necessary to talk about other traditions outside your own." This post is the short and edited version of my private response to her. It also touches on other issues brought up by Thomas in earlier comments made on the posts linked above.
I really plan on this being my last significant post on the issue for a while. I am going to move on to other, less clearly controversial topics in the near future. So here we go:
I'm no Church Father and blogs are no spiritual masterpieces, but you see my point.
Secondly, if all I ever did was blog about "my own tradition" I'd still have people all fired up. The "ecumenists" and the "traditionalists" would take turns freaking out, depending on what I was musing about that day. I already have Orthodox people who disagree with me on several issues! (This post will certainly be one of them!) Guess what: I'm just fine with that.
The fact is, those who write or speak out on issues of truth make adversaries and critics for themselves. There is no way to write about a subject without stating a thesis and someone, somewhere is bound to disagree with the thesis and/or your methodology.
But to then say that one must either:
a) not have a real thesis when one writes so as to never "offend" anyone or
b) have read every book under the sun on the issue and be almost sinless before uttering a word on anything....well, I'm not sure which is more ridiculous.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Those demanding silence or politically-correct "niceness" on the part of the Orthodox should step up to the plate and either stop arguing for their own point of view or stop villifying all of Orthodoxy because of one or two people they disagree with.
Unless you yourself a) never write another word on any topic where someone might disagree with you or b) have actually read *every single* pertinent text *and* gained an immense amount of virtue, you are in no position to demand of anyone (Orthodox or otherwise) what you don't have and won't do yourself.
So, take a deep breath, gather your thoughts, join the discussions, and let's move on with the business of working together on these issues. As I noted in prior comments,
"The mast-head of this blog reads, 'Thoughts and reflections'....not 'precise and perfectly developed apologetics and prose.'
We're all trying to learn more, to purify our hearts, to grow in the faith, to sharpen one another, to understand one another and to work out in our minds and our lives the implications of our faith. Please allow for the possibility that the blogs are a way to assist in this process.
Update:Thomas continues the discussion and I agree with his overall point. But, IMO, his view of blogging & communicating is too pessimistic, his definition of what it means to be an "apologist" is far too limited, and he lets personal experiences interfere with his understanding of what others are trying to say when they write. (But who isn't guilty of that last one!) Blog on, my friend!
With the help of a faithful lurker, I've finally gotten around to making my links open in a new window for easier reference. Several of you have emailed me about doing this, so there you go. I aim to please! Starting with Friday's post and moving forward, clicking a link will open a new window.
Also, an update on the blogroll:
* Check out a new section for Orthodox clergy. There are three that I know of now!
* Some of my fellow Ortho-bloggers seem to have dropped off the face of the earth. They are now listed in the "Orthodox Blogs on Life Support" section. Let's hope they return soon.
Those who are offended or irritated by intense ecumenical discussions (amazingly I do have regular readers who are!) will be happy to know I'm going to touch on "lighter" issues for the next few days. I'll also be taking my yearly blogging vacation during Holy Week.
Once we've replaced God with text we can manipulate, then we start believing everything true comes, not from the Holy Spirit and God's working in the Church, but from our ability to construct arguments based on human wisdom.
For example this Calvinist thinks that the Orthodox simply "argue for a tweaking of the 2nd Commandment based on the Incarnation" to justify the use of iconography.
The problem here is that the 2nd commandment has nothing to do with icons because icons are not worshipped as God. It is idolatry, not reverence, that Exodus 20:4-5 condemns. (See the decree of Nicea II)
Since Christ is the "image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15; Gr. "hos estin eikôn tou theou tou aoratou) we now see God in the God-man Jesus Christ and are thus in a position to make icons of Him. The OT teaching must be interpreted in the light of Mt. Tabor and the NT reality, not the other way around. But, I'm neither a Jew nor a product of Enlightenment hegemony, so I'm silly that way.
Of course the violence this heresy does to things like, say, Jesus' own words in John 14:9 is part of our modern denial of the Incarnation.
Eventually we decide that throwing the baby out with the bathwater instead of taking the time to acquiring and living a more holistic and patristic worldview is the way to go. Christianity is so much more simple and easy when we can gut it out and start with the parts what we like.
"The Bible vigorously opposes mystics of all descriptions, including Christians, who ascend to heaven and contemplate God by means of ascetic practices. God can never be directly grasped or contemplated face to face ... The only channel of revelation is the Word."
Ellul's kind of Christianity is what we get when we start limiting God to a radical OT ideal, mixing in some modern gnosticism, and throwing in a pinch of Cartesian dualism.
Of course, it helps when you decide that the Bible itself is really God.
The situation in Serbia grows worse by the minute it seems. Several Ortho-bloggers are keeping us abreast of the growing crisis so instead of ranting about it, I'll simply direct you to their work for analysis and commentary.
Jan, Havdala, Huw, and Seraphim all have posts on the issue. Keep Serbia and her people in your prayers this Lenten season.
Clifton's series on "Pain of the heart" connects well with this bit of wisdom from Abba Zosimas' "Reflections" (newly translated into English and a stunning piece of patristic literature I'm reading now):
"Anyone who wishes and longs to be healed is obligated to endure whatever the doctor offers if they wish to be delivered from the illness. Indeed, no patient is happy being amputated or cauterized or cleansed with enema. Rather, every patient thinks about such things with disgust."
"Nonetheless, that same patient is convinced that it is impossible to be healed of one's illness without these. One surrenders to the doctor knowing that in return for a small amount of disgust, a great deal of healing will result for an
unhealthy condition and chronic illness."
Father Theodore, in his sermon yesterday, noted what great lengths we go when trying to fight our physical illnesses but how lazy we are when struggling with our spiritual maladies.
One thing I've really learned during my bout with chronic illness is that I really do care more for the body than the soul. I'm willing to put up with a revised diet, exercise, painful treatments, time invested in reading books and studying health related issues, etc.
However, when in comes to the healing of the soul I'm not so diligent. What is worse is that the methods of healing are all available to me in the Church. Just as I don't invent my own cures for my body, so I should not with my soul.
Fasting, prayer, almsgiving, silence, liturgy....all of these are given to us by God in His Church for our healing. Let us run to them with joy, knowing that just as good food, rest, and water heal the body, so too the spiritual practices of the Church will heal both our body and our soul.
"Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith." 1 Timothy 6:20-21
"Is this not what many of our clergy do? Do they not choose for themselves teachers who flatter their hearing? They do not learn from the one teacher--Christ; they do not learn from His Gospel or His Church."
"Rather, they learn from worldly journalists, novelists, politicians, sociologists, and the like, and explain how interesting it all is, how exciting it all its, how instructive, how relevant it all is. In effect, they say, 'We have no need of the Gospel and the Church; we have such good teachers elsewhere.' Lord Jesus! To what have we come?"
--St. John of Krondstadt, "Counsels on the Christian Priesthood"--
Of course we have many examples of Church Fathers and contemporary elders who were well educated and knowledgeable about current events, philosophical trends, and human wisdom.
The question is: How much time do you devote to the reading of the Bible, the Fathers, and other spiritual reading vs. the latest novel, the newspaper, or popular movies?
"How do our prayers for the dead affect those who have died? Bishop Maximos Aghiorgoussis wrote in a chapter entitled, 'Orthodox Soteriology', which appeared in a book called, 'Salvation in Christ', that a partial judgment is instituted immediately after our physical death, which places us in an intermediate condition of partial blessedness (for the righteous), or partial suffering (for the unrighteous). Disavowing a belief in the Western Purgatory, our Church believes that a change is possible during this intermediate state and stage." (emphasis added)
Innocent, my priest's best friend from college, was ordained to the deaconate this past Sunday at our parish.
Unless one is near a cathedral or a seminary, the chances of participating in an ordination service are slim for most Orthodox Christians. Not surprisingly, the church was packed with various Orthodox from around the state as well as Innocent's many family and friends.
During an ordination to the deaconate the candidate is typically ordained as a sub-deacon during Matins/Orthros. From this point forward until the Great Entrance, the sub-deacon stands in front of the icon of Christ (the one on the iconostasis) with a white towel covering his head. This is a symbol and reminder of Christ's humility.
I couldn't help but think what an intense time that must be; standing in prayer for a good 45 minutes contemplating the mystery of the priesthood.
It was interesting to see the connections between the ordination and the marriage service (3 times around the altar with the "Dance of Isaiah" hymnography; the prayers for joy and servant hood; the laying on of hands, etc).
Before Holy Communion is brought out, the sub-deacon gives a personal speech to the bishop. At several points Innocent choked up, particularly when he tried to talk about how much of a support his wife has been. It brought many in the congregation to tears.
Last night at Great Compline I asked Fr. Dn. Innocent what it was like to come out of the altar to cense the Church for the first time as a deacon. "Intense," he said.
"I may be learning more than most people in a typical parish may ever hope to learn, but the amount I can actually learn while I am here at seminary is still limited. I occasionally find myself hoping that seminary will make me an expert in all aspects of "church knowledge." Instead, seminary can only offer me training as a generalist in churchmanship."
A complaint I hear from time to time about seminary life (Orthodox seminaries not excluded) is that a seminary is fantastic at producing biblical and patristic scholars, but rather weak in creating well-rounded priests.
The argument is that seminaries in America give a decent academic education but tend to downplay or neglect the formation of spiritually sensitive confessors, down-to-earth homilists and teachers, and men of the Church who understand and appreciate the role of the intellect in the Christian life and are living an ascetic and balanced life.
The claim is that our seminaries, because of an over-emphasis of the intellect, do not do a very good job at teaching future priests the ability to have deep and meaningful relationships with others, particularly with other men.
Now it must be noted that these are problems Christians (especially men, clergy or otherwise) have across the board in our culture. Placing the majority of the blame on the seminaries seems harsh and simplistic. Taking the position that everything wrong in the Church is because of "the intellectuals" is also misguided and patently false.
However, it would be interesting to know how seminary life may exacerbate certain individualistic and myopic personality traits in our future priests. I am also curious how the structure and vision of the seminary itself may contribute to the lack of spiritual balance we so often see.
Lord willing, I may have the opportunity to find out the answers to these questions firsthand someday.
Update:Thomas muses a bit on this subject"In short, they don't need less study, they need: more languages, more history, and more immersion in the traditions of their communions. All of this should be within a nonnegotiable, given structure of daily prayer, sacramental life, and discipline."
I recently got a quarterly bill from the university for my spring term class. Anyone who has paid a tuition bill will connect with this story:
Some philosophers once visited an elder. After offering a prayer the elder remained silent. He braided a cord and paid them no attention. The philosophers besought him, saying, "Say something to us, father," but the old man held his peace.
They said to him, "This is what we came for, to hear you say something and to benefit from it." The old man said to them, "You spend your money to learn how to speak. I left the world to learn how to keep silent." They were filled with amazement on hearing this and went their way edified.
Crushes, Cell Phone Plans and Marriage: Ecclesial Analogies
LT notes that "following Christ is more like a marriage than signing up for a cell phone plan. With a marriage we carefully consider whom we are going to be with. The commitment we make is lasts our entire life and it encompasses all aspects of our life. But that isn't how we spread Christianity today."
"Today becoming a Christian is much more like signing people up for a cell phone plan. Sign up today and get a free phone. The real cost of the phone in the monthly service plan. Unfortunately people can drop out of this contract at any time."
Over at the new Skopos blog there is this truism: "We want the first-date tingles but we don't want to take out the trash every week. We say we want real love and marriage, but we act, collectively, more like bar-hoppers than committed spouses of God..."
In this interesting discussion over at James' blog Sara writes, "I see what the POMOs are doing as a kind of 'crush'. You know, like we all had in high school. The sort of infatuation with the things you think the person is about...you experience them from a distance, never knowing who they really are. While actually being part of the Church is more like marriage where the fullness of the other person is truly experienced."
Stephen, from the Orthodox Convert list, thinks that "just as a young couple first gets to know each other, (classically they don't start with sexual intercourse!) the inquirer begins by getting to know the Church..."
"This progresses on into courtship and betrothal--becoming a catechumen-- and finally marriage-- Chrismation. Then comes the fullness of union (Holy Communion). The person who rushes into this most intimate union before he or she is ready ends up fragmented..."
* We need to avoid independence in the spiritual life and focus on interdependence.
"The aim of the spiritual life is to become like a sponge" St. Gregory of Palamas. We need to learn from those who have come before us.
* We are more healed when we are missing something; we are more whole when we break down ("I boast in my weakness" says St. Paul)
* The Greek word for "forgiveness" literally means "being in the same space with another"... We repent and are healed by forgiving and healing others and by learning to live in peace with those who hurt us.
* Christ was resurrected with his physical wounds. Our resurrection in repentance does not leave us "perfect" as we imagine or immaturely wish, but "fills that which is lacking with the Spirit"....
* How do we practice interdependence practically in parish life? The only thing that unites us is that we all fall short. We should avoid silly discussions and trivial conversations that focus on our "successes" but should rather look to open up, to expose our hearts, to support one another in our struggle.