"Christ the Eternal Tao" by Hieromonk Damascene (I've read this before, but now I have my own copy)
"The Hidden Key to Harry Potter" by John Granger (The author is an Orthodox laymen!)
"The Well Educated Mind" by Susan Wise Baur (I'm a huge fan of the classical model of education)
"In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers" by Fr. John Chryssavgis (One of the best lecturers I've ever heard, by the way. He is coming in February to give another retreat that I am really looking forward to).
"Commentary on the Psalms: Volume I" by St. John Chrysostom
"The Art of the Infinite: The Pleasures of Mathematics" by Robert and Ellen Kaplan (the wife actually got this but I'm stealing it!)
"Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: The Lives & Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece" by H. Middleton (A very sharp looking book with lots of great pictures)
Last but not least, 2 English Literature research books and an illustrated hardback "History of Byzantium" will also be good reads.
These will all join a couple dozen more (at least!) I obtained during the fall/winter months that I haven't had time to even crack open. Of note: The biographies of St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Nektarios and St. Seraphim Rose are highly anticipated reading, as well as several tomes I got in a personal exchange made with Brian. In fact I've had to buy another large bookshelf to keep pace with this insatiable problem of mine.
Daniel and I have already joked about having "book lover's disease", so now I ask this question with a bit more shame than usual (but it has to be done): Does anyone have any books they are looking to donate or get rid of? *grin*
I received many wonderful gifts this Christmas season and tomorrow I'll post a bit about some of them. Yet it was last night, deep in the Oregon countryside in a small log cabin Russian Orthodox chapel, that I received a very special gift--the memory of which will be with me for quite some time.
Last night I was able to venerate the original Kursk Icon.
The Icon was brought to a ROCOR parish here in Oregon City as it makes its way from Seattle and next week to San Francisco. (A side note of interest: the church the icon was brought to was one Fr. Seraphim Rose of Platina helped start.)
After waiting for 2 hours for the icon to arrive, about 75 local Orthodox people processed into the dark and rainy December night to pack into a cozy chapel. We then corporately prayed a small service of thanksgiving and each of us was given ample time to view and venerate one of the most famous miracle-working icons in Christian history.
During the service the entire chapel began to smell of myrrh and rose petals, yet there was no incense burning.
It was fitting that this blessing would come to us during the celebration of the Nativity and as we look forward to Theophany. As St. Athanasius wrote in his masterpiece, "On the Incarnation", "the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning."
Miracle working icons are a pledge, a sign of that which is both already in our midst but also yet to come-- the total transfiguration and recreation of everything in Christ.
"In the portrayal of Christ's Martyr Stephen - as one "full of grace and power" (vs. 6:8) as one who speaks with 'wisdom and the Spirit' (vs. 6:10) - the Martyr directs our gaze into the heavens to behold "the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God" (vs. 7:55). 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!
I got into a humorous conversation near the end of the evening that brought up an interesting question. Several people were chatting about Lord of the Rings films and the deviations from the books. One person, however, remained rather taciturn.
When asked directly what he thought of the last film, he sheepishly smiled and confessed that not only had he not seen the previous two films, but had not even read the books!
This led us into an interesting discussion around this question: What is one book (or set of books) that you would be embarrassed to admit having never read?
Now don't be bashful. Leave your Christmas confession in the comment box (and let's hope the server holds!). Here is mine and for an English major and a bookophile it is pretty bad:
I've never finished a single book by Jane Austen. Sad but true. (Havdala will be particularly scandalized by this, methinks!)
Ok, your turn!
Update: Merry Christmas to all! A small change as been made to this post thanks to Clint's sharp eye and my rushed and ridiculously sloppy attempt at research for the material of this post. (See the comments for more). Also, here is another question to ponder: What book (or set of books) do you regret having read? Near the top of my list would have to be Edith Wharton's miserable "Ethan Frome."
Lo and behold, she is a local Orthodox Christian and her parish was my former home parish for 5 years! (Hi Jan!) Jan's blog is called A World of Speculation. I look forward to keeping up with her writing.
Matter Matters: Sacramentality of "The Return of the King"
I saw "Return of the King" last night and, despite its flaws, it is by far the best film of the trilogy and is quite simply one of the best films I have ever seen. I could gush on and on, but I will leave the clever use of adjectives to the professional film reviewers. (They have said it all anyway!)
Although I could spend a week blogging about the various elements of the film, there is one thing in particular that struck me. One of the things that I most appreciated about the film was how director Peter Jackson truly captured and emphasized Tolkien's sacramental vision and made it a central theme of the films. In Middle Earth, matter matters. A lot.
Who will think lightly of his wedding ring and say it is nothing? Who will take a kiss lightly? It is only a physical pledge of something deeper, more mysterious, and more substantial, namely, love. But in that small physical act the great mystery is somehow bespoken.
These things, which are true, must somehow be focused and brought to a point in a symbol for us mortals. We cannot live with abstractions. We cannot nourish ourselves on generalities.
The religion that attempts to drive a wedge between the whole realm of Faith and the actual textures of physical life is a religion that has perhaps not granted to the Incarnation the full extent of the mysteries that attach to it and flow from it. It is to turn the Incarnation into a mere doctrine.
In the films one comes away with many thoughts, many emotions, many dreams. To live in a world like Middle Earth where every kiss, every look, every tear, every battle is immensely sacred and important. This is our goal. This is the Christian vocation--as king, priest, and prophet we are to synergize with Christ to sanctify all of life. As we say in the Liturgy, "thine own of thine own". God, through the Incarnation, has taken every facet of our lives and delivered it back to us redeemed. Let us not squander this gift.
This came from a company-wide email sent out ealier today by one of my more fearless co-workers:
"Today marks the beginning of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday commemorating the
rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem in 164 B.C. Also referred to
as the Feast of Lights, Hanukkah recalls the Talmudic story of the Temple's
one-day supply of oil miraculously burning for eight days."
"Tonight at the Christmas Party, we will witness a similar miracle, as one
bottle of wine will last for eight minutes. Good thing we've got 12 cases
and a couple kegs."
There is nothing quite like an advertising firm's "Holiday" festivities...
When I was single, practicing Zen, and looking for Orthodoxy, I'm not so sure I would have fully believed the following quote.
Now, after being Orthodox for some time as well as being married, I know better.
"I usually tell people that if they are chomping at the bit for spiritual direction and want to repent and change, ask their friends or spouse or children for honest criticism. Most of us don't need a clairvoyant elder or the Philokalia to straighten us out because we haven't even gotten off the starting blocks yet."
Karl: "Cut the act already! We know that you're not a young convert to Orthodoxy. You're real name is Hieromonk Demetrius Popova and you're like in your 60s or something and you have two or three doctorates in theology from various Orthodox seminaries. Really man, give it up already!"
James, you're way off base.... I have four doctorates. *grin*
"I�ve read some [PoMo's] writing on worship as if they had invented the idea of silence. And chanting. And candles...."
Mills goes on to make a point I've made in the past, but that doesn't usually go over very well. He writes,
"[Postmodern Christian] worship adopts lots of traditional objects and methods, like candles and chanted prayers, but in a liturgy or �worship experience� of their own devising. They aren�t interested in adopting the classic orders of the Western and Eastern liturgies, of submitting themselves to ancient and highly developed traditions. This seems to me unwise."
"I think the [postmodern Christians] offer much to think about, but [I] ask them to please remember not only the baby in the bath, but that the bath itself was developed for a very good reason and refined over time into an instrument very hard to replace with any lasting success."
"In order to avoid the hubris that often comes from the evangelical church, many folks are now getting squishy on things they should not be squishy about, including the authority of Scripture, the uniqueness of Christ, and the value of the Bible�s sexual ethic. If we lose those, we lose the Gospel."
"I am much more sympathetic to postmodern modes of thinking than I am to their predecessor, but I am less than sanguine about the modern evangelical embrace of it--even in missional terms." Clifton continues with this great question:
"Such an embrace in the liberal mainline churches have given us the untethered and unaccountable actions of the Episcopal Church. What will emerge among evangelicals when their embrace of postmodernism turns to into an embrace from which they can no longer extricate themselves?"
"Paul's message at Mars Hill was relevant, but are we reading more into the text so as to give ourselves "permission" for more sweeping changes?..."
I suppose that defining our relationship to culture does have a bearing on this topic. Jesus seemed very comfortable moving around within the culture of his day -- but it didn't hinder him from carrying out the work of the kingdom. I suppose, in part, this is the corrective that Church needs today (in places, that is) -- perhaps we've placed FAR too much stock in cultural relevancy, and have subsequently neglected our pursuit of Christ."
As I wrote in the comments at Chris' blog, we'll be a lot more relevant if we stop focusing on trying to be relevant and are just faithful with what we have been given in the Church (ala 2 Thess. 2:15). What are your thoughts--especially in regards to Clifton's question?
So, I call G.K. Chesterton to the stand to speak for the defense:
"Suppose we heard an unknown man spoken of my many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. One explanation...would be that he might be an odd shape. "
"But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape. ...Perhaps (in short) this extraordinary thing is really the ordinary thing; at least the normal thing, the centre."
1) Enetation is testing my patience, yet again. To see all the comments on previous posts click on the link at the very bottom of the comment box that says, "Check master server comments." This will bring them up and hopefully this little bug will not last long.
I finished my Ancient Philosophy final ealier today on fire and with a bang. I should get an "A" for the term.
The course, which began with such promise, ended up being rather pathetic. We spent way too much time with Lucretius, who I despise even more now thanks to this class. My fellow students seemed to be hand-picked for their rabid secular materialism and caustic method of arguing. It reminded me when I was at PU full time.
Anyway, if I have to hear one more person snicker with glee as a professor solemnly intones ".... and thus, as Lucretius so brilliantly shows us, we have no free will," I will gag. And I'll do it because I choose to, not because the atoms of the universe determined my reflex.
Orthodoxy: Not Taking the Eucharist Seriously Enough? -- Part II:
Part I certainly drew some great comments! Keep 'em coming! In the original dialogue, Felix continued:
"We cannot say that we are allowing people to experience the life of the Church, all apart from Communion. If they are not joining us in that or experiencing it for themselves, they are *not* experiencing anything like the life of the Church. This is like me inviting you to join my family, but asking you to live in the back garden in a tent! Maybe EO need to be *more* organically integrated in this?!"
This analogy doesn't quite capture the nature of the relationship between those who have been united to the Church through the sacraments and those who are yet to. It also doesn't begin to explain why, if closed communion is wrong, why the Church was and is so protective of its mysteries.
For now consider this: You invite me over for a nice dinner with you and your wife and, when it's getting late and time for me to depart, I proceed to the bedroom with the two of you with my PJ's and toothbrush--fully expecting to sleep with you in your bed!
The revulsion one would (or should!) feel if someone demanded to sleep with his wife simply on the basis that they "have a relationship" with her is the same we feel when non-Orthodox demand we accept "open communion." It is here that we see closed communion as being precisely that which both maintains and furthers an integrated ecclesiology and sacramental vision.
In the comments of Part I James of KY and James of the NW brought up a point that I've made before to friends--the interesting link between the EO understanding of our participation in the sacraments and our view of marriage. Here is something I once wrote to a friend:
St. Paul uses marriage as his prime analogy of the union between God and mankind (Eph 5:21-33). Just as sex is not merely a means to unity but the expression of a unity already existing, so with the sacraments and the life of the Church. That is why it is a sin to have sex outside of marriage--because premarital sex proclaims a union that is not complete.
So why has God created man and woman to be united in a sacramental and committed union, set apart from the couples' other relationships? Because He desires to unite them fully and completely in life, fullness of truth and in love to one another, and through that union, to all of the world. This is the same as our relationship in Christ, who is the Head of His Body, the Church.
If we desire to be united fully with Him, we will naturally want to be united to His Body as well. Just as a couple who isn't married can't claim they have the fullness of a love relationship, neither can those who are outside the Church claim they have the *fullness* of a love relationship with God.
Now, just because two people are married doesn't mean that they will display this unity. Two people can be married for years and never talk, and have never really learned to love each other with total self-denial and humility. In the same way, just because a person is a baptized Orthodox doesn't mean that they necessarily will come to be perfectly united to God. We need to "synergize" or cooperate with God to reach full union with Him. And sadly, many Orthodox don't.
It is also true that two people who are dating or engaged may have developed a deep and abiding love that is, in a sense, more "real" than another couple who is married. If they are responding to the call of love and are living, as best as they know how, God will work through that.
Yet most of us would consider an engaged couple not fully united as God intended until they are married. Not being joined fully to God by being united to His Church in the sacraments will leave us lacking the fullness of the love and grace God wishes to bestow on us. And why?
Because just as there is no such thing as a "married couple" without two members and their whole family connected to them in a union of mutual commitment to the truth and in love, so there is no such thing as an "individual" Christian without the Church to nurture them.
I have another interesting explanation of this from other sources....but I'll save it for another day.
Felix responded and, although it took me a while, I finally had some time to make a few comments: First off, he wrote,
"I imagine it's possible for you to make this last sentence only because you limit "Church" to your own expression of that. I might equally say that Believer's baptism has always been the teaching of the Church if I don't recognize paedobaptists as members of the Church. I have trouble with your statement historically, but we can leave that to one side."
Felix continued, "I don't know that I really understand the Eucharist in this end or means kind of way. It's what we do. It expresses some things, it cements others, it is a means of grace and a manifestation and it serves to create other things. I think there's actually *more* to it that you have suggested."
Of course there is more to it! What I was trying to point out is that the Eucharist is intricately tied together with doctrine, praxis, apostolic continuity, etc. Like sex within marriage, the Eucharist is only for those who are already joined together into the one Faith.
"I also find the [Orthodox] position troublesome because I don't think it takes the Eucharist seriously enough."
Wow! Now, that's a new objection! To our ears this is tantamount to telling Mother Teresa, "You know, you just don't take the plight of the poor seriously enough!" Spend some time in worship with us. Study our hymnography. Read the lives of the saints. Pray the daily offices, especially the pre- and post- communion prayers. In time, you'll realize how the Eucharist is our life.
I've been following Darren's blog for quite a while now...one of my favorite "pomo" blogs. Some of you may already know that he has a great series going on how to improve your blog. Writing on topics like site design, increasing readership, and content ideas, Darren gives both future and current bloggers much good advice. Blogging addicts, rejoice.
Are you a Finder or a Seeker....Or Something Else? Part II:
"One of the settled but largely unspoken pieties of our time is the notion that 'seekers' have greater moral authority than 'finders.' It is a silly piety when stated clearly. But whenever it is openly challenged, one sees how entrenched it is," writes McClay from the article referenced in Part I.
What we fail to see is that both those who stop once they have some of the truth and those who revel in semi-darkenss of the existential "journey" are only half correct--and thus both end up being dead-ends in the spiritual life.
The Gospel and the teaching of the Church is clear--seeking and finding are not to be put in opposition to one another but rather are intimately linked and, in the lives of the saints, perpetually lead to one another.
A walk with God that leads one to eschew theology is no walk because it refuses the signposts God has given us through His Church; and a theology that doesn't lead to real faith and real praxis is nothing but empty words and lifeless. As St. Ephraim said, "Those who pray truly are theologians; and those who are truly theologians, pray."
Let us not fail to complete the paradox!
"Seek and ye shall find" tells us plainly that both are to be prized. Literally this verse translates from the Greek into "Keep seeking...." It is a active verb. Thus it is in the finding that we have something (or rather Someone) to seek; and it is in the seeking that we will find Him.
A convert to Orthodoxy once told me that, as a Protestant, she felt like she was "running around a racetrack." She was so busy seeking the newest fad "spiritual practice", or popular Christian book, or alt. worship scene that she never found any truth worth keeping. She was encouraged to be a "seeker" but was never shown what the goal was nor examples of people who had really found it.
The racetrack was a dead-end; she was training for a race that never began.
The irony was that once she found the Orthodox Church she was able to really seek God because she had a foundation and a Truth from which to journey from and, more importantly, more deeply into to. She had both found and been found.
A 150 foot tree from the park just completely uprooted and smashed into my 3-story office building, shattering countless glass windows, crushing two cars and bringing in countless police, media crews, and firemen to the scene. It sounded and felt like a bomb hit the building....Thankfully there were few injuries. But it sure has the office abuzz!
However, he posits a dichotomy (between being a "dispenser" of truth and a "receptacle" of truth) that I think is not merely simplistic, but betrays one of the chief errors of our postmodern age.
Wilfred M. McClay (who I'll return to in Part II) makes a great point against this dichotomy in a book review in the December 03 issue of "First Things" This postmodern attitude, he says,
"presumes something that one has no right to presume, but that right-thinking and 'spiritual' people in the Western world now presume every day: that ultimate truth is relative or pluriform, and the "journey" of pilgrimage is more important than the convictions of the pilgrim or the destination toward which they journey...."
Is it any wonder why so many postmodern Christians see themselves primarily as seekers yet no one seems to find what they are looking for? Like rats in a maze, we gleefuly stroll through the corridors of our spiritual life content being lost. (Unlike St. Paul in 1 Cor who says, "I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air.")
Infomercial Script for "The Original Christian Church"
A few years ago I was a production coordinator for an advertising firm that specialized in television commercial and infomercial production. Knowing that, you'll see why I found the following spoof particularly amusing (posted on the Orthodox Convert List).
In industry lingo this is what is called the CTA, or Call to Action portion of the commercial. Imagine yourself watching TV late one night, when suddenly.........
**In a deep, rich infomercial voice-over**
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Are looking for something more ancient? More Holy? More...Christian?
Do you suffer from a frequent urge to stand for hours on end?
Do you long for that Old Time religion?
Try the ORIGINAL CHRISTIAN CHURCH(tm)!
That's right for a limited time only you can join millions of other Christians in The Original Christian Church(tm)!
Join now and you'll receive a lifetime supply of GRACE. That's right Grace. Once applied through the patented Chrism of Grace(tm) it is Guaranteed to cure what ails you (if used according to manufacturer directions).
If you call now, we will also give you the "Tools for the Struggle." This amazing tool set includes prayers too numerous to count, Beginners Fast(tm), Intermediate Fast(tm) and, Monastic Fast(tm). It also comes with Metanoia(tm), Prostration(tm), and confession. As a member of The Original Christian Church(tm) you will also be given access to the Two "I"s(tm): Incense and Ikons.
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"Scholasticism aimed at Islam will only do what has been done with Christianity: the lukewarm will become secularized, the fanatic will become more so, and the remainder will find some way in which they can deal with the contradictions."
One could quibble with this a bit, but it is fairly accurate---especially if by "dealing with contradictions" one is referring to the gleeful way in which postmoderns (of whatever ecclesiastical or religious flavor) are wont to changing definition of words to mean the opposite of what they have meant for the last 2000 years.