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:: Friday, January 30, 2004 ::

The Three Hierarchs

It is amazing how secular humanist propaganda is so craftily imbedded in modern textbooks. Try this one on for size:

"Within the Greek city-states, new ideas began to form, two of which would shape the history of the western world: First, a rational view of the universe, which eliminated supernatural causes for natural events and replaced them with scientific explanations...."

The second cause (democratic government) is then described...and then this bit of shameless editorializing immediately follows:

"The Archaic period also had its dark side...."

Oh, that's right, I almost forgot-- Attempting to eliminate any possibility of belief in the supernatural is a good thing!

It is fitting that today is the Feast Day of the 3 Hierarchs (John Chrysostom, Gregory the Theologian, and Basil the Great). Something tells me they wouldn't be impressed with my textbook's version of ancient Greek history. They of course went on to make history themselves.

These three great luminaries are arguably the greatest teachers and intellectuals the Church has ever produced. They were staunch defenders of truth and tireless proponents of classical education. Their lives are stellar examples of how those who have been gifted with a keen intellect, who submit to the Church and her life, can truly glorify God.

:: Karl :: 8:38:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Thursday, January 29, 2004 ::
Suffering and Alone With God

Jeremy recently wrote this gem about suffering: "[This is] one of the most fundamental struggles of existence: being alone. No matter how intimate a friendship, no matter how close the connection to our families, no matter how deep and true a love might be, we are, as humans, created as a singular entity."

It was while really experiencing this truth during my early college years that I was exposed to Orthodoxy. This quote from a journal says it well:

To be a member of the Church comes with a heavy price that one is willing to pay. True Orthodoxy hurts, but it is alive. When one finds it one finds the living, throbbing heart of Christianity and one will never want to return to the lifeless mask of false Christianity.

One may come to Orthodoxy because of its external beauty or profundity or historical continuity. But only when one goes deeper and is not afraid to go underneath the surface, will he discover a new and startling fact:

To be Orthodox means to suffer and to be all alone, alone and hurting before God.

True Orthodoxy has been called, in the words of St. Gregory the Theologian (whose Feast day we just celebrated), "suffering Orthodoxy." Far from making one comfortable, this Orthodoxy disturbs us, it shakes us up, it convicts the conscience, annihilating all forms of self-righteousness and revealing, with the fiery light of God's Truth, all the lies that we were taught and we have told to ourselves.

:: Karl :: 8:04:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 ::
But Doc! The Holy Spirit Told Me!

How not to discern God's will:

"One day I happened to ask [my] uncle why he'd taken up cigarettes. He said 'God told me to smoke.' First he'd opened the Bible at random and read the 1 Corinthians 6:19, 'Do you not know that your body is a temple ... ?' Then he'd opened it again and read Revelations 15:8, 'The temple was filled with smoke.'"

Hmmm. What else is God speaking to us? Let's see....

"Judas went and hanged himself" (Matt. 27:5b)
"Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:37b)
"What you are going to do, do it quickly." (John 13:27b)

Man, first smoking now death by hanging. God must really have it in for us!

:: Karl :: 8:22:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Tuesday, January 27, 2004 ::
Gen X: You Can Count on Us to Support Politically Correct Dictatorships

I think Jay Nordlinger would find the following bit of university news interesting and worthy of his Impromptus column:

I was sitting in class a few days ago and I happened to notice the girl sitting about two row in front of me was wearing an odd ski hat. It old and worn, with a white background and red trim and red lettering. There was only 4 letters on the hat and they were all in bold:


Yep. That's right. The old Soviet acronym.

Can you imagine if the hat was red, white and black and the letters were NSDAP instead? .... Neither can I.

:: Karl :: 8:51:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Monday, January 26, 2004 ::
Not Quite the Wisdom of the Fathers

"If you can't remember where you left your keys, what page numbers you needed to read for tomorrow's class, or whether you left the stove on....just go do your prayer rule.

I guarantee you'll remember it all and much more besides. Worrying about tomorrow's schedule while trying to pray yields even more spectacular memory recovery results."

-- quoted from "Hidden Benefits of an Orthodox Neophyte Prayer Life" by Karl Thienes (who isn't likely to achieve unceasing prayer let alone 20 consecutive minutes of focused prayer without the grace of God and bloody miracle!)

Update: Jan adds to the list.

:: Karl :: 8:03:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Saturday, January 24, 2004 ::
The Fall of Angels and the Death of Men

Here are a couple of quotes for those who wondered about the Church's teaching concerning repentance after death:

Book II, Chapter III: "[An angel's nature] is not susceptible of repentance because it is incorporeal. For it is owing to the weakness of his body that man comes to have repentance."

Book II, Chapter IV: "The fall is to the angels just what death is to men. For, just as there is no repentance for men after their death, so is there none for the angels after their fall."

-- quoted from St. John of Damascus' magnus opus, "Exposition of the Orthodox Faith" (the closest thing the Orthodox have to what western Christians would call a definitive Catechism)

:: Karl :: 1:59:00 PM [Link] ::
:: Friday, January 23, 2004 ::
The Community Blog and Roll Changes

The ever evolving blogroll has undergone some small changes again. Two items of note:

* The Orthodox Intentional Community that is slowly developing here in the Portland area has finally got a beta version of its blog/info site up and running. Things are in a state of flux at the moment, but more on that later....

* A few new Orthodox blogs have come to my attention: Skopos, Sara at The Blue Canopy and Peter Hanley who is another seminarian blogger. Welcome, one and all!

Check out the roll for a few more Ortho-blog newbies as well as a new section: "Feisty and Smart Lutherans"....Lots of good stuff to be found there as well.

Update: A new Ortho-blog with a familiar writer. Excellent....

:: Karl :: 8:57:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Thursday, January 22, 2004 ::
Evil on the Bargain Rack

From Mark Shea: A Wichita abortion clinic will commemorate the 31st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by offering free services. Women's Health Care Services, led by Dr. George Tiller, will offer free third-trimester abortions to Medicaid patients Saturday.

Lord, have mercy.

Update: "We are all sinners, but there are some people who are so openly and vilely evil that it simply boggles the mind and depresses the soul."

:: Karl :: 8:38:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Wednesday, January 21, 2004 ::
Grace and the Freedom of Man

Elder Sophrony writes, "Scholars....have wrestled down the centuries trying to relate grace and the freedom of man. They forget, as it were, that there is another route to the solution of these problems--the way of existential knowledge of the reciprocity of the Divine grace and human freedom."

A key term used in the Greek Fathers is "proairesis" which means "faculty of free choice" or "deliberative choice." This emphasis on proairesis appears in such works as St. Gregory of Nyssa "Orations", St. John Chrysostom's "Sermons on St. Paul", as well as Maximus the Confessor and St. John of Damascus.

This goes hand-in-hand with the distinction made between "image" and "likeness" in the Church's interpretation of Genesis. St. Diadochos of Photike sums this up well when he writes "All of us who are human beings are in the image of God. But to be in his likeness belongs only to those who by great love have attached their freedom to God."

St. Mark the Ascetic writes, "Grace has been given mystically to those who have been baptized into Christ; and it becomes active in them to the extent that they actively observe the commandments."

Elder Sophrony again, summarizing St. Silouan the Athonite: "God constantly pursues man, and so soon as man manifests his own aspirations towards good and to putting good into actual practice, grace is already on the threshold. Yet the action or reaction of grace does not depend on man's will."

St. John Cassian's classic text "On Grace and Free Will" is good also. (He is *not* the founder of Semi-Peleganism and the Orthodox do not ascribe to this, as is so often misunderstood.)

Grace of course in these contexts does not mean "supernatural stuff" or something God gives us separate from Himself...rather, grace is always understood to be the very Uncreated Energies of God Himself. When we are given grace, we are in union with God "as far as we can bear it", as the troparian for the Feast of the Transfiguration teaches us.

Update: It is fitting that today is the Feast day of St. Maximus the Confessor, one of the great Fathers and teachers of true Christian anthropology. Check out Thomas for more on this. (Props to Christopher who also writes on this subject).

:: Karl :: 10:42:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Tuesday, January 20, 2004 ::
Waterfall of Grace and Rocks of Sin

In an earlier post, Felix and I were chatting about faith, works and Eph. 2:8-10. This analogy by Father David Moser fits in quite nicely. Someone asked him:

"So are you saying that grace is not a free gift from God but rather something we must earn?"

Father David's response: You are standing in a waterfall, the water is flowing all over you and keeps coming no matter what - it is free, it is abundant. You want to drink the water and all you have is a cup. Now it seems to reason that if you just hold out the cup, the water will fill it and there's your drink.

But the cup is full of rocks and sand - so full that the water just hits it and rolls right off. If you want that drink you will have to empty all the rocks and sand out of the cup. So one by one you chip out all the old rocks and dump the sand. When the cup is finally empty, it still doesn't fill because it isn't turned right side up. You have to turn it over so that it will fill with water.

The cup is your soul. The waterfall and water is God's free and abundant grace.

It is all around you, ever flowing over you - but you can't "access" it because your soul - the cup - is full of rocks and sand - sins. You have to empty out the rocks and sand by the "works" of ascetic labor, self denial, taking up your cross, etc. Then you have to "turn the cup over" by further labor - that is those works that orient you properly to God; practicing the virtues.

The grace is free and abundant. We have everything we need to get it - we even have directions on how to go about it. We are even provided the tools we need to clean out the cup. But we still have to get rid of the sin and orient ourselves toward God. You don't earn it, you just have to reach out and take it. Its not enough to just say "I want a drink" - you have to cooperate with the grace to get the drink.

(Warning! This metaphor, like all metaphors will break when stretched beyond its original limitations).

Update: Chyrsostom407 posts a relevant quote on the analogy of grace as a waterfall.
Update 2: Jennifer has a different take on the analogy: "Can we clean out the rusty pipe and let the grace of God flow through or do we need a new pipe?" My response to her is that yes, we need a new pipe (the "new man"), but even the new pipe doesn't remain clean without our effort.
Update 3: Basil responds to Jennifer's analogy. Well put.
Update 4: Pastor Brad sees a problem with the original analogy.

:: Karl :: 7:47:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Sunday, January 18, 2004 ::
Sanctity of Life Sunday

Every year, on the Sunday nearest the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the OCA reminds the Orthodox faithful of the Church's teachings on the sanctity of life. Here is part of one of the special petitions added to the Liturgy for this day:

"We ask You to enlighten the minds and hearts of those blinded to the truth that life begins at conception and that the unborn in the womb are already adorned with Your image and likeness; enable us to guard, cherish, and protect the lives of all those who are unable to care for themselves."

Check out Metropolitan Herman's archpastoral message -- it is short and sweet.

Update: Jonathan David links to an Office of Prayer and Supplication for the Victims of Abortion.

:: Karl :: 7:19:00 PM [Link] ::
:: Friday, January 16, 2004 ::
HWJA?: How Would Jesus Argue?

Here are two very different takes on this question. First, David Mills in "Recovering the Art of Christian Polemics". In the other corner is Michael Spencer in "The Little Brothers of Saint Archie Bunker"

I think they both make excellent points, but I agree with Mills in the overall answer to the question. Spencer points out some key issues in regards to conversational etiquette (and I greatly sympathize with the personal encounter he relates). However, IMO, his piece is built on two straw man pillars which greatly reduce the effectiveness of his argument:

First off, he posits a version of what truth is (personally determined rather than communally lived) and then knocks it down with the tired but irritatingly deathless misinterpretation of St. Paul's "everyone sees through a glass darkly."

But secondly, and more importantly, he cuts the very philosophical branch on which he sits. This reminds me of a man standing in a room full of people and shouting at the top of his lungs, "Hey! Everyone except me needs to stop shouting at the top of his lungs!"

Although this blogger later realized it, there is just something irritating about reading about the ills of using logical, polemic argumentation in an article done by someone who uses...well, a logical, polemic argument to prove his point!

The worst part is that you can't respond to this logical fallacy without falling into the trap of doing exactly what is offered but what is not allowed in return: rational debate and discussion.

The questions here for us are many, but from the blogging perspective what does this mean to you? How does the combination of the a) public and b) text-based nature of the blogosphere change the way we discuss issues? I like the point Mark Shea makes regarding the importance of dialogue for the benefit of lurkers:

"This, it seems to me, is what our Lord did, when he did not waste time casting pearls before swine, yet did (for the benefit of his disciples and curious onlookers) argue with Pharisees who had long ago closed their hearts and minds to him."

Since blogging is such a public forum, it seems that what Mills has to say is critical for us in our postmodern age to remember and recover, while the warnings of Spencer are quite pertinent. Polemics and dialogue are truly an art form, as the title of the Mills piece highlights. What do you see in the Mills and Spencer pieces that strikes you? Debate and discuss!

Update: "Our blogs may, in a way, be icons of ourselves, holding forth not only the good but also the bad of what we really are..."

:: Karl :: 11:41:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Thursday, January 15, 2004 ::
A Question About Salvation

Rachel asks a question that, depending on how one understands the word "salvation", will result in very different answers:

"If a Christian is deliberately continuing in sin and is not at all repentant of what they are doing, is their salvation at risk?"

Typically in Western Protestant thought, you are saved *in order* to have a relationship with God. With this assumption, Rachel's question is a tough one to answer.
In Orthodoxy the relationship *is* salvation itself. Thus, to our ears the idea of perpetually refusing to repent and be healed of one's passions is de facto a refusal of salvation since repentance is, in a sense, salvation itself.

(Check out John's blog where he has been posting excellent excerpts from Bishop Ware's book "How are we Saved? The Understanding of Salvation in the Orthodox Tradition.")

This difference in definitions and experience in regards to salvation is a good example of what some of us are talking about when we note the paradox of how similar, yet how far apart Orthodoxy is from the rest of Christendom.

Update: Huw responds to this post with a letter from Miss Manners

:: Karl :: 10:06:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 ::
An Anniversary, Ancient Greece and Secular Hatred

A few random Wednesday Musings for you:

* My second year wedding anniversary was yesterday. At dinner, the wife and I spent some time sharing things we appreciated about each other. Like confession of sins, this is a healthy exercise; to verbalize in the presence of another person that which you are not always aware of or prone to saying so openly.

* My one class this term is a 300-level historical exploration of ancient Greece (800's BC through the death of Alexander the Great). I've been impressed this past year with the number of professors who heavily rely on primary sources. The two main texts for this class are Herodotus' "The Histories" and Thucydides, "On the Peloponnesian War".

* During class this morning, the professor quipped, "When something becomes popular, forgeries abound." He was speaking of clay statues, but how true this of Christianity!

This reminds me of a recent post by Clifton where he said,"I'm advocating a Christianity whose greatness is not measured by worldly esteem, but active secular hatred."

When Christianity became popular after the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D., the Church was protected from error by monasticism which made sure that true Christianity didn't become corrupted by secularism. What a tremendous gift the monastic life was and continues to be for us.

:: Karl :: 11:12:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Monday, January 12, 2004 ::
Eastern Orthodoxy Through Western Eyes

Brad Boydston is the latest person to recommend Donald Fairbairn's "Eastern Orthodoxy Through Western Eyes."

Here is a rather stern critique of Mr. Fairbairn's work by an Orthodox priest.

I have this fear that Fairbarin's perspective will be hauntingly like that found in the books of Daniel Clendenin. I've read all of Clendenin's books, but not Fairbairn.

Has anyone read both authors? Is the critique of Fairbarin accurate? What is the best book about Orthodoxy written by a non-Orthodox that you have read?

Update: Josh has a few things to say about the critique linked above.

:: Karl :: 7:57:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Friday, January 09, 2004 ::
A "Hair-etic" Recants

Looking back, I'm not really sure how it happened. The wife's tearful requests, the cold weather, the forced vacation time due to snow and ice, laziness, the shame of being labeled one of those dreaded "ecumenist/modernists" types by my fellow Ortho-bloggers .... many things contributed to this stunning turn of events.

But the rumors are true and I now confess the truth publicly: For the first time in 6 years I am sporting substantial facial hair.

I'm not sure how long this foray into "Fuzzy-faced Orthodoxy" will be. The "hair-etic" in me is far too deep-seated, methinks, and Karl the Smooth-Faced will return with vigor in due time no doubt!

:: Karl :: 8:07:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Wednesday, January 07, 2004 ::
Self Expression, Art, Worship and the Trivium

"A classical education assumes that knowledge of the world past and present takes priority over self-expression... [Focusing on self-expression can] actually cripple a child later on; a student who has always been encouraged to look inside himself may not develop a frame of reference, a sense of how his ideas measure up against the thoughts and beliefs of others." (Quoted from "A Well-Trained Mind" by Susan Wise Bauer)

In a society that bases educational success primarily on the creativity and self-esteem of its students, it is no wonder why liturgical forms of worship bore us and why we remain woefully uneducated.

I'm reminded of CS Lewis in "The Screwtape Letters" when Screwtape says, "In reaction [to time tested liturgy, the Christian] may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and unregularised." This is not a good thing when it comes to corporate worship or education and I think the two are connected in ways we don't always see.

Matthew Gallatin, in his book "Thirsting for God", recognized the spiritual chasm between self-created worship and "self-expressive" prayers vs. Scriptural worship and the prayers of the saints when he wrote, "The prayers I used to work so hard to create, and which often deceptively gave voice to my self-centerdness, are now replaced with words that are perfect in their humility, selflessness, love and gratitude."

Whether it be worship, prayer, education, or anything else, we would do well to learn from the time tested methods of the masters before attempting the task ourselves. Robert's question works for either education or worship: "If it was relevant and effective for 2000 years, can I be so arrogant to think that it's not going to be relevant now?"

What connections do you see between the classical model of education and liturgical worship? Could it be that "emergent/postmodern" forms of worship are based more on our educational upbringing and less on authenic Christian experience and teaching? Here are couple of other questions on this topic that are being asked by different bloggers:

Chris asks, "What does 'self-less' art look like? How can we spot it? Guard ourselves against it? And what might the major differences be between art as self-expression, and art as worship?"

Internet Monk asks, "What are non-Christians thinking when they hear the message of Jesus and heaven in the context of their own assumptions?"

:: Karl :: 9:45:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Tuesday, January 06, 2004 ::
A Brilliantly Lit Heaven

In my reading I came across this quote which I think is timely: "In finding the Church of the apostles, you aren't finding some disembodied place where people sit around and have high minded theological discussions all day. It's a place where sinners are called to repentance and we're all struggling, both individually and corporately to live up to our calling as Christians and as the Church."

So, for those who may be a bit confused, Orthodoxy's foundation is not blogs, books, liturgies and texts. It is a way of life guided by the Holy Spirit and informed by the witness and teaching of those who, through the grace of God, have become holy and pure in heart. It was not created from discussions, built around texts, or gleaned from liturgies. Rather, it is the community from which all these things flow and find their meaning, origin and telos.

As we say in the Thanksgiving prayers after communion, "The Church has become a brilliantly lit heaven, leading the faithful in the way of life. Standing within, we cry aloud, "Make firm the foundations of this house, O Lord!"

As today is the Feast of Theophany it is appropriate that we would once again celebrate the real foundation of our Faith: the way of life that allows us to most fully enter into a deep relationship with God, with our fellow man, and with all of creation through the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

:: Karl :: 9:27:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Monday, January 05, 2004 ::
Orthodox Blogs MIA

"Our most vulnerable spot is found in many words and discussions." --Gerontissa Gavrilia, "The Ascetic of Love."
It seems the words of Mother Gavrilia may have hit a sore spot with a few Orthodox bloggers. Let's take a look at the causality list, shall we?

Jim: Done blogging indefinitely, but will remain a reader/commenter

Steve: MIA since late September. James of the NW can you give us a status report here?

Crimthann: Took Nativity off but is considering quitting after Lent.

Chance: MIA since late October. Aaron is there any way we can bribe him?

Kai: MIA since July. No email contact.

Simeon: MIA since September. Having children can certainly put a crimp in one's schedule!

Wayne: After a brilliant exchange with David Heddle about the ills of Calvinism, only two new posts since October. Health problems have plagued him though so keep Wayne (Nikolai) in your prayers.

Brasilianista : MIA since June of 02. Probably gone for good.

As the attrition rate rises it would be nice to see some new Ortho-blogs fill in the holes. Please let me know of any newborns you may find in your blogging travels.

:: Karl :: 10:19:00 AM [Link] ::
:: Sunday, January 04, 2004 ::
Clifton Almost "Goes Smooth"

"In a disturbing turn of events, today, a local self-described 'Orthodox wannabe' trimmed three months' of faithful beard growth."

Fuzzy-faced Orthodoxy takes another tumble and the Hair-etics rejoice!

:: Karl :: 1:02:00 PM [Link] ::
:: Saturday, January 03, 2004 ::
The First Coincidence of 2004

I just found out that Andrew and I attended the same high-school 1991-1993!

:: Karl :: 6:51:00 PM [Link] ::
:: Friday, January 02, 2004 ::
Let the Competition Begin

The Olympic Games are coming to Athens, Greece this summer. We will see great feats of endurance, amazing displays of strength, and...oh yeah--stupefying amounts of cultural, theological and historical ignorance from missionaries like these. The money quote:

"We are planning to implement a program for churches in the U.S. to 'adopt' a Greek church and support it with Bibles, finances, discipleship materials, and mission teams."

You know--'cuz we need to bring Christianity to the Greeks and other backwards people who have never heard the Gospel.

Update: I have no problem with people proselytizing and reaching out--don't get me wrong. It is the ignorance and arrogance with which is done by my generation in general (and these types of groups specifically) that gets my goat. It still amazes me how radically different our evangelistic praxis is.

Update 2: In the comments Daniel et al prove once again that intense and intellignt conversation can result in a strengthening of ties and charitable dialogue.

Update 3: Jeff Fountain, director of YWAM Europe, had this to say in response to a letter sent by Matt about this issue: "Our intention is not to work against existing churches but as much as possible with local churches .... You may be interested to know we are sponsoring a consultation on Eastern Christianity next month near Athens so that many of our western folk can learn more about the Orthodox Church." These are very good things to hear.

Update 4: Basil writes a more detailed explanation of what he meant in one of the comments he left on this thread.

:: Karl :: 3:58:00 PM [Link] ::
:: Thursday, January 01, 2004 ::
Musings at the Dawn of 2004

I woke up this morning and looked out the window to see everything covered in snow and silence. There are few things as peaceful as watching snow falling on a world that is still sleeping. It has been a fruitful morning and a nice way to begin the new year. More substantial posts are coming next week, but for now I give you some random musings:

* Sipping 20 year-old port with friends, chatting about life, chess, and everything in between, and praying Compline and an Akathist is a nice way to spend New Year's Eve.

* I posted a new Ortho-blog cache at blogs4God this morning.

* My beloved Ducks lost a heartbreaker yesterday. (Although I got to watch the game at work so I can't complain too much).

* My one class next term begins next Monday and will be an exploration of ancient Greek history.

* I think I will go and play in the snow now. Cheers!

Update: Here are some pictures my cousin (who is also our roommate) took of the snow from around our house.


:: Karl :: 10:13:00 AM [Link] ::

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