Sunday, December 16, 2007

Saint Barbara


Tomorrow (December 17th, Old Calendar) will be the feast day of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of the Russian Orthodox parish I attend. Until this weekend, I had only read about holy relics and seen pictures. The relics of Saint Barbara residing at this parish were brought out for veneration on this special occasion. (Click on the image to the right to read more about Saint Barbara.)
Troparion - Tone 8

Let us honor the holy martyr Barbara,
for as a bird she escaped the snares of the enemy,
and destroyed them through the help and defense of the Cross.

Kontakion - Tone 4

Singing the praises of the Trinity,
you followed God by enduring suffering;
you renounced the multitude of idols,
O holy martyr Barbara.
In your struggles, you were not frightened by the threats of your torturers, but cried out in a loud voice:
"I worship the Trinity in one God-head."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Readings: Week of Dec 9

I've begun reading: Two Paths: Papal Monarchy — Collegial Traditions, by Michael Whelton. A snippet from the book can be found here.


A short Second Terrace post on Revival (in the extract below, the author comments on what Revival has come to mean):
Revival means the absence of historic order and hierarchy. It means the absence of old-fashioned fanciness (e.g., icons, gold chalices, lampada, incense, bells); although new-fashioned fanciness would be okay, because one must have their transparent plexiglass lecterns, ferns, and Amway auditoriums with horns, drums and gurgling fountains.

Revival means not just absence: it means the presence of a quasi-informality, an adoption of a practiced boisterousness, a tragic hybridization of modern idioms (e.g., self-help and temperance movements, business and townhall models) with expositions of isolated scriptures.

It also means the adoption of ecstasy or catharsis as the gold standard. "I was blessed at Church." "The anointing is here." "The Spirit was really there last night." "Revival broke out."

Another interesting, Second Terrace, fourfold blog post on: Power/Revolution, Nature/Time, Prayer/Particularity, and Heroes/Beast. Below, the author comments on prayer:
It is always better to opt for God as a Divine Neighbor than a philosophical construct. Any flower or tree, mountain or sea, if properly looked at, will keep one from knowing about God rather than knowing Him. One cannot denature the Apostolic Vision into propositions. One cannot subject theology to philosophical categorization, simply because theology is not an intellectual object: as it is the empirical experience of God's Uncreated Energies, it is above all academic captures and caricatures.

Perhaps in the West it is permitted to define theology as "a word about God," but not in the East. Theology is the experience of Triune energies, the apostolic vision of the Uncreated Light: any intellectualized confinement of "theology" -- especially in a dialectic manner -- is a diminution of the term. The intellectual prejudice against experience is the reason why St. Paul's rhetoric at Mars Hill was a mixed success. St. Dionysios heard and received the Word -- not because he was an intellectual, but because he was willing to be called a fool for a bright enough light.

Bajis, Jordan - Common Ground:
Provides clear, stimulating answers to the challenging questions that American Christians typically put to Orthodox. But the book goes farther than this. Common Ground begins by showing how Christianity is inherently Eastern, and from there, gently challenges the Protestant and Roman Catholic reader to re-evalute his or her own views of Christianity against the Orthodox perspective. Common Ground is perfect for the Western Christian interested in Ancient Faith, the sincere student of Orthodoxy, and the mission minded Eastern Christian who desires to communicate his faith in a sensitive but compelling manner. The book is a product of three years extensive research and is thoroughly documented. Common Ground definitely helps fill the need for Orthodox literature which can address the concerns of the American Christian. There is no book like it.
I've been reading this book bit-by-bit for quite sometime now. It's a good introduction to some of the more Protestant-contentious aspects of Orthodoxy. Of course, those looking for a detailed treatment of the various topics should consult the resources listed in the well furnished bibliography. This book is worthwhile simply for the copious footnotes at the end of each chapter.




Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Readings: Week of Dec 2

As a change from sporadic posting, I've decided to create weekly posts which accumulate the noteworthy reading. I will be adding the references in descending order by date (i.e.: the most recent at the top).

Hieromonk Damascene on Resentment and Forgiveness:
Rather than resenting those who wrong us, we are to love them, and we express this love by blessing them and praying for them. We do this because we are commanded to do so by Christ. He has commanded this for our own sake, for our own salvation, because He loves us; and we do it for His sake, because we love Him. Our fallen nature rebels against this: "What? Bless and pray for that person who wronged me?" But for Christ's sake, we go against our fallen nature, and force ourselves to pray. We ask God to bless and have mercy on the person who hurt us, we wish good things for him, we wish his salvation, just as our Lord wishes his salvation. In this way we begin to become like God Himself, Who, according to the words of Christ, is kind to the unthankful and the evil (Luke 6:35). In going against our fallen nature, we return to our original nature—the image of God in us—and we grow in the likeness of God.


The Ochlophobist has unleashed another barrage of incisive social commentary here:
God will not be mocked by the consumnivors' perverse mimesis of Christ's trampling down of death by death. And after that last breath, the rich man who has lived to 178 may well find that the ignoring of so many little Lazaruses who twitched and wreathed in their painful unborn deaths, and so many poor Lazaruses who felt the sting of a cut out emptiness in their souls and begged God for help and mercy, does not bode well for him on that day. Better to die young and without the blood of innocents in one's genetic modifications or bio-engineered medicines.


Perry from Energetic Procession has posted some interesting thoughts on the West, Protestantism, and Roman Catholicism here. Here's the standard sample:
The same Platonic metaphysic guides and drives the Reformed thinking in Predestination as well. There isn’t much difference in essence between the late Platonic predestinarianism of a fall which was necessary and voluntary on the part of the soul into the material world for which it is culpable and the Reformed notion of a predestined yet voluntary fall with imputed corporate guilt. The same subordinating relationship can be seen in soteriology in so far is God is active, humans must be passive, if God is good, humans must be depraved. Here the dialectical relationship between God and creation is clear. Salvation is a return to the One along a predestined path.

...This is why the Reformed have to understand union with Christ in moral and legal terms, because these denote an extrinsic relationship because the Reformed adhere to the same fundamental doctrine as Rome-union with God is had through means of a created similitude. This is why Christ must merit righteousness and it can’t be the righteousness whereby God is intrinsically righteous. If it were, the collapse of the opposition between created and creator would imply for them absorption in the simple divine essence. Rome and Protestants both think that grace is created, it is just that one is realist and the other a nominalist, but there is nothing more than a causal contiguity between God (cause) and creation (effect), which makes a farce out of 2 pet 1:4. It is not possible for humanity to perform divine activities.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Readings from Florovsky

Here are a couple of worthwhile reads from Georges Florovsky:

From The “Immortality” of the Soul:
...When we discuss the problem of Immortality from a Christian point of view, we must keep in mind the creaturely nature of the soul. The very existence of the soul is contingent, i.e., as it were, "conditional." It is conditioned by the creative fiat of God. Yet, a given existence, i.e., an existence which is not necessarily implied in the "essence," is not necessarily a transient one. The creative fiat is a free but ultimate act of God. God has created the world simply for existence: ektise gar is to ine ta panda (Wis. 1: 14). There is no provision for revoking this creative decree. The sting of the antinomy is exactly here: the world has a contingent beginning, yet no end. It stands by the immutable will of God.

...A spiritual regeneration can be wrought only in perfect freedom, in an obedience of love, by a self-consecration and self-dedication to God, in Christ. This distinction was made with great insistence by Nicolas Cabasilas in his remarkable treatise on The Life in Christ. Resurrection is a "rectification of nature" (i anastasis physeos estin epanorthosis) and this God grants freely. But the Kingdom of Heaven, and the beatific vision, and union with Christ, presuppose the desire (trofi estin tis theliseos), and therefore are available only for those who have longed for them, and loved, and desired. And immortality will be given to all, just as all can enjoy Divine providence. It does not depend upon our will whether we shall rise after death or not, just as it is not by our will that we are born. The death and resurrection of Christ bring immortality and incorruption to all in the same manner, because all have the same nature as the Man Christ Jesus. But nobody can be compelled to desire. Thus Resurrection is a gift common to all, but the blessedness will be given only to some (De vita in Christo II, 86-96). And again, the path of life is the path of renunciation, of mortification, of self-sacrifice and self-oblation. One has to die to oneself in order to live in Christ. Each one must personally and freely associate himself with Christ, the Lord, the Savior, and the Redeemer, in the confession of faith, in the choice of love, in the mystical oath of allegiance. He who does not die with Christ cannot live with Him. "Unless of our own free choice we accept to die unto His passion, His life is not in us" (St. Ignatius, Magnes, 5; the phraseology is Pauline).

This is no mere ascetical or moral rule, no mere discipline. This is the ontological law of spiritual existence, even the law of life itself. For only in communion with God and through life in Christ does the restoration of human wholeness gain meaning. To those in total darkness, who have deliberately confined themselves "outside God," the Resurrection itself must seem rather unnecessary and unmotivated. But it will come, as a "resurrection to judgment" (John 5:29 (anastasis tis kriseos). And in this will be completed the tragedy of human freedom. Here indeed we are on the threshold of the inconceivable and incomprehensible. The apokatastasis of nature does not abolish free will, and the will must be moved from within by love.

... St. Maximus did not believe in the inevitable conversion of obstinate souls. He taught an apokatastasis of nature, i.e., a restitution of all beings to an integrity of nature, of a universal manifestation of the Divine Life, which will be evident to every one. But those who have deliberately spent their lives on earth in fleshly desires, "against nature," will be unable to enjoy this eternal bliss. The Light is the Word, that illuminates the natural minds of the faithful; but as a burning fire of the judgment (ti kavsi tis kriseos), He punishes those who, through love of the flesh, cling to the nocturnal darkness of this life.

This notion of the apokatastasis (i.e.: inevitable salvation) of nature is rather intriguing. This is a predestination of human nature, and thereby, all hypostases of that nature, to immortality. However, a distinction of nature and person is critical -- it exonerates Orthodoxy from an Universalist apokatastasis of all persons unto well-being (e.g.: theosis and theoria).

From The Darkness of Night

One defines evil as nothingness. Certainly evil never exists by itself but only inside of Goodness. Evil is a pure negation, a privation or a mutilation. Undoubtedly evil is a lack, a defect, defectus. But the structure of evil is rather antinomic. Evil is a void of nothingness; but it is a void which exists, swallowing and devouring beings. Evil is a powerlessness; it never creates--but its destructive energy is enormous. Evil never ascends; it always descends--but the very debasement of being which it produces is frightening. Nevertheless, there is an illusory grandeur even in this baseness of evil. Occasionally there is something of genius in sin and in evil. Evil is chaotic; it is a separation, a decomposition constantly in progress, a disorganization of the entire structure of being. But evil is also, without doubt, vigorously organized. Everything in this sad domain of deception and illusion is amphibolic and ambiguous. Undoubtedly, evil only lives through the Good which it deforms, but it also adapts it to its needs. But this deformed "Universe" is a reality which asserts itself.




Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Archangel Michael


Tomorrow (Old Calendar) is the Synaxis of the Chief of the Heavenly Hosts, Archangel Michael and the Other Heavenly Bodiless Powers. The angels receive regular mention in Orthodoxy prayers and liturgies. In other words, they are significant. (click on the image to read more)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Memory of Death???

Why choose "Memory of Death" as a blog title? Appropriating a unique title on blogger is quite a challenge when so many titles have been spoken for. Moreover, in Orthodox asceticism, the memory of death holds a special significance. The free, online book: The Psychological Basis of Mental Prayer in the Heart provides an excellent treatment of this topic within the greater context of the Jesus Prayer and Hesychasm. Here are some excerpts from the book:

St John of Sinai speaks of the memory of death in Step 6 of the Ladder of Divine Ascent. There it is clear that the memory of death is a charism of the Holy Spirit. This charism, when it is properly exercised, automatically engenders nepsis or sobriety in exactly the same way that the double fear (the fear of hell and reverence for God our Father) automatically engenders nepsis.

...

When one has attained to the guard of the mind, one prays in sober clarity; one’s love is true. There are no tears: although St Hesychios recognizes that tears are a fruit of his method, he does not emphasize them, and does not speak at all of their cultivation. That is the other road, the one of tears and compunction. Here, in the guard of the mind, the memory of death takes the form of a silent love which recognizes the end of this world. This is a love compassionate for all living beings and silent; it is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the soul, breathing a gentle breeze through the mirror of the intellect, the sea of the soul being fanned.

...

If we take the Kingdom of the Heavens to be natural contemplation and the adoption as son to be Theology—without our necessarily wishing to impose the Evagrian schema of the spiritual life on St Mark—then what is being said is that natural contemplation and Theology are not the wage of our ascetical works—our bodily ascesis; our spiritual charity, meekness or humility; our practice of the immaterial war by means of humility, attention, rebuttal, the continual invocation of our Lord Jesus Christ and the memory of death—but are the ‘grace of the Master readied for faithful slaves’.

...

However, the essence of such a practice of the memory of death does not lie in our fantasizing about our departure for the next life, despite the apparent indications here to the contrary. The memory of death is a charism, and that means that it is a matter of attending spiritually to the conception (ennoia) or mental representation (noema) of the memory of death: the memory of death is a spiritual apprehension maintained in the intellect that we are here only in a passing way.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thursday Reading

Here are a couple of blog posts:

From Strauss to Christ, an interesting post which expresses some of my own concerns in the realms of apologetics, reason, and faith. Here's the conclusion:
Accepting revelation is not tantamount to turning off reason; it is not to become a fideist in the strictest sense of the word. It does mean, however, the dismissal of a purely intellectualized interpretation of the world. Reality means something more than what reason alone can examine. Reason’s limits are dismissed and with that dismissal comes a freedom more dangerous than one any atheistic “philosopher” ever drooled over in their shabby polemics. The philosophic life is, after all, a restricted life—not with regard to its questions, but to the chance it has any permanent answers. And is it not the answers, even the wildly fantastic answers, which give rise to the actions that shape the way in which we live? In the end, this all circles back to faith and not just any faith, but the Faith in God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of all. “Faith” is the substantial evidence most scorned by non-believers and least defended by those aforementioned minds committed to a tensionless existence between what they have learned and what they claim to believe. It is, however, what must be taken or rejected if being a Christian is possible. Leo Strauss—a Jew who consciously renounced his people’s orthodoxy—saw this. He saw it so clearly that he knew if his choice for the philosophic life was to amount to more than a mere act of decisionism, revealed religion had to be confronted, exposed, and ultimately rejected. Unlike so many moderns, he believed and, dare I say, he demonstrated that such an assault had not been properly undertaken in modern times. Its claim to victory was a hollow claim; its acceptance came more by way of reception of a questionable tradition than an irreproachable demonstration. Christians—even Orthodox Christians—still receive this tradition; they still embrace it and from there believe that the reasonableness of the critique can only be met by showing, in some convoluted way, the greater “reasonableness” of their Christianity. They may be well-meaning, but they are still ashamed by the Cross. They want to know—and they want the world to know that they know—more than it.


The Ochlophobist offers some insightful comments on the topics of linguistics and flattery here. Here's a sample:

The degeneration of language that we now see is the sad putting on of appearances by demons still trembling in fear because of the word of the Theotokos spoken in accordance with the Word she accepted and bore. They have every reason to fear now, for in their pursuit of the flatteries and fabrications of Nothing their potential victims need only bend the neck and utter from the heart a "be it unto me" and the whole game is over - even in metal shops, and classrooms, and sales meetings, and Lord knows where else. God, who energetically seems to make occasion for irony, appears rather intent on expressing salvation in the most seemingly impossible situations. In fact, as St. Paul makes clear and as many of us have experienced, the greater the degree of realized need, the greater the degree of our potential clarity in seeing grace. Thus in Christ's new order, the order of Nativity, when things get worse, there is all the more power in what is better. Flattery abounds, but in such a context the icon of a real word spoken or written only serves to bear a greater witness.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lord's Day Reading

Here are some of the things I've been reading today:

The Word Lifted Up in the Wilderness
-- a blog post from the Ochlophobist who cites Josef Pieper's book: Abuse of Language -- Abuse of Power on the topic of flattery. Here's a sample:
What, then, is flattery?... The decisive element is this: having an ulterior motive. I address the other not simply to please him or to tell him something that is true. Rather, what I say to him is designed to get something from him! This underlying design makes the message a flattery, even in the popular meaning of the word. The other, whom I try to influence with what he likes to hear, ceases to be my partner; he is no longer a fellow subject. Rather, he has become for me an object to be manipulated, possibly to be dominated, to be handled and controlled.
I suspect this proclivity for power manifests in various forms when we objectify others; justifying the utilization, or rather, profanation, of living images of God upon the pretense of an ennobled end.

Free Choice in Saint Maximus the Confessor, by Joseph Farrell

It's taken a few months to complete this book, but it was well worth it. This is a book worth rereading -- it is packed with paradigm altering considerations. To avert the ineluctable discrepancies that would follow upon any attempt to recapitulate the content in my own words, I will simply quote the following:
These observations on St. Augustine and St. Maximus permit us to speculate about possible applications of the Confessor's theology to the doctrine of predestination and free will, which speculations I present in proposition form for the sake of clarity.

(1) Proper theological method subsumes theological questions and doctrines under the two correlative headings of Christology and Triadology, for all properly theological doctrines would appear to have christological and triadological implications. Any proposition, method, or other statement which does not start directly and consciously from this context does not go under the name of Christian theology.
...
(2) Proper christological method is recapitulational, for Christ possesses and is all the fullness of Deity and of humanity; He is the Logos and logoi of all universals common to Deity and humanity. In Him, therefore, are to be found the logoi of predestination and of free choice, and He is thus the means by which to distinguish any Christian doctrine of predestination from Stoic, Neoplatonic, Judaic, or Mohammedan counterparts.
...
(3) The One Son freely chooses, according to the unique hypostatic mode of existence proper to Him as Son and Word, in both of His natures, each nature actively willing the salvation of all men.
...
(4) In Christ's human nature which is consubstantial with all men, God humanly wills, decrees, and perfectly fulfills the salvation of all men [according to nature, and not to be mistaken for a universalism in respect of persons -- M], for no human being is untouched by His Incarnation, and nothing is detracted from His sovereignty as God if individual persons choose not to accept salvation.
...
(5) Christ, being truly consubstantial with all men, truly died for all men, and thus His atoning Passion, Death, and Resurrection are in no way limited.
...
(6) The distinction between person and nature is fundamental to any biblical exegesis on the question of predestination and free will.
...
(7) Concepts such as prevenient grace should be referred to the Incarnation and to the Holy Spirit's eternal abiding upon the Word; God is thus in men "to will and work His good pleasure" by virtue of His Incarnation and because of the Holy Spirit's unique relationship in the Economy to the human nature in Christ.
...
(8) The dispute between Calvinism and Arminianism perhaps results because of the lack of a clear theology and application of the categories of person and nature. Therefore, both parties in this iternecine dispute share a common lack of the distinction between natural will and the mode of willing.
...
(9) From the standpoint of the theology of St. Maximus, the roots of any fatalistic system would therefore seem to be threefold:
1. in the failure to distinguish between person and nature
2. in the failure to distinguish between a nature and its energies, and
3. in the inability of any system which accepts the absolute simplicity of the divine essence to admit of a real plurality of Goods in the Good.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Lord's Day Reading

Here are some of the things I've been reading today:

Christ and Nothing by David Bentley Hart
For indeed Christianity was complicit in the death of antiquity and in the birth of modernity, not because it was an accomplice of the latter, but because it alone, in the history of the West, was a rejection of and alternative to nihilism’s despair, violence, and idolatry of power; as such, Christianity shattered the imposing and enchanting fa├žade behind which nihilism once hid, and thereby, inadvertently, called it forth into the open.
David Bentley Hart also has a great little book on theodicy called The Doors of the Sea.

And speaking of theodicy, these blog posts by Perry Robinson are a worthwhile read.

Non-conventional psyche and Nameless and out of time from the Second Terrace blog. These are two posts that briefly touch upon an Orthodox demonology. From the first post:
But they are also lustful -- and this is not mentioned all that much, if at all. The signal characteristic of Hades is that the malevolent intelligences are subject to passions without any means by which these passions may be assuaged. In a horrific possibility, it seems that the demonic seeks any human soul to surrender to passion for the entertainment of the spiritual entity. At every act of lust, there is always a voyeur, if not a vicarious participant. That is why rape is always violent, as it is always, always demonic.
I've found that reflecting upon the reality of our immaterial warfare confers a certain sobriety -- a sobriety which is fleeting in a world that either concedes only a token recognition or proffers an unwieldly caricature of the subject.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Saint Demetrios


Tomorrow (Old Calendar) there will be a Divine Liturgy coinciding with the commemoration of the holy Great Martyr Demetrius of Thessalonica. (click on the image to read more about the saint and day)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Crime and Punishment

I've recently finished reading Crime and Punishment (be forewarned, there are spoilers in that article) by the renowned Fyodor Dostoevsky. This classic furnishes insight into human nature and relationships -- an insight poignantly relevant to our own times. Those familiar with the life of the author should also appreciate the depths from which the tale is drawn.

An interesting lecture on the book can be found here (spoiler warning).

I'm hoping to tackle The Idiot next. It should be an interesting contrast, seeing that Crime and Punishment is about a guilty man, and The Idiot is about an innocent man.

Dostoevsky, a devout Russian Orthodox Christian, once wrote:
If someone proved to me that Christ is outside the truth and that in reality the truth were outside of Christ, then I should prefer to remain with Christ rather than with the truth.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

New Videos of Elder Cleopa

Two videos featuring Elder Cleopa have been added. Please find the links on the bottom right (click on the image to start the video).

In the first video, Elder Cleopa speaks of being mindful both of death and of God. Naturally, the mindfulness of the former is inextricable from the latter. Interestingly, I have read that this is a gracious charism from God.


In the second video, Elder Cleopa speaks on prayer. The Orthodox approach to prayer has been for me one of the most interesting topics of study.

Thanks to
"ioancasian" for uploading these with translation to Youtube.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Welcome

Welcome to my new blog.

My intention for this blog is primarily to post snippets from what I am studying. I may also post some comments or questions that are on my mind.

Dear Readers,

Reasoned and reflective comments are welcomed. I may post them directly (moderation is enabled) or reply to them in another post. If you desire your comment to be confidential, please let me know, and I will honor your request.