Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Nativity -- Day 34

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev has written an interesting article entitled: Prayer and Monasticism in Orthodox Tradition. Here is an excerpt:
‘...When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father Who is in secret; and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you. And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask them’.[1] These words of Christ may provoke the following question: what is the sense of praying if God knows beforehand what we actually need?

In answering this question, one should remember that prayer is not just a request for something; it is first of all an encounter with Someone, a dialogue with the living God. ‘Prayer is communion of the intellect with God’, according to a classic definition by Evagrius the Solitary.[2] In prayer we encounter the personal God Who hears us and responds to us, Who is always ready to come to our assistance, Who never betrays us, even if we betray Him many times. In prayer we communicate with the sublime Reality which is the only true Life: compared to It, every other reality is partial and imperfect. Life without communion with God, without prayer, is but a long pathway towards death, a gradual dying. We live insofar as we participate in God, and we participate in God through prayer.

Why does Christ command us to avoid verbosity in prayer? Precisely because it is not out of words that prayer is born: prayer is not merely the sum of our requests addressed to God. Before being pronounced, prayer must be heard within one’s heart. All true masterpieces of music and poetry were not simply composed out of disconnected letters or sounds: they were first born in the depths of their authors’ heart, and were then incarnate in words or musical tones. Prayer is also creative work, born not from verbosity, but out of a deep stillness, out of concentrated and devoted silence. Before embarking upon the path of prayer, one must inwardly fall silent and renounce human words and thoughts.


The lack of taste for solitude and silence is one of the most common illnesses of the modern person. Many are even scared of remaining in stillness, being alone or having free time: they feel more comfortable being constantly occupied; they need words, impressions; they always hasten in order to have the illusion of an abundant and saturated life. But life in God begins when words and thoughts fall silent, when worldly cares are forgotten, and when a place within the human soul is freed to be filled by Him.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Nativity -- Day 28

Today (Old Calendar) we commemorate St. Spyridon.

Spyridon, the God-bearing Father of the Church, the great defender of Corfu and the boast of all the Orthodox, had Cyprus as his homeland. He was simple in manner and humble of heart, and was a shepherd of sheep. When he was joined to a wife, he begat of her a daughter whom they named Irene. After his wife's departure from this life, he was appointed Bishop of Trimythus, and thus he became also a shepherd of rational sheep. When the First Ecumenical Council was assembled in Nicaea, he also was present, and by means of his most simple words stopped the mouths of the Arians who were wise in their own conceit. By the divine grace which dwelt in him, he wrought such great wonders that he received the surname 'Wonderworker." So it is that, having tended his flock piously and in a manner pleasing to God, he reposed in the Lord about the year 350, leaving to his country his sacred relics as a consolation and source of healing for the faithful.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
O Father, God-bearer, Spyridon, you were proven a champion and Wonder Worker of the First Ecumenical Council. You spoke to the girl in the grave and turned the serpent to gold. And, when chanting your prayers, most sacred One, angels ministered with you. Glory to Him who glorified you; glory to Him who crowned you; glory to Him who, through you, works healing for all.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
Wounded by your love for Christ, O holy One, your mind given wings by the radiance of the Spirit, you put the practice of theory into deeds, becoming a sacred altar, O Chosen by God, and praying for the divine illumination of all.

English Orthodox catechisms seem to be fairly rare; however, Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev has posted a catechism on his site.

Here is a quote from Step 11 of The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus:
2. Talkativeness is the throne of vainglory, on which it loves to show itself and make a display. Talkativeness is a sign of ignorance, a door to slander, an inducement to jesting, a servant of falsehood, the ruin of compunction, a creator and summoner of despondency, a precursor of sleep, the dissipation of recollection, the abolition of watchfulness, the cooling of ardour, the darkening of prayer.
3. Intelligent silence is the mother of prayer, a recall from captivity, preservation of fire, an overseer of thoughts, a watch against enemies, a prison of mourning, a friend of tears, effective remembrance of death, a depicter of punishment,a delver into judgement, a minister of sorrow, an enemy of freedom of speech, a companion of stillness, an opponent of the desire to teach, increase of knowledge, a creator of divine vision, unseen progress, secret ascent.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Nativity -- Day 27

As of lately, I've resumed reading the excellent trilogy of books: The Psychological Basis of Mental Prayer in the Heart by Fr. Theophanes. Here is an excerpt from vol. 1: The Orthodox Doctrine of Person:
The Christian remains in this approach: seeking after the Face of the God who appeared to Jacob in Penuel. Hence, a very basic difference in structure presents itself: the Christian prays to a God who is Other, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whereas the model of consciousness we are discussing posits that there are innate structures in the human soul, taken as a mind-body holistic phenomenon, and that the spiritual life is a matter of gaining access to a spiritual experience by gaining access to these innate structures. The innate structures are taken as automatically providing the desired experience, and the spiritual quest is viewed as the manipulation of the psyche to attain to the desired subjective experience of the always present but hidden deeper aspect of the person being manipulated.

This is usually presented as a program of yoga, but we do not wish to expatiate: we are Christian, and we do not know enough about Buddhist or Hindu yoga. Hence, while it is true that both Buddhist and Hindu yogic writings refer to the grace of the guru as a means of raising the consciousness to the desired condition in the context of innate structures, there is nothing that we are aware of that corresponds to the doctrine that the Holy Spirit blows where it will (this conveys the sovereign freedom of the Holy Spirit from the constraint of him who is praying) and to the statement that you do not know whence the Holy Spirit comes and whither it goes. Orthodox spiritual writers uniformly assert this aspect of the Uncreated Light: just as Christ came and stood in the midst of his disciples, the doors being bolted,[3] the Holy Spirit is suddenly present without your knowing; and he leaves to go where you know not. In the Songs of Songs, this is an important motif: the touches of the Holy Spirit that ravish the soul of him who prays and leave her (i.e. the soul) desolate, seeking where the Beloved might be.[4]

This is important, for we will discuss a method of prayer that resembles a mantra; and we will discuss to what extent contemplation is within the voluntary power of him who prays.

The point is this: the touch of the Bridegroom, his caress upon the soul, is completely within the sovereign power and discretion of the Bridegroom; it cannot be commanded by the one who prays; it is not the manipulation of innate structures of the human soul—taken as a holistic mind-body phenomenon—that creates or gives access to these caresses of the Bridegroom. Hence, man has an innate ability to contemplate; that is what St Macrina has just said. But his ability to contemplate is restricted by the sovereign freedom of the Other.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nativity -- Day 23

Perry over at the Energetic Procession blog has written an interesting post entitled: The Christology of Feminism. Here is an excerpt:
The argument here seems to be something like the following. Women and men do not differ qua women and qua men with respect to such and so ability. Therefore they are the same with respect to said abilities. If there is no difference between them with respect to those abilities, then there isn’t any difference with respect priestly abilities. Therefore women should be permitted to be priests. If those who oppose women’s ordination were consistent, then they would oppose female physicians, but they don’t so that they are involved in a performative contradiction. I think a problematic assumption is that the ability to say words, cut bread, etc. is what characterizes the priesthood. The essence of the priesthood though, it seems to me, is not defined by function and for a number of good reasons. First, because Christ is not defined by function. Chalcedonian Christology is not per say functional. Second, If the priesthood were defined functionally, we would not be justified in restricting access to it in other ways, namely age. Can you imagine a 16year old priest? Why not a ten year old? Is ageism any less a sin than sexism? Why is it, for example that people in fact do have a problem visiting a 16 year old doctor? There have been doctors of such and so age and even if there haven’t been, I see no reason why there can’t be some prodigy of modern medicine. More directly, Karras assumes that men and women are both equally potentially priests qua men and women, but isn’t this the point at issue? So her interrogative is question begging. That’s the long answer. The short answer I suppose is better. When Christ is enhypostatically united to carpentry, I will limit my employment of carpenters to males.

Here is a quote from Step 8 of The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus:
1. As the gradual pouring of water on a fire completely extinguishes the flame, so the tears of true mourning are able to quench every flame of anger and irritability. Therefore, we place this next in order.
2. Freedom from anger is an insatiable appetite for dishonour, just as in the vainglorious there is an unbounded desire for praise. Freedom from anger is victory over nature and insensibility to insults, acquired by struggles and sweat.
3. Meekness is an immovable state of soul which remains unaffected, whether in evil report or in good report, in dishonour or in praise.

11. An angry person is a willing epileptic, who due to an involuntary tendency keeps convulsing and falling down.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Nativity -- Day 22

Today is the feast day (Old Calendar) of St. Nicholas. An interesting series of articles about St. Nicholas and Santa Claus can be found here.


This holy bishop lived in the time of Emperors Diocletian and Maximian. After having led the monastic life for a while, he was promoted to the episcopal dignity for his exceptional and eminent virtue. Because he defended the interests of Christians and courageously preached the true religion, he was seized by the city's magistrates and thrown into prison in company with other Christians, after he was overpowered by assaults and inflicted with all kinds of tortures. When the great and pious Constantine took possession of the Roman Empire by a Providential decree, all the prisoners in fetters were released. Thus set at liberty, Saint Nicholas returned to Myra and took part in the Council of Nicaea held sometime after by Emperor Constantine in 325.

He died at a very old age leaving his holy body to the faithful as a source of balm and healing. He remains as if living after his death, having received from heaven the gift of miracles. His relics are preserved in Bari, Italy. His power as a wonderworker gave birth to a marvelous legend which is the origin of traditional children's festivals in the East as well as the West.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
The truth of things hath revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, an icon of meekness, and a teacher of temperance; for this cause, thou hast achieved the heights by humility, riches by poverty. O Father and Hierarch Nicholas, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
Saintly One, (St. Nicholas) in Myra you proved yourself a priest; for in fulfilling the Gospel of Christ, venerable One, you laid down your life for your people and saved the innocent from death. For this you were sanctified as One learned in divine grace.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Nativity -- Day 19

I've been thoroughly enjoying the book: Discerning the Mystery, by Andrew Louth. Here is another excerpt:
The notion that Christian theology is to be seen as concerned with the mystery of God, the trinitarian God who loved us in Christ and calls us to participate in the mystery which he is, suggests to me that the main concern of theology is not so much to elucidate anything, as to prevent us, the Church, from dissolving the mystery that lies at the heart of faith -- dissolving it, or missing it altogether, by failing truly to engage with it. And this is what the heresies have been seen to do, and why they have been condemned: the trinitarian heresies dissolve the divine life, either by reducing it to a monadic consciousness, or by degrading it to the life of the gods; the Christological heresies blur the fact that it is in fact in Christ that this divine life is offered to us -- that it is through him and in the Spirit that we know ourselves to be loved by God himself -- and do this either by qualifying the fact that God is who Jesus is, or by qualifying the fact that what Jesus is is truly a man; heresies concerning man's divinization are no less insidious, as they blur the fact that we are truly loved by God in Jesus and are called to respond to that love, and that in thus loving and being loved we are drawn into a real communion with God. But the heart of the matter is sharing in the mystery of love which God is.

p. 71

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Nativity -- Day 17

Here are a couple of video clips from the recent funeral of His Holiness, Patriarch Alexy II:

Part 1
Part 2

The attendance and respect paid by so many clergy, monastics, political dignities, and Russian people, is particularly impressive considering what transpired in Russia under Communism in the 20th century.

Memory Eternal!

The Ochlophobist has written an interesting post: almost a definition of a gentleman; seeming like a disciple of Christianity, whatever that is; the gospel of gentlemanly deduction, and here is the obligatory excerpt:
There is, and has long been, the danger that gentlemanly society replace the ethos of ascetic society in the life of the Church. This might happen when the virtues of gentlemanliness are seen as ends unto themselves - and the wisdom of the Dostoevskian prophet is to see the futility of such ends. What does it profit a man? In the posture of gentleman as the right end of man, the fundamental thing that matters, ecclesiologically speaking, is that the Church act as a civilizing force, that great socio-political vehicle of public virtues, social utility, the provocation of decency and social order. The dream of Dostoevsky's antichrist. This must not be accepted. The right appreciation and love, even, of the gentlemanly occurs when we accept its limits, when we know that it not an end, and not even a means to an end, but perhaps a means to the means to the end. And with this we must keep in constant mind that it is not the only means to the means to the end, but one of many which God may use.

I'll end this post with a quote from Step 7 of The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus:
Mourning according to God is sadness of soul and the disposition of a sorrowing heart, which ever madly seeks that for which it thirsts; and when it fails in its quest, it painfully pursues it, and follows in its wake grievously lamenting. Or thus; mourning is a golden spur in a soul which is stripped of all attachment and of all ties, fixed by holy sorrow to watch over the heart.
When our soul leaves this world we shall not be blamed for not having worked miracles, or for not having been theologians, or not having been rapt in divine visions. But we shall certainly have to give an account to God of why we have not unceasingly mourned.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nativity -- Day 14

The author at Second Terrace has written a worthwhile post on the recent feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos. Here is an excerpt:
Trinitarian Peace is the substance of the only true Revolution, whose bards poetically sing the lay of Salvation History, the real Economy of the only Theology, the only meaningful history. For this Peace is the foundation of Beauty, its memory and its aspiration. Every artist is a prophet insofar as he prophesies this Beauty of Peace. Every story, to be story, must somehow participate in the Story of the Word.
But mediated joy, the gift prayed for by the Theotokos, is a gift for the wise, the faithful of the Apostolic Church -- those who live in the Gospel Age and, once in a while, see a glimpse of Star and Glory.

Except for the glimpse, these Orthodox are afflicted with a special despair. Theirs is not a despondency of unresponsive Baals on Wall Street. Theirs is a psychic cost of being Orthodox. Their despair is the price of turning the world around in diurnal cycle, of keeping the Faith that upholds the universe, of believing in the Christ in Whom all things hold together.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Nativity -- Day 9

Perry from Energetic Procession has written an interesting post entitled: The Plurality of the Good and the Heart of Capitalism, in which he relates ideas found in St. Maximus to economic theory. Here is an excerpt:
A common occurrence in socialistic models is large scale apathy and eventually poor workmanship. Humans for some reason don’t flourish in these contexts. In the Soviet Union, a popular saying was that the state used to pretend to pay the workers and the workers used to pretend to work. The political rhetoric is that socialistic models kill incentive and ingenuity. But why? I think that Maximus’ thought on the gnomic will and the plurality of the Good can help explain why capitalism on the whole does a better job with human nature.

The gnomic will is a particular use of the human power of choice. It is a use of the power of choice that is not yet fixed or congealed with the good that is the telos of human nature. The gnomic will is a use of a natural power that is “between” good or evil. As character formation occurs and the character of the agents “gels” the gnomic will falls away like one of Wittgenstein’s ladders. The gnomic will, like other uses of the will entails the plurality of objects of choice or alternative possibilities. In sun, this is why the gnomic will entails the possibility of evil acts.

The Ochlophobist has also written a thought provoking post related to economics, entitled: wealth, usury, and the lack of those beat-up clowns Rouault loved to paint. The excerpt:
I am particularly taken with the phrase "the virtue of suffering and poverty" and the contrast of this virtue with the quotidian praxis one finds in virtually all of American Orthodoxy - the unquestioned embrace of bourgeois lifestyles by folks who like to talk and hear about ascesis. It is no surprise that converts, virtually all of whom come from the middle classes, and immigrants, who came to America largely in order to achieve a middle class lifestyle, would embrace bourgeois banalities. What is something of a surprise is the number of these who live a bourgeois life, even defend a bourgeois life, and then have the gall to wax on and on about the Orthodox ascetical life. Just this morning I read a bit by a fellow (who for all I know may not live a bourgeois life) who was writing about how Orthodox mission, unlike that of other faiths, starts with the ascetical life of the would-be missionary or evangelist, and the life of the mission is rooted in that ascesis. I agree with this outline of things missional.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Nativity -- Day 4

I've been reading Andew Louth's: Discerning the Mystery on and off for a while now. Here's an excerpt:
The notion of the tacit has deeper resonance within the Father's thought, however, than in the though of Poanyi. In them the tacit is interpreted as silence, the silence of presence, the presence of God who gives himself to the soul who waits on him in silence. The silence of the tacit makes immediate contact with the silence of prayer: and prayer is seen in the Fathers to be, as it were, the amniotic fluid in which our knowledge of God takes form. Participation in the tradition of the Church implies participation in a life of love, of loving devotion to God and loving care of our neighbour. Participation in the tradition is indeed a moral activity: it implies a growing attentiveness to Our Lord, and a growing likeness to him. In other words, the Fathers understand the place of what we have called, following Gadamar, paideia in making us into those who are capable of knowing God, or rather in making us receptive to God's revelation of himself in Jesus Christ. Hort's assertion that 'the perception of truth depends as much on the state of him that desires to perceive as on the objects that are presented to his view' is axiomatic for the Fathers.

The idea that theology must work within the alleged heritage of the Enlightenment now looks much less compelling. For it is just this heritage that is the object of the criticism of Gadamar and Polanyi. And it is not simply that theology is free to return to a way of approach that was so fruitful in the early centuries; more than that, we find not only that a common pattern emerges from the criticism of Gadamar and Polanyi, despite their very different starting-points, but that this common pattern has a striking resemblance to the pattern that we can discern in the approach of the Fathers of the Church. The way of much theology since the Enlightenment – with only a few notable exceptions, in England those who drank deep of the wine of the Fathers, such as the fathers of the Oxford Movement, and such as Hort – is seen to be based on assumptions about how we come to knowledge that are being rendered increasingly incredible and naïve.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nativity -- Day 3

I've recently discovered the Russian bishop: Hilarion Alfeyev. His Grace has an impressive repertoire of publications and articles. One of these articles is: St. Isaac of Ninevah and Syrian Mysticism. Here are some excerpts:
The idea of God as love is central and dominant in Isaac’s thought: it is the main source of his theological opinions, ascetical recommendations and mystical insights.

Divine love is beyond human understanding and above all description in words. At the same time it is reflected in God’s actions with respect to the created world and humankind: ‘Among all His actions there is none which is not entirely a matter of mercy, love and compassion: this constitutes the beginning and the end of His dealings with us’.[2] Both the creation of the world and God’s coming on earth in flesh had the only aim, ‘to reveal His boundless love to the world’.[3]
And what is a merciful heart? - It is the heart’s burning for the sake of the entire creation, for men, for birds, for animals, for demons, and for every created thing; and by the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful man pour forth abundant tears. From the strong and vehement mercy which grips his heart and from his great compassion, his heart is humbled and he cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in creation. For this reason he offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner he even prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in his heart in the likeness of God.[29]
When you attain to the region of tears, then know that your mind has left the prison of this world and has set its foot on the roadway of the new age, and has begun to breathe that other air, new and wonderful. And at the same moment it begins to shed tears, since the birth pangs of the spiritual infant are at hand. For grace, the common mother of all, makes haste mystically to give birth in the soul to the divine image for the light of the age to come.
Question: And whence does a man know that his has attained to the perfect love of God? Answer: When the recollection of God is stirred in his mind, straightway his heart is kindled by the love of Him and his eyes pour forth abundant tears. For love is wont to ignite tears by the recollection of beloved ones. A man who is in this state will never be found destitute of tears, because that which brings him to the recollection of God is never absent from him; wherefore even in sleep he converses with God. For love is wont to cause such things.[11]
Abandonment has been an experience of the whole of humanity since the fall of Adam. It is both an experience of believers and of unbelievers. However, for a believer it is an experience of the temporary absence of God, which gives place to an intense feeling of presence, whereas for an atheist it is an experience of constant and irreparable absence. An atheist considers the absence of God as the norm, whereas a believer endures the feeling of absence as a very strong and most painful suffering. He cannot cope with the absence of God: even though in his mind he knows that God has not forgotten him, his soul and heart thirst for conscious experience of God’s presence. The life in God is accompanied with the feeling of God’s presence, and when this feeling is lost, one cannot find calm until it returns.
The periods of darkness and abandonment are compared by Isaac with winter, when natural life almost completely ceases, but the seeds lie in the depth of earth, waiting for spring, when they bring forth shoots. One should not fall into despair but rather wait patiently until the afflictions, despondency and abandonment that one has endured bring their fruits.[18]
The theme of prayer is undoubtedly the most frequently discussed and most thoroughly developed theme in St Isaac of Nineveh. When reading his works, one not only receives a clear idea about how he and other members of the Church of the East prayed in his times: one also gains a detailed picture of the theory and practice of prayer in the whole of the Eastern Christian tradition.
Spiritual prayer, according to Isaac, is participation in the age to come, the experience of paradise on earth. The experience of contemplation which the saints have in the future life is given to one in one’s earthly life through ‘spiritual prayer’: ‘The soul does not pray a prayer, but in awareness she perceives the spiritual things of that other age which transcend human conception; and the understanding of these is but the power of the Holy Spirit. This is noetic contemplation, not the movement and entreaty of prayer, although it has its starting-point in prayer’.[10]
In Isaac the term ‘contemplation’ very often appears as a synonym for the ‘vision of God’. He speaks of the supernatural state of the soul, which is ‘her movement in the contemplation of the transubstantial Deity’.[2] In this state, the soul ‘rushes forward.., and on the wings of faith she soars aloft, taking leave of visible creation; she becomes as one drunken in awestruck wonder of her continual solicitude for God; and by simple, uncompounded vision, and by unseeing intuitions concerning the Divine nature’.[3] At the same time Isaac emphasizes that the righteous cannot see the essence of God: when one is raised to the contemplation of God, one sees not God’s essence, but ‘the dark cloud of His glory’.[4] One can see only a reflection of God’s essence, though this vision will be fuller in the age to come: ‘The more a man becomes perfect with respect to God, the more he follows after Him. But in the age of truth, God will show him His face, although not His essence. For however much the righteous enter into the contemplation of Him, they behold an enigma of His vision, like an image that is seen through a mirror;[5] but yonder they behold the revelation of the truth’.[6]

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nativity -- Day 2

I have almost completed reading the book: On Prayer, by Archimandrite Sophrony. Archimandrite Sophrony provides a lovely point of contact with the wisdom and humility of the blessed St. Silouan. Here is an excerpt on the distinction between impersonal asceticisms and the personal Christian asceticism:
The way of our Fathers requires strong faith and long-suffering, whereas our contemporaries attempt to acquire spiritual gifts, including even direct contemplation of the Absolute God, through pressure and in a brief space of time. Often one can remark a disposition in them to draw a parallel between prayer in the Name of Jesus and yoga or 'transcendental meditation' and the like. I think it necessary to point out the dangers of this delusion -- the danger of looking on prayer as a very simple, easy 'technical' means leading to direct union with God. I consider it essential to emphasise the radical difference between the Jesus Prayer and all other ascetic theories. All those are deluded who endeavour mentally to divest themselves of everything that is transitory, relative, in order in this way to cross some invisible threshold, to realize their being 'without beginning', their 'identity' with the Source of all that is; in order to return to Him, to be merged in Him, the nameless trans-personal Absolute; in order in the vast expanse of what is beyond thought to unify one's personal individuality with the individualised form of natural existence. Ascetic efforts of this kind enabled some strugglers to a certain extent to rise to meta-logical contemplation of being; to experience a certain awe; to know the state when the mind is stilled, when it goes beyond the bounds of time and space. In like states man may feel the peace of divestment of the constantly changing manifestations of the visible world; may uncover in himself freedom of spirit and contemplate mental beauty.

The ultimate development of such impersonal asceticism has led many ascetics to perceive the divine origin in the very nature of man; to a tendency to the self-divinisation that lay at the root of the great Fall; to see in man a certain 'absoluteness' which in essence is nothing else but the reflection of the Divine Absoluteness in the creature created in His likeness; to feel drawn to return to the state of peace which man knew before his appearance in this world. In any case after this experience of divesture some such form of mental aberration may arise in the mind. I am not setting myself the task of listing all the various types of mental intuition but I will say from my own experience that the True, Living God -- the I AM -- is not here in all this. This is the natural genius of the human spirit in his sublimated impulses towards the Absolute. All contemplation arrived at by this means is self-contemplation, not contemplation of God. In these circumstances we open up for ourselves created beauty, not First-Being. And in all of it there is no salvation for man.

The source of real deliverance lies in unquestionable, wholehearted acceptance of the Revelation, 'I am that I am... I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.' God is Personal Absolute, Trinity One and Indivisible. Our whole Christian life is based on this Revelation. This God called us from non-being into life. Knowledge of this Living God and discernment of the manner of His creation releases us from the obscurity of our own ideas, coming 'from beneath,' about the Absolute; rescues us from our attraction -- unconscious but for all that ruinous -- to withdrawal from existence of any sort. We are created in order to be communicants in the Divine Being of Him Who really is. Christ indicated this wondrous way: 'Strait in the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life.' Apprehending the depths of the Creator's wisdom, we embark on the suffering through which Divine eternity is to be attained. And when His Light shines for us we unite in ourselves contemplation of the two extremes of the abyss -- one on the one side, the darkness of hell, on the other, the triumph of victory. We are existentially introduced into the province of the Uncreated Divine Life. And hell loses power over us. We are given grace -- to live the state of the Incarnate Logos-Christ Who descended into hell as Conqueror. Then by the power of His love we shall embrace all creation in the prayer: 'O Jesus, Gracious Almighty, have mercy upon us and Thy world.'
pp. 168-170

Friday, November 28, 2008

Nativity -- Day 1

I've come across an interesting article by Bishop Kallistos Ware, entitled: Body, Intellect, Heart: Prayer of the Total Self. Here are some excerpts from the article:
We commune with God, in Evagrios' words, without any intermediary. Prayer at its higher level is an experience of unmediated unity. "When we are engaged in contemplative prayer," says Evagrios, "we are no more aware of the fact that we are contemplating than we are conscious of our own sleep."
What about the heart, now? Let's turn from Evagrios to Macarios. In one of my favorite books, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery, the fox has some very helpful words for us. "Good-bye," says the fox, "and now here is my secret. It is very simple. Only with the heart can one see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye. Only with the heart can one see rightly." My spiritual father, a Russian priest long since dead, always liked to quote those words to me.
Two texts from Proverbs are very popular in the Greek spiritual tradition. They come up frequently in the Philokalia: "My child, give me your heart" (Proverbs 23:26) - that means, "Give me your total self" and "Guard your heart with all vigilance" (Proverbs 4:23) - that means, "Keep watch over the entirety of your inner life, know yourself, know yourself as God granted and God taught." Finally, "The heart is deep" (Psalm 63:6 ). That is another popular hesychast and Philokalic text. It means the human person is a profound mystery.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ostrov, etc

I've recently viewed an excellent movie called Ostrov. Here's the synopsis from imdb:
Somewhere in Northern Russia in a small Russian Orthodox monastery lives an unusual man whose bizarre conduct confuses his fellow monks, while others who visit the island believe that the man has the power to heal, exorcise demons and foretell the future.
Wikipedia has a more lengthy description (with possible spoilers) here.

If you're looking to purchase this movie, the best deal I've found is here.

One of my favourite scenes is here.

A worthwhile article: Paradise and Hell According to Orthodox Tradition, by Protopresbyter George Metallinos. Here's an excerpt:
On the Last Sunday of Lent "we commemorate the Second and Incorruptible Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ". The expression "we commemorate" of the Book of Saints confirms that our Church, as the Body of Christ, re-enacts in its worship the Second Coming of Christ as an "event" and not just something that is historically expected. The reason is, that through the Divine Eucharist, we are transported to the celestial kingdom, to meta-history. It is in this orthodox perspective, that the subject of paradise and hell is approached.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

On Prayer

I've been enjoying the book: On Prayer, by Archimandrite Sophrony. He writes about kenosis and recapitulation:
To transport ourselves in mind, whenever we suffer tribulation, into universal dimensions makes us like unto Christ. If we do this, everything that happens to us individually will be a revelation of what happens in the whole world. Streams of cosmic life will flow through us, and we shall be able, through personal experience to discern both man in his temporal existence and even the Son of man in his two natures. It is precisely thus, through suffering, that we grow to cosmic and meta-cosmic self-consciousness. By going through the trial of self-emptying in following Christ, crucifying ourselves with Him, we become receptive to the infinitely great Divine Being. In wearying penitential prayer for the whole world, we merge ourselves spiritually with all mankind: we become universal in the image of the universality of Christ Himself, who bears in Himself all that exists. Dying with Him and in Him, we here and now anticipate resurrection.

The Lord suffered for every one of us. His sufferings do indeed cover all our ills since the fall of Adam. In order to know Christ properly, it is essential that we ourselves enter into His anguish, and experience it all, if this be possible, as He Himself did. Thus, and only thus, is Christ-God made known, existentially -- i.e., not abstractly, through psychological or theoretical faith that is not converted into deeds.

From the outset when I returned to Christ, with a little more understanding now of Who Jesus was, my heart underwent a change and my thoughts took a different direction. From my inner conflicts I spontaneously shifted to humanity at large, and found myself suffering with all mankind. The experience made me see that we must not only live the ordeals that fall to our lot within the narrow framework of our individuality but must transfer them in spirit to the universal plane -- in other words, realize that the same cosmic life that flows through us flows in the veins of everyone else. Because of this apparently natural psychological impulse, I began to feel all the ills -- disease, disasters, feuds, enmities, natural catastrophes, wars, and so on -- that befall the human race, with increased compassion. This really quite normal compulsion was to bring forth precious fruit for me: I learned to live the fate of all mankind as if it were happening to me personally. It is precisely this that is enjoined by the commandment, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself'.
pp. 76, 77

Monday, October 27, 2008

Romanian Hermits

I've found an interesting video on contemporary Romanian hermits here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Gulag Archipelago

Today I was rather surprised to notice that I've not posted in almost two months. In the meantime, I've completed a few books which I hope to eventually review, and have started a few others. One of the books I've been reading is: The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Here are a couple of excerpts:
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn't change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.

Socrates taught us: Know thyself!

Confronted by the pit into which we are about to toss those who have done us harm, we halt, stricken dumb: it is after all only because of the way things worked out that they were the executioners and we weren't.
[p.181] Evidently evildoing also has a threshold magnitude. Yes, a human being hesitates and bobs back and forth between good and evil all his life. He slips, falls back, clambers up, repents, things begin to darken again. But just so long as the threshold of evildoing is not crossed, the possibility of returning remains, and he himself is still within reach of our hope. But when, through the density of evil actions, the result either of their own extreme degree or the absoluteness of his power, he suddenly crosses that threshold, he has left humanity behind, and without, perhaps, the possibility of return.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Feast of Transfiguration

Tonight we had Matins commemorating the Feast of Transfiguration (click on the icon to read more about it). Here is an excerpt from one of the canons:
Thou wast transfigured upon Mount Tabor, showing the exchange mortal men will make with Thy glory at Thy second and fearful coming, O Saviour. Elijah and Moses talked with Thee, and Thou hast called the three disciples to be with Thee. As they gazed upon Thy glory, O Master, they were struck with wonder at Thy blinding brightness. Do Thou who then has shone upon them with Thy light, give light now to our souls.

I have been iteratively updating the post on The Gnostic Chapters by Saint Diadochos of Photiki to reflect the newly translated chapters which OrthodoxMonk has been graciously posting.

I'll end this post with some Saint John of Kronstadt, from My Life in Christ:
Cultivate the Christian art of doing good, of heartily blessing those who curse you, by which you will please your Lord Christ, Who said: "Bless them that curse you. Love your enemies" sincerely, not regarding their enmity -- but respecting in them the image of God, according to which they are created, and seeing in them your own self. "Do good to them which hate you," as the Son of the heavenly Father, Who is kind even "unto the unthankful and to the evil," believing that you will overcome evil with good, because good is always more powerful than evil. "Pray for them which despitefully use you," so that through your prayer you may save them also, by God's grace, from the evil malice and the snares of the Devil, and save yourself too from misforturne. "Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again," for everything comes from God, and, should the Lord will, He can take everything away from you. Remember, that you yourself have come naked out of your mother's womb, and naked shall you return thither, and shall not take anything away with you. If you will thus live, you will gain for yourself the priceless treasure of peace and love, and shall live long on the earth: for "the meek-spirited," it is said, "shall possess the earth: and shall be refreshed in the multitude of peace."
Do not grow despondent and enfeebled in spirit, seeing the constant struggle within you of evil against good, but like a good and valiant soldier of Jesus Christ, our great Founder, struggle courageously against evil, looking at the crown, prepared by the Lord for all who conquer evil in this world and in their flesh. "To him that overcometh, will I grant to sit with Me in My throne."

Friday, August 8, 2008


I've come across a nice article on confession here. Here's the obligatory citation:
The first turning point of spiritual healing is in the Sacrament of Baptism. Here the believer is cleansed from all sins and is spiritually reborn for righteous living. However, the predisposition towards sin, which is interwoven with his free will, is not completely eliminated. As time passes, an individual falls into sin due to carefree ways, inexperience, and different temptations. Supposedly eliminated, sin, similar to cancerous cells left after surgery, begins to propagate once again, gaining strength and striving to totally control the individual's will. The individual once again becomes spiritually sick and consequently unhappy and bitter.

In this difficult and dogged battle with sin, the Sacraments of Confession and Communion are powerful tools available to us. In the Sacrament of Confession the penitent Christian, in the presence of the spiritual confessor, opens to God his darkened and sick heart and allows the heavenly light to enter, cleanse and heal it. In Confession, as in Baptism, the great rebirthing power of the crucified Son of God is concealed. This is the reason that after this Sacrament, the truly penitent person feels cleansed and renewed, as a newly baptized infant. He obtains new strength to battle the evil within himself and to restart a righteous life.
Repentance, to be effective, should not be limited just to awareness of ones sinfulness or to a cold admission of unworthiness. It should be accompanied with a deep feeling of regret and a sincere desire to become a different person. It requires the decision to battle with one's evil inclinations and the will to correct one's way of life. The penitent opens his soul to God, the true and loving Physician, and asks for mercy and help in the battle with bad tendencies. Such heartfelt contrition is necessary so that the effectiveness of the Sacrament will extend not only to the removal of committed sins but also to bring the Divine remedy into the receptive soul and strengthen it against future temptations.
At the end the penitent kneels before the cross, and the priest, covering the head of the penitent with his stole, reads the following prayer of absolution:

O Lord God of the salvation of Your servants, merciful, compassionate and long-suffering; Who repents concerning our evil deeds, not desiring the death of a sinner, but that he should turn from his way and live. Show mercy now on Your servant [name] and grant to him (or her) an image of repentance, forgiveness of sins and deliverance, pardoning all his (or her) sins, whether voluntary or involuntary. Reconcile and unite him (or her) to Your Holy Church, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom, with You, are due dominion and majesty, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

May our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, by the grace and compassion of His love for mankind, forgive you, my child, [name], all your transgressions. And I His unworthy Priest, through the power given me, forgive and absolve you from all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Following this prayer, the penitent rises, kisses the Cross and the Gospels and, receiving a blessing from the priest, steps away thanking God.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

St. Diadochos of Photiki - Gnostic Chapters

Orthodox Monk has begun posting a translation of the Gnostic Chapters by St. Diadochos of Photiki. Those who have read this sort of literature will already know that the terms "gnostic" and "gnosis" have a much wider application than denoting a tenet of Gnosticism. The study of gnosis is an epistemological study which may entail ideas and conclusions either heterodox or orthodox. In the case of St. Diadochos, we have an orthodox form.

From the introductory post:
We hope to publish over the next short while the complete text of our translation of the Gnostic Chapters of St Diadochos, Bishop of Photiki in Epirus. Not much is known about this 5th Century prelate. His see was located somewhat north of present-day Preveza in Greece. His work is included in the first volume of the Philokalia and was one of the works that St Symeon the New Theologian was given to read when he was a novice. It is the first recorded work to speak explicitly of the Jesus Prayer.
Chapters 1-25 (of 100) are here. A sample:
When the temper is set in motion against the passions, it must be known that it is the hour of silence. When one sees that confusion coming to serenity either through the prayer or through almsgiving let him set the wing of the mind in motion in the love of the sayings of God, being secured with the bond of humility. For if one does not humiliate oneself greatly, he is not able to speak concerning the grandeur of God.
Chapters 26-35 (of 100) are here. A sample:
One thing is the love which is natural to the soul and another thing is the love which occurs to it from the Holy Spirit. For the first is set into motion moderately, when we wish, from our own will, and for that reason it is easily plundered by the demons when we do not restrain our own intention with violence[11]. The second, however, so much enkindles the soul towards the love of God that then in an unutterable way all the parts of soul fasten on to the goodness of the divine longing in a certain infinite simplicity of disposition. For having then become as it were pregnant by the spiritual activity,[12] the mind spouts a certain fountain of love and joy.
Chapters 36-50 (of 100) are here. A sample:
As an example of this, let there be for us the servant who is hailed by night by his master from in front of the yard of the house after a long absence abroad. To whom the servant absolutely refuses the opening of the doors. He has been frightened lest, plundering him, the similarity of voice prepare him to become betrayer of the things that were entrusted by the master. With whom his lord is not angry once it has become day but finds him worthy of many praises, for he thought that even the voice of the master was a deception, not wanting to lose any of his goods.
Chapters 51-60 (of 100) are here. A sample:
When we are greatly disgusted with the bodily anomalies that occur to us,[6] it must be known that our soul is still enslaved to the desires of the body. For just that reason the soul, longing for material well-being, does not wish to depart from the good things of life but also considers it a great lack of leisure not to be able, on account of the illnesses, to make use of the fine things of life. But if with thanksgiving the soul accepts the troubles that arise from the illnesses, it is known not to be far from the boundaries of dispassion, whence it even then accepts death with joy, as being, rather, the occasion of true life.
Chapters 61-70 (of 100) are here. A sample:
Just as when they are open the doors of the baths quickly impel the inner warmth towards the outside, thus also the soul, when it wishes to speak much, even if it should say all things well, disperses its own remembrance through the gate of the voice. Whence the soul is thenceforth deprived of seasonable thoughts[52] and speaks the clashing of its thoughts[53] more or less in a mob[54] to those who happen to be there, because henceforward it does not have the Holy Spirit preserving it so that it have an intellect without fantasy. For the Good, being foreign to agitation and every fantasy, ever flees garrulousness. Therefore silence is good in its proper time, being nothing other than the mother of the wisest thoughts[55].
Chapters 71-80 (of 100) are here. A sample:
Grace, as I said, is hidden in the depth of the mind from the very instant in which we are baptized, hiding, however, the very perception of its presence. However, whenever one should begin to desire God ardently from his whole intention, then by means of the sense of the mind, Grace, using a certain unspeakable word, begins to speak to the soul some certain part of its goods.[30] Whence, thenceforward he who wholly wishes to hold on to this discovery securely comes to a desire of divesting himself of all present goods with great joy, so that, really, he acquire the field in which he has found the hidden treasure of life. For when one divests himself of all the wealth of this worldly life, then he finds the place[31] where the grace of God is hidden.
Chapters 81-85 (of 100) are here. A sample:
The Lord says in the Gospel that it is not possible to expel the strong one from his house unless someone who is stronger, having bound and despoiled him, expels him. How is it therefore possible that he who has been expelled with so much shame should enter in again and sojourn with the true householder who is reposing however he wishes in his own house? For not even a king who at some time has struggled greatly against the tyrant who has rebelled against him will countenance having this person in the palace. Rather, he will slaughter him immediately or, having bound him, hand him over to his own troops for a long punishment and most miserable death.
Chapters 86-90 (of 100) are here. A sample:
The pedagogic surrender brings much sorrow and humbleness and moderate despair to the soul, so that the part of it which is ambitious and liable to fall come appropriately into humility. It immediately brings to the heart the fear of God and tears of confession and great desire for most beautiful silence. On the other hand, the surrender which is according to the aversion of God allows the soul to be filled with despair together with disbelief and wrath and delusion[5]. We must, knowing the experience of both types of surrender, approach God according to the manner of each.

Chapters 91-95 (of 100) are here. A sample:
To those who are beginning to desire piety ardently the way of virtue seems extremely rough and very gloomy not because it is that sort of thing but because directly from the womb human nature consorts with the range of the pleasures. To those who are able to come to middle of it, the way is shown to be wholly approachable and comfortable, for having been subordinated through the activity[18] of the good, the bad is destroyed by the good habit along with the memory of the irrational passions.[19] Whence, thenceforth the soul gladly passes through the all the paths of the virtues. For this reason, the Lord, introducing us to the road of salvations, says: ‘How narrow and strait is the road leading to the Kingdom and few are they that enter in by it.’ To those who with much intention wish to come forth to the keeping of his holy commandments, he says: ‘For my yoke is good and my load is light.’ Therefore, in the beginning of the struggle it is necessary to work the holy commandments of God with a certain violent act of the will, so that seeing our purpose and effort the good Lord send us a certain act of the will very much ready to serve his glorious wishes.[20] For then: ‘The will[21] is prepared by the Lord;’ so that we unceasingly work the good in a certain great joy. For then, really, we will perceive that: ‘God is he who acts in us both to want and to act beyond expectation.’
Chapters 96-100 (of 100) are here. A sample:
Those who are friends of the pleasures of this world come to the actual missteps from the thoughts[1]. For borne by an undiscerning judgement they desire to bring almost all their impassioned conceptions[2] to lawless words and unholy works. Those however who are endeavouring to accomplish the ascetic way of life come from the actual missteps to the evil thoughts and to certain evil and damaging words. For if the demons see such persons gladly tolerating abuse [of others] or speaking certain idle or unseasonable things or laughing as it should not be or angered immoderately or desiring to see empty and vain glory, then they arm themselves in a group against them. Moreover, taking ambition as an excuse for their own evil they jump as it were through a certain dark window and plunder the soul. Therefore it is necessary that those who wish to dwell together with the multitude of virtues not seek glory, nor meet with many people, nor make use of continual departures [from the monastery] or abuse certain persons (even if those who are abused are worthy of the abuse), nor speak much even if they are able to say all things well. For dispersing the mind without measure, garrulity not only makes the mind idle in relation to its spiritual labour but also delivers it to the demon of accidie[3], which weakening it without measure delivers it thenceforth to the demons of sorrow and to the demons of anger. The mind must therefore ever be occupied with the keeping of the holy commandments and with the deep remembrance of the Lord of Glory. For he says: ‘He who keeps the commandment will not know an evil word;’ that is, will not deviate into bad thoughts or words.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Saint John Climacus

The following is from The Ladder of Divine Ascent, by Saint John Climacus:
Obedience is absolute renunciation of our own life, clearly expressed in our bodily actions. Or, conversely, obedience is the mortification of the limbs while the mind remains alive. Obedience is unquestioning movement, voluntary death, a life free of curiosity, carefree danger, unprepared defence before God, fearlessness of death, a safe voyage, a sleeper's progress. Obedience is the tomb of the will and the resurrection of humility. A corpse does not argue or reason as to what is good or what seems to be bad. For he who has devoutly put the soul of the novice to death will answer for everything. Obedience is an abandonment of discernment in a wealth of discernment.
When motives of humility and real longing for salvation incite us to bend our neck and entrust ourselves to another in the Lord, before entering upon this life, if there is any cleverness and prudence in us, we ought first to question and examine, and even, so to speak, test our helmsman, so as not to mistake the sailor for the pilot, a sick man for a doctor, a passionate for a dispassionate man, the sea for a harbour, and so bring about the speedy shipwreck of our soul. But when once we have entered the arena of piety and obedience, we must no longer judge our good manager in any way at all, even though we may perhaps see in him some slight failings, since he is only human. Otherwise, by sitting in judgment we shall get no profit from our subjection.
It is the property of angels,' he continued, 'not to fall, and even, as some say, it is quite impossible for them to fall. It is the property of men to fall, and to rise again as often as this may happen. But it is the property to devils, and devils alone, not to rise once they have fallen.
He whose will and desire in conversation is to establish his own opinion, even though what he says is true, should recognize that he is sick with the devil's disease. And if he behaves like this only in conversation with his equals, then perhaps the rebuke of his superiors may heal him. But if he acts in this way even with those who are greater and wiser than he, then his malady is humanly incurable.
He who is not submissive in speech, clearly will not be so in act either. For he who is unfaithful in little is also unfaithful in much, and is intractable. He labours in vain, and he will get nothing from holy obedience but his own doom.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Saint John of Kronstadt

I haven't completed any books recently, so here's a quote from My Life in Christ, by Saint John of Kronstadt:
Everything that constitutes me man (the soul), lives solely by God, and only in union with Him, whilst when the soul separates itself from God, then it experiences extreme distress. But the life of my soul consistes in the peace of my spiritual powers, and this peace proceeds exclusively from God. There is, it is true, a carnal peace also, but it is a delusive one -- the forerunner of spiritual storm -- of which the Lord says: "When they shall say (to men), Peace and safety, then suddenly destruction cometh upon them"; but spiritual peace, which proceeds from the Spirit of God differs, as heaven from earth, from such carnal peace. It is heavenly blissgiving, "Peace I give you," often said the Lord to His disciples, giving them His peace, and the Apostles also gave "peace to believers," and wished them God's peace as the highest blessing, because God's peace constitutes the life of our soul, and witnesses to the union of our soul with God. The absence of peace in the soul -- disturbance, by which all the passionate conditions of our soul are distinguished -- is spiritual death and the sign of the action of the enemey of our salvation in our hearts.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Prodigal Son

Today, while listening to some Orthodox chant, I encountered a lovely hymn that hearkens back to Great Lent and the Sunday of the Prodigal son:
Make haste to open unto me Thy fatherly embrace, for as the Prodigal I have wasted my life. In the unfailing wealth of Thy mercy, O Saviour, reject not my heart in its poverty. For with compunction I cry to Thee, O Lord: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee.
The Valaam, Russian rendition of this hymn can be found here. Click on the icon to read more about the Sunday of the Prodigal Son.

Some new additions to my library:

Saturday, June 28, 2008

It's been a while since I've posted; so here's a somewhat voluminous attempt to make up for that.


Wisdom from Mount Athos - Archimandrite Sophrony

Here is an excerpt from the book (p. 25):
At all times I beseech the Lord who is merciful to grant that I may love my enemies; and by the grace of God I have experienced what the love of God is, and what it is to love my neighbour, and day and night I pray the Lord for love, and the Lord gives me tears to weep for the whole world. But if I find fault with any man or look on him with an unkind eye my tears dry up and my soul sinks into despondency. Yet do I begin again to entreat forgiveness of God, and the Lord in His mercy forgives me, a sinner.
This book contains some of the writings of Saint Silouan (depicted above), and makes a great companion to the book "The Monk of Mount Athos" which I have mentioned in an recent post. In the introduction to the book, Archimandrite Sophrony writes (pps. 6, 7):
The Athonite monk is convinced beyond doubt that the Orthodox Church is privileged with the most authentic knowledge of the One True God. The way to the Father lies uniquely through the Son, only-begotten and consubstantial with the Father. He, and He alone, 'knows the Father' with complete knowledge, and 'no man cometh unto the Father, but by the Son'. Knowledge is acquired through prayer of the mind united with the heart, and our whole being given over to God. The heart is the spiritual centre of the human personality and the mind is enlightened through the heart. The monk knows the travail of launching the mind in the heart. But he knows, too, that this secret realm cannot be entered painlessly, and so he embarks willingly on the ascetic struggle. When the roots of the Tree of life press into the human heart the monk feels a sort of spiritual pain. In many ways suffering of the spirit is unlike physical suffering. Spiritual pain is the source of the energy needed to resist the pull of earthly attractions for the sake of that other divine and eternal world. Through this form of asceticism we may discover the hidden meaning of the apparnet paradoxes of the Beatitudes - Blessed are the poor in spirit; Blessed are they that mourn, Blesed are they which are persecuted; and so on.

The Possesed - Fyodor Dostoevsky

From Amazon's writeup:
Famous for accurately predicting twentieth-century totalitarianism, Dostoevsky’s The Possessed is an emphatic howl of protest against the fervor of revolution and terrorism that gripped Russia toward the end of the nineteenth century.

Based on a true event, in which a young revolutionary was murdered by his comrades, The Possessed provoked a storm of controversy for its harsh depiction of a ruthless band of Russian intellectuals, atheists, socialists, anarchists, and other radicals who attempt to incite the population of a small provincial town to revolt against the government. In contrast to Dostoevsky’s savage portrait of these radicals and the violent ideas that have possessed them like demons, the author expresses great sympathy for workers and other ordinary people ill-served by those who presume to speak in their name.

Often regarded as the greatest political novel ever written, The Possessed showcases Dostoevsky’s genius for characterization, his amazing insight into the human heart, and his shattering criticism of the desire to sway and control the thought and behavior of others.
In my estimation, this book lived up to the hype reflected in the writeup above. A free online copy of this book can be found here. Of the three Dostoevsky books I've read thus far, I would rank them as follows, from best to almost the best:
  1. Crime and Punishment
  2. The Possessed
  3. The Idiot
I've been saving what I expect to be the best, for last; namely: The Karamazov Brothers.

Standing in God's Holy Fire - John Anthony McGuckin

From the rear cover:
The Orthodox Byzantine tradition is still often undervalued and misunderstood in the Western churches, this book is a vivid introduction to leading figures, key themes and values of this this living and ancient form of Christian spirituality, which has endured and survived a recent history of systematic persecution. At the center of the Byzantine experience are ideas which western Christians share, and from which they still have much to learn beauty, endurance, and hopefulness. John Anthony McGuckin is a priest of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Professor of Early Church History at Union Theological Seminary, New York City, New York, and Adjunct Professor of Religion at Columbia University.
This book provided a good historical overview of Orthodox spirituality, covering many of the primary influences. I recommend this book to those seeking an introduction to the topic. Another introductory book, from a slightly different perspective, but worth reading, is Orthodox Spirituality: A Brief Introduction - Archimandrite Hiertheos Vlachos. Here is an excerpt from it:
Orthodox spirituality is the experience of life in Christ, the atmosphere of the new man, regenerated by the grace of God. It is not an abstract, emotional and psychological state of being. It is man's union with God. Within this framework we can detect some characteristic traits of Orthodox spirituality. It is firstly Christ-centred, since Christ is the one and only "remedy" for people, by virtue of the hypostatic unity of the divine and human nature in His person. Secondly, Orthodox spirituality is Holy Trinity-centred, since Christ is always united with the Father and the Holy Spirit. All the sacraments are performed in the name of the Triune God. Being the Head of the Church, Christ cannot be thought of as being outside of it. Consequently Orthodox spirituality is also Ecclesiastic-centred, since only within the Church can we come into communion with Christ. Finally, as we shall explain later, Orthodox spirituality is mystical and ascetical.

Orthodox Monk has posted some measured wisdom to a young man inquiring about monasticism. Here's an excerpt:
Moreover, there is a complicated psychological and spiritual matter here. We believe in Orthodoxy; we think it’s true. However, that does not mean that everyone who is interested in joining the Orthodox Church has completely pure motives. It is possible—especially given Justin’s age and the tendency at that age to rebellion—that his interest in the truth of Orthodoxy is mixed up with an adolescent arrogant rebellion against his parents’ values. In that case, as part of the process of becoming Orthodox, Justin, before he enters the Church, has to humble himself and purify his motives! It might be that his parents sense this—that he is not as spiritually inclined as he thinks he is—and that they see some aspects of his impure motives. This does not prevent Justin from becoming Orthodox—or even later a monk!—but it does complicate matters and does require that Justin humble himself so as to acquire a deeper appreciation of the weakness of human nature and in particular of the impure aspects of his own interest in Orthodoxy. If Justin is not free of such arrogant tendencies, later there will be a serious problem in his spiritual life and in such a case it is not out of the question that he might later either leave the monastery or, God forbid!, the Church.

Perry from Energetic Procession has posted some interesting considerations surrounding the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Here's the standard excerpt:
If Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith, who is the judge that is to apply the rule? And what authority does such a judge possess? It seems to me that Sola Scriptura includes the thesis of the right of private judgment, namely that every believer can make normatively binding judgments and that only a believer can make judgments that are binding upon his or her conscience. Further, if as Michael writes that advocates of Sola Scriptura hold that there were two sources of authority for the first say 400 years of the church, the one being tradition which was a summary, albeit a fallible one, of what was written by Scripture and accepted by the universal church, where is such a summary to be found? What document is a token of this summary? And what constitutes the “universal church?” Where is there an example of the “universal church” in the first four hundred years? If Protestants walked into that church, would they recognize it as their own in polity, worship, etc.? I don’t think so.

I've recently received, or have on order, the following additions to my library:

Sunday, June 22, 2008


I've recently stumbled upon what is in my opinion, a well-written wikipedia article, on the topic of theoria (click on the image to go to the article). Here's an excerpt:

Theoria (Greek θεωρία) is Greek for contemplation or perception of beauty as a moral faculty (OED). From within Eastern Orthodox theology it is "the vision of God" and theoria then also takes on a number of meanings that pertain to union with God (theosis), (theo-) and holiness, the quintessential goals of Christianity (see the Philokalia). The love of beauty, transcending the love of wisdom, manifesting in the love of God (theophilos). The vision of God being the culmination of Theophilos through hesychasm. The word has its origin in the Greek language as being akin to the word theory, or speculation as in "Beauty shall Save the World". This expression of the idea comes from a religious gnosiology perspective (rather than say, a scientific or cultural one), that apperception through faith in God (action through faith), leads to truth through our contemplative faculties.[1] It is used to express the experience of life as "one who watches a play or activity", the state of "being" is defined as spectator. Hence it means to focus ones attention exclusively to one thing and separate that object (by focus) exclusively, Beauty or God being the object of focus. The act of experiencing and or observing is through the nous or "eye of the soul". Matthew 6:22-6:34

Thursday, June 5, 2008


I've finished the following books in the last while:

Early Christian Attitudes toward Images - Steven Bigham

From the Orthodox Research Institute:
For all iconophiles, that is, those who accept the dogma of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, but especially the Orthodox who claim that the icon has a sacramental and mystical character, it is naturally disquieting to hear the claim that the early Christians were aniconic and iconophobic. If this claim is true, the theology and the veneration of the icon are seriously undermined. It is, therefore, natural for iconophiles to attempt to disprove the thesis according to which the early Christians had no images whatsoever (aniconic) because they believed them to be idols (iconophobic). It is equally natural for iconophiles to want to substantiate, as much as this is possible, their deep intuition that the roots of Christian iconography go back to the apostolic age. This study weakens the notion and credibility of the alleged hostility of the early Christians to non-idolatrous images, providing a more balanced evaluation of this question.
I found this book to be informative, both in terms of presenting some of the historical texts involved in the debate, and by delving into some contemporary archeological discoveries which shed new light upon various theories. The next book on icons which I plan on reading is: Images of the Divine: The Theology of Icons at the Seventh Ecumenical Council - A. Giakalis

The Monk of Mount Athos - Archimandrite Sophrony

An excerpt from the book:
What does the Christian understand by sin?
Sin is primarily a metaphysical phenonemon whose roots lie in the mystic depths of man's spiritual nature. The essence of sin consists not in the infringement of ethical standards but in a falling away from the divine eternal life for which man was made and to which, by his very nature, he is called.
Sin is committed first of all in the secret depths of the human spirit but its consequences distort the whole individual. A sin will reflect on a man's psychological and physical condition, on his outward appearance, on his personal destiny. Sin will, inevitably, pass beyond the boundaries of the sinner's own life to burden all humanity and thus affect the fate of the whole world. The sin of our forefather Adam was not the only sin of cosmic significance. Every sin, secret or manifest, committed by each one of us, has a bearing on the rest of the universe.

This was an exceptional book, although a scant 124 pages in length. This book is packed with profound insight into the Orthodox mind as acquired and lived by St. Silouan (click on the photo to read more about him).