Saturday, April 19, 2008

Tonsure and Quotations

I've done a little bit of research on the meaning of the tonsure (cutting of the hair) at baptism. The best insight comes from the actual service, as described here:

O MASTER, LORD OUR GOD, who has honored man with Thine own image, Thou hast fashioned him from a reason-endowed soul and a comely body (for the body serves the reason-endowed soul): for Thou hast set the head on high, and hast endowed it with the most important of the senses, which, nevertheless, do not impede one another; and Thou hast covered the head with hair, so it will not be injured by changes in the weather, and hast fitly joined together all his members, that he may give thanks with them unto Thee, the Great Designer. Thou, the same Master, through Thy chosen vessel, the Apostle Paul, hast given us a commandment that we should do all things to Thy glory: Bless, now, Thy servant, (name), who is come to make a first offering shorn from the hair of his head, and likewise his Sponsor; and grant that they may all exercise themselves in Thy law, and do those things which are well pleasing in Thy sight.

For Thou art a merciful God, who lovest mankind, and unto Thee do we give glory, to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Choir: Amen.

Taking the scissors, the priest cuts the hair of the newly-baptized person in the form of a cross.

Priest: The servant of God, (name), is tonsured in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Choir: Amen.

The cutting of the hair signifies a man's submission to God.

Priest: Glory to Thee, O Christ our God and our hope, glory to Thee.

Choir: Glory to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen. Lord, have mercy; Lord, have mercy; Lord, have mercy. Father, bless.

Priest: May Christ our true God, through the intercessions of His most pure Mother, and of all the Saints, have mercy on us and save us, forasmuch as He is good and loves mankind.

Choir: Amen

An OCA article states:
After the baptism and chrismation the person newly-received into God's family is tonsured. The tonsure, which is the cutting of hair from the head in the sign of the cross, is the sign that the person completely offers himself to God -- hair being the symbol of strength (Jud 16:17).


The following is from the first rung of The Ladder of Divine Ascent, St. John Climacus:
Those who aim at ascending with the body to Heaven, indeed need violence and constant suffering, especially in the early stages of their renunciation, until our pleasure-loving dispositions and unfeeling hearts attain to love of God and chastity by manifest sorrow. This is a great toil, very great indeed, with much unseen suffering, especially for those who live carelessly, until by simplicity, deep angerlessnesss and diligence, we make our mind, which is a greedy kitchen dog addicted to barking, a lover of chastity and watchfulness. But let us who are weak and passionate have the courage to offer our infirmity and natural weakness to Christ with unhesitating faith, and confess it to him; and we shall be certain to obtain his help, even beyond our worth, if only we continually plunge the depth of humility.

The following is from My Life in Christ, Saint John of Kronstadt:
The problem of our life is union with God, and sin completely prevents this; therefore flee from sin as from a terrible enemy, as from the destroyer of the soul, because to be without God is death and not life. Let us therefore understand our destination; let us always remember that our common Master calls us to union with himself.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Holy Unction

Tonight was the service of Holy Unction. This was a very special occasion attended by the bishop, three priests and what I believe was a deacon.

On another note, I've found an interesting collection of video talks by Bishop Lazar of All Saints Monastery, here.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Received into Orthodoxy

Today I was received into Orthodoxy via baptism and chrismation; following which, I partook of the Eucharist for the first time.

April 14th will commemorate St. Martin the Confessor, Pope of Rome. St. Martin the Confessor was a contemporary of St. Maximus the Confessor; both of whom suffered on account of their opposition to the Monothelite heresy.

Click on the icon to read more about St. Martin.

Troparion (Tone 3)

You strengthened the Church with true doctrine,
Wise hierarch Martin.
You declared the two natures of Christ,
Putting heresy to shame.
Entreat the Lord to grant us His great mercy.

Kontakion (Tone 8)

High Priest and teacher of the mysteries,
You poured forth streams of doctrine.
You expounded the true doctrine of the two natures and wills of Christ.
Intercede for those who cry: "Rejoice, blessed Father Martin."

Monday, April 7, 2008


The Non-Orthodox: The Orthodox Teaching on Christians Outside the Church - Patrick Barnes
Is a person required to believe that everyone outside of the Church is damned? As we demonstrated in previous chapters, the affirmation that heterodox Christians are separated from the Church does not imply that we pass judgment on them or make any pronouncements about their eternal destiny. “[B]ut he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts. . . .” (I Cor. 4:4-5). In keeping with Her apophatic mindset, the Church remains circumspect. Therefore, to state that there is “no salvation outside of the Church” is not the same as stating “no one outside of the Church can be saved.”
This is a good article which addresses the apophatic approach to those outside of the Church without diluting the exclusivity of the Church with relativistic pluralism.

The Iconic and Symbolic in Orthodox Iconography - Bishop Auxentios
In his now classical treatment of the subject [The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church], the Russian theologian Vladimir Lossky makes a Patristic distinction between two ways of theologizing, these, in turn, based on corresponding approaches to knowing and experiencing of God. This distinction is so significant, that Lossky uses it as a focal point in every subdivision of his theological inquiry (e.g., Trinitarian theology, Christology, cosmology, anthropology, etc.). The first of these ways is the cataphatic or "positive" way, and corresponds to man's normal way of relating to his world. It involves, above all, affirmation. From this perspective, we would speak of God in normal cognitive categories, attributing to him such characteristics as supreme good, truth, justice, mercy, love, beauty, compassion, and so on. This first way, this "natural" way, Lossky argues, must rest on constant qualifications and is strongly limited by comparison to a second apophatic, or "negative," way. This second way is ultimately more appropriate to the objective of knowing God or of theologizing. From this more accurate perspective, the human language can only be used to deny or to express negation. Human cognition becomes a method of negation, rather than affirmation, and truth rises above (simply because it lies beyond) cognitive knowledge. Here, one who truly loves, experiences, and knows God (to the extent that such is humanly possible) is compelled to speak as follows: "God is not good, truth, justice, etc. It is not, of course, that God is the opposite of these things (evil, falsehood, injustice...); rather, these characteristics must be refuted, since they are the products of human experience of the created universe. God, being uncreated and, in His divine essence, wholly transcendent, cannot, in the depths of His being, in the internal life of the Trinity, be known in any cognitive manner whatever.
This article, cited in part above, addresses the apophatic approach as it concerns theology.

God, History, and Dialectic: The Theological Foundations of the Two Europes and their Cultural Consequences - Joseph Farrell

Ok, I haven't finished this book yet; in fact, I'm only a short way into volume 1. However, I couldn't help but share a bit. I've provided a couple of contextual clarifications, which are hopefully not confusions in: [ -- M].
For the First Europe [i.e.: Orthodox -- M], the divine ubiquity is not a generalized metaphysical truth about God's essence derived from philosophical speculation, but rather a divine-human reality accomplished in the events surrounding Christ's Crucifixion, Burial, Resurrection, Ascension, and Second Coming. In a sense, he First Europe understands the order of questions differently. The Second Europe [i.e.: Augustinian, Latinized / Protestant -- M] argues from the divine ubiquity and generalized philosophical conceptions about God's Essence to their generalized characteristics, or Attributes, and only at the end of its thought comes to "historical" manifestation and application, the Persons. This is its classic ordo theologiae or "order of doing theology: Essence, Attributes, Persons. but the First Europe argues from their historical manifestation to their generalized conception; God is, so to speak, ubiquitous because the Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are understood to have done certain things, "Operations" [Greek word omitted -- M], and on that basis, concludes certain things about the essence underlying the operations which the Persons do. This is its classical ordo theologiae: Persons, Operations, Essence. Thus, the religious mentalities of th Two Europes not only start in exactly opposite places, but proceed in opposite directions, and at the crucial second stage, refer to a fundamental category of metaphysical thought by different terms, one indicating something static, and the other something dynamic. More will be said about the First Europe's ordo theologiae in the Second Chapter; suffice it for the present to point out its personalism, as distinct from the Second Europe's impersonalism.
Fascinating stuff.

Fantasy - Orthodox Monk
This Orthodox understanding of fantasy is grounded in a deep understanding of human psychology. Fantasy is the world of images and dreams that draw their force from our passions. As we have remarked, our passions are our emotional tendencies to sin. Fantasy is the world of images and dreams provoked by our passions. Indulgence in these images and dreams stimulates the passion further. And recall that there are eight passions, not just the obvious one.

Moreover, at the risk of alienating some of our more Westernized readers, the demons are the disembodied intelligences with a hatred for God (whatever those demons say and teach) that both provoke the images and dreams by stimulating our passions and teach us false doctrine.

This article tweaked my interest in terms of considering the propriety of watching a movie like Mel Gibson's: The Passion of Christ. I'm not prepared to unpack a necessary relation which impugns the latter, but the potential relation intrigues me. The following quotation from here, is in a similar vein:

The idea of spiritual senses of the mind (nous) analogous but not identical to the bodily sense organs is fundamental to Evagrian contemplative psychology. It is with these spiritual or mental ‘organs’ or faculties that the ascetic will contemplate. This has nothing to do with the visualization of angels, Heaven, the Passion, Resurrection or Ascension of Christ and so on, in the sense of directed fantasy or imagination. Something else is involved, and that something else is expressed by the formula: ‘…but the intelligible eye either has not seen, or, when it sees, it immediately surrounds from all sides that which it sees.’ This ‘surrounding from all sides’ conveys the complete cognition of the object being contemplated at whatever stage of contemplation the ascetic is; that is the import of this chapter concerning the five spiritual senses. They should not be considered to be ‘shadow’ bodily sense organs superimposed on the body. Evagrius is describing metaphorically certain operations of intuitive apprehension or cognition by the mind (nous). However, it is well to bear in mind the qualification introduced by Evagrius in Gnostic 40, that the gnostic apprehends the reasons (logoi) of objects of sense in proportion to his measure and that only the Christ possesses the first reason (logos) of any object. Hence, this surrounding from all sides is in proportion to the spiritual measure of the ascetic.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Saint John Climacus

Today is the fourth Sunday of Great Lent, commemorating Saint John Climacus. St John authored a book entitled: The Ladder of Divine Ascent.

From the reading here:
The Ladder of Divine Ascent, is a sure guide to the ascetic life, written by a great man of prayer experienced in all forms of the monastic polity; it teaches the seeker after salvation how to lay a sound foundation for his struggles, how to detect and war against each of the passions, how to avoid the snares laid by the demons, and how to rise from the rudimental virtues to the heights of Godlike love and humility. It is held in such high esteem that it is universally read in its entirety in monasteries during the Great Fast.
Perhaps becoming Orthodox is to mount the ladder on the first rung. It seems that the podvig, the struggle, of Orthodoxy, is inseparable from Orthodoxy itself. So, on that note, here is an excerpt from Step 1, point 4:
Monasticism is an angelic order and state achieved in an earthly and soiled body. A monk is one who holds only to the commands of God in every time and place and matter. A monk is one who constantly constrains his nature and unceasingly watches over his senses. A monk is he who keeps his body in chastity, his mouth pure and his mind illumined. A monk is a mourning soul that both asleep and awake is unceasingly occupied with the remembrance of death. Withdrawal from the world is voluntary hatred of vaunted material things and denial of nature for the attainment of what is above nature.
Although the immediate audience is monastics, I agree with what was written here:
The monastic life is modeled after the life of the Angels and monks are supposed to set the example of good spiritual life for lay people.
I've begun reading two books (more to follow upon completion):

So, for the recently completed reading:

The Idiot - Fyodor Dostoevsky

Wikipedia has a good description of the plot (warning spoilers), and the following is from Amazon:
After his great portrayal of a guilty man in Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky set out in The Idiot to portray a man of pure innocence. The twenty-six-year-old Prince Myshkin, following a stay of several years in a Swiss sanatorium, returns to Russia to collect an inheritance and “be among people.” Even before he reaches home he meets the dark Rogozhin, a rich merchant’s son whose obsession with the beautiful Nastasya Filippovna eventually draws all three of them into a tragic denouement. In Petersburg the prince finds himself a stranger in a society obsessed with money, power, and manipulation. Scandal escalates to murder as Dostoevsky traces the surprising effect of this “positively beautiful man” on the people around him, leading to a final scene that is one of the most powerful in all of world literature.
I enjoyed this book, but not as much as Crime and Punishment. This may have had something to do with reading the book over the course of a few months and the difficulty of keeping track of characters who are called by a variety of names in true Russian style (or maybe not, I actually don't know much about Russian style).

The Forgotten Medicine: The Mystery of Repentance - Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev

From Saint Herman Press:
In THE FORGOTTEN MEDICINE, the renowned Bulgarian spiritual father Archimandrite Seraphim (†1993) details the reasons many give for not coming to Confession, and for each of these he clearly brings forth the truth of the matter. For those who feel awkward because of not knowing how to approach Confession, he explains in depth how to prepare beforehand and what to do afterwards.
This was a short, but interesting and informative book on the Orthodox sacrament of Confession.

On Miracles and Signs - Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov

An excerpt:
“Many,” says Isaac of Syria, “performed signs, resurrected the dead, laboured in the conversion of the lost, performed great miracles, and after this, they themselves, who had given life to others, fell into evil and the abomination of passions and gave themselves over to death” (Homily 56). Blessed Macarius the Great tells us that a certain ascetic who lived near him received the gift of healing in such abundance that he would heal the sick with just the laying on of hands, but being glorified by men, he became proud and fell into the very depth of sin (Conversation XXVII, ch.16). In the Life of the venerable Anthony the Great, a certain young monk is mentioned who ruled over wild beasts in the desert. When the great one heard of this miracle he expressed distrust in the spiritual condition of the miracle worker. Not long after word came of the grievous fall of the monk (Alphabetical Patericon).
As per the excerpt above, this article provides some weighty considerations when it comes to miracles and their proper context. In Orthodoxy I've found an ordo theologiae which begins with the revelatory Triadology and Christology found in Holy Scripture and Tradition, and upon that foundation, proceeds to a dogmatic and mystical context for the miraculous.

The Path of Reason in Search of the Truth - A.I. Osipov

An excerpt from the article:
APOLOGETICS (Greek apologia— protection, justification, intercession; a speech, said or written in someone’s defense; apologeomai — to defend oneself, to justify oneself, to state or present in one’s personal defense) in the general sense is any kind of defense of Christianity from the accusations and criticism of its enemies; in the specific sense — a branch of theology, whose goal is to reveal and substantiate the truths of Christian faith, and which has to give an answer to anyone asking, or to refute the incorrect religious, philosophic or other world views which stand in opposition to Christianity.
This was a book-length article on apologetics from a Russian perspective. Within, an eclectic collection of topics are given a cursory treatment. The article's interaction with a variety of philosophies and scientific theories is interesting, and if nothing else, will provide the reader with a better awareness of the considerations which factor into an apologetical endeavour.

Heaven & Hell in the Afterlife, According to the Bible - Peter Chopelas

An excerpt:

The idea that God is an angry figure who sends those He condemns to a place called Hell, where they spend eternity in torment separated from His presence, is missing from the Bible and unknown in the early church. While Heaven and Hell are decidedly real, they are experiential conditions rather than physical places, and both exist in the presence of God. In fact, nothing exists outside the presence of God.

This is not the way traditional Western Christianity, Roman Catholic or Protestant, has envisioned the afterlife. In Western thought Hell is a location, a place where God punishes the wicked, where they are cut off from God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet this concept occurs nowhere in the Bible, and does not exist in the original languages of the Bible.

While there is no question that according to the scriptures there is torment and "gnashing of teeth" for the wicked, and glorification for the righteous, and that this judgment comes from God, these destinies are not separate destinations. The Bible indicates that everyone comes before God in the next life, and it is because of being in God's presence that they either suffer eternally, or experience eternal joy. In other words, both the joy of heaven, and the torment of judgment, is caused by being eternally in the presence of the Almighty, the perfect and unchanging God.

This article was a good explication of the Orthodox view of heaven and hell insofar as I've encountered it in my limited study of the topic. This is another topic where I find the implications of Orthodox anthropology and theology to be quite fascinating. Another interesting treatment can be found here.