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.

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