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).