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.

Synaxarion
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.

Synaxarion

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 na├»ve.