Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bright Wednesday

Christ is Risen!

Here is the Paschal Oration of St Gregory the Theologian, upon which much of the Paschal Canon is based:

I. It is the Day of the Resurrection, and my Beginning has good auspices. Let us then keep the Festival with splendour, Isaiah 66:5 and let us embrace one another. Let us say Brethren, even to those who hate us; much more to those who have done or suffered anything out of love for us. Let us forgive all offences for the Resurrection's sake: let us give one another pardon, I for the noble tyranny which I have suffered (for I can now call it noble); and you who exercised it, if you had cause to blame my tardiness; for perhaps this tardiness may be more precious in God's sight than the haste of others. For it is a good thing even to hold back from God for a little while, as did the great Moses of old, Exodus 4:10 and Jeremiah Jeremiah 1:6 later on; and then to run readily to Him when He calls, as did Aaron Exodus 4:27 and Isaiah, Isaiah 1:6 so only both be done in a dutiful spirit;— the former because of his own want of strength; the latter because of the Might of Him That calls.

II. A Mystery anointed me; I withdrew a little while at a Mystery, as much as was needful to examine myself; now I come in with a Mystery, bringing with me the Day as a good defender of my cowardice and weakness; that He Who today rose again from the dead may renew me also by His Spirit; and, clothing me with the new Man, may give me to His New Creation, to those who are begotten after God, as a good modeller and teacher for Christ, willingly both dying with Him and rising again with Him.

III. Yesterday the Lamb was slain and the door-posts were anointed, and Egypt bewailed her Firstborn, and the Destroyer passed us over, and the Seal was dreadful and reverend, and we were walled in with the Precious Blood. Today we have clean escaped from Egypt and from Pharaoh; and there is none to hinder us from keeping a Feast to the Lord our God— the Feast of our Departure; or from celebrating that Feast, not in the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but in the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, 1 Corinthians 5:8 carrying with us nothing of ungodly and Egyptian leaven.

IV. Yesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him; yesterday I died with Him; today I am quickened with Him; yesterday I was buried with Him; today I rise with Him. But let us offer to Him Who suffered and rose again for us— you will think perhaps that I am going to say gold, or silver, or woven work or transparent and costly stones, the mere passing material of earth, that remains here below, and is for the most part always possessed by badmen, slaves of the world and of the Prince of the world. Let us offer ourselves, the possession most precious to God, and most fitting; let us give back to the Image what is made after the Image. Let us recognize our Dignity; let us honour our Archetype; let us know the power of the Mystery, and for what Christ died.

V. Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. Let us become God's for His sake, since He for ours became Man. He assumed the worse that He might give us the better; He became poor that we through His poverty might be rich; 2 Corinthians 8:9 He took upon Him the form of a servant that we might receive back our liberty; He came down that we might be exalted; He was tempted that we might conquer; He was dishonoured that He might glorify us; He died that He might save us; He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were lying low in the Fall of sin. Let us give all, offer all, to Him Who gave Himself a Ransom and a Reconciliation for us. But one can give nothing like oneself, understanding the Mystery, and becoming for His sake all that He became for ours.

VI. As you see, He offers you a Shepherd; for this is what your Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep, is hoping and praying for, and he asks from you his subjects; and he gives you himself double instead of single, and makes the staff of his old age a staff for yourspirit. And he adds to the inanimate temple a living one; to that exceedingly beautiful and heavenly shrine, this poor and small one, yet to him of great value, and built too with much sweat and many labours. Would that I could say it is worthy of his labours. And he places at your disposal all that belongs to him (O great generosity!— or it would be truer to say, O fatherly love!) his hoar hairs, his youth, the temple, the high priest, the testator, the heir, the discourses which you were longing for; and of these not such as are vain and poured out into the air, and which reach no further than the outward ear; but those which theSpirit writes and engraves on tables of stone, or of flesh, not merely superficially graven, nor easily to be rubbed off, but marked very deep, not with ink, but with grace.

VII. These are the gifts given you by this august Abraham, this honourable and reverend Head, this Patriarch, this Restingplace of all good, this Standard of virtue, this Perfection of the Priesthood, who today is bringing to the Lord his willing Sacrifice, his only Son, him of the promise. Do you on your side offer to God and to us obedience to your Pastors, dwelling in a place of herbage, and being fed by water of refreshment; knowing your Shepherd well, and being known by him; John 10:14 and following when he calls you as a Shepherd frankly through the door; but not following a stranger climbing up into the fold like a robber and a traitor; nor listening to a strange voice when such would take you away by stealth and scatter you from the truth on mountains, Ezekiel 34:6 and in deserts, and pitfalls, and places which the Lord does not visit; and would lead you away from the sound Faith in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the One Power and Godhead, Whose Voice my sheep always heard (and may they always hear it), but with deceitful and corrupt words would tear them from their true Shepherd. From which may we all be kept, Shepherd and flock, as from a poisoned and deadly pasture; guiding and being guided far away from it, that we may all be one in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and unto the heavenly rest. To Whom be the glory and the might for ever and ever. Amen.

It's Later Than You Think!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bright Monday

Christ is Risen!

Here is the Bright Monday Sermon of Archbishop Andrei (Rymarenko, 1893-1978) of Rockland, of blessed memory:
Have you noticed, brothers and sisters, how the Holy Church concluded for us the great time which we call the Lenten Triodion? During the entire Lenten Triodion the Holy Church was waking up our heart, was revealing to us all the states of emotion connected with our heart. We had, as it were, to look at what is within us. And when this was manifested in us, then we approached the Cross and the Book of the Gospels and received the promise which the Lord has given to us: "Receive ye the Holy Spirit," said the Lord to His disciples; ‘Whose so ever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose so ever sins ye retain, they are retained" (Jn. 20:22-23). And trusting in this daring of the Church, we received, in the Sacrament of Confession, forgiveness.

But after receiving the sanctification of our soul, of our heart, we must continue our way. Here is what the Holy Church gives us: after Golgotha, after the carrying out of the Shroud, after that great moment when we heard, or rather, performed the burial of the Savior, the way on which the Holy Church was leading us seems to change. Up to this moment, we were instructed by readings from Holy Scripture, from the writings of the Holy Fathers. The purpose of all this was to make it possible for us to go more deeply within ourselves.

And now begins, as it were, a different method: the Church gives us symbols. Here, during Holy Night we are given a symbol: in a darkened church we hear the angelic singing, telling us about the Resurrection of Christ. And we begin our way. Before us is elevated the Cross. High, before our eyes — the images of the Saints, the Heavenly Queen, who have become our fellow-travelers into heavenly life. We walk around the church, and this path we are walking on is uneven: there are bumps, stones, and sand. At the same time it is dark. We stumble, we walk unevenly, weaving. We’re on the point of falling, and yet we go on. Before us are signs — the Cross and the holy images. At the same time in church, it is beginning to get light, we see it through the windows. And we know we have to enter this Church. But will we enter? Will we not remain in this darkness forever? Will we not fall? Or will we enter just the same?

And here the Holy Church shows us this way. We are walking around the church. And at the same time, what is going on? The choir is singing. With the angels we are singing and glorifying our Creator. So the Holy Church represents in symbols the way we must go through this year. Maybe the Lord will take us, or maybe once more we will visibly enter the church where the Resurrected Christ will be glorified; and the Grace of Resurrection will enter into communion with our soul.

So yesterday should have gone by under the impression of this symbol. At the end of this day the Church gives us a bright, festive service, where in the Gospel reading, the gift of the Resurrected Lord is given to us. "Peace be unto you" (Lk. 24:36). And we should keep this peace. With this feeling we should have performed today’s first festal Liturgy in daylight. Now it is pointed out to us what we still have to do. And this is what. Back there we were walking in night; we did not see what was around us. But now we are already in the Lord. Peace has rested in our heart. And now we will also walk with the sign of the Cross, with the sign of the Saints; but now we will walk in the light of the sun which, in a spiritual sense, is the result of the Lord’s plan of salvation for us. The Lord has shown us His light and Resurrection. Now we too must walk, but not silently; everywhere we are glorifying the Risen Lord. The Gospel itself orders us: Go and preach to all the nations (Mt. 28:19; Mk. 16:15; Lk. 24:47). Listen, brothers and sisters, to all the nations. About what? — that Christ is risen!

Therefore, do not think that what we are now performing is something of the past. No. It is necessary for our Christian psychology. The purpose is so that yesterday and today will be deeply inscribed on our heart, on our whole life, and will determine all the remaining moments of our life. Because now, not symbolically, but in our experience it will be necessary for us to meet each other, to decide different questions, family and social. At such moments we must remember that, of course, there will be bumps; there will be sand and stones. But all this will not be tragic if we only look upon the Cross of the Lord and the Risen Christ, Who gives us the light of understanding that our life is not here; but that there is eternal life and eternal existence.

May the Lord help us to feel and experience this!
Truly He is Risen!

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And to those in the tombs Bestowing life!

Today is the Feast of Feasts, the Lord's Pascha.

The Paschal Epistle of Archbishop Hilarion of Sydney, Australia, and New Zealand, Deputy of the President of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia can be read here.

At Archimandrite Ephrem's site you will find the full text of the Midnight Office read before the Paschal Procession; and the full text of the Paschal Procession, Matins, Hours, and Liturgy
. Moreover, If you're genuinely interested in how the Fathers made use of the Scriptures in composing the liturgical services, then you simply must read this commentary on St John of Damascus' Paschal Canon.

Here follows the stirring Paschal Homily of Our Father Among the Saints, John Chrysostom, which is read towards the end of the Paschal Matins:
If any man be devout and loveth God,

Let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast!
If any man be a wise servant,
Let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.

If any have laboured long in fasting,
Let him how receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour,
Let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour,
Let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour,
Let him have no misgivings;
Because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour,
Let him draw near, fearing nothing.
And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour,
Let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.

For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour,
Will accept the last even as the first.
He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour,
Even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour.
And He showeth mercy upon the last,
And careth for the first;
And to the one He giveth,
And upon the other He bestoweth gifts.
And He both accepteth the deeds,
And welcometh the intention,
And honoureth the acts and praises the offering.

Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord;
Receive your reward,
Both the first, and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival!
You sober and you heedless, honour the day!
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted
And you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith:
Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one bewail his poverty,
For the universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities,
For pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death,
For the Saviour's death has set us free.
He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.

By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:
Hell, said he, was embittered
When it encountered Thee in the lower regions.

It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
Is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion
Unto ages of ages; Amen.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh added the following words after reading this homily on Pascha, 1991:

If I may I wish to add just a few words of my own. Christ is life and the victory of life. In the world in which He came, death was prevalent and seemed to be all-powerful over men; when He came, He defeated death by His resurrection. And nowadays we live in a world which is full of torment, of pain, of fear, of murder, of death, and we may say, “But where is the victory?”.. The victory is in each of us, the victory is in all those of us who believe that death cannot separate us from God, that death is no longer a victory of evil over us, but a triumph of us through our faith, because death is no longer separation. Saint Paul says that for him death is a meeting with Christ; as long as he lives in the flesh he is separated, partly, from God. But with his death he enters in full unity and communion with Him. This is our faith, but there is more to it in a sense, because life is triumphant in our midst. However frightening and dark the world is nowadays, we know that victory has already been won, that God has won and that we who believe in Him partake together with Him in His victory. And therefore, let us bring, to all around us, this message of life and glory!

Christ is risen!

Deacon Matthew Steenberg provides the following valuable links, along with a wealth of other resources for Pascha:
Here are a few more links I've come across:

NB: Please remain patient with me over the next following days or possibly weeks; I am at the moment borrowing a computer with a completely different keyboard layout, which makes even the simplest typing much more difficult than it should be. There is also a chance that I will be moved to another diocese in the immediate future, which would complicate matters even further. So please be patient and understanding: I'm doing the best I can!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Fear Not, Little Flock!

Holy Week can be as much a time of darkness and temptation as of light and grace. A whole big bundle of temptations has gotten in the way of blogging this week. God willing, all will go back to normal sometime during Bright Week.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

That's All Folks

Due to unforeseen circumstances, I will be going completely off-line for the time being. I won't be able to reply to emails sent to either of my addresses (i.e., my personal address, and the one given on this site).

Holy and Great Tuesday

Today is celebrated – as was yesterday and as will be tomorrow – the Bridegroom Service. Today the liturgical texts refer chiefly to the parable of the Ten Virgins (25: 1-13), which is the general theme of the Bridegroom Service, while also referring to the parable of the Talents (Mt 25: 14-30).
  • St John Chrysostom's Homily on Mt 25:1-30 (which comments on both parables) can be read here.
  • St Augustine's sermon on the words "Then shall the Kingdom of Heaven be likened unot ten virgins" (Mt 25:1) is here.
  • St Augustine's sermon on the words "where the slothful servant who would not put out the talent he had received, is condemned" (Mt 25:24) is here.
Illustration: Icon of the Parable of the Ten Virgins; notice how Christ is depicted as a young man.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Examining the Logic of Creation

St Theodore the Studite, in his 68th Catechesis, writes:
Brethren and fathers, because winter has passed and spring has arrived, we see creation flourishing again; the plants are flowering, the earth is growing green, the birds are singing and everything else is being renewed; and we take pleasure in all this and we glorify God the master craftsman who transforms and changes creation year by year, and it is reasonable to do so. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made [Rom. 1:20]. It is our duty not just to stay where we are, but to advance further and to examine carefully for ourselves the logic of creation. How? Because this renewal has winter as its cause. It would not have reached its prime had it not first undergone snows and rains and winds. And so it is with the soul; unless it is first snowed on by afflictions, troubles and difficulties, it will not flower, it will not fruit; but by enduring, it bears fruit and partakes in a blessing from God, as it is written: Ground that drinks up the rain falling on it repeatedly, and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is cultivated, partakes in a blessing from God [Heb. 6:7]. Therefore, brethren, let us also endure every affliction, every trouble, every trial which assails us both visibly and invisibly, the fast we are drawing out as we hunger and thirst and are otherwise made wretched, so that we may bear fruit and partake of God's blessing; and not only that, but that we may nourish and welcome Jesus as our guest. For just as we enjoy the sight of creation, so he too enjoys the ripe beauty of our souls. What are the fruits? Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-mastery [Gal. 5:22]. By these he is nourished, by these he is entertained.
This essay makes a good companion piece.

The Fathers on Reading Scripture XVI (b)

Continued from part one.

St Gregory of Nyssa, in the preface to his homilies on the Song of Songs, writes:
We know, moreover, tht the divine Word Himself, Who is worshiped above all creation (see Ps 19: 1-7, Deut 32:43, Heb 1:6), when in the likeness of man and in the form of flesh (see Phil 2:7), transmitted divine mysteries, so revealing to us the concepts of the law – that the two men whose testimony is true are actually Himself and the Father (see Jn 8:17-18 and Deut 19:15), and the brazen serpent that was lifted up, which served the people as a remedy for death-dealing bites, is to be understood as the dispensation that has come about for us through the Cross (see Jn 3:14 and Num 21:8). And training the shrewdness of His holy disciples themselves through revealed and hidden words, in parables, in similitudes, in dark sayings, and in apothegms that are brought forward through riddles, concerning which, taking them aside, He provided the interpretations, resolving the obscurity for them (see Mt 13:34-36). There were occasions when, if those who were speaking did not comprehend the meaning, He reproached their slowness and lack of wit. When He told them to avoid the leaven of the Pharisees, they abjectly looked in their pouches, in which they had not provided for themselves rations of bread; He then corrected those who did not understand, explaining that the teaching was what was intended by the leaven (see Mt 16:6-12). Again, when the disciples were preparing a mean for Him, He answered them with the words "I have food to eat of which you do not know," while they understood Him to be referring to corporeal food that had somehow been brought to Him in another way, but He interpreted His own words, that the appropriate food for Him was to fulfill the Savior's will (see Jn 4:31-34).

In this manner, we can gather together many such instances from phrases in the Gospels in which one thing is understood in the immediate sense of the words, but the meaning of the words has another purpose. Examples are the water promised to those who thirst, which wells up in streams for those who believe (see Jn 7:37-38 and 4:13-14); the bread that came down from heaven (see Jn 6:53); the temple destroyed and raised up in three days (Jn 2:19); the way (Jn 14:5); the door (Jn 10:9); the stone rejected by the builders, which had become the head of the corner (see Ps [117] 118:12 and Lk 17:34); the two lying in one bed, the mill, the woman grinding, the one taken, and the one left (Mt 21:41); the body and the eagles (Mt 24:28); and the fig tree that had become tender and put forth shoots (Mt 24:32). In all these cases and others like them, it is incumbent on us to search the Scriptures (see Jn 5:39) and to pay careful attention to the reading and to track it down in every way, if we can somehow find a meaning more lofty than the immediate sense of the words guiding our thoughts to things more divine and incorporeal.

For this reason, the fruit from the tree that is forbidden to eat we do not believe to ahve been a fig, as some have held, or any other product of a fruit-bearing tree (see Gen 2:16-17). If the fig were to cause death, not every food would now be permitted, but we have learned this is so from the voice of the Lord, Who made this pronouncement: "there is nothing outside a man that by going into him can defile him" (Mk 7:15), but in this law we must seek a different meaning, worthy of the majesty of the Lawgiver. And if we hear that Paradise was the work of God's planting (see Gen 2:8-9), and if the tree of life was planted in the midst of Paradise, we should seek from that which is revealed to learn the hidden mysteries concerning those things of the Father in the farmer and the gardener and how it is possible that there are two trees in the midst of Paradise, one of salvation and one of destruction. That which is exactly in the middle, as within the circumference of a circle, can only be at one point. If, however, there should be another center set in another place alongside the center, it is necessary that the whole circle be moved with the center. Since there was one Paradise, why does the word say in a peculiar way that another of the trees could be seen and that both the one and the other were in the midst? Does not the Bible contradict the notion that one of the trees was death bearing when it says that all God's works were very good (see Gen 1:31)? In these things, if someone does not have some insight into the truth through philosophy, what is said will seem to be inconsistent or mythical to those who are inattentive.
Taken from this edition.

Holy and Great Monday

On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week the following troparion, based on the parable of the Ten Virgins (Mt 25: 1-13) is chanted thrice at the beginning of Matins (hear it chanted in Slavonic here and here):
Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night; and blessed in the servant whom He shall find watching, but unworthy is he whom He shall find in slothfulness. Beware, then, O my soul, and be not overcome by sleep, lest though be given over to death and shut out from the Kingdom. But return to soberness and cry aloud: Holy, holy, holy are Thou, O God: through the Theotokos have mercy upon us.
Later in the same service, a similarly eschatological hymn, this time based on the parable of the man cast out from the feast because he had no wedding garment (Mt 22: 11-13) is likewise chanted three times (listen here):
I see Thy bridal chamber adorned, O my Saviour, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter there. Make the robe of my soul to shine, O Giver of Light, and save me.
Each day also has its own special commemorations. Today we commemorate the Patriarch Joseph, whose innocent suffering prefigures Christ's Passion (Gen 37 and 39-40), and the barren fig tree cursed by the Lord (Mat 21: 18-20), which stands as a symbol of judgment.

For more on the Bridegroom Service – as Matins on Holy Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday is called – see here and here. St John Chrysostom's homily on the Ten Virgins can be read here; his homily on the parable of the Wedding Feast can be found here. St Augustine's homily on the parable of the Fig Tree is here. For more on Holy Week in general, see here.

Illustration: The Patriarch Joseph in Exile.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Fathers on Reading Scripture XVI (a)

St Gregory of Nyssa prefaces his homilies on the Song of Songs with these words:
Greetings in the Lord to Olympias, most worth of reverence, from Gregory the bishop of Nyssa.

I have approved your zeal concerning the Song of Songs, with which you have instructed me in person and by letters, as appropriate to your reverent life and pure soul, so that by the appropriate insight there may be manifested the philosophy hidden in the words, cleansed of the obvious meaning of the text as it stands in simple sense of the words. Therefore I have eagerly accepted your concern about this, not as if it could be useful to you in terms of morals (I am persuaded that the eye of your soul is pure from any perception sullied by passion and that it is able to look without embarrassment toward simply grace through these divine words), but so that those more fleshly than you are might have guidance toward the spiritual and immaterial condition of the soul toward which this book leads through its hidden wisdom.

Because it seems to some churchman that the letter of sacred Scripture is always to be adhered to, and they do not admit that anything at all useful to us in it is said by means of riddles and deeper meanings, I first conisder it necessary to respond to those who accuse us of these things and to show that we are not out of line in searching out in every way possible what is useful in the divinely inspired scripture (see 2 Tim 3:16). Even if the letter, as it is called, should be somewhat useful to the reader (since it readily yields the meaning one is concerned with), if something is spoken that is concealed in deeper meaning and riddles, it is idle in its usefulness to us as far as the immediate sense is concerned. For this reason, the Logos educating us through Proverbs guides us to ponder such words, so as to understand whether what is said is spoken as "a proverb," as "a figure," as a "word of the wise," or as "riddles" (see Prov 1:6).

We shall not quibble over which term – "insight (theoria) through elevation," figurative interpretation," "allegory," or whatever else one chooses to call it – as long as that term is joined to useful concepts. The great Apostle himself, saying that "the law is spiritual" (Rom 7:14), included in the word "law" even the historical narratives, for all divinely inspired Scripture is law to those reading it, educating not only through manifest words of command but through historical narratives to knowledge of mysteries and to pure behavior those who attend to it carefully. Paul used it in his interpretation as it seemed best to him, looking toward what is useful. He did not bother about what terms he used to describe this form of interpretation. But how he says that the phrase changes, as he is about to translate the history into demonstration of the dispensation of the two covenants. When he mentions the two children of Abraham, those born to him from bondage and from freedom, he calls the insight concerning them "allegory" (see Gal 4:24). Again, narrating something from history, he says: "These things happened to them in a typical way, but they were written down for our exhortation" (1 Cor 10:11). Again, when he said: "You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treating out the grain," he added "It is for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake?" (see 1 Cor 13:12). Again, the transition from corporeal things to those that are intellectual he calls "turning to the Lord" and "lifting the veil" (see 2 Cor 3:16).

Nevertheless, in all these diverse ways and terms for the insight according to the intellect, he guides us to one form of teaching: we must not stay altogether at the concrete reality because the immediate sense of things said often harms us when it comes to a virtuous manner of life, but we must remove ourselves to the immaterial and intellectual insight, so that those senses that are a little more corporeal might be translated into intellect and thought, having shaken out the dust that settles on account of the more corporeal appearance of what is said. Therefore he said, "the letter kills, but the spirit gives life" (2 Cor 3:6), since often if we were to stand in the mere concrete realities of the history, it would offer us no patterns at all of the good life. How is hearing that Hosea the prophet begot children by a prostitute (Hos 1:2) useful for virtue, or that Isaiah went into the prophetess (Isa 8:3), unless someone should move beyond the letter of what is said? Or how do the narratives about David contribute to a virtuous life, when adultery and murder in the same case have coincided in one pollution? But if some reason should be found, which would show that what was arranged through these things was guiltless, then his words would be demonstrated to be all the more true that "the letter kills" (for it contains in itself the patterns of wicked behavior), "but the spirit gives life" (2 Cor 3:6), for it transforms the superficial and blameworthy sense into more divine meanings.
Taken from this edition.

OSB: Déjà Vu All Over Again

It's too easily forgotten that much of the argument surrounding the new edition of the OSB played out fifteen years ago. Here's how Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash) began his review of the 1993 edition of the OSB:
The focal point of an Orthodox church is the Holy Table at the centre of the Sanctuary. All the rest, the frescoes, the icons, the choir stalls, the icon screen, the Holy Doors themselves draw the worshipper’s attention to and culminate in the Holy Altar, or Throne, on which, at the Divine Liturgy, the Word of God is offered in the Sacrifice without shedding of blood. But the Holy Table stands apart in the Holy of Holies. It is not generally visible; during most of the ordinary services it is not used at all. Analogously, the daily round of offices and services, and the other Mysteries of the Church have their focal point, their culmination in the Divine Liturgy itself, the supreme Mystery. The same is true of the Bible. Its centre and focus is the Holy Gospel, which alone lies at the centre of the Altar. All the other books which make up the Holy Scripture lead to or flow from the Holy Gospel. The Bible is the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field. It is not a weapon, even against heresy. We do not read the Holy Gospel ‘to discover Orthodox Christianity’, as the dust jacket of this book suggests, but to hear the Word of God leading us to repentance. Every time the Gospel is read we pray that ‘we may be counted worthy to listen to the Holy Gospel’. There is a profound sense in which the Bible for the Orthodox is not a public thing, any more than the Eucharist is a public thing, but one of the Mysteries of the Faith. Our Lord himself said something very like this: ‘To you has been given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven, but to the rest in parables.’ Against this background it must be clearly stated from the outset that the whole feel of this volume is wrong. It feels far too much like a piece of evangelical propaganda decked out in the trappings of Orthodoxy, like an eighteenth century New England chapel or meeting house with a golden onion dome stuck over the pediment of the porch.
And here is how he concludes:
Once again I have to report on yet another missed opportunity. There is much that some people may find useful in this book, but there is much that is wrong or misleading. It was not to be expected that the ROCOR would have co-operated in such a project, but it needs a good injection of traditional old-fashioned, even old-world, Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy in America, as represented by large parts of the OCA, the Greek Archdiocese and the Antiochene Diocese, has two great temptations, which are not unknown on this side of the Atlantic. On the one hand the former immigrants assert their assimilation by taking on things western, like pews and organs, without sufficient discrimination. I even have a book of church music that includes a transcription into traditional Byzantine neum notation of the Wedding March from Lohengrin, together with an appropriate Greek text. On the other hand the converts tend to bring with them far too much of the baggage of their previous allegiances, even to the introduction of so-called ‘western rites’. We converts to Orthodoxy must be ready to ‘leave all things and follow’ where our Fathers have led. We Orthodox must be prepared to say ‘Come and see.’ But we must strenuously resist every temptation to add, ‘And don’t worry, well try to make it palatable for you.’ Let us hope that those charged with preparing editions of this book for the traditionally Orthodox countries will insist on a thorough overhaul, though they would do better to start again from scratch. There is a profound sense in which it is true to say that Orthodoxy takes centuries to acquire. This book is the product of people who, with the very best of intentions, are going too fast too soon.
It seems that another fifteen years hasn't been enough. If anything, the new edition of the OSB has made matters worse with its shoddy attempt to turn the NKJV into the Septuagint and its wholly disastrous foray into Patristic exegesis and theological commentary.

Palm Sunday

Today is the grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together, and we all take up Thy Cross and say: Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.

Today is Palm Sunday, on which we celebrate Our Lord's Entrance into Jerusalem.
Resources for Holy Week:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Patriarch Pavle of Serbia: Many Years!

His Holiness, Patriarch Pavle, shown today celebrating Lazarus Saturday, his Krsna Slava (note the icon on his bedside table). Patriarch Pavle is joined at his hospital bed by Metropolitan Amfiloje.

Photograph via Fr Milovan Katanic's blog, Again and Again.

Orthodox Study Bible, My Turn III

Continued from parts one and two.

The Apostle Paul urges us to “hold fast the pattern on sound words which you have heard” (2 Tim 1:13). St Basil the Great, in the first chapter of On the Holy Spirit, writes: “those who are idle in the pursuit of righteousness count theological terminology as secondary, together with attempts to search out the hidden meaning in this phrase or that syllable.” Indeed, “instruction begins with the proper use of speech, and syllables and words are the elements of speech.” The Orthodox Study Bible, as I will attempt to demonstrate, does not “hold fast the pattern on sound words” in its attempt to explain the dogma of the Holy Trinity.

The OSB's first study article (online here) is dedicated to the doctrine of Creation. There we read that the Orthodox Church has “dogmatically proclaimed that the One Triune God created everything that exists.” This Church, in fact, has proclaimed no such thing. Nowhere in the Scriptures, the Fathers, the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, or the liturgical texts does one find reference to the “One Triune God.” What one does find is the term “Tri-hypostatic Divinity/Godhead (theotis/bozhestvo)”– which is not at all the same as “Triune God,” which is distinctly modalist, as if the one God appeared in three forms. Furthermore, the very term “Triune God” is difficult if not impossible to construct in either Greek or Slavonic.

I here reproduce in full the study notes on the first page of the Biblical text (which can also be read online here):
1:1 God the Father made heaven and earth. “I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” (Creed).

1:2 The Spirit of God is the Holy Spirit (BasilG; EphS). He proceeds from the Father, and is “the Lord and Giver of Life” (Creed). Since He is Lord, He is coequal with the Father, and is His Coworker in making heaven and earth.

1:3 God the Father spoke to His Word and Only-begotten Son, through whom He made the light (AthanG). Since the Son, too, is Lord, He is coequal with the Father, and is His Coworker in making heaven and earth.

The Holy Fathers teach that the Father made heaven and earth through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Holy Trinity made heaven and earth, and the Church sings, “We glorify the Father, we exalt the Son, and we worship the Holy Spirit – the indivisible Trinity who exists as One – the Light and Lights, the Life and Lives, who grants light and life to the ends of the world” (CanonAnd).

1:4-25 Since the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit made heaven and earth, They also made everything mentioned in these verses.
A very simply question arises: Who, then, made heaven and earth? First we are told that the Father made the heaven and earth; then that the Holy Spirit is the Father’s Coworker; then that Christ is the Father’s Coworker; then that the Father made heaven and earth through the Son and in the Holy Spirit; then that the Holy Trinity made heaven and earth; then that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit made heaven and earth and everything else. The result, needless to say, is mystifying. Let us examine each note carefully.

1: 1 One simply cannot put a period after the first sentence, nor quote the first verse of the Creed in isolation, ignoring that we confess in the same Creed that through Christ were all things made. To say that the Father made heaven and earth, full stop, is simply wrong. One cannot thus isolate the activity of any one Person of the Trinity, attributing Divine acts to particular Divine Persons. God accomplishes all His activities through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. God always works with His “two hands,” as St Irenaeus puts it.

1:2 The first statement is, of course, true. But here, as throughout the OSB, the Patristic reference is simply useless. Yes, we can be quite confident that St Basil the Great and St Ephraim the Syrian did in fact affirm this – but where? Given that the OSB has no bibliography of any kind, it’s simply impossible to locate the texts the compilers of the OSB had in mind. The second sentence is also true. But the third sentence is again confusing: Since the Holy Spirit is Lord, the Holy Spirit is coequal and Coworker with the Father. Why the causal conjunction? In other words, what is the causal relationship between the Holy Spirit being Lord (which, in fact, in not cited in Gen 1;2) and Him being coequal and Coworker with the Father? Is “Lord” simply equated with “God”? This is left unexplained.

1:3 (first paragraph) “God the Father spoke to His Word”? Genesis 1 doesn't describe something like a physical conversation, but an ineffable event beyond the limits of descriptive language. It is precisely the language used – "God said...," in Genesis 1 – that indicates that the Father creates through the Word Himself. It's this understanding that lies behind John 1 and all Patristic commentary on the Word as Creator. St Gregory of Nyssa, in his Answer to Eunomius' Second Book, the whole of which is necessary and relevant, writes: "Still we take a very low view of God, and drag down the Divine to our own grovelling standard, if we suppose the Father speaking with His mouth, and the Son’s ear listening to His words." He continues that there is no need of speech with God, and that it is ridiculous to posit that the Father has lungs, vocal cords, mouth, and tongue; or that the Son has ears, and that there is air that carries the sound between them. These anthropomorphisms (God said, saw, smelled, etc) point toward Divine perception that is entirely different than our own. Again, in the note's transition from the first sentence to the second, we have the same problems as above: a useless Patristic reference and an unsupported causal relationship between the Word’s attributes.

1:3 (second paragraph) The first sentence for the first time establishes what should have been stated from the very beginning, rather than being divided into discrete assertions about individual Persons of the Trinity. But the second sentence simply does not follow from the first: the action of each Person of the Trinity within creation cannot be collapsed into a single Trinitarian action. That is, to say “the Father made heaven and earth through the Son and in the Holy Spirit” is not the same thing as to say “the Holy Trinity made heaven and earth,” because the distinctive activity of each Person is thus overshadowed by a single, as it were, Trinitarian action. The verse from the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete does not in fact state “the Holy Trinity made heaven and earth,” but instead glorifies each Person of the Trinity, who exist as One: “We glorify the Father, we exalt the Son, and we worship the Holy Spirit – the indivisible Trinity who exists as One – the Light and Lights, the Life and Lives, who grants light and life to the ends of the world.”

1:4-25 Here, again, the language has reverted from the affirmation that “the Father made heaven and earth through the Son and in the Holy Spirit” to a new affirmation: “the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit made heaven and earth.” And then, once again, a causal relationship is made without being established. The first note on the next page again changes formulas: the “Holy Trinity also made man.” Again, confusion.

It might be charitably suggested that since each of the first three study notes is directed to a single verse of Scripture, and therefore no single note should be taken in isolation. Unfortunately, however, the very points to which I have objected are then systematized in the second study article, dedicated to the Holy Trinity (online here). There we read of the Persons of the Trinity: "They [sic!] are One God because They [sic!] are one in essence in nature.” This is in direct contradiction to Greek Fathers' consistent emphasis that there is one God because there is one Father. The source of unity in the Trinity is the Father, not the consubstantial essence. (These two points are central to the Greek Fathers' insistence on the "monarchy" of the Father.) How the OSB could refer to the Persons of the Trinity as "They" is quite beyond comprehension. How is this not tritheism? Consider the words of St Basil the Great in On the Holy Spirit (18:45):
For we do not count by way of addition, gradually making increase from unity to multitude, and saying one, two, and three,-nor yet first, second, and third. For "I," God, "am the first, and I am the last." And hitherto we have never, even at the present time, heard of a second God. Worshipping as we do God of God, we both confess the distinction of the Persons, and at the same time abide by the Monarchy. We do not fritter away the theology in a divided plurality,because one Form, so to say, united in the invariableness of the Godhead, is beheld in God the Father, and in God the Only begotten. For the Son is in the Father and the Father in the Son; since such as is the latter, such is the former, and such as is the former, such is the latter; and herein is the Unity. So that according to the distinction of Persons, both are one and one, and according to the community of Nature, one. How, then, if one and one, are there not two Gods? Because we speak of a king, and of the king's image, and not of two kings.
Four bold and capitalized statements follow, the first two of which read: “THE HOLY TRINITY CREATED THE WORLD” and “THE HOLY TRINITY SAVES THE WORLD.” Again, this is not the language of Scripture, of the Fathers, or of the liturgical texts. Both of these affirmations are then followed by a series of proof texts, several of which, once again, make affirmations about each of the Persons of the Trinity that cannot stand alone. We read, for instance: “Isaiah 63:16 – The Father is our Redeemer. He not only created the world but redeems it as well.” The verse cited from Isaiah in fact reads: “You are our Father, although Abraham did not know us, and Israel did not acknowledge us; but You, O Lord, are our Father. You delivered us, and from the beginning Your name was upon us.” The OSB, then, would seem to claim that the “Father” here is God the Father alone, and the Father’s “deliverance” means our Redemption by God the Father, all of which is intended to support the assertion that “the Holy Trinity saves the World.” Furthermore, it's interesting to note that the proof text here employed in fact follows the Masoretic text, not the LXX. The NKJV reads: "You, O Lord, are our Father; Our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name." Note the present tense. Here is the same verse in the OSB: "[B]ut You, O Lord, are our Father. You delivered us, and from the beginning Your name was upon us." Not both the past tense and the wording. One can only conclude that the study notes were compiled without reference to the OSB's own text.

One could continue to work through the study page on the Holy Trinity, but it would simply involve more of the same. All the problematic statements we have looked at come from the first three pages of text alone.

All of this points to the OSB's fundamental methodological problem. Christian dogma does not exist in a metaphysical void. To understand a given doctrine one is obliged to study how its articulation was developed, defined, and defended in the Church's ongoing engagement with Scripture. Christ Himself, as understood within the Church, is the criterion of all Scripture. Therefore one is to read and interpret Scripture through the prism the Church's canon or rule of truth, which gives us the key to Scripture. The OSB has, so to speak, put the donkey in front of the cart, taking ecclesiastically-defined doctrine and then choosing, at its own whim, proof-texts to support these dogmas. This approach reduces Scripture to little more than an extended set of proof-texts, rather than the thesaurus (i.e., treasure) of all that pertains to Christ. Let us take St Irenaeus's words as a corrective and warning:
If anyone, therefore, reads the Scriptures [i.e., the Old Testament] this way, he will find in them the Word concerning Christ, and a foreshadowing of the new calling. For Christ is the “treasure which was hid in the field” (Mt 13:44), that is, in this world – for "the field is the world" (Mt 13:38) – [a treasure] hidden in the Scriptures, for He was indicated by means of types and parables, which could not be understood by men prior to the consummation of those things which had been predicted, that is, the advent of the Lord. And therefore it was said to Daniel the Prophet, “Shut up the words, and seal the book, until the time of the consummation, until many learn and knowledge abounds. For, when the dispensation shall be accomplished, they shall know all these things” (Dan 12:4,7). And Jeremiah also says, “In the last days they shall understand these things” (Jer 23:20). For every prophecy, before its fulfillment, is nothing but an enigma and ambiguity to men; but when the time has arrived, and the prediction has come to pass, then it has an exact exposition [exegesis]. And for this reason, when at this present time the Law is read by the Jews, it is like a myth, for they do not possess the explanation [exegesis] of all things which pertain to the human advent of the Son of God; but when it is read by Christians, it is a treasure, hid in a field, but brought to light by the Cross of Christ, and explained, both enriching the understanding of men, and showing forth the wisdom of God, and making known His dispensations with regard to man, and prefiguring the Kingdom of Christ, and preaching in anticipation the good news of the inheritance of the holy Jerusalem, and proclaiming beforehand that the man who loves God shall advance so far as even to see God, and hear His Word, and be glorified, from hearing His speech, to such an extent, that others will not be able to behold his glorious countenance (cf. 2 Cor 3:7), as was said by Daniel, “Those who understand shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and many of the righteous as the stars for ever and ever” (Dan 12:3). In this manner, then, I have shown it to be, if anyone read the Scriptures. (AH 4.26.1)
One comes from reading the OSB knowing less about the dogma of the Holy Trinity than he did when he began. Indeed, what little the reader may have learned does not correspond to the Church's exacting Trinitarian language – and is therefore dangerous. What one has learned has exactly nothing to do with how the Church has historically defined the doctrine of the Trinity.

Bearing all this in mind should help explain why I reject the argument that the OSB, for all its failings, is somehow better than nothing.

Lazarus Saturday

Having completed the forty days that bring profit to our soul, we beseech Thee in Thy love for man: Grant us also to behold the Holy Week of Thy Passion, that in it we may glorify Thy mighty acts and Thine ineffable dispensation for our sakes, singing with one mind: O Lord, glory to Thee.
Today is Lazarus Saturday, which stands between the forty days of the Great Fast and the beginning of Holy (Passion) Week. Here are a few readings for your benefit:
Here is a brief but essential sermon by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, entitled "Lenten Weeks":
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

One by one the weeks of Lent pass, and having started this journey with enthusiasm, feeling in ourselves the strength to complete it, when we approach the end, and often long before the end, we begin to feel that we have achieved nothing of what we hoped to achieve. We hoped to fast strictly and honestly, we hoped to pray, we hoped to tear ourselves away from those things that have enslaved all our lives - our interests, our concerns - and then a moment comes when the end of the journey is in sight, and suddenly we realise that nothing, or practically nothing, has been achieved of what we had hoped.

This is the moment when we may be attacked by the destructive spirit of despondency which undermines our last ounce of strength: how can I enter the days of the Passion? How can I encounter the glory and triumph of Christ's Resurrection? This is where we must evince both Christian wisdom and our trust in God. It is not by the fact that we strive and achieve some sort of result that we are saved; we are saved by our soul's longing which draws us towards the living God, by the love which draws us to Christ. And even when we fail (as, incidentally, in human relationships) we must not forget that just as the apostle Peter, after thrice denying Christ was able to answer Christ's threefold question, we can say "Lord, you know everything, you know my weakness, my lapses, my uncertainty, my inconstancy, but you also know that I love you, that that is the final deepest thing in me."

Then we can go farther, as Peter followed Christ, knowing that God believes in this love, that God believes us and believes in us. And we can go on with faltering steps, with uncertain tread, with ups and downs, if only our hearts do not break away from God; if only we carry on, so that one day, in a week or two, we may find ourselves face to face with the Lord's passion, with the manifestation of the love with which He loves us. To endure what He endured for our sakes can be done only through inexhaustible, bottomless love. And so if we cannot unite ourselves to Christ in a more mysterious way by communing to the way of the Cross through prayer, contemplation and ascetic effort, let us at least stand at the roadside, beside this way of the Cross and with the awe and tenderness of a shaken soul - or perhaps one incapable of awe and tenderness - look upon what it means to love as God is capable of loving us. And let us say to Him, if we cannot say anything else, "Thank you, Lord, that you love me, dead, stony, devoid of feeling, lifeless - love me so much that the day will come when for me also will sound the words spoken to Lazarus, then four days dead, "Lazarus, come forth from the grave."

One day each one of us will hear this, not at the end of time, not at the general resurrection, as Martha thought, but now, at some unexpected moment when the voice of God shall sound, and at once we shall come alive again, alive both in time and in eternity. And we can even approach Easter conscious that we have done nothing worthy of this meeting with the triumph of the Resurrection, have achieved nothing that would give us a right to this joy. As St. John Chrysostom says in his Easter sermon: "Those who have fasted and those who have not, those who have worked and those who have been lazy, all of you come, for the Lord receives everyone equally; to some He repays a debt, to others He makes a gift of His love." It is not likely that He will be repaying a debt to us, because we have not worked, but the gift of love is offered to each of us. Therefore whatever mood we are in, however lazy we are, however little we have striven, let us go step by step during these last weeks towards that light, as a butterfly is drawn to it: yet not to be burned by it - but rather for ourselves to burn with the glow of the Resurrection, to shine with its light, to become like the Burning Bush which burned and was not consumed in the flame of God's being. Amen.
This sermon was originally delivered on March 16, 1980.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Cradle and Convert, V

Long-suffering reader Iyov left the following extended comment to the last installment of Cradle and Convert. I am posting it as a main entry inasmuch as his questions and observations are eminently worthy of discussion, comment, and argument (of the civilized sort, naturally):
(1) From whence converts

I was under the impression that in the US, at least, converts to Orthodoxy were high-church Protestants and Catholics -- who had felt that their own churches had become too corrupt or liberal. I was under this impression because of sites such as Lancelot Andrewes Press, connected with which is reprinting Neale's psalter and Monastic Diurnal and is connected with; or because of the interest among some Western Rite Orthodox in praying versions of the Divine Office (besides the Monastic Diurnal, there is extensive discussion of the use of the Anglican Breviary by Orthodox (including a review in an Orthodox publication listed on their front page), the existence of Benedictine Orthodox monasteries in the US (adding a whole second meaning to OSB), etc. Am I wrong -- is it Evangelicals primarily moving into Orthodoxy?

Study Bibles

As far as Study Bibles go, I think that Study Bibles have great potential -- for example, I am very interested in Study Bibles that address linguistic issues with the source text or reception history. Reading such commentary can substantially enhance one's appreciation for the text (although they are not a particularly good way to learn about a religion -- they can be a good way to learn how a particular religion reads Scripture.) Now I must say that a number of Evangelical Study Bibles are often little more than extended pericopes (explaining the "action" in the text as if the reader were too dim to grasp it) and usually error-ridden. It seems to me that the OSB NT was a bit like this (although the accompanying essays were more informative). Some recent Evangelical study Bibles read like magazines with colorful photos and brief little 100-200 word essays. Still, I don't find any inherent problem with the idea of a study Bible, just in the execution. (While one may disagree theologically with mainline, Catholic, and Jewish study Bibles, they are usually addressed to a more educated audience and present more sophisticated material than Evangelical study Bibles)

The challenge of pedagogy

Having said all this, I do think it is a fair pedagogical question of how best to teach members of faith community about issues dealing with Scripture, history, mysticism, theology, etc. And it is not clear to me that the Orthodox Church has shone in this area. If Evangelicals succeed in teaching, perhaps it is become they often seem to aim low (if you ever read popular Evangelical books, or watch Evangelical TV, or listen to Evangelical radio, you will know what I mean). But where are the great Orthodox success stories in outreach and education in the United States? For example, what fraction of Orthodox not born into Greek or Russian speaking households master Koine or Slavonic? I suspect at least among traditional observant Jewish communities, a larger fraction of the congregation learns Hebrew. I sometimes think that Orthodox aim very high, but most fall by the wayside and many treasures of the religion are esoteric to the majority of Christian Orthodox.

To put this in the form of a question, I ask all those who read this, how good a job do you think Orthodoxy is doing in educating a wide fraction of its population about Scripture or theology or history or mysticism? What could Orthodoxy do better?
Hop to it, folks!

The Fathers on Reading Scripture, XV

St Maximus the Confessor writes:
None of the persons, places, times, or other things recorded in Scripture – animate and inanimate, sensible and intelligible – has its concurrent literal or spiritual meanings rendered always according to the same interpretive mode. Whoever, therefore, is infallibly trained in the divine knowledge of Holy Scripture must, for the diversity of what appears and is communicated therein, interpret each recorded thing in a different way and assign to its place or time, the fitting spiritual meaning. For the name of each thing signified in Scripture lends itself to many meanings by the potency of the Hebrew language.
Excerpted from Ad Thalassium 64: On the Prophet Jonah and the Economy of Salvation (CCSG 22:187-241) as translated in On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ: Selected Writings from St Maximus the Confessor.

Papadiamandis on Papa-Nicholas

I recently had the pleasure of announcing the publication of The Boundless Garden by Alexandros Papadiamandis (see here also). Papadiamandis was a member of the synodia (lay brotherhood) of Papa-Nicholas Planas (+1932; glorified in 1992), the "simple shepherd of simple souls." Here is an excerpt from Papadiamandis recollections of Papa-Nicholas:
Among the present-day priests in the cities and villages, there are still many who are virtuous and good. They are village-types, beneficent, respected, and venerable. Even though they may not expound words, they know another manner of teaching the flock. I know of a priest in Athens. He is the most humble of priests and the most simple of men... Every list bearing the names of the dead to be commemorated, when once given to him, he keeps always. For two and three years he continues to commemorate the names. At every Prothesis he commemorates two or three thousand names. He never becomes weary. His Prothesis lasts two hours. The Liturgy another two. After the dismissal of the Liturgy, he distributes to all present whatever pieces of prosphora or antidoron he has in the sanctuary. He keeps practically nothing.

Once, it chanced that he owed a small amount of money and wanted to pay it. He had ten or fifteen drachmas, all in copper. For two hours he counted, counted, counted, and could not determine how many drachmas there were. Finally, another Christian took on the effort to count them for him. He stutters a little, and is almost illiterate. In the prayers he says most of the words correctly, but in the Gospel most of them incorrectly. You will say, "Why this inconsistency?' He says the same prayers every day, whereas a certain portion of the Gospel he reads once, twice, or at the most three times a year, with the exception of certain frequent portions which recur occasionally, as in the Blessing of Waters and at the Paraclesis. The mistakes which he makes in reading are oftentimes comic. Yet, of those who hear, out of all the congregation, not one of us laughs. Why? We have become accustomed to him and we like him. He is worthy of love. He is simple and virtuous. He is worthy of the first Beatitude of the Saviour.

Now, suppose that this same priest had come out of some theological school, old or new. Would the difference in him be to the better? He would be smeared with a few imperfect, ill-digested, and confused teachings, with more pride and more demands. Would he be better for this?
Quoted in Photios Kontoglou's foreword to Papa-Nicholas Planas: The Simple Shepherd of the Simple Sheep.

The Fathers on Reading Scripture, XIV

St Ephraim the Syrian on the Book of Genesis:
I read the opening of this book
And was filled with joy,
For its verses and lines spread out their arms to welcome me;
The first rushed out and kissed me,
And led me on to its companion;
And when I reached that verse
Wherein is written
The story of Paradise,
It lifted me up and transported me
From the bosom of the book
To the very bosom of Paradise.
Hymns on Paradise 5.3 (CSCO 174:16); translation by Sebastian Brock, St Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns on Paradise.

The Fathers on Reading Scripture, XIII

St Augustine, commenting on Psalm 1:1, writes:
Blessed is the man that hath not gone away in the counsel of the ungodly” (ver. 1). This is to be understood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord Man. “Blessed is the man that hath not gone away in the counsel of the ungodly,” as “the man of earth did,” (1 Cor. xv. 47), who consented to his wife deceived by the serpent, to the transgressing the commandment of God. “Nor stood in the way of sinners.” For He came indeed in the way of sinners, by being born as sinners are; but He “stood” not therein, for that the enticements of the world held Him not. “And hath not sat in the seat of pestilence.” He willed not an earthly kingdom, with pride, which is well taken for “the seat of pestilence;” for that there is hardly any one who is free from the love of rule, and craves not human glory. For a “pestilence” is disease widely spread, and involving all or nearly all. Yet “the seat of pestilence” may be more appropriately understood of hurtful doctrine; “whose word spreadeth as a canker (2 Tim. ii. 17). The order too of the words must be considered: “went away, stood, sat.” For he “went away,” when he drew back from God. He “stood,” when he took pleasure in sin. He “sat,” when, confirmed in his pride, he could not go back, unless set free by Him, who neither “hath gone away in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of pestilence.”
Read the full exposition of Psalm 1 here.