Saturday, July 12, 2008

Saints Peter and Paul: Why Today?

The following is a reply by Hieromonk Job (Gumerov) to a question about why the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul is held today, which I have translated from Russian and hyperlinked:

According to Church tradition, Saints Peter and Paul, the first among the Apostles, accepted holy martyrdom on the same day: June 29 (July 12 [on the civil calendar]). This date is indicated in ancient calendars (fourth-century Roman and fifth-century Carthaginian), in the martyriology of the Blessed Jerome (fourth century), and in the Sacramentarium of Pope Gregory the Great (sixth century).

Scholars believe that the Holy Apostle Peter arrived in Rome in the year 67. Here he converted many people to Christ. In Rome he wrote the Second Catholic Epistle to Christians who had converted from Judaism and Paganism and found themselves in Asia Minor. The Lord forewarned him of his imminent departure from this earthly life: shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me. Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance (2 Peter 1:14-15). The Apostle Peter's disciples convinced him to flee at the beginning of the persecution of the Church by the Emperor Nero, so as not to be deprived of their pastor. Peter agreed out of love for Christ. Leaving the city, the Apostle encountered Christ on the ancient Appian Way. To his question, "Where are you going, Lord?", the Saviour answered, "I go to Rome, to be crucified anew." On this place there is now a church (Domine Quo Vaids) in which there is a copy of the stone on which the Lord's footprints are impressed. The original stone with the Lord's footprint is in the Church of St Sebastian in Rome. After his return to Rome, the Holy Apostle Peter was imprisoned in the Mamertino Prison (Carcere Mamertino), which is on the slope of the Capitoline Hill below the Church of St Joseph the Betrothed (San Giuseppe). From the Mamertino Prison the Apostle Peter was brought to Vatican Hill, on the right bank of the Tiber. The Circus of Nero was located on that hill. Here the Apostle received his martyric death. Here were fulfilled the Lord's words: When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he Had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow Me (Jn 21: 18-19). Like his Teacher, the Apostle was raised onto a cross, but out of humility asked to be crucified upside down. He was buried on this very Vatican Hill by the Holy Hieromartyr Clement of Rome and other disciples. The Roman Christians piously preserved the memory of this place. When in 1941 excavations were undertaken under the foundations of St Peter's Basillica a plate was found in this very place with the brief but expressive inscription in Greek: "Peter is here."

We do not know when the Apostle Paul was in Rome. As with the Apostle Peter, the Lord revealed the time of death to his chosen vessel (Acts 9:15): I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing (2 Tim 4: 6-8). Christians preserved the pious memory of the place where the Apostles parted ways; a church dedicated to both Apostles stands in this place on the Via Ostiense. The Apostle Paul was brought to the outskirts of the city known as the Aquae Salviae. As a Roman citizen, he could not be crucified. Here he was beheaded. The majority of scholars date the Holy Apostles' martyrdom to 67 AD.

Saint Constantine, the Equal-to-the-Apostles, built a church over the grave of the Apostle Paul in 324.

Saints Peter and Paul

Today we celebrate the memory of the Holy, Glorious, and All-Praised Leaders of the Apostles Peter and Paul.

The Blessed Augustine of Hippo, in a homily for today's feast, says:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the final days of His earthly life, in the days of His mission to the race of man, chose from among the disciples His twelve Apostles to preach the Word of God. Among them, the Apostle Peter for his fiery ardor was vouchsafed to occupy the first place (Mt.10:2) and to be as it were the representative person for all the Church. Therefore it is said to him, preferentially, after the confession: "I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in the heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth: shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt.16: 19). Therefore it was not one man, but rather the One Universal Church, that received these "keys" and the right "to bind and loosen." And that it was actually the Church that received this right, and not exclusively a single person, turn your attention to another place of the Scriptures, where the same Lord says to all His Apostles, "Receive ye the Holy Spirit" and further after this, "Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them: and whose soever sins ye retain, are retained" (John 20: 22-23); or: "whatsoever ye bind upon the earth, shall be bound in Heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosened in heaven" (Mt.18:18). Thus, it is the Church that binds, the Church that loosens; the Church, built upon the foundational cornerstone, Jesus Christ Himself (Eph 2:20), doth bind and loosen. Let both the binding and the loosening be feared: the loosening, in order not to fall under this again; the binding, in order not to remain forever in this condition. Therefore "Iniquities ensnare a man, and everyone is bound in the chains of his own sins," says Wisdom (Prov 5:22); and except for Holy Church nowhere is it possible to receive the loosening.
Today's feast, then, is a celebration of the Church's unity. Anyone who has read Acts or Galatians, however, will recall that Saints Peter and Paul did not always think or act in perfect harmony. Concerning their dispute about the application of the Law to Gentiles, for instance, Saint Paul writes: when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed (Gal 2:11). Nor did the Apostles always see eye-to-eye on monetary questions. At times I am tempted to think that the disunity of the Church militant is just as much a fundamental attribute of the Church as is the unity of the Church triumphant. This thought in fact serves as something of a comfort when faced with the scandals we manage to create in the Church day in and day out.

The liturgical service in honor of Saints Peter and Paul can be read here.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Modern Christianity, Illustrated and Described

Thus speaks the Episcopal Ghost (who finds himself quite against his will in the afterlife) in the fifth chapter of C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce:
Bless my soul, I'd nearly forgotten. Of course I can't come with you. I have to be back next Friday to read a paper. We have a little Theological Society down there. Oh yes! there is plenty of intellectual life. Not of a very high quality, perhaps. One notices a certain lack of grip – a certain confusion of mind. That is where I can be of some use to them. There are even regrettable jealousies... I don't know why, but tempers seem less controlled than they used to be. Still, one mustn't expect too much of human nature. I feel I can do a great work among them. But you've never asked me what my paper is about! I'm taking the text about growing up to the measure of the stature of Christ and working out an idea I feel sure you'll be interested in. I'm going to point out how people always forget that Jesus (here the Ghost bowed) was a comparatively young man when he died. He would have outgrown some of his earlier views, you know, if he'd lived. As he might have done, with a little more tact and patience. I am going to to ask my audience to consider what his mature views would have been. A profoundly interesting question. What a different Christianity we might have had if only the Founder had reached his full stature! I shall end up by pointing out how this deepens the significance of the Crucifixion. One feels for the first time what a disaster it was: what a tragic waste... so much promise cut short. Oh, must you be going? Well, so must I. Goodbye, my dear boy. It has been a great pleasure. Most stimulating and provocative. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.
C. S. Lewis' literary virtues are well established. Not remembered often enough, though, is his absolutely acid wit.

Saint Pirminius in Reichenau

This photograph, which I originally posted during Bright Week, prompted a reader to ask for an explanation. I'm happy to oblige. This is a photograph of a sundial painted on the outside wall of the rectory outside the Abbey Church (which it depicts in its current form) on the island of Reichenau in Lake Constance, Germany. The figure holding the staff and treading on a serpent is St Pirminius (or Pirmin, c.670 - 753). The monk Hermann the Cripple (+1054 – great timing!) writes the following in his chronicle for the year 724:
Saint Pirminius, abbot and bishop, is led by the princes Berthold and Nebi to Charles, who entrusts Reichenau to him. He drove out the snakes and during his three-year stay organized monastic life.
The inscription, ora et labora, is a Benedictine exhortation (in Latin) to "pray and work." This points to the abbey's monastic roots. Abbot Walahfrid Strabo (842-849), in a letter to Pope Gregory IV (827-844), praises the abbey in these words:
That earlier-named site of our endeavors indeed occupies first place in these regions. It is dedicated to the Most Pure, Blessed Virgin Mary and the Prince of the Apostles Peter. A not insignificant group of men who conduct their lives after the Rule of Saint Benedict is united there. The fullness of their spiritual wisdom nourishes the adjacent land with ample instruction.
Saint Pirminius left Reichenau in 727, and reposed on November 3, 753, as Abbot of Hornbach in the Palatinate, the last monastery that he founded. His holy relics are preserved in the Jesuit Church of Innsbruck.

Visitors to Reichenau should by all means visit the treasure room – and do confirm ahead of time that it will be open – in order to venerate a large relic of the the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark, as well as a number of other ancient relics, most of which were likely brought from Constantinople during the Crusades.

Holy Saint Priminius, pray to God for us!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

When Scandals Occur

St Eprhaim the Syrian's Eighth Discourse of Exhortation to the Monks of Egypt:
About the scandals which occur, we know one who said, Judge not, and you will not be judged; by the judgement with which you judge, you will be judged; and by the measure with which you measure, it will be measured out to you in turn. That you may have help in this thought, consider that the just Lot dwelt in Sodom, but was not led away with their pride and licentiousness; and so he was saved, as it is written, For that just man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his just soul by their lawless deeds. But he adds something when he says, The Lord knows how to deliver the godly from trials, and to keep the unjust under punishment until the day of judgement and so forth. So it is not a question of self-mastery and meekness to-day, and dissoluteness and pride to-morrow. Of stillness, vigil and humility to-day, and temptations, immoderate sleep and disobedience and suchlike things to-morrow. Of renunciation of the world, renunciation of earthly affairs, renunciation of fatherland and friends and parents according to the flesh to-day because of hope in the Lord, and tomorrow let us seek country and fatherland and inheritance, to sink ourselves in many evils. For Lot’s wife turned back and became a pillar of salt. And so the Lord also teaches when he says, No one who puts his hand to the plough and turns back is fit for the kingdom of heaven. So always keep in mind that day on which, when you had put everything aside, you left the world for the Lord’s sake, and when you were fired by the fear of God, and fervent in spirit for the Lord. And keep the goal until the end, for the one who endures to the end will be saved, that you may receive the reward of your work with eternal life; because you have approached the true God and despised all things that you may gain Christ, to whom be glory to the ages. Amen.
Translated by Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash)

The Communion of Children

The anonymous writer at the marvelous French-language blog Moinillon au quotidien offers the following points of reflection on children and Holy Communion, which I here translate for your consideration:
  • Communion is not a magical act; its action is related to a certain preparation and to a certain interior disposition.
  • Communion is communion with Christ and with the other faithful in Christ; it must therefore take place within the context of communal Liturgy.
  • The entire Liturgy is a preparation for Communion; all people who commune must therefore be present at least from the beginning of the Liturgy of the faithful.
  • It is important to teach children from their youngest age to behave themselves in church; even if they do not understand the words and action of the Liturgy, they are impregnated with the spiritual atmosphere and benefit from the prayers of the priest and of the community, and recieve the grace of the Holy Liturgy.

Archimandrite Luke: Many Years!

Now that I'm catching up on Church news, I can't help but make note of an event of great historical significance in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad that seems to have received scant online coverage: the election and consequent installment of Archimandrite Luke as Abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY. The website of Holy Trinity Seminary offers this brief but interesting report on the election process:
On May 6/19, the Feast Day of St. Job of Pochaev, a new abbot for Holy Trinity Monastery was elected. Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, and Bishop Peter of Cleveland traveled from New York City to take part in the election. They were met with the ringing of bells, as Archimandrite Luke and the brotherhood waited in church to greet their new First Hierarch and Metropolitan.

After a short litya for the health and welfare of our new Metropolitan, Fr. Luke spoke a few words of welcome, and Metropolitan Hilarion then greeted everyone present, thanking them and asking for their prayerful support.

The bishops and the monastic brotherhood then proceeded to the lower chapel dedicated to St. Job of Pochaev,for the election of the new abbot. A molieben was served, invoking the help of the Holy Spirit before the beginning of every good work, followed by the singing of “Eternal Memory” for our reposed abbot, Metropolitan Laurus. Then the election took place. One monk was selected to be the secretary and record the proceedings, and two other monks to count the votes. Ballots were then handed out and each one cast his vote. There were also votes of four members of the brotherhood who were unable to attend.

After the counting of the votes it was determined that Archimandrite Luke had received the majority of the votes, and Metropolitan Hilarion congratulated him on being elected the new abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery, the fifth in the history of the monastery. Metropolitan Hilarion then gave a brief talk, exhorting the brotherhood to beobedient in all things to the new abbot, and encouraging them to be zealous in the monastic life. Archimandrite Luke then thanked Metropolitan Hilarion and the brotherhood for their support, also asking everyone for their help in fulfilling this difficult obedience which has been laid upon his shoulders.

The proceedings then concluded with the singing of “Many Years” to our new abbot, Archimandrite Luke, and the hymn, “Shine, shine, O new Jerusalem.”

Many Years!!!
Archimandrite Luke was officially installed as Abbot by His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion – himself a member of the Jordanville brotherhood – on the Feast of Pentecost, the monastery's feastday.

Archimandrite Luke is the sixth abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery: he succeeds, in order, Archimandrite Panteleimon (who founded the monastery in 1930), Bishop Seraphim (Ivanov), Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko), Archbishop Averky, and the late Metropolitan Laurus. Fr Luke will also succeed the late Metropolitan Laurus as Rector of Holy Trinity Seminary, a duty held by all former abbots beginning with Bishop Seraphim.

The above photographs shows His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion, presenting Archimandrite Luke with the abbatial staff at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of Pentecost, 2008.

This photograph shows a portion of the monastic brotherhood and seminarians of Holy Trinity Monastery and Seminary following Fr Luke's election as abbot. The monks in the front row are, from left to right: Archimandrite (and soon-to-be Bishop) George, Archimandrite Luke, Metropolitan Hilarion, Bishop Peter of Cleveland, and Archimandrite Flor. The Kursk-Root Icon is held by Hieromonk Theophylact.

May God grant Archimandrite Luke many years!

Archpriest Gabriel Kin: Eternal Memory!

I was saddened to learn that another Jordanville old-timer, Archpriest Gabriel Kin, reposed in the Lord during the night of June 17-18. Ordained to the priesthood in 1976 by Archbishop Averky of blessed memory, he served in a number of parishes in the Western American Diocese before spending the last decades of his life in Richfield Springs, NY, near Holy Trinity Monastery, where he also taught at the Seminary.

Fr Gabriel possessed a buoyant, cheerful personality that found its most ready expression in preaching. His sermons were always lively and heartfelt, simple and straightforward in tone, and often accompanied by expressive gestures. He especially loved to preach on feastdays of the Mother of God, for whom he always showed special love and reverence. He was the man to go to if one needed a replacement in one's preaching slot (in Jordanville sermons are given by rotation); I very much doubt that he ever refused an opportunity to give a sermon. Although a man of learning and scientific achievement (if I recall correctly he, like the late Bishop Alexander, spent some time working for NASA), he was a man of great simplicity and directness, always smiling, always friendly. He was always very missionary-minded and took great pleasure in serving and preaching in English when he had the opportunity.

May the Lord grant rest to the soul of His newly-departed servant, Archpriest Gabriel!

Bishop John of Caracas: Many Years!

I was delighted to learn that Fr John (Berzins), a dear old friend and sparring partner, was consecrated Bishop of Caracas on June 21, 2008, at the Russian Orthodox Old Rite Church of the Holy Nativity in Erie, PA. His consecration was performed by His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, His Grace, Bishop Daniel of Erie, and His Grace, Bishop Peter of Cleveland. Bishop John will administer the parishes of the Russian Church Abroad in South America.

Bishop John has one of the most colorful and eccentric personalities I've ever encountered – and I mean that as a hearty compliment. I'm glad to see from the above photograph, for instance, that on his very first day as bishop he managed to get his mitre crooked and his hair all messed up. He's also a man of both real erudition and monastic experience, as can be seen from this brief curriculum vitae compiled before his consecration:
Born Peteris Berzins on March 3/16, 1957 in Cooma, Australia, of Latvian Orthodox refugees, Leonid (1921-1996) and Margarita (1924- ) Berzins. Grew up in that city. Graduated with a philological degree from Australian National University. Fluent in Ancient Greek and Latin. Entered Holy Trinity Monastery and enrolled in Holy Trinity Seminary in 1982. Graduated HTS in 1985. Tonsured to the mantle on March 16/29, 1985 by Archbishop Laurus of Syracuse and Holy Trinity. Ordained hierodeacon on March 30/April 12, 1987, by Archbishop Laurus. Ordained to the priesthood on October 22/November 4, 1987, also by Archbishop Laurus. From 1992-1996, served as father-confessor at Gethsemane Convent in the Holy Land. In 1994, awarded the gold pectoral cross by Archbishop Laurus of Syracuse and Holy Trinity. From 2001-2005, served as father-confessor at Gethsemane Convent in the Holy Land. In September 2005, elevated to the rank of hegumen by His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus. Since 2005, ministers to SS Sergius and German of Valaam Community of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America. In May, 2008, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia designated him as candidate of Bishop of Caracas. Hegumen John is a member of the brotherhood of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY.
Not mentioned here is that he spent a couple of years on Mount Athos, where he was tonsured to the Great Schema. Vladyka John's consecration took place at the conclusion at the 2008 Orthodox Conference in Erie, PA, held from June 17-22. Fr John Whiteford, who was in attendance for most of it, has written a three posts with his impressions, with more to come (part 1, part 2, part 3). I was also very interested to read about another recent conference entitled The Place of Women in the Orthodox Church, held simultaneously (June 20-21) at the Holy Protection Church in Glen Cove, NY.

To the newly-consecrated Bishop John of Caracas and his new flock: Many Years!

Elder Ambrose of Optina

Today we celebrate the memory of the uncovering of the relics (in 1998) of St Ambrose of Optina, perhaps the most renowned of the great Elders of the Optina Hermitage. Even those who know little of the inner life of the Orthodox Church will likely have made acquaintance with him indirectly: he served as one of the models for Dostoevsky's Elder Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevsky himself visited the Elder at Optina in 1878, shortly after the death of his young son Alyosha – whose name, of course, he lent to the idealistic young protagonist of his great novel. Dostoevsky was not the only great writer or philosopher to visit various of the Optina Elders: others included Gogol, Khomiakov, Tolstoy, Leontiev, Kireevsky, and Solovyev. (For the thoughts of the Elder Barsanuphius of Optina on the creative arts, see my post here.)

Those interested in his life are encouraged to read the book Elder Ambrose of Optina by Fr Sergius Chetverikov. John B. Dunlop's Startez Amvrosy: Model for Dostoevsky's Startez Zosima is also very good, especially as an introduction for those whose knowledge of the Orthodox spiritual tradition is limited. A good short online life can be read here.

I am a great admirer of Dostoevsky. Yet I can't help but feel that the holiness of the Elder Ambrose is better evoked by the single photograph above than by hundreds of the great writer's pages. True holiness is best seen on a man's face.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Feast of the Tikhvin Icon

Today we celebrate the appearance of the Tikhvin Icon, one of the most revered icons of the Theotokos. As many of you certainly know, this icon was brought to the United States by Bishop John (Garklavs) of Riga in 1949, and later guarded by his adopted son, Fr Sergei Garklavs, who served at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago. The icon was returned to Russia fours years ago after a year-long journey through churches in North America and Russia, during which time I had the great blessing of venerating it at the St Nicholas Cathedral in New York City. The icon is now enshrined at the Tikhvin-Dormition Monastery in Tikhvin, its historic home.
This photograph shows a procession with the Tikhvin Icon as it passes the Kremlin towers on its way to Red Square in Moscow, June 27, 2004. Over 250,000 faithful were in attendance.

St Ephraim on Prayer

A beautiful, inspiring, and deeply comforting short homily by St Ephraim the Syrian:
Not to sin is truly blessed; but those who sin should not despair, but grieve over the sins they have committed, so that, through grief they may again attain blessedness. It is good, then, to pray always and not to lose heart, as the Lord says, And again the Apostle says, ‘Pray without ceasing’, that is by night and by day and at every hour, and not only when coming into the church, and not bothering at other times. But whether you are working, lying down to sleep, travelling, eating, drinking, sitting at table, do not interrupt your prayer, for you do not know when he who demands your soul is coming. Don’t wait for Sunday or a feast day, or a different place, but, as the Prophet David says, ‘in every place of his dominion’.

Whether you are in church, or in your house, or in the country; whether you are guarding sheep, or constructing buildings, or present at drinking parties, do not stop praying. When you are able, bend your knees, when you cannot, make intercession in your mind, ‘at evening and at morning and at midday’. If prayer precedes your work and if, when you rise from your bed, your first movements are accompanied by prayer, sin can find no entrance to attack your soul.

Prayer is a guard of prudence, control of wrath, restraint of pride, cleansing of malice, destruction of envy, righting of impiety. Prayer is strength of bodies, prosperity of a household, good order of a city, might of a kingdom, trophy of war, assurance of peace. Prayer is a seal of virginity, fidelity in marriage, weapon of travellers, guardian of sleepers, courage of the wakeful, abundance for farmers, safety of those who sail. Prayer is an advocate for those being judged, remission for the bound, consolation for the grieving, gladness for the joyful, comfort for mourners, a feast on birthdays, a crown for the married, a shroud for the dying. Prayer is converse with God, equal honour with the Angels, progress in good things, averting of evils, righting of sinners. Prayer made the whale a house for Jonas, brought Ezechias back to life from the gates of death, turned the flame to wind of moisture for the Youths in Babylon. Through prayer Elias bound the heaven not to rain for three years and six months.

See, brethren, what strength prayer has. There is no possession more precious than prayer in the whole of human life. Never be parted from it; never abandon it. But, as our Lord said, let us pray that out toil may not be for nothing, ‘When you stand in prayer, forgive if you have anything against anyone, that your heavenly Father may forgive you your faults’.

Do you not see, brethren, that we toil for nothing when we pray, if we have enmity against someone? And again the Lord says, ‘If you offer your gift at the altar, and there you remember that someone has something against you, leave your gift before the altar, and go first and be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift’. Therefore, it is clear that if you do not do this first, all that you offer will be unacceptable, but if you do the Master’s bidding, then implore the Lord with boldness, saying, ‘Forgive me my debts, Master, as I have forgiven my brother, so fulfilling your commandment. I, weak though I am, have forgiven’. For the Lover of mankind will answer, ‘If you have forgiven, I too will forgive. If you have pardoned, I too will pardon your sins. For I have authority on earth to forgive sins. Forgive and you will be forgiven’.

See God’s unfathomable love for humankind. See God’s unbounded goodness. Hear instant salvation of your souls.
Translated by Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash).

Let Every Breath Praise the Lord

A monk and a cat, at the Holy Trinity-St Sergius Lavra in Sergiyev Posad, not far from Moscow.

Taken from the LiveJournal of Evgeny Pozniak, a seminarian at the Moscow Theological Seminary. The Seminary – along with the Moscow Theological Academy and excellent icon-painting and church singing schools – is located on the grounds of the Lavra.

Those who can read Russian may also be interested in reading the LiveJournal of another seminarian, Monk Sergey (Viktor) of the Voronezh Theological Seminary. Those who read French should enjoy the following blogs: the anonymous but excellent Moinillion au Quotidien; Claude Lopez-Ginisty's Orthodoxologie, which features the author's translations of various Orthodox texts into French; Maxime's Lexique Personnel d'un Chrétien Orthodoxe Ordinaire; Saint Materne from Belgium; Albocicade's Cigales éloquentes; and, finally, TROPINKA, la petite voie. I'll recommend once again Orthodoxie: L'information orthodoxe sur Internet as the very best source for worldwide Orthodox news in a Western language.

I'm also gratified to note that Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, finally has a proper website; and don't neglect the website of Holy Trinity Seminary.

Eclectic Reading

My seemingly endless hospital stay has given me abundant time for reading. Here are a few of the books I've read during the past weeks:
  • The Orthodox New Testament, produced by Holy Apostles Convent, both volume one (The Holy Gospels) and volume two (Acts, Epistles, and Revelation). The verbal syntax is unusual (although explained at length in an appendix) and takes some getting used to, but the abundant Patristic commentary in the endnotes is absolutely extraordinary, and can, in any case, easily be used with any translation. These volumes are everything the OSB is not: beautifully bound, tastefully illustrated, theologically sound, with good paper and even a ribbon (which always makes my heart flutter.) I also have the convenient pocket edition, which has the full text of the New Testament without commentary. I will comment more about these in the future. Suffice it to say for the moment that I can't understand how I could have lived so long without these. Buy now.
  • The Prologue from Ochrid, by St Nikolai Velimirovic. The daily readings, that is. This really is an excellent way to begin the day. The old 4-volume edition (translated by Mother Maria and edited by Metropolitan Kallistos, published by Lazarica Press in Birmingham in 1986) is much to be preferred to the new two-volume translation from Sebastian Press, even if the latter does contain the daily poems left out of the former. Mother Maria's translation – likely in large part to Vladyka Kallistos' editing – is stylistically greatly superior in quality. (Note that the 4-volume edition is called The Prologue from Ochrid whereas the 2-volume edition is entitled The Prologue from Ohrid.)
  • Reflections on the Psalms, by C. S. Lewis. Highly recommended for anyone who has puzzled over the Psalms. I hope to comment on this book in the near future.
  • David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens. If you haven't read this, you must. Perhaps the most good-heartedly hilarious book I've ever read. (Dark humor is always much easier to comeby, but less satisfying.)
  • Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville. One of those books that everyone is supposed to have read, but that almost no one actually has. (Think of Zelig.) I was tempted any number of times to give up on this one, but I'm very glad I made it through. I can't help but think, however, that it would have made a great short story if all the whale stuff had been cut. Just imagine this: you reach chapter 75 (of 135), and the first sentence reads: "Crossing the deck, let us now have a good long look at the Right Whale's head." And that's exactly what you get. A very dark, skeptical book – a sort of King Lear at sea. Nonetheless certainly worth the effort.
  • Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert. A very good illustration of the development of the passions, if nothing else. I must admit, though, that I found it much flatter than I did upon my first reading a very long time ago.
If anyone would like me to comment at more length on any of these titles, do let me know.

The University Lectures of Fr John Romanides

My friends at Uncut Mountain Supply – who earlier this year began distribution of The Boundless Garden, Alexandros Papadiamandis' wonderful collection of short stories (see my posts here, here, and here) – were kind enough to send me a complimentary copy of Patristic Theology: The University Lectures of Protopresbyter John Romanides, which they are now also distributing. I read it earlier this month, although not in "review mode," that is, without a pencil in hand. Now that I again have access to the Internet I hope to revisit it, and to share my comments here. That should give you just enough time to purchase your own copies, so that we can discuss it together. In the meantime, compliments of Patrick Barnes at the Orthodox Christian Information Center, you can read online chapter one ("What is the Human Nous"), chapter 24 ("What is the Core of Orthodox Tradition"), and chapter 29 ("On Conservatives and Liberals").

Please do not be put off by the book's rather intimidating title. This really is the best place to start if you have any interest at all in the thought of Fr John Romanides or, more generally, in contemporary Greek Orthodox theology. The lectures are almost conversational in tone, unlike some of Fr John's more difficult works, which tend to be dense or even cryptic. (It is much more accessible, for instance, than his Outline of Orthodox Patristic Dogmatics, which exists in a dual Greek-English version prepared by Fr George Dragas.)

Fr George Metallinos, Dean of the Theological School at the University of Athens, writes in his introduction to the present work that "we can refer to a 'pre-Romanides' period and a 'post-Romanides' period in our universities." This is not an overstatement. Indeed, my only quarrel with Fr George's words is that it's in fact too early to speak of a "post-Romanides" period: his influence in Greece simply hasn't waned. The only comparable figure in terms of influence on contemporary Greek Orthodox theology is Metropolitan John (Zizoulas) of Pergamon, who takes a radically different approach from that of Fr Romanides, and is indeed criticized (although not by name) in these lectures. Fr John's influence is not limited to the Greek-speaking world. Those who have read Kyriacos C. Markides' The Mountain of Silence might recall that Fr Romanides is named as the primary theological influence of the book's "Fr Athanasius," the pseudonym given by the author to Metropolitan Athanasios of Lismassol (Church of Cyprus). Many more of you are likely familiar with the themes of Fr John's work through the writings of his prolific student Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos. Readers of this blog might also recall Fr Romanides' name from my series of posts on St Dionysius the Areopagite in twentieth-century Orthodox theology, especially part three.

My reading of Fr Romanides' lectures will not be uncritical – which, I hope, should make the exercise more interesting and, hopefully, more encouraging of discussion. So, order your copy now, and we'll get started very soon. (As the cynical among you may have guessed, I hope to get more free books from Uncut Mountain in the future!)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Arising, and Walking

I'm happy to report that I am convalescing well, although I'm still in the hospital. I thank you all sincerely for your prayers and support, without which I'd certainly be in much worse shape. I'll be released, God willing, during the last week of July.

I'm just now checking my email for the first time in roughly two months, so please be patient if you're expecting a reply. Those who have written to my personal email address in the past two months should have received an automated message stating that I was away from my computer. I've now turned off the automatic messaging, but it will likely be some time before I'm able to catch up with correspondence. My cell phone doesn't work in the hospital, and I rarely bother to answer the room phone (I have – alas! – two roommates, and nearly all calls are for them), but I have received (and continue to receive) snail mail.

I hope to begin posting here again soon, depending on the state of my health and my access to the Internet. Thank you again for your prayers, and please continue offering them!