Thursday, January 31, 2008

Contemplation and Balance


Today we celebrate the memory of Saints Athanasius and Cyril, Patriarchs of Alexandria. The best known work of St Athanasius, and quite rightly so, is his On the Incarnation. It’s often overlooked, however, that this is in fact the second of a pair of writings; indeed, the very opening words of On the Incarnation are “Whereas in what precedes…” The preceding work is Against the Heathen. It contains one of my most beloved passages in his works:
Just as the Holy Scriptures say that the first man to be created, who was called Adam in Hebrew, had his mind fixed on God in unembarrassed boldness, and lived with the holy ones in the contemplation of intelligible reality, which he enjoyed in that place that the holy Moses figuratively called paradise. So purity of soul is sufficient of itself to reflect God, as the Lord also says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

In this way then, as has been said, did the Creator fashion the human race, and such did He wish it to remain. But men, contemptuous of the better things and shrinking from their apprehension, sought rather what was closer to themselves. But what was closer to them was the body and its sensations. So they turned their minds away from intelligible reality and began to consider themselves. And by considering themselves and holding to the body and the other senses, and deceived as it were in their own things, they fell into desire for themselves, preferring their own things to the contemplation of divine things. Spending their time in these things, and being unwilling to turn away from things close at hand, they imprisoned in bodily pleasures their souls that had become disordered and mixed up with all kinds of desires, while they wholly forgot the power they received from God in the beginning. One could also see that this was so from the first created man, as the Holy Scriptures relate of him. For he also, as long as he fixed his mind on God and contemplation of Him, kept away from the contemplation of the body. But when, by the counsel of the serpent, he abandoned his thinking of God and began to consider himself, they fell into the desire of the body, and knew that they were naked, and knowing were ashamed. They knew that they were no so much naked of clothing, but that they had become naked of the contemplation of divine things, and that they had turned their minds in the opposite direction. For abandoning the consideration of and desire for the one and the real, I mean God, from then on they gave themselves up to various and separate desires of the body. Next, as is apt to happen, having formed a desire for each and sundry, they began to be habituated to these desires, so that they were even afraid to leave them: whence the soul became subject to cowardice and alarms, and pleasures and thoughts of mortality. For not being willing to leave her lusts, she fears death and her separation from the body. But again, from lusting, and not meeting with gratification, she learned to commit murder and wrong. We are then led naturally to show, as best we can, how she does this. (I, 2:4 – 3:4.)
Saint Athanasius, in this extraordinary passage, gives an allegorical reading of the story of the Fall. The first man, living in the place “figuratively called paradise,” lives in bold contemplation of God, his attention given solely to Him. The Fall took place when “they turned their minds away from intelligible reality and began to consider themselves.” The Fall was an act of looking away, of looking down from the One and the Real and towards his own materiality. Following this, man became “imprisoned in bodily pleasures” because his soul had had become “disordered and mixed up with all kinds of desires.” Man formed a desire “for each and sundry” passion and desire. He disintegrated, being pulled to and fro by incompatible passions, pulled apart at the seams by his own conflicting desires.

It’s noteworthy that St Athanasius nowhere mentions Adam by name. Everything he writes could equally well be applied to any one of us, as we continually turn away from God to our own selves, and then get pulled to pieces by our own spiritual schizophrenia. St Athanasius goes on to explain how this turn from the Immaterial to the material resulted in the worship of the flesh and, consequently, in idolatry. Could we not say the same thing about materialism today? Or, for that matter, about idolatrous attention to the self in terms of dieting, therapy, or “empowerment” (what ever that means)? I would urge you all to read Against the Heathen, Part I, chapters 1 - 8, which is not long at all but rich in theology.

St Cyril of Alexandria made a vast contribution to the formation of Orthodox Christology. It is very instructive to study the fifth century Christological controversies between Alexandria and Antioch, specifically from the outbreak of the Nestorian heresy in 428 to the Fourth Ecumenical Council in 451. At the risk of vastly oversimplifying matters, the Alexandrians put a great deal of emphasis on the unity (i.e., oneness or singularity) of Christ, while the Antiochenes emphasized Christ’s duality (i.e., that He is both God and man). Both of these positions were perfectly in keeping with Orthodoxy. The Alexandrian position, however, taken to an extreme, resulted in Monophysitism (i.e., the teaching that Christ has only one nature); the Antiochene position, taken to an extreme, led to Nestorianism (i.e., a doctrine of separation between Christ’s divinity and humanity). It was only at the Council of Chalcedon that these two tendencies were reconciled: “Our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same Son, the same perfect in Godhead, the same perfect in humanity,” as we read in the Chalcedonian Definition (Tomos). We see, therefore, that pushing any particular legitimate doctrine too far in any one direction can result in a one-sided and incomplete theology. This is a trap into which many theologians risk falling. We all have our particular insight into the mystery of Christ, and it’s far too easy for us to build up entire systems out of those insights, thereby throwing our theology out of balance. As Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) likes to repeat, theology is saying and unsaying to a positive effect. Too much modern theology is either a matter of saying and saying to a negative effect or, more often, unsaying and unsaying to a disastrous effect.

For more on St Athanasius, consult Fr John Behr, The Nicene Faith and Khaled Anatolios, Athanasius and Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought. For St Cyril, read Fr John McGuckin, St Cyril of Alexandria: The Christological Controversy: Its History, Theology, and Texts. For a lucid treatment of the Christological controversies of the fifth century, see J. N. D Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, chapter XII.

Humility and Humor


The following are a few extracts from an interview with Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) about Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov).

On humility and humor:
When one approached the Elder, one felt that he had a very deep humility, a humility which was not a result of ascetic effort per se, effort to seem humble, but was an alteration and transfiguration of his being. He himself often repeated the words of Saint Siluan, who said, too, that ascetic humility is one thing and the humility of Christ, declared with the transfiguration and theosis of one's whole being, is another. For the reason, you saw the Elder Sophrony also in moments when he engaged in humor, because his humor was very well-aimed, very fine. That is, when one met him, one could not understand with the external criteria of moral deontology that he was a saint. He himself was uncomfortable when he felt that someone approached him with the feeling that he was a saint. He made his humor. He said his jokes. He told various stories. He created a very pleasant atmosphere, but simultaneously you saw a depth. He did not have that humor which offends you, I would say, or in any way creates a scattered, confused condition, a pouring out, an amusement of the intellect. Rather, even his jokes had great depth. And finally, in all moments when one approached the Elder – even when God granted one to walk with him, to converse, to laugh together – one understood that all came out of a soul and heart of a man wholly transfigured. For this reason, even his fine humor and jokes touched one personally.

On self-spying:
Another thing he used to tell me at times is that we must not spy on ourselves. He said that there is, of course, the teaching of self-examination in the Patristic Tradition. But probably this, too, is something for the first stages of the spiritual life. He used to say that one must surpass this because it creates other problems. It becomes tiresome for a man to spy on his own self, to see what virtues he has, what passions he has, for then he is mixed up in a vicious cycle of thoughts and most of the thoughts are satanic. Thus, when he spies on his own self and analyzes himself, he may end up in schizophrenia as well, as the Elder characteristically used to say. What he stressed more is that, when man wants to repent and live another life, he must work positively, that is, keep God's will, God's commandments. What does God tell me? I must pray. What does God say? I must have love. What does God say? I should do that. To keep God's will – and then automatically he is also healed internally. That is, he sees that he cannot keep God's will perfectly and likewise he sees that he cannot do without God either, in which case prayer, searching, begins.

On laughter and repentance:
Furthermore, as he characteristically said, when Orthodox monastics speak with people, they are open: they laugh, they discuss, they act like Englishmen. But when they enter into their cells, the first thing they do is to cry. In other words, this repentance must not be expressed, nor should others understand this person is repenting and crying. Rather this should be projected, not imposed, just as the Grace of God does not impose, but is projected. Thus, the Elder Sophrony would tell us to repent, to humble ourselves, and this is better expressed, of course, with prayer. We should give ourselves to prayer, to the words "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me." We should say it very frequently, to keep God's commandments, because thus man's rebirth will come as well.

From Divine Ascent: A Journal of Orthodox Faith, Number 5 (Autumn 1999), 31-44, published by the Monastery of Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco in Manton, CA.

The photograph above shows Fr Sophrony with the future Metropolitan Hierotheos at the Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist (Maldon, Essex).

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Asceticism and Incarnation


Today the Orthodox Church celebrates (according to the Old Calendar) the memory of St Anthony the Great, often called the father of monasticism. The life of St Anthony, written by his contemporary, St Athanasius, is, in the words of the patrologist Johannes Quasten, "the most important document of early monasticism." It is mentioned in The Life of Pachomius; St Jerome writes that it had been translated into Latin; and it also mentioned by St Gregory the Theologian. One of the most famous witnesses to its influence comes from the Blessed Augustine in his Confessions. At a decisive point in his life he heard from a friend about two imperial officers who were converted by reading the life, and one of them was “so fascinated and thrilled by the story that even before he had finished reading he conceived the idea of taking upon himself the same kind of life and abandoning his career in the world… in order to become Thy servant” (8.6). The life of St Anthony became the prototypical work of monastic hagiography, and continues to be read and studied by Orthodox Christians of all walks of life.

The life of St Anthony makes for difficult reading for many today, however. The German theologian Alfred von Harnack wrote that it is “probably the most disastrous book that has ever been written.” The greatest stumbling block for many readers – apart from its vivid depiction of demons – is its emphasis on physical asceticism, which many today might view as a rebellion against the body, a means of intense physical repression, or as an example of radical dualism.

One should remember, however, that the author of St Anthony's life is St Athanasius, whose most famous work is On the Incarnation of the Word. Indeed, St Anthony's life could be seen as a sequel to this great work, a narrative history of the theology of the Incarnation.

St Athanasius writes of how the devil tempted St Anthony at the beginning of his monastic struggles by attacking him with carnal thoughts and desires, all of which he overcame. He continues:
All these were things that took place to the enemy’s shame. For he who considered himself to be like God was now made a buffoon by a mere youth, and he who vaunted himself against flesh and blood was turned back by a flesh-bearing man. Working with Antony was the Lord, Who bore flesh for us, and gave to the body the victory over the devil, so that each of those who truly struggle can say ‘not I but the grace of God which was with me.’ (5)
It is precisely the body that served as the battleground upon which the devil attacked St Anthony. But because the Lord Himself had born flesh, He "gave to the body the victory over the devil." St Anthony, through intense struggle with the devil, appropriated Christ's victory in his own body, while the bodiless devil "was turned back by a flesh-bearing man." It is the body that wins this victory over the devil, with the Lord’s cooperation. This is neither flight nor escape from the body.

Moreover, the body is returned to its "natural" state – that is, the state God intended for it at creation – through asceticism. St Athanasius relates how St Anthony, having spent twenty years struggling in asceticism in a tomb, finally emerges:
And so for nearly twenty years he continued training himself in solitude, never going forth, and but seldom seen by any. After this, when many were eager and wishful to imitate his discipline, and his acquaintances came and began to cast down and wrench off the door by force. Antony came forth as though from some shrine, having been led into divine mysteries and inspired by God. This was the first time he appeared from the fortress for those who came out to him. And when they beheld him, they were amazed to see that his body had maintained its former condition, neither fat from lack of exercise, nor emaciated from fasting and combat with demons, but was just as they had known him prior to his withdrawal. The state of his soul was one of purity, for it was not constricted by grief, nor relaxed by laughter or dejection. Moreover, when he saw the crowd, he was not annoyed any more than he was elated at being embraced by so many people. He maintained utter equilibrium, like one guided by the Logos and steadfast in that which accords with nature. Through him the Lord healed many of those present who suffered from bodily ailments; others he purged of demons, and to Antony he gave grace in speech. Thus he consoled many who mourned, and others hostile to each other he reconciled in friendship, urging everyone to prefer nothing in the world above the love of Christ. And when he spoke and urged them to keep in mind the future goods and the affection in which God holds us, ‘Who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all,’ he persuaded many to take up the solitary life. And so, from then on, there were monasteries in the mountains and the desert was made a city by monks, who left their own people and registered themselves for the citizenship in the heavens. (14)
Guided by the Logos, St Anthony emerges from the tomb as a "natural" man: he is neither thin nor fat, neither annoyed nor elated, but rather in a state of complete equilibrium. His goal has not been to mortify or repress his body for its own sake, but to re-establish his body in its proper relation to the soul. Having conquered the demons, he returns, as the archetypal spiritual father or Elder, to assist others in this spiritual warfare. He emerges from the tomb like a new Christ: healing the sick, casting out demons, consoling, and reconciling. The desert is transformed from the dwelling place of demons to a Christian city.

We see something similar in St Athanasius' description of St Anthony in his old age:
This is the end of Antony’s life in the body and the above was the beginning of the discipline. Even if this account is small compared with his merit, still from this reflect how great Antony, the man of God, was, who from his youth to so great an age preserved a uniform zeal for the discipline. He never succumbed, due to old age, to extravagance in food, nor did he change his mode of dress because of frailty of the body, nor even bathe his feet with water, and yet in every way he remained free of injury. For he possessed eyes undimmed and sound, and he saw clearly. He lost none of his teeth – they simply had been worn to the gums because of the old man’s great age. He also retained health in his feet and hands, and generally seemed brighter and of more energetic strength than those who make use of baths and a variety of food and clothing. (93)
The body is not only involved in salvation, it is the very place where man works out his salvation, for it is where the Lord dwells. Christ's Incarnation is the very criterion, foundation, and model for Christian life. Asceticism is not simply attention to oneself, but a co-operation with Christ. The ascetic, being led by the Word to appropriate what He has done for us in His Passion and Resurrection, attains the state of soul and body intended by Him at creation.

The full life of St Anthony by St Athanasius can be read here. My preferred print version is this.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Shining Onion Dome Upon a Hill


I have added to the webography a link to the website Orthodoxy in America, which has an ingenious church locater, a very valuable tool for locating Orthodox parishes in the United States and Canada.

Critical Judgment


From the opening pages of Wendell Berry's marvelous novel, Jayber Crow:
NOTICE

Persons attempting to find a "text" in this book will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a "subtext" in it will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise "understand" it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.

BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR

Warning: Political Content


I hate to sully the pristine purity of this web log with political opinion, particularly concerning American politics, but you really should read this open letter by Dr Clark Carlton. For a constant stream of political comment and analysis, you can't beat this blog.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Justice, Evil, Forgiveness


From a conversation with Fr Thomas Hopko about justice, evil, and forgiveness:
Father Thomas, many people recognize there is a value in forgiving and being forgiven, but see it only on the human level, without a theological dimension. Would you say forgiveness is a divine act?

If a person is inspired by the spirit of God, he or she can forgive, certainly. People can forgive. But I’m not sure you can say that in general there is the feeling that forgiveness is of value. I have met people who would say, “I don’t care. I can go on and live my life; it really doesn’t matter to me. If I’m not bothering you and you aren’t bothering me, why be reconciled?” This is plain indifference.

Another reason why people don’t value forgiveness is that they consider it to be collusion with evil. They feel that if a person has done something really terrible, he or she should be reminded of it until death, and further, that the evil should be avenged. And of course, most of us feel that any offense committed against us is irreparable. Nothing that the other person does can ever cancel it. If you kill my child, for example, there is nothing you can do in reparation, and for me to forgive would simply be to condone the evil. So I’m not sure that most people value forgiveness.

When you look at it from the point of view of justice, there is no reason for forgiveness. Only if God exists and we realize that there is either a world with evil or no world at all, only then can we understand that we are going to have to undergo the trial of evil. But if that is not there, I don’t know why anyone would forgive. Or want to. But I do think that people who are not believers in God, by the fact they are made in God’s image, can have the sense that reconciliation is better than allowing the evil to go on. By definition, forgiveness is breaking the chain of evil, beginning by recognizing that evil really has been done. People tend to think forgiveness means something bad was not really done, that a person didn’t understand the consequences, or whatever. If that were the case, there would be no need for forgiveness; it could be seen simply as a mistake. Forgiveness has to admit, and rage over, and weep over a real evil, and only then say, “We are going to live in communion one with another. We are going to carry on.” Never forgetting — you can’t, at any rate — but carrying on in a spirit of love without letting the evil poison the future relationship. Certainly that is what happens theologically. The striking thing in the Gospel is that God refuses to let evil destroy the relationship. Even if we kill him, he will say, “Forgive them.”
Read the rest here. (The icon above depicts the parable of the Prodigal Son.)

Crucified Kosovo




Lest anyone think Bishop Atanasije's remarks on war too harsh, I offer a very few pictures of desecrated Orthodox churches in Kosovo. I would encourage you to read this comment below, written by a non-Serb with first hand experience of war-torn Kosovo. For some background, I'd suggest these essays: Kosovo in the History of the Serbian Church, by Veselin Kesich; The Serbian Church and Milosevic, by Fr Thomas Hopko; and The Cry of Serbs from Kosovo and Metohija by Bishop Atanasije; for a list of churches desecrated in 1999 alone, see here; for a vivid portrait of life in Belgrade under Milosevic, I'd recommend this unusual but utterly absorbing book.

I conclude with liturgical petitions the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church has directed be inserted into the appropriate litanies at Vespers, Matins, and the Divine Liturgy:

Into the Great Litany:

For God's mercy upon us, His unworthy servants, that we may be protected from hatred and evil action, that we may have instilled in us unselfish love by which all shall know that we are disciples of Christ and God's people, as were our holy ancestors, so that we may always know to decide for the truth and righteousness of the Heavenly Kingdom, let us pray to the Lord.

For all those who commit injustice against their neighbors, whether by injuring the poor or spilling innocent blood or by returning hatred for hatred, that God will grant them repentance, enlighten their minds and hearts and illumine their souls with divine love even towards their enemies, let us pray to the Lord.

At the Augmented Litany:

O Lord our God, many are our foes that battle against us and say: "There is no help for them from God or man". Stretch forth Your hand to us that we may remain Your people in both faith and works. If we must suffer, let it by in the ways of Your justice and Your truth -- let it not be because of our injustice or hatred against anyone. Let us all fervently say: Lord, have mercy.

Again let us pray to God, the Savior of all humankind, also for our enemies -- that our Lord who loves humanity will turn them away from violence against our Orthodox people, that they not destroy our churches and graves, that they not kill our children or persecute our people, but that they too may turn to the way of repentance, justice and salvation. Let us all fervently say: Lord, have mercy.
UPDATE: This is absolutely, positively essential reading [link updated 2/04/08]; and this excellent blog has regular updates on Kosovo; this is the site of the American Council for Kosovo.

Eternal Memory!


His Beatitude, Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece, has reposed.

I encourage those interested in the theological scholarship of the late Archbishop to read his excellent study, "The Role of the Protos or Primate in the Church of Greece."

May his memory be eternal!

History is a Scandal

Here is another installment of the question and answer session with Bishop Atanasije at the Sretinsky Theological Seminary in Moscow.
Q: Vladyka, what is the Orthodox Church's position on war? How does participation in military activities relate to the commandment "do not kill"?

A: You know, history is a scandal; it is not straightforward. Our Orthodox experience is that we must fight. They censured us, the Serbian Church, and me: "What were you saying?" Even in front of the Patriarch I censured certain Belgrade intellectuals. The Patriarch assembled them, they came, and there were frequent meetings of the hierarchy – it was difficult. I told them: "My dears, come to my diocese – there we will talk with you!" One of my Belgrade friends, a writer, a Christian, told me: "How can you approve of this, they're destroying mosques, they are seizing Muslims?" There was a lot of slander, but much evil – we don't hide this. I told him: "My dear, come to me, we will talk there, and not here. And you, at your bishop's, he will not do to anyone what I do, and you will be happy. I'm not your bishop, and so you will not lecture me." I said this in front of the Patriarch. And he was silent.

If during a time of war I weren't in a riassa [robe], and weren't a priest, a Vladyka, I would take up arms and fight. That's what I say. Let someone else go pray on a mountain or something else, but that's what I would do. And at God's Judgment let me be like the last desert-dweller and man of prayer. This can not be defined. What did we suffer during the time of our suffering under the Turks? There were thirty uprisings in Serbia, and we were never given freedom, and they don't give it, and all the time bind us by their will. We can't fight, but they are free to wage war? The Americans can? Now these gentleman from The Hague do everything that the Americans say. Now they are killing peaceful people, but the Americans say: "That's normal." And it wasn't normal here before?

This is war. When you take up a Kalashnikov, the first victim of this Kalashnikov will be you yourself. You can no longer remain normal. One needs to be sincere and realistic: you can't be normal after this. I've seen war, confessed people; people's consciences worked, but they nonetheless defended their people! Remember Soloviev's Three Conversations? Read them: it's the most intelligent thing he wrote; but Soloviev wrote many stupid things, many of them: The Roman Empire and the Pope, The Universal Church, and so on. But the Three Conversations is his best. Read them, I won't repeat it.

Mr Tolstoy said: "do not resist evil." But he said that simply out of vanity. I will not put forward a theory here. One can't give a prescription of the sort a doctor would write you. But I will say something else. And I also said this in Geneva. They asked: "What is this you're saying, that the Serbs are God's people." – "Yes, God's people." – "And it's waging war?" – "And what did Israel do?" It was God's people, and they waged war. My people of God are sinful, but God doesn't have another people on this territory, except that which I have, and this is God's people. I will not blaspheme by saying this is not God's people. God came into the world to save such a people. You know what a hypocrite this Fischer from Switzerland is: Jean Fischer. I chastised him. They sent help from Switzerland: two thousand little packets and then monitored to whom I gave them. I gave them to everyone, to Muslims, to Croats, but there weren't many there – they had left!

How can one not fight against evil? It's another matter that one can not fight evil with evil. But not to fight against evil – this is not Christian, not humane, I assert this. You don't have to accept this, but this is what I think.

In Soloviev in the Three Conversations, an officer kills a criminal who had burned an Armenian village. He says: "For the first night I slept with a clear conscience." When, for instance, a girl is raped, and the father sees this – if he kills him, I won't judge him. Let God judge: He will judge.

Our Patriarch Pavle said that there is a righteous war: the Archangel Michael waged war against the devil and cast him from heaven, and wanted to chase him further, but God said to him: "Wait." Do you know how difficult it was to stop the Archangel Michael? We say that Saints Boris and Gleb were miracles of martyrdom and patience. But not everyone was like Boris and Gleb. And Boris and Gleb are not the only examples for the Church.

During war I did not seek out death, but I did not run from it. Someone in Belgrade said that not a single one of us priests were killed. That's not true! Some were killed, and two of them indeed in martyric fashion.

In general, one must not give in to the world's judgment of what war is. They can wage war? They chastised Serbs, and what have they done now with the Serbs? War is an unavoidable historical evil. Who can say to one or another people: "Don't defend yourselves!" Therefore one must not give in easily to the spirit of these times. We are all against war, but which war? I do not defend war, but one may not pose the question this way: don't oppose evil. That leads to Tolstoy. I do not accept Tolstoy's understanding as human. If, for instance, now two people were to enter a bus and begin to kill all of you, would I say: "My dears, do not resist"? I would say immediately: "Go and bind them up!" I would say that, even as a bishop. Why should one man terrorize thirty or fifty?

"God is Greater Than Our Hearts"


Here is another installment from the question and answer session with Bishop Atanasije at the Sretinsky Theological Seminary in Moscow:
Q: How does one fight against dwindling zeal for God after several years of monasticism?

A: An experienced nun once told me: "Batiushka, remember your first days, and always go back there." Or as the Fathers said: you still haven't laid the foundation of your salvation. One must go back this way in one's life. Above all, prayer that is sincere, without complexes, and self-judging. The Russians have an inclination to torture themselves, to press themselves – Dostoevsky clearly demonstrated that. That's bad.

One must sometimes forgive oneself – one of the Russians said – one must sometimes forgive one's soul. Always remember the words of John the Theologian: "My children, if your heart condemns you, know that God is greater than your heart" (cf., I Jn 3: 20). Our criterion is not our heart, not our conscience, but God, and so pray to God "Lord, come into me!" sincerely and deeply, and God will help. And if He lingers, then one must be patient: "be patient, Cossack, you'll be an ataman one day!" [A Russian expression.] One must be patient. With patience I waited patiently for the Lord, the Prophet Elias said. In your patience possess ye your souls (Lk 21:19).

Patience is a dreadful power and strength. One must wait for the Lord, and not lose hope. Fr Justin [Popovic] said: hold unto God with gasping, with tears, with desire, sighing in heart. And as long as there is this, it means the Holy Spirit is in us. He will never leave us. Glory to God, to Him, to the Holy Spirit!

Never permit yourself despair or to equate hopelessness with faith or hope. No sin, no situation can be equal to Divine mercy and Divine love. Serbs say, when one anguishes or despairs: "Udri brigu na vesel'e!" -- drop all that and be cheerful. The Serbian people have such a saying.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Metropolitan Anastassy on Language


My translation of a meditation by Metropolitan Anastassy on the Russian language:
Language is the immediate imprint of a people's soul, as well as its living history. The Old Slavonic lexicon clearly expressed this thought, making the language and people synonymous. Language, like every organism, lives, grows, and fades. A change in its constituent elements continually takes place; some of them grow old and die, while others, new and fresh, take their place, organically merging with the previous accumulation of words and notions. Every change in the national psychology, every impression from one or another occurrence in the national historical life, immediately leaves its trace on the national expression. Our powerful, free, and beautiful Russian language could only have been created by a great people, with a broad soul and a glorious and magnificent past. The musicality, depth, and beauty of our national language does not depend only upon the nation having lived among nature, always filled with a variety of sounds: the breathing of the wind, the howling of snow storms, the noises of the forests, the singing of birds, and the bellowing of bears, but serves foremost as an expression of the inner harmony that distinguishes the Russian soul. Russian speech has imprinted upon it the sweetness of the Russian heart. Since Bolshevism lowered, soiled, and split the national soul, depriving it of its former simplicity, integrity, and magnificence, our language has been choked up and hardened, losing its innate nobility, facility, and artistic expression. A language is devastated and grows pallid to the extent that a nation begins to grow poor spiritually. It becomes crudely carnal and even almost inarticulately bestial when man himself falls to an animal condition.

Why the Patriarch is Green


I'm not a believer in conspiracy theories, but I am convinced that the Wall Street Journal has a clear anti-Orthodox bias. I can't think of a single article or editorial they've published in recent years that hasn't been both misinformed and malicious. Their latest attempt at smearing the Church comes in the form of a perfectly dreadful hack job entitled "The Unorthodox Patriarch" by Charlotte Allen, whose only cited qualification is that she's the author of a book entitled The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus, published nearly a decade ago and now out of print. (As an aside, my advice to all of you is that whenever someone starts talking about the search for the "historical Jesus," run as fast as your legs will take you. And if you happen by good luck to run into a bookshop, pick up this book to clear your head.)

One wonders if the Wall Street Journal employs fact checkers. Here's the very first sentence: "Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, can be regarded as the 'pope,' or at least the symbol of unity, of Orthodox Christianity." For the umpteenth time, this is simply not true. It's so patently false that it's unworthy of refutation. Then there's this: "In December 2006, Bartholomew, patriarch since 1991, was thrust under the world-wide media spotlight when he celebrated the Orthodox Divine Liturgy with Pope Benedict XVI." Thankfully, this also is simply not true. It is true that Pope Benedict did attend a Liturgy celebrated by Patriarch Bartholomew, but had they actually concelebrated one would have heard a thing or two about it, to put it mildly. Ms. Allen writes:
Orthodox Christianity is not dead yet. Its famous monastery on Mount Athos in Greece has enjoyed new growth recently, and in America some Orthodox churches are drawing converts attracted by the glorious liturgy and ancient traditions. It is unfortunate that Orthodoxy's spiritual leader feels compelled to position the Orthodox with a Western Europe that is, in fact, spiritually dead.
Where does one start? Orthodoxy is not dead yet? And there's only one monastery on Mount Athos? Throughout the article Ms Allen consistently exaggerates what she sees as the irreversible demographic decline of the Orthodox community, as if wanting to write it out of history, a quaint remnant of the Byzantine Empire. It is certainly true that life in any predominantly Islamic country makes life for Christians of any denomination practically impossible. It is also true that Russia is facing a drastically lowering birthrate. But what Ms Allen ignores altogether is the dynamic rebirth of Orthodoxy in formerly Communist lands. Albania, for instance, has gone from a country in which the Orthodoxy Church as an institution had been entirely wiped out to one in which there is a flourishing Orthodox community. And it takes an act of deliberate blindness not to see the rebirth of Orthodoxy in Russia, not only as a community of faith, but also as a potent political force. (Mr Putin is a devout Orthodox believer, who enjoys the active support of the Church.) She is further wrong in associating Orthodoxy exclusively with historically Orthodox countries, ignoring the vibrant presence of Orthodoxy both in the world-wide "diaspora" and as a rapidly growing missionary presence.

Ms. Allen has very little to say about the book itself; in fact, she dedicates all of one paragraph to it. She writes that "the book reveals the jarringly secular-sounding ideological positions its leader seemingly feels compelled to take in order to cultivate the sympathy of a Western European political order that is at best indifferent to Christianity." Now, this may very well be true. I haven't seen the book, and I'd frankly be quite surprised if it were any good. But her criticism is essentially political: "this exercise in fiddling while the new Rome burns" she writes, "seems pathetic, presenting a picture of a church leader so intimidated by his country's Islamic majority that he cannot speak up for his dwindling flock even as its members are murdered at his doorstep." She is perfectly aware of the Phanar's precarious existence in Turkey. Now, what if the Patriarch actually had criticized the Turkish government? That, simply put, would be the end of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. And why should he give so much attention to appealing to Western Europe? Because the entry of Turkey into the EU is his only chance of gaining basic religious freedom for him and his flock. Ms Allen stumbles on to this herself, writing:
On the other hand, Bartholomew's "green" crusade across Western Europe may actually represent a shrewd last-ditch effort to secure a visible profile and powerful protectors for his beleaguered church. The patriarch has been an incessant lobbyist for Turkey's admission to the European Union, and his hope has been that the EU will condition Turkey's entry on greater religious freedoms for all faiths.
To which I can only say: Well, duh! Western Europe may be spiritually dead, but its political institutions can provide the only safeguard for the continuing presence of Orthodoxy in Turkey. (Of course, whether the entry of Turkey into the EU would be good for Europe is another question entirely.) Rather than being a "shrewd last-ditch effort," it is in fact a considered pragmatic approach, even if one that does result in a few lousy books along the way.

(The photograph above was taken in September 1955, following a state-sponsored and unspeakably vicious pogrom against the Greek Orthodox community.)

On the Church and Eternity


The following is my translation of a short piece by Bishop Atanasije (Jevtic) that appeared in Vstrecha, 1 (22) 2006, the student magazine of the Moscow Theological Academy. The paragraph in italics is the editors' introduction:
The Church is without beginning, without end, and eternal, just as its founder, the Trinitarian God, is without beginning, without end, and eternal. The Church is uncreated, just as God is uncreated. It existed before the ages, before the angels, before the creation of the world…” Thus began the article, “On the Church,” by Archimandrite Porphirios the Kapsokalivite (Bairaktaris + 1991), one of the most authoritative Greek spiritual fathers, in our last issue. We asked Bishop Atanasije, a well-known theologian of the Serbian Church, to give a theological commentary on this assertion.

That the Church is eternal and that its being will never end requires no demonstration. The Apostle Paul, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, tells us: But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel (Heb 12:22-24). This is our homeland (cf., Heb 11:14) and our city, the founder of which is Christ (cf., I Cor 3:11; Eph 2:20, Heb 11:10).

But we can also speak of the eternity of the Church from the beginning. The Holy Trinity is the prototype of the Church. Saint Photius, in one of his sermons, said the Holy Trinity was “en-churched” (ekklisiasasa) and created the world, that is, gathered in Council and was manifest as the Church. The Church, as a design of Divine oikonomia [dispensation], is without beginning. St Gregory of Nyssa spoke about this: “kosmou ktisis ekklisias kataskeui” “the creation of the world is already the foundation of the Church” (cf., Heb 4:3). At the Pre-eternal Council God decreed to create the world, and decreed the Incarnation would be accomplished for the intimate union between God and His creation. This unity arises in the Son of God; and, loving His Son, God loves us. One may say that the entire history of the world is the history of the Church.

Christ is the Church. The holy Apostle Paul identifies the Mystery of Christ with the Mystery of the Church in his Epistles (cf., I Cor 10: 16-17, 12:12, Col 1:18-27). Our Lord is not only the Head, but also the Beginning (ap’ arkhi), its first and best Part, the first member of His Church, in Whom everyone else is co-corporeal. Therefore St Maximus the Confessor identifies the Church with God in his Mystagogia. We can make such an identification in Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ. One must understand it as the Body in the sense that all creation participates in Christ; rational creation, such as man and angels, participate, and participate freely. Christ will be, as St Gregory Palamas says, a myriad of hypostases (murioupostatos), because our hypostases will be united with Him. Our identification with Christ will by no means deprive us of our individuality; on the contrary, it will only affirm us, make us real. The Apostle Paul, who said yet not I, but Christ liveth in me (Gal 2:20), was a very distinct person. And each of us is to become Christ. As an event (gegonos), as a reality, as the Church – all this is repeated (and perfected) in us. Therefore the Church is conceived from eternity and already “pre-incarnate” in Christ. Moses saw on Mount Sinai the image by which he made the tabernacle (cf., Heb 8:5). This image was the Church, and the tabernacle was made according to the image of the Church. This eschatological perspective demonstrates that the Church is older and prior to the tabernacle (as St Hermas put it in his Shepherd).

The image of union between Adam and God was less than that of the Apostles at Pentecost. It was only a foretaste of the Church. And now our taste is also incomplete: “grant us to partake of Thee more fully,” we say [Paschal Canon, 9th Ode]; that is, more fully, more completely -– there, in the Heavenly Kingdom. St Maximus the Confessor, in his scholia on the Areopagite, says that there was an image (eikona) there, while the Truth will be in eternity, in the future age.

The Church in the Revelation of St John the Theologian is the New Jerusalem, the New Heaven and the New Earth, the Bride of Christ, in Whom it pre-existed. In the Incarnation it came into existence as His Body, in which He dwelt (eskinosen) with us (cf., Jn 1:14, Rev 21:3). The Church became His Body, His fullness; the fullness of Him Who fills all in all (cf., Eph 1:22-23). Such is the Christological, pneumatological, and eschatological understanding of the Church. We can fully speak of the establishment and growth of the Church, because we may speak of our growth in it, of our en-churchment [votserkovlenii] and incorporation into Christ.
(The above icon, "All Creation Rejoices in Thee," is the work of Brian Nicholas Tsai.)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Old Whine in New Bottles


This new book looks like a real doozy. Here's the blurb:
Scholar, theologian, apologist, and pastor, Dr. Robert A. Morey, defines, documents, and refutes the group of religions that go by the name "Eastern Orthodoxy," in his latest book Is Eastern Orthodoxy Christian? With a title that intentionally begs the question, the book serves as a helpful resource for Christian apologists and evangelists that desire to defend the faith and win the lost for Christ. Dr. Morey's many years of intense academic research and personal interviews with Eastern Orthodox theologians and followers have become the basis for the subjects addressed in this 200 page book. With six short chapters, two comprehensive appendixes, and hundreds of footnotes, Is Eastern Orthodoxy Christian? by Dr. Robert Morey will be among the top picks for 2008.

"Eastern Orthodoxy" is a group of religions? Interesting. Hey, but it's got hundreds of footnotes, so it can't be all bad.

Let's look at some of Dr. Morey's other choice assertions:

On Hellenization:
With an extensive section on the Hellenization of Eastern Orthodoxy, Dr. Morey provides documented proof that is beyond refutation that from its beginning, Eastern Orthodox theology was molded and shaped by pagan doctrines and rituals.

On Theosis:
"The historical origins of the doctrine, experience, and techniques of deification have been traced back by Orthodox scholars to the ancient Eastern mysticism found in Hinduism and Buddhism. This is well-documented and beyond refutation."
On Iconography:
"The connection between the pre-Christian pagan doctrine of deification and icon/relic worship in Eastern Orthodoxy is obvious. When the pagans took over the Orthodox Church, they brought their belief in apotheosis and their worship of icons/relics with them. The icon worship practiced today in every Orthodox Church was originally practiced by pagans before Jesus was born."

And then there is this in the insightful review by Stephen Mascasil from biblicalthought.com (Dr Morey's own website):
One advantage in purchasing multiple copies of the book is because, usually, Protestant converts to Eastern Orthodoxy like to read, and read a lot. So, this book acts like a big fat tract that will get read, and as I mentioned earlier, perhaps by God's sovereign grace He'll save some.

Now, who is this "scholar, theologian, apologist, and pastor"? According to Wikipedia, the erudite Dr Morey "claims to have a Doctor of Philosophy in Islamic Studies from the unaccredited Louisiana Baptist University" and "and a Doctor of Divinity, usually an honorary degree bestowed upon someone who has made distinguished contributions to the field of religion, from Faith Theological Seminary in Gujranwala, Pakistan, but there is some controversy over whether this degree was bestowed (and later rescinded) with the proper authority." Having received such stellar unaccredited degrees, he judged himself capable of bestowing unaccredited degrees of his own by becoming the founder, executive officer, and primary faculty member (one wonders whether he has any employees) of the unaccredited California Biblical University and Seminary (University and Seminary, mind you), a distance education school (or, in the vernacular, a diploma mill).

A little bit of Googling brings one to the official web page of the Pakistan Christian Post, where an article entitled "Facts about Robert A. Morey" begins with these words:
Robert A. Morey, treacherous thief, malicious person, third rate scholar, self appointed bishop, who is misleading the Christians and Pakistani Christians living in North America and with his spite, malice he has corrupted the Christianity.

There is no doubt in my mind that Robert Morey is an Insane Monster misleading the Christians of North America.

And that's just the beginning.

I have to admit that I'm rather glad that the estimable Dr Morey (aka Insane Monster) has written this book. For one thing, it shows that many Evangelicals are running scared from Orthodoxy. Such a book would not have been necessary a few years ago. (Not that it's necessary now.) Second, his book looks so atrocious, and so easily refuted, that its not likely to convince any honest Evangelical with its case against Orthodoxy, which seems a few draughts short of air-tight. Finally, it's encouraging that our scholar has recycled only the most patently moronic of anti-Orthodox criticisms, all of which have been answered long ago. He is truly standing on the shoulders of midgets.

Leonid Ouspensky


I see that a short study of the life and work of the great and influential iconographer, Leonid Alexandrovich Ouspensky (1902-1987), will be released this spring. He is perhaps best known in the English-speaking world for such books as The Meaning of Icons (co-authored with his close friend Vladimir Lossky) and the indispensable two-volume work Theology of the Icon. He was also a friend of Photis Kontoglou, who was in many ways his Greek counterpart.

Leonid Alexandrovich's widow, Lydia Alexandrovna, writes the following about his Church activities in Paris:
In the late 1930’s he followed Georgii Ivanovich Krug and joined the association of Orthodox theologians, intellectuals and artists in Paris known as the “Stavropegial Brotherhood of Saint Photios .” There he became close to the theologian, Vladimir Nikolaevich Lossky, and to the brothers, Maxim and Evgraf Kovalevsky.

Each member of the Brotherhood worked in his own field. Vsevolod Palashkovski was a liturgist; Maxim Kovalevsky was a great and talented master of Church singing and a choir director; his brother, the future Archpriest Evgraf Kovalevsky, was a brilliant canonist; Vladimir Lossky was already a famous theologian (by the time the war had begun in 1939); Georgii Ivanovich Krug and Leonid Alexandrovich Ouspensky were icon painters.

The Brotherhood had other members. It met once a week at the homes of the various members. At these meetings each member discussed his work in progress. The overall work of the Brotherhood was enriched by contacts with the Moscow Patriarchate. At that time the Brotherhood of Saint Photios played an important role in the life of the Church in France. It proved decisive in the formation of Patriarchal parishes. These were to become the Exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate when the schism of 1931 divided the Russian communities in Western Europe. In 1936 the reception into the Orthodox Church of the first large group of French people took place, largely thanks to the work and witness of members of the Brotherhood. When the Russian community became divided over the question of sophiology, members of the Brotherhood again played a leading role in clarifying the issue and defending the Church’s doctrinal integrity. And that role consisted, essentially, in the recovery of the Patristic spirit of the Church, and the re-assertion of the traditional place of the Eucharist and the Liturgy in the life of the community. This work was tragically interrupted by the Second World War and the German occupation of Paris.

A selection of his panel icons can be viewed here; some of his work done for l'Eglise de Notre Dame Joie des Affliges et Ste Genevieve in France can be seen here.

We Are All Uncanonical Now


The following is the introduction to Fr Alexander Schmemann's prophetic essay, Problems of Orthodoxy in America: The Canonical Problem, originally published in 1964. It should be required reading for all who toss around the words "canonical" and "uncanonical" loosely:
No term is used—and misused—among the Orthodox people in America more often than the term canonical. One hears endless discussions about the "canonicity" or the "uncanonicity" of this or that bishop, jurisdiction, priest, parish. Is it not in itself an indication that something is wrong or, at least, questionable from the canonical point of view in America, that there exists a canonical problem which requires an overall analysis and solution? Unfortunately the existence of such a problem is seldom admitted. Everyone simply claims the fullness of canonicity for his own position and, in the name of it, condemns and denounces as uncanonical the ecclesiastical status of others.

And one is amazed by the low level and cynicism of these "canonical" fights in which any insinuation, any distortion is permitted as long as it harms the "enemy." The concern here is not for truth, but for victories in the form of parishes, bishops, priests "shifting" jurisdictions and joining the "canonical" one. It does not matter that the same bishop or priest was condemning yesterday what today he praises as canonical, that the real motivations behind all these transfers have seldom anything to do with canonical convictions; what matters is victory. We live in the poisoned atmosphere of anathemas and excommunications, court cases and litigations, dubious consecrations of dubious bishops, hatred, calumny, lies! But do we think about the irreparable moral damage all this inflicts to our people? How can they respect the Hierarchy and its decisions? What meaning can the very concept of canonicity have for them? Are we not encouraging them to consider all norms, all regulations, all rules as purely relative?

One wonders sometimes whether our bishops realize the scandal of this situation, whether they ever think about the cynicism all this provokes and feeds in the hearts of Orthodox people. Three Russian jurisdictions, two Serbian, two Romanian, two Albanian, two Bulgarian. A split among the Syrians . . . The animosity between the Russians and the Carpatho-Russians... The Ukrainian problem! And all this at a time when Orthodoxy in America is coming of age, when truly wonderful possibilities exist for its growth, expansion, creative progress. We teach our children to be "proud" of Orthodoxy, we constantly congratulate ourselves about all kinds of historic events and achievements, our church publications distill an almost unbearable triumphalism and optimism, yet, if we were true to the spirit of our faith we ought to repent in "sackcloth and ashes," we ought to cry day and night about the sad, the tragical state of our Church. If "canonicity" is anything but a pharisaic and legalistic self-righteousness, if it has anything to do with the spirit of Christ and the tradition of His Body, the Church, we must openly proclaim that the situation in which we all live is utterly uncanonical regardless of all the justifications and sanctions that every one finds for his "position."

For nothing can justify the bare fact: Our Church is divided. To be sure, there have always been divisions and conflicts among Christians. But for the first time in history division belongs to the very structure of the Church, for the first time canonicity seems strangely disconnected from its fundamental "content" and purpose—to assure, express, defend and fulfill the Church as Divinely given Unity, for the first time, in other terms, one seems to find normal a multiplicity of "jurisdictions". Truly we must wake up and be horrified by this situation. We must find in ourselves the courage to face it and to re-think it in the light of the genuine Orthodox doctrine and tradition, no matter what it will cost to our petty human likes and dislikes. For unless we, first, openly admit the existence of the canonical problem and, second, put all our thoughts and energies into finding its solution, the decadence of Orthodoxy will begin—in spite of the million-dollar churches and other magnificent "facilities" of which we are so justly proud. "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?" (1 PET. 4: 17).
One must sadly admit that matters have only gotten worse in the close to half-century since Fr Alexander penned these words. True, the Serbian Church healed its schism, the Ukrainians have for the most part united under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad has overcome its division with the Church in Russia. That said, the number of rival jurisdictions seems to grow daily. How many local Orthodox Churches have decided to open up branches in North America, to be populated largely by converts with no genealogical ties to their new "Mother Churches"? Into how many new groups have the various "True Calendar" multiplied like cancer cells? And all the while, each jurisdiction shrouds itself under the mantle of "canonicity." Building on Fr Alexander's reflections, we must admit that we are all fundamentally uncanonical, whether we belong to so-called "World Orthodoxy" to or so-called "True Orthodoxy," or anywhere in between. If nothing else, let us stop using "canonical" as a self-congratulating sobriquet for ourselves, and "uncanoncial" as a negative epithet for everyone else. Let those in the "official" Orthodox jurisdictions have the humility to learn from the uncompromising stance of the zealots, and let the zealots appreciate that they do not have an exclusive claim to the Truth. (Granted there are groups that call themselves Orthodox that really are entirely illegitimate, but they are few and far between.) Let us bear in mind Fr Alexander's concluding words:
In the last analysis the requirements of our Orthodox canonical tradition, the solution of our canonical problem coincides, strange as it may seem, with the most practical solution, with common sense. But it is not strange. For Tradition is not a dead conformity with the past. Tradition is life and truth and the source of life. "Ye shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free."— free to follow the glorious Truth and to fulfill in this great country the mission of Orthodoxy.
Amen!

Friday, January 25, 2008

True Christian Love


From an interview with His Grace, Bishop Artemije of Raska and Prizren (Serbian Orthodox Church):
Q: One could conclude that there are various theological views within Orthodoxy about co-operation with Roman Catholic Church since, based on the facts, Orthodox theologians also participated in the works of the International Commissions, while the [Ravenna] document has been harshly criticized by their brothers.

A: There exist only those persistent in their confession of Faith and those ready for various kinds of compromise, abatement, and condescension. Many Orthodox participants at those ecumenical gatherings are not confessors of their faith; accordingly, they can not represent the teaching of the Orthodox Church. If they were in fact worthy representatives of the Orthodox Church and Orthodox Teaching, they would, above all, listen to the Apostle Paul who says, "to stay away from a heretical man after the first and second approaches." How far are we going to go with those dialogs, commissions – until there is no end? Are we there counseling those in heresy, in delusion? No, we are seeking to compromise with them. True love for a Christian is to secure eternal life for one's neighbor, which means you straightforwardly say he is in error, and try to return him to the truth, directing him onto the path of salvation. Encouraging someone to remain in his delusion is not love, but hatred, according to St. Maximus the Confessor.
Photograph, L to R: Fr (now Metropolitan) Amfilohije, Fr (now Bishop) Atanasije, "Lepura," Fr Justin, Fr (now Bishop) Artemije, 1977.

The Old New Atheism


A few days I encouraged all and sundry to drop everything they were doing, run to their neighborhood bookseller, purchase a copy of Marilynne Robinson's stellar novel Gilead, call in sick until they've finished it, and then take a sabbatical to think about it.

Those who have not yet done so (say, if they were giving birth or were orbiting Mars) can redeem themselves slightly be reading Ms. Robinson's trenchant review of Richard Dawkins' abysmal (I've had the misfortune of reading it, so I use that word advisedly) newish book, The God Delusion.

A selection, to whet your appetite:
The nineteenth-century abolitionist, feminist, essayist, and ordained minister Thomas Wentworth Higginson made the always timely point that, in comparing religions, great care must be taken to consider the best elements of one with the best of the other, and the worst with the worst, to avoid the usual practice of comparing, let us say, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie with the Golden Rule. The same principle might be applied in the comparison of religion and science. To set the declared hopes of one against the real-world record of the other is clearly not useful, no matter which of them is flattered by the comparison. What is religion? It is described by Dawkins as a virtually universal feature of human culture. But there is, commingled with it, indisputably and perhaps universally, doubt, hypocrisy, and charlatanism. Dawkins, for his part, considers religion wholly delusional, and he condemns the best of it for enabling all the worst of it. Yet if religion is to be blamed for the fraud done in its name, then what of science? Is it to be blamed for the Piltdown hoax, for the long-credited deceptions having to do with cloning in South Korea? If by "science" is meant authentic science, then "religion" must mean authentic religion, granting the difficulties in arriving at these definitions.

I wish, then, to speak of science in the highest sense of the word, as the astonishingly fruitful human venture into understanding of the world and the universe. The reader may assume a somewhat greater admiration on my part for religion in the highest sense of the word, though I will not go into that here. Science thus defined does not claim to understand gravity, light, or time. This is a very short list of its mystifications, its inquiries, all of which are beautiful to ponder. These three are sufficient to persuade me that conclusions about the ultimate nature of things are, to say the least, premature, and that to suggest otherwise is unscientific. The finer-grained the image of reality physicists achieve, the more alien it appears to every known strategy of comprehension.

I'll post my own reactions to Hitchens and Dawkins at some point in the near future. In the meantime, you can treat yourself to another good review, this time by the critic (and Marxist!) Terry Eagleton. I'll get you started by citing the opening paragraph:
Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster. These days, theology is the queen of the sciences in a rather less august sense of the word than in its medieval heyday.

For the benefit of the lazy and illiterate, two videos: a good lecture by Roman Williams called "How to Misunderstand Religion" (the text itself seems to have vanished) here, and a debate between an irenic Alister McGrath and a belligerent Christopher Hitchens may be watched here. (Best line of the evening: McGrath to Hitchens: "I take it you do not believe in Hell or anything like that, and therefore I don't see what the difficulty is for you personally.")

My final word for the moment is this: if any of you are even the slightest bit tempted by atheism, then you must read Dawkins or Hitchens, for you'll see that the contemporary case for atheism is intellectually bankrupt.

Illustration: St Nicholas striking Arius at the First Ecumenical Council.

Prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian


From my correspondence: a question and answer about the Lenten Prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian:

Q: I was just now wondering (for a small translation that I'm doing) about the differences in the renderings of the Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim. In Greek, the terms seem to be: sloth, [excessive] curiosity, lust for power, and idle talk on the one hand, and self-control/abstinence, humility, patience, and love on the other. The English I've been using for years, which presumably comes from a Slavonic version, has "faint-heartedness" (sometimes 'despondency') instead of curiosity, and "chastity" instead of self-control. If St. Ephraim's prayer was originally composed in Syriac, do you know where these various translations come from? Or, alternatively, could you suggest to me sources to consult?

A: It first needs to be said that only a portion of the writings that have come down to us in Greek (and subsequently, through translation from the Greek, into other languages) were in fact written by St Ephraim. Scholars tend to differentiate between the authentic works of St Ephraim (composed, of course, in Syriac) and the "Greek Ephraim," meaning works in Greek that have been ascribed to St Ephraim. The "Prayer of St Ephraim" is usually considered to belong to the latter. To my knowledge an original Syriac text of this prayer does not exist.

1. Periegia/unyniia

The Greek word translated as "idle curiosity" is "periergia," where the (modern) Slavonic has "unyniia," which translates as "despondency," and corresponds to the Greek "akedia," one of the principle sins. "Faint-heartedness" is another possible translation. In today's terms we might think of it as "depression." This Slavonic reading (that is, despondency rather than curiosity) goes back to the earliest Pre-Nikonian texts, so seems to have been there from the beginning. Fr Ephrem Lash asks: "Does this go back to a different original, or is it a reflection of differing national temperaments?" I'm afraid I don't have an answer. (Although it must be granted that Greeks are hopelessly lazy and curious, while Russians are famously gloomy.) The Romanian version, incidentally, follows the Greek

2. sophrosune/tselomudria

The Slavonic word translated as "chastity" is "tselomudria," which could be more literally translated as "whole-mindedness." This is in fact a literally translation of the Greek "sophrosune." Perhaps this could be translated (from either Slavonic or Greek) as "integrity." "Self-control," I suppose, is another possible reading. But, in any case, there is no divergence between the Greek and Slavonic here.

It should also be noted that there are at least three different Slavonic readings: the Pre-Nikonian (still used by today's Old Ritualists), the Kievan version of 1639 (used today mainly by Uniate churches), and the Nikonain version of 1656. All three of these readings use "unyniia."

See also: Ephrem Lash, "The Greek Writings Attributed to Saint Ephrem the Syrian," in Abba: The Tradition of Orthodoxy in the West: Festschrift for Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, ed by John Behr, Andrew Louth, and Dimitri Conomos.

The Logos of the Heart


Fr Thomas Hopko on C. S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man, from his commencement address at St Vladimir's Seminary in 2007:
I would also recommend today, and, again, if I could, I would also insist that all thinking Christians, and surely all seminary students and graduates, be required to read one other book that contains, in my view, the most incisive analysis of what has happened to humanity in the last fifty years. It is C. S. Lewis’s prophetic masterpiece written in 1944 called The Abolition of Man. This slender volume should be read slowly, methodically and carefully many times over. Parts of it, which I have read more than ten times, are still unclear to me. But its main point is crystal clear.

Lewis says that for human beings to see, know, love, adore and offer fitting thanksgiving for all that is good, true and beautiful in human life, and so to remain fully and truly human, they must possess and cultivate the uniquely human faculty that differentiates them from angels and beasts, and, we must also add today, from the artificial intelligence of electronic technology. Lewis calls this faculty the “Tao.” He says that it may also be called the “image of God” or the “spark of divinity” or the Law or the Logos or the Heart. (Today, if he knew Orthodox literature, he might have also said that it may be called the Nous.) Whatever one calls it, it is the faculty whereby human beings intuit and contemplate the basic truths of human being and life that ground all ratiocination, discourse and disputation. Lewis claimed in 1944 that if the methods of education prevailing in the schools of his day prove to be successful, this uniquely human faculty will be obliterated, and human beings as we have known them will no longer exist. It will literally be “the abolition of man.”

I am convinced that what Lewis foresaw has happened, and is still happening with ever more catastrophic consequences, in our Western and Westernized worlds. It happens that men and women who once were human are simply no longer so. They have become nothing but minds and matter, brains and bodies, computers and consumers, calculators and copulators, constructers and cloners who believe that they are free and powerful but who are in fact being destroyed by the very “Nature” that they wish to conquer as they are enslaved to an oligarchy of “Conditioners” who are themselves enslaved and destroyed by their insane strivings to define, design and manipulate a world and a humanity bereft of the God who boundlessly loves them.

Others have seen and said similar things to what C. S. Lewis saw and said: Fyodor Dostoevsky, Karl Stern, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Thomas Merton, the alleged atheist Anton Chekhov, and my most beloved Flannery O’Connor are among my personal favorites.

An audio lecture by Fr Thomas on this work can be heard here.