Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Due to worsening health I will be away from my computer, and consequently offline, for the foreseeable future.

Please remember me in your prayers, and goodbye for now.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Angels and Demons

The film adaptation of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, one of the worst books I've ever had the misfortune of reading, is currently the top-grossing motion picture in the world. (Again staring Tom Hanks, an Orthodox Christian, who should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.) Just how awful is the book? Here's a sample of Brown's prose:
Vittoria Vetra stumbled forward, almost falling into the retina scan. She sensed the American rushing to help her, holding her, supporting her weight. On the floor at her feet, her father's eyeball stared up. She felt the air crushed from her lungs. They cut out his eye! Her world twisted. Kohler pressed close behind, speaking. Langdon guided her. As if in a dream, she found herself gazing into the retina scan. The mechanism beeped.
What's long bothered me most about Dan Brown are not his ideas about religious conspiracies – those are just patently stupid and wholly plagiaristic – but just how bad a writer he is. Not only is his prose consistently wretched and utterly unreadable, his plots are strictly formulaic. Consider this plot line: a famed scholar is found brutally murdered with a mysterious code left on his body; Robert Langdon is called in, who soon teams up with a beautiful European love interest; a chase through a major museum guided by codes hidden in the work of an Italian artist ensues; a secret society appears on the scene as religion and science go head-t0-head; and, finally, Langdon saves the day and wins the girl. Sound like the plot to The Duh Vinci Code? Wrong. That's the plot outline of Angels and Demons, only in the latter case the secret society is the Illuminati, the European city is Rome, the museum is in the Vatican, and the Italian artist is Bernini. Dan Browns next opus, The Lost Symbol (to be released on September 15 – order your copy today!), will involve more of the same, this time reportedly featuring Freemasons and Mormons on the lose in Washington, DC.

For a bit more sanity on Angels and Demons see here and here.

Incidentally, I note with abject horror that a film version of the very worst supposedly serious novel I've ever read is being threatened.

Good Intentions

Here's my translation of a curious little question-and-answer exchange with Hieromonk Job (Gumerov):
Question: What is the origin of the expression “the path to hell is paved with good intentions”? Is it true?

Reply: This expression has now become proverbial. The closest source is the two-volume memoir-biography, The Life of Samuel Johnson, by James Boswell (1740-1795), which appeared in 1791. The author states that Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) said in 1775: “Hell is paved with good intentions.” The only difference is that the proverb speaks of the path to hell, whereas Johnson speaks of hell itself. It appears that the author of the aphorism – an English critic, lexicographer, essayist, and poet – relied on a dictum made earlier by the Anglican priest and metaphysical poet George Herbert (1593-1633) in his book Jacula prudentium (Latin, “Aphorisms of the Wise”): “Hell is full of good meanings and wishings.”

All three expressions share in common the idea that wishes and intentions are insufficient for salvation. This is in full agreement with the teachings of the Holy Fathers. Above all one must have faith: But without faith it is impossible to please Him (Heb 11:6). In the words of St Ephraim the Syrian: “without oil a lamp will not burn; and without faith no one will acquire a good thought.” How many utopias, radical movements, revolutionary programs, and the like the world has seen, the leaders and participants of which have wanted to attain human “happiness” without God and against God, relying on their fallen reason. History maintains the sad and tragic memory of this. Individuals, too, blinded by unbelief, wanting to fulfill intentions that seemed good to them, have often caused evil and pain to those around them.

Faith is necessary, but it must be correct faith. Error and delusions can be many, but truth is always one. People who are motivated by mistaken religious doctrine are certain that their intentions are good, but their false spirituality leads them to ruin. All religious falsehoods are performed with the participation of demonic forces.

St John Chrysostom says: “Faith is like a strong staff and a secure haven, saving one from mistaken judgments and calming the soul in great quiet.” The same universal teacher warns, however: “We should not consider faith alone to be sufficient for our salvation, but let us also take care for our behavior and let us lead the best life, so that both the one and the other will allow us to attain perfection.” The Holy Fathers firmly emphasize that a Christian must have a spiritually enlightened mind. Without it one can make dangerous mistakes. St Anthony the Great considered precisely discernment [discretion] to be one of the primary Christian virtues:

“Discernment is the eye of the soul and its lamp, just as the eye is the lamp of the body; therefore if this eye is light, then the whole body (our actions) will be light, and if this eye will be dark, then our entire body will be dark, as our Lord said in the Holy Gospel (c.f., Mt 6:22-23). By discernment a man discriminates in his wishes, words, and deeds, putting aside all those that separate him from God. By discernment he upsets and destroys all the intrigues of the enemy directed against him, distinguishing correctly what is good and what is evil."
Photograph: Metropolitan Laurus with Hieromonk Job at the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Atheist Delusions

Fr Jonathan Tobias, in a recent post on Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, the new book by David Bentley Hart, reminds us of why he is the reigning prose stylist in the Orthodox blogosphere. Here's how Fr Jonathan begins:
What an interesting book Atheist Delusions is (by our reigning favorite, David Bentley Hart; out this year from Yale University Press).

The interest starts with the delusions, if you will, of its reviewers. They all meant well, I'm sure, but their method seems to stop short of the second stage of Adler's bookreading technique. The friendly urbane reviewers discuss Hart's tome as if it were a sure bet in a back alley cockfight with the "new atheists." One of them went so far as to suggest that Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, on the morning they were going to start writing down all their atheistical stuff, should have realized that David Bentley Hart was out there on the field already, sharpening up his Gimli battle axe, just for the enjoyable business of separating the loci of nincompoopery from the corpora of nincompoops. They should have realized this with dudgeon and ire and promptly told the valet to leave them alone and stuck their head back under the eider down.

Come now. Tut, tut and all that. This isn't at all the main job that Hart's took upon himself and done well. His proposition was that the Christian Church brought about a profound revolution, whose effects permeated the world of human society. It established what is facilely known as "Christendom" (West and East): everyone knows that, but Hart proves that what we like to think of as "the West" is fundamentally this very Christendom – despite the current and odious attempt to establish a secular singular Europe. All the liberal things we are justly proud of are in fact Christian inventions; to name just a few: things like hospitals, effective medicine, justice for the powerless, "healthcare and welfare," the prohibition of gladiatorial combat, the eradication of slavery, the full involvement of women in religion (suggesting that the male priesthood contradicts the full participation of women in Orthodoxy is as lamentable as supposing that female motherhood diminishes the participation of males in parenthood, or that female wifehood prohibits the full range of male sexuality).

That last point sounds abrupt in a bozart age when "full participation" has been jingo-ized into hieretical affirmative action. But Christianity was the first to involve all adherents – rich or poor, slave or free, men or women, Greek, Roman and Jew – cramming them all into one single Liturgy and Sacrament, the same font and cup, the same nave. The question of "why can't I be the celebrant?" was never related to St. Paul's "in Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave nor free."
Gabriel Sanchez, another Orthodox blogger I greatly admire, also had a thoughtful post on Dr Hart's book recently. I gave you the beginning of Fr Jonathen' post, and now I'll give you the end of Gabriel's post:
I would encourage you, regardless of past impressions of Hart, to read Atheist Delusions. Don’t be deceived by the fact it is an entertaining read. That’s just icing. Rather, read it to arm yourself against the falsehoods you encounter every day about the Christian faith, its history, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Read it and be encouraged that retreatism is not the “answer.” Read it and then be sure to follow the Apostle Paul and “preach Christ crucified,” to so many contemporary Christians a stumbling block and unto the secularists foolishness. That is imperative.
I have hitherto studiously ignored David Bentley Hart's work. I did once page through his Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth – his first book, but labeled his magnum opus from the day of its appearance – but was unable to make heads or tails of it. It simply was not the sort of book I'd normally read. (When I do read works of academic theology, I nearly always prefer historical theology to systematic theology, the former seeming not only safer but usually more relevant.) I am now convinced that I should read Dr Hart's latest tome. Now if somebody would only send me a copy, I'd happily review it!

Dylan's Virtues

From a recent profile of Bob Dylan (who has a new record out):
After that evening’s show at the Heineken Music Hall — at around 11:30 p.m. — I interview Dylan again. Because it is Easter weekend, I decide to push him on the importance of Christian Scripture in his life. “Well, sure,” he says, “that and those other first books I read were biblical stuff. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur. Those were the books that I remembered reading and finding religion in. Later on, I started reading over and over again Plutarch and his Roman Lives. And the writers Cicero, Tacitus and Marcus Aurelius. … I like the morality thing. People talk about it all the time. Some say you can’t legislate morality. Well, maybe not. But morality has gotten kind of a bad rap. In Roman thought, morality is broken down into basically four things. Wisdom, Justice, Moderation and Courage. All of these are the elements that would make up the depth of a person’s morality. And then that would dictate the types of behavior patterns you’d use to respond in any given situation. I don’t look at morality as a religious thing.”
Now, there is a lot that could be said about this. What precisely he's trying to say here is, needless to say, less than entirely clear. Indeed, it's never an easy matter to untangle Dylan's utterances – although he is making more sense here than he often does. (One prominent Orthodox theologian wrote me a few years ago to ask what I made of Dylan's recent lyric "I been to St. Herman's church and I've said my religious vows." My reply was that I wouldn't advise making too much of it, given that the rhyming verse was "I've sucked the milk out of a thousand cows.") Is he simply trying to avoid a direct statement on his current religious beliefs? Is his point primarily to separate religion from morality, or simply to rehabilitate the notion of morality? I doubt we'll ever know, and I rather Dylan himself knew exactly what he was trying to say. All that said, I can't help but register my admiration for any rock star who can correctly list the four classical (or cardinal) virtues.

One of the most intelligent pieces about Dylan I've read, this review by Louis Menard of a collection of interviews with Dylan, makes an essential point about making sense of this odd man. Excerpt:
The discrepancy between Dylan the interview subject and Dylan the musician is not an artifact of celebrity. It seems to have been part of the deal from the start, and it’s almost the first thing that people who knew him mention when they’re asked about their initial impression. “I wanted to meet the mind that created all those beautiful words,” Judy Collins told David Hajdu for “Positively 4th Street,” his delightful group biography of Dylan, Richard Fariña, and Joan and Mimi Baez. “We set something up, and we had coffee, and when it was over, I walked away, thinking, ‘The guy’s an idiot. He can’t make a coherent sentence.’ ” The first time Joan Baez heard Dylan sing one of his own songs—he played “With God on Our Side” for her—she was floored. “I never thought anything so powerful could come out of that little toad,” she said. She proceeded to fall madly in love with him, and bought him a toothbrush.

People who have this experience with Dylan tend to conclude that he is a complicated human being, but the logical conclusion is the opposite one. Shelton, for his biography, interviewed a man named Harry Weber, who knew, and didn’t especially like, Dylan in Minneapolis, back in 1959, when Dylan was a student (sort of) at the University of Minnesota. “Dylan is a genius, that’s all,” Weber said. “He is not more complex than most people; he is simpler.” On most subjects that normal people talk about, Dylan seems either not to have views or to have views indistinguishable from the views of everyone else who’s hanging around the coffeehouse. His conversation is short and not always sweet. But there is one topic he does like. He is a songwriter. He likes to talk about songs. When interviewers figure this out, the work gets easier.
As long as we're on the subject of Dylan generally and Dylan interviews specifically, I feel compelled to cite an interview from February, 1966, in which he addresses the point of wearing one's hair long:
The thing that most people don't realize is that it's warmer to have long hair. Everybody wants to be warm. People with short hair freeze easily. Then they try to hide their coldness, and they get jealous of everybody that's warm. Then they become either barbers or Congressmen. A lot of prison wardens have short hair. Have you ever noticed that Abraham Lincoln's hair was much longer than John Wilkes Booth's?
Asked if he thought President Lincoln wore his hair long to keep his head warm, Dylan replied:
Actually, I think it was for medical reasons, which are none of my business. But I guess if you figure it out, you realize that all of one's hair surrounds and lays on the brain inside your head. Mathematically speaking, the more of it you can get out of your head, the better. People who want free minds sometimes overlook the fact that you have to have an uncluttered brain. Obviously, if you get your hair on the outside of your head, your brain will be a little more freer. But all this talk about long hair is just a trick. It's been thought up by men and women who look like cigars - the anti-happiness committee. They're all freeloaders and cops. You can tell who they are: They're always carrying calendars, guns or scissors. They're all trying to get into your quicksand. They think you've got something. I don't know why Abe Lincoln had long hair.
As a matter of fact, support for at least one or two points that Dylan makes here (about the connection between hair and warmth and brains) can be found in the prayers for the tonsure at the service of Baptism:
Master, Lord our God, who honoured mortals with your image, furnishing them with a rational soul and a comely body, so that the body might serve the rational soul, you placed the head at the very top and in it you planted the majority of the senses, which do not interfere with one another, while you covered the head with hair so as not to be harmed by the changes of the weather, and you fitted all the limbs most suitably to each one, so that through them all they might give thanks to you, the master craftsman.
I've sometimes thought, certainly a bit perversely, that Dylan's arguments could be used in the debate about whether Orthodox clergy should wear their hair and beards long. It would, at the very least, add a bit of color to the discussion.

UPDATE: Aaron, in the comments, rightly chides me for my failure to link to Esteban's relevant (and wonderfully discursive) post.

Doubting Obama

Daniel Larison, one of today's most astute political commentators and an Orthodox Christian (he attends this parish), has an interesting post commenting on President Obama's recent speech at Notre Dame, in which Mr Obama touched on questions of faith and doubt. An excerpt from Daniel's post:
Everyone is stricken with doubt at times, but it has to be understood that doubt, like an illness, is something from which one may suffer but which is something that needs to be remedied rather than perpetuated or celebrated. Physical illness can have a humbling effect, but a proper understanding of theological anthropology tells us that illness, like death, is part of our fallen state. Doubt is a function of a mind clouded by the passions–it is the result of confusion. It does not teach us anything, but rather prevents us from learning. It is important to see the difference between doubt and apophatic theology: one is the function of human confusion, the other is the necessary recognition of the unknowability of God in His essence. Obama misleadingly lumps the two together. As Obama would have it, because we cannot know God in Himself and cannot always understand what He wills for us we must therefore abandon all claims of certainty, even when these are founded in what God has told and revealed to us about Himself. Obama said, “It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what he asks of us,” but only for the first part of this is true. What God asks of us is well-known. In the Psalms, for example, He tells us, “Be still and know that I am God.” He has not said, “Be ironically detached and suppose that I might very well be God, depending on how the mood strikes you.” We hide behind doubt and any number of other convenient shields to protect our little selfish empires from the demands that we know God makes of us. He has said, “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and all thy soul and all thy mind and all thy strength.” What He asks of us is quite clear. Indeed, if there is anything we can say that we know with certainty, it is this.
The entire post is worth reading.

In other news, I note with some apprehension that Mr Obama's recent appointee as religious liaison to his Office of Public Engagement, Paul Monteiro, is a Seventh-Day Adventist.   

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Archbishop Averky on the Samaritan Woman

I am posting here my thorough revision and correction of a provisional English translation found online of Archbishop Averky's commentary on John 4:1-42, the Gospel reading for the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman:
The Conversation with the Samaritan Woman

(Mt 4:12; Mk 1:14; Jn 4:1-42)

All four Gospels speak of the Lord’s departure to Galilee. Sts Matthew and Mark note that this took place after John had been imprisoned, while St John adds that the reason for this was the rumor that Jesus was receiving and baptizing more disciples than John the Baptist, although the Evangelist explains that it was not He Himself Who was baptizing, but His disciples. After John’s imprisonment, the Pharisees’ entire hatred focused on Jesus, Who bean to seem to them more dangerous than the Baptist. As the time of His suffering had not yet arrived, Jesus leaves Judea and goes to Galilee, in order to avoid persecution by His envious enemies. Only one Evangelist, St John, relates Christ’s conversation with the Samaritan woman that took place on the way to Galilee.

The Lord’s way lay through Samaria — the district located to the north of Judea and formerly belonging to three tribes of Israelites: Dan, Ephraim, and Manasseh. There was a city in this district called Samaria, the former capital of the Israelite government. The Assyrian king Salmanassar had conquered the Israelites and led them into captivity, replacing the population with heathens from Babylon and other places. It was from the mixing of these settlers with the remaining Jews that the Samaritans originated. They accepted the Five Books of Moses, worshipping Yahweh — but did not forget their own gods. When the Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity and began to restore the temple of Jerusalem, the Samaritans also wanted to take part. However, the Jews rejected them, so they erected their own temple on Mount Gerizim. While accepting the Books of Moses, the Samaritans, however, rejected the writings of the Prophets and the entire tradition. Because of this, the Jews’ attitude towards them was worse than to heathens, avoiding any contact with them whatsoever, loathing and despising them.

Passing through Samaria, the Lord and His disciples stopped to rest near a well that, according to tradition, had been dug by Jacob near a town named Sychema, which Saint John calls Sychera. It is possible that the Evangelist employed this name in mockery, restructuring it from the word "shikar" — "ply with wine," into "sheker" — "lie." Saint John points out that it was "about the sixth hour" (noon, according to our time), the time of the maximum heat, which was most likely necessitated taking a rest. "There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water." While the disciples of Jesus had gone to town to buy food, He turned to the Samaritan woman with a request: "Give Me to drink." Seeing, probably, by clothing or manner of speech that the one addressing her was a Jew, the Samaritan woman expressed her surprise that He, being a Jew, would ask her, a Samaritan, for water, having in mind the hatred and contempt the Jews had towards the Samaritans. But Jesus, having come to the world to save all, and not only the Jews, explains to the woman that she would not have posed such questions if she had known with Whom she was speaking and what good fortune ("the gift of God") God had sent her through this meeting. If she only had known Who was asking her for a drink, then she herself would be asking Him to quench her spiritual thirst and to reveal to her the truth that all people seek to know; and He would have given her "living water," which should be understood as the grace of the Holy Spirit (c.f., Jn 7:38).

The Samaritan woman did not understand the Lord: she thought the living water meant the water found at the bottom of the well. That was why she asked Jesus how He could get the living water if He did not have anything to draw it up with, for the well was deep. "Art Thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?" (Jn 4:12). She recalls the Patriarch Jacob with pride and love, as the one who left use of this well to his offspring. Then the Lord raises her mind to the highest understanding of His words: "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst: but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (Jn 4:13-14). In the spiritual life, the grace-filled water has a different effect than that of physical water in earthly life. He who is filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit will never experience spiritual thirst, inasmuch as all his spiritual needs have already been satisfied; meanwhile, he who drinks physical water, just as when he satisfies some other earthly needs, quenches his thirst for some time only, and soon after "shall thirst again."

Moreover, the grace-filled water will remain in man, establishing a source within him, springing up (skipping — the literal translation from Greek) into eternal life, that is, making that person a communicant of eternal life. Still not understanding the Lord, thinking that He is speaking about ordinary water — only some special type that quenches thirst forever — she asks the Lord for some of this water, so as to avoid the need of coming to the well for water. In order to make her realize, finally, that she is speaking with no ordinary man, the Lord initially orders her to call her husband, and then directly accuses her that, while she had had five husbands, she was now, too, living in an adulterous union.

Seeing that before her was a Prophet Who knows everything that is concealed, the Samaritan woman turns to Him for the resolution of the problem that greatly troubled the Samaritans in their relations with the Jews: who is correct in the argument about the place for worshipping God? The Samaritans who, following their fathers, built a temple on Mount Gerizim, and worshiped God there? Or the Jews, who affirmed that one could worship God only in Jerusalem? Basing themselves on Moses’ order to deliver a blessing on this mountain, the Samaritans chose Mount Gerizim for their worship. Although John Hyrcanus destroyed their temple that was erected there in the year 130 BC, they continued to offer their sacrifices on the location of the ruined temple. Responding to the woman’s question, the Lord explains that it would be wrong to think that one can worship God only in one specific place, and that the disputed question between the Samaritans and the Jews will soon lose its meaning by itself, because both types of Divine service — both the Jewish and the Samaritan — will cease in the nearest future. This prophecy was fulfilled when the Samaritans, decimated by soldiers, became disillusioned with the importance of their mountain, while the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple was burnt in the year 70 AD.

Nonetheless, the Lord gives His preference for Jewish worship, having in mind, of course, the fact that the Samaritans accepted only the Five Books of Moses, rejecting the Prophetic writings, which contained the detailed description of the Person and Kingdom of the Messiah. For "salvation is of (will come from) the Jews," inasmuch as the Redeemer of mankind will come from the Jewish people. Further, the Lord, elaborating His previous thought, points out that the "hour cometh, and now is" (since the Messiah had already appeared), the time of the new, highest worship of God, which will not be limited to any one location, but will be everywhere, for it will be in spirit and in truth. Only this type of worship is genuine, inasmuch as it corresponds to the nature of God Himself, Who is Spirit. To worship God in spirit and in truth means to strive to please God, not in outward form alone, but by the means of true and openhearted striving for God as Spirit with all the strength of one’s spiritual being; that is, not by means of sacrificial offerings, which both the Jews and Samaritans made, supposing that this was the only way to honor God, but to know and love God, genuinely and un-hypocritically wishing to please Him through the fulfillment of His commandments. Worshiping God in "in Spirit and in truth" by no means excludes the outward, ritual side of honoring God, like some false teachers and sectarians attempt to affirm, but the main force is not contained in this outward side of honoring God. The actual order of honoring God should not be seen as anything prejudicial: it is both essential and unavoidable, for a human consists not only of the soul, but of the body. Jesus Christ Himself worshiped God the Father physically, kneeling and prostrating Himself to the ground, not rejecting similar worshiping of Himself from various people during His earthly life (c.f., for example: Mt 2:11, 14:33, 15:25; Jn 11:32, 12:3; and many other examples in the Gospels).

The Samaritan woman begins as it were to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words, saying in her deliberation: "I know that Messiah commeth, Which is called Christ: when He is come, He will tell us all things." The Samaritans were also awaiting the Messiah, calling Him, in their own way, Gashageb, basing this expectation on the words of Genesis 49:10, and especially on Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 18:18. The Samaritans’ understanding of the Messiah was not as corrupted as that of the Jews, inasmuch as they awaited Him as a prophet and not as a political leader. That was why Jesus, not calling Himself the Messiah among the Jews for a long time, says directly to this simple Samaritan woman that He is the Messiah-Christ promised by Moses: “I that speak unto thee am He” [the Messiah]. Elated with joy from having seeing the Messiah, the woman drops her water-pot at the well and hurries to the city to announce to everybody about the coming of the Messiah, Who, as the Seer-of-hearts, revealed to her everything she had done. His disciples, arriving just then, were surprised that their Teacher was talking to a woman, inasmuch as this was condemned by the rules of the Jewish rabbis, who instructed: "Do not speak for long with a woman" and "nobody should converse with a woman on the road, even with one’s lawful wife" and likewise: "It is better to burn the words of the law, than to teach them to a woman." However, being reverent before their Teacher, the disciples did not in any way express their amazement and simply asked Him to try the food they had brought.

Although Jesus the Man’s natural feeling of hunger stifled His joy about the Samaritan people’s conversion to Him and their salvation, He was joyful that the seeds sown by Him had begun to produce a crop. Therefore He refused to satisfy His hunger, replying to His disciples that the true food for Him was fulfilling the task of people’s salvation conferred upon Him by God the Father. The Samaritan inhabitants that came to Him seemed to Jesus like a cornfield, ripe for the harvest — while in the fields, the harvest is ready only in four months. Ordinarily, the one who sows the seeds reaps the harvest; with the sowing of seeds into souls, the spiritual harvest more often than not is left to others, but together with that, the sower himself rejoices with the harvester, inasmuch as he did not sow for himself but for others. Therefore Christ says that He is sending the Apostles to reap the harvest in the spiritual field, which initially was not prepared and sown by them, but by the others — the Old Testament Prophets and by He Himself. During these explanations, the Samaritans approached the Lord. While many believed in Him "for the saying of the woman," many more of them believed "because of His own word," when, by their invitation, He stayed with them in the city for two days. Listening to the Lord’s teachings, they were convinced, according to their own acknowledgment, that "this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world."
Icon: Fresco by Theophanes the Cretan, Monastery of Stavronikita, Mt Athos, 16th century.

Fr John (Krestiankin) on the Sunday of the Samaritan

Here follows my translation of a sermon by Archimandrite John (Krestiankin) for the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman. Please bear in mind that the Russian text I am working from is almost certainly a transcription of an orally delivered sermon, and therefore the syntax can at times be a bit awkward.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!

Christ is Risen!

Our friends, the feast of Holy Pascha has already reached Mid-Feast and is now approaching its leave-taking. The Church of Christ, our guide to salvation, condescending to the infirmity of our weakened souls, once again calls us to the source of living waters, to the word of God, which alone can quicken our soul, spirit, and body.

Today, as on every Sunday, we all look into the immeasurable, fathomless depths of this well, so that everyone can draw the water of life from it according to his strength and ability.

Today we heard the Holy Gospel telling us of the conversation between Christ the Savior and the Samaritan woman, Photini, at an ancient well that had been dug in the desert back in the time of the Forefather Jacob. There is no need to repeat once again the subject of this Gospel account. But, mentally looking into the depths of what happened at Jacob’s Well, we see with awe that this source of life has continued to function up to this very day, as well as in our own time.

How many travelers passed through the desert and, with parched lips, approached this well in order to continue on to the next well? How many times a day did the Samaritans return to this well in order to satisfy their needs and those of their neighbors with this water? The Forefather Jacob himself drank from it, his children and cattle drank from it, ladling up from the well to support his life, as did his descendants, and the descendants of his descendants. But he (both then and now) could not satisfy the constant thirst that came to him, for Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again, according to the Savior’s words (Jn 4:13).

This single meeting between Christ and the Samaritan woman turns into a meeting with the living God for both the sinful woman and for the entire world, inasmuch as here, at the well of temporal water, the hitherto unknown source of Eternal Life was first secured.

Here Christ for the first time reveals Himself to be the new, inexhaustible well of living water, flowing into Life Eternal. This source cannot run dry or grow scarce, for it was not dug through human efforts, and nothing human can cloud its crystal clarity or poison its life-giving properties.

This source on earth is God’s Holy Church, and its living water is the power of God’s grace, which forgives, enlightens, and sanctifies every person who comes to it.

We will, our friends, speak primarily of this today. Indeed, it was at this meeting that for the first time, at the beginning of His public ministry, Christ openly confessed Himself to be the Messiah, the Savior of the world – the “I am,” the Savior of the world, Christ.

Christ – God and Man – came into the world to seek out and save the perishing. He plants the first seed of the Evangelic word among a people that belonged in its faith neither to the Jews – although they also awaited the coming the Messiah – nor to the pagans. He did not reveal Himself as the Christ to the spiteful Jews, but to a woman who did not know the truth, but who was not spiteful.

The Samaritans did not know the True God, but their faith was living, albeit clumsy and unconscious. The question of where and how to worship God lived even in the heart of a simple Samaritan woman. The Jews and the Samaritans, living in close proximity, did not communicate with one another. But for Christ the Savior, for His teaching, given to the earth, there is neither Hellene nor Jew, neither slave nor free; there is the person, to whose heart His love is addressed. The love of Christ is so obvious that age-old tribal hatred is subjugated to it.

Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh… and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth – she receives this reply from Christ (Jn 4:21, 23). From now on, not in Jerusalem, where the Jews worshipped, nor on Mount Garizin, where the Samaritans gathered to plan, nor in Athens, where an altar to the Unknown God stood, but everywhere were there is a living human heart tormented by spiritual thirst, thirsting for truth, thirsting for God, will the heart meet God and worship Him in spirit and truth. No single earthly source can satisfy this thirst of the spirit, but only the living water of the preaching of Christ’s teaching and faith in Him as the Redeemer of the world.

The woman believed, and immediately became the source of living water for others. Leaving behind all her life’s cares, forgetting her water pot and her need for water, she brought a living witness to the miracle that had been revealed to her to the city, and its inhabitants came to the Source of living water, to Christ. They, too, met the Living God and believed. They said to the woman: Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world (Jn 4:42).

The Samaritan woman’s witness to God grew in her to sanctity. She accepted a martyr’s end for her preaching of Christ, being thrown into a well.

The Savior of the world, Christ, is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

But why does this Source of Life, ancient in time, today remain forgotten by many, and rejected by many? The Savior’s words I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life remain unheard, unappreciated, unaccepted (Jn 14:6). Christ explained this in his own time to the Jews, and His explanation remains in effect for all times. They could not believe because He spoke the truth to them. A lie became their flesh and blood for them, making the truth incompatible with them, impossible for them.

A lie! Is not the same lie today and for us a terrible disease bringing today’s world to the brink of catastrophe?! Is it not a lie that displaces truth from life and breeds numerous sects, heresies, and divisions around the well of life, the Church of God?! The discrepancy of words and deeds – the outcome of that same lie – kills the spirit of life in us.

Our friends, it is no accident at all that today the question of a terrible illness in man has arisen: this illness is the spirit of the lie that man has fully taken possession of, the father of which is the devil.

True worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth [Jn 4:23].

True worshippers worship in Truth. We can be bad, we can be much more sinful than the Samaritan woman, but we cannot be liars, we should not be liars. God is capable of saving every person, but He is powerless before our lies, when we become enmeshed in lies, when we lie before ourselves, lie before people, lie before God. Christ can save the repentant sinner, but He cannot help the sham righteous person, as we like to represent ourselves.

Now, when people are exhausted by spiritual thirst, sick and poisoned by the rubbish of toxic atheistic teachings, modern Samaritans and pagans seek the true water of life in order to revive their dying spirits and to strengthen their weakened bodies, everyone needs to find within themselves the truthfulness and strength to see themselves without embellishment and lies. For only then can the Lord – the Truth, Righteousness, and Life – respond to our bitter truth and teach us to worship Him in spirit and truth.

The thirst for truth – this is the first condition required of us in order, like the Samaritan woman, to meet the Living God in life. The truth of the incomprehensibility of the holiness of God and of His mercy smites our hearts, and in the light of this truth we see the truth of our fallenness, the truth of our sinfulness. A living feeling of grief draws us to the Source of living water; and God’s grace, with its live-giving strength, will restore us from our fallenness, bringing spiritual freedom to the mind, freeing us from the shackles of sin.

Our friends, we are now living now in such an accelerated time that spiritual vegetation and growth in human life take place visibly, in the blink of an eye, not taking decades to grow. Here, now, this vegetative life takes place among us. Someone was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found (Lk 15:32). How many such living dead have now come from a dissolute life to the Church, carried by a single feeling: the thirst for truth. And the Lord performs a miracle: raising the dead to life.

Following the thirst for truth, the knowledge of truth begins quickly, very quickly, in the thirsting one, for the Lord reveals Himself to the thirsting.

Truth – is the Lord Himself. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, He says of Himself in Holy Scripture [Jn 14:6]. The power of God inevitably appears along with God in our life in the Church’s Mysteries, becoming in us a source of living water, flowing into Life Eternal. Truth – is also the word of God, living, always active, leading the thirsting traveler along the path of life. Thy word is truth, witnesses Scripture (Jn 17:17). Truth – is also the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, Who proceeds from the Father and is revealed in the Son. The Holy Spirit will guide you in all truth [Jn 14:26, 16:13]. Here are the three life-bearing streams of one Source – of the Source of the Spirit of Life. But only faith in Christ can give the knowledge of this life-bearing truth.

Here is the final condition, without which the sprout of the quickening spirit will whither. We need to live in truth every minute; we need to experience our life constantly in the presence of the Living God. Here He is, with me. He sees my actions, He anticipates the feelings of my heart, He sees the movement of my mind.

My Lord and My God! [Jn 20:28]. My Lord! How can we not be convinced of God’s omnipresence by the obvious fact that history now shows us?

There is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed, witnesses Holy Scripture (Lk 12:2).

That which was done in the darkness of night has been announced during the day; that which was buried by time (the last seventy years of Russian history) has arisen and become obvious; that which was secret has been revealed when it was not expected, when many had forgotten about it; it has been revealed and shown the truth. And the light [of truth] shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not (Jn 1:5). God’s truth is now shown to us in the ranks of saints, who were once mocked, and crushed, and slandered, showing the world their truth. And darkness has swallowed up those who rose up against the truth, and their memory has perished.

I want to give you yet another example from the life of the past century, which might seem insignificant at first sight, but very clearly demonstrates what it means to walk in life before God.

A gentleman, passionate for the youth and freshness of a young maid, and not able to induce her to a criminal act by talk, decided to use his power and authority to accomplish this. At the very moment when this dove had already been overpowered and could not expect help from anywhere, the girl’s glance fell upon the image of the Savior, her heart turned to God, and she cried out: “Sir, you know He is watching!” And the miracle! The criminal hands let go, releasing the victim, and tears of repentance filled his eyes, which had never known tears.

This example causes many of our contemporaries to smile. But, my dear ones, God is watching us, and the Living God awaits our living appeal to Him.

God’s gift – man’s wonderful freedom – always places a choice before us: through all events, in sorrow and in joy, to go or not to go in the direction of God’s truth and love, of which there is no end.

The Lord is always with us, but we do not always go to God. That is why a real danger always remains for us: to be at the well of life, but to remain dead; to be at the living water, but to remain thirsty; to be near grace, but to remain graceless. My dear ones, there is no special time or special circumstances for worshipping God or for a life in God, but always and in all things an authentic life in God consists in having our concern for salvation illuminated by the light of Truth every moment of our life.

Saturate yourselves, our friends, with the water of life. Approach Christ, to its Source, and approach in “spirit and truth.” And sources of living water will flow through you to those who have not yet found the living Source and are suffering from thirst in the desert of life.

I conclude our approach to the source of living water today with the words of Archbishop Dimitry of Kherson, so that his Divinely-inspired words would be imprinted on the tablets of your hearts, becoming a true guide to life “in spirit and in truth.”

“Who prays to God in spirit?

“– He who, pronouncing the words of prayer, pronounces them not with his mouth alone, but with all his soul and heart;

“– He who, making the sign of the Lord’s Cross over himself, looks in spirit at the Crucified One on the Cross;

“– He who, bowing his head, bows down before God in his heart and soul;

“– He who, casting himself onto the earth, casts his entire self into God’s hands in deepest humility and contrition of heart, with complete dedication to God’s will.

“Who prays to God in truth?

“– He whose soul and heart are animated by faith and love, animated by the thoughts, feelings, hopes, and desires that the prayers of the saints breathe;

“– He who, worshipping God in church, does not bow down before the graven images of his passions outside church;

“– He who, serving God by his participation in the Church’s Divine services, also serves Him through his own life and deeds;

“– He who, asking God for his daily bread, himself shares it with other poor people and, moreover, does not take it from others;

“– He who, asking the Lord for the forgiveness of his sins, himself forgives with all his heart all who sin against him.

“– He who, praying to be saved from temptations and evil slander, does not himself place slander and temptation before his brother;

“– He who, pronouncing in prayer the sacred words ‘may Thy will be done,’ is genuinely ready to fulfill and endure everything that this sacred will commands.

“To undergo everything according to the will of God and for the glory of His All-Holy name, up to the cross and death.

“It is such who seek God as Father, worshipping Him.”

“O Lord! Give Thou my thirsty soul to drink of the waters of piety!”

Truly Christ is Risen! Amen!
Icon: Russian, second quarter of the 15th century.

Bishop Mefody on the Sunday of the Samaritan

Here is my translation of a very brief word for the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman by Bishop Mefody of Campanie (+1974):
What a marvelous image of Christ the Savior is revealed in today’s Gospel! Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Teacher and wonder-worker humbly converses at Jacob’s Well in Samaria with the Samaritan woman, that is, with a schismatic and sinful woman who is in an unlawful cohabitation. Conversing about water, He speaks about living water, that is, about the grace of God, and speaks in such a way that the sinful woman touches this water of the grace of the Holy Spirit, leaving her sinful life, turning from a sinner to a holy martyr for Christ, whom we know by the name of Photini – Svetlana.

In His conversation with the Samaritan woman, the Lord says that God must be worshipped in spirit and in truth.

How important this reminder is to each of us. We believe in God, we pray to God, but do we always do so in spirit and in truth? Do we always remember before Whom we stand and walk? Do we always pray from the soul, from the heart? Do we always listen to the very words of our prayer? Are we always in fact crossing ourselves with the sign of the cross, or are we just waving our hand? God must be worshipped in spirit and in truth, and for this we seek and ask the Lord for living water, the grace of the Holy Spirit, which can spiritually renew and strengthen us: Lord, grant us this water! Amen.
Icon: A miniature from the 12th-century Jruchi Gospels II MSS from Georgia.

N.B., This was the 500th post on this web log!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Patriarch Kirill on the Sunday of the Samaritan

Here is my translation of a word on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad – now Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia – from 2000:
This, the fifth week of Pascha, is called the “Sunday of the Samaritan Woman” in the Church calendar. The subject of the feast is the Savior’s conversation with a certain woman at Jacob’s Well in Samaria.

The circumstances of this meeting were unusual in many regards. First, Christ’s words were directed to a woman, when Jewish scribes of the time admonished: “No one should converse with a woman on the road, not even with one’s lawful wife”; “do not converse at length with a woman”; “it is better to burn the words of the Law than to teach them to a woman.” Second, the Savior’s interlocutor was a Samaritan, that is, a representative of a Jewish-Assyrian tribe hated by “pure” Jews to the point that any contact with Samaritans was considered defiling. Finally, the Samaritan woman appeared to everyone to be a sinner, having had five wives before uniting in defilement with yet another man.

But it was precisely this woman, a heathen and a fornicatress, “burning with the heat of many passions,” that Christ, the seer of hearts, favored to give the “living water that dries up the sources of sin.” Moreover, Jesus revealed to the Samaritan woman that He is the Messiah, the anointed of God, which he did not do always or to everyone.

Speaking of the water filling Jacob’s Well, the Savior remarks: Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst: but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life [Jn 4:14]. This is, of course, an allegorical distinction between the Old Testament law and the miraculous abundance of grace in man’s soul in the New Testament.

The must important point of the conversation in Christ’s answer to the Samaritan woman about how one ought to worship God: on the mountain of Garizim, as her coreligionists do, or in Jerusalem, following the example of the Jews. Believe Me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father, Jesus replies. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him [Jn 4:21, 23]

In Spirit and in Truth: this means that faith is not limited to rites and rituals, that it is not the dead letter of the law, but active filial love that is pleasing to God. In these words of the Lord we simultaneously find the fullest definition of Christianity as a life in Spirit and Truth.

Christ’s conversation with the Samaritan woman was the first preaching of the New Testament to the non-Jewish world, and it included within it the promise that namely this world would accept Christ.

The great event of the meeting of man and God at Jacob’s Well brings to mind the remarkable words of an ancient theologian, who claimed that the human soul by its nature is Christian, “but according to its sinful daily habits, it is a Samaritan.” We may take objection to this. Let that be. But let us remember that Christ revealed Himself neither to the Jewish High Priest, nor to King Herod the Tetrarch, nor to the Roman procurator, but revealed His heavenly appointment to this world to a sinful Samaritan woman. It was namely through her, by God’s providence, that the inhabitants of her native city came to Christ. Indeed, thousands are saved around a single person who has acquired the truth of the Holy Spirit. So it was, so it shall be. For the source of the water of Salvation, with which Christ blessed us all, is an inexhaustible spring.

According to tradition, the Savior’s interlocutor was the Samaritan woman Photini (the Greek parallel of the Russian name Svetlana), who was dropped into a well after brutal torture for preaching the Lord.
The fresco is from the Catacomb of Via Latina, Rome; mid 4th-century.

Metropolitan Philaret on the Sunday of the Samaritan

Here follows my translation of a sermon for the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman by Metropolitan Philaret of Eastern America and New York (+1985):
The Church calls tomorrow’s Sunday the Sunday of the Samaritan, that is, the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, because at the Divine Liturgy the Gospel narrative is about how our Lord Jesus Christ spoke at Jacob’s Well with the Samaritan woman, turning her to the light [of truth] and towards a good and pious life. In this moving narrative we all see, above all, a lesson for us about how careful we ought to be in judging our neighbors, and to avoid all condemning judgment of them, remembering what the Gospel tells us.

The Savior sat down, being wearied with His journey, at Jacob’s Well. The Samaritan woman came to draw water and, when the Lord said to her Give Me to drink [Jn 4:7], He received a cold, alienating reply: How is it that Thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? [Jn 4:9]. This is essentially a refusal. Later it is added: For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans [Jn 4:9]. It is not entirely clear whether these are the words of the Samaritan woman, which she added, or whether the Evangelist wrote them for the reader’s explanation. Either way, despite this near refusal and the coldness and alienation of this reply, the Lord did not cease his conversation with her. Already after His following words, we see how this Samaritan woman’s tone of speech changed dramatically. He said to her: If thou knewest the gift of God, and Who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink; thou wouldst have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water [Jn 4:10]. It turned out that, although this Samaritan woman was a great sinner, as is seen from what follows, a living heart beat under the bark of the passions. And this living heart sensed that before it was Someone, an entirely unusual Man. She immediately changed her tone, saying: Sir, Thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water [Jn 5:11]. The Lord converses with her further about this living water and, in the end, His wise conversation, filled with love, finally leads her to this phrase: I know that Messiah commeth, which is called Christ: when He is come, He will tell us all things [Jn 5:25]. He will explain everything to us, tell us everything. And she hears this reply: I, that speak unto thee am He [Jn 5:26].

The Samaritan woman was stunned, of this there can be no doubt, for here we already see no reply from her side. Probably her “tongue clove to her throat,” as they say, for she sensed the full, righteous, holy, and terrible truth of these words. Immediately throwing down her water pot, not paying any attention to Him, she hastened, probably, to run into the city to tell all the city’s inhabitants that they should come and look if This Man is not the Christ, Who had told her everything about herself, when He could not have known this.

This is our lesson: Our Lord saw that this woman had a living heart underneath the bark of sin. There are people who appear to live entirely decorously, but are dead in spirit. She had not died spiritually, for all the filth she had lowered herself into. We see this from the way that, as soon as she saw that He knew things that could not have been known to Him in the natural order of things, she immediately asked Him spiritual questions and said: Thou art a prophet [Jn 5:19]. She immediately asks Him how one should properly worship God: in the way the Jews say, or the way the Samaritans say? This means that her soul was alive in her. This means that this thought lived in her, as did confusion and searching: where, namely, is the correct worship and veneration of God? The wisdom with which the Lord led her further and further in His conversation, led her finally to say: the Messiah will tell us all things [Jn 5:25]. And she heard the answer.

May each of us learn from this to condemn no one! This very Samaritan woman had been a sinner, but she later became righteous. And not just righteous, for the Church glorifies her as the Holy Martyr Photini the Samaritan Woman, who suffered for Christ. Therefore it follows that we should never condemn anyone: we do not at all know a person’s inner world.

Let us recall another astonishing miracle, when the Lord attracted yet another lost soul to Himself through love and wisdom: Zacchaeus the publican. The Lord had just seen him, had just entered his home when he already said: This day is salvation come to this house [Lk 19:9]. Why? Because the Lord saw in the soul of this publican, given over to lawless greed, a bright spark. The Lord wisely lit this spark into a flame, and Zacchaeus became a righteous man. May these evangelical examples teach us to judge ourselves, but not others. For it was not all that long ago that we asked the Lord to grant us to see our failings and not condemn our brothers. The Gospel shows us that we have no right whatsoever to condemn, because we do not know what is in a person’s soul. Amen.
Icon: 6th-century mosaic from the Church of St Appolinarius, Ravenna.

Metropolitan Anthony on the Sunday of the Samaritan

Here is my translation of a brief word by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev and Galacia (+1936) on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman:
The Lord variously revealed His Divine origin to people, but rarely stated this terrible news explicitly. The Samaritan woman, in spite of all her sins, was found worthy to receive it from the Savior’s mouth: I that speak unto thee am He [Jn 4:26]. How had she earned such an honor? One can reply to this question conjecturally, but it is most likely because she awaited the Messiah rightly: I know the Messiah cometh, which is called Christ: when He is come, He will tell us all things [Jn 4:25]. Seeing in Christ not an ordinary person, but a seer and a prophet, she first began to speak of prayer and then of the Messiah; and not as a king who would give everyone bread and earthly goods, but as one who would tell all things, bringing revelation of God. If she sinned in having doubts of faith, nonetheless she was not as far from God as the Jews were, who had to be brought to understanding in order that they could begin to understand things even in part.

The Savior clearly rejoiced to see one awaiting the Messiah rightly, and revealed to her the great news: I that speak unto thee am He.

She was excited by this news, relating to it with the simplicity and directness of a woman’s integral nature: she dropped everything and ran to the city to relate what had happened.

Every one of us, at one time or another in life, has grieved over God’s unknowability, and has himself been guilty of this blindness. Let everyone ask themselves if they have done everything necessary for a seeker of truth. The conscience’s answer will be negative. Among those who have heard the Truth without heeding it are those theologians who have strayed from truth, which the soul should have absorbed and asked for since childhood. Their hearts have become embittered and hardened from pride and self-love.

May the Lord save our souls from such embitterment and from these passions, and then it will hear and recognize truth with the simplicity of the Samaritan woman.
Icon: 16th-century Greek; originally from Mylos, now in Adamontos.

Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

Tomorrow, the fifth Sunday of Pascha, is the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman. Here is how S. V. Bulgakov explains this commemoration:
On the fifth Sunday we commemorate the conversation of Jesus Christ with the Samaritan Woman (see March 20 for more about her). This event, occurring during Jewish Pentecost, commemorates the revelation of an obvious witness of the Divine glory of the resurrected Savior on the present Sunday, for after the conversation with the Lord the Samaritan woman and her community of Samaritans were convinced that the one who converses is truly the Savior of the world, the Messiah (John 4: 41-42). Parts of the specified conversation, serving as the subject of the Gospel reading, are commemorated in the troparia of the Canon and the stichera of Matins of the present Sunday. That is why this Sunday is also called the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman. The Holy Church presents the Samaritan woman as an example of the raising up of sinful sinners from the depths, those who are looking for salvation and are ready to respond to the voice of God, who everywhere unceasingly calls out to them about raising up spiritually. The Samaritan woman, despite "burning with the heat of many passions", did not extinguish the feeling of goodness in her heart, the susceptibility to truth and the desire to please God, and for this she was made worthy to find the Savior, "sitting on the well". "Although He truly desires to free the woman from the snares of the enemy and for her to drink living water", the Savior made the Samaritan woman worthy of a conversation with Him. And during this conversation He, having stirred up sincere repentance of sins in her, reminded this woman about her sinful life. He caused her to understand by herself His elevated teaching about the "water of salvation" and caused a flaming desire in her heart "to accept the living water pouring out from Him". "Having drank it", the Samaritan woman "preached to all" about Christ, "who came in the flesh, to save mankind". With all of this we also are inspired that Lord Himself always goes out to meet those searching for divine truth and grace and are capable of repentance, and mercifully grants them gifts even to establish their salvation, and through them the salvation of others also. Besides this, announcing to us in the Sunday Gospel reading which posited the Savior's teaching about the worship of God in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24) in His conversation with the Samaritan woman, the Holy Church teaches that we should pray to God in order that our prayer will be pleasing to Him and will be redemptive for us.
Online resources:
Icon: Miniature from an illuminated Gospel, 13th century, parchment, Monastery of Iveron, Mount Athos.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Without An (Inter-) Net

My internet connection has been touch-and-go for the past several days. Most of the time I can't get online at all. When I do manage to get online, it's just a matter of time before I get disconnected once again. The normal pattern in this: I manage, after many attempts, to get online; then I write a reply to an email or compose a blog post; and then, before I can hit Send or Publish Post, I find myself to have been disconnected all over again. Please be patient with me. I promise to reply to all emails and comments, as well as to begin regular posting again, as soon as this problem resolves itself. At the moment my patience simply isn't up to battling it. Do bear in mind that there are still two more installments of St Hilarion's article "Holy Scripture, the Church, and Scholarship" to which to look forward. Now I just have to hope that this message gets posted before I'm unceremoniously booted offline again...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

St Theophan the Recluse on Mid-Pentecost

Here is St Theophan the Recluse's "thought" for Mid-Pentecost, as translated by Reader Nicholas Parks:
On Mid-Pentecost we hear the call of the Lord: "whosoever thirsteth, let him come to Me and drink" (John 7:37). If this is so, then let us all run to Him. Whatever you thirst for - so long as it is not contrary to the spirit of the Lord - you will find relief in Him. If you thirst for knowledge, run to the Lord, for He is the one and only light, enlightening every man. If you thirst for cleansing from sin and quenching of the flames of your conscience, run to the Lord, for He tore asunder the handwriting of our sins upon the Cross. If you thirst for peace in your heart, run to the Lord, for He is the treasury of all good, Whose abundance will teach you to forget all deprivations and despise all earthly good, so as to be filled with Him alone. If you need strength, He is almighty. If you need glory, His glory surpasses the world. If you desire freedom, He gives true freedom. He will resolve all of our doubts, loose the bonds of our passions, dispel all our troubles and difficulties, will enable us to overcome all obstacles, temptations and intrigues of the enemy, and will make smooth the path of our spiritual life. Let us all run to the Lord!
Illustration: The Lord's appearance to His disciples; miniature from an illuminated Gospel and Epistle, 11th century, parchment, Monastery of Dionysiou, Mount Athos.

Metropolitan Philaret on Mid-Pentecost

Here follows my translation of a sermon for Mid-Pentecost (apparently given a few days after the day itself) by Metropolitan Philaret of Eastern America and New York (+1985):
We all know that, beginning Wednesday of this past week, the Church began to sing the meaningful and touching troparion of the feast of Mid-Pentecost, in which is said: “At Mid-feast give Thou my thirsty soul to drink of the waters of piety.” This appeal to the Christian soul is understandable to everyone, especially, of course, in our terrible time, when we hear not about the “waters of piety,” but rather about the waves of impiety pouring more and more over the entire world and over the entire human race. The Christian soul, under the pressure of this impiety, prays that the Lord would water it, thirsty, with the waters of piety. The answer to this appeal comes in the Gospel we heard today at the Liturgy, in which the Lord, as if coming out to meet the soul calling out to Him in the troparion, says: Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest [Mt 11:28]. You also know another moving passage in the Gospel, in which the Lord says: Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light [Mt 11:29].

An apostle said once that the Lord’s commandments are not grievous [1 Jn 5:3]. Here the Lord calls us to learn from Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart. If we learned this meekness and humility from Him, we would immediately find rest for our souls. Here is our present life, with its vanity and defilement, with all its hardships and difficulties – is it some evil trick lying upon man, under which he suffocates and loses strength? The Lord says, in contradiction to this: My yoke is easy, and My burden is light, and not at all that terrible burden that the world, gone out of its mind, lays on its children. If only the children of this age would understand the Lord’s appeal, that only the Lord can give rest to the soul and remove that burden that lays on it, then all of life would change quite wonderfully. But alas! We know both from the Gospel and from the works of the Holy Fathers that the darkness resting over mankind will continue to thicken and condense, and will grow darker yet. One only needs to remember that both the Gospel and the Holy Fathers have warned us that life will become worse and more difficult. Certain of them speak of some sort of subsequent improvement. But the great Elder Ambrose of Optina waned in advance that this darkness will thicken and thicken, and that things will become more and more difficult for people. Finally the era of the Antichrist will arrive, in which those who are truly faithful to God and the Church will endure such tribulations as no one has ever before known. At the same time, those who are faithful to the Lord will cry out that the Lord’s yoke is easy, and His burden light. He who bows his head under this good yoke and this light burden of Christ will immediately feel that he is free, that the yoke of Christ does not choke him, that it does not make his life more difficult but, to the contrary, eases it. If only mankind, gone out of its mind, would at last understand this Evangelic appeal and turn to its Savior, Who calls them to Himself, and learn from Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart – then mankind would understand where in fact truth and light are, and where lies and falsehood are. But, I repeat, there is no hope that mankind will understand, because the predictions of Holy Scripture and the Holy Fathers do not speak of this at all. But the Christian should not grow downcast in spirit. The Lord knows His faithful ones, and protects them as the apple of His eye. Recall how approvingly the Lord, in the Apocalypse, speaks to the angel of the Church of Philadelphia, which can be taken as all those who are faithful to Him. He says: Because thou hast kept the word of My patience (His Divine word), I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world [Rev 3:10]. The Lord Jesus Christ, as we know all too well, never spoke an untruth: if this is what He said, this is what will be! It follows that our task must be to maintain fidelity to Him. If we will keep His the word of His patience, His Divine word, as holy, and fulfill it, then He will fulfill His Divine word, and can save us from those afflictions, from those years of temptations that have already begun and which are still ongoing. Amen.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Wednesday of Mid-Pentecost

Tomorrow is the Wednesday of Mid-Pentecost. We read the following entry in The Great Horologion:
After the Saviour had miraculously healed the paralytic, the Jews, especially the Pharisees and Scribes, were moved to envy and persecuted Him, and sought to slay Him, using the excuse that He did not keep the Sabbath, since He worked miracles on that day. Jesus then departed to Galilee. About the middle of the Feast of Tabernacles, He went up again to the Temple and taught. The Jews, marveling at the wisdom of His words, said, “how knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” But Christ first reproached their unbelief and lawlessness, then proved to them by the Law that they sought to slay Him unjustly, supposedly as a despiser of the Law, since He had healed the paralytic on the Sabbath.

Therefore, since the things spoken of by Christ in the middle of the Feast of the Tabernacles are related to the Sunday of the Paralytic that is just passed, and since we have already reached the midpoint of the fifty days between Pascha and Pentecost, the Church has appointed this present feast as a bond between the two great Feasts, thereby uniting, as it were, the two into one, and partaking of the grace of them both. Therefore today’s feast is called Mid‐Pentecost, and the Gospel Reading, “At Mid‐feast”—though it refers to the Feast of the Tabernacles—is used.

It should be noted that there were three great Jewish feasts: the Passover, the Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Passover was celebrated on the 15th of Nissan, the first month of the Jewish calendar, which roughly coincides with our March. This feast commemorated that day on which the Hebrews were commanded to eat the lamb in the evening and anoint the doors of its houses. The Wednesday of Mid‐Pentecost with its blood. Then, having escaped bondage and death at the hands of the Egyptians, they passed through the Red Sea to come to the Promised Land. It is called “the feast of Unleavened Bread,” because they ate unleavened bread for seven days. Pentecost was celebrated fifty days after Passover, first of all, because the Hebrew tribes had reached Mount Sinai after leaving Egypt, and there received the Law from God; secondly, it was celebrated to commemorate their entry into the Promised Land, where also they ate bread, after having been fed with manna forty years in the desert. Therefore, on this day they offered to God a sacrifice of bread prepared with new wheat. Finally, they also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles from the 15th to the 22nd of “the seventh month,” which corresponds roughly to our September. During this time, they lived in booths made of branches in commemoration of the forty years they spent in the desert, living in tabernacles, that is, in tents (Ex. 12:10‐20; Lev. 23 LXX).
Online resources:
N.B., The Small Blessing of Waters is normally performed on Mid-Pentecost.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Holy Scripture, the Church, and Scholarship, II

Here follows the second installment of my translation of an article by the New Hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky), Archbishop of Verey (+1929). Part one is here. Two or three more installments are forthcoming. It should be noted that the title of this article could also be translated “Holy Scripture, the Church, and Science.” I have elected to translate the Russian наука in the title as “scholarship” rather than “science,” inasmuch as the latter in contemporary English usage is very often taken as a synonym of “natural science.” In the body of the article I translate it sometimes as “scholarship” and sometimes as “science,” depending on context. Readers should bear in mind that they translate one and the same Russian word.
Thus, the Church is the guide to the interpretation of Holy Scripture.

The necessity of precisely this guidance becomes especially clear when one considers to the end the great lie that Protestantism drew on its flag, and after it every imaginable sectarianism and human frivolousness and free-thinking generally. Protestantism rejected the necessity of Church norms and principles for the interpretation of Scripture. But then, obviously, everyone has to be directed in the interpretation of Scripture by his own so-called common sense [literally, sound mind]. There is no need to mention that people’s common sense can very often judge the very same phenomenon, the very same fact, differently; but I think, and this is indisputable, that our minds, in the understanding of Holy Scripture, left to themselves, cannot at all be sound. To speak frankly, how often it happens that we go astray in our lives, that our reason does little more than justify our (fallen) will through sophistries.

Normally we agree with one another very easily about questions that do not affect our lives, that do not concern the direction of our wills. That is why in questions of natural science, and particularly in mathematics, there are so many universally accepted and unquestioned truths. Why, in fact, should I not accept that the sum of the angles of a triangle is always equal to that of two right angles? Or that the sum of the areas of the squares on the cathedi is equal to the area of the square on the hypotenuse, as the Pythagorean theorem affirms? Why should I not accept these mathematical truths? Their recognition binds me to absolutely nothing. I think one can, and even should, agree with the brilliant philosopher Leibniz, who said: “If geometry conflicted with our passions and our present concerns as much as morality does, we would dispute it and transgress it almost as much – in spite of all Euclid’s and Archimedes’ demonstrations, which would be treated as fantasies and deemed to be full of fallacies – and Joseph Scaliger, Hobbes and others who have written against Euclid and Archimedes would not find so few supporters as they do in fact” [New Essays on Human Understanding, 1.2.96]. Yes, when the matter concerns life itself, then immediately fierce, often passionate debates flare up, debates without end. That is why there are so many debates about philosophical truths, and even more about religious truths. Theological sciences are the most vitally important sciences, and therefore their tenets attract such a mass of debates.

But how does all of this relate to our question? Namely that, if the interpretation of Holy Scripture is left to each individual person, then one will find as many understandings of the word of God as there are people, that is, one will not find Holy Scripture at all. St Vincent of Lerins spoke of just the same thing back in the fifth century: “Owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation” [Commonitorium, 2.5].

Scholarship, with all its methods, is powerless to establish any sort of unanimity. There are many scholarly interpretations. One can probably say that there is a shelf of books written on every verse, but not only have doubts not been settled, or differences of opinion smoothed over, but just the opposite – these doubts and differences of opinion grow more and more.

The individual person will also constantly go back and forth in his understanding of Holy Scripture if he is not guided by the authority of the Church. The intellect, left to itself, can go even further in abusing Scripture, justifying the wise words of Clement of Alexandria: “others, giving themselves up to pleasures, wrest Scripture, in accordance with their lusts” (Stromata, 7.16; [c.f., 2 Pet 3:16]). The books of Holy Scripture give particularly wide scope for unlimited and arbitrary self-judgment. Indeed, philosophers and founders of other religions left behind them whole volumes of their works, expressing everything more or less fully and definitely, and therefore there is not limitless room for arbitrary reinterpretation. But Christ Himself wrote nothing: other people wrote about Christ, even those who were not witnesses of His deeds or immediate hearers of His teaching. From the perspective of autonomous reason it is perfectly legitimate to ask whether Christ’s teaching was conveyed properly, and if His life and deeds were related correctly by the writers of the books of the New Testament. Even if we grant that these books are authentic, does that mean that everything written in them corresponds to reality? The authenticity of the books does not yet guarantee their accuracy. It is undeniable that authentic reports even from eyewitnesses are often false: the author either saw the events poorly, or misunderstood them, or remembered wrongly if he wrote decades after the events. If one begins from such a perspective, then there open limitless possibilities for one’s judgment to affirm whatever it likes, and one will found a “Christianity” in accordance with one’s own personal tastes and one’s own personal desires. I am not talking about alleged possibilities only, but about real historical facts. Already in the second century, as St Irenaeus of Lyons relates, there were people who prided themselves in correcting the apostles and in being wiser not only than the bishops, but even than the apostles (Against Heresies 3.1.1; 1.2.2).

A century ago the rationalists Eichorn and Paulus, recognizing the authenticity of the entire New Testament, nonetheless “corrected” it with their astonishing, and at times outrageous, interpretations, so that not a single miracle was left in the entire New Testament. Marcion, a heretic of the second century, said that only Paul properly understood Christ’s teaching, and that the other apostles distorted it with Jewish insertions, and Leo Tolstoy affirmed that even the Apostle Paul, “not understanding Christ’s teaching very well” (a literal quotation), did much to distort it. To whom should one listen? It is unclear, and it seems that only one thing is beyond doubt: without the authority of the Church, a person quickly places himself above the apostles, above Christ Himself, and will begin to replace Christ’s teaching with the fanciful images of his own idle fantasy. If one interprets Holy Scripture with his reason alone, then soon he will be left without Scripture. Without the Church there will be no Scripture! Even if the books of Holy Scripture remain, in words and letters, even then each person will place his own content into these forms.

It does not stop there. Reason does not stop even at the destruction of the very books of Holy Scripture. Questions about the authenticity and generally about the origin of the sacred books are the subject of the field of isagogy. At the present time isagogical studies have so expanded that they appear as nothing less than a mysterious labyrinth, from which no exit is at all visible. Every year newer and newer questions are posed, old solutions to old questions are rejected, and hypotheses are piled one on top of another. It sometimes seems that people are simply engaging in scholarly sports, writing learned books only to have something to write. Scholarly literature on isagogical questions has been growing for over a century. It is not surprising that a mountain of books has been written, but one cannot help but be astonished by the fact that there are almost no sold and indisputable results. How many self-sacrificing scholarly efforts have been dedicated to researching the origins of the New Testament alone! It would seem that scholars should long ago have come to agree about something! However, to this day, alongside the most orthodox works appear books that refute them in virtuoso fashion. Almost every day brings its own “last word of scholarship.” What is the cause of this phenomenon? The cause lies in the properties of scholarship itself, namely that it cannot be independent and free in deciding the most important questions that relate to our very lives. It gives people the very answers for which they were looking. Once again we return to the same conclusion: man, left to his intellect alone, will soon lose Holy Scripture, soon lose the very books of Holy Scripture, explaining them away as forgeries of the second century unworthy of special attention. Only the Church can give one an entirely satisfactory foundation for the recognition of the authenticity and Divine-inspiration of the well-known books of Holy Scripture.

There are two kind of knowledge: external or scientific knowledge, and inner and immediate knowledge, or self-consciousness. Science draws its knowledge either from the investigation of certain facts or, in historical questions, from their written monuments. It judges all phenomena by their external evidence, by the external traces these phenomena have left behind. But do all phenomena leave behind them sufficient external traces? How many facts from our personal lives pass noticed only by ourselves! If someone set out to confirm some event from our lives wholly scientifically, he would meet with great difficulty: not having sufficient scientific data, and interpreting the existing data in his own way, he would most like describe this event to us in such a way that we would not recognize it at all. Nonetheless, all the most brilliant scientific reasoning could not force us to change our knowledge of the events of our lives. When a known fact is in our consciousness we cannot perceive it other than how it appears to our immediate consciousness.

Let us take the “juridical error” as an example. All the existing evidence, all the data of the preliminary investigation demonstrates the guilt of the defendant. The prosecutor’s brilliant speech conclusively demonstrates his guilt. The defendant himself and his counsel cannot say anything in defense. The jury brings in a guilty verdict. The public leaves with the thought that justice reigns in the courts and that the defendant was sentenced justly. But the defendant himself knows that he is innocent, and no one can prove the contrary to him. Recall the brilliant trial so ingeniously portrayed by our great Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov. Could the swan song of the old prosecutor, in which there was so much about the “psychology that cuts both ways” and the “psychology at full steam,” have convinced Karamazov himself that he was guilty of killing his father? Or could the trial in The Living Corpse [aka Regeneration, a play by Tolstoy] have convinced the Karenins of their guilt? Is it not obvious that our self-consciousness is, for us, more reliable than all scientific knowledge?

It is precisely in the Church’s self-consciousness that knowledge of the authenticity of the books of Holy Scripture is given. These books were written for the Church, they were bestowed to the Church; the Church has preserved them, and expressed at the Councils its knowledge that the given books are authentic, apostolic, Divinely-inspired Scriptures. In the definitions of the Councils we hear the voice of the Church, which can be viewed as one “person,” because the one, personal Spirit of God enlivens it.

Scholarship has put the Church on trial; it has made its preliminary investigation. Reason has spoken with the effective and persuasive speech of the prosecutor. But the Church knows what it knows, and it cannot change its knowledge. The task of the Church’s theological scholarship is that of the speech of the defendant. For if a defendant, conscious of his own innocence, refuses any defense, then he will be convicted. If the Church refuses any defense, then the audience will leave the halls of the scientific court judging the Church. This is a temptation that the Church must prevent. Theological scholarship should review all the charges made against the Church, investigating all the documents and giving them a proper interpretation. The Church’s witness about its own self-consciousness should direct the fundamental solution to the question. The Church’s witness is not only a fully sufficient foundation for the recognition of the authenticity of the sacred books, but the only reliable basis for this recognition. The Blessed Augustine expressed this truth beautifully when he said: “I would not believe in the Gospels myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so” [Against the Letter of Mani Called ‘The Foundation’ 4.5]. In fact, Protestants or sectarians who reject the Church appear to recognize Holy Scripture. But this recognition of theirs is built on air. Let them try to consider this question to the end: why do they consider precisely these books, and none others, as Divinely-inspired Holy Scripture, as authentically apostolic works? One cannot cite scholarship, because a hopeless debate about the authenticity of a large part of the sacred books is still ongoing. One cannot cite one’s personal opinion, for this would mean to refuse to give a reasonable answer. To the question of why one or another books is authentic, apostolic Holy Scripture, all those who reject the Church remain and will remain without an answer or else will engage in different sorts of “rhetorical guile.”

From everything that has been said, we hope that it is obvious that it follows that only in the Church does Holy Scripture have its defined volume and its defined content. Faith in the Church is the true compass by which everyone seeking enlightenment of mind and knowledge of truth in Scripture can, without fear of destruction and ruin, direct one’s boat, whether one is an unlettered simpleton or an enlightened man of science.

It follows, in conclusion, that everything is determined by faith. It is altogether important to establish a principled attitude towards all the so-called negative sciences. Above all one needs to note that the most perverse conceptions about the state of modern scholarship about Holy Scripture reigns among us. If scientific knowledge in general is not widespread among us, then this can be said with special emphasis about scholarly knowledge of Holy Scripture. One often meets with such reasoning: contemporary scholarship has “conclusively demonstrated” that the books of the New Testament were written neither by the apostles nor in the first century. This is said in a tone of self-confidence that does not permit any objections, spoken in the name of science. After all, it is well known that it is the people who are least engaged in science, and who stand furthest from science, that like to allude to science and are particularly inclined either to degrade or to extol it.