Monday, May 31, 2010

Fr Andrew Louth


Commencement at Holy Trinity Seminary

My congratulations go out to Holy Trinity Seminary's graduating class of 2010. My particularly congratulations go out to my old boss, Protodeacon Vladimir Tsurikov (pictured, above), the Dean, who was ordained to the priesthood (and elevated to the rank of Archpriest) by His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.

The commencement speaker was Dr Valeria Nollan, the L. Palmer Brown Professor of Interdisciplinary Humanities and Associate Professor of Russian at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN.

Archimandrite Luke (Rector), Metropolitan Hilarion, and Archpriest Vladimir Tsurikov (Dean).
Archimandrite Luke (Rector), His Grace, Bishop George of Mayfield, and His Eminence, Archbishop Justinian of Naro-Fominsk, Administrator of the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in North America.

Photos courtesy of Vladyka George.

UPDATE: For more, go here.

Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (1 of 2)

The Image of the Icon: Artist and Iconographer in Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev

The viewer’s experience of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Andrei Rublev is likely to be a varying sense of hypnosis and boredom: at best one can witness the ancient chronicles and illustrated manuscripts come to life, while at worst one might despair of finding any narrative structure or character development in hour after hour of film. Any hope of seeing the life of Andrei Rublev, as might be suggested by the film’s title, is disappointed, as is the hope of discerning a clear parallel between Andrei’s life and Christ’s passion, as the film’s subtitle would seem to indicate. Solzhenitsyn, who disapproved of the film, called it “an impossibly long film filled with extra episodes which have no bearing on the main story.”[1] Nor, for that matter, does one see what one would most expect in a film about Rublev, namely to see him paint icons; for all the talk of icon painting, one never sees Rublev pick up a brush, and the churches and palaces in which we see the monks are notable for their bare, pristine walls. The only icons one sees in the course of the film are those that have just been defiled and burnt by Mongol raiders. Only in the last minutes of the film, with a dramatic change from black and white to color, does one see icons attributed to Rublev, and here too the camera pans over them, showing only isolated detail, leaving the viewer with only glimpses of the icons for which Andrei Rublev is famous. Nonetheless, this is a film about a small group of monastic iconographers, its narrative structure follows them from church to church to paint frescoes, and the film’s climax is a display of icons. The film’s dreamy, hallucinatory fabric and its atmospheric background of fourteenth century Russia serve as the canvas upon which Rublev’s icons are painted.

In an early interview in the newspaper of the Writers’ Union, Tarkovsky clearly expressed his vision of the screenplay:
I link my creative plans to the question of the artist’s relationship to the nation and his time, where the artist does not exist in isolation, but is the conscience of society, the pinnacle of its imagination, and the mouthpiece of its talent. These issues are the basis of the screenplay The Passion According to Andrei which I am currently writing together with Andrei Konchalovsky.

This screenplay tells of the life of the genius Russian artist, Andrei Rublev, whose memorialisation was urged by Vladimir Lenin in his first decrees.

The problems of the Russian renaissance, about which we unfortunately know practically nothing, help us to trace the civic profile of the artist and isolate the significant point at which several planes coincide: time, history, the ethical ideal, the artist, and the nation. Our film about Andrei Rublev will tell of the impossibility of creating art outside of the nation’s aspirations, of the artist’s attempts to express its soul and character, and of the way that an artist’s character depends upon his historical situation. The question of the artist’s place in the life of the nation seems to us one of the most contemporary and important questions on the cusp of the future.[2]
While one must grant that Tarkovsky, speaking during the reign of Khrushchev, was attempting to explain his work in terms compatible with Marxist ideology – hence the mandatory nod to Lenin – his basic intention to depict the “artist’s place in the life of the nation” can certainly be taken as an extremely broad but nonetheless accurate description of the film. How well does Tarkovsky in fact succeed in this portraying this depiction?

One must first note that this very project – to “trace the civic portrait of the artist” – is itself both deeply rooted in Marxist ideology and, perhaps unintentionally, undermined by the very representation of the artists depicted in the film. It is, after all, Marxist dogma that the individual is secondary to, and in fact largely formed by, society. It is for this reason that the proper way to change the human person is by social revolution: the new society will create a new man. The character of the artist, therefore, “depends upon his historical situation.” Seen in this way, the triumph of the icon at the end of the film could be taken as evidence for Russia’s fourteenth-century “renaissance,” despite the apparent cruelty and savagery of the society that Tarkovsky depicts. It may be that the film’s deliberately disconnected tableau depiction of medieval Russia, in which Rublev is often relegated to the role of onlooker, is intended to show the individual as inferior to the historical mass. That is, the film’s method might be to show the life of Rublev not by providing a birth to death chronicle of one man’s life, but by providing a panorama of Russian society spanning a quarter century. One wonders, however, if Tarkovsky’s monk-artists themselves do not, in fact, undermine such Marxist doctrine both by their deeply personal, ego-driven aesthetic – recall Theophanes the Greek’s pride, Kirill’s envy of Andrei, and Rublev’s own refusal to paint a fresco of the Dread Judgment in the cathedral in Vladimir – and by their own radical distinction from the society of their time, deeply mired in both violence and pagan sensualism.

The theologically relevant question in this regard is whether Tarkovsky does in fact truly represent the meaning of iconographic art – as defined by the writings of the Fathers that are the standard of Orthodox theology and certainly recognized by Rublev himself as such – in attempting to place the iconographer historically and socially. It is first necessary to define what in fact an “icon” is and what it is not and, consequently what an iconographer is and is not. The Greek word εικων quite simply means image, likeness, and portrait. St. John of Damascus, in his “Defense Against Those Who Attack the Holy Images,” spends considerable time considering the use of the term “image” or “icon” in Christian theology. He illustrates the different roles this key term plays, in Fr. Andrew Louth words, “from characterizing the relationship within the Trinity – the Son as image of the Father, for instance – to describing the way in which God relates to the created order through his divine intentions, images of which are brought into effect through providence, the way in which visual images give us some inkling of invisible realities, the way in which the Old Testament contains images that foreshadow the New, and the way in which images, both in writing and in painting, remind us of past events and people.”[3] In St. John’s extraordinary words, “as the Word became flesh immutably, remaining what it was, so also the flesh became the Word without losing what it was, being rather made equal to the Word hypostatically.”[4] The Word became material, and now material has become the Word. Any symbol pointing to the reality of God is as such an “icon.” As such, an “icon” is both a broader and a narrower concept than normally considered: an icon is much more than a painted image and many painted images are much less than icons. Therefore there is no necessary connection between icon and artist, and consequently no essential connection between artist and his time and place.

While it is clear that an individual painter of icons is a person largely molded by his historical and societal circumstances – the very evolution of iconography attests to this reality – a given image becomes an “icon” in the theological sense only inasmuch as it participates in God: “For just as iron plunged in fire does not become fire by nature, but by union and burning and participation, so what is deified does not become God by nature, but by participation.”[5] As such, the work of the iconographer is deliberately de-personalized: he neither signs his icons nor seeks to express personal creativity, but rather conforms to canonical rules of depiction. The iconographer is not – or, in any case, should not be – an individualistic artist defined by his time and place.

[1] “Fil’m o Rubleve,” Publitsistika. V trekh tomakh (Iaroslavl’: Verkhniaia Volga, 1997), vol. 3, p. 164. Quoted in Robert Bird, Andrei Rublev (London: British Film Institute, 2004), 37.

[2] “Eto ochen’ vazhno,” Literaturnaia gazeta, September 20, 1962, p. 1. Quoted in Bird, 24.

[3] Andrew Louth (tr.), Three Treatises on the Divine Images (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003), 10.

[4] Ibid., 22.

[5] Ibid., 33.

What is an Epitimia?

Q & A with Fr Job:
Question: What is an epitimia? In what does it consist?

Answer: An epitimia (Greek, epitimion, from epi – on, timi – punishment) is a means of spiritual correction, prescribed for serious transgressions: witchcraft, apostasy, fornication, murder (including abortion), grave-robbing, and so on. The spiritual foundation for this means of healing the serious vices of man the Holy Fathers see in the word of God, which speaks about punishment as a benefaction in relation to the transgressor: “My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD: neither be weary of His correction” (Prov 3:11); “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Heb. 12:11). The rules for the application of epitimias are found in general Church canonical collections. Well known is the penitential nomokanon (book of epitimias) of St John IV the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople. In it is contained instructions for spiritual fathers who hear confessions. The compiler of the penitental nomokanon, defining various means of healing for spiritual-moral infirmities (strict fasting, prostrations, giving to the poor, etc.), advises one to be guided not only by the weight of the sin, but by the degree to which the penitent is experiencing his behavior, his inner condition.

In our time, when the spiritual infirmity of people is so great, a pastor must use his right to apply epitimias very carefully, with wisdom and love.

But by Prayer (and Fasting)

The late biblical scholar Carsten Peter Thiede writes the following in his posthumously published work Jesus, Man or Myth:
Thus, modern theologians who shape their own Jesus according to their own theologies and ideologies are merely following in ancient footsteps. The list of examples could be extended at leisure. Even today, manipulation of the actual text remains a possibility. What, for example, did Jesus teach his disciples about the prerequisites for the expulsion of demons? Apart from the fact that some New Testament critics prefer to doubt that there were (and are) demons and that Jesus cast them out, the case is clear. In cases of life-threatening danger, when the whole of one’s existence, body, mind and soul, is possessed, it follows that the healer’s body, mind and soul must be prepared to face the enemy. “This kind can come out only through prayer and fasting,” Jesus explains to the disciples who had failed to cast out the demon” (Mark 9:29). For anyone who has tried to understand Jewish thought, this is a logical consequence. Jesus does not depart radically from the Jewish concept of body, mind and soul as a whole, created by God – he emphasizes it. Praying and fasting generally characterize Jews who want to be ready for God. “There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher,” we read in Luke 2:36-37. “She was of great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day.” In Antioch, Barnabas and Paul are to be commissioned by the community, and everyone gets ready: “After prayer and fasting, they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3). Barnabas and Paul themselves later followed the same practice: “And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe” (Acts 14:23). Fasting is not always a continuous activity. It may be brief, just like a short but intense prayer. And fasting may also be wrong – Jesus criticized some of the Pharisees for their public showpiece way of fasting, and recommended that his disciples fast in their own rooms, not in public. So much is obvious, then. The teaching of Jesus did not go beyond the scope of Jewish practice, but he applied it to a rarer activity, the casting out of demons.

Now open a New Testament, and you will find that practically all recent translations have deleted the fasting from Mark 9:29. You may find it in the footnotes, but as we saw briefly in a previous chapter, it has disappeared from the actual text. Why? Because the two standard editions of the Greek New Testament, the United Bible Societies text and the Nestle-Aland, do not have it any more, and these are used and followed by translators. And what are the reasons for this radical departure from almost two thousand years of tradition? They are explained in the official handbook on the committee decisions that created the modern Greek text, Bruce Metzger’s Commentary on the Greek New Testament. There we are told that “in the light of the increasing emphasis in the early church on the necessity of fasting, it is understandable that ‘and by fasting‘ (kai nesteia in the Greek) is a gloss that foud its way into most witnesses.” This is ideology, or, if you prefer, bad theology, and it is certainly very bad textual criticism. Because of some guesswork about alleged increase in fasting in the early church, it is decreed that these decisive words were added to the ancient manuscripts by fasting fanatics.

In fact, though, the early church had nothing to do with it – as we have seen, Jesus the teacher taught within the framework of Jewish thought and used fasting in a particular, extreme situation. He, and later his disciples through him, had the power to cast out demons. Others had not. But even the disciples could not just flick a switch to make it happen. They had to be prepared. Therefore, the few and late manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel that deleted the fasting probably did so for quite another theological reason. It was not explicitly mentioned that Jesus had fasted before he went up the Mount of the Transfiguration (the incident immediately before the healing), and so they deleted it, forgetting that the transfiguration in Mark 9:2-8 was one of those cases where Jesus would have fasted beforehand anyway. The Gospels do no always go into detail about the obvious. One could even argue, turning Metzger’s argument on its head, that “and by fasting” was deleted because too many people had taken to fasting in the fourth century (when the deletion occurred), and the words were dropped so as not to encourage others. Whatever the reason, the text simply does not make sense without its punchline, the combination of prayer and fasting. Prayer was something the disciples would have done anyway before they tried to heal the demon-possessed boy. It went without saying. If this had been all Jesus had taught them after their failure, they would have stood there with blank incomprehension. In brief, even Jesus the teacher can be manipulated by modern editorial decisions, and as a result, he may lose both his Jewishness and the reach of his timeless teaching.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Wine and Oil

Below I posted the rules of fasting for the Apostles' Fast. As you'll see, wine and oil are normally permitted only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and weekends. (The fasting rules' monastic origin are apparent in the stricter fasting on Mondays.) I'm curious to know how people have been taught to observe the prohibition on wine and oil. I've in my time encountered three ways of interpreting this prohibition: a) literally, that is, not cooking with or consuming any kind of vegetable oil; b) employing any kind of vegetable oil except olive oil; and c) ignoring it all together. What were you taught and/or what do you practice?

Fasting Rules for the Apostles' Fast

A succinct description of fasting rules during the Apostles' Fast:
The Podvig [ascetic feat] of the Apostles' Fast is less strict than during Great Lent: We abstain from eating meat and dairy products throughout the Fast. The Church ustav [rule] also provides that, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during the Apostles' Fast, we abstain from consuming fish, wine and oil; on the other days of the week, Tuesday and Thursday, we abstain from eating fish. Eating fish is permitted on Saturdays and Sundays, on days commemorating certain great Saints, and on the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (7 July).
Even more succinct:
Apostles' Fast
The rule for this variable-length fast is more lenient than for Great Lent.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Strict fast.
Tuesday, Thursday: Oil and wine permitted.
Saturday, Sunday: Fish, oil and wine permitted.
I should add a few points of leniency. According to the Typikon, if on Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday a saint is celebrated with a Doxology service (or above), then fish is allowed. If such a saint is celebrated on Wednesday or Friday, then wine and oil are allowed. And if on Wednesday or Friday a saint is celebrated with an All-Night Vigil, fish is also allowed.

All Authentic Theology is Mystical Theology

Vladimir Lossky writes:
Far from being mutually opposed, theology and mysticism support and complete each other. One is impossible without the other. If the mystical experience is a personal working out of the content of the common faith, theology is an expression, for the profit of all, of that which can be experienced by everyone... There is, therefore, no Christian mysticism without theology: but, above all, there is no theology without mysticism. It is not by chance that the tradition of the Eastern Church has reserved the name of "theologian" peculiarly for three sacred writers of whom the first is Saint John, most "mystical" of the four Evangelists; the second Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, writer of contemplative poetry; and the third Saint Symeon, called "the New Theologian," the singer of union with God. Mysticism is... the perfecting and crown of all theology... theology par excellence.
Or as my own beloved theological mentor, Fr John Behr, expressed it once to me: St John is called "the Theologian" because he "theologized" (= spoke of as God) the Word; St Gregory "theologized" the Holy Spirit; and St Symeon "theologized" the Divine Light.

The Apostles' Fast and Theology

In commemoration of the Apostles' Fast (see here, too), which begins tomorrow, I offer this passage from Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, by Hieromonk Damascene. In the following passage Fr Damascene writes of himself in the third person:

When I first met Fr Seraphim, I had almost finished my freshman year in college. Already I considered myself somewhat of a deep thinker, one who did battle with "ultimate questions" on the path of Truth. I noticed that most of the people around me were not interested in this: either they were too old, tired, and jaded to take up such battles, or, if they were young, they were more interested in having fun or making money in business or computers...

Seeing in Fr Seraphim a kindred philosopher, I longed to have deep discussions with him about those ultimate questions. He always listened patiently as I expounded all my "profound" ideas, but he didn't expound himself: usually he only made simple, succinct comments. I was a bit puzzled by this at the time, but now it make sense. Now, nearly a decade later, it seems that almost all those simple comments have remained imbedded in my memory forever.

I first became interested in Orthodoxy by studying its most exalted teachings. The first Orthodox books I read were Mystical Theology by St Dionysius the Areopagite, and The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Vladimir Lossky. I was attracted to ineffable concepts such as the "Divine Darkness" of apophatic theology.

Fr Seraphim, however, was always bringing me down to earth. After I was made a catechumen at the monastery, I was expected to learn about the Faith in preparation for baptism. I thought I already knew a lot, dealing as I was with such lofty metaphysics. But when I went to Fr Seraphim's cell to talk to him, one of the first questions he asked me was: "Do you know about the fasts of the Church?"

"I think so," I replied, "There's Lent, and another fast before Christmas..."

"Yes," he said, "Do you know about the Apostles Peter and Paul fast?"

I was ashamed to say I did not recall hearing that such a thing existed.

"This is a very important fast of the Church," he said, and went on to describe what it was and why it was done. "Someone calculated," he said at last, "and it turns out there are more fast days in the Church Calendar than there are non-fast days."

This rather surprised me. I believe Fr Seraphim was trying to tell me that being baptized did not mean feeling important with exalted theology and philosophy, but taking on a life of struggle, of labor and sacrifice for Jesus Christ. In his own unobtrusive way, he was leading me out of the "Divine Darkeness" and to the foot of the Cross, the vehicle of our salvation.

During the year of my catechumenate, I took a university course on the Philosophy of Religion, for which I wrote two highly rated papers I was rather proud of. The first paper was called "Reflections on Kant's 'Purely Rational Religion.'" I have this to Fr Seraphim for him to read. I suppose I was anticipating a little praise. Later, I asked him if he had looked at it, and he said he had.

"What did you think of it?" I asked.

"It was a little over my head," he answered.

This left me speechless. Later I discovered, much as I suspected, that Fr Seraphim had made a thorough study, not only of Kant, but of many philosophers I had never even heard of, and that he had a much more penetrating understanding of Western philosophy than my university professors. Why, then, did he say that my eleven-page sophomore paper was "over his head"? Clearly, to teach me simplicity and its sister-virtue, humility.

My other paper was on Soren Kierkegaard, whose philosophy was so full of paradox and intellectual challenge that one could spend days talking about it.

"What do you think of Kierkegaard?" I asked Fr Seraphim.

"I always felt sorry for him." Those were the only words Fr Seraphim had to say to me on the subject. His statement had to do, not with the mind, but with the heart. In thinking more about Kierkegaard – his struggle to maintain Christian zeal amidst the general lukewarmness of his Church, to uphold Christian faith against a barrage of Hegelian philosophy, and to overcome the contradictions in his own personality -- I realized later that nothing more precise could be said of him than those few words of Fr Seraphim.

My Favorite Definition of a Theologian

Evagrius of Pontus writes:
The breast of the Lord is the knowledge of God; he who rests upon it is a theologian.
A theologian, in other words, is one who has listened to the Lord's heartbeat.

In the Beginning Was the Word

Q & A with Fr Job:
Question: How should one understand the words “In the beginning was the Word”?

Answer: In the first verse of the fourth Gospel, of the Holy Apostle John the Theologian, the Son of God, the second Person of the All-Holy Trinity, is called the “Word.” The Greek word “Logos,” which the Evangelist John uses, signifies not only a word, taken in the normal and direct sense, but also thought or reason. Therefore, applied to the Son of God “Word” also means “Wisdom.” The Holy Apostle Paul says: “we preach Christ crucified... the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24). The expression “in the beginning" (Greek, en arche), has several meanings in the Bible, and in the given text means “always.” This means that the second Person of the Holy Trinity – the Word (Greek, Logos) – is co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. They are not at all subject to the temporal order, as do all created beings.

In the Old Testament this thought is present in the book of Proverbs: “The LORD possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old” (Proverbs 8:22).

Reading Group, 3

Since this week's reading is relatively brief and does not contain any sub-chapters, I've decided to cover it all in one post. Comments on previous chapters remain open.

The Moral Idea of the Dogma of the Holy Spirit.

a. The Christian teaching about the Holy Spirit is not presented in a manner sufficiently clear for everyone to grasp its moral content. The properties of the Holy Spirit’s grace-filled gifts is an uncertain manner. Moreover, it remains completely unclear what significance there is in the Holy Spirit being “another Comforter.”

b. This obscurity gives cause to Tolstoy to insist that the Orthodox faith should not use the name “Christian,” but rather “Holy Spiritist.”

c. The teaching about the Holy Spirit was revealed in our Lord’s farewell conversation with His disciples. The Holy Spirit is called Comforter because He will comfort the followers of the Lord in their struggle with the world and the hatred of the world toward them. The Comforter will instill in the apostles the source of moral satisfaction that will teach them to celebrate amidst persecution.

d. It was better with this Comforter for the apostles in their preaching than with Jesus Christ Himself.

e. Even in worldly life, it is often necessary to encounter comforters to uplift us.

f. The high, holy significance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is in bestowing upon the confessors of Christ’s truth a supernatural joy in the face of sorrows and an inner spiritual victory over the untruth of this world, crowning the struggles of the saints.

g. Christ called the Holy Spirit a Comforter in the sense of a source of moral satisfaction and self-assuredness of sufferers.

h. In the use of the Old Testament the word “comforter” (Greek, Paraclete; Hebrew, Menakhem) it designates a reconciliation with sufferings, an inner satisfaction, an appeasing of the good or the accusation of the evil.

i. It is the Comforter that will restrain the righteous from falling into sin and despondency if the fate of the righteous and of sinners is one and the same. Throughout the NT, the words “comfort” and “to be comforted” designate this inner satisfaction, and above all in the sense of comfort in sorrow and grief endured for the sake of God’s work in the struggle with the world and with one’s self.

j. Sin against the Holy Spirit is that conscious opposition to the testimony of the conscience, which thus cannot censure man as long as he remains in such voluntary obduracy. The Holy Spirit assures us that Christ abides in us and that we are God’s children, bestowing patience, hope, and love.

k. The divine services preserves this elevated teaching about the activity of the Holy Spirit.

l. The unsteady teaching teaching about grace inherent among sectarians compels them to depart from the Church and to hate it, as darkness hates light.

m. If one grants Tolstoy his error, that he has Christ’s faith, but without the Holy Spirit, then the difference between our faith and his would be precisely that which distinguishes the intelligent and self-denying faith of the apostles after Pentecost, from the faint-hearted faith they had during Christ’s lifetime.

n. The holiness of the Orthodox faith is realized in the manner in which Orthodox people never lose the the consciousness that God requires from them first of all in sanctity, that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are gifts of an inner sanctification. The striving toward spiritual purity, this constant contrition for one’s spiritual impurity, is not only the fundamental mood of our faith, but also of believers, who always understands piety as a self-denying and even a suffering struggle for Christ’s truth, that struggle in which the Holy Spirit confirms Christians.
  1. How can Metropolitan Anthony claim that the teaching of the Holy Spirit has not been presented in a manner sufficient to grasp its moral content?
  2. What does Metropolitan Anthony mean by the phrase “moral satisfaction” in regard to the Holy Spirit?
  3. In what way was it better for the apostles to have “another Comforter” than with Christ Himself?
  4. What is in fact the moral idea of the main dogma of the faith? How does Metropolitan Anthony argue towards his conclusion? How convincing is his argument?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sunday of All Saints

Tomorrow is the Sunday of All Saints. We hear the following read after Ode 6 at Matins:
On this day, the Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate the feast of all the Saints from throughout the inhabited world, in Asia, Libya and Europe, in North and South.


I sing the praise of each friend of my Lord,

If any would, let them now list them all.

Our most godlike Fathers decreed that we should celebrate the present feast after the descent of the All-holy Spirit, as showing in a certain way that the coming of the All-holy Spirit acted through the Apostles like this: sanctifying and making wise human beings taken from our mortal clay and, for the completion of that fallen angelic order, restoring them and through Christ sending them to God, some by the witness of martyrdom and blood, others by their virtuous conduct and way of life; and things beyond nature are achieved. For the Spirit descends in the form of fire, whose natural momentum is upwards; while dust, whose natural momentum is downwards, ascends on high, that dust which forms our mortal clay, the flesh added to and made divine by God the Word, which a short time before, had been exalted and taken its seat at the right hand of the Father’s glory. But he now also draws all those who wish, according to the promise, just as God the Word had manifested the works of reconciliation and what was the end, most suitable to its purpose, of his coming to us through flesh and of his dispensation, namely that he brings those who were rejected before to union and friendship with God — human nature offering to God the ungrateful people from the nations like first fruits —those who were outstandingly well-pleasing to him. This is one reason that we celebrate the feast of All Saints.

A second reason is because, though many people have been well-pleasing to God, they were through outstanding virtue unknown to humanity by name, or for some human reason or other, but nevertheless have great glory in God’s sight. Or again, because there are many who have lived following Christ in India, Egypt, Arabia. Mesopotamia and Phrygia and in the lands beyond the Black Sea, even as far as the British Isles themselves; in short, in both East and West, but it was not easy to honour them all properly because of their vast numbers, in the way that ecclesiastical custom has been received. And therefore, so that we may attract the help of them all, wherever on earth they were well-pleasing to God, and generally for those who would later become Saints, the most godly Fathers ordained that we should celebrate the feast of All Saints, honouring the earlier and later ones, the unknown and the known — all those in whom the Holy Spirit has dwelt he has made holy.

A third reason is this. It was necessary for the Saints who are celebrated individually day by day to be gathered together on one day, in order to demonstrate that, as they struggled for the one Christ and all ran the race in the same stadium of virtue, so they were all fittingly crowned as servants of one God and sustained the Church, having filled the world on high. They stir us also to accomplish the same struggle in its different and many forms, to the degree of power that each of us has to press onwards with all eagerness.

For all these Saints from every age the revered and wise Emperor Leo erected and vast and very beautiful church. This is very near the church of the holy Apostles, within the city of Constantine. He built it originally, it is said, for his first wife Theophano, who was outstandingly well-pleasing to God, which was indeed a marvel in the midst of turmoil and in royal palaces. When he informed the Church of his idea, he did not succeed in making it agree with his wishes

The most wise Emperor, with the approval of the whole Church, dedicated to all the Saints everywhere in the world the building that had been erected, observing that ‘Since Theophano is a Saint, let her be numbered with the rest. ‘

Note that we are celebrating everything that the Holy Spirit, in giving good things, has made holy. I mean the highest and sanctifying Minds, that is to say the Nine Orders; the Ancestors and Patriarchs; the Prophets and sacred Apostles; the Martyrs and Hierarchs; the Priest Martyrs and Ascetic Martyrs; the Ascetics and the Just and all the choirs of holy women and all the other anonymous Saints, with them let there be all who will come afterwards. But before all, in all and with all, the Saint of Saints, the most holy and quite incomparably mightier than the angelic Orders, our Lady and Sovereign, Mary, Ever-Virgin.

At the prayers of your all-pure Mother, Christ God, and of all your Saints from every age, have mercy and save us, for you alone are good and love mankind. Amen.

Online resources:

Reading Group, 2h

The Moral Idea of the Dogma of the Incarnation
a. Divine revelation assures us that this constant, progressive unification with Christ is the main condition for spiritual perfection.

b. Faith and co-suffering filled with love unite everyone in Christ.
  1. What does Metropolitan Anthony envisage as unification with Christ?
  2. How effective is Metropolitan Anthony’s use of “proof texts” in this section?
  3. How successfully has Metropolitan Anthony demonstrated the “moral idea” of the dogma of the Incarnation throughout this chapter?

Balaam's Prophecy

Q & A with Fr Job:
Question: What do the words of the Old Testament mean: “And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said” (Numbers 24:14)? What are these “open eyes”? Are they speaking about a third eye?

Answer: No. The expression cited from the Book of Numbers indicate that Balaam had the gift of clairvoyance. In an earlier passage it says: “Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way” (Num 22:31); “Barlaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said: he hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open” (24:3-4).

The Seventh Seal (2 of 2)

What good that does exist in the world is in the realm of the world arts, as incarnate especially in the film’s holy family: Joseph and Mary, and their son Michael – who is named for the Archangel Michael, who fights on the side of God during the war in heaven, causing Satan to be hurled down to earth (Rev. 12:7-9). It is while dining with this blessed family – who have an earthy, innocent spirituality of visions and love free from the marks of formal religion – that the knight has his one moment of moral clarity while enjoying a Eucharistic meal of wild strawberries and milk. His search for God, he tells the Holy Family, was “like loving someone who is out there in the darkness but never appears, no matter how loudly you call.” Now the entire quest, he tells Maria, “seems meaningless and unreal while I sit here with you and your husband. How unimportant it all becomes suddenly.” And the knight does finally accomplish his one meaningful deed, by allowing the family to escape from Death – and thereby escape from God.

The theology that emerges from The Seventh Seal is one in which God is not only dead, but God is Death. God is silent – indeed the very words of Revelation 8 with which the film opens are “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour” – and communicates only through punishment and death, never through love. This is a religion of the cross without the resurrection: everywhere Christ is crucified and suffering; nowhere is he risen and triumphant. Although the film is set before the time of the Protestant Reformation, Bergman’s own religious background is Lutheran – as we have seen, his father was a Lutheran minister. Two points from the history of theology in the West are relevant to our discussion: the development of the doctrine of atonement and Luther’s thoughts on the Passion. In the early Church Christ’s passion and resurrection were always considered together; there is clear evidence, for instance, that in the second century there was a single festival celebrating both the passion and the resurrection of Christ; the separate observance of Good Friday arose only in the fourth century as the liturgical year developed. Beginning with Anselm (c. 1033-1109), however, the emphasis in the doctrine of atonement shifted away from the power of the resurrection in favor of the idea of Christ’s passion providing satisfaction to God the Father to pay for man’s infinite offense against God in his sin. Luther left the core of this tradition intact, while developing it in a different direction, emphasizing instead that Christ, in voluntarily accepting the man’s punishment, was reckoned by God a sinner in man’s place. Luther explicitly contrasted “a theology of glory,” characteristic of the false theologian, “who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things that have actually happened,” with “a theology of the cross,” held by the true theologian, one “who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.” Luther continues by claiming, “God can be found only in suffering and the cross,” so that “he who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering.”[5] The result of both theories of atonement – satisfaction and substitution – is that Christ’s redeeming work is accomplished entirely on the cross, making the resurrection itself something of an afterthought.

Luther begins his “Meditation on Christ’s Passion” by stating, in Timothy F. Lull’s words, that the “true contemplation of the cross begins with seeing it as a judgment against oneself. Here Luther shows the cross as the revelation of the wrath of God not only against those who crucified Jesus, but against all humanity.”[6] The following excerpt from Luther’s contemplation could well have been included in Bergman’s script to describe the religious posture of the penitents lashing themselves under the image of the cross:
They contemplate Christ’s passion aright who view it with a terror-stricken heart and a despairing conscience. This terror must be felt as you witness the stern wrath and the unchanging earnestness with which God looks upon sin and sinners, so much so that he was unwilling to release sinners even for his only and dearest Son without his payment of the severest penalty for them. Thus he says in Isaiah 53 [:8] “I have chastised him for the transgressions of my people.” If the dearest child is punished thus, what will be the fate of sinners? It must be an inexpressible and unbearable earnestness that forces such a great and infinite person to suffer and die to appease it. And if you seriously consider that it is God’s very own Son, the eternal wisdom of the Father, who suffers, you will be terrified indeed. The more you thing about it, the more intensely will you be frightened. You must get this thought through your head and not doubt that you are the one who is torturing Christ thus, for your sins have surely wrought this… We must give ourselves wholly to this matter, for the main benefit of Christ’s passion is that man sees into his own true self and that he be terrified and crushed by this. Unless we seek that knowledge, we do not derive much benefit from Christ’s passion. The real and true work of Christ’s passion is to make man conformable to Christ, so that man’s conscience is tormented by his sins in like measure as Christ was pitiably tormented in body and soul by our sins. [7]
As can be seen from this extended passage, the passion itself is seen as God’s punishment of Christ, and believers can gain the benefit of this passion only by internalizing their own guilt for God’s punishment of an innocent Christ. It is this Lutheran theory of atonement, I would suggest, that lies at the foundation of the theology of The Seventh Seal.

A theology in which Christ’s suffering and passion of Great Friday are separated from the triumph and resurrection of Easter Sunday and, moreover, one in which the effectiveness of Christ’s sufferings are made real by the suffering conscience of the individual is a theology in which God is indeed silent. If God punishes His innocent Son in place of guilty humanity, then it is perfectly reasonable that the plague be seen as the punishment for sins. If evil is everywhere present, but God is absent, then it is reasonable to suspect that Satan rules the world while God remains silent. If God is Death, and Death is God, and religion is the fear of Death, then one understands why the knight would prefer the non-religious spirituality of the secular Holy Family of actors to that of the terrifying priests and monks trading on the fear of death. From Luther to Bergman is a logical development from fear and guilt to hatred and alienation.

[5] Heidelburg Disputation, 19-21, quoted in Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 4: Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700) (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1984), 155-156.

[6] Timothy F. Lull, ed., Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1989), 151.

[7] Martin Luther, “A Meditation on Christ’s Passion,” 4-5, 8. In Lull, Ibid, 166-168.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Murders and Assaults on Priests in Russia

By all means, drop what you're doing and go to Orthodoxy and the World to read the article Murders and Assaults on Priests in Russia in 1990-2010: A Reference. It's both horrifying to think of the cruelty inflicted on these servants of the Church, and inspiring to read of their martyric ends. Lord, have mercy!

Reading Group, 2g

The Moral Idea of the Dogma of the Incarnation
a. One can benefit fro the Savior’s co-suffering love by the conviction that one is individually encompassed in Christ’s heart. Only God could encompass in His heart each and every individual human.

b. Personal sufferings remain fruitless when not united with the co-suffering of the Son of God. His suffering for our sins is our redemption; this is not the case in the sense of an encouraging example.
  1. How does Metropolitan Anthony use the example of Christ’s co-suffering love to argue to His Divinity?
  2. How does Christ’s co-suffering realize our salvation? How does this differ from a merely encouraging example?

The Seventh Seal (1 of 2)

“Silence in Heaven”:
The Cinematic Theology of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal

Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 film, The Seventh Seal, is a work whose religious symbolism is clear to any attentive viewer. Its hero, Antonius Block (played by Max von Sydow), newly returned from the Crusades, challenges Death to a game of chess, hoping to use the time gained to do one good, meaningful deed to overcome the doubt and uncertainty that he had been facing. Antonius and his skeptical squire, Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand), both of whom are weary and disillusioned after ten wasted years in the Crusades, are contrasted with a happy young couple named Mary (Mia) and Joseph (played by Bibi Anderson and Nils Poppe, respectively) who, as their name indicate, represent a sort of secular Holy Family. The title of the film, naturally, comes from the Book of Revelation and the film begins and ends with verses read from its eighth chapter. “There is,” as Bergman scholar Frank Gado notes, “nothing particularly abstruse about The Seventh Seal – its Gothic letter intentions are discernable in virtually every scene.” [1] It is the intention of this paper neither to examine the film’s grandiose allegorical movement nor to decode the individual symbolic elements contained therein, but rather to look at the film as an example of what might be called cinematic theology, that is, to ask what this film teaches about God, particularly by looking at depictions of the cross, and to speculate as to what might be the religious foundations of such a doctrine by considering briefly the theology of atonement with which Berman was most likely conversant as a Lutheran. The Seventh Seal is in many ways an autobiographical film, and therefore our reading will be based in large part upon Bergman’s own religious upbringing.

The film’s basic religious iconography comes from Bergman’s memory of visiting churches in the Uppland countryside with his father, a Lutheran minister. The young Bergman was fascinated by the fifteenth-century frescoes that covered the walls of the churches: “There was everything my imagination could desire – angels, saints, dragons, prophets, devils, humans. All this was surrounded by a heavenly, earthly, subterranean landscape of a strange yet familiar beauty.” Berman recalls one church in particular which depicted Death playing chess, sawing the tree of life, and leading the dance of death, “but in the other arch, the Holy Virgin was walking in a rosegarden, supporting the Child’s faltering steps.” [2] These images of medieval piety were given life in the film, both in plot and in the church paintings viewed by the knight and his squire. The contrast between cruel Death on one arch and the merciful Virgin on the other, moreover, is expressed in the film in the contrast between the knight and the squire on the one hand and Joseph and Mary on the other.

The more deeply one examines this symbolic religious world, the clearer the film’s theology becomes. Perhaps most striking is the film’s depiction of the cross. The first depiction of the cross comes when the knight enters the church in order to confess his sins to a priest. He mourns that he is indifferent to men’s suffering, that he wants to die, but only after having gained knowledge of God’s existence. He is afraid that men have made an idol of fear and call it God, that we worship our own fear of death. All the while a crucifix hangs above the knight, which the script describes in the following words: “Christ’s face is turned upward, His mouth open as if in a cry of anguish.” [3] Unbeknownst to the knight – but clear to the viewer – is that he the priest to whom he is confessing is, in fact, Death. This same crucifix is reappears later in the film, carried in the procession of flagellants and Dominican monks as they sing the Dies Irae. [4] The script emphasizes that this crucifix “is not the Christ triumphant, but the suffering Jesus with the sores, the blood, the hammered nails, and the face in convulsive pain. The Son of God, nailed to the wood of the Cross, suffering scorn and shame.” This cross remains in the background as the monk gives his sermon on the plague as God’s punishment. The young woman condemned to death for witchcraft is herself tied to a tree in a symbol of crucifixion, and here, too, the attending monk is in fact Death. One recalls as well that the first person whom the knight and the squire encounter is a monk who is discovered to be dead. The one truly evil character in the film is Ravel (Bertil Anderberg), who has gone from a career at the theological college at Roskilde, where he convinced the knight to join the crusades, to profiting from the plague by stealing from the dead.

The God of The Seventh Seal is clearly a dead God, one who is worshipped through fear. The church murals depicting the plague will send people running with fear into the arms of the priests, Jons recognizes. The painter exclaims: “the remarkable thing is that the poor creatures think the pestilence is the Lord’s punishment. Mobs of people who call themselves the Slaves of Sin are swarming over the country, flagellating themselves and others, all for the glory of God.” Meanwhile the knight, in another part of the church, confesses: “In our fear, we make an image, and that image we call God.” Being dead, this God is also silent: “I call out to Him in the dark but no one seems to be there.” In God’s absence, only Satan and Death are present. The knight, seeking knowledge, asks the accused witch to be introduced to Satan. The possessed girl assures the knight that Satan is behind us, in us, everywhere. As in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, God’s absence serves only to make the Devil’s presence more apparent; the death of God is a prelude to the resurrection of Satan. This is well summed up in the words of the squire’s song: “Up above is God almighty / So very far away, / But your brother the Devil, / You will meet on every level.”

[1] The Passion of Ingmar Bergman (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1986), 206.

[2] Program notes to The Seventh Seal, quoted in Gado, Ibid., 199.

[3] The entire script can be found on-line at . All quotations from the script are taken from this site.

[4] “Dies irae! Dies illa / Solvet saeclum in favilla / Teste David cum Sibylla!” (“Day of wrath and terror looming! / Heaven and earth to ash consuming, / David’s word Sibil’s truth foredooming.”)

Why an Apple?

Q & A with Fr Job:
Question: Why is the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil depicted as an apple? In the book of Genesis is written simply “fruit”?

Answer: The custom of depicting the fruit of the tree of good and evil as an apple arose in the European artistic tradition. It came about, it is possible, from the closeness of two Latin nouns: malum (apple) and malus (evil).

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Reading Group, 2f

The Moral Idea of the Dogma of the Incarnation
a. People have substantially changed their life and become more virtuous after a life most often through religious experiences, but also through friendship, marriage, or returning home. In such cases we see not simple imitation, but a direct assimilation.

b.The secret of this spiritual action on the sinful soul is that of co-suffering love. The true co-sufferer is Christ, Who has co-suffered with every person.

  1. How does co-suffering love effect this mysterious fusion between people? How is Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane the ultimate example of this?

What is Holiness?

Q & A with Fr Job:

Question: Please explain what it means to be a saint and how our holiness should be manifest, which the Lord demands of us?

Answer: Holiness (Hebrew, kadosh; Greek, agios) means separate, pure, chosen by God (cf., Is. 4:3). In the exact sense only God is holy, not having anything in common with sin and uncleanliness. When the Lord says “be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44-45), He is calling all people to that righteous life which one can attain only through the exact fulfillment of the Divine commandments. “He is holy who is cleansed and sanctified in the inner man” (St Macarius the Great, Homilies).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fake Relics

This is the sort of thing that gives the veneration of relics a bad name. Shame!

A Prodigal Saint (2 of 2)

A second point of novelty concerns Father John’s liturgical practices, which amount primarily to his encouragement of the frequent participation in Holy Communion. Here, too, Kizenko repeats scholarly prejudices that, while they may be common in works of historiography, do not accurately depict Orthodox theology. It is untenable to argue, for example, that the laity’s infrequent reception of Communion stems back to “the language of dread in referring to the sacraments dating back to Cyril of Jerusalem,” granted, among other arguments, that such language has been part of liturgical piety from the first centuries of the Church, or that “the general Orthodox tendency in both art and liturgy – in contrast to the Roman Catholic approach, particularly after the devotio moderna – is to emphasize Christ’s divinity (and consequently His essential distance from human beings) rather than His humanity,” which, if true, would make the Orthodox into extreme Monophysites. I bring up both these points not to split hairs with the author, but to demonstrate the dangers of analyzing a religious figure using primarily historiographical rather than properly theological sources.

These relatively minor and exclusively theological points of contention aside, Kizenko has authored a groundbreaking study, based on extensive archival research, that marvelously illuminates both the person of Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian people. Turning from a theological to an historical perspective, it would have been especially interesting, given the frequent comparisons of Father John with Tolstoy to have compared their self-depictions in private diaries, given that both were consummate memoirists. It should also be mentioned, that those only familiar with Father John’s live through hagiographical accounts, should benefit greatly from this book, as it provides incredible historical insights usually not easily found in a canonical vita. Conventional depictions of the historical Father John usually only scratch the surface and frequently focus more on his political and ecclesiastical roles rather than concentrating on his activities within society as social activist and advocate, often at great odds with his immediate ecclesiastical authorities and, contrary to the popular notion of his great influence reaching through all spheres of Russian society, rather distant from the Imperial court (his visit to the ailing monarch Alexander III could be seen as a last resort of hope of the Court, while Rasputin managed to have a long-lasting influence over the Imperial family). Having read Kizenko’s account, I was able to discover for myself a new St. John of Kronstadt, one who was previously hidden in either canonical depictions on one hand or ideological labels on the other.

Reading Group 2e

The Moral Idea of the Dogma of the Incarnation

a. The significance of the example of Christ is extended only to those who confess Him as God; and even this is not sufficient to elevate them onto the cross of life and to give them the strength to bear this cross. In order to achieve this it is necessary to accept the teaching of Christ as Redeemer.

b. Perhaps contemplation of the suffering of the Son of God is enough to compel one to bear them. Kant reasons that moral perfection is the stripping off of the old nature and clothing oneself with the new. But where does one assimilate this new nature?

c. Examples of non-Orthodox asceticism convince one of the perniciousness of this path. The source of spiritual strength is grace alone.
  1. Why is accepting Christ as an example alone insufficient?
  2. How does false asceticism prove this point?

Clockwise or Counter-clockwise?

Q & A with Fr Job:
Question: Why does the procession on the night of Pascha go counter-clockwise? In general, does going clockwise or counter-clockwise play any role in Orthodox rites?

Answer: Performing the procession, the Orthodox go out to meet the sun, inasmuch as the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, by the definition of the Church, is the Sun of righteousness. We go out to meet our Lord.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Essence of Eldership

From the book Elder Ambrose of Optina, by Fr Sergius Chetverikov:
It is remarkable that not long before his repose, Fr Macarius foretold to Fr Ambrose his future activity, saying: "You will live in the cell on that side of the gate, and see to it – this is my commandment to you – do not let anyone who comes here leave without consolation."

More Words to Live By

Words of St Anthony the Great that particularly resonate with me just now:
Men most not acquire anything superfluous or, if they possess it, must know with certainty that all things in this life are by nature perishable, and easily plundered, lost or broken; and they must not be disheartened by anything that happens.
Text 71 from "On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life: One Hundred and Seventy Texts, in The Philokalia, vol. I.

A Prodigal Saint (1 of 2)

To one accustomed to the “canonical” portrait of Father John of Kronstadt painted in the iconographic, hymnographic, and hagiological arts of the Russian Orthodox émigré community, Nadieszda Kizenko’s study A Prodigal Saint: Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian People comes as both a shock and a revelation. Reading Kizenko’s book, the reader’s iconic mental image of Father John acquires dimension and shading as his personal struggles and political and cultural context come into view, turning what was an icon into a richly detailed life portrait; Saint John of Kronstadt is revealed to be Father John Ill’ich Sergiev, a parish priest struggling with the often grim realities of late Imperial Russia. Much that is passed over in the canonical icon of Father John of Kronstadt, perhaps because his biographers considered it not of universal and timeless edifying value, is here considered at great length: his relation to contemporary currents in ecclesiastical policy and his contributions thereto; his seemingly unique pattern of sanctity; his role in contemporary society and politics; his response to modernity; and the ways in which his legacy have been interpreted and reinterpreted. Of these questions I will devote the bulk of my attention to considering Kizenko’s arguments, which seek to identify “the notions of holiness that preceded him to see how much he fulfilled them, using his career to identify patterns – such as the importance of class and gender – in Russian religiosity.”

Father John was first and foremost a priest. His priesthood was at the very center of his personality and his holiness: it allowed him both to serve the Divine Liturgy nearly daily and to invite others to partake of Holy Communion more frequently than was then common, to preach with authority and conviction, and to engage in a pastoral ministry that included first the poor and dispossessed of Kronstadt and later all of Russia. It is quiet impossible to imagine Father John outside the reality and power of his priesthood. Given the centrality of the priesthood to Father John’s life, it follows that any study of his life would focus on his priesthood, as indeed Kizenko does, each thematic chapter having Father John’s priesthood at its center: Father John’s youth and education are viewed in terms of priestly formation; his role as liturgical celebrant, charity provider, and supplicant for the needy makes sense only as different manifestations of his priestly authority; finally, the abuse of his veneration came about largely as a result of the overzealous and the ignorant attributing Father John’s miraculous powers to something Divine inherent in him rather than to the Divine working through his priesthood as a human conduit.

Central to Kizenko’s is an adaptation of Ernst Kantorowicz notion of the king’s two bodies applied to the priesthood: “the body private, dealing with personal salvation and the relation between saint and God; and the body public, dealing with Father John’s sacramental role as a priest and his responsibility to his parish.” Kizenko contends that “the two bodies clashed almost as often as they complemented one another”: Father John as private individual chose the unusual path of celibate marriage, much to his wife’s dismay, with a monastic emphasis on ascetic restraint; Father John as popular pastor was at the center of a very modern cult of celebrity, with all the loss of privacy that entails. Kizenko presents this image most starkly in these lines: “As a saint, Father John’s goal was his own salvation, with his primary responsibility to his own soul. As a priest, his goal was the salvation of his flock, with his primary responsibility to his own soul.”

As useful as this notion is in separating Father John the individual from Father John the religious celebrity, I would argue that, if taken to an extreme, it could lead to a mistaken notion of the priesthood and its relation to sanctity. Within the practice of Orthodox Christianity there is no such thing as “private spirituality” or “private religiosity”; if the Church is conceived as the Body of Christ, then no single member can claim a religious life that is cut off from that of from that of other members, as all are nourished by the same Blood. It is difficult to conceive of “making a fetish of one’s own salvation at the possible expense of others” or to imagine a “potential tension between the two salvations.” This is especially true of the priest: can any conscientious pastor begin to conceive of his own salvation apart from that of his flock? This is especially true when it concerns liturgical celebration: which of the priest’s two bodies offers the Eucharist? Kizenko implicitly acknowledges the weakness of the "two body" model when she writes that Father John conceived of "his salvation largely in terms of himself and his relation to his flock,” however difficult it could be for him at times to meet the demands first of his own flock and then of all of Russian society. Kizenko writes “[a]fter less than five years in the priesthood, he began to identify his spiritual life with responsibility for that of his flock, so much that he wanted them to share in the benefits he felt himself.” One wonders if indeed sharing the “Eucharist with his flock was the supreme expression of the priest’s public body.” Given the corporate nature of the Christian spiritual life and Father John’s own identification of his salvation with that of his flock, one wonders if the celebration of the Liturgy is not in fact the supreme expression of the priest’s private body or if, indeed, any such dichotomy can in fact be drawn. In fact, Kizenko herself dissolves the distinction between the two bodies: “The priest’s two bodies were in fact one and the same. His religiosity was not independent of his flock’s: his apostolic, sacerdotal identity depended on how well he succeeded in converting the world around him. It was a symbiotic relation rather than one of two independent parties.” Given this admission, one wonders why the two-body model figures so predominantly in the first chapter, unless to emphasize that as Father John matured he overcame this potential dichotomy.

In contextualizing Father John’s priesthood both within the context of late Imperial Russia and the tradition of Orthodox hagiography, Kizenko argues for Father John’s novelty. She writes that “his concentration on God and self-improvement extended to all aspects of his life in ways that went beyond patristic and ascetic teachings,” that his “having both virginity and marriage was an unusual blurring of distinct categories of Orthodox religious life,” and that “in his chastity, Father John stood the hagiographic tradition on its head.” While it is undoubtedly true that Father John, as a celibate married priest serving a parish “in the world” represents a peculiar combination of attributes and as such does not fit neatly into any of the usual category of saints, I would argue that his essential sanctity is fully keeping with the tradition of holiness in the Orthodox Church. While it is true that Father John neither fit neatly into any of the categories of sainthood which had become standard in the Russian Church nor fit into the pattern of piety prevalent in late Imperial Russia, each individual element of his sanctity – his preoccupation with fasting, chastity, liturgical celebration, and active charity – falls entirely within canonical patterns of sanctity. I will consider two aspects of Father John’s seeming novelty: his chastity and his liturgical practice.

While it is undoubtedly true that there is little precedent for a married priest unilaterally to refuse to consummate his marriage, it could equally well be seen as a variation of a constant theme in hagiographical literature. Collections of lives of married saints show that the vast majority was, in fact, celibate. It would, in fact, have been a much more significant departure from the hagiographic norm had Father John had marital relations with his wife and had children. Kizenko’s explanation of the reasons for Father John’s choice of chastity, moreover, misrepresents the Patristic witness. Kizenko writes: “The Fathers of the Church argued that sexuality was antithetical to the true state of human nature. Before the Fall, the original, perfect created beings had no trace of sexuality. Even was meant to be Adam’s companion and helper; their relation consisted only of spiritual love. Sexuality entered the world because of sin and was inextricably connected to sin.” Moreover, it is simply wrong to state, “sexual activity was considered inherently tainted, even in marriage.” Such a puritanical presentation reflects the view propagated by Augustine, who believe that man fell from a perfect state to that of sin through lust, and this “original sin” is passed on from generation to generation through concupiscence.

The view of the Greek Fathers, whose thought is characteristic of the Orthodox Church, was much more optimistic and allowed for the reality of gender in the original creation. The Orthodox Church has always viewed marriage, and with it sexuality, as the natural state of man, following Christ’s words: “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Matt. 19: 4-6). Unlike Augustine, who taught that man was created perfect, St. Irenaeus of Lyons writes that our first parents were “innocent and childlike” and, because they were pure, “were not ashamed as they kissed each other and embraced with the innocence of childhood.” Marriage and, consequently, sexuality, therefore, while not present in their “carnal” form in Paradise, are in fact the normal and sinless state of man. Indeed, Khomiakov wrote that marriage “is not a contract, not an obligation, and not legal slavery, but the reproduction of the image of Christ and the Church established by divine law.” The choice of celibacy, then, is not a rejection of marriage and sexuality as being inherently sinful, but an eschatological choice to live in anticipation with the spiritual Bridegroom. Father John himself, in a passage quoted by Kizenko, writes that God, by means of the priesthood, “marries people and makes marriage honorable and the nuptial bed pure.” I would suggest, therefore, that the reasons for Father John’s celibacy be regarded in this light rather than in an inherent Puritanism or misogyny in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Reading Group, 2d

The Moral Idea of the Dogma of the Incarnation
a. It is one thing to admire and another to imitate. And is it not deceptive to think one could imitate Christ?
b. A Christian is compelled to choose daily between Christ and the world. In Kant’s system one who wishes to struggle for perfection, still far from being free of cooperation with evil, must stand against all this force having nothing but the mere example of Christ.
c. Christ must not only be higher than the visible and known world, but higher than all conditional existence; for He must be an unconditional existence, and one without beginning.
  1. Why, according to Metropolitan Anthony, must Christ be God, higher than nature and the world, in order to be our Savior. How does he argue to this point?
  2. What are we called to do in response to confessing Christ as God?

The Guardian Angel

Q & A with Fr Job:
Question: Is it true that, due to many sins, one’s Guardian Angel may leave someone?

Answer: The Guardian Angel is given to man at Baptism for his entire life. If someone lives a defiled life, then he departs from him, because his holiness is incompatible with the sinful stench that comes from such a person. However, the Guardian Angel does not completely abandon such a person. Having separated himself from him, he continues to pray for him who is under his heavenly protection. When that person wakes up spiritually, brings repentance and correction of his life, the Guardian Angel will return to him.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Reading Group, 2c

The Moral Idea of the Dogma of the Incarnation
a.The moral significance of the dogma is clearly demonstrated from the negative approach described in the previous section. In order to avoid describing our moral life according to its own essence, rather than demonstrating the influence of faith in Jesus Christ as God upon it, we will expound its principal conditions with the words of Kant.

b. Kant sought to demonstrate that the Gospel can bring just as much benefit to those who deny Christ’s miracles and revelation as to believers, though failed to do so. In referring to his teaching on redemption and salvation, we will describe what Kant believes to take place in a person when he decides to dedicate himself to attaining moral perfection.This will show without difficulty that this is possible only with faith in Christ as God.

c. Kant taught that the transformation to good cannot take place without pain. The feeling of an inner discord and regeneration causes suffering which is all the more tormenting when those evil inclinations of the will which are being destroyed have put down deep roots in the nature of a person and turned into habit.

d. Suffering is repulsive to a natural person. The Gospel blesses those who are dishonored and demands that one renounce oneself, that one despise one’s life. The Gospel foretells woe to the wealthy and satiated. But what will rouse us to defy our self-loving nature?

e. Kant replies that there are principles which correspond to truth and good within one. But if one acts for the sake of obedience to the voice leading towards good, then one must also submit oneself to depraved passions when their demands run upon my conscience.

f. Kant writes: “we must imagine that it has already been truly realized; and then, without difficulty we will be inspired by this beautiful image which will be fore each of us, and consequently for all of us, a true savior.” For Kant, therefore, it is enough merely to find an inspiring example.

  1. What is the significance of Metropolitan Anthony’s use of Kant in his argument?
  2. What in fact is the argument that the Metropolitan is making?