Tag, I’m it!

I’ve been tagged as a Thinking Blogger by Darrell Pursiful at his delightfully named Dr Platypus blog. Now I have to pass it on, or suffer the blogospheric equivalent of the dread curse of the unmailed chain letter, no doubt.

Though every blog I read makes me think, even if only “Why am I reading this dreck?”, the following five blogs were still a tough pick out of those I regularly read, all of which are quality stuff, I think. These, however, have been those to most consistently move my mental ship of state into deeper waters over the last few weeks.

1.) Energetic Procession is the blog of Perry Robinson, an Eastern Orthodox Christian. His blog is heavy on Orthodox theology, well-expressed. He regularly comments on other blogs, and writes commentary entries on various ecumenical and theological subjects. If you’re unfamiliar with Eastern Orthodox theology, reading through his archives would be a good way to immerse yourself and to learn the differences of such theology from others. This can be heady stuff.

2.) Glory to God for All Things is the blog of Father Stephen Freeman, an Eastern Orthodox priest in East Tennessee. If Perry Robinson’s site above can be described as more intellectually theological, Fr Freeman’s can be described as much more pastorally theological. This is the blog of a man who appears to be a fine priest, man, husband and father who shares with us lessons learned while wearing every one of those hats.

3.) The Scrivener is the blog of D. Ian Dalrymple in Alta, California, another Eastern Orthodox Christian (can you spot a trend here?). Ian is exceedingly well-read and an excellent writer, with an eclectic blog of delightful subjects, such as The Fabulous Imposter, about the mysterious fake George Psalmanazar, Feathered Friend of Christ, in which we learn that Science killed the Phoenix (or did it . . . ?), and Cappadocian Follies, in which we read St Gregory Nazianzen teasing the too-serious St Basil the Great about their ascetic hijinks! There are many more posts of like quality, all well-written.

4.) This is Life!: Revolutions Around the Cruciform Axis is the blog of an Eastern Orthodox catechumen, Clifton, or Benedict Seraphim after his patron Saints, a PhD student in ancient philosophy and ethics, writing on a wide variety of subjects. I’ve only just discovered his blog, and have been dipping into the archives bit by bit. There’s a wealth there, but perhaps one of the greatest delights is one of his own, in reading, “I am a father of two of the prettiest daughters any man could wish for, and live for those moments when I get home from work and hear the loud cries of “Daddy! Daddy!” while two little urchins run into me full speed with hugs and kisses.” Big heart and big brain is the combination of the day here.

5.) What Does The Prayer Really Say? is the blog of Father John Zuhlsdorf, an American Roman Catholic priest living and working in Rome. “Fr Z” is regularly referenced at such Roman Catholic blogs as Amy Wellborn’s Open Book and Mike Aquilina’s The Way of the Fathers, as he not only works in Vatican City, with a fantastic view of St Peter’s Basilica from the office, but hears all kinds of interesting Roman Catholic news that doesn’t really hit the press in America. Fr Z has numerous posts on the subject of his blog’s name, critiquing the atrocious “translations” into English done of Latin prayers in the 1960s and 1970s. I’ve learned alot from his discussions of the nuance of various Latin words and phrases, and I recommend his blog to anyone learning Ecclesiastical Latin for precisely that input, which is something one doesn’t get from the lexicons, but from extensive exposure through reading. In addition to the language lessons, he critques news reports on Catholic issues, and often puts up photos (check out the view from his computer!) and short historical entries on life in Rome. He has podcasts, too.

Well, I enjoyed that! I hope you will enjoy them!

Do you want to be healed?

Today’s Gospel reading was John 5.1-15, the story of the paralytic healed at the Probatica pools. I noticed some interesting things while listening to this passage today. First, here’s the full passage (from the Greek Orthodox lectionary text):

At that time, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and troubled the water; whoever stepped in first after the troubling of the water was healed of whatever disease he had. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked.

Now that day was the sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me said to me, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk.’ “They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.

There is a movement here in three acts, all leading toward the greater glory of God. First, the Lord asks the paralytic, “Do you want to be healed?” The paralytic doesn’t simply say, “Yes!” Rather, he thinks he understands what must be done for himself to be healed. God knows better: “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” There is the first act.

In the second act, we find some of the Jews more focused on their reading of the Law than on the mercy of God in healing. They don’t rejoice that the paralytic man is walking, praising God. Rather, they harass him for carrying his pallet on the Sabbath. He replies, “The man who healed me said to me, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk.'” And what do they reply? “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk’?” Not “Who is the man who healed you?” But neither did the man know who it was who healed him. There is the second act.

The third act occurs some time later, and elsewhere, in the great Temple in Jerusalem. Note that the paralytic man has gone to the Temple, very likely one of the most joyous days of his life, being able to walk through those beautiful gates and marvel at the magnificent buildings after thirty-eight years of paralysis. Jesus finds him there. Note that. The Lord finds him there, and then he says to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” What a thing to hear, from the very man who healed him! It sounds almost like a threat, really. But this too is a kind of healing, a teaching about spiritual sickness that the Lord is warning the man of. And so the man learns, probably from those also in the Temple, that it was Jesus who healed him. He then lets those Jews who’d earlier harassed him know that the man they thought was a lawbreaker, encouraging others to sin (though he really only didn’t follow the rules these particular Jews were making), was the man who healed him, and that man was the very popular prophet Jesus. Yet again, God knows better.

In each of these three acts, human expectations are overturned. Jesus’ unexpected actions and replies showed to these ancients, and through this written description to many others including ourselves, that God has other ways than the human ones: ways of healing, ways of determining good and evil, ways of teaching. Aside from the knowledge that we learn here that God both literally physically heals and wants us to be spiritually healthy, we learn that our expectations for how these things take place are very likely to be wrong.

Do you want to be healed?

Just say, “Yes, Lord.”

On the Mother of God

The preface of His All-Holiness Bartholomaios Patriarch of Constantinople which is included in the beautiful (and unfortunately difficult to find) catalogue Mother of God: Representation of the Virgin in Byzantine Art (ed. Maria Vassilaki. ISBN 9608452791) for the Benaki Museum’s 2000-2001 exhibition of the same name, would be good to read as a contribution to our understanding of the Eastern Orthodox conception of the Fall and the person and role of Mary Theotokos in relation to the redemption of our human nature. I have found it one of the most useful and concise such definitions. I love my patriarch!:

To the supplicants, beloved bothers and children of our Humbleness in the Lord, we grant grace and peace from God.

The exhibition ‘Mother of God’, mounted by the renowned Benaki Museum, over and above the fact that it brings visitors into closer touch with works of art inspired by the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, provides a pretext for profounder consideration of the Mystery of the Incarnation of God and the participation in it of Man in the person of the Theometor, Mother of God.

Following the transformation that the human mind underwent from the moment it turned aside from being in communion with God, that is, from the moment it denied love as an attracting and binding movement which makes communion with one another the reason and cause of gratification and bliss, it revolved around itself, grew selfish, lost the joy of giving and was filled with anxiety, being held fast in the grip of its self-confinement within its thoughts of self-righteousness and self-salvation. But the transcendence of individuality and the re-creation of the relationship of personal communion with another as a source of life, of the existence and of the happiness of existing in communion is impossible for him whose original social nature has been corrupted and transformed into one self-centred, for the latter necessitates the death of the former. By reason, therefore, of the rupture in Man’s loving communion with God through his own culpability, commonly known as the Fall, the restoration of this relationship through human effort is impossible.

Accordingly, just as the mind of the ancient Greek, illumined by some reflection or other of divine light, awakened, mankind would have been asleep until God would have taken the action needful to restore this relationship, that is, the action needful for the reconciliation and reconnection of the persons of the divinity and humanity through love.

However, the effecting by God of this restorative action presupposed the existence of at least one human being who would willingly respond positively to it, for love is a relationship of absolute freedom, and the response to love, the mutuality of love, is not amenable to compulsion.

All forms of love which mankind experienced after the Fall, after the rupture of this loving communion with God, were debased by a certain kind of selfishness, that is, by the lover’s anticipation of personal gain. The people of Israel loved God because God was their protector. It was inconceivable that love, instead of offering the lover certain satisfaction, should be attended by sacrifice.

The virgin maid Mary self-sacrificingly responded directly to the self-sacrificing love of God for Man in unhesitatingly accepting to bear a child without being married to another human being, thus exposing herself to death by stoning. By offering her whole being to the will of God, through transcending herself, the Virgin Mary fulfilled the presupposition of the mutuality of selfless love between God and man which made possible the Incarnation of God, that is, the perfect kenosis of Divinity through its assumption of the human form so that the love of Man for his fellow creature Christ the Man might be made more attainable and effected, since Christ has first loved us.

The Incarnation of the Word of God through the Mother of God is a great Mystery and is not explained by means of juridical intellectual categories that ignore the nature of God as love.

The approach to this Mystery can be made only within the environment of love and by thoroughly delving in its essence and characteristics.

Mankind owes infinite gratitude to the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, for she opened the way of love, was an accessory to the restoration of communion between Man and God and sacrificed herself by seemingly denying her human destination. Through her Son who likewise selflessly sacrificed himself in his human nature, she became an instrument of the restoration of the communion of the love of Man and God, which was disrupted by the egocentric move of our foremother Eve towards the object that was pleasing in her human eyes.

Our admiration of the Mother of God, which has given rise to innumerable works of art inspired by her and dedicated to her, of which a considerable portion is recorded in the catalogue in your hands, is an admiration for the selfless and sacrificial love that allowed the love of God to be incarnated, to assume human nature, to suffer, to be sacrificed, and by way of selfless and sacrificial love to elevate Man close to the throne of perfect love of God in heaven. This signifies that he restored the existence and life in loving communion with the Supreme Person, for personal life in individual existence confined within itself is inconceivable. Personal life presupposes that other person and personal communion with that person.

A large part of mankind continues even today to live a self-centred existence. Human relations are built upon a utilitarian foundation. The ‘I’ is secured in a variety of ways from all danger of being sacrificed, of being offered to the ‘you.’ In this manner, the individual does not exist as a person, as a being capable of existing in communion and in a relationship of selfless love with another person.

The Mother of God opened the way to the Incarnation of God and to the re-attainment of this relationship which was the original relationship of the first human couple with God. It rests with each one of us to tread in selfless love the already opened road of the new life which is the life of the Deity, or to remain within the confines of egocentric selfishness that constitutes the death of the human person as a person.

May we discover, through the love of the Mother of God, the selfless, giving, sacrificial and binding love that is life, joy, blessedness and the restoration of the human person in personal existence in communion, which is the only true human existential condition.

2 September, indiction 8, 2000

Where else are they?

St Clement of Rome: Basilica of St Clement, Rome
St Polycarp of Smyrna: Basilica of St Polycarp, Izmir, Turkey
St Justin Martyr: Capuchin Church of St Mary of the Conception, Rome
St Irenaeus of Lyons: Church of St Irenaeus, Lyon (relics destroyed by Protestants)
St Cyprian of Carthage: Abbaye Saint Corneille, Compeigne, France
St Athanasius the Great: St Mark’s Cathedral, Cairo
St Nicholas of Myra: Basilica of St Nicholas, Bari, Italy
St Basil the Great: Great Lavra, Mount Athos (his skull)
St Gregory Nazianzen: Church of St George in the Phanar, Constantinople
St Gregory Nyssa: Basilica of St Peter, Vatican City
St Ephrem the Syrian: somewhere in Sanliurfa, Turkey (location lost)
St John Chrysostom: Church of St George in the Phanar, Constantinople
St Maximus the Confessor: formerly in Constantinople, now lost (?)
St John of the Ladder: Monastery of St Catherine, Sinai
St John of Damascus: formerly in St Saba Monastery near Jerusalem, apparently his relics were taken to Moscow in the 19th century

Cat and mouse

It has come to this. Again the devil openly shows his contempt for human dignity, as usual, and for reason, for holiness and goodness and humility, this time through the ravings of a willing tool, the dead Cho boy. The Enemy’s contempt blazes its darkness throughout them like some vast black star. It’s terrifying. Yet the ignorant press buys into it wholesale as willing participants, indeed collaborators. The evil one knew perfectly well that they would publish what they received, as he and his legions have been so successful in their alterations to our societies, it was a foregone conclusion that these pawns would lack the decency to withhold the materials. Now he just plays with them. Collaborators with the devil. Lord have mercy.

Know your enemy.

Where are they now?

Places where the largest collection of relics of the Twelve and various Saints reside:

St Peter: Basilica of St Peter, Vatican City
St Andrew: Cathedral of St Andrew, Amalfi, Italy
St James, son of Zebedee: Santiago de Compostela (“Holy Jacob of the Field of Stars”)
St John: Cathedral of St John, Ephesus (ruined, but body disappeared long ago)
St Philip: Church of the Holy Apostles, Rome
St Bartholomew: Basilica of St Bartholomew, Island in the Tiber, Rome
St Thomas: Cathedral of St Thomas, Ortona, Italy
St Matthew: Cathedral of St Matthew, Salreno, Italy
St James, son of Alphaeus: Church of the Holy Apostles, Rome
St Judas Thaddaeus: Basilica of St Peter, Vatican City
St Simon the Zealot: Basilica of St Peter, Vatican City
St Matthias: St Matthias Church, Trier, Germany
St Paul: St Paul’s Outside The Walls, Rome
St Timothy: St Paul’s Outside The Walls, Rome
St James, the brother of the Lord: Armenian Cathedral of St James, Jerusalem
St Mark: Cathedral of St Mark, Cairo, Egypt
St Luke: Basilica of St Justina, Padua, Italy (his body)
           Cathedral of St Vitus, Prague (head)
St Barnabas: Monastery of St Barnabas, Salamis, Cyprus
St Stephen: Rotunda of St Stephen, Rome
St Titus: Church of St Titus, Heraklion, Crete
St John the Forerunner: Great Mosque, Damascus (his head)
St Ignatius of Antioch: Church of St Clement, Rome

Something I would love to do would be to touch the first page of each of the various New Testament books to the reliquaries of their authors. I’m sure that sounds bizarre to some readers, but to others, it’ll sound as wonderful as I think it would be. Maybe someday . . . .

Old and New Rome

Recently I’ve been very much enjoying reading through the archives of the blog What Does the Prayer Really Say? which is run by Father John Zuhlsdorf, a Roman Catholic priest living (mostly) in Rome. If you see reference to “Fr. Z” on a Catholic blog, it’s to him. His wry commentary on the atrocious English translations of ancient Latin prayers, and his explanations in numerous posts of various of these wonderful old prayers, are quite enjoyable, as are the descriptions of local life in Rome. I remember from my childhood (I grew up Catholic, was even an altar boy for a time, and wanted to grow up to be a priest) some of those watered-down, apoetical, drivelly prayers, along with one longhaired and bearded guitar-playing young priest who preferred “mass” in the school gymnasium to the chapel. Ugh. It sounds like the Latin translators are getting their English translations back in line, though. It’ll be interesting to have a look at the new translations once they’re published. I’m sure we’ll be able to find some parallels to a number of Orthodox prayers.

But the vicarious sights of Rome put me in a peculiar mood. The stunningly beautiful churches in Old Rome, the history running up and down every noisy street, over every bridge, through every piazza, all brought out heavy sighs for the loss of even more magnificent such sights lost to us forever in what was sometimes called New Rome: once Constantinople, now Istanbul. Think of the magnificent Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles, where not only the relics of the Twelve lay in magnificent sarcophagi, but the emperors, empresses, and various other saints were also interred amidst rare stone in all their finery. This church was desecrated looted and destroyed by the horrific and rightfully excommunicated crusaders of the Fourth Crusade, beginning in 1204. Later, the desecrated site was covered over with the Sultan Ahmet mosque, where the Ottoman sultans are interred. Constantinople’s history, its arcades, its icons, its public sculpture, the traditions of its daily processions, all the magnificent regalia of the old Roman Empire, was destroyed between the combined efforts of that Fourth Crusade, and even moreso through the Ottoman Turkish “liberation” of the City, which has led to its churches having become ruins, storage space, shopping malls, mosques (Lord have mercy!), and the greatest of all churches, the Church of Holy Wisdom, was not only desecrated by becoming a mosque, but is now a museum in which it is forbidden to say a Christian prayer or cross oneself. Had neither the Fourth Crusade or the Turkish conquest occurred, that City would be an even more magnificent city of churches than even Old Rome is now, or at the very least one as full of history, churches, and beautiful reminders of the past. Alas.

But there is something good in all this. The Orthodox Christians of Constantinople had decided that their faith was more important to preserve than their City, the tattered remnants of Empire, their human dignity, even their very lives, rejecting theological compromise with Old Rome, and thus denying themselves the potential of Roman-encouraged allies against the Turks. The decisions made in the last years of the City’s existence as the seat of the Roman Augustus led to the abandonment of the worldly trappings of state-sanctioned power and wealth, and led the Orthodox Christians of all the original lands of the Gospel in the East into several centuries of intense suffering, often referred to as The Turkish Yoke. Every Orthodox Christian bore a cross, though never a visible one. Innumerable martyr saints were glorified. The subtle, insinuating horror of relentless oppression sapped the worldly strength and wealth of the Orthodox, but their spiritual wealth was all the while being stored up in heaven. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of modern states out of its carcass, things for a time seemed to improve, and in some places certainly have, particularly Greece and those islands with her. Yet another imperial scourge was soon wielded to humble the Orthodox, in the Bolsheviks and their godless state, which we are only recently rid of. Millions more were martyred, more new saints glorified in less than a century than in all the foregoing ages of the Church. Now we are freed of this one, and now, once again the old foe of Islam is driving the Orthodox Christians, and all but its own, out of the East altogether. More crosses to bear…

And I think about Old Rome, and even more about my own home here, in the chaotic spiritual and moral and cultural whirlwind of the United States of America. In Old Rome, would the desire for la dolce vita, the sweet life, which they so clearly have, have overcome the faithfulness of the people in an oppression like that of the Ottoman Turks? Would their witness be like that of the Orthodox after nearly six centuries of oppression? How would Americans fare under such, with our Extreme-Ultra-Enriched-Plus Sweet Life™©®? It seems rather that the people of both have instead been giving up their faithfulness with no compulsion at all, which is all the more sad, inexplicable, and damning. How the Orthodox saints of the last few centuries must shake their heads, and how they must pray for all of us the more.

With all of this, I think, too, about the reunion between the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is, in the current discussions, a pipe dream, an impossible hope, I am genuinely, deeply sad to realize. Some of the very doctrines, by the rejection of which the Orthodox lost everything in the world and suffered for centuries, although to our spiritual benefit (for we are even yet one Body, all alive in Christ), are still at issue. This strength is one fortified through an unparalleld martyrdom of centuries. There will be no budging on these issues by the Orthodox, no wafflingly-worded Anglicanesque resolutions accepted: the filioque, papal primacy and infallibility, immaculate conception, azymes, and the Uniate churches. Nothing less will be accepted than for the Roman Catholic Church to reject these and concomitant developments of its past millennium alone, living separately from the Orthodox. Communion could be restored then, but cannot be until then, for that is what is required at minimum by the Orthodox for this to happen. And how likely is that, truly? Not likely at all, I think. God may move the movers among the Roman Catholics in Vatican City in that direction. His ways are wonderful. But our human ways are not. And although this makes me humanly inconsolably sad, I am able to take refuge in Christ my God, in His Body the Church, and to find in His Communion, His Body and Blood, that consolation that I need. For He is one.

So, now, no matter what the situation is, whatever glumness may attend, whatever hopes may be dashed, I will always try to remember the simple prayer: Glory be to God for all things!

Breck, Scripture in Tradition

In my earlier review of Fr John Behr’s The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death, I mentioned Fr John Breck’s book, Scripture in Tradition: The Bible and Its Interpretation in the Orthodox Church, also published by St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. I thought a short review is in order, as I’ve just finished reading the entire book, after having read Part One for a second time.

Continue reading “Breck, Scripture in Tradition”

A Favorite Prayer

Βασιλευ ουρανιε, Παρακλητε, το Πνευμα της αληθειας, ο πανταχου παρων και τα παντα πληρων, ο θησαυρος των αγαθων και ζωης χορηγος, ελθε και σκηνωσον εν ημιν και καθαρισον ημας απο πασης κηλιδος και σωσον, Αγαθε, τας ψυχας ημων.

O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who are ever present, and filling all things, the Treasury of all good things and Giver of life, come and dwell within us, and cleanse us of every stain, and save, O Good One, our souls.