Two Friends Who Crafted a Rudder

The Ship of the Church

TO
THE MOST HIERARCHICAL, GOD-GOVERNED,
AND MOST AFFECTIONATE MOTHER OF ALL ORTHODOX
CHRISTIANS,
THE HOLY GREAT CHURCH OF CHRIST,
WITH ALL REVERENCE WE TENDER
FILIAL AND AT THE SAME TIME VERNILE ADORATION

To Thy sacred embrace, O common Mother of Orthodox Christians, holy great CHURCH OF CHRIST, is dedicated this Rudder of the catholic Church, the present handbook interpretative of the divine Canons; and the dedication is one that is most proper and on every score of rightness fitting. For, I well know, all persons, none excepted, will concur in the admission that to the same extent that a mariner’s compass is needed by sailors, and the rudder is necessary to ships, the collection of the Sacred Canons, too—this figurative Compass, that is to say—is needful and this spiritual Rudder is necessary and indispensable to Thee, the spiritual and venerable SHIP prefiguring and representing the ecumenical universal transport of the Catholic Church. And, indeed, this canonical handbook is a sort of rudder and spiritual compass; since it alone, in truth, points accurately and undeviatingly to the Pole—that is to say, to Heaven itself. With it, as with a rudder, the Church of Christ can very surely and very safely steer her course on her voyage to that really calm Harbor of that blissful and wantless destination. In fact, this figurative Rudder was constructed in yoretime by the Holy Spirit through the agency of the Godly-learned Apostles and, from time to time, of Holy Councils, Ecumenical as well as Regional, and of individual great hierarchs of the Church. Many others, after them, as collaborators and adjutories, who steered with it joined hands in mending it, and interpreted parts thereof that were hard to understand, harmonizing well enough passages that somehow seemed to conflict with one another. It is from these, indeed, that we too have compiled the interpretations, and, having compendiously gathered them together under one cover, so far as was possible, we offer this present labor in simple language to THEE, the supernal Mother of us all. With this in mind, O divine Mother, open Thy most sacred arms, like the Lawyer Priest of old, and receive this book gleefully, like a sheaf of fresh ears of wheat (Lev. 2:14) newly reaped and most sacred. Receive and accept, O myron-laden SHIP, “like a merchant-ship bringing in wealth from afar,” as the author of Proverbs says (Prov. 31:14), Thine own Rudder.

But rather, to employ a more suitable example, precisely as Euphemia, the virgin martyress of old, by embosoming the volume of the Fourth holy ecumenical Council, kept it safe and above every calumny of the adversaries, so and in like manner be Thou, who keepest in Thyself like a treasure the relic of this very same renowned Euphemia exhaling the odor of a living body, fain to embosom the present Handbook, which contains not only the definitions and Canons of the Fourth, but simply of all the holy Councils, Ecumenical as well as Regional, and of the individual Fathers, so that by embosoming and protecting it, Thou mayest keep it safe and above every calumny of caviling critics, and render it trustworthy and indisputable as reading matter for all Christian peoples with the authoritativeness of Conciliar and Apostolic decision. That is what we prayerfully request. That is what, along with us, all other souls longing after God supplicate for, which souls are voyaging through this billowy and turbulent life towards that unruffled living of our blissful fatherland: accordingly, it is our fervent wish that we may all be spared the fate of being disappointed.

From the Sacred Monastery of the Pantocrator, situate at the Holy Mountain of Athos, December 4th, 1793.

Of Your Most Hierarchical,

Ecumenical and God-glorified Majesty, the least and at the same time the most obedient children in the Lord
AGAPIUS, A HIEROMONACH, AND NICODEMUS, A MONK
(A Dyad of Friends beloved in Christ)

The Rudder (Pedalion) of the Metaphorical Ship of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of the Orthodox Christians…., translation by D. Cumings (The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1957), pp x-xi

A patchwork . . .

. . . from recent arrivals.

When we are reproached for anything by others, it should not irritate us nor make us despondent, but it should humble us, being morally worthless, and should make us turn to God with the fervent prayer that He may heal our infirmities and by His grace supply us with that which is wanting in us. To grow irritated, especially when we are reproached with weaknesses, really existing in us, would be only adding one malady to another, one passion to another; it would mean that we are sick with the voluntary blindness of self-love, which does not wish to see its own dark side, and leads to voluntary destruction. To despond is also most foolish, for by the help of God’s grace the Christian can always change for the better if he wishes; and it is for this purpose that the Lord sends us accusers, in order that they may open our spiritual eyes, and that we may see the deformity of our deeds, and seeing, correct ourselves, but not for the purpose of casting us into despondency. Despondency is itself a sin and the work of the Devil. Reproof ought to produce in us the “godly sorrow, which worketh repentance to salvation,” and not the sorrow of self-love.
St John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, pp 557-558

“There is no rest on earth for those who seek salvation,” says St Ephraim the Syrian. The struggle is incessant, whether external or internal. The enemy acts at times visibly through people and things, at times invisibly through the mind. At times he shows himself clearly as the enemy, acting with cruelty; at others as a flattering friend, leading astray by a trick. That which takes place in war between two opposing armies is that which happens to a man who commits himself to the struggle with the delusion of this world. Indeed, “there is no rest on earth for those who seek salvation.” But when salvation comes, rest comes with it.
St Nikolai Velimirovich, The Prologue from Ochrid 2.43

I will make another comparison in my explanation of how grace, when it is given room to act, permeates our entire nature, and then becomes outwardly visible for all who are able to see. It is like fire when it permeates iron: it is not only inside the iron but on the outside as well, and its fiery force is observable to everyone. So it is with grace, when it has permeated our nature: it becomes visibly perceptible to all. All those entering into contact with such a grace-filled person feel an unusual force present within him, which manifests itself in different ways. When such a person begins to speak about something spiritual, everything emanates from him as brightly as the midday sun, and his words go directly to the soul, authoritatively forming corresponding feelings and dispositions within. Even if he does not speak, he exudes a warmth which touches everything, and a certain force goes out, which stimulates moral energy and engenders readiness for every kind of spiritual action and exploit.
St Theophan the Recluse, The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to It, p 112

Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me that I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light [Matthew 11.29-30]. The yoke of Christ is humility and meekness. For he who humbles himself before all men has rest and remains untroubled; but he who is vainglorious and arrogant is ever encompassed by troubles as he does not wish to be less than anyone but is always thinking how to be esteemed more highly and how to defeat his enemies. Therefore the yoke of Christ, which is humility, is light, for it is easier for our lowly nature to be humbled than to be exalted. But all the commandments of Christ are also called a yoke, and they are light because of the reward to come, even though for a time they appear heavy.
The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew, p 99

As Christians, we emerged fully-blown from the Incarnation, the Passion and the glorious Resurrection of Christ, as well as the teachings of the Apostles and the sacrifice of the martyrs. But as spritual descendants of Abraham, what went into our development? The Old Testament scriptures are not easy reading. Procrastination governs their perusal. The genealogies, the multitude of laws, the details of wars with local tribes, many repetitions for unlearned listeners, the mysterious pronouncements of the prophets—all can become tedious to any but scholars. So, using highlights and a habit of reading only one or two pages a day, including lucent explanations, is the way to knowledge chosen in this book.
Johanna Manley, Prelude to Light, p iv

Χαιρε σοφιας Θεου δοχειον
Χαιρε προνοιας αυτου ταμειον
Χαιρε φιλοσοφους ασοφους δεικνυουσα
Χαιρε τεχνολογους αλογους ελεγχουσα
Χαιρε οτι εμωρανθησαν οι δεινοι συζητηται
Χαιρε οτι εμαρανθησαν οι των μυθων ποιηται
Χαιρε των Αθηναιων τας πλοκας διασπωσα
Χαιρε των αλιεων τας σαγηνας πληρουσα
Χαιρε βυθου αγνοιας εξελκουσα
Χαιρε πολλους εν γνωσει φωτιζουσα
Χαιρε ολκας των θελοντων σωθηναι
Χαιρε λιμην του βιου πλωτηρων
Χαιρε Νυμφη ανυμφευτε
Ο Ακαθιστος Υμνος/The Akathist Hymn, Fr George Papadeas, p 87

Rejoice, Vessel of the Wisdom of God.
Rejoice, Treasury of His providence.
Rejoice, thou who showest forth philosophers fools.
Rejoice, thou who provest logicians illogical.
Rejoice, for the subtle disputants are confounded.
Rejoice, for the inventors of myths are faded away.
Rejoice, thou who dost break the webs of the Athenians.
Rejoice, though who dost fill the nets of the Fishermen.
Rejoice, thou who dost draw us from the depths of ignorance.
Rejoice, thou who dost enlighten many with knowledge.
Rejoice, Raft for those who desire to be saved.
Rejoice, Haven for those who fare on the sea of life.
Rejoice, thou Bride unwedded.
translation of the above Greek, from the Prayer Book translated and published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery

The Sea of Scriptures

There is nothing so capable of banishing the inherent tendencies of licentiousness from our soul, and of driving away those active memories which rebel in our flesh and produce a turbulent flame, as to immerse oneself in the fervent love of instruction, and to search closely into the depth of the insights of divine Scripture.

When a man’s thoughts are totally immersed in the delight of pursuing the wisdom treasured in the words of Scripture by means of the faculty that gains enlightenment from them, then he puts the world behind his back and forgets everything in it, and he blots out of his soul all memories that form images embodying the world. Often he does not even remember the employment of the habitual thoughts which visit human nature, and his soul remains in ecstasy by reason of those new encounters that arise from the sea of the Scripture’s mysteries.

And again, if the mind swims on the surface of the waters, that is, of the sea of the divine Scriptures, and its perceptions cannot fathom the great depth so as to be able to grasp all the treasures in its deep, yet even this practice in itself, by the power of its fervent love, will suffice the mind firmly to pinion its thoughts by a single thought of wonder, and to prevent them from hastening toward the body’s nature, as one of the Godbearing Fathers said. And this [he says] is because the heart is feeble and cannot sustain the evils that it encounters from inner and outer warfares. And you know that an evil [bodily] thought is oppressive. If the heart is not occupied with study, it cannot endure the turbulence of the body’s assault.

St Isaac of Nineveh, Ascetical Homily 1, 17-19.
From this translation by Holy Trasnfiguration Monastery.

There is no strength

As a matter of fact, it is not difficult to do something which is even quite good, as the pagans also did. But let someone intentionally define a course for himself of a continuous doing of good, and define the order of it according to what is indicated in the word of God—and this not for one month or for a year, but for one’s whole life—and place as a rule to remain in this order unwaveringly; and then, when he remains faithful to this, let him boast of his own power. But without this it is better to close one’s mouth. How many cases there have been in the past and in the present of a self-trusting beginning and building of a Christian life! And they have all ended and continue to end in nothing. A man builds a little in his new order of life—and then throws it away. How can it be otherwise? There is no strength. It is characteristic only of the eternal power of God to support us unchanging in our disposition in the midst of the unceasing waves of temporal changes. Therefore one must be filled abundantly with this power; one must ask for and receive it in order—and it will raise us up and draw us out of the great agitation of temporal life.

St Theophan the Recluse. The Path to Salvation, 32–33.

The cleansing wine of tears

With Thine unsleeping eye look upon me and take pity on me: for I am held fast by the drowsiness of sloth and lie upon the bed of the passions, a slave to the sleep of sensual pleasure. Thou hast bowed Thine head upon the Cross, O Christ, and of Thine own will Thou hast awaked from sleep; and Thou hast driven away the night of sin, for Thou art the Light of righteousness.

I was adorned at Baptism with Thy rich gifts of grace; but instead I have loved the poverty of evil, and in my misery I have become a stranger to the virtues. I have wandered into a far country of sin: but make me turn back, O Saviour, and embrace me, fencing me round with Thy Cross unto eternity.

Cast aside, my soul, the drunkenness of the passions, and by fasting seek the cleansing wine of tears that makes glad the heart of man, withering lust and putting out the furnace of the flesh. Make haste to be crucified with Christ, who for thy sake was nailed upon the Wood, and to live with Him unto eternity.

Eighth Canticle of Matins, Wednesday in the Fifth Week of the Great Fast. From The Lenten Triodion: Supplementary Texts, Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware.

Woof!

From forth the kennel of thy womb hath crept
A hellhound that doth hunt us all to death:
That dog, that had his teeth before his eyes,
To worry lambs and lap their gentle blood,
That foul defacer of God’s handiwork,
That excellent grand tyrant of the earth
That reigns in gallèd eyes of weeping souls,
Thy womb let loose to chase us to our graves.
O upright, just, and true-disposing God,
How do I thank thee that this charnel cur
Preys on the issue of his mother’s body
And makes her pew fellow with others’ moan.

Wm Shakespeare, Richard III, Act IV, Scene 4, lines 47-58.

The speaker is Queen Margaret to Richard’s mother, the Duchess of York. It is a breathtaking insult, is it not?

Mine, too

And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.

Mark 9.24

Ascetic Ascent

When we throw a stone up, it ascends until the moment when the propelling force ceases to be effectual. So long as this force acts, the stone travels higher and higher in its ascent, overcoming the force of the earth’s gravity. But when this force is sspent and ceases to act, then, as you know, the stone does not remain suspended in the air. Immediately, it begins to fall, and the further it falls the greater the speed of its fall. This, solely according to the physical laws of terrestrial gravity.

So it is also in the spiritual life. As a Christian gradually ascends, the force of spiritual and ascetical labours lifts him on high. Our Lord Jesus Christ said: “Strive to enter in through the narrow gate.” That is, the Christian ought to be an ascetic. Not only the monastic, but every Christian. He must take pains for his soul and his life. He must direct his life on the Christian path, and purge his soul of all filth and impurity.

Now, if the Christian, who is ascending upon this ladder of spiritual perfection by his struggles and ascetic labours, ceases from this work and ascetic toil, his soul will not remain in its former condition; but, like the stone, it will fall to the earth. More and more quickly will it drop until, finally, if the man does not come to his senses, it will cast him down into the very abyss of Hell.

It is necessary to remember this. People forget that the path of Christianity is indeed an ascetical labour. Last Sunday, we heard how the Lord said: “He that would come after Me, let him take up his cross, deny himself, and follow Me.” The Lord said this with the greatest emphasis. Therefore, the Christian must be one who takes up his cross, and his life, likewise, must be an ascetic labour of bearing that cross. Whatever the outward circumstance of his life, be he monk or layman, it is of no consequence. In either case, if he does not force himself to mount upwards, then, of a certainty, he will fall lower and lower.

Excerpt from a sermon of Metropolitan Philaret of New York (†1985), given on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, the Sunday of St John of the Ladder. From the beautiful edition of The Ladder of Divine Ascent published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery of Brookline, Massachusetts, page xxxii.

Orthodox Study Bible review links

Our Orthodox monastic Father writing under the nom de plume (or should that be nom du clavier?) of Felix Culpa at Ora et Labora has posted another installment of his review of the OSB: Orthodox Study Bible, My Turn: II. He has found some further failings in the volume, most significantly the favorable quotation of authors whose writings are condemned by the Church in synod!

Our entirely ananonymous Orthodox friend Esteban Vázquez has also provided us with a convenient roundup of links to some various posts on the Orthodox Study Bible, some pro, some con. We can also look forward to some undoubtedly interesting review posts from Esteban once his copy arrives, which will hopefully be soon.

Because this volume is being viewed as a major event in the Orthodox Church in the United States, and its significant drawbacks really need to be addressed, if even only cursorily, I’ve been persuaded to continue reviewing it. So you may (or may not!) look forward to further reviews here of Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World.

Liberal vs Conservative

These days, many people think the RSV Bible is pretty conservative. That wasn’t the case when it was first published. Bruce Metzger describes an interesting incident in his autobiography, Reminiscences of an Octogenarian (Hendrickson, 1997), pp 78-79:

[A] pastor of a church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, publically burned with a blowtorch a copy of what he termed “a heretical, communist-inspired Bible.” The ashes were put in a metal box and sent to Dean Weigel at Yale Divinity School, who had served as convener of the Standard Bible Committee. That box, with its contents, is now among the Bible committee’s collection of books and archives, a reminder that, though in previous centuries Bible translators were sometimes burned, today happily it is only a copy of the translation that meets such a fate.

Page 78 includes a photograph of the opened box showing some of the burned RSV in front of it. There’s a lengthy typed label pasted onto the box, which is a squared metal (?) box with a round screw-down lid on the top, which I think is an old-fashioned paraffin tin. The finding aid for the Standard Bible Committee collection in the Yale University Library doesn’t list this unusual memento of pique, however.