Journal

Inner Counsels, Confessions, & Petitions

A Prayer for Shelter

ImageHold me, Lord, in the palm of Thine hand. Thou who dost surround the righteous with angels, surround me with Thyself.

Thou art greater than all, and it is enough for me, the small one, if Thou hidest me in the cleft of the rock, as Thou didst Moses.

Bury me in the belly of the whale, as Thou didst Jonas. Thou who wast carried in Thy Mother’s womb, enflesh me in the prayers of the Theotokos.

Hold me up over the waters, who am not worthy like Peter. Be with me in the tomb, as Thou didst Lazarus, Thine own friend.

The world cannot contain Thee, yet I am contained in Thee. I am fit for Hades, but find me there, as Thou didst the Psalmist, and take me up in the clouds as Thou hast done the perfect.

The lamps full of oil, the cisterns of water and wine for the Wedding, the vials of costly perfume for Thy feet, all these hold Thy servants, yet hold me in Thyself where I might not be poured out except for Thine own pleasure.

Thou who dost wrap the heavens in a cloth, who was wrapped with purple, who was placed in a tomb, who made the world a paradise, who clothest the lillies and the stranger and the poor, I am poor and a stranger to Thee. Visit me in my prison and make it a cell of prayer.

My heart is full of passions, my house unswept, purify me and walk about in me as the Temple, bury the law in the ark of my heart, that when Thou dost empty judgment upon the world, I might be spared.

Thou art the home and the place of all real things. Thou who dost shelter existence, with Thy blood on the lintel. Thou dost show us the Eden of thy most pure mother, the bosom of the saints, the shelter of Thy house in which are rooms for the holy. The cup that dispenses Thy body and blood is the vision of the heavenly union, the theosis of at last dwelling in Thee.

Make all the places one, Lord, and do not let me be outside, without a place, in outer darkness. Thou has made a place for Thy favored servants, let me be a slave in the house of Thy sons, as the prodigal. Make me rise at the appointed time and at last live in my own body with Thee who was resurrected for my sake.

Hear my prayer. Look with mercy on my failed words. See and know my broken thoughts, and make of all these things one whole dwelling place among all Thy places. I am desolate, barren, and a shelter for demons. I am a tomb for the dead. Save me.

The Battle of Hours

ImageI’m fascinated by how no matter how something is phrased, it can be right there in front of you, simple and plain as day, but that doesn’t mean you’ll hear it. I’m not talking about some ‘self-annointed’ gnostic’s personal interpretation of a religious text – I mean something that’s dyed in the wool tradition but still, somehow, eludes the grasp. When people ask, “Why didn’t Christ tell everyone what was coming and what to do about it?” the answer is ‘He did, but that doesn’t mean “everyone” or even many people have heard him.

I seem to have stumbled upon something effective for overcoming sin. I know our fathers have told me this. I can go to my library and come out with armloads of books that will tell me this. I know that it has passed through my ears. But I know I haven’t heard it. Or I’ve forgotten it, which happens too.

 

It seems counterintuitive (and almost cowardly) not to fight sin head on. Not to attack it where it is, or defend against it where it comes. The fathers have told me this lacks humility, that I am already beginning from Death, “in sin did my mother conceive me” – the very context of that fight and defense has itself been corrupted – how then do I presume that I can make a stand? But I have heard them and thought ‘what else can I do?’ I didn’t hear the rest of what they were saying. And I know something about synergy. I am not mystified as to what’s me and what’s God, as though I have not learned the Orthodox thinking in this matter. I don’t presume either to struggle alone, or to wait for God to come and save me. There is no struggle and no salvation that is not both of us fully engaged together – my will, my mind, my emotions, my body, and God’s energies as well.

But the other part of it – I didn’t realize is so effective. Fighting and defending *indirectly*. As I say, it’s counterintuitive (to a man infected with Death). But it seems that praying the hours, that pushing through to sing the liturgical prayers of our people, helps overcome sin, helps not only drive away the evil one, but make a mind for overcoming the world, and also a disposition to overcome the passions. It makes a self less inclined to sin in the body, which is somehow raised through prayer, as though less corruptible, and it makes a soul less inclined to interest in sin, as though the fullness of prayer has filled an aching void that sin always promises to fill but never does, require addict-like returning to the needle of passions.

Now the fathers have said again and again, “pray so that you might not fall into temptation”. They have bled their voice onto the ground before me with admonition and encouragement, and I have not heard them. And I have been proud. I have thought to fight and to defend, to take sin on head on. But this is arrogance, not bravery. And this “indirect”, “counterintuitive” fighting and defense – I think this is what they meant. I think they meant I’m incapable of winning, but if I turn to God not to fight for me, but to fix me, to fix the broken, damaged, savaged by Death corruption in soul and body that has eaten me away, then I will be raised to taste incorruptible life, and Death won’t succeed in owning me, forcing me back to the ‘needle’ of passion-addicted slavery.

I walk away from the Hours, and I don’t care about the ‘needle’. I walk away and am happier, and it lasts, and I want to return to the Hours. And I think that, if I don’t, I will be overcome again. The passions – pride, anger, rage, envy, fear, lust, vengeance – these will come for me and find me broken for them, open for them, unclothed, needing, agonizing, incomplete, with a void they crawl into like roaches into a gap in the wall. The prayers, said with every attempt at fitting attention and devotion, with persistence and sincerity, they place the house on a high rock.

It’s not like the noon witching hour on “church day” when drivers roar out of parking lots and onto roadways with their “how dare you get in front of me, I am important and not to be trifled with!”, and the restaurants and buffets are packed with “I demand service. I will be catered to. How dare you fail me in any way!” No, that would be stupid. I don’t mean walking away feeling so good about yourself that you won’t do bad things – won’t kill someone, but will burn in the acid bath of pride. I mean that if the prayers are fitting and devoted, it seems like God does what he promises, fills up the gap between the man standing saying them in his Death with unworthy lips and the goal to which he aspires. As C.S. Lewis said, God “directs our arrows to himself”, apart from which they could never hit anything except an idol of our deluded imaginations. And God saves through prayer, deifies one a little more, heals a little more the disease, and abides with one a little more when in the dark cave surrounded by the slaver and the enemy and the dire wolf. And it’s stronger. The center is more well, and it holds more easily, to cite Yeats.

For me, it is the ‘discipline’ to say the words in private, to stand in the icon corner and sing the hour without help, without others, without anyone but me and God and the Saints knowing I am there. Which is really not ‘discipline’, but it is discovering and ever rediscovering that comfort is there, healing is there, health and wellness are there, that God abides especially there, in those prayers said “fittingly and with devotion”. The synergy is in going out to meet him. “Keep me this night without sin.” It’s amazing that one could say these words many times and not realize that they are exactly what is happening – I am saying the words, for my part, fittingly and with devotion – and God is keeping me this night without sin. This is the simple prescription. This is what I must do. Not dig in, stand, and fight, which it is my inclination to do at the first sign of trouble. But flee to the ‘altar’, choose good ground there, and call upon the host of Heaven to come to my aid, trusting not even the words of my own imagination, but the time-honoured implements of holy men who have withstood flame and sword and tooth and claw, and are there in prayer with those who honour them.

Lord have mercy on my blindness. Pray for me those who see.

Responding to Accusations

ImageWhen accused of a general failing – pride, foolishness, laziness, always agree. Be the first to admit it. You needn’t go out of your way to announce these passions, but the moment someone points the finger, join with them. When you accuse yourself, you avoid judgment. When you think them correct always in their observations, you avert the very passions attributed to you, and so overcome them. Don’t defend yourself. If they say, “So, you admit it!” say “Of course.” If they say, “then why don’t you change” say “because I am obstinate, too. Forgive me.”, or “that’s how far gone I am, pray for me”. It doesn’t matter whether technically they see anything real or not. God has granted them words, whether they are false prophets who pretend to see your sins instead of their own, or whether God is graciously reminding you of your sins. If you think with the fathers, you think that all these things that can be said about you are true, and that you cannot recount all the ways in which you have failed. If you think with the desert, you think that you fail in all ways, that every failure that can be attributed to you is true. But don’t be depressed by this, or let others insist that you be depressed. Shame is best expressed in acknowledgement and worship, not in self-pity. Genuine shame is in gratitude for being allowed to live without being struck down for your sins and utterly destroyed – weep over your sins, but don’t be destroyed by them, or it mocks God who has not destroyed you in judgment. If your accusers want you to fall down before them, you cannot – it is a thing you can only give to God. Even the angels do not ask as much. As the fathers say, “keep your mind in Hell and despair not”. So you can be cheerful, even tho remorseful, happy even though sad for your faults.

If someone accuses you of a fault, acknowledge it, and ask forgiveness. If they say that you must do something to gain forgiveness, say you’ll discuss it with your Confessor. It is not appropriate to arrange ‘penance’ from just anyone. The mysteriological significance of penance cannot be replaced with our assigning it to one another. This is likewise why we don’t bless one another. You and I are not priests – unless you’re a priest – I’m certainly not, so I won’t be blessing anyone today, or presuming to assign penance. At some point, another person’s inability to forgive your faults is their own burden, and must be something they work out likewise with their own Confessor. You don’t have to just shrug it off, but you aren’t a slave to someone else’s probationary program for you to fit in with their agenda. In response to “pray for me”, someone once said, “you make it hard to pray for you”. All I can say to that is, “I understand”, leaving it at that. Something similar might be “then we can pray for each other.” It needn’t be arrogant. We are taught to say, “by (that person’s) prayers save me”, believing that our sins are so corrupting that we cannot be saved apart from the prayers of others. Ask forgiveness, but asking isn’t agreeing to a 12-step plan where you mow someone else’s lawn. On the other hand, if you ruined their lawn, it’s probably the right gesture.

 

When accused of a specific crime, such as lying about something, don’t lie by confessing it falsely to anyone. You can say, “I am a liar”, and you know it’s true, because you have spoken words of God with your lips but not your heart. But don’t say, “yes, I lied about what I told you yesterday” unless that is true. The fathers don’t ask us to become liars in order to admit to being liars. If someone says, “but the fathers say you should admit every fault”, freely admit to any fault, but not to historical events that did not happen.

When there is a subtle blend of accusations – “you’re being proud about this – what you’re claiming happened didn’t happen” – just separate the failing from the facts. “I am indeed very proud. I have no doubt that I am being proud right now, and that I was proud before you even noticed it. Pray for me. However, what I have said is true, and I have not lied about it. Forgive me if I seem to be saying you’re mistaken.”

Accusations are a gift, so that all your enemies, as St. Nikolai Velimirovic has written, may be your friends. In this way, God makes peace in the whole world. “You’re too proud of your intellect.” Answer: “That is certainly true. Thank you for helping me remember.” But mistakes of history – “You cheated on the exam. No one could have gotten all the answers correct.” – are just that – mistakes. When someone is mistaken, especially about you, you don’t have to correct them. Don’t tell them “you are wrong” or “you are mistaken”, but also don’t join them in the error – that kind of accusation is the Evil One tempting you, though they don’t know it. “I disagree” is enough. “I don’t believe so” is sufficient. Keep it subjective – “I don’t think so”, not objective “you are in error”, to allow for your own weakness, blindness, or delusion – in humility – and because in this way you aren’t also accusing them, which otherwise you would be. But if they say, “You are a cheat”, say “Yes, certainly.” and remember that you’ve cheated yourself of paradise. Say, whenever accused of a fault, that the accuser is right. Then neither of you can be wounded by you fighting with them. When they offer the Enemy’s accusation, don’t even say “I think differently” – which is a positive statement – don’t offer your thoughts – humble yourself and leave no room for fighting over your ideas – instead say “I don’t think as much” – adding, if you wish, “though I am certainly capable of it”.

By leaving nothing for anyone to fight with, you leave nothing for them to stumble over, and nothing for the Enemy to seize from you and make into a weapon. You cannot be pulled into a war, if you become like a lamb, though I find it a very hard thing to do. In this humility, the Enemy’s arrows leave no mark. In this self-accusation, Judgement won’t destroy you. In this willingness to concede all that can be conceded, finding any way possible to agree over your own failings, you become a peacemaker – taking, as did Christ, all sins on yourself. Say, if you fail in it, “it’s my fault. It’s all my fault.” Love, as the apostle says, covers a multitude of sins.

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And yes, it’s a tragic facet of public life (corporate culture, academia, politics, religion) that acknowledging weaknesses and following Christ can ruin your ability to be promoted, to even retain your position, and can be spread as gossip like wildfire, distorting your reputation and making life intolerable. In a religious environment, leave. You’re in the wrong one. For the rest of it, though, most of us developed two voices – the one that tells the truth, and the one that responds to manipulation. I don’t fault anyone for it. I have done what was needed to feed my family, and to survive, too. It’s a commentary on public life and the people who make it what it is that integrity is converted into just a means of destroying you, and people who cover their sins are rewarded by the same people with prosperity. When I was in those environments, I always tried to determine whether I was dealing with people who didn’t think of sin as sin, but as merely leverage to convert into a weapon, and those who were genuine. The latter were almost nonexistent, in my experience. And in corporate, academic, and political life I gave very little ground. That’s still how I would do it. For those who would condemn this, did every Christian present himself to be burned in the genocides against our people? Some did, some didn’t, but Saints are among both. But in religious environments, I have preferred to let the chips fall where they may. It is one way I have distinguished cults, with merely the appropriate religious affiliations and blessings, from genuinely Christian communities.

I will say again that to be an Orthodox Church, while incredibly important since there is no other Church, does not mean that you are a Christian community. Cults abound everywhere, because there is little else that religion can do when it embeds itself among people, than to turn the worship of the Creator into the worship of our own personalities. One group is busily ‘defending the truth’ but with clubs and virtual burnings at the stake. Cult, not Christian, whatever its pedigree. Another is busily replacing the Faith with a social theatre, a “mega-church” with a complete absence of genuine Orthodox tradition – in fact a campaign to eradicate it as some kind of vestige – it wishes more than anything to be the biggest non-denominational religious centre in its region, disguised as an Orthodox Church. Bigness and social acceptability are its twin idols. Cult, not Christian. In either environment, reputation can make or break you – it’s very much the same principle at work in corporate, academic, and political circles. Again, it’s better to leave them behind. Staying means accepting the ground of warfare by which they are busily converting human beings into cogs in an ideological and social apparatus that bears little resemblance to the Faith of our Fathers, whatever sign is on the door.

“You’re full of pride,” they would say. And they would be right. I am full of pride. Pray for me. “Separating yourself is a sin,” they would say. “I don’t believe so.” I really don’t believe so. Besides, I have not separated myself from the Church, merely from some versions of it that I don’t think have a monopoly on what it means to be Orthodox. In fact, if pressed, I suppose I would say I haven’t really learned any Orthodoxy from them at all. Surely, that’s my own failing. But nonetheless, to guard my soul, and to protect my family, I stay away. The community I am more or less a part of (I really like the ‘more or less’ – I find it much less prone to spiritual violence) doesn’t beat me up much. I show up twice a year at least, and I send my checks. “Not spiritual”, someone may say. “Of course, I fail in all such matters.” But what I am not, also, is very concerned about my reputation. As for corporate, academic, and political life, I’ve finally been granted, by God’s mercy, emancipation from those too.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Blogger

Update on Haiti: Don’t be discouraged by the reports of overwhelming aid, and too much of one thing at one time. The aid is going to be needed for the long haul. There is no decent running water, and where that’s true, and people have no homes, families are destroyed, and most things are just a pile, it’s going to be an ongoing need to get people to the point they can survive and rebuild. The “overwhelming” part is a testament to how quickly the world responded – quicker than ever before on anything. The duplication – e.g. with so many countries sending field hospitals – demonstrates the need for better international coordination of aid. We still act like nations – we still believe in the made-up construct of nationhood and act in a disjointed way, because of it. At a minimum, we need to act as a federation of nations, with some federal coordination. But that doesn’t mean the ongoing aid is not needed. Please keep helping.

As usual, that was preface, and I don’t intend a discourse on the passion of anger or divine anger or any such thing. It’s preface to personal confession. I experience anger whenever I start something new. It’s a kind of outrage. And I don’t know if it’s the passion of anger or not. I’m not going to try to sort that out here. It’ll take more than a platitude or two. I just know it’s there. When I first decided to work for myself, I felt anger at all the pretences that had been foisted on me by the culture and corporate life, the bondage I had placed in, unknowingly, since infancy – sculpted to become a slave. And I spent the first weeks after expressing that anger, or outrage, or what have you. When battered by ridiculous pagan mantras (no negative energy, no negative energy…) I became outraged and began throwing those shackles off. It felt as if they would handcuff me to something that can’t sustain life, mold me into the output of a philosophical meat grinder – a concept not a human. Nothing more complex than a few mantras. And I railed against it. When I began writing again here, I also felt anger. Anger at the chains put on others, and the chains once clamped on me. And I cried out and am still crying out against them. If my experience here matches the other venues, this will last a while, and then it’ll be done, and I’ll either talk about other things or have nothing more to say for a while, so that it becomes a protest venue, for when raids are made against my sanity and my liberty by the world. I don’t know which it’ll be, of course.You know, we deny that there is such a thing as righteous anger, good anger, or the anger of God – if, by that, we mean anything remotely like human anger. God is not subject to the passions, because God is not subject to death. To deny this is to make God part of the universe – not the creator, but rather himself the created. To deny it is heresy and gnosticism. It is also to turn the scriptures against themselves, a common characteristic of both gnosticism and Protestantism – quoting proof texts that elsewhere are seemingly contradicted. When the Apostle calls anger a passion, how then can the prophets say that God is angry? The apparent disymmetry comes from attempting to treat the scriptures like a book, external and separate from the thinking community that wrote them – external to its liturgy, it’s understanding. And even now, as people convert to Orthodoxy, from other religions or from the culture at large, they bring with them this disymmetry and find it difficult to learn to understand the holy scriptures in an Orthodox manner. As Christ said, “let him who has ears to hear, let him hear”. It is difficult to hear when listening with ears that are alien to the faith of the first man, the faith of our fathers, the faith of all ages. But the Orthodox mind does not attribute anger to God as some higher form of the passion experienced by man, any more than we can think that God forgets or that God grows weary. Genuine Christianity is all of one piece, not a jumble of statements in a book that you can toss onto your kindle and get your head around on a plane. In fact, the more people attempt that, the less they really understand, because they acquire the delusion that they have understood. The books are liturgical, and cannot be understood externally to the liturgy. That’s just the facts.

I believe anger is so often the result of pain. I know from experience that mine is. The Haiti thing tho is the latest example. I think it’s one thing to listen to ongoing interviews on the ground, listen to people pulled from the wreckage, listen to the husbands burying their wives, listen to the overwhelmed doctors and the people trying to find others in the rubble, and the people learning that their loved ones have died. When you listen to that, if you’re human, if you haven’t converted your humanity into ideology, which is genocide on all human beings everywhere for all time – Christ included, you feel… solidarity, symmetry with the suffering, pain. Not pain like theirs, not suffering like theirs. After all, you have a radio, you are driving a car, you are on the way to buy food or to earn money. You take a drink of water or coffee and you have everything they do not have. You cannot feel what they feel. But you don’t feel nothing, either, unless you’ve killed your human soul. You feel pain.

It’s another thing entirely to listen to 40-second clips on TV news punctuating 3-hour rants by a Rush Limbaugh figure on how it’s being politicized, ironically politicizing it just by making that statement. Over and over, building it into an ideological agenda. No pain, no humanity, just ideology. An intellectual meat grinder for quasi-intellectual, half-intelligent armchair philosophers. The Sadducees of our time. The cultural gnostics. There is no Christianity in that. To borrow from Lewis Black, right wing, conservative cultural religion is to Christianity what KFC is to chicken. And it distorts, warps, and finally deprives one of humanity. It eradicates the human soul, substituting for it a set of platitudes, much like Protestantism and gnosticism from which, unrealized perhaps by the listener, it originates. It is the translation of those premises into popular culture.

And it doesn’t let you feel pain, it causes pain. It doesn’t lessen the suffering of the world, it adds to it. And when you feel the pain in your soul that is the shared life with other human beings, and someone comes along and turns on a loudspeaker of droning, caustic, antagonistic vitriol against and pollution of the fundamental connection we share with all of creation, and foremost with all human beings, not only are they attacking the gospel, by which God became a human being, the very meaning of salvation – the Incarnation, they are trying to crumble the underpinnings of your human soul – creating their own earthquake, their own disturbance, to bring down the part of you that makes you a man. And the pain felt by sharing, by connection, by what we Christians can only reach for and describe as love, is drowned out by the pain of blunt trauma to all connections, all sharing, all solidarity, in fact to the very nature and essence of man, which is one thing, summed up in Christ, expressed in the diversity of all. And that pain fills me with outrage. It makes me angry. And I try to overcome the passion. And fathers help me, saints save me, but I don’t know whether what’s left is my sin or something else. St. John Cassian, I completely submit to thy teaching that there is no righteous anger. And I have no recourse but to do as the fathers tell me – namely, when in doubt, attribute sin to myself, and so escape the wrath of God, which is not like my illicit wrath, not a more nobler version, but is justice in the very uncreate energies of an all-consuming God. Consume me so I am not destroyed. Consume me, so that my life is preserved.

We say, among the faithful, that God does not absorb us. But union with God, theosis, to be consumed, is the very preservation of our unique persons, the very protection of diversity, while the God who became man, wedding but not confusing the two natures, joined in on person, joins us to himself. It is not a thing for the armchair theologian. It is a thing to understand by becoming a real part of the community of people whose liturgy expresses through the year the mystery of this union, enacted through the days of the calendar and the fasts and the feasts, and in the life inside the timeless temple that is one with the temple in Heaven, all us with the angels in the one liturgy, with all the Saints, everywhere unceasingly, mystically representing the Cherubim, finding thereby the union with “all mortal flesh”.

That talk radio garbage is an outrage against God and an enmity with all men. But I don’t wish to fight on God’s behalf. I am not a nice man. I am “meaner” than that. The worst thing one can do to one’s enemies is to refuse to strike them, consigning them instead to the judgment of God. Christ withheld his hand, though he could have turned the world inside out and swallowed them in flame bathed in blood. But he went like a lamb. “I am not here to judge. There is one who judges.” How foolish to think this means he was not hear to point out wrong and elevate good. He did precisely that, all the time. No, but real judgment is when God decides what to do with each of us. And that is a “terrifying thing”, is it not? I am angry, but I am trying not to strike, because God will do what is right, and know what is right, and the passions will not be his guide. He is ever free from Death, and has liberated us likewise to his freedom. I wish to go into it. Lord have mercy.

What Judgment Feels Like

God struck me.

Lightning over the outskirts of Oradea, Romani...
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I committed a moral crime. One that many would excuse me for, but which I believe is serious. I have felt sorrow, and shame, and my guilt. But then I was struck in a very specific, very appropriate way. It seems unmistakeable. I didn’t expect it. But it happened.

First, it felt heavy. Like being hit once, heavily. Then it felt light, lenient that is, and with love. Then it felt just, and that it was necessary.

Do you know what it’s like to be punished by God? To be chastened? To be granted the sorrow of your crime in full measure? It is not something to try to avoid. Judgment is not to be avoided in itself. The evil that prompted it – that is the thing to avoid.

But to be scourged – it’s not cathartic in the way people want to suggest – in a sordid way.  People suggest that one is looking for a crime to be mitigated and erased. It isn’t. The crime is still there. We Orthodox hold to not forgetting our sins, to remembering them, in order to know what we are, and what we are not. My crime is not erased, and I don’t feel free of it. I feel… that I was taken measure of, that I have been loved enough to be taught, not by my own mind, but by the hand of God what is wrong. I don’t feel cast out, or destroyed. I feel rebuked, but with gentleness, yet powerfully.

I am brought low by it. I am brought to my knees. It is God. I am in his hands, and he is not pleased with me. Mercy. But more. Mercy. But more. i find the mind does not know what to say at such times. Do not let me go – chasten me. Do not destroy me with wrath – but do not let me off, do not excuse me, do not free me from the correction I need. That’s what it feels like.

The Lord is merciful in his anger. His judgment is his own radiant energy, his own grace sustaining and upholding a life, so that it does not fall away and be destroyed by death – by its crimes – by becoming entirely made of evil. One doesn’t presume to ask to be judged, I think, or so it feels, but one doesn’t turn away from it, or wish to escape it. So great a mystery is judgment.

You might think this is the manufacture of my own mind. I am not infallible, and I wouldn’t be guilty of prelest. But I recognize how direct, how surgically precise, and how effective it is. I am not a naturalist who thinks there is always an explanation that omits the economy of God. There is no cause to presume it is anything else. Struck, as though in all the world, for this thing, I was singled out and made to know  – I won’t say commensurate (“neither according to our sins hath he dealt with us”), but appropriate judgment.

Thanks are due. God deals mercifully with the sinner. God saves by chastening, rather than condemns by ignoring, the sins of his children. That’s it. No profound ideas here. Just, this is what has happened.

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The World and Death

Sometimes the world seems to leave you no option but to ‘spill everyone’s blood’, so to speak, no room for peace at all, because it will keep coming until you respond and leave you no response but to defeat it.

Fear No Evil
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I think this is one of the great traps of the world. I don’t think the world always wants to win. I think the world sometimes wants you to do what it takes to defeat it, because doing that will be gruesome and require you to become something you don’t want to be – it pulls you into the battle, so you have to destroy your enemies in order to defend your loved ones.

This is how the world defeats strong men. The world wins by making itself vulnerable to defeat, but only by a bare margin that requires maximum suffering to accomplish, and then it attacks your loved ones until it leaves you no choice. This is, in fact, the theory of war currently at work in the world. I don’t mean that I sympathize with the Cheneys and Rumsfelds and the men behind the scenes (e.g. in The Family). I mean that even the innocent are pulled into the kinds of fights the Cheneys and the Rumsfelds wage, precisely so that we can cease to be innocent. It seems to be the goal to corrupt us all. If someone beats down your family member and makes it to where you have to become a beater to protect him/her, then it corrupts you quite successfully. Happy are the martyrs more than the fighters.

This is my Faith, that one definition of Death is that there is not always a just, good, or right decision. But that sometimes all decisions sully us, because what is broken, in Death, is not just our moral capacity, but the world itself, and all things related to our existence. Death is the great problem, not sin. Death causes sin, even unavoidable sin, because it has broken everything. This is why we pray “my sins voluntary and involuntary, in knowledge and in ignorance” – because even though Death breaks our will, it goes further to break the very possibility of a right choice – it leaves only ones, at times, that are all wrong. Likewise, Death doesn’t just break our knowledge of good and evil, but it goes farther to break the possibility of knowledge of what is good or evil in many cases. So we pray “voluntary and involuntary, in knowledge and in ignorance”, because Death didn’t/doesn’t just break us, it broke/breaks all our works, all we have made, all the processes involved in working and making, and it broke/keeps breaking the entire cosmos, and every principle of the cosmos, so that it turns in on itself, with decaying, entropy, dying, corruption, conflict, fragmentation, and dissolution. The volcanos rage and the hurricanes destroy and the species wipe each other out and we club each other and put each other in chains and make tools out of one another, defacing and depersonalizing ourselves and others, because of Death at work still unraveling it all – defacing and depersonalizing it all.

And when it’s all done, all that will be left of all that is in Death’s power is a void, and not even the void, because that at least is a concept of something. Death itself will remain, unable to find or consume anything left that is not Death, and endlessly consuming itself.

Death is therefore the one thing against which Christ set himself, the hero, to destroy – the Destroyer. Not the “world, the flesh, and the devil”, as the Protestants like to say, but Death. He both overcame the world and trampled the Evil One, by overcoming Death, which is why the enemy didn’t see it coming. Crushing one enemy and leaving another? No, Death is the cause of all our passions, and our complicity with the world and bondage to the enemy. The curse was not “you will be cast from Eden into the world” – that came after. The curse was not “the serpent will bite your heel” – that came after. The curse, as it’s often called, is Death – the meaning of all curses. The only possible curse. The definition of “curse”. But because of my sins and mercy, and as a mercy for space to repent, I live in Death, granted life in the world and a life of animosity with the Evil One, because any living at all is a mercy, because it is living in and through the energies of God. But I experience Death, in my sins – experience the brokenness, and so again… for what I have done, for what I do, for what I will do… with knowledge and without it, in my will and against it… mercy. Mercy.

On the Threshold of Eternity
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Addendum: I recently became able to choose whether to be depressed. It’s hard to explain to people who are physiologically standard – I won’t say “normal” – none of us is normal – Death just wreaks upon us unique ‘kindnesses’ based on our unique personalities – hard to explain what it’s like not to have had a choice all one’s life – not to have the physiological conditions necessary to make a choice – so that Death gets in behind your will and owns you from there, like its puppet. You either know, or you can’t imagine. It’s not without the help of some pretty helpful supplements that this has been overcome – and no, I won’t write about them – I don’t make prescriptions – we are not generic, you and I, even if some people have standard equipment. But with this help, I have a choice now. It’s like being blind all one’s life and then discovering you were made for seeing, because there’s healing mud in your eyes. But seeing doesn’t take away what you saw with blind eyes – it enhances your vision, in fact. You see more horror, too, with open eyes than blind ones.

But while I have a choice, I have decided not to let Death have despair out of me, too. It is one thing to constantly get cut to one’s knees, and sometimes for some people all responses to it are equally devastating choices – depression, destruction, whatever. You can’t judge them – you would be foolish to do so. I have been foolish, in my life – I know. It is another thing entirely to surrender what you have a choice about surrendering, out of despair. Despair is not the same thing as what people call “clinical depression”. Both are results of Death, but they’re not entirely the same. The depressed person, physiologically so, has no choice about despair. His will is ravaged by Death. If you are granted life with a way to fight depression, you may begin to recover that choice – that ability to choose not to despair. And that’s what I’ve been given and what I’m not giving back. What is needed is acknowledgment of the gruesome truth of Death at work in the world, not pansy-ass prettying up the situation – not the “just think positive thoughts and Death will have no power…” Gee, Christ really blew it then, didn’t He? He didn’t have to die for all of us to conquer Death – he could have just thought some positive thoughts for all of us! What is needed is acknowledgment, but with defiance. Acknowledgment without willing surrender, where you can find your will. You set your will to fight whether you’ll win or not. Do you have the courage for that? Or do you have to win to have ‘courage’? That’s the question I put to myself when even the barest temptation to depression comes now. I find myself faced with untenable choices on all sides, but I have at last this choice. To make the untenable choice, to sin perhaps, but without despair. With sadness, with remorse, and to confess and to repent, but without despair. Glory be to God.

Origen, church father. Source:hermes-press.com...
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Addendum Too: By the way, someone once demanded an answer to this question: “If Christ has destroyed Death, defeated the Evil One, and overcome the World, in fact has redeemed the World, isn’t the World redeemed, and therefore shouldn’t we immerse ourselves in it? And why then do we still see Death? So either Christ didn’t do these things, or he did – either one leaves you saying things that make no sense.” Superficially, this is an intelligent question. But it contains some flawed assumptions, much like Origen’s problematic. He was proud of his question, but it was a false one. Protestants will tell you that you have to “accept” these things for them to be true for you – an ultimately subjectivist rendering which, if you’re paying attention to anything, can’t make any sense. So let’s just get it out of the way, I’m not going to say something like that. I can give a discourse on synergy, on free will, on theosis, and perhaps say some true things in response, but the asker of the above question won’t hear them, because the question itself is being asked from Death. Death is the condition out of which it comes, and into which all answers to it will be rendered. Sometimes answering a person is not as useful as responding. I will respond, tho frankly I don’t do it often, and probably won’t be doing it again soon. And I won’t use illustrations like tearing down a jail and the prisoners being unwilling to leave, or proving a concept untrue only to find that the other person wishes to keep believing it, or exposing a huxter only to have people still following him – even claiming they’re still hearing from him and his flying saucer after he died of some disease he wasn’t supposed to be able to get. We’ve all experienced those things or know people who have or know people who know people. What good will more illustrations do? If you can’t look around you for references, my description won’t help. I have given answers of all kinds in the past, and there are many, and many are true, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing the other person any good.

The question is based on a theoretical – if/then. I will simply respond that I don’t have to answer an if /then because I am not referring to merely theoretical events – rather, you have to answer a did / did not. If you determine, really, if the events I refer to happened, your question will change.  The same if you determine they didn’t. But I do not agree to what your question is really asking me to do – that is to stake historical events on a theoretical condition. In other words, I don’t have to satisfy your understanding of theoretical matters in order for historical events to be truthful or not – the order of priority in a sane epistemology is that what is governs and supersedes what I think – if it’s the other way around – if a did/did not actually depends upon a what if or an if/then as a rule – then we all become neurotic solipsists living in worlds we dream up in our heads. A thing is so or not so (did/did not) regardless of whether your understanding of it is satisfied. Get the so or not so first, then you get more understanding (or less, if you got it wrong).

So that’s it. Your question offers a false means of analysis – a false epistemology and, frankly, an ultimately subjective one. You would be more at home asking it to the Protestants who will likely give you exactly the kind of answer you are hoping for, one way or another. I will not pretend it’s a legitimate question. Again: you first answer the did / did not (Did Christ destroy Death? Did Christ defeat the Enemy. Did Christ overcome the world and redeem it?), and then ask questions appropriate to what is or is not. A question staked on a theoretical doesn’t yield understanding – it just yields another theoretical, and I’m not in that business. Once more, because some infernal wretch will insist I repeat it in different words, if I don’t do so from the outset, you do not, logically get an is from an if.  How you answer the historical questions will determine not only your next question but its context – whether it is asked out of Death or something else. And then again, if the order of your analysis is incorrect, I or hopefully someone else, since I was unlikely to do it even this time let alone later, will show you again where you have gotten the order wrong.

If you were looking for a profound answer, rather than a response, that presumes your question is meritorious – but it isn’t – it’s fallacious and cannot be met but with an answer that not only slanders our Faith, but also leads you astray in your own mind, thinking you know how to think. Your epistemology is just as affected by Death as everything else is, in other words. And I can’t help you with that. I can barely help myself. So if I seem a bit negative, it’s because I’m telling you I’m no guru and not going to have wisdom that I’d dare to share with you, lest it run out of my fingers, coil up and become a serpent, and strike us both dead. I have responded, which is what we do when to answer a question would be to falsely accept as real the ground presumed by the questioner, thereby fooling both of us, me into thinking I’m wise, and you into thinking you have figured out something real. Better we don’t understand one another at all, than that. Good luck, by which I mean without presumption, “God have mercy on us both, and by your prayers save me, the sinner.”

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Grasping at Nothing

I’ve never felt so profoundly and helplessly Orthodox as when I’ve thrown religion over my shoulder. For the pain of it, for the weakness in it, for the inexorable totality of it. When I’ve neglected the liturgy, and failed at prayer, and broken inside, and hid, and sentenced myself to despair, and tried to live without moving at all – in those moments of life, there’s something that happens. In letting go, I’ve felt myself adrift in something larger than myself, and so my Faith sustains me where I have failed it.

Perhaps it’s hanging onto the Fast, that tangible connection to the rhythm of Faith that holds me when all other forms of confession fail. I will not eat when my Lord is in betrayed, is crucified, when I have done this thing, and brought this upon the world. If there is nothing else, I will starve if need be, before I let go of the sense that meaning exists in the world. I will welcome the desert and the sand into my mouth. That’s what fasting is. And we begin a new fast tomorrow.

Drown me in it, Lord. Take from me this knowledge of fat and richness. Make me lean. Make me know suffering. Thank Thee for not condemning me to constant joy, where there is no meaning, where I am condemned to the silent prison of my mind, to solipsism, to narcissism.

If nothing else, I can hunger. I can know Thy reflection in loss and emptiness. Fill me with loss, and come to me in the void. Grant me the oblivion that, emptied of all else, is full of Thy love and Thee. Crush me with it. Amen. Take from my mind all false images, all pretense of holiness. Let me live in the dark of my tomb.

Apart from this, none of it makes any sense. It’s all a noise-filled room, a crowd of emotions, a maze for the mind. Absence is the chapel of the soul.

I am Not Alone

Have you ever realized that you have received miraculous wealth? An amazingly complex chain of seemingly impossible events has begun to give you your heart’s desire, has saved you, had continually protected, guided, and enlightened you, the way you would do for your own family? And that this is incontrovertably due to Christ’s mercy, to the prayers of his most pure Mother, and the prayers of the Saints on your behalf – and that they have heard you, witnessed you, watched you, and answered you? There is no other possible reaction than to bow low, to kneel, to press down your head in aching gratitude. It is to finally realize that you are loved, that you are not alone, that you have a family, and that, while the world really is out to destroy you, you have a strong defender and protector, just as your own family has in you. And the rest, the rest that can be said, is in private, for the ears of Christ and the Saints. So I have nothing more to say about this right now.

Transvaluation of Ethics

It astonishes me – the casualness, the callousness, the stupid matter-of-factness with which people can discuss euthanasia. People discuss putting their family members to sleep with only slightly more gravity than putting a pet to sleep. Why is abortion given a greater level of discretion in conversation than “pulling the plug”? Because starving someone to death and taking them off life support is considered a more humane way to kill them than vacuuming off their limbs and crushing their skull?

Let it be known that I don’t want anyone deciding when it’s time for me to die. I’ll fight to the last moment, thank you. And the same goes for my family. There’s all kinds of pious crap put out by religious fanatics (and they are fanatics, when we’re talking about neglect and murder) — all kinds of garbage about not using extraordinary means to save us. Who decides what’s extraordinary? The world? By this logic, why use CPR on a drowning victim? It may be their time, right? I hate this with my whole heart. I will fight to the end, I will sustain my family with everything in me, and I will not set an example of pushing myself out on an ice flow so as not to be a burden. That’s the culture of savages, not of Christ. People are not burdens, they’re not expendable, and they’re not ‘in the way’.

In fact, when I hear the words of Christians justifying the Culture of Convenience, the Culture of “Don’t get in my way” (to borrow from Franky Schaeffer), of “Don’t burden me”, I breathe and spit. This is the Enemy we’ve known from of old, and it has infected the minds of the faithful with the silky foulness of the demonic.

It’s worse, of course, to kill someone or abandon them or neglect them to death than to talk about killing them. But the fact that there’s no shame, that’s it’s considered a normal part of polite conversation makes me want to vomit. And I’m supposed to express condolences at their loss? That kind of “sensitivity” is the same kind that would congratulate someone for fornicating, because they’re now in a meaningful relationship.

Human life is an absolute value. I really hate this culture, its transvaluation of ethics, and all it represents. Most of all, it represents a culture of sacrifice, as Rand pointed out. A culture of expending some for the sake of others. You see it in our resource wars, in the way we drive on the freeway, and in the institutionalization of medical care not as a saving charity but as a kind of semi-benign curse. After all, we’re the only country of this level of wealth where you can go bankrupt from receiving medical care, and die when the last pennies run out. Every other society with this much money, considers that barbaric. Here, we figure the laws of the market outweigh the cost of sustaining your existence.

Scorn, derision, excrement upon this culture.

Adjectives as Idols

Orthodox thinking doesn’t pair adjectives with the word “God”.

As I watch a spokesman for a group of fundamentalists talk about how “God is not a condemning god”, I realize that a simple way to express our apophaticism is to respond: Orthodox thinking doesn’t pair adjectives with the word “God”.

God is incomparable, indescribable, beyond understanding, not susceptible to analogy, and even these words cannot be considered attributes of God, but only descriptions of our unknowing.

The temptation in the culture is strong, to personalize and customize God, to make a god that does not worry or scare us, a god we understand, that fits our ideas, and fits our expectations. But there is no such deity. As surely as a stone idol, the god of our imagination is just that – imaginary. In regard to that, we can only be atheists.

People feel uncomfortable not being able to say “God is loving” or “God is just”, despite the fact that their own scriptures contradict them constantly, because they are referring to created concepts that exist only in their minds. But God cannot be expressed in Dixie Cup sayings or Hallmark sentiments.

The word “God” is not a name, but refers to our inability to know – to the impossibility of attaining to knowledge of God. The word “God” is a confession that there is something that doesn’t even share what we think of as existence. If God exists, then we do not, and vice versa.

If God could be contained in created human concepts, then he would be a small “god”, less than the concepts that contain him – he would be a homonculus, not God. But we reject as heresy the very attempt to approach knowledge of God through religious philosophy, which can only sculpt idols from ideas that were once carved out of wood.

God is so unknowable, that we cannot even refer to God as unknowable. God is so beyond the possibility of human knowledge, that if God were there, real, existed (all words we cannot use of God), it would be irrelevant to our understanding.

In fact, the only way for God to be known is to make Himself known, on his own initiative, and then to be known, since God cannot be contained in human thoughts, God would have to become man, and indeed make possible the union of God and man without the reduction of one or destruction of the other: The Incarnation, which only the Orthodox hold to in its fullness. Even then, we would have no understanding of God’s essence, but rather union with God through the person of the Incarnate One. We would know love, as God’s uncreated energy, which is God, but we would not know the essence. Rather, we would know love through the person, through Christ. The same is true of justice. And mercy. And so on. We would know God by grace, through grace, and in a particular person, Jesus Christ.

We would no then claim to “know God” the way it is common to do among the heterodox, proceeding to describe God’s attribues. We would, however, recognize the activity of God toward us, through Christ. God loves us, God has mercy on us, God chastises us, and so on.

This is why when many heterodox begin a conversation with “Do you believe God exists?” or “Do you believe God is a loving God?” or “Do you believe God is love?” I say “no”. Given what and how they’re asking, I prefer to swear off the wrong thing so we can talk about the true thing. Even when we Orthodox write that “God is love” we do not believe this refers to God’s essence, nor is this the name of a person. Rather, we refer to the energies of God, in humility, believing even then our understanding is neither comprehensive nor perfect. And any significant knowledge occurs only by interaction – synergy – and deep knowledge comes only to very advanced ascetics.

I guess I'm a ethikotrogo-flexitarian

I was on the verge of coining a neologism: ethikotroge (or ethikotrogonist) when I discovered that I’m a flexitarian. I still might keep the overall neologism, since there is more than one reason for being a flexitarian. Someone looking at this in a public journal is likely to ask “What’s a flexitarian?”, so I’d better define it. A flexitarian is someone who eats a diet mainly without meat, but uses meat occasionally.

My reasons are ethical overall, and include reasons of good health. I’m a decided latitudinarian when it comes to being flexitarian.

  • Often it’s just a matter of eating a much smaller portion of meat, and more vegetable matter, on the European mode, refusing to make meat the center of the meal. It’s a more balanced approach.
  • Sometimes it’s leaving meat out of some meals altogether, refusing to treat it as less than a meal if it lacks meat. The hegemony of meat is irrational, and is repudiated, along with its basic contribution to the passions.
  • Sometimes, it’s refusing to eat certain kinds of meat (like poultry), or any but free-range eggs. It has to do with ethical treatment of animals.
  • It’s often refusing “meat products” that aren’t whole cuts of meat. No processed lunch meats, hot dogs, etc. Occasionally, though, I’ll do sausage as a cultural concession to Italian food.
  • It includes avoiding establishments that specialize in particularly heinous use of meat, such as restaurants that serve shark fin, dog, lobster, or specialize in high-production poultry farming, or are McDonalds. 🙂
  • It’s refusing meat when there’s a choice between low grade meat and high grade vegetable matter. For instance, Taco Bell is out (as essentially garbage-meat), but I’ll eat a steak on occasion.
  • It’s refusing to eat meat that comes from severe environmental disruption, such as Brazilian beef.
  • It’s refusing to over-complexify food (e.g. with processed food) with too many ingredients at once and, even in gourmet cooking, specializes in a form that uses few ingredients at one time.

It’s an attempt to reduce harmful impact on nature, some of the agony caused to animals, over-use – the gluttony of production, subterfuge – the mythology of ethical animal product production, subordination to passion-bearing foods that captivate and dominate the soul and senses and lead to various social ills as well as personal failings, an attempt to reduce negative health impacts from harmful feed and hormones (including natural feeds and hormones), an attempt to avoid excess and irrationality, and a repudiation of the basic assumptions of the dominant culture (which is always a good and healthy thing – in that regard, I tend to share the opinion of some fathers that even when the culture does good, it’s doing evil). Finally, I believe all death to be the result of my sin, and so to be evil, and want to keep this in mind, and keep an eschatological attitude, looking to the end of death, for which creation groans, and the peace between lion, lamb, and child.

At the same time, I have certain dietary needs tied to my own chemistry and physiology that generally require animal products, especially dairy. And there is a sense in which, unless it’s a fast, I think it can be a conditional good to participate in the feast (e.g. kill the fatted calf). I think, in fact, there’s a general duty to feast (on fish, at least), when it’s a Feast, in the same way it’s a law of the Church to fast during the Fasts. For these reasons, I eat some animal products.

The ultimate reason I’m a flexitarian is to assert, with action, and keep in mind always, that eating is not a n ethically neutral endeavour. Ethics are just as necessary and important there as in driving, investing, etc. So I’ll keep my new word, too, as the overall explanation.

Meanwhile, this also does two things in regard to Great Lent, Little Lent, and the other fasts. It means that it’s not such a horrible impact to “switch”, because it’s not switching, it’s a slightly more severe modification. And it carries the meaning and purposes of the Fasts into the rest of life and time, including the Feasts. So, I think there’s a strong religious benefit.

So that’s it, I’m either a very liberal flexitarian or a strict ethikotrogue. 🙂

References

Note to self: next entry is on ethical shopping (or non-shopping).

The Heresy of the Supermarket

The TV news programs are drumming up the seige mentality again, for the nation of gluttony, over the growing starvation with which it has afflicted the world.

It blames high fuel costs, and blames those costs on China’s industrial growth rather than on America’s wars, before which fuel was reasonaby priced. It omits the fact that all US aid is required by federal law to be purchased from US farmers (at prices inflated by exports to wealthy countries), shipped on US carries (mega-conglomerates who charge a heady premium), and then (at high cost) transported inland for distribution. In other words, instead of supporting the local economies, buying local food, local transportation, creating local jobs, and unlimately distributing 80% or more on the dollar, we’re content through this graft to give all but 16% or so on the dollar, as a boost to the US economy while claiming it aids the poor of starving nations. In other words, the bulk of the charity makes US rich richer, and the US economic climate more comfortable, prices lower, access to goods easier, all on the backs of those dying every day from starvation.

This is the corrupt nation, beyond all corruption. The whore of history.

And now, too, biofuels are being blamed for sucking up grain (which is true to some extent, you eco-warriors!), but there’s no mention of where the lions share of grain goes – namely into high fructose corn syrup and syrup solids and other such products that now make up the bulk of the American food supply – from its corn-fed cattle, who would die from their diet if they weren’t slaughtered after being artificially fattened, to its corn-fed butterball children, crunching on McDonalds fries cooked in that oil, hamburgers fed on it, bread made from it, and so on. The majority of grain that could be used to feed the world, in other words, is going into pseudo-foods to fatten the already fat of the fattest nations – the ones that can afford such complex products.

So the truth is, this nation is starving the peoples of the world, the poor, the powerless. And it is this nation that possesses the guns needed to protect that hegemony. It is the law of the jungle, the law of baboons, sitting on top of food hordes, luxuriating in food products, and freely, intentionally starving its brothers, who could eat forever off our waste.

The processed food industry and the national obsession with meat is just part of the sickness. Warlike, militant posturing is the other part. And national pride and patriotism is the hellish doctrine at its root. We don’t see ourselves as part of everyone else. Christian doctrine is that we are. And so, ultimately, this behavior is heresy, apostasy, blasphemy.

That’s the truth about global starvation. And I don’t apologize for uttering it.

Make the Valleys Smoke

What they’re doing to the Mormons is a national crime. It’s wrong. It’s done in all our names, and we’re all guilty. Texas may be violating human rights, but the nation is supposed to protect against such things, under the Constitution. And it is the “homeland security” mentality that has brought this to be.

They’ve rounded up all the families of a particular religious group and separated children from parent and parents from children, and jailed the children in a coloseum, and the parents elsewhere. Then they presume to run DNA tests on everyone to decide whether, if, and who has “custody” rights. They’re getting away with persecuting a few, with little outcry from us, because of the sensationalized abuses of the even fewer. And the search for the “anonymous callers” bears striking resemblance to the search for “weapons of mass destruction.”

And we are letting this happen, because those people live sufficiently differently from us. It’s no different than the bigotry that justifies bombing “gooks”, “towel heads”, and others who are not like us.

May God punish the nation for this. May he chastize her for her arrogance. May he make the valleys smoke for her disobedience and because she has torn the suckling babe from its mothers breast, and stolen the daughters and sons of her people. I’ll gladly go down, in my unworthiness, if the Lord will but sink this ship with me.

Come quickly with the fire and make things clean.

Fear of Judgment is Wisdom's Beginning

JudgmentYou know, in America, we’re all born into a culture of “once saved, always saved”. A Protestant-evangelical culture so strongly influenced by this tenet of Baptist religion, that even we Orthodox tend to think of ourselves as “in”, as somehow saved by affiliation, and somehow being of the Faith is reduced from a continual pattern of behavior to merely belonging to the right group.

It’s important to belong to the right group, but that doesn’t keep me from being a tare, a goat, and kindling for the fire. It doesn’t ensure that my lamp is trimmed and full of oil when the Bridegroom comes. It does not mean that I have visited Christ in prison, or given him a place when he was a stranger. And it won’t keep me from going into the Great Apostasy which is comprised not of heterodox, but of Orthodox Christians. In short, being Orthodox, if that’s a static affiliation or mere attendance at liturgy, or even being admitted to Holy Communion – won’t save me. Being Orthodox will save me, surely, but that’s because being Orthodox is so much more than that. The struggle is not to be called Orthodox, not to be regarded as Orthodox, not even to regard myself as Orthodox, but rather it is to actually continually BE Orthodox. There is no “saved”; there is only “being saved”. Often that phrase is used in the “I’m an unfinished work” manner, as an excuse, but there’s no excuse for lack of progress, for indolence, or for at any time being un-Christlike. There can be no excuse, since we are given what we need.

This leads us, with the fathers, to say “God knows his sheep; I am one of the goats.” and “All will be saved, while I alone am condemned.” and “Murderers will be saved before me.”

It is not really our business to apply these sayings to others – only to ourselves. …

Whitewashed Faith

It’s an amazing thing. I live near two Orthodox mega-churches. They’re even on the same side of town as the other mega-churches. And they actually work the same way. There are a gazillion programs for people 20-40, for teens, for feminists… you name it, there’ a committee or a program for it. I think they have well over 2 dozen committees alone. But matins, served once a week, draws 3 people, 2 of whom are the reader and most junior priest. At the 20-40 group meetings, they eat and have cocktails, but there is no prayer, none at all. And if anyone tries to talk about Faith, they either get nowhere or are greeted with such misunderstanding of the doctrines and attitudes of the Church, that it’s almost better not to bring it up. Vespers, and other such services are similarly unattended. On Sunday, everyone sits in pews and watches the service. The choir sings invisibly from the sides, but most people don’t pray with them, or realize that’s a tradition – they seem to think it would be interrupting, or that they would miss the singing if they prayed. There are no icons except on the iconostasis. Even in the gigantic eating hall, there was only recently a single icon installed. The interior is whitewashed – whitewashed of the Saints. There are numerous windows, but far fewer Windows to Heaven.

During the substantial meals/buffets served after sunday morning liturgy, an aged junior priest has to run over and quickly say a blessing, so that it can be done before most people have started eating, but no one pays him any mind. There’s a general sense of the absence of God as a daily reality in our lives. There’s little prayer. There’s every manner of religious or atheistic theory from the culture, from heterodoxy, but very little understanding of Orthodox thinking. Enquirers classes for prospective converts focus mainly on the externals of how one gets received (Chrismation, etc. Almost never baptism.). What holds it together is the activities and groups, which provide social interaction for the members, but certainly not the services and vigils of the Church. There’s no sense of the basics going on; one may easily be invited out for steak dinners during Lent, etc. Eventually, tho, despite continual well-attended inquirers classes, chrismations, and new members, they reach an apex of their maximum size, because likewise there’s a steady stream of people that can’t figure out why they’re there, and attend less and less, and eventually drop off. Somehow, it doesn’t sustain them. So despite the huge influx that their size, programs, and marketing creates, their size remains fairly constant. You can determine size, incidentally, either by attending, by reading the headcount figures, or by the number of cars in the parking lot being ushered in or out by security guards on Sunday.

Now typically, if someone were to say all the above, …