Worry Free Christian Living

I just got a great chuckle. An ad for a retirement home (that’s the nice phrase we use now), offers “worry-free Christian living”. Hilarious. How exactly does that work – dope? sedation? tying you to your bed? I mean, what kind of people actually believe in “worry-free Christian living”?

Moises y los 10 Mandamientos,Moses and the ten...
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For you evangelical-types, the books say those who have no worries are in the grave. Maybe it’s a funeral home, in disguise. “I’m still worried.” – “That’s all right, dear. We’ll help you achieve a better attitude.”

This is why it’s no good for me sitting in congregational settings, even if it weren’t forbidden. I laugh when people are the most serious about their euphemisms.

“Leadership” (control), “authority” (papism), “my ministry” (my hobby), “God told me…” (I was smoking crack), “man of god” (boy scout Ken doll), “woman of god” (barbie housewife), “prayer warrior” (self-righteous delusional), “prayer circle” (religious masturbation), “biblical” (distortion), “miracle” (magic), “power” (witchcraft), “spirit” (the force), “father” (Charlton Heston), “Christian nation” (fascist super-state), “personal relationship” (customized designer-faith), “we just come before you and just… just… just…” (I have no farking idea who I’m talking to or what I think), “offering” (tax-free donation), “Christian marriage” (awkward shotgun dysfunctional relationship with dubious sex), “God in the schools” (banning disturbing facts), “evolutionist, environmentalist, feminist, gay rights, lobby” (people who are going to burn in hell, if we can’t get the stake legalized), “spiritual warfare” (religious video game in the mind), “Christian music” (artistic drek full of meaningless mantras), “praise God” (what you’re supposed to do, because my time is limited), “bible study” (initiation and intervention), “witnessing” (trolling for vulnerable neurotics), “pastor” (self-appointed prophet), “choir” (people who sing better than you), “youth group” (babysitting squad), “frozen chosen” (people with brains), “stale, dead religion” (no electric guitars), “legalism” (inconvenient ethical rules), “faith” (gambling), “trust” (guesswork), “hope” (hope), “unconditional love” (positive attitude toward both short and long term prospects), “givers” (clients), “vestry” (customer service), “scholarship” (indoctrinated agreement), “research” (google and Strongs concordance)… one could go on indefinitely. Yes, I’ll probably publish the book. 🙂

Anyway, “worry free Christian living” (dropping off your old people at the pound).

And that does it for our religious euphemism roundup for today. Stay tuned if you like. I’m just enjoying myself, but you’re welcome to watch.

The Historicity of the Scriptures

I got a note yesterday from someone who is leaving religion, because they don’t any long believe in the “historicity” of the scriptures.

Bronze ceremonial standard of the Hittites; he...
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I don’t know why people feel compelled to announce this sort of thing. I mean what, are we supposed to keep an empty chair down at the “club”? I don’t even know this person, not really. Maybe it’s to make a clean break. Maybe it’s because we’re all supposed to rush out with “don’t go”. It’s sort of like standing on a ledge, maybe. But invariably these sort of notes are arrogant. This one worried about wounding any “weaker brothers”. It made me sort of chuckle but also wince, like when a TV anchor says something stupid and doesn’t realize it.

The other thing about these sort of notes is that they might as well be multiple choice. They usually contain one of a handful of reasons that we’re all familiar with. I’d really rather get a form letter, like when someone unsubscribes from one of my  mailing lists. “We’re sorry to see you go (or uninstall). Is it a) you’re planning to reinstall, b) service didn’t meet your needs, or c) you found one you like better.” Actually, I shouldn’t joke, there are mega-“churches” who actually do that sort of thing. And you know, if you don’t take them seriously, they send their parking lot security goons out to your house to let the air out of your tires.

This one was “I just can’t believe anymore in the historicity of the scriptures.” Yep, that’s one of the usual five. It’s a real yawner though because, only an idiot casts a blanket aspersion against the historicity of the scriptures. What, you don’t believe there were Hittites? Heck, a lot of people didn’t, until we dug them up. I mean, which part? I had a friend who once said he wasn’t sure there ever was a person called Jesus. I pointed out that there’s better support for the existence of Jesus than for Homer. I mean the documentary evidence kept by his enemies is pretty darned good. No serious scholars say there wasn’t a Jesus. They doubt that he is God, but not that he exists in history. There are nut jobs like Madeleine Murry O’Hare, of course, but come on. She’s like the Shirley McClain of atheism. Not to offer an ad hominem, but she’s not exactly basing her thinking on science. It’s like taking financial advice from Joel Osteen.  My friend relented, of course, and then we could have a more honest discussion. You can’t even be honest about what’s bothering you unless you’re willing to stipulate to the obvious facts. After all, it’s hard to claim religious people live in a fantasy world when they’ve got logic, science, and archeology and you’ve got blithering belief in the absence of something.

So anyway, no great refutation here. I just don’t care. You want to go, “I’ll hold the trap door to hell open for you”, as a Protestant comedian once said. Why be impolite? Blunt, perhaps, but courteous is my approach. We all know someone who doesn’t believe in something, and goes off to grow their beard (all we Orthodox men should have beards if they grow on us), or live on granola, or tour Buddhist shrines, or whatever. Send me a postcard. But it’s not something that needs a lot of drama. “I mean it, I’m going…” Did you ever run away from home, when you were a kid? “Dinner is a 6:30.”

Look, you want to claim that there was no King David, even though there’s better evidence for that than for who built the pyramids, you go ahead. People “believe” or “don’t believe” all sorts of things. If we were Protestants, we might get all bent out of shape and have a prayer circle around you. But if you’ve been involved with genuine Orthodoxy, we’re not really built on a foundation of beliefs anyway. When people ask, “What do you believe,” the best response is that that’s a Protestant question, and we should really refuse to commoditize (commodify?) our Faith in that manner. Protestantism is the religion of mental beliefs, which is one reason everyone goes out and starts their own ‘talk show’, so to speak. You get gazillions of groups in storefronts, precisely because belief is central, belief is everything, belief is the basis for it all.

Orthodoxy is based on history, not belief. We’re not a knowledge-based religion, like Gnosticism and its modern equivalents in Protestantism – we’re historical. For us, the “I’m leaving” spammer got one thing right, it really is important that there was a David. Not that you believe there’s a David – that’s different. Only a neurotic confuses his own belief with whether something is actually there or not. It matters not whether you believe, or even whether you exist (I push you off a building, and your belief ceases to matter much – you’re gone, the world goes on). It matters whether something is real. And since we live in time, live in history, all real things are historical. That’s why we don’t share a theology with the Protestants or Roman Catholics. Time is a creature. Reality is a creature. They’re created. In that sense, we don’t say that God is “real”. We don’t believe in God’s “existence”. You can’t think like that and really be Orthodox.

In fact, Orthodoxy is the religion of unbelievers. Our Faith is really historical. But our doctrine is really antithetical – to everything else. Our theology is negative theology – the via negativa – we deny things – we disbelieve things. If you look at  how our doctrinal statements have been formulated and why, they’re mostly statements that we, like the “I’m leaving” spammer, “don’t believe” – a whole host of things – or that we are “not persuaded” and so don’t intend to convert to something else. It is because I am an unbeliever that I am Orthodox in a sea of neurotic religious speculation. Our councils came about, because it was necessary to rise up and deny things – namely things that religious people had come up with by doing “positive theology” – cooking their own meth, so to speak. All our various statements, which we don’t like making for their own sakes (“Hi, welcome to our church. Here’s our doctrinal statement. We have a great youth program!”), are statements of disbelief or of opposition to belief foisted upon us by others – they’re refutations of the insanity and nuttyness of religion. To quote Vladimir Lossky’s “Mystical Theology” (emphasis is mine):

Unlike gnosticism, in which knowledge for its own sake constitutes the aim of the gnostic, Christian theology is always in the last resort a means: a unity of knowledge subserving an end which transcends all knowledge. This ultimate end is union with God or deification, the theosis of the Greek Fathers… All the development of the dogmatic battles which the Church has waged down the centuries appears to us, if we regard it from the purely spiritual standpoint, as dominated by the constant preoccupation which the Church has had to safeguard, at each moment of her history, for all Christians, the possibility of attaining to the fullness of the mystical union. So the Church struggled against the gnostics in defence of this same idea of deification as the universal end: ‘God became man that men might become gods’. She affirmed, against the Arians, the dogma of the consubstantial Trinity; for it is the Word, the Logos, who opens to us the way to union with the Godhead; and if the incarnate Word has not the same substance with the Father, if He be not truly God, our deification is impossible. The Church condemned the Nestorians that she might overthrow the middle wall of partition, whereby, in the person of the Christ himself, they would have separated God from man. She rose up against the Apollinarians and Monophysites to show that, since the fullness of true human nature has been assumed by the Word, it is our whole humanity that must enter into union with God. She warred with the Monothelites because, apart from the union of the two wills, divine and human, there could be no attaining to deification—’God created man by his will alone, but He cannot save him without the co-operation of the human will.’ The Church emerged triumphant from the iconoclastic controversy, affirming the possibility of the expression through a material medium of the divine realities—symbol and pledge of our sanctification. The main preoccupation, the issue at stake, in the questions which successively arise respecting the Holy Spirit, grace and the Church herself this last the dogmatic question of our own time—is always the possibility the manner or the means of our union with God. All the history of Christian dogma unfolds itself about this mystical centre, guarded by different weapons against its many and diverse assailants in the course of successive ages.

In short, we are an army of unbelievers who wish to be united to God, and defend ourselves against the seduction by which religion would deprive us of it. We are very practical about it. Try to force your religion on us, and separate us from God by means of it, and we declare an anathema against you, and all our people cross their arms, turn their backs, and leave your “belief system” to die in the ashheap of history. We are the people of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and of the seed of David, Jesus Christ. So yeah, if you become ahistorical like the Protestants and create a religion based on a belief system, or you become anti-historical like the “I’m leaving” spammer, and start denying the holocaust or the existence of Assyria (same thing, in principle), or whatever, then you’re right, you’re leaving. You’ve left. Good luck. But let’s not be confused about it – it really doesn’t matter what you “believe” or “don’t believe” in and of itself. What matters is what happened. History doesn’t need our belief to make it so. Once you accept that, you might as well believe you’re Elvis, because the distinction between belief and tangible, historical, scientific reality – the rock under our feet – well, that’s just gone off into lulu land.

Anyway, I still like the form letter idea. Maybe one of the atheist groups should create an online form, and you can fill in (by blind copy) the e-mail addresses of your religious group, and check off the appropriate boxes, before hitting send. I’ve got a belief system or two in my past I wouldn’t mind sending a test form to. 🙂 But come on, because of history? Next you’ll be denying Masada, and that’s just wrong!

Review of Avatar

It’s the connections of things. That’s what it is about Avatar, the James Cameron film. And I don’t mean in a Gaia, goddess, neo-gnostic, pagan kind of way. But it’s something else. The way they interacted with animals – the metaphor of actually plugging in – and what it suggests about how animals are. The way they plugged into the earth and with each other to the trees, not because they’re trees, but because it’s creation – it’s the same as with the animals. It situated them in creation. I really don’t respond other than with delight to the trees being connected as a network. All creation derives its meaning through man. But the fact that they were connected to the network too, that’s the story. The real story of us. That we are situated in creation by the economy of Christ – by God becoming a man, flesh of the womb of the Virgin, Adam’s flesh and Eve’s. Avatar gets it – the network is a network of trees sharing human memories – human souls, as well as their own. It isn’t connectedness that matters, but interconnectedness, of all things.

Birth of an AVATAR on Vimeo by Peter Ammentorp...
Image by marcotruiz via Flickr

This has always been huge for me, but because it’s huge for mankind. When I wrote my first critique of environmentalism, this is what I was aiming at. When I write about the Economy of Christ and a lot of people don’t understand me outside our Faith, and some within don’t, this is what I mean too. The economy is all that is not God – all that is created – there’s nothing that is not God that is not created, including time – including history. And all that is created – all things that are not God – are created with one purpose, the salvation of man. The deification of man. The entire creation is God’s salvific act. The Economy is God’s action toward creation, and is the creation itself. And it culminates in God becoming part of creation, entering creation, entering time and history, taking flesh of our flesh – “plugging in” – but much more than that, by becoming us – the only act that would save. And by becoming us, he took in his body all minerals, plants, all elements, all history, all categories in which all creation participates. By becoming one of us, he summed up all creation, and brought it all together in one. His salvation is salvation of the animals, and of the plants, and of rock and stone, and of all things. Nothing is abandoned, nothing lost, nothing without participation in the glory. All things will be deified. All that is created or ever has been will become God. And by participation in him, by our own deification, we participate in that recapitulation of his.

People often don’t realize what this means. Simply saying that death will end, so we will not eat animals in the kingdom, is greeted with surprise. But saying that all things are being deified – everything – anything conceivable – anything that ever was or will be – that can shock and scare people. But it is our Faith. It is the meaning of existence, the very definition of creation. Creation *is* the Economy of Christ. Creator becoming creation *is* the gospel. And of course, if you ask the priests or the scholars, the decent ones who are not arrogant asses pursuing their own exaltation by trying to pick apart the holiness of this, they will all agree, of course. They will tell the people who don’t know, yes that’s right, of course, didn’t you know that is our faith?

But then to point out that this means that when we look at animals, we see, not in the same depth as we see in man, but still see Christ. We see them being deified. We see that they are not fodder, not machines. And then again, when we look at other living things, all living things, plants, trees, algae, we see deification, we see that which will become God. And then even, finally, in perhaps a wider radius, that which is inanimate matter, though we don’t really know as much about that as our scientific dogma pretends when it talks to us – I prefer to listen to the high level scientists talking to each other – they’re less dogmatic and arrogant about “the facts” that always turn out to be just the bare intelligence of public school science dogmatics and popularizers of Darwinism.

That which is rock and stone and mountain is not, as we may think, “dead” if by “dead” we mean it will be lost, has no value, or can be disregarded as profane or not sacred. All the earth, and all that is beyond it is sacred. The skies, the sun and moon, the mountain, the trees, the earth, and all that lives on it, and we – we are connected to it through Christ our saviour, the saviour of all creation, the deliverer of animals and trees from death, the redeemer of mountains and stars and stones and algae and insects and all that is, not merely all that lives. That, this kind of talk, at least in US circles, scares people of presumably “christian” faith. But theirs is not a “christian” faith, if they deny this.

To deny it is to deny that God became man. It is to say “not really”, “not in fulness”, “not entirely”. It is to deny as surely as the heretics and gnostics of old that Christ is one person with two natures. It is to “protect” Christ by insulating him from creation, and so severing our line to creation too, our ability to plug in, it is to separate and alienate us from creation so that we abuse it and do not consider it in our salvation, it is to set us against it and embrace death, not salvation from death, as the natural norm. It is to make distinction the basis of opposition. It is the heresy of all heresies. It is the language of hell. Francis Schaeffer’s book Pollution and the Death of Man is fantastic on this.

That’s why I put together my earlier essay on the topic – the pagan environmentalists are simply trying to defend the sanctity of creation by suggesting that “god” made it “out of” himself (or herself) – that it is deified in that way. But that’s not the only avenue to take. It’s damned close. We insist that God’s creation is through his energies (energia), which are uncreate, and are God. Not God’s essence but, still God. In that sense, yeah, God could be said to have created the cosmos out of himself, if you can also allow that he created it out of nothing, meaning that there was no pre-existing material that co-existed alongside God – because then, he’s not God at all, which is why the gnostics have to cook up a creative “demiurge” alongside him – where did the demiurge come from? What the pagans are not prepared to accept, partly from the influence of Darwinism corrupting their paganism, and making it pseudo-paganism, is Death, and how it came upon the world. They consider Death *part* of the natural order, not an alien infection upon it. And that’s their undoing. But the sanctity of creation *is* protected in the deification of all creation, as we insist. Paganism is a left turn into theoretical invention to accomplish something, unsuccessfully, which is already accomplished from the outset by the Creator. It’s just that a lot of people passing themselves off as “christian” and representing “christianity” aren’t really offering a Christian understanding of the Economy at all. What the pagans are really running up against is gnostics in “christian” media.

All of creation is sacred. We are saved through water, and through wine, and through bread, and through oil, through fishes and loaves, and through all things that participate in Christ. All things around us, everything that is, is a vehicle of our salvation and co-participant, and to be one with us, and one with God, so that all are one. This is the only Christian faith. Anything that detracts from it is a different “christ” – one who is either not God or not man, not creator or not creation, and then we are all lost, and all is hopeless and despair. It is Christ who joined creation and Creator, deifying the one by the other, in his one person by the two natures. To be of Christ at all is to participate in this joining – this interconnectedness.

Or else they make him creation but not God, and so then we are just men among men trying to be wise, and nothing has the power to connect us to all things or connect us and all things to God. And then creation is futile, because that which was created is not to be redeemed, and creation and redemption are irrevocably torn apart, and the Enemy is right that death is all that will be forever. And no faith is then true. All is nonsense, even disbelief becomes madness, and we are lost to chaos with no ground for our minds, and no ground for our bodies, and no ground for anything.

When I watch the blue movie, as I call it, I see it showing me how we are connected, but not insisting that I fall down and worship a god who did not become man, which cannot make all things one, or worship a god who is just a man, and can therefore give nothing meaning. True, it’s full of religious references, but not offensively. They’ve asked more than preached. And for this, I can live in the film.

And do you know what it means to someone who is alien even from aliens to be connected to all things? “No longer strangers. No longer aliens. Now, we are citizens with the Saints in the Kingdom of God.” For someone who has searched for meaning, for meaning all over, to find in Christ’s Incarnation that all things have been joined, united, put together? And for someone who suffers at the suffering of the world, the cosmos, the “groaning and travail” that is the slaughter, disease, warfare? It is a profound deliverance. Not that Avatar has given me that meaning – this is our Faith and always has been – but that I feel an immense and abiding joy when it is articulated visually.

Anyway, if you’ve seen it, see it again. And again. There’s so much detail, if you look. And do see it on the big screen. You have to be immersed in it, not spectating from outside when, at the end, they are all plugged in to the earth, to the roots of trees, and are seeking a transformation.

Oh, and yeah, if you were expecting the standard review with commentary on special effects, you can get that anywhere, so no.

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Vespers Stichera, Annunciation

Gabriel came and stood before you, O Virgin.
Revealing God’s eternal plan he greeted you:
“Hail, O earth that has not been sown!
Hail, burning bush that remains unconsumed!
Hail, O unsearchable depth!
Hail, O bridge that leads to heaven,
and ladder raised on high that Jacob saw!
Hail, deliverance from the curse and restoration of Adam! The Lord is with you!”

Annunciation. Byzantyne icon fom St. Catheryne...
Image via Wikipedia

You appear to me in the form of a man,”
the undefiled Virgin said to the captain of the heavenly hosts.
“How can you speak to me of things that pass man’s power?
You have said that God will be with me,
that He will take up His dwelling in my womb.
How shall I become the holy dwelling place of Him
Who rides upon the Cherubim? Do not deceive me.
I have not known pleasure; I have not entered into wedlock.
How then shall I bear a child?”

“When God so wishes,” said the bodiless angel,
“the order of nature is overcome.
What is beyond man’s power comes to pass.
Believe my words, O pure and holy Lady.”
She cried out, “Be it done to me according to your word!
I shall bear Him who has no flesh! He will take flesh from me!
By this, He will lead mankind to glory,
for He alone has the power to accomplish this!”

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Notes on Pleasure

Someone yesterday was saying that Aristotle’s idea of pleasure is doing something well. I think that’s one good definition. Contemporary man treats pleasure as stimulation, but without other purpose or meaning. Constant stimulation that we get from video games, sex without love, or mindless dissipation in simulated pleasures – which might be rehashed TV or music, or reading crappy magazines.

Happy 4th of July!
Image by Lorika13 via Flickr

I think pleasure is always other-related, it’s always outward, not merely auto-erotic or entirely in the self. I’m not knocking those things, but I’m saying there’s a distinction between pleasure and stimulation, and that pleasure is derived, ultimately, from meaning, like all other human qualities. I just got back from conducting a 2hr training, and then another appointment for 2hrs of consulting. I left knowing I did well, and deriving an ongoing attitude of pleasure from it. My experience suggests that Aritstotle, as we may interpret him, has this right.

But how does one evaluate doing “well”? Lots of people on American Idol think they sing well, when clearly they don’t. You’ll see someone belting it out, but it’s awful. Some will say it doesn’t matter, that it’s singing “well” if you derive pleasure from it. This is fundamentally backwards. It’s a heresy against man’s energies, against the order of creation, to say such a thing. No, it is possible to seem to derive pleasure illicitly – pleasure from acclaim, from attention, from an illusory self-image, but these aren’t actually pleasure – they’re merely the stimulation of the passions. In such a case, meaning is alien to the activity, in that meaning is an interaction with others, not merely a presentation of an image to others or the receiving of a stimulation from others. To act “well” implies an interaction with others that is more substantive than self-gratification alone. Actual pleasure is derived from doing well in the sense that meaning, external to the self, but thereby residing in the self, is the source and fruit of one’s activity.

It’s not writing a poem that only you understand. That may have “meaning” to just you, but it’s not Meaning, in a universal or cosmic sense. By definition, that which is utterly autonomous is not a source of cosmic meaning. Doing something well is doing something that benefits or enriches creation, and you as part of it. Meaning is that which is derived from acting in coordination with creation as a whole. And genuine pleasure is derived from meaningful activity.

If you cook well, it is well when it provides comfort, nourishment, and peace to yourself or to others. If you made an intricately detailed casserole and then just threw it away, that’s not cooking “well”. You can claim all you want that you showed expertise, skill, and creativity, and that may be true in the barest sense, but those things only derive their meaning by finding a place in the grand (cosmic) scheme of things – in conjunction with creation. Autonomy from meaning is the curse of pleasure. And nothing is done well that is devoid of meaning.

So, in the quest for meaning, which all people are on, whether it’s to find for the first time, to find what was lost, or to continue to find what is nearby and identified (the quest for meaning is, in this way, like the quest for food), it may be helpful to distinguish pleasure from stimulation, doing something well from doing it with mere technical skill (again a chef who makes a souffle for the garbage is not doing well in the same way as a mother who makes scrambled eggs for breakfast), and to distinguish between meaning and self-gratification (what people erroneously refer to as “meaning to me” – as though we all live in separate cosmoses and get our own cosmic meaning – meaning is meaning precisely because it can be shared in by all of creation).

It is an opinion, but taking a queue from Aristotle, I believe this is some of what our Faith would say about it. As ever, I don’t speak for the Orthodox in this, because it’s just an opinion (we would say “speculation”), and I acknowledge with the fathers that speculation is dangerous and to be avoided where possible. One reason for this journal is to remove from my mind through expression those things that, if I hold them inside it too long, can become an endless source of speculation that will surely lead me to the pit. Sometimes people will pick up something off the ground and run with it. Please keep in mind, if that’s you, especially if you are not of the Faith, the one, holy, and true Orthodox Faith, this is trash. This is not a gem. It is cast off here for a reason. It is only the byproduct, the emission of a mind that is striving to obtain union with the source of meaning, the most holy Trinity.

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Frail Shadows of Elusive Dreams

What earthly joy remains untouched by grief? What glory stands forever on the earth? Frail shadows of elusive dreams which death will one day sweep away. But in the light of Thy countenance, O Christ, and in the enjoyment of Thy beauty, give rest to those whom you have chosen and taken, for Thou art the lover of mankind. – St. John of Damasca, Aposticha verse

Fulfill Our Intention

Magnify, O my soul, her who is more honorable and more glorious than the armies on high. It would be easier for us to keep silence, out of fear, for it is without danger, and it is difficult O Virgin to weave complex hymns harmoniously with love. But O Mother, grant us strength to fulfill our intention. – Apodosis of Nativity, Ode IX.

Originally posted 1/9/2008

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Our Mother

Theotokos - God Bearer - Mother of GodRejoice O Jerusalem. Keep the feast all ye who love Sion. Today, the ancient bonds of Adam’s condemnation hath been loosed. Paradise hath been opened unto us. The serpent hath been destroyed. He who deceived our first Mother of old, hath now seen a Woman become the Mother of the Creator. O the depths of the richness and the wisdom and understanding of God! For, the vessel of sin which brought death upon all flesh, hath become the beginning of salvation for the whole world through the Theotokos. For the all-perfect God hath been born of Her as a babe, and sealeth her Virginity by His birth . . .” – the Glory be, Holy Nativity, Tone 4 (from the All-Night Vigil)

Originally posted 1/9/2009

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9th Ode of the 2nd Canon of Christ's Nativity

Magnify, O my soul, her who is more honorable and more exalted in glory than the heavenly hosts.
I behold a strange and wonderful mystery: the cave a heaven, the Virgin a cherubic throne, and the manger a noble place in which hath lain Christ the uncontained God. Let us, therefore, praise and magnify Him.

Fresco of nativity with woman Salome bathing c...
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Magnify, O my soul, the God born in flesh from the Virgin.
When the Magi saw a new and strange star appearing suddenly, moving in a wonderful way, and transcending the stars of heaven in brightness, they were guided by it to Christ, the King born on earth in Bethlehem, for our salvation.

Magnify, O my soul, the King born in a cave.
The Magi said, Where is the Child King, the newborn, Whose star hath appeared? For we have verily come to worship Him. And Herod, the contender against God, trembled, and began to roar in folly to kill Christ.

Magnify, O my soul, the God worshipped by the Magi.
Herod ascertained from the Magi about the time of the star by whose guidance they were led to Bethlehem to worship with presents Christ Who guided them, and so they returned to their country, disregarding Herod, the evil murderer of babes, mocking him.

Today the Virgin giveth birth to the Lord inside the cave.
Verily it is easier for us to endure silence since there is no dread danger therefrom for us. But because of our strong desire, O Virgin, and Mother of sameness, to indite well-balanced songs of praise, this becometh indeed onerous to us. Wherefore, grant us power to equal our natural inclination.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: Magnify, O my soul, the might of the indivisible and three-personed Godhead.
O pure one, Mother of the Word that appeareth newly from thee, O closed door, verily, as we behold the dark shadowy symbols pass away, we glorify the light of the truth and bless thy womb as is meet.

Both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. Glorify, O my soul, her who hath delivered us from the curse.
The Christ-pleasing people, O Virgin, having deserved to be granted its desire by the coming of God, doth seek now with tears thy help to worship the glory of His enlivening appearance wherein is the renewal of birth; for it is thou who dost distribute grace, O pure one.

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The Gospel Summarized in the Anaphora

With these blessed powers, O Master and Lover of Mankind, we sinners also cry out and say: “Holy are You, truly all-holy!” There is no limit to the majesty of your holiness. You are revered in all your works, for in righteousness and true judgment You have ordered all things for us. When You created man and had fashioned him from the dust of the earth and had honored him as your own image, O God, You set him in the midst of a bountiful paradise, promising him life eternal and the enjoyment of everlasting good things by keeping your commandments.

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But when he disobeyed You, the true God Who had created him, and was led astray by the deceit of the serpent, he was made subject to death through his own transgressions. In your righteous judgment, O God, You exiled him from paradise into this world and returned him to the earth from which he had been taken. But You provided for him the salvation of rebirth which is in your Christ Himself.

For You did not turn Yourself away forever from your creation whom You had made, O Good One, nor did You forget the work of your hands, but You visited him in different ways. Through the tender compassion of your mercy, You sent forth prophets. You performed great works by the Saints who in every generation were well-pleasing to You. You spoke to us through the mouths of your servants the Prophets who foretold to us the salvation which was to come. You gave us the Law to aid us. You appointed angels to guard us. And when the fullness of time had come, You spoke to us through your Son Himself, through whom You had created time.

Being the Brightness of your Glory and the Stamp of your Person, and upholding all things by the power of his Word, your Son did not think of equality with You, Who alone are God and Father, as something to be grasped. And so, although He was God before time began, He appeared on earth and dwelt among us. He was incarnate of a holy virgin and emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant and being conformed to the body of our lowliness so that He might conform us to the image of his glory. Since sin entered the world through a man and death through sin, so your Only-begotten Son, Who is in your bosom, our God and Father, was well- pleased to be born of a woman, the holy Birth-giver of God and ever- virgin Mary. He was born under the Law, so that He might condemn sin in his own flesh, so that those who died in Adam might be made alive in Him, your Christ.

He lived in this world and gave us commandments for salvation. He released us from the delusions of idolatry and brought us to the knowledge of You, true God and Father. He procured us for Himself as a chosen people, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. Having purified us with water, He sanctified us with the Holy Spirit. He gave Himself as a ransom to death by which we were held captive, having been sold into slavery by sin. He descended into the realm of death through the Cross, that He might fill all things with Himself. He loosed the sorrow of death and rose again from the dead on the third day, for it was not possible that the Author of Life should be conquered by corruption. In this way He made a way to the resurrection of the dead for all flesh. Thus, He became the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep, the first-born of the dead, that He might be first in all ways among all things. Ascending into heaven, He sat at the right hand of your Majesty on High, and He shall come again to reward each person according to his deeds.

— Liturgy of St. Basil, the anaphora

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Narn Thinking on The Scriptures as Ikon

“Do not thump the book of G’Quan. It is disrespectful.” – Ambassador G’Kar, Babylon 5

Good Props Gone Bad

I like the dual edge of this remark. Fundamentalists and iconoclasts both could take it to heart. I was once present when a guest set a can of Pepsi on an icon. The host, my Bishop, was kinder than I would have been. We both reacted much like G’Kar would though, only on different days. Blood racing, if you don’t know G’Kar.

In another instance, a family member piled my laundry on an icon. I was less charitable than I should have been. After all, she had just folded my laundry. A lesson for me – defending the icon while simultaneously ceasing to be one.

The Holy Scriptures are an icon, which is why we still kiss them, as we did the scrolls in the temple. It is not true that we had no icons when we Orthodox were merely Hebrews and not yet Christians. My old Bishop used to tell me, when I asked “What about the butchered Protestant versions? Cut down to 66 books. And some of them barely constituting a translation, frequently taken from gnostic versions of the texts. Are they to be handled with respect?” He replied that ‘they mangle Christ as well. How would they not do so to his icon? Indeed, iconoclasm is at the core of their heresy. But we recognize that even a heretical icon deserves to be handled within the realm of reverence, which is why we burn them, not casually or disdainfully, but with prayers to the Saint depicted, however evil or wrong the depiction.’

So it’s not OK to thump even the “study bibles”, “living translations”, “good news versions”, and “translations from the latest texts” that have mangled holy writ. We don’t thump icons that presume to convey Christ or Christ through the Saints, one way or another. And regarding icons that are truly icons, we might carry them into war, since we stand against principalities and powers. We might carry them in other processions around our Churches, since we are sanctified by them, and since we are honoring the saints as if we held their flesh, though this also is a form of warfare. But we do not either wield them as axes on the merely misguided, or else treat them as casual things merely because they are not axes.

It’s not good to thump a book of G’Quan. Just ask a Narn ambassador. By the way, I hear they’re making a feature motion picture, for you fellow Babylon 5 fans.

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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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What the hell is a Judeo-Christian?

:en:Rabbi :en:Moshe Feinstein
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I don’t know if my dog likes watching news commentary and reporting but, when I come home, that’s what’s on TV sometimes, so he must. From that, I pick up snatches of what your “average joe” is thinking about today.  Today it’s discussion about governments posting religious monuments and stem cell research. It’s a bit like listening to aliens, without the lasers and space ships. One thing that doesn’t seemed to get questioned, I noticed, as I relieved myself in the other room, is the phrase “Judeo-Christian”. Supposedly, the US is predicated on “Judeo-Christian” values and beliefs, and these monuments are “Judeo-Christian”. What the hell is a Judeo-Christian? That, to me, is like saying Islamo-Hindu.

I know, I know, they’re not talking at all about Christianity as I would use the word. They’re linking together components in a historiographical theory that claims there’s some fundamental shared worldview between Jews and Christians. People of the book, they used to call them – tho they don’t include muslims anymore – that went out of vogue in the 1990s – so now that phrase is largely forgotten. I remember the lovely little men who used such terms, with their pony tales and their liberality, who a few years ago wouldn’t think of including muslims in the same breath and, once again, now that the invasion of Iraq and its atrocities are evil, and there’s some color in the white house, they’re back to cautiously regarding the “good muslims” as somehow sharing a history.

One of the exercises we did in college in the History of Mediaeval Philosophy was to compare Avicenna, Averoes, Aquinas, and others, and see whether or not Jews, Muslims, and Roman Catholics (proto-Protestants) sounded more like each other than any of them resembled Holy Orthodoxy. Even the critics, atheists, and committed religionists of other stripes admitted they did. People of the book, indeed. But the religious psychology has just as much in common w. Brahmanism. I know someone who was in a schismatic Roman Catholic group before converting to Holy Orthodoxy. He was always an agitator and never really was happy with his conversion, and now he’s off being a quasi-Buddhist. He doesn’t realize that he just really went back to his original species. The trappings have changed, but not the fundamental premises.

Anyway, I listen to words like this thrown around, with no one batting an eye, and not one voice asking what precisely is the theory behind this compound “Judeo-Christian” and I realize that if an Orthodox person were to stand up and say that the Jews are the enemies of Christ, that there is no separate “dispensation” of salvation for them apart from the Church (standard evangelical speculation), and that we have nothing to do with these false Jews but are ourselves the New Israel, the Israel of God, the ancient religion of Adam, of Noah, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Solomon and David, we would undoubtedly be labelled anti-semitic. And there can be no greater crime in the current political empire than being anti-semitic – our support for zionist Israel is “unwavering”, and is continually being “renewed”. We wouldn’t have to go that far, though, to incur the wrath of “anti-racists”. Just saying, “Judeo-Christian? Don’t know what you mean. We have nothing to do with the Jews, unless you mean the Christian ones. Yes, we have a Patriarchate in Jerusalem – are you talking about them?” – that would do it. That would incur the ire, the wrath, the hatred and vitriol of those who insist that there’s a standing dogma about Jews that we all must share – support for the nation of Israel, and hence for Zionism, their supposed shared content and historical continuity with Christians (yes, I deny that, too), and the notion that the religion of these folk is just as salvific, not to mention the unwillingness to even say the word “Jew” unless it’s in delightfully upbeat or solemnly positive context.

Judeo-Christian? No such thing. Not if we, the Orthodox, are Christian. If we’re not, then yes, certainly, Judaism, Islam, and Protestant Roman Catholicism have a lot of substance and history in common. As religious philosophies, most certainly. Historically, though, Judaism is a concoction of the enemies of Christ, that section of Hebrews who wished to remain anti-Christian, when Christ rose again and filled the world with his body, the Church. Reformed Judaism, Orthodox Judaism, Judaism in general – this is not the faith of the ancients. These are religions of recent invention. True, they draw upon a gnostic and occult that existed alongside the ancient faith, and certainly they draw upon early anti-Christian gnosticism and hermetics, and mediaeval scholastic inventions, just as Protestantism and Roman Catholicism do. But they are not the faith held by the Patriarchs, our Saints. And no Orthodox mind can declare them to be such. All such dispensationalism is abjectly heretical.

It will be deemed anti-semitic to say there is no separate salvation for the Jews. Why not be honest – there’s no separate salvation for anyone? Why make the Jews an issue. We feel the same way about the Greeks. Nationalism doesn’t save. Ethnicity doesn’t save. Christ saves. And apart from Christ, there is no salvation. That is the Christian Faith; it is the very statement of that Faith for which Christ himself was crucified – it is indisputable. Calling something else administratively “Christian” or to declare it “Christian” by sheer exercise of ecclesiastical judgment, is simply dishonest. Words become nonsense when they don’t have even the remotest resemblance to their historical significance.

Same with the word Jew? What is a Jew, anyway? Those who bandy about terms like anti-semitic at the drop of a hat can’t answer that authoritatively. An old adage goes, “Want to start an argument in an elevator full of Jews? Ask what is a Jew – is it a practitioner of some form of Judaism, a citizen of the nation of Israel, or an ethnic designation?” The “Jews” themselves can’t agree. What is it, then, that an anti-semite or an anti-anti-semite is really against? Besides, terms like anti-semite are really inappropriate when we repudiate salvation by any other religion, by any national affiliation, and by any ethnic background with equally disregard. If you were a South African Jain Buddhist of Polish descent, and we said it doesn’t convey any special treatment or presumed theosis, what would you call us then? Even “racist” becomes nonsensical, since Buddhism, for example, is not a race. How about “intolerant”? That gets tossed out there a lot – not to mean what it really means – failing to tolerate something – but to label anyone who fails to say what you want to say about others – that it’s all “just as good”, “six of one”, that there are “many roads, all leading to the same place”.  I think it’s you who is intolerant, if you can’t even speak accurately about those with whom you disagree.

My old bishop used to say, when referring to the temple, to the implements of the altar, to the books kept in the altar, to the psalms sung by the choir, the smoke filling the air, the candles, the vestments, indeed all the physical implements of the ancient faith, “Really, we’re just Jews.” Not these cooked up “Messianic Jews” who get together and play at temple the way evangelicals play at church, wearing yamikas, slaughtering lambs, and reading the King James Bible (the scaled-down 66-book version). I’m talking about being able to refer to Saint Moses, the Patriarch, as easily as to St. Paul. I won’t go into a long set of proofs and illustrations. If you’re Orthodox, these things abound. They’re all around you on a consistent basis. If you need text, you might read Georges Barrois, if you’re interested. I’ve heard his “Jesus Christ and the Temple” delves into this. One can just as easily read the scriptures, in the context of the liturgy of the people who wrote them.

The point is that when I listen to people tossing out this “Judeo-Christianity” and it goes unchallenged and without disclaimer, I think, “They’re not talking about anything that has to do with me. This is an alien religion that I don’t have anything in common with. Not even the words on their monuments which my people wrote, since we do not mean the sames things by those words.” In their attempts to be inclusive, they’ve been exclusive. And I imagine, were I a Buddhist, I could feel marginalized. Here, though, I don’t want these US governments creating monuments to my faith. Historically, that’s been a disaster. Look at all the religious crap that’s been commissioned by rulers throughout the ages. Screw the rulers; give me the monks. You don’t get bizarre arias, and weirdly occult tapestries out of decent monks. These stone billboards they’re dropping onto capitol lawns just muddy the waters and spark arguments over things that aren’t even real, like “founded on Judeo-Christian traditions”. Which practicing Jews signed the Declaration or wrote the Constitution? And come now. You mean Protestant traditions. The US is a Protestant nation. Its tolerance for everything else extends just as far as its ability to coopt it and shape it into something seemingly compatible. It’s a syncretic tradition, all right. That’s what the hyphen means. And all this presumed ‘inclusion’ and ‘tolerance’ is just intolerance of anything but that syncretism. If we don’t want to be what you are, don’t want you speaking for us, deciding for us, whatever, you’ll brand us with labels, bomb our villages, and villify us in your pseudo-histories. Tolerance indeed.

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Our Christian Names

A 6th century mosaic of :en:Jesus at Church Sa...
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In our quasi-revolutionary, neo-gnostic culture, including most especially academia, and especially still religious academia and its amateur counterpart among those of us who read books, it is popular to refer to every scholar (and eventually everyone who has said anything at all) by surname. “Ecco’s thesis is…” “Jaki is daring when…” “Cantor actually challenges the notion…” The depersonalization of the individual, the treatment of the person as genus – as nature or essence – is in fact heretical to Holy Orthodoxy, which is why we do not refer to Saints in such a manner. Applied to the Holy Trinity, this reversal is in fact the reason for the Great Schism by which Holy Orthodoxy has repudiated all heresy, and the heresy of heresies. Person is not interchangeable with genus. So to speak that way, it truly to speak as a heterodox. It is barbarian speak, it is the speech of the unlearned, of the irreverent, of the thoughtless and impious.

Still, you hear dapper religio-academics referring to “Fr. Schmemman” or just “Schmemman” when they’re being particularly “down to earth”. The sing-songy tone is one of perhaps unintended disdain – the kind of disdain that is inherent in a trivialization of personality, intended or not. One hears it in hip-hop speech, hippie slang, and the “bro” and “dude”-ness of insipid “guy-speak”. And why shouldn’t we expect it among Orthodox, when in some Orthodox Churches you hear of people being called, in the Roman Catholic vein, “Father Anderson” (at least they don’t toss out just “Anderson”), not to mention “Fr. Bill” (who would ever dare to refer to a Saint Bill), or even just “Bill” (“Bill’s not coming to the men’s breakfast today.”) – I think I just threw up. It’s either the heretical anti-personal anthropology of the heterodox or the vain ultra-personalism of their social descendents, thoroughly Protestantized, as if we were joining hands together, singing campfire gospel songs, and listening to the mystical insights of the Fr. Larry or Brother Lenny or even Linda. (well, we have yet to see Father Lisa, but the attitude is the same). The imposition of cultural flippancy on one hand, or cultural utilitarianism on the other, is a great show of religiosity but really a mediocrity of Faith.

I won’t argue this endlessly with naysayers. You are of your tradition, and I am of mine. Be what you are; let’s not argue. I don’t have to eat with you, and you certainly won’t be sitting at my table, if you’re claiming we share the same Faith. And yes, I do eat with out and out Protestants, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Witches, Warlocks, Atheists, and Spiritualists. I don’t eat with people who, pretending to honor Christ, dishonor his Church, claiming it’s all one big religion and I’m (quite unwillingly) a part of it. Rank me among the unbelievers, if that’s the case. Give me Samaritans any day. Those I can pat on the back and make friends. So before you say, “Christ ate with sinners,” think also about who was *not* at his table. Did he break bread with all the false Christs?

The truth is that speaking in this manner ultimately belies the Holy Incarnation of Christ. Christ shared our nature. Christ became man. And his name is Jesus. When you say in your heart that name, you teach your mind how to say all names, and how to think of all your brethren. Why then, this disdain which masquerades as disregard, mere casualness, and laziness? Piety, as my old Bishop used to say, is taking little pains. What pain it was for God to be born with a man’s name.

But there are those who do not wish to dishonor all that is dishonored by using these inappropriate designations. And sometimes they ask how to cultivate a habit of proper attribution. I’m no wise person to consult, but I think it’s helpful, when you think in your mind of “Fr. Alexander” (Schmemann) or “Fr. John” (Romanides) to think of them in the light of “Saint Alexannder” or “Saint John” for whom they are named. Who among us would have the spite to refer to a Saint Maximovitch or a Saint Hotovitzky? If we can’t bring ourselves to what we know and should sense is irreverence toward the Saints, how dare we do it of anyone among us, especially not those icons of the saints who are our teachers and clergy, those who bear Saint’s names? When you say the name of your brother in Christ, think “he will be glorified” if he is living or, if he is reposed, add “pray for me” to your thoughts when you say his name. Fr. John (“pray for me”) Romanides. Fr. Alexander (“save me by your prayers”) Schmemman. Then, over time, you will find it hard to speak shamefully of such people and, perhaps, with mercy, of anyone (“grant me such mercy, Lord”). In fact, what we’ve been doing is speaking of people in a naturalistic way, as though they are dead, or as though they will not live forever. This is, perhaps, part of the cure for our blindness. And of each other, perhaps especially if we find it hard to honor one another in our thoughts, it is good to remember, to be mindful, of such gentle sayings: “he will be saved, and I will be condemned” Matthew, “by his prayers save me” Michael, “remember me, St. Barbara” Barbara, “pray for me her Angel” Micah.

Keep in mind that we call it your “Christian name” for a reason. The name you received at Baptism is the new name, written on a white stone, the name by which you will be called in paradise, the name that in the Kingdom, this economy of Christ’s Incarnation,  you are known by and are referred to. Doesn’t the priest say this name when you receive Holy Communion? Isn’t it written into the prayers said at the altar, behind the iconostasis? The pride it takes to disregard the name, and shake it off, preferring “Homer” and “Kelly” to the names of your patron Saints who watch over you and pray for you, should you make it pride upon pride by applying it likewise to others?

We sometimes hear the xenophobes among us complain that this is an “ethnic” tradition – that it’s Russian or Greek. Such statements beg the question, besides which they are inaccurate. This is the ancient tradition, the living tradition, the one tradition. This is not “your” tradition or “mine”. It’s “ours”. How can we claim such things? It is the tradition of paradise, active in Heaven, and indeed throughout the whole of the One Church, undivided and indivisible by Death, which we repudiate, speaking life everywhere. If the Saints speak to each other this way, gathered around us, when we pray, what arrogance says that the bonds of our Death, the cultural of our natural birth, or the affected culture of pseudo-academia is the basis for what comes out of our mouths? The whole man is made new, speech and all. All must be deified – you must not cling to anything and say, “Not this. Except this.”

And do remember your mother in the Faith, the Church whose missionaries founded your Church. It’s impossible to listen to “Americans” (which are not a people, nor a race, nor even a nationality), refer to traditions as Russian when they received the *entire* Orthodox Faith from the Russians in the first place.  Shame. Sadness. Blindness. Again, I won’t argue this here – not today. One thing at a time. Blindness and foolish talk are everywhere – they are cheap and abundant – trying to cover every argument at once makes truth into a commodity also, and I won’t do it. I will say that I think you know, in your heart, when you’re espousing ideology (be it communist, deconstructionst, neo-fascism, or some glib amateur cultural anthropology), and when you are in fact striving to walk in the footsteps of the Saints down through the ages. It is so much easier to be a succesful rhetorician of ideology than a failed but determined adherent of better men who lived wiser lives.  Easier to be the fathers’ widely heard critic than their poor and obscure imitator. Bleh.

Anyway, I write here for a few reasons. To give people answers who bother me with questions, so they’ll go away, and also so I can think through and give answers clearly, be transparent in what I’ve said, submit it to others to correct, and not let the impulses of the moment govern my response, and so I don’t often have to repeat it. I write also to record thoughts for my own memory, because it’s poor (I am neither mindful nor therefore righteous – I’m forgetful of everything I hope to remember). I am writing also to confess my sins – not the specific circumstances of them, but the sins (Whenever someone accuses you falsely, say “I am guilty”, even if you did not do what they say – say “I am guilty of sins like these” and “Yes, I am prideful. I am an angry man. I am impatient and thoughtless. I have committed all the sins you say except, perhaps, renouncing the Orthodox Faith.”) Here is one place I say such things because, saying them, I hope to believe in them fully and be saved. I write here also to think, because, for me, the two things (writing and thinking) are so tightly interwoven and bound. I need to think, and I need a place to think, a place conducive to the kind of thinking I’m doing. I create such places wherever I want to do a new kind of thinking.

Have you ever picked up a bottle of something and it said not to use it for what it was designed for? Like a children’s toy, clearly designed for a certain age group, that says not to let that age group use it? Or batteries that say not to leave them in the device after use? I wish I could offer a disclaimer like that – “This may poison you. What I say may be not only completely useless but actually harmful. And yet, if you want to use it, it’s here. I won’t stop you.”

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