St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Church
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I get a lot of comments I don’t post. I think it’s only fair to say why I post some and not others.

* I don’t post comments that offer an agenda that I find despicable, tedious, or needlessly controversial, especially when it’s not relevant to the content. Things that come through advocating white supremacy, neoconservative imperialism, hatred of particular ethnic groups (recently got one referring to the “Satanic Serbs”) – I don’t post. For one thing, you might read enough to at least realize who you’re talking to and what the blog is about, before vomiting this stuff all over us. But even so, it just would be material I’d have rebut, so someone else doesn’t have to, sparking a flame war. I only have so much energy and inclination to fight (yes, I have a little), and I see no point in letting other people determine when I’ll do so.

* I don’t post comments that disregard the very underlying premise of the conversation. The comments coming in that begin with the assumption that nothing matters but what you and I come to through some process of discussion or argument. These are the inherently Protestant commentaries that try to persuade through appeals solely to feelings, rhetoric, religious philosophy, or some activity of “coming to agreement” we presumably engage in with each other. I look upon these things as abject Roman Catholicism with the papal mitre simply democratized. Each of us is presumably our own pope, and we pronounce de facto what is and isn’t so, confusing our perceptions with the thing perceived – subject and object. It’s a waste of time for me to post those comments, because I find I’m endlessly making the same point in response: “Go away. We’re not really talking to each other at all. You’re trying to converse by saying, “Well, dismissing all you believe, all your sources of understanding, your religion, your fathers,  your creed, all of it – your entire epistemology, and starting with just you and me here in a blog, let’s come up with our own religion, which will work just like a religious philosophy…” What kind of numb nuts goes in for something like that? It’s the Nigerian E-mail scam of the religious world. Might as well ask to borrow my wallet and my car, setting aside any commitments I might have to protect my family. Not being a dunce, nor inclined to needless repetition, and finding these attempts tedious in the extreme, I have responded to a handful of them, and chase the others off wherever possible. Truly, you can’t argue with a committed Protestant; he can’t hear you, so he just keeps ignoring what you’re saying are your premises and offering speculation or alien premises as substitutes. Drain your brain, he’s saying, and then we can talk.

* I don’t post comments that ignore the fact that previous comments made the same point, and are just being offered as a way to flood the comment box with extra “votes”. In fact, I click “spam” on those, and they stop arriving.

* I don’t post comments that offer to argue it out, without a useful end being proposed. See above – if the goal being proposed is that, by argumentation and discussion, we will arrive together at “the truth”, and have now a religious philosophy we can hold to, I have to remind you this is not a Protestant’s blog. I don’t count invitations to apostasy as useful ends. If the idea is argue so that you’ll understand it better, get better at arguing, etc. – what’s in it for me? That’s right – is your desire to be a better debater of one of these topics a claim on my attention and peace of mind? You’ve heard of spiritual warfare – what do you think I’m off doing, in this mind of mine? I really don’t need to fight a war on two fronts, if I can avoid it. This is called a blog of personal confession – I’m in it because it saves me, not because I want to argue, let alone argue for the sake of arguing. If you can propose a useful, and honest goal, that an Orthodox person can legitimately accept, then maybe arguing something out will be beneficial. So far, no one has done that. And “because I really want to know” is not useful or sincere, if that’s really just something you say to get the argument going – a feint, to invite your rhetorical opponent to reveal their hand. What, do you think you’re dealing with hobbyists? I’m not “just curious” – I’m in this for my life – I’ve been around that block – I’m no dummy.

* I don’t post comments that are out and out pretense. When some one writes, “So basically, you’re right, everyone else is wrong, and unless I believe what you believe, I’m going to Hell.” I don’t bother posting it. This person is not asking a sincere question, they’re summarizing via a mischaracterization, and trying to sell it as an innocent question. Again – no dummy here – a rhetorical question is just a statement with a question mark after it. What, do I seem to be of middling intelligence, with the emotional sophistication of a third grader? Besides being insulting to your host, it’s wasting the time of the audience. It’s more appropriate to yell out, “I know you are, but what am I?” than something that tedious and lame.  Your desire to flop about and whine, “but I’m confused – I’m confused – enlighten me” is not a claim on anyone else’s attention. What, do you think I’m trying to get you “saved”? I’ve no such interest. I’m trying to save myself. I’m not responsible for your feigned desperation to “better understand”, when it’s a cliche for agitation. And no, I’m not “judging” you, I’m avoiding you, because you’re patently obvious in gimmicks that we’ve all come to know and recognize if we have any sense. Have you read Proverbs? Do you not see all the warnings against being taken in by scams? Next time you think I’m judging you, be consistent – send your money to that Nigerian scam artist who just wants a few hundred to withdraw and split thousands with you. Don’t judge him – take him at his word.

There are probably one or two other reasons. But these will do. This post is offered in the interest of fair play, transparency, and  yes, you can detect it, a bit of weariness with reading the same diatribes, illicit offers, and offers to participate in peeing matches. I don’t pretend to be democratic – this is not an open forum. I don’t pretend to give voice to all ideas – what the hell would I want to do that for? And I don’t mind seeming to be inconsistent, if you’re not paying close enough attention. Just because you don’t see the pattern, doesn’t mean there’s not a formula in play. Not that there’s anything wrong with being idiosyncratic – I’m a person – it’s a personal blog – a site of personal confession – I’m working things out, and I expect inconsistency. It’s a home-made cake, not store-bought off the shelf with anti-caking agents in a cake, of all things!  I’m willing to have it appear that I only let through posts I like or think I can refute. In truth, I’ve not seen any new arguments – it’s not like my people haven’t been doing this sort of thing for a very long time. You’d think most of the likely arguments, we’d have heard centuries ago and already responded to, wouldn’t you? It’s not like we’re an invented religion cooked up out of the Enlightenment and presuming, like an institution, to start from scratch, issuing all kinds of “original” pronouncements.

In a way, wouldn’t you expect a blog operated by an Orthodox person to simply toss away most of the same old arguments we’ve heard a thousand times and answered quite effectively and finally once, a long, long time ago?  Why should I repeat all that – read our fathers, if you want to know. Ibid. I don’t need to “hash through” the same old things. I’ve got  a goal here, and if you’re visiting, and reading, and wanting to comment, comment, but keep in mind that goal. I’m not doing this primarily for you, or to broadcast yet another personal religious philosophy from my own pet pulpit. I’m here trying to work out my salvation. If you want to talk with me about it, talk with me about it, but the heterodox agenda stuff, or the personal cultural agenda of some Orthodox people (conservative imperialism, ethnic cleansing, or whatever it may be) is not really an attractive addition to that discussion.

You know, even the post that attracts the most vitriol – the one on Freemasonry – really is just because someone asked me for documentation, and I happily provided it. That’s a good discussion. But then people came along wanting to say, “Yes, but let’s ignore all that, and let’s ignore in fact everything else you’re saying, and let’s make some new religion together, based on our personal whims.” That’s like some prostitute walking up and saying, “Yeah, I see the ring, but wouldn’t a roll in the hay be a great idea today?” I’m married to my Faith. I’m sorry, but building a tinker-toy religion out of parts that we find lying around is really not going to be a temptation for me; in fact, the very idea is repulsive.

If you’ve got nothing else to say but, “Well, but I don’t want you to be that religion, I want you to just walk away from it and come prancing into mine,” then you’re asking us both to commit apostasy – you by cheapening your Faith, and me by departing from the Rock for something as momentarily bewitching as an e-mail scam. What the hell? Don’t you have any self-respect, or respect for what you’re throwing out there and calling “the truth”? If not, why should I respect it, either? My best friend is of another religion. And the turning point, for me, the moment of detente – easing of tensions, came when we both acknowledged that we’re of different peoples. I can break bread with my friend, because I don’t commune with my friend. We don’t confuse things that are distinct, so respect, love, compassion, these are possible. What you offer, when you say that it’s all the same silt, is none of those things – you offer the very death of respect, the meaninglessness of love, and the irrelevance of compassion.

“I am not what you are, and you are not what I am.”  is just as much an appropriate stake at which to be burned as “I will not renounce the Gospel of Christ.” The goal of this blog is not to continually make that confession, but it comes out in nearly every encounter with encroachment, because,  by god, it’s true. And if it were not true, I would make it true, like Abraham, by coming out of Ur, and taking my family with me. The line between us, makes us human, and allows the possibility of real Faith. The absence of the line, the notion that one thing is as good as another, means that no Faith is real – truly, I weary of posting comments by atheists in religious robes. So, sometimes I don’t. I just don’t. In the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Lastly, I plead technology. Comments are letters to the editor, not to the world. This isn’t a forum, it’s a blog. I publish what I think fits, whether it praises, is antagonistic, or just asks a question. I don’t publish things I think miss the point, especially not if it seems intentional. I don’t publish things, usually, that I think are inflammatory. I don’t publish things it takes too much time, attention, or emotional involvement to respond to. And I don’t publish things I think will cause needless bickering. But I will, at least, tell you, up front, that I’m not publishing them. I don’t send out rejection letters. Your comment either appears or it doesn’t. We’re not the New York Times. But I don’t pretend it’s an open forum, and then treat it as though it isn’t. Can you really ask anything else of me but honesty? If I’m not what you want, go elsewhere. There are other blogs. If you have a comment, I welcome it, if it takes into account where you are. This is my chapel. It’s not a church, it’s a chapel. It’s not the private chamber of my heart, nor my icon corner. It’s my chapel, a little out of the way, but still the door is unlocked most of the time. But if you want to have your Vegas-style wedding here, I might lock the door. I’m trying to be saved here. Leave me in peace, if you don’t want to be around that, or honor it.

To those I’ve offended, I apologize. I have no doubt that I sometimes ignore the worthy, flame the innocent, and promote the obnoxious. If you can’t think of times I’ve done so, I can. I am guilty, and beg your forgiveness, and your prayers, so that I can be saved by them, unworthy as I am.

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Christ and the Feeding Tube

My wife and I have an understanding. Resuscitate, revive, and sustain life as often and as much as possible. Neither of us will accept any prodding to pull the plug, sign DNR orders, or any such thing.

The Good Samaritan (Oil on panel, 32 x 23 cm)
Image via Wikipedia

We do this, not only because we love one another, and want to live together forever, as we shall in paradise, but also for religious reasons. And we know full well there are those who claim it is Orthodox thinking to “let people go”, to refuse to use “artificial” machines and techniques to save or sustain life. And we think many of these people have imbibed deeply of the spirit of the world, and are not espousing Orthodox thought at all. Some, we allow, have simply misunderstood technology and medicine, or have not thought it through. The prevalence of thinking doesn’t indicate good thinking.

Now to sustaining life: What we’re talking about, quite often, in real terms, is food, water, oxygen, etc. So much of removing “life support” is quite literally what it sounds like – it is removing the things needed to support life. In fact, the most common causes of death in this way, are starvation, thirst, and suffocation. Not only are they painful forms of death, but grotesque and violent, however ironically the very technologies being removed are replaced with technologies to make these less painful or less grotesque – more presentable.

But these are the very things that we are bound by Christ to provide for our families, our brethren, indeed those who have need of them. Feed them. Give them Drink. Etc.  “If anyone doesn’t provide for his own, he is worse than an infidel.” and “If one has the world’s goods, and seeing his brother in need shuts his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” “If anyone’s son asks for bread, does he give him a stone?” “I was hungry, and you fed me. I did thirst, and you gave me drink. Therefore…”

You will hear the religious pundits and armchair religious philosophers tell you that technology has extended life beyond what God intended (as though they know what God intended), and that therefore we have to ask “new questions” about when to stop sustaining life. This is gnostic thinking. I won’t expand on that here, but it is, and this is our response:

The questions aren’t new. The ancients dealt with very real issues of the responsibility to sustain life, or to let it expire. Indeed, the early Orthodox established the first convalescent homes for the elderly, not to mention all of their hospices for the homeless, abandoned, and those dying of leprosy and disease. And they fed them, clothed them, and cared for them with whatever means they had. Once you say that we will give this much care, and no more – this much we will sustain your life, but no longer – under these conditions, but not those, you are engaged in a kind of philosophical relativism that has nothing to do with the love demonstrated by the Church. The testimony of the lives of the Saints stands in stark contrast to and repudiation of the decadent, murderous lives of these contemporary religionists. Denying the Saints, they are neither Catholic nor Christian, nor Orthodox and partakers of our holy tradition.

Raising the dead and healing the sick, those who were not of the Faith prompted the apostles to protest to Christ, and Christ told the apostles to let them be – these were doing their good work in Christ’s name. Even greater things would eventually be done in his name. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a similar  example.

And so now to the question of saving life. Left for dead, without care, the Jew would have died, but the Samaritan, the one with love, says Christ, provided care and feeding, sustained and revived him.

Image via Wikipedia

What technology has done is made it possible to do that better, for longer, perhaps more expensively and with more finesse and precision, but it hasn’t changed the questions. Who dares say that Christ needs to come and preach a new gospel, and address the questions that he forgot or couldn’t forsee. Who dares to say they will do this for Christ, with their religious philosophy? Gnostics. Gnostics every one. Denyers of the gospel. Repudiaters of the Incarnation. Blasphemers of the Holy Spirit.

What is “artificial” is their philosophies, their contrived gospels. Medicine, using the tools and techniques at hand, has been around forever. And Christ himself, sanctified the concept of medicine, by himself accepting the attribution “Great Physician.”

Honour a physician with the honour due unto him for the uses which ye may have of him: for the Lord hath created him. For of the most High cometh healing, and he shall receive honour of the king. The skill of the physician shall lift up his head: and in the sight of great men he shall be in admiration. The Lord hath created medicines out of the earth; and he that is wise will not abhor them. Was not the water made sweet with wood, that the virtue thereof might be known? And he hath given men skill, that he might be honoured in his marvellous works. With such doth he heal men, and taketh away their pains. Of such doth the apothecary make a confection; and of his works there is no end; and from him is peace over all the earth, My son, in thy sickness be not negligent: but pray unto the Lord, and he will make thee whole. Leave off from sin, and order thine hands aright, and cleanse thy heart from all wickedness. Give a sweet savour, and a memorial of fine flour; and make a fat offering, as not being. Then give place to the physician, for the Lord hath created him: let him not go from thee, for thou hast need of him. There is a time when in their hands there is good success. For they shall also pray unto the Lord, that he would prosper that, which they give for ease and remedy to prolong life. He that sinneth before his Maker, let him fall into the hand of the physician. – Sirach 38

We hear so often, “for all practical purposes they are dead.” Practical purposes? What does life have to do with practical purposes? And you rail against machines? You’ve just declared that a human life is nothing but a machine.

Did not even the Lord raise one who had died? Was already dead. Was long since dead. He raised him, “Lazarus, come forth!” Indeed, Christ raised all the dead, and when Christ died, the dead rose and walked around and were seen by those who knew them. Christ is the antithesis of these theories of life which are hostile to our history, Faith, and tradition. Christ is the one who goes far beyond the stench of the grave, descending even into Hell to retrieve those who have long since reposed.

Speak against the Lord, Gnostics, if you dare. You repudiate the very one who can save your life, now and forever. But you Orthodox, who are you to decide with the philosophies of the Protestants, the metaphysics of the heretics, who should live and who should die – who is kept alive and cared for too long, and who should be abandoned and their care removed? When you mouth their vanities, you are not my brothers, when I or my wife are sick. Don’t come near our bedside. Stay out of our hospital room. Keep the bony fingers of your heresy from our lives. You are not our brothers; the Samaritan is. Give us the Samaritan. The pagan that saves our lives is the Christian, and the Christian that says, “let them expire” is the pagan, and we will not pray with you.

I have even seen one blasphemer’s “Orthodox” web site that is offering up these “withhold treatment” orders for his congregation and others, as he preaches his vain personal philosophy as though it were the truth. Schemer. Ideologue. There’s one frock in which I cannot find life, one stole under which I cannot find shelter.

Now, I’m not interested in debating this with anyone. Above all else, I see our religion as a religion of life. Did not Christ say as much? God is God of the living. All the enemies of life can offer is religious philosophy – they have no appeal to the one that created life, not recourse to our Holy Tradition that is not polluted with the whispering of others. It is true that some holy men held varieties of opinions on varieties of things. No doubt someone can easily find such an opinion. In the end, I will forgive an opinion, as you must forgive mine.

But if you come near us with your gleaming knife of sacrifice, I will call you “pagan”, which is what you are. Keep away. May God curse the knife that is raised over our living bodies, the testament of his greatness and power. As much as you do not sustain us, you do not sustain Christ. As much as you do not save our lives, you do not save the life of Christ. As much as you withhold treatment from us, you withhold treatment from Christ. And what will the Physician say to you in the Judgment? That you were philosophically right? “Physician, heal thyself!” He has already spoken.

And may God preserve the physician that shows forth the glory of God, with machines, with mixtures, with tubes and tools, with wires and computers, with whatever means he may have. As the Samaritan gave from what means he had, so in the case of my family, give, and you will be rewarded by the Most High God who created us both, who made Heaven and Earth and put it into your hands for this purpose. You are the instrument of the Almighty. Save us, by the prayers of all the Saints.

And even if we babble insanities, “Kill me. Let me go. Starve me. Suffocate me. Abandon me. Go away. It’s my time. I want to die.” What friend hides from his own friend in time of need? What suffering person calls out, “leave me be” that you shrug and leave them be? Who are you? What kind of friends are you? What friend sees his friend on a ledge saying “I don’t want to live,” and thinks, “all right then. To each his own.” If you’re my friend, you will ignore me if I plead for death. You will give me life, because in life is the Spirit of God. Because I get old, you want to abandon me? How is my life less valuable than an infant’s? Who are you to decide which lives have more or less value? Or if I’m unconscious? Is the infant able to tell you his preference for life or death? If you are knocked out, shall I wait until you wake up to ask if you’d like treatment? Try to get around it all you want. Good people, like the Good Samaritan, care for those who are sick and dying. Bad people offer up philosophies over their sick beds.

And to hell with your religious arguments. Christ healed even on the Sabbath. Your argument is with him; you won’t find it here.

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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.

Theological Episteme

“Theological language uses episteme, but cannot reduce itself to it without falling yet again from this world.” – Vladimir Lossky

The Illusion of Concepts

“Yet theological thought can also become a hindrance, and one must avoid indulging in it, abandoning oneself to the feverish illusion of concepts.” – Vladimir Lossky

The East

“God planted the garden in Eden, in the East.” – St. Symeon the New Theologian

God Without Opposite

“God as being, existence itself and goodness itself and wisdom itself – or to speak more truly, above all these – has altogether no opposite…” – St. Maximus the Confessor

Idle Words

“Since an ‘idle word’ is not just one which is unprofitable, but equally one which is spoken or written ‘before we practice it and gain knowledge of it from experience.” – – Anestis Keselopoulos, Man and the Environment (citing St. Symeon, Ethical Discourses)

Material Autonomy

“The oppressive and tyrranical control which man feels from material goods is due to the effort he makes, whether consciously or unconsciously, to make them autonomous from their Creator.”- Anestis Keselopoulos, Man and the Environment

Iconography and Ecology

(of ikons): “The fact that man, as the crown of creation, is always put in the foreground while the rest of creation is arranged as a background, not only shows mand’s dominant position in creation, but also the responsibility he has for rightly coexisting with it properly.”- Anestis Keselopoulos, Man and the Environment


“St. Symeon notes man’s tendency to tyrranize his social and his natural environment.” – Anestis Keselopoulos, Man and the Environment


“The Transfiguration is a consummate affirmation of the worth of the sensible and of matter.”- Anestis Keselopoulos, Man and the Environment


“Every created thing presupposes God’s love.” – Anestis Keselopoulos, Man and the Environment


“The Fall consists in making matter and the world autonomous” – Anestis Keselopoulos, Man and the Environment

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