orthodox

Responding to Accusations

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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.

monk
Image by shioshvili via Flickr

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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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.

Types
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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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The Eschatology of Food

We just finished the Dormition Fast. As one writer said in The Dawn, our Matriarch was on her bed of repose, and so the whole family ceased its celebration and stayed by her side. Theotokos, save, by thy prayers.

I’m interested in the eschatological aspects of fasting. I see fasting, and the life of the monks, who don’t touch meat, as a foretelling of the end of Death. What the quasi-Darwinists hold is what we Orthodox must reject (you don’t have to “believe in evolution” to accept the basic assumptions of the Darwinists) – namely, that Death is natural – that it’s a normal condition of the natural order. We repudiate this. There is no middle ground. Death is an attack on man and the created order. It has entered the natural order as an invader, and is therefore a negation of the normal (nor do we confuse, conflate, and substitute the concepts of “natural” with “normal” as do the Darwinists).

And so our eating of meat is made possible only through Death, a thing which is passing away, a thing over which we live to triumph and die to defeat. When we fast from flesh, just as the monks always do, those who go before us on the path, we recall that “every green thing” was given to us in Eden, but that we are no longer the veegans we were – because of Death, and we foretell the fulfillment of the Kingdom, in which the “lion will lie down with the lamb, and a little child will lead them” and neither will there be any more Death or sorrow. We look to a heaven in which the enmity between creatures is replaced with the reign of peace. The alienation, the fragmentation, that is Death itself, is replaced with life that destroys Death.

So often, the cultural religious response is suspicious of Veeganism and Vegetarianism, and reaches quickly for heterodox hermeutics and the first council in the New Testament, in which nothing is forbidden to eat except strangled things and blood and (elsewhere), in the advice of the Apostle, things sacrificed to idols. But this is to miss the point, and indeed to Protestantize our thinking, using one point over against another, as though ours is a religion of proof texts and a debate over contradictions – a faith in this not that – either/or rather than both/and.

It’s like talking about fasting at all: “Are you judging your brother? Are you prideful about your fasting? Love is more important than fasting.” One cannot answer these attitudes, because they’re formulated on a Protestant mentality in the first place. A religious psychology predicated on hashing out dialectical conflicts. When one even begins to question our consumption of meat, the immense suffering – both human and animal – brought about my the meat processing industry, etc. – it’s immediately treated as suspect. So be it. But the Orthodox response is ultimately a destruction of death and, yes, a taking away of that hamburger and that pepperoni pizza. What is permitted during the feasts is with equal truth and fervor forbidden during the fasts, and moreso will be extinguished and nonexistent in the fulness of the Kingdom. If we cannot take full stock of that truth, the problem is in our own prejudices, and not in the Faith or in those who articulate it. The Incarnation itself is null without the end of Death, so it is the very Faith itself that is vain if this is not true.

No, we don’t go around pointing fingers, but neither is it necessarily an expression of pride, arrogance, or judgment to be veegan – and to be veegan precisely as a piety – as a devotion – as an expression of Faith. “Keep quiet about it, then,” we are told. No. The same people who say this are busy writing articles on all kinds of topics – how can they say this one is forbidden, and on what basis? On the contrary, if we can’t have a free and open discussion on it, then perhaps that very religious psychology – the very “piety” being suggested – is itself an even more important topic for conversation, and this issue is just a catalyst, a useful example, for bringing it to light.

Anthony Campolo once said, “My theology is best expressed in elevators.” By which he meant that, contrary to the demands and assumptions of the dominant social order, he wouldn’t turn, and he would also sing on elevators, which you’re not supposed to do (people don’t get on, when the doors open). This kind of mundane warfare with the world is simply the every day expression of our all out campaign against the world system – the ascendant societal framework. It’s the Ghandi-esque expression of small, continual acts of repudiation, rejection, and rebellion in the face of an all-consuming overriding social system. It is the brief ignition of joy in the darkness of the way things supposedly are.

In the same way, I like to challenge the social order’s assumptions about meat, in small continual doses. I live in a part of the country in which it’s just not considered a meal w/o copious portions of carcass. Vegetables are, at best, a garnish. Animal products constitute the primary fare, and ridicule of vegetarians and religious vehemence about “liberty in Christ” and privacy in fasting (which means, typically, not fasting at all), is generally a cover for decadent gluttony – the kind of gluttony that causes immense health problems, not to mention pain and discomfort waddling away from the table (irrational, almost insane gluttony). I’m a flexitarian – which means sometimes I’m veegan, sometimes vegetarian, and sometimes I eat hamburgers – it’s a long story, but it’s part of an ongoing process. Often, I’ll order toast and eggs at local diners. I almost always get a bewildered query from the waitress, “No meat?!?” And I always have the same response: “Eggs *are* meat.” Usually I get a moment of hesitation and thought and a “Hmm. Guess so.”, but it can range anywhere from a hrrmph to laughter. The point is that we need to question the assumptions we’ve absorbed with our mother’s milk and taken from the very air of the world into which we were born. And one of those key assumptions is that Death is a given – it’s a normal, natural, native part of the created order – and our lives aren’t complete without depending on the death of others. There are implications for attitudes about war, capital punishment, abortion, and what have you. Food is just an entry point.

The thing is, being afraid to talk about it, or ask these questions, or keep the topic open, or think about it – think through the implications of our doctrines, and our relation to the assumptions embedded in the culture’s behavior, attitudes, and ideas, is itself a non-Christian attitude. An anti-Christian one, in fact. And if we can’t do it about food, we can’t effectively do it about money, about human relationships, about work, or about any other significant area of human endeavour. Food is a crucible issue for us, which is one of the reasons we fast. It’s that important, it’s a capsulized representation of our religious attitudes about creation, the world, the Incarnation, and all else that we consider a matter of Orthodox interest.

So frankly, here’s talking about it.

Being frustrated with our Brethren

Response to a Friend:

Don’t be discouraged by your fellow Orthodox. Think as highly of them as you can manage. Whenever you have faith, it attracts religion. With religion, you get a spectrum, with the libertines on one end, those who prefer infinite diversity but don’t really care about the Faith at all – they’re just taking up space and purifying it of everyone else, and the jailers on the other end, those who care about absolute homogeneity but don’t really care about people at all – they’re just holding their own and purifying it for everyone else. But neither of those tendencies is really what we mean when we’re talking about Orthodoxy. Sure, they may be Orthodox, but so are a host of people who were merely born into it, and spend the rest of their time selling it out. The Faith is not the collective of what all Orthodox believe; rather, it’s the duty and priviledge of the Orthodox to learn and adhere to the Faith, and to transform it into reality in our lives by deification. There are still those Orthodox who cling to the Faith when it’s opposed by religiosity; I know lots of them. You can hang out with one religious camp for the freedom (but you’ll give up the substance) – you lose the “believe” in “I believe”; you can hang out with the other for the tradition – the Faith itself (but you’ll lose your sense of self – the “I” in “I believe”). Or, you can find the place that admits both kinds of religious people, but doesn’t give them a way to take over. That’s what I’ve done; It’s not perfect, but neither am I.

On the adage your brethren throw at you that something is “merely human”: I like to ask them what they have against humans? Christ became human, and that’s the mystery of our salvation. I’m merely following in his footsteps, He who Alone can enable me to become fully human, and also deified. In fact, it is in Christ’s humanity that ALL creation is deified, for he is the Recapitulation of all categories proper to human beings, and therefore all categories proper to all creation, and therefore the Creation groans and cries out for the Revelation of the human beings – the sons of God – the deified ones. If what I do can only be called human, I will have achieved all I can achieve.

I don’t see them swearing off money and all possessions; they still gas up and go to the store. When they’re wearing the only habit they own, then I’ll consider what they’ve said. The monks are far more reasonable than the people you’re dealing with. That’s because, again, it’s Faith not religion. The monks are the center of our Faith; without them, we can’t understand anything. The ultra-correct jailers are merely being religious, and if you follow them, you can’t understand anything either. The Desert is a friend – to us, not to the Death in us, which it will carve out, and even we lay-ascetics who are not monastics, must cross into the Desert with help, with an appropriate guide, when we can and are permitted. By contrast, the religious offer either a night in Vegas or a night in the penitentiary. It’s neither the Desert nor the Font of Paradise they really offer.

So guard your soul, forgive those who wrong you, consider those who oppose you better than yourself, do not pay attention to your own acts of goodness or you will have already lost them and become a Pharisee, and remember that Orthodoxy is not a belief system; it’s an asceticism. It cannot be defined, only lived. You’ll hear that from people offering it as the justification for libertinism, or as the “correct” doctrine of the jailers, but ultimately you must find it as an experience of continual warfare with the passions and with the world, from which there is no reprieve – no going home and not fighting – and no quick end. Life is war, in this regard. Not war on our ‘wayward’ brethren, and not a matter of setting the infidel straight, but the conquest of self, the last and greatest warfare. And by this, we will overcome the Evil One, and Paradise, which is opened to us, will call out our true names.

Adjectives as Idols

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear of Judgment is Wisdom's Beginning

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

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

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

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

Fasting and Alms

A brother said to an old man: “There are two brothers. One of them stays in his cell quietly, fasting for six days at a time, and imposing on himself a good deal of discipline, and the other serves the sick. Which one of them is more acceptable to God?” The old man replied: “Even if the brother who fasts six days were to hang himself up by the nose, he could not equal the one who serves the sick.”

Humility

“I prefer a sinful person, who knows his faults and is humbled, over a self-complacent person of virtue.” – Abba Sarmatias

Ensure an immediate Hearing

“Do you wish God to hear your prayer immediately, brother? When you lift your hands up to heaven, pray first of all, with your heart, for your enemies and God will grant you speedily whatever else you request.” – Abba Zenon

The Union of All Creation

How imperfect the union of all men, that we pray for in the litanies.

Death, the fragmentation that sunders body and soul, that divides the soul (setting mind, will, and emotion at odds) also divides us from all men.

The first criminal psychologists were called Alienists, because they believed that behavior which alienates men from each other stems from an inner alienation from the self.

Death at work in my members. Death, the universal foe and inheritance from Adam.

Wherever there is sickness, it is death. Wherever hurt or want. Wherever frustration or deprivation. Wherever pain and suffering.

All these things in the world come from this one disease, spread even to creation, alienating man from environment, and all creatures from each other – caught as they are now in the struggle of the jungle – killing or being killed or starving, so that all creation groans, waiting for the full revelation of our triumph, the fullness of victory, the taking by persons of what is won by nature. As scripture puts it, “the revelation of the sons of God” to the world.

And then, beloved, the lion will lie down with the lamb, and a little child shall lead them. We shall all be restored to ourselves and each other. We shall be whole, and neither shall there be known any more sickness, or sorrow, or sighing, or hunger, or hatred, and neither shall man make war.

It is coming, my brother, my sister. Until then, how imperfect this union. And yet, we shall persevere until then, by Christ who has redeemed our nature from the grave, and makes possible the union of each person with him. What they could not do at Babel, Christ has done in his own person, through the Theotokos.

Excess

“All excesses are products of the devil.” – a desert father

The Purpose of the Pieties

“When the mind forgets the purpose of piety, then visible works of virtue become useless.” –  St. Mark the Ascetic