Here love truly does not seek its own, even if this be the salvation of one’s own soul.
Saint Marie Skobtsova of Paris

«— A Prayer of St. John of Damascus
—» New Additions, Old Poetry

More on Rules

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Sometimes Christians use religious jargon and expect everyone to understand exactly what they are talking about. This is an unrealistic expectation. In my previous post on prayer, I mentioned the traditional practice of keeping a “Rule” of prayer, but I did not elaborate on what a Rule is. Simply stated, it is the practice of praying the same prayers every day, as a discipline. It is said that one prays “according to a rule.”

This evening, after Vespers, I discussed the Rule I have been keeping with my priest. I did this to keep him informed of what I am doing spiritually, and I also wanted his feedback on the wisdom of the Rule I have chosen. Is it too much? Is it too little? As I might have guessed, he was surprised at how much I elected to pray. He exhorted me that it is great if I can do it but reminded me that it is also good to pray less if necessary. As I quoted earlier, it is better to pray a few prayers consistently than to become weary in working good and cease praying altogether.

We also had a very fruitful discussion about the benefits of a Rule of prayer. Father said that when we pray these prayers of the saints regularly, their words become our own, and we begin to remember them at significant moments during the day. Thus, we draw closer to the scriptural ideal of prayer without ceasing. To this, I added that once the Rule becomes a habit, it becomes possible to pray even when we do not feel like praying. When our feelings would persuade us to give up is indeed when we most need to continue to pray.

Orthodox Christians learn to not be bound up with laws and commands and rigor, and they begin to value quality over quantity. Praying “O heavenly king” and the Thrice-holy prayers every morning is more valuable than praying the entire set of morning prayers from the Manual once every two weeks. Keeping a Rule looks different for each person. It is not at all about how much I pray, but that I pray consistently.

Finally, using set, written prayers, while important, should not be understood to exclude other means of prayer, such as contemplative prayer. Contemplating the icons can be a very fruitful means of prayer, and many include contemplation in their Rule. Lectio divina (sacred reading) can also be helpful. Fr. Thomas Hopko has written on lectio somewhere, and the Monks of New Skete devote several pages to it in their book In the Spirit of Happiness. It is the consistency of the Rule that is the beneficial discipline, not the idiosyncracies of how each person structures it.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 12:05 am

«— Avoiding the Fast of Demons
—» More on Rules

A Prayer of St. John of Damascus

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I did not begin my previous post hoping to deliver a homily on keeping a Rule of prayer. I really wanted to share one of the prayers I’ve been contemplating before retiring each evening. I am especially moved every time by this line, “O Lord, whether I wish it or not, do thou save me.”

O master that lovest all men, will not this couch be my grave? Or wilt thou again enlighten my condemned soul with the day? Behold, the grave lieth before me; behold, death standeth before me. Thy Judgment, O Lord, I fear, and the unending torments, yet I cease not from doing evil. O Lord my God, continually I anger thee and thy most pure mother, and all the heavenly powers, and my holy guardian angel. I know indeed, O Lord, that I am not worthy of thy love towards men, but am worthy of every condemnation and torment. But, O Lord, whether I wish it or not, do thou save me. For if thou savest the just, it is nothing great; and if thou hast mercy upon the pure, it is nothing marvellous: for they are worthy of thy mercy. But upon me, a sinner, shew the wonder of thy mercy; in this manifest thy love toward all men, and let not my evil nature overcome thy grace and kindness that cannot be told; and as thou wishest, order my goings aright.

Lighten mine eyes, O Christ my God, that I sleep not in death: lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Be thou the defender of my soul, O God, for I walk through the midst of many snares; deliver me from them and save me, O blessed one, for thou art the lover of all men.

Now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Let us extol with heart and lips incessantly the most glorious divine mother, who is more holy than the holy angels, confessing that she is the Theotokos, for in truth she bare for us God Incarnate, and she prayeth ceaslessly for our souls.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 1:52 am

«— I Am Reepicheep
—» A Prayer of St. John of Damascus

Avoiding the Fast of Demons

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In the weeks preceding Christmas, Orthodox Christians prepare by three ancient traditions of self-denial: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Although it is easy to focus on the fasting, this year I have found myself focusing on prayer. A dear priest I know calls fasting without prayer “the fast of demons, for demons do not eat, but they do not pray, either!”

As the choir director for my parish, I have been exhorted often on the importance of prayer. Our parish priest reminds me that I am teaching my brothers and sisters how to pray in song. The priest to whom I made my first confession in the Orthodox Church warned me sternly, “I will tell you what I tell my altar boys: If you have not said your prayers in the preceding week, you cannot serve in the altar.” I confess that I have not lived up to this high calling. As my logo humbly proclaims, I am a sinner.

In the past, I have said that I do not pray, but that is not entirely true. I have often availed myself of momentary ejaculations invoking the name of God, Christ, his mother, and the saints. Like Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, I have tried to keep the remembrance of God. I hesitate to mention it, but I have been mostly faithful in blessing my food (if not always offering thanksgiving after receiving it). I have at times offered extemporaneous prayers for specific needs, and I have been learning the prayers of preparation and thanksgiving for holy communion.

So you can see that my problem is not entirely that I do not pray. It is that I do not pray with discipline. During this year’s Christmas fast, I have been concentrating on keeping a Rule of prayer. True to my nature as a bookworm and amateur liturgist, I have taken my Rule from the 1945 Manual originally published in Britain by the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius. It is not the entire set of morning and evening prayers; I have selected certain prayers so that I do not grow weary too quickly. I hope eventually to keep most of the entire Rule. As the rubrics in the Manual state so compassionately for morning prayers, “If the time at disposal is short, and the need to begin work is pressing, it is preferable to say only a few of the suggested prayers, with attention and zeal, rather than to recite them all in haste and without due concentration.”

If this seems proud, remember that I have only been trying to keep this rule for a short time. I kept a Rule once for three straight months. I was so impressed with myself! Three months! Longer than I had ever before kept any prayer discipline. Then, something broke and I stopped completely. My present attempt has not even been two weeks. We shall see if my hubris will submit to God enough to allow me to keep it more permanently. Don’t hold your breath. I’m a sinner, remember?

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Filed under: — Basil @ 1:35 am

«— Papal Infallibility
—» Avoiding the Fast of Demons

I Am Reepicheep

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I really dig Internet quizes. Especially ones that pretend to discern my personality type according to some cultural icon. Like this quiz which determines which book of the Chronicles of Narnia you are. It was actually a pretty facile quiz to twist to be my favorite book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Fortunately, when I went back and took it “seriously” I got the same results!

If you feel a stabbing pain like a needle in your arm, that’s me, lancing you with my sword.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 12:06 am

«— You Killed Kenny!
—» I Am Reepicheep

Papal Infallibility

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James relates a conversation with Chris and Heather about papal infallibility. Evidently, Chris quoted me as saying that papal infallibility had only really been invoked twice. James disagrees. I am sure that I did say this. Boy, all that Roman stuff gets foggy. But, I still feel the need to bring clarity to discusssions of Roman Catholicism.

First of all, James is partly right: Ordinatio Sacerdotalis has been declared infallible by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect for the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith. Within Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, his holiness Pope John Paul II calls on the unbroken witness of the church, affirms that he is speaking on a matter of faith and morals, and invokes the authority of the chair of St. Peter (i.e., he is speaking ex cathedra). These are the requirements set down by the First Vatican Council for a papal declaration to be infallible. Thus, for most thinking Roman Catholics, this and Cardinal Ratzinger’s affirmation together make it fairly clear that this document is indeed infallible.

As an aside, I find it interesting that the Pope himself did not explicitly invoke infallibility, which was done in the case of the definitions of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, if I recall correctly. It may be that the philosophical background of the Pope is peeking through his papal authority, and he is uncomfortable invoking infallibility with regard to his own encyclicals, preferring instead to let the Church — with the full weight of that word as reaffirmed by Vatican II to include all of the people of God — affirm whether it is indeed infallible.

When I mentioned the two number — which I vaguely remember doing — I was probably thinking that only the encyclicals defining the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption explicitly invoked papal infallibility.

After reading James’ blog, I researched further the arguments for infallibility in Humanae Vitae, the much-discussed encylical on human life and specifically forbidding the use of artificial contraception. I found an interesting discussion of it, which concludes that it does indeed meet the criteria of infallibility. However, the Lerinian doctrine of “universality, antiquity, and consent” is the foundation of papal infallibity, and absolutely necessary for any supposedly infallible statement is to be accepted as such by the hoi polloi. For me, the jury is still out on that one. Need to do more research in the Fathers. Some Orthodox priests — most with far more experience reading the Fathers than I — say No.

In any case, the two number is overly simplistic, but it is still the standard teaching in RCIA, the Roman Catholic catechism for adults. I am, of course, well aware that the issues are far more complicated than that. Being a philosopher and a “theological retard,” as Bert (Athanasius) so eloquently puts it, make it impossible for me to see — or say — anything simply.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 2:39 am

«— Chatting
—» Papal Infallibility

You Killed Kenny!

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Close friend and fellow churchman — well, he’s still a catechumen, but I’ll forego my usual pedantry — Chris Davis has provided a South Park–esque rendering of himself. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mac Guru.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 1:21 am

«— O Frabjous Day!
—» You Killed Kenny!

Chatting

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I like IRC. IRC has been around much longer than the “chat rooms” of AOL. In fact, many web-based chat rooms are nothing more than IRC channels with a CGI frontend. Recently, IRC has been making something of a comeback, due in part to its strong role in development by hackers. An especially strong example of this is #mozilla on irc.mozilla.org. More on IRC (clients, how to get started, finding channels that interest you) in a later post.

Today, I’m working in BFE, Kentucky, doing .gov work. Hush, hush. :-)

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Filed under: — Basil @ 5:45 am