Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
Benjamin Franklin

«— St. Theophan on Prayer
—» Necessary Confession

We Stole How Much From You?

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I just received my Kentucky State Income Tax Return back from the idiots in Frankfort. The terse note told me that they could not verify that they had indeed stolen everything that my employers told me they had. I have to prove that they indeed are in possession of nearly $800 of my money.

You cannot run the government; you cannot balance a budget. You cannot even keep track of how much money you have taken from me! It is days like this that I so wish the Libertarians could get some momentum in the polls.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 12:11 pm

«— Many Years, Part II
—» We Stole How Much From You?

St. Theophan on Prayer

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“Every prayer must come from the heart, and any other prayer is no prayer at all. Prayer-book prayers, your own prayers, and very short prayers, all must issue forth from the heart to God, seen before you. And still more must this be so with the Jesus prayer.

This little gem is from the book, The Art of Prayer, by Hegumen Chariton of Valaam. In it, Abba Chariton has collected various texts in his prayer journal on the prayer of the heart, with extensive emphasis on the spirituality of the Jesus prayer. Since prayer is perhaps my weakest point, surpassed only by my weak and feeble love for God and the Lord Jesus, I have endeavored to read this book and take its advice to heart. It is highly recommended. It includes texts from St. Isaac the Syrian, St. Theophan the Recluse, and Bishop Ignatii Brianchianinov, the desert fathers, and many others.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 10:06 pm

«— Many Years!
—» St. Theophan on Prayer

Many Years, Part II

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Also on this day sixty-one years ago, my mother was born. Many years to you, Mom! Thank you for all that you have done over the past thirty years to form me into the man I am today. You can take responsibility for all the successes; I’ll take the flack for the failures. :-*

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Filed under: — Basil @ 11:08 am

«— Lettuce, Pray to the Lord!
—» Many Years, Part II

Many Years!

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Today, twenty-six or so years ago, a great and mighty force was unleashed upon the world, and we do not yet see the entire ramifications of this amazing revelation. Happy birthday to Christopher (Dmitri) Davis, and happy St. Demetrius day. May the prayers of the holy and venerable Demetrius the Wonderworker of Murom be with you, and may God grant you many years!

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Filed under: — Basil @ 10:53 am

«— Fix It!
—» Many Years!

Lettuce, Pray to the Lord!

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At this very moment, I am working in the Music department of Joseph-Beth Booksellers. For nearly forty minutes now, my brothers and sisters at St. Athanasius Orthodox Mission have been singing Vespers, one of evening prayer offices of the Orthodox Church. (Actually, they’re probably done by now.)

Up until today, I would have been there with them, directing the choir. Yesterday, I began working full-time again at JBB, and my schedule calls for working until eight in the evening on Wednesdays. That makes me sad indeed.

Chris Naughton gives a sense of what missing prayers is like. Of course, I also have the added problem that I’m addicted to the forms of religion. So this “fast,” as it were, is both good and bad for me.

To my brothers and sisters at St. Athanasius, my prayers are with you.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 7:58 pm

«— Who is Jesus, Anyway?
—» Lettuce, Pray to the Lord!

Fix It!

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Yo, Bishop! Fix your comments!

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Filed under: — Basil @ 7:29 pm

«— Misnomer
—» Fix It!

Who is Jesus, Anyway?

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This quote, on Dmitri’s blog, is the perspective of most modern Christians:

What’s problematic with any Christian religion is when that denomenation or sect believe that their faith is superior to others. The very fact that you would even toy with the idea that your friends and loved-ones, whom you’ve known your entire lives, are living the life of heretics is truly upsetting.

Which is essentially this position:

What’s problematic with any …religion is when [they] believe that their faith is superior to others. The very fact that you would even toy with the idea that your friends and loved-ones, whom you’ve known your entire lives, are living the life of heretics is truly upsetting.

Modern Christians typically believe this because,

The schisms of the church have been around since the time of the 1st Apostles.

True enough. The first controversy arose over circumcision. Further on, Gnostics and Docetists denied the Incarnation.

Paul had to call out Peter on some things . . . I don’t understand why we can’t just believe in one thing and realize that everything else is tertiary.

Indeed, there was much controversy in the first century church. However, the controversy between Peter and Paul over the Gentiles did not divide them. They remained in communion with one another in the church.

Which one thing is it that we believe? That God is One? That God is a Trinity? That Jesus is the Son of God? That Jesus is God? That the Holy Spirit is God? That the Church is the body of Christ? That the Eucharist is Christ’s body and blood truly present to us? That Mary bore God in her womb and is therefore Theotokos and Mater Theou? That images of Christ and his saints are a necessary part of Christian worship?

These are all one thing for the Orthodox. Is that the one thing that we hold in common? Even to agree on all of those statements, what does it mean to say that Jesus is the Son of God? Is the Word of God uncreated or created at a point in time? It is never about “one thing.”

Long before I was Orthodox, I had many arguments with my classmates about whether these things were important or not. My point, and the point of traditional Christianity, is that the councils of the Church are necessary to give us that “core” that so many Christians, who have forgotten what it means to hold “the faith of our fathers,” take for granted.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 9:20 pm

«— Mosquito Coast
—» Who is Jesus, Anyway?

Misnomer

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This is sort of like The 10 Things I Hate about You, except it’s about a bookstore instead of a shrew.

A post about Family Christian Bookstore on Dmitri’s blog is what got it all going downhill. I have hated that store for many years, long before I was Orthodox. Here’s why:

  • They claim to be Christian, but they service a very small subset of that religion. They have no crucifixes, no icons, no Catholic bibles, no catechisms, no Books of Common Prayer, no prayerbooks at all except for clergy. They do not have Catholic or Anglican writers, with the exception of C. S. Lewis. They do not carry G. K. Chesterton, Thomas Merton, Kathleen Norris, Henri Nouwen. They do not carry books on contemplative prayer, lectio divina, or praying the Rosary. Their most thought-provoking books on theology are by Reformed writers like R. C. Sproul. They do not carry Peter Kreeft, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Romano Guardini, Marcus Borg, John Shelby Spong, or Mircea Eliade. They have a very narrow view of what counts for Christian.
  • They only carry fiction by Christian Booksellers Association–approved publishers. They have no Madeleine L’Engel, Walker Percy, Frederick Buechner, J. R. R. Tolkein or Frank Schaeffer. All fiction is whitewashed, containing only Sunday School words and nice Christian messages. If it makes you think, you will not find it here.
  • Trinkets, figurines, folk art, and kitsch a la Thomas Kinkade abound. Lots of pastels, pinks, powder blues drape the walls. There are several paintings designed to squeeze some tears out, but nothing that makes a man proud to be a Christian. There is no real soul-searing art here. No Rouault prints, no Grünewald, no Raphael, no Holbein. Sure, there’s that one detail of Jesus’ head by Rembrandt. Ooh! But Ed Knippers? He has naked people, for Gosh sakes!
  • They are owned by the parent company of Wal-Mart. When push comes to shove, it is not Christ but mammon that determines shelf space.

As you can see, my dislike for Family Christian Bookstores has almost nothing at all to do with being Orthodox. However, it would be nice to walk into a bookstore that calls itself Christian and find at least one shelf devoted to Orthodoxy. Joseph-Beth has not even one eighth the number of Christian books carried by Family Christian Bookstore, but they at least have one shelf for Orthodoxy!

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Filed under: — Basil @ 4:43 pm

«— Heresy: Material and Formal
—» Misnomer

Mosquito Coast

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I have never had the pleasure of meeting an expatriate.

I imagine that there are both good and bad reasons for being an expatriate. Expatriation can mean simply living abroad, but sometimes it involves renouncing allegiance to patria — the land of one’s fathers. People have be at the very end of their tolerance to renounce their citizenship. They are usually angry in some sense.

I am an expatriate of sorts. I have renounced my allegiance to the religion of my birth. There are things about my former religion that make me angry, and I can sometimes be less than loving when I talk about it. I am sorry for this.

And yet, in a sense, I have not renounced my old religion; I have found its fulfillment. During my studies at a Christian liberal arts college, I deeply examined my faith. I removed beliefs which are inconsistent with the “core” doctrines. Most Protestants would consider these open to a believer’s personal opinion.

But my pilgrimage has not been one of pursuing my own ideas of what is true. These beliefs have been replaced with teachings that the Christian East considers essential and necessarily implied by those “core” doctrines. In other words, slowly my entire worldview shifted from a patchwork of beliefs to a single tapestry of faith. I accept the entire thing because I accept the authority of its weavers.

Because of this necessity, this “just so-ness” of Eastern Christian doctrine, it is easy to forget how arrogant traditional Christianity looks to Christians raised in the post-Reformation West, especially Christians who have inherited the Reformer’s religion. And, because of my anger over being abused and emotionally manipulated by people who did not know any better, it is easy to come across as judgmental and hateful.

An expatriate is often a poor example both of his former country and of his new country. All I can say is, “I’m sorry.”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 3:38 pm

«— The Matrix: Gnostic or Monastic?
—» Mosquito Coast

Heresy: Material and Formal

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Dmitri’s been stirring up muddy waters talking about heresy. In the old days, the EOC catechism by Randall Evans borrowed from the Roman Catholic tradition in distinguishing between formal heresy and material heresy. I still find this distinction useful, and especially important in the pluralism of contemporary American Christianity.

EWTN has a definition of heresy, apostasy and schism, and it notes the distinction between material and formal species of each. Essentially, material heretics hold heretical beliefs but only as a result of being raised that way. They have never been taught what is true, and they could not have come by the knowledge except through the Church, because it is Christian revelation. In other words, they do not know any better. Formal heretics once knew better, and then willfully accepted false teachings.

As you can see, the same distinctions can apply to schismatics, as well.

It is very important to understand this distinction. However, perhaps more important is to understand, as Scottish mentioned, the extremely negative connotations surrounding the word. It’s like shouting, “N——!” in a crowded Harlem theater.

I’m just waxing pontifical here, so take my hot air for whatever you think it’s worth. Perhaps the only safe place to talk about heresy, calling it what it is, in the context of the Church. In catechism, people are already aware that what they’ve known previously isn’t working. Even in inquirer’s class, people might not be so receptive to being told they’re heretics, true or not.

As Peter Parker likes to say, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 3:12 pm

«— Pet Peeves
—» Heresy: Material and Formal

The Matrix: Gnostic or Monastic?

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In a recent article entitled, “The Desert of the Real?” Frederica Mathewes-Green makes some excellent points about 1999’s The Matrix. The article appears on both Christianity Today and on Khouria Frederica’s Frederica-l mailing list archive.

Khouria’s main dissatisfaction with the film is that it seems to espouse a Hindu-Buddhist (or possibly Gnostic) worldview: what is apparent is unreal, a deception. This was indeed my initial reaction to the film, as well. I am quick to sniff out Gnosticism, Docetism, Hinduism and Buddhism because I believe physical reality is so good. Khouria extends this basic criticism to point out that Beauty appears to be held up to contempt in The Matrix. However, I think that another interpretation, drawn from the Christian East, is possible.

The important element of the false reality in The Matrix is that we are asleep. All of our life, as the nursery rhyme goes, “is but a dream.” The whole point about the apparent world in The Matrix is that it is a dream. The desert fathers teach that we have become lulled asleep by our sins. We are asleep to sin, and all of our life in the world is one of passion — that is, we have become passive to sin, so that the temptations of our mortal flesh control us completely. We are passive to these temptations, offering no resistance. That is why the monastic tradition of the Christian East calls them passions. (Incidentally, this is related but not the same as being passionate about something; rightly understanding the use of passio in the fathers leads to a better understanding of the role of emotion in daily life. More on that some other time.)

Further, by being passive to sin, we are whipped and prodded along by the demonic forces that the Apostle Paul calls the “principalities and powers of this present darkness.” By being controlled by our passions, we are in fact making ourselves open to control by these forces that are the rulers of the world.

The parallel, in the film, is that humans are asleep, controlled by sentient, artificially intelligent machines. While some machines are at work in the world under the appearance of humans, in the “real” world, they are insectoid creatures visually designed to invoke visceral terror in the viewer. They parallel the demons in desert literature.

What is the answer to this? In the praxis of the desert fathers, renouncing the fleeting pleasures of this world, and embracing God alone. This renunciation takes the form of fleeing to the desert of our spiritual work, our ascesis. By renouncing the pleasures of the world, we refuse to be any longer the bond-slaves of sin. We teach ourselves to find our only pleasure in ever-deepening communion with God.

In the film, God seems to be absent. In this sense, Khouria’s critique of The Matrix as Buddhist seems to be correct. But, because The Matrix is not some kind of domatic propaganda, it evades any kind of this for that significance. In other words, this is not some Billy Graham movie for Gnostics or Buddhists. It is full of symbols, not easily decoded signs.

Khouria interprets Morpheus to be a St. John the Forerunner figure, but he could as easily be interpreted as a God the Father figure. It is in embracing the truth revealed by Morpheus that one breaks out of the Matrix. Even though Neo is “The One,” he is still subject to Morpheus — although this may be completely different in the upcoming second and third installments.

Morpheus can also be interpreted as the prophet of the Zion mainframe. This also fits in with his role as the dispenser of saving revelation. Zion, indeed, is the unseen place of longing; it is simultaneously home, and the goal of the striving for our protagonists. Zion will probably be seen in the upcoming sequels. Perhaps it will be a secret cache of beauty in “the desert of the real.” It is worth noting that human sinfulness has created the bleak devastation in the real world. Not at all off-track from Judeo-Christian belief on the subject.

It seems to me that the “desert of the real,” then, is best interpreted in terms of the desert patericon, where it is the illusory pleasures of the flesh, and not true Beauty, that is to be renounced.

I do not believe that the Wachowskis are religious. I have read that they intentionally borrowed many religious images from various traditions to give a religious feel to the film. I am not arguing that the Matrix is a pseudo-gospel or anything so absurd. Rather, it seems that the Matrix taps in to some deeper symbolism — similar to the themes in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces — that admit of several different interpretations. Further, the popularity of The Matrix with my generation, and of Star Wars with the previous generation, indicates a longing for that deeper, mythical meaning that underlies all cultures. Christians believe this longing in any culture only finds fulfillment in the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.

Why interpret The Matrix in a way that excludes people from the Gospel? Bring them in by every means available.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 4:56 pm

«— General Housekeeping
—» The Matrix: Gnostic or Monastic?

Pet Peeves

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<soapbox>It really bothers me when web page writers do not link to the article they talk about. I read two different authors talk about the same article, and I have spent the last 2 hours tracking it down. It even exists in two different places. Since it’s so recent, though, it doesn’t show up on the search engines. Only now do I know what these two authors were really talking about, and only now can I really respond and take part in the conversation. By being lazy (or ignorant of how to write for the web), they have wasted two hours of my time. That’s almost as bad as setting an appointment with me and making me wait while you eat lunch somewhere else, then show up two hours late. It is rude and disrespectful. It’s the web, folks. It’s made for linking.</soapbox>

I would link to the culprits, or mention them by name, but that would only be hurtful.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 3:05 pm

«— Well, Would You Look at That!
—» Pet Peeves

General Housekeeping

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Readers of Tom Clancy (like Father D.) will know that a ragged financial background means, “No top-secret soup for you!” Well, I’ve been praying that God’s will would be done, and that he would close doors that were not meant to be open. C’est la vie.

I have also enabled comments. It’s an experiment. We’ll see how it works.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 3:53 pm

«— A Vocation
—» General Housekeeping

Well, Would You Look at That!

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a church photographed from the street

Our mother church, St. John the Forerunner parish (formerly Holy Trinity, EOC), Indianapolis, IN, is today featured on the Orthodox Church in America home page. Cool.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 2:51 pm

«— Athanasius contra mundum
—» Well, Would You Look at That!

A Vocation

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Recently, Katie at SoJoyful.com blogged about the undercurrent of expectation in Orthodox churches that priest’s daughters will become matushki, priest’s wives. While I will leave alone for the moment the question of the validity of such an expectation, or the correlating expectation of priest’s sons to become priests, something about her words have been a burr under my saddle since then. So, before I start bucking and throw my rider off, I thought I would muse a little about the vocation of the priesthood. Of course, the musings of an Orthodox layman about the priesthood should be taken as seriously as the musings of a patient about being a doctor.

These musings are not a response to Katie, more of an improvisation on a similar theme.

The priesthood is a vocation. No man pursues the priesthood like some ordinary career. In fact, many pursue the priesthood as one pursues the plague. This even leads some priests to believe that seeking after the priesthood is itself a sign that the man seeking it is probaby not ready yet. Since I’m still a patient, and not even in med school yet, I’m not really qualified to make a diagnosis about this, but I’m not sure I buy that belief yet. However, a man who seeks the priesthood for glory or honor or respect really should become a doctor instead. As a doctor, he’ll actually find what he seeks, and he is only responsible for bodies and not for souls.

The potential priest who is seeking a wife should be seeking a partner in ministry. A man and a woman who are married and seeking the priesthood should approach the ministry as a team, if possible. Even the most softspoken matushka brings gifts to her husband’s ministry that are indispensible. In my discussions with priests and matushki, these decisions are always made together. Moreover, a bishop will often consult with the matushka to be before making a decision about ordaining her husband to the priesthood.

Every priest and his wife are going to approach their ministry differently. It will mean sacrifices on both sides. However, it also means that both need to take care to protect themselves against abuse and misuse by those in need. They need to take care that they and their children and the rectory are not trampled upon by the wounded people they care for. Archpriest John and Lyn Breck are excellent teachers and models of behavior for priests and their wives.

I hope my musings are holy and acceptable and not overweening or pompous. Though I am only a layman, I can say that I am at least interested in the priesthood. When I think of the possibility of being a married priest, I usually feel like Prophet Jonah — running from my true vocation. That’s a sense that I’ve been coming to terms with for nearly ten years now. (Yes, since before I was Orthodox, for those keeping score at home.) Anyway, that’s probably a blog for another day.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 10:02 pm