December 30, 2003
December 29, 2003
Seasonal Reflection, part III
Jesus, when informed that his mother and other family members wished to speak with him, said, “Who are my mother and my brothers? …Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mk 3.33,35 NJB) There was a time when we interpreted this passage to negate the veneration of the Virgin Mary. We even used this verse to deny that she is properly called Mother of God, but this denial necessarily denies that Jesus Christ is fully God and man from the first moment of his conception in Mary’s womb. This dogma reveals her to be Theotokos — Birth-giver, Bearer, or Mother of God (cf. Lk 1.43) — and it was affirmed by the universal Church at the Council of Ephesus in 431 ad. We wished so fervently to correct the errors we perceived in the Marian devotions of Rome that we ended up denying our own salvation.
This is the time of year when we used to drag Mary out of the closet for our once a year Christmas pageant. Maybe our pastor would preach his one sermon about her and perhaps even chastise us for ignoring her. I’ve heard this one sermon about Mary perhaps five to ten times in my life. Cover stories in recent issues of Christianity Today and Good News are dedicated to this topic, and they hit most of the high points of this one Protestant Marian sermon:
- Mary is necessary to orthodox, evangelical teaching
- The Catholics were wrong, but we’ve overcompensated.
- The Catholics are still wrong, and we don’t want to be Catholics
- We’ve short-changed Mary and we need to fix that
I deeply respect each preacher delivering this sermon for having the courage to stand up for Jesus’ mother — and by implication his full humanity. However, the unifying thread of each version of this sermon is that we have not given Mary her due; we ignore her, and we should not. We violate the Scripture that “all generations will call [her] blessed.” (Lk 1.48b NJB) Yet, this cry seems not to be heard in Protestantism itself. We do not find increasing attention being given to Mary within the bounds of Protestantism, though the earliest reformers held the classical view of her. Therefore, those with ears to hear the plea leave their Protestant fellowships and find churches — either Roman or Eastern — that do indeed give the Virgin Mary the place she has classically held in Christian faith.
So, what does our Lord mean in this verse? Some novel interpretations conjoin it to another enigmatic verse which declares, “Leave the dead to bury their dead.” (Mt 8.22 NJB) Those holding this view thereby fantasize that God violates his own commandment, believing that he dishonors his own mother. Seen this way, the proposition is absurd. Rather, classical Christianity sees in this saying of Jesus a reproof of perverted familial piety. Christ denies that family relations hold court when they are divorced from all of the other precepts delivered to us from God, divorced from the demand on the conscience made by Truth, especially by the Christian faith. What might this look like? The Godfather gives us a modern example of the perversion of this natural, divinely ordered good.
On the contrary, Mary represents precisely the truest icon of membership in the family of God. Mary — and her stepson, James, the brother of God (Gr. philotheos) — lead the way as an avant garde in pure devotion to God and faithful observance of his commandments. They fulfill this saying of Jesus in their own lives and in so doing give us preeminent examples to follow in living the commands of their Son and brother.
December 26, 2003
Seasonal Reflection, part II
Merry Christmas everyone! On this second day of Christmas, I bid you greetings in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As we enter into the Christmas season, let us with joy embrace the God of our salvation who has become flesh for our salvation. During this festive season, the Church reminds us that fasting is forbidden until the eve of Theophany. So, let us “throw off every hinderance, and the sin which so easily entangles, and run with endurance the race marked out for us.” (Hb 12.1)
Having prepared ourselves during the days of fasting by pondering the example of the prophets who foretold the coming of the enfleshed Savior, we now savor with gratitude and happiness the fulness of time: God is with us!
As I travelled yesterday to my parents’ home in Tennessee, I broke my own self-imposed fast from Christmas music, a fast by which I hoped to avoid the feeling of a precocious season before Christmas even began. As I listened to one singer’s plea for the true meaning of Christmas, I thought about what my response should be, were I asked my opinion: “Basil, what do you think the true meaning of Christmas is?”
It would be this: All have sinned and come short of the Father’s glory, and no one has seen God. But the only-begotten Son of God, born of a woman in these last days for our salvation, has made him known. The Virgin has given birth to a child, who is Emmanuel, “God-with-us,” the eternal and uncreated God in the flesh. He who is Being from all eternity became what he was not, that we might become by his grace what he is by his nature.
Without the Incarnation — the enfleshment of God — the sentiments of Christmas are impossible. Peace on earth is a pipe dream, unless it is possible; good will toward men is good for nothing, unless we can achieve it. That is what it means that God took our flesh and became one of us: The dreams of Christmas transcend sentimentality and become true in Jesus Christ, the divine and human Son of God.
December 15, 2003
Science and Religion
This is in reference to a discussion about the Intelligent Design movement also ocurring on OrthodoxyToday Blog. S.F. Danckaert writes in response to Fr. Hans Jacobse’s response to my comment on an earlier post.
I guess, at some point, we must define our terms. What is Darwinism? Who are Darwinists? Most biologists would not, I think, describe themselves as “Darwinists,” even though natural selection is an inveterate part of their science.
I recognized that we were talking about more than simply natural selection when Fr. Jacobse identified “Darwinism” as a cosmology. Natural selection, as a model for evolution, does not entail spontaneous generation (though Lamarck’s acquired inheritance, an earlier model of evolution, explicitly entailed spontaneous generation in large measure) or anything else before the dawn of biological life.
Philosophically, the quesion always comes down to: What kind of knowlege do the natural sciences give us? And how do they acquire that knowledge? Currently the answer is, “Through empirical data and experimentation,” except for sciences like archaeology and paleontology which obviously gather data outside of experimentation. Thus, the primary feature of scientific knowledge is its empirical verifiability.
Thus, you can see that a philosophical question requires an answer a priori, if only implicitly, before we can begin the scientific enterprise. To answer this question about empirical verifiability in the positive excludes non-empirical realities like God, souls, angels, demons, and the like. Not because they are not real or not subjects of true knowledge but because they are not empirical.
What is the weight of God? What is the appearance of the soul? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? These questions are silly not because their subjects are silly, but because they are absurd, like asking, “What shape is blue?”
Science attempts to describe the natural world in terms of the natural world. Is such an enterprise incompatible with religion? Is it consonant with religion? The battle over “evolution and creation,” however it gets hashed out, regardless of which labels are used, seems to be mostly about prolonging the Modernism/Fundamentalism debate. Both sides were aberrant in that fight. It seems that those who are still fighting in terms of “Darwinism” or “evolution” versus creation (as if they were opposed) are trying to find some middle ground: some scientific pursuits are compatible with religion, but some are not.
December 12, 2003
Cheerwine is Online
Chris: You’re still my favorite source!
December 8, 2003
Seasonal Reflection, part I
Christmastime is here again–if you listen to the approved providers of Goodthink. Angels, wise-men, hay troughs and stars: all with complementary gift-wrap and delivery. This time of year, we cashiers see cash so infrequently that I joke about asking for ID. Christmas, it seems, is all about how much money you spend.
Recently, the news was blanketed with stories about “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving when retailers expect some of the highest sales of the year. Many stores open early and offer sale prices to lure more shoppers into their doors. Some retailers have been operating essentially in the red all year; this marks the point when they either start operating in the black, or they make plans not to be around next Christmas.
Bill McKibben, author of Hundred Dollar Holiday, reminds us that this time of the year lopsidedly props up the economy on one giant leg. Remove the money expended during the final month of the year, and the Great Depression would seem inviting by comparison.
I have worked in retail in some form for the past seven years. My first year was spent working at The Coffee Beanery in Fayette Mall. That was my worst Christmas ever. I was cursed at on more than one occasion. Peace? Men of good will? Only if it’s on sale.
My service in the retail industry has deeply soured me against capitalism. I am not a socialist or communist by any means, so I guess I end up thinking of capitalism as the least evil of the available economic systems. I am certainly not a pure capitalist, though I do have strong libertarian tendencies politically.
The worst part of this season is the identification of my religion’s second highest holy day with mammon and the identification of its virtues with its vices: generosity with greed, selflessness with selfishness, giving with getting. Every commercial about Christmas turns out to be about buying something from some merchant somewhere. I just saw a two-minute spot extolling the virtues of unplugging and spending time with your family: Have family game night and play Monopoly or Sorry or one of a half-dozen Hasbro/Parker Brothers games.
I’m sure this is not the first rant you’ve read about unchristian attitudes during the holiday season. So, what’s the point? To be continued…
Forget Russia and Greece, This is Texan Orthodoxy!
Most have already seen this article, especially those in our Kentucky Orthodox parish, since it’s about our bishop. But I was surfin’ Christianity Today, mourning the disappearance of regenerator.com, when I ran across it. Tex-Mex Orthodoxy. It’s a really groovy story about two Texas Baptist teenagers who didn’t feel like the Baptist parishes in Dallas were giving them the whole story. So, they walked into a Greek parish that hardly spoke any English and became Orthodox. It’s another one of those stories with a plot like, “I walked in, and I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but I could see that this was my home.” Very cool.
Turning Up Truffles Every Now and Then
Someone I know used to say that “even a blind pig can turn up a truffle every now and then.” Unfortunately, that’s the quote I thought of when I read an article on the Canticle of the Theotokos (the Magnificat) called “Mary’s Song.” I hate that quote; remembering it in this context just shows my sinfulness and pride.
Certainly, this article has much that makes me wince. For example, saying that first century Jewish music (and first century Christian music, by extension) was “mournful,” and that it was mournful because it “did not include clapping and smiling. No, the melodies and lyrics were cheerless-in fact I think they must have all been in minor keys to reflect the depressing attitude of these people.” — I have to shake my head — that’s just ethnocentric and false. I’ve talked about this before.
Yet, here is a beautiful example of a man listening to the Holy Spirit and rejecting falsehood in the traditions of men — namely the Reformed insistence on silence with regard to the Mother of God. This time of year, it’s acceptable for our separated brethren to preach about the Virgin Mary, extolling her and obeying the Bible’s prophecy and command that “all generations shall call [Mary] blessed.” Thank God for Advent and Christmas; one wonders if Reformed Christians would ever hear about Christ’s mother otherwise. I shudder to think what people learn in Baptist parishes where Christmas and Easter are silently ignored. There are certainly false teachings about Mary among all Christians — Catholic and Orthodox included. Yet, this Lady is always leading us to her Son; her last recorded words in Scripture are, “Do what he tells you.” Perhaps the greater error is not in paying too much attention to her but in paying too little.
So, to Pastor Mark Adams: Amen, brother! Hallelujah, glory to God! (Help him, Jesus!)
December 7, 2003
Saint’s Day Observations?
I’m thinking of having a Christmas/New Year/St. Basil’s Day party, and I’m wondering what different jurisdictions do to observe the commemoration of one’s patron saint. Discuss.
December 6, 2003
Note: I wrote this as a short muse to myself about six months ago. Just thought I’d throw it out. It seemed profitable.
Jesus! Breathe it out, as an aspiration, a short prayer, and it immediately drops into the fabric of time, of flesh, an incarnation of eternity in what is temporary and corrubtible.
What is the power of this single word, this single name? It soothes pain, comforts grief, extinguishes the flaming arrows of passion.
Today, I am relatively calm: a rarity. It seems that my ordinary mode of being is to be tossed with so many passionate temptations that I am entirely ignorant of the little sins that I commit without thinking: arrogance, rudeness, resentment, insensitivity. Like a warrior who is distracted by the attack on one flank, only to be bound by the surprise attacker from behind, I am entirely undone by this one passion.
I am reading the last decade of journals by Fr. Alexander Schmemann. He is entirely against what he calls ideology. I want very much to agree with him on this point; he says that ideology is always limiting. It is always an idolatry, an embrace of what is small to the exclusion of what is truly universal. How true! Truth is always larger than we are able to comprehend, larger than any childish attempts to box it in with ideology. And yet, he defines ideology as philosophy and theology! Or perhaps these are just examples, as contrasted to the literature and poetry that he prefers to read. In any case, it is clear that all he writes is theology and philosophy. (Mostly the former, though.) I don’t know at all what to make of this blatant contradiction. Perhaps he realizes it later and I will be able to catch a glimpse of this.
When he describes his relationship to Matushka Juliana (his “beloved L.”), I see something that I have always wanted: a love that grows old, that wraps around two people like a wonderful blanket that has become worn to the contours of two bodies. Yet, everyday, more and more, I sense that this desire is fading from me, or rather, the intense need to be filled with someone else is fading from me. I still do not want to be alone for the rest of my days; I dread it still, but I am coming more and more to see that I am called to something else. Perhaps now I shall finally read Merton’s Mountain and profit by it. People seem not to grasp the inner struggle that torments me in this divided path.
December 4, 2003
A Question for Alana
Today is the commemoration of the greatmartyr Barbara and the martyr Juliana. Alana, is this your patroness? Or is it another? I seem to remember a reference to Nicomedia at some point.…. Which one is yours?
December 2, 2003
Defending the Faith
The Church recently observed the memorial of St. Catherine the Greatmartyr. I just read her Life on the Orthodox Church in America website, and I am deeply impressed. I would want to name one of my daughters Catherine (or Katherine, like my grandmother), if I thought I was ever going to have one.
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