“The more I study the history of the Orthodox Church in this country, the more I am convinced that our work here is God's work; that God himself is helping us; that when it seems as though everything we do is ready to fail, …on the contrary, it not only does not die, but grows in new strength and brilliance.” [said just before leaving the United States for Russia]
Saint Tikhon, enlightener of America

«— Eis Polla Eti, Despota
—» Venus Creations

In Memoriam

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The current issue of All Hands magazine has a great feature on the street signs of Naval Submarine Base New London. Streets on the Groton, Connecticut, submarine base — where I am currently stationed — are named after lost, World War II-era submarines. The Public Works Department is replacing the old street signs, which featured only the name of the ship, with new ones that also feature the number of hands lost and the date the ship went down.

Since I came on active duty in February, I have been struck by the omnipresence of remembrance in the military. Everywhere you turn, there is a painting or a story about Captain So-and-so, just so you don’t forget why So-and-so Hall is named after him. Just so you don’t forget why you’re here, sailor.

Most poignant are stories of the working men who lost their lives fighting in some unknown ocean somewhere. Not the captains who had big funerals attended by admirals and statesmen. I mean the forgotten stories about Mess Specialist Third Class Thus-and-such, posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Because my dad was a Navy chaplain, I imagine a chaplain and a Red Cross worker somewhere down a lonely Kansas dirt road knocking at dusk on the door of an old farmhouse. “Ma’am,” he says to a dusty woman with grey eyes and a blue apron, “we regret to inform you….”

This very natural human impulse — remembering those who paid with blood for our freedom — is what underlies the Orthodox doctrine of icons and saints. Sometimes, a parish priest will put a little snippet of a saint’s life next to an icon. I like that, because otherwise it’s just another maiden in robes with a cross. “Hello, how do you do? My name’s Basil; who are you?”

Next Sunday is All Saints, dedicated to the commemoration of every saint whose name is known only to the holy Trinity. Every time I pray for the departed, I try to remember those who have no one to remember them and no one to pray for them. I hope someone will be so kind as to do the same for me when I take my leave of this world.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 6:44 pm

«— Back from the Brink
—» In Memoriam

Eis Polla Eti, Despota

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Thanks to Josh Coolman for a photo of Gideon, Theophan and Athanasius being tonsured readers. This is especially cool for me, since I had to miss the whole dad-blamed thing.

Other contra mundum bloggers who have written about Abp. Dmitri’s visit:

  • Victoria (Theodora): “…completely unaffected in his role. I got the distinct impression that he wanted to be treated properly as the bishop because that is what ‘Bishop’ is, not that he was demanding it for himself.”
  • Chris (Dmitri): “To be tonsured in our Church is to voluntarily give up freedoms; the sacrifice given to God is larger for each order, but it is inherent in each one.”
  • Alana (Juliana): “Ten years ago, I watched the something inside of this man die with the three a.m. phonecall [informing him] of the Missouri car wreck that killed his parents and sister.”
  • James: “This weekend our archbishop, the Most Rev. Dmitri, visited our church for the first time.”

Newly-tonsured Readers Gideon, Athanasius, and Theophan have not yet blogged about the weekend or their experience of being tonsured. I guess the longer we wait, the better the vintage.

Update: Reader Theophan posted a tiny bit on his blog in response to Dmitri’s post, linked above. He also left a comment here.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 4:00 pm

«— Oops…
—» Eis Polla Eti, Despota

Back from the Brink

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Whoah. What a wild, strange ride. Upgrading to WordPress 1.2 “Mingus” was quite a bit more difficult than I expected it would be.

Now that I’ve cleared out my database nearly completely (leaving only the posts and comments tables) and started over from scratch, all should be well. Comments are back up, and I can FINALLY LOG IN AGAIN!

This was amazingly hard, given that I could only use a pc for 30-minute increments. Lesson? Be more organized about backing up data before upgrading any software.

I’ll probably forget that lesson, though.

You’ll notice that the front page is the default WordPress design. That’s because I’ve run out of time, again. I’ll probably return to something like the old design eventually. At the very least, I will have links to the rest of my site eventually.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 4:29 pm

«— Trinity 2: The Father (Apologia Pt 5)
—» Back from the Brink

Oops…

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In trying to upgrade to the latest version of WordPress, I’ve inadvertently killed the comments. Sorry for the inconvenience.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 12:08 pm

«— The Price of Freedom
—» Oops…

Trinity 2: The Father (Apologia Pt 5)

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There is one God because there is one Father. Scripture uses God as a name for the Father almost exclusively. “…[T]here is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we exist for him….” (1Co 8.16) The God of the Old Testament is the Father. For this reason, the Son is called the “Son of God,” and the Spirit, the “Spirit of God.”

The Father eternally begets — gives birth to or generates — the Son and shares his divine nature with him. The Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father, and the Father shares his divine nature with the Spirit, as well. Thus, there is one God, sharing one divine nature in a communion of three unique and distinct persons. The divine nature is the nature of the Father, which he freely shares with the Son and the Spirit.

For this reason, we call the Father the source or fountainhead of the Trinity. No person of the Godhead is greater than another, all are equal in essence, equal in power, equal in glory. However, the divine nature is the nature of the Father, timelessly shared with the Son and the Spirit in a way beyond our comprehension.

What is the difference between generation and procession? The meaning of the distinction has not been revealed to us. We only know that there is a difference: The Son is not the Spirit, nor is the Spirit the Son. They are distinct persons within the Godhead.

Next, we will look at the persons of the Son and the Spirit.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 7:12 pm

«— Trinity 1: Nature and Person (Apologia Pt 4)
—» Trinity 2: The Father (Apologia Pt 5)

The Price of Freedom

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I have just been woken up from a long, long nap. I have been sleeping for over a month, and a dark, heavy slumber has been slowly smothering my soul.

To give you a glimpse into my state, for over three and a half months, I have lived almost exclusively in the company of men. As a result, my hormones explode at the barest hint of a feminine presence. Further, the men whose company I have been keeping are not seekers of purity. They talk constantly of sex: conquests, fantasies, techniques, positions… I have become accustomed to hearing things that would make an Amsterdam harlot blush.

Immersion in such a climate eventually takes a spiritual toll. In my life, there come times when the darkness is so alluring that the light is painful. I push all thought of God and his severe mercy out of my mind. God is simply a barrier between me and my one all-consuming obsession. In these times, it seems that all the work God has brought to pass in my life is completely lost.

Needless to say, I was not praying in this state. Prayer is perhaps the greatest loss I suffered during this time; so much ground had been gained in this fight, which I gave up so easily.

There are many images for repentance, but lately I have contemplated repentance as wakefulness or watchfulness. Perhaps this is because keeping watch is a huge chunk of my training as a sailor and submariner.

This past Sunday, I made confession to my local priest, and then I called my parish priest in Kentucky to inform him of what was going on in my life. In counseling me over the phone, Fr. David noted that when I am not praying, I am not the only loser. Everyone who depends on my prayers is also losing. When a watchstander falls asleep at his post, the enemy overtakes him and lives are lost. When we cease being vigilant in prayer, we fall asleep and the enemy overtakes us. Those who depend on our prayers suffer as a result.

Picking up the pieces is a slow process. Waking from slumber brings a spiritual drowsiness that takes time to overcome. Please remember me in your prayers.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 3:53 pm

«— Says Who 3 (Apologia Pt 3)
—» The Price of Freedom

Trinity 1: Nature and Person (Apologia Pt 4)

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“The Way that can be explained is not the true Way.” This opening line from the Tao te Ching perhaps best introduces the mystery of the holy Trinity.

How does one begin to speak of this mystery? First, we must recognize that we are speaking of a deep and wonderful mystery. A mystery is not a riddle that demands a resolution. A mystery is a deep truth that will eternally elude every limited human attempt to exhaust it. No matter how much we say about a mystery, there is always infinitely more that can be said. No matter how much we learn about a mystery, we will never comprehend it.

God, the holy Trinity, is just such a mystery. A God that can be explained is not the true God. When we believe we understand God, we have in fact replaced the living God with an idol. A God in a box is not God. God has never had a begining and will never have an end. God has eternally been and eternally will be.

Holy Scripture teaches, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1Jn 4.16b) Love means living together in communion — personal union and harmony of will and action. God is a communion of three persons— Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — who share a common divine nature.

When we speak of person and nature, we hit upon a deep mystery which God has shared with us by creating us in his image. We will discuss this further when we talk about the creation of man. The nature of something is its whatness — everything that can be described about it. The person is the unique, indefinable essence that is capable of loving communion with other persons. Created natures can be described with words and understood through teaching, but persons can only be known through communion. A simple example will help us understand what we mean here.

Identical twins share the exact same genetic material. In almost every respect, they are identical. When describing twins, we are hard-pressed to come up with any distinguishing characteristics. However, anyone who has known identical twins will tell you that they are each unique persons. Once you enter into communion with them, you no longer confuse them. Almost intuitively, you can tell them apart, because you know them on the level of the person, not on the level of their nature.

The holy Trinity is three divine persons eternally interdwelling one another in perfect communion. As we continue to explore the mystery of the Trinity, we will talk about the persons of the Trinity and how these three persons share a single divine nature in communion. As we do, it may be that the concepts seem impossible, or maybe just too much for us to grasp. This is exactly as it should be; remember: “The Way that can be explained is not the true Way.”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 9:11 pm

«— Says Who 2 (Apologia Pt 2)
—» Trinity 1: Nature and Person (Apologia Pt 4)

Says Who 3 (Apologia Pt 3)

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“Tradition” is a shorthand for all the means by which the Christian faith is passed on to us. Since initiation into the Church is primarily the beginning of a new life, all of these means fuse together in actual practice.

The foundation of all Tradition is Jesus Christ, as we said before. The Church is the body of Christ, and she is the sacrament of Christ’s continuing presence in the world. A sacrament (or a mystery) is the physical revelation in a concrete form of a reality that is otherwise invisible. The priest Alexander Schmemann once said that the Church is not an institution with Sacraments, but a Sacrament with institutions.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and those gathered with them and empowered them. He constituted them into a new reality, the Church of Christ. The Greek word for Church is ekklesia, which can also be translated “gathering” or “assembly.” The Russian word is sobor, a similarly rich word which can also mean “council” or “assembly.” This communicates something lost in English-speaking countries: The Church is a fundamentally conciliar reality. This relates directly back to what we said earlier about being consistent with the witness of those who precede us. The Holy Spirit constitutes Christians into the Church, uniting them to Christ as his body and giving them authority to act in his name.

Thus, the main organ of Tradition is life in the Church.

Looking at the writings of holy Tradition, holy Scripture has the pride of place. Most teachings can be traced to Scripture, even if only to a single line or verse which might not appear relevant to someone outside the boundaries of the Church. In addition, Tradition must remain consistent with the witness of Scripture, since Scripture records the life of Christ and the earliest Christians, as well as the people of God specially prepared to bring forth the God-man Jesus Christ: the nation of Israel, the Jews. Scripture receives its authority from the teaching authority of the Church, since it is the Church in council which decides which writings are canonical, or authentic and authoritative. The bishops of the Church therefore have an obligation to faithful Christians to instruct them in how to understand Scripture.

After Scripture in importance are the decisions of Church councils — including the Symbol of Faith, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which we will discuss further on —the hymns and liturgy of the Church, the writings of the Church Fathers, icons, and finally oral traditions.

As we continue in this Apologia for classical Christian faith, these will be the sources we will build on. In our next installment, we will begin with belief in God as a Trinity.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 5:16 pm

«— An Email List Without Emails
—» Says Who 3 (Apologia Pt 3)

Says Who 2 (Apologia Pt 2)

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Since Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of God to humanity, his life and teachings are the point of reference for all Christian beliefs and practices. After his suffering, death, and resurrection, he commissioned his apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” As a result, he promised, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The process of making disciples is one of intiation into a way of life. In their time with their master, the apostles did not learn only what could be written in books. They learned intimately the kind of person Jesus is. This is what they passed along to the first Christian disciples and what the Church has continued to pass along to Christian disciples in every generation.

From the very beginning, however, Christians have faced the ever-present temptation to change what they have received. The only truly good news is the story of our redemption through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But this good news means following the commands of Christ, which are sometimes difficult. Addtionally, God’s plan of salvation boggles the limited minds of men. These two things together are the root of every heresy. A heresy is a warping — sometimes very subtle — of the way of life that has been delivered to us by Christ in the Church. Humans want to bend the gospel — the good news of Christ — and make it easier: either easier to fit into the limited categories of reason, or easier to live the old ways of life — or both.

This is why a Christian has an obligation to his brothers and sisters — living, dead, and unborn — never to change the good news that he has received. He may use new tools, new metaphors, new stories, but he must never invent any new teachings. The good news has been passed on to us from untold previous generations — some of whom shed their blood to protect its integrity. The Latin word for this passing on is traditio; thus, another word for the teaching of the Church is Tradition. Sometimes, tradition is misunderstood as dead or constricting. But Jaroslav Pelikan, a famous church historian, once noted, “Tradition is not the dead faith of the living, but the living faith of the dead.” In other words, the living, vibrant faith that breathed new life into the apostles, the martyrs, and the saints who confessed their faith against all odds is the same faith that breathes new life into us. This is why modern Christians, when they add their voices to the 2000 years of Church teaching, must be careful to ensure that their witness is consistent with that of those who precede them.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 5:05 pm