This life is given to you for repentance. Do not waste it in vain pursuits.
Saint Isaac of Syria

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Rearview

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Part V in the Creation series is waiting for review by two priests. I don’t want to be original, but the task at hand calls for some insight and discernment, which can be foggy territory. I decided to get some advice from men whose twin graces of spiritual and intellectual discernment I respect. Everything up to now has been rephrasing what someone else has said. I doubt I am doing anything more in Part V than reinventing someone else’s wheel, but I don’t know whose wheel it would be. So, perhaps there will be a truly fresh insight into the matter. We’ll see.

While I wait, I decided to imitate Carrie Thienes and review the year with an uncharacteristically personal synopsis.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 11:18 pm

«— Creation, Part IV: Do Faith and Reason Conflict?
—» Rearview

Interlude: Article in Word

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I want to point out a wonderful article in the latest issue of the Antiochian archdiocese’s Word magazine: “Education: The End of Faith?” by John Newell, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. He does an excellent job of analyzing many uncritical presuppositions in modern thinking, specifically what he calls a “scientific world view.” I would quibble that science does not actually present a world view; such a world view would better be described as “scientistic,” meaning, “the belief that the investigative methods of the physical sciences are applicable or justifiable in all fields of inquiry.” But that is a minor quibble with what is an excellent article. Props to Raphael, who unfortunately prooftexts the discussion, when it is clear that the author accepts, on some level, a scientific accout of our origins when he says, “astrophysicists can now prove that the universe began by extrapolating the expansion of the universe back to the moment when everything was in one very small place.” His statement,

It is better to see the problem of the origin of the universe as one that lies outside of science, because science has restricted itself through the principle that nothing comes into existence from nothingness. In other words, it is “against the rules� of doing science to raise such an issue, and the consequence of breaking the rules is that one has to sift through the resulting nonsense (namely, that the universe had no beginning, and so forth), at the risk of one’s immortal soul.

must be interpreted in his preceding discussion of science as being restricted to what Aristotle called efficient causality. In other words, he is not saying that scientists should not study beginnings (which would be inconsistent with his earlier statement about astrophysicists and the beginning of the cosmos); he is saying that the creation of the cosmos by God is beyond the scope of science.

This article is very good evidence that Orthodox America needs a liberal arts college for Orthodox students, where they can learn to integrate faith and reason. Sort of like Asbury, except Orthodox. Sort of like Hellenic College, except not just for Greeks.

And really, Raphael. Keeping people with different views from posting comments on your site? Are your “traditionalist views” so weak as not to stand argument? [OK. The “problem” appears to have disappeared. Sorry for the “libel,” Raphael. 😀 ]

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Filed under: — Basil @ 6:14 pm

«— St Isaac of Syria On Silence
—» Interlude: Article in Word

Creation, Part IV: Do Faith and Reason Conflict?

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Note: This series of articles has been compiled into a single article entitled “On the Dogma of Creation.” These articles remain in place for the sake of the conversations that occurred in the comments.

Part I in this series
Part II in this series
Part III in this series

Several centuries ago, the Ptolemaic solar system dominated astronomy. Ptolemy’s system placed the earth at the center of the cosmos, with the heavenly bodies orbiting the earth in concentric circles. Two men became convinced that Ptolemy’s ancient model was false; the first was Copernicus, the second, Galileo. In the case of Galileo, the Roman Catholic Church ordered him to recant or face excommunication, because heliocentrism made it impossible to believe that the sun literally stopped in its course through the sky as described in the Bible. Galileo did in fact recant and remained in silent communion with his church; his sacrifice, made to remain in communion with his church, remains one of the most tragically beautiful displays of humility the world has ever known. Galileo and science, however, won. The Copernican solar system continues to rule the day in astronomy, and the Roman Catholic Church in 1992 apologized for its haste in condemning Galileo for teaching what has turned out to be true.

A similar battle is being fought now over evolution. Though evolution was proposed long before Darwin as a method of explaining certain features of the fossil record, Darwin’s hypothesis provided a model of evolution that has withstood many valiant attempts to falsify it. Evolution now has as much support as any scientific theory or historical event. Yet, some view evolution as a threat to religious belief since it renders impossible literal belief in the creation stories of Genesis.

Is science incompatible with religious belief? In previous articles, I explored science as thoroughly empirical and naturalistic in its methodology. Science can only analyze what is apparent to our senses. Conversely, its competence is limited to the world perceived by our senses. Science can say nothing whatsoever about God, angels, spirits, and all the super-sensible objects of religious belief.

Theology takes these objects as its primary subject. If theology concerned itself only with objects unavailable to scientific study, there would be no conflict whatsoever. Our problem arises because theology is — or, more precisely, the sources of theology are — always making very concrete statements about this world we see, hear, touch, smell and taste.

These statements, when reformulated so as to be falsifiable, give science and theology an area in which their competencies could overlap. Was there ever an historical Adam and Eve? Was there ever a fishing trade on the Sea of Galilee? Was there ever an Imperial Roman census conducted when Cyrenius was governor of Syria? Was there ever a massacre of every child under three in Bethlehem? Was there ever a man conceived without human seed by a virgin mother? Was there ever a man resurrected after three days in the grave?

Read the rest of “Creation, Part IV: Do Faith and Reason Conflict?”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 8:24 pm

«— Creation, Part III: The Philosophy of Science
—» Creation, Part IV: Do Faith and Reason Conflict?

St Isaac of Syria On Silence

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Love silence above everything else, for it brings you near to fruit which the tongue is too feeble to expound.

First of all we force ourselves to be silent, but then from out of our silence something else is born that draws us into silence itself.

May God grant you to perceive that which is born of silence! If you begin this discipline I do not doubt how much light will dawn in you from it.

After a time a certain delight is born in the heart as a result of the practice of this labour, and it forcibly draws the body on to persevere in stillness.

A multitude of tears is born in us by this discipline, at the wondrous vision of certain things which the heart perceives distinctly, sometimes with pain, and sometimes with wonder.

For the heart becomes small and becomes like a tiny babe: as soon as it clings to prayer, tears burst forth.

Daily Readings from St. Isaac of Syria, edited by A. M. Allchin, translated by Sebastian Brock.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 11:01 am

«— St. John Chrysostom on Fasting
—» St Isaac of Syria On Silence

Creation, Part III: The Philosophy of Science

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Note: This series of articles has been compiled into a single article entitled “On the Dogma of Creation.” These articles remain in place for the sake of the conversations that occurred in the comments.

Part I in this series
Part II in this series

Why are scientists so convinced of the truth of evolution, whether expressed in astronomy, geology, or biology? Some have accused scientists of having a secret, godless agenda of metaphysical naturalism. After all, it is argued, why else would God be excluded from their descriptions of the world?

I discussed in the previous article that science is marked by a methodological naturalism. It may be helpful to define naturalism. Naturalism is a focus on nature to the exclusion of anything extra-natural or supernatural. Metaphysical naturalism is the belief that nature is all that exists. Metaphysical naturalism is a subset of philosophical materialism, the belief that existence is solely material (that is, that everything is matter in the philosophical sense), that there are no non-material substances, such as minds, souls, spirits, angels, demons, or gods. The famous description of metaphysical naturalism is the statement of Carl Sagan, “The cosmos is all there is, was, or ever will be.”

Read the rest of “Creation, Part III: The Philosophy of Science”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 1:33 pm

«— Creation, Part II: Investigating the Science
—» Creation, Part III: The Philosophy of Science

St. John Chrysostom on Fasting

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This was sent to members of St. Athanasius parish in Lexington by our priest. I guess he read it at vespers recently and was asked for a copy. Since I am not able to fast because I eat at the galley, I found it edifying, if very sobering since I am one who neither fasts physically nor spiritually. In one or two places I have paraphrased to preserve the meaning of St. John’s words for as many readers as possible.

Fasting is a medicine. But medicine, as beneficial as it is, can become useless through the inexperience of the user. He has to know the appropriate time that the medicine should be taken and the right amount of medicine and the condition of the body which is to take it, the weather conditions and the season of the year and the appropriate diet of the sick and many other things. If any of these things are overlooked, the medicine will do more harm than good. So, if one who is going to heal the body needs so much accuracy, when we care for the soul and are concerned about healing it from bad thoughts, it is necessary to examine and observe everything with every possible detail.

Fasting is the change of every part of our life, because the sacrifice of the fast is not the abstinence but the distancing from sins. Therefore, whoever limits the fast to the deprivation of food, he is the one who, in reality, abhors and ridicules the fast. Are you fasting? Show me your fast with your works. Which works? If you see someone who is poor, show him mercy. If you see an enemy, reconcile with him. If you see a friend who is becoming successful, do not be jealous of him! If you see a beautiful woman on the street, pass her by.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 9:36 pm

«— Coptic Priest’s Wife Abducted and Forced to Convert
—» St. John Chrysostom on Fasting

Creation, Part II: Investigating the Science

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Note: This series of articles has been compiled into a single article entitled “On the Dogma of Creation.” These articles remain in place for the sake of the conversations that occurred in the comments.

Part I in this series.

In the first part of this article, I presented some reasons why the creation myths in Genesis should not be understood literally. (Recall the dicussion of “myth” in this context as truth which transcends factuality to include the mysterious, archetypal and poetic.) Additionally, reading the text literally leads to internal contradictions between the two separate creation stories. The most obvious contradiction is that in the first story, man and woman are created together, after every other creature. In the second story, man is created first, when “there were no plants or grain growing on the earth, for the LORD God had not sent any rain. And no one was there to cultivate the soil.” (Gn 2.4b-7) The fact that some ingenious interpretations have developed to reconcile the difficulties between the two stories already indicates that the simplest, most literal reading has been abandoned.

After abandoning a literal reading of the Genesis mythology, I investigated the scientific stories of our origins. This was quite new territory for me, because growing up I learned the version of science peddled by the Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis, and other organizations like them. Evolution was EVIL-ution.

I found that scientists (regardless of religious belief) all accept the science of our origins, whether astronomical, geological, or biological. Even at Asbury College, a very evangelical Christian college, the science department professors accepted the scientific consensus. Well, except for the veterinarian who taught Bio 101 part-time. I guess he was the token “Scientific Creationist,” though I don’t know why you’d want one.

Non-scientists who do not accept the science are roughly categorizable as follows:

  1. Those who read Genesis too literally.
  2. Those who misapply or misunderstand scientific principles and theories.

Read the rest of “Creation, Part II: Investigating the Science”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 11:33 pm

«— Beyond Compare More Glorious Than the Seraphim
—» Creation, Part II: Investigating the Science

Coptic Priest’s Wife Abducted and Forced to Convert

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WorldNetDaily reports that the wife of a Coptic priest has been abducted and forced to convert to Islam. Should I be surprised that I didn’t see that headline on any of my “World News” news feeds?

See also the article on the Christian Post website.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 4:51 pm

«— On Charity: Service
—» Coptic Priest’s Wife Abducted and Forced to Convert

Beyond Compare More Glorious Than the Seraphim

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If your temperament is like mine, you would rather read one bold, challenging bit of prose than all of the manufactured sentiment so characteristic of this season. I found an article on Mary which I believe to be that one challenging bit of prose. If you do not already honor Mary in your heart, this is the one thing that you must not escape contemplating this year as you prepare for Christmas.

“Something is very wrong with Protestantism,” writes the Rev. Al Kimel. “Our ecclesial communities do not generate a devotion to Mary.” He offers some strong support for that statement. The crucial point comes when he applies to Protestant communities the consensus of the full Church, expressed in AD 431 at the Council of Ephesus. The Rev. Kimel writes:

I am beginning to suspect that no matter how “orthodox� we Protestants think we are in our doctrine of the Incarnation, we in fact are not. We have not faithfully appropriated the orthodox doctrine, because we have deleted Mary from the Church’s life of worship and prayer. This deletion of Mary is both evidence of our deficiency in our understanding of the Incarnation and a cause of this deficiency. Something is very wrong when our teaching and love of Christ does not generate the kind of hymnody, veneration, and devotion that is common in Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

Allow me some space to amplify his well-crafted article: It was the undivided Church gathered at Ephesus that blessed the practice of calling Mary Theotokos, a title which literally means “she who gives birth to God”: essentially it means, “Mother of God.” This dismayed some Churchmen, so the bishops of the Church gathered a scant twenty years later in a city called Chalcedon and reaffirmed what they said earlier at Ephesus. This time they focused on the union of God and man in Jesus Christ.

The Chalcedonian council stated that the Son and Word of God is “confessed in two natures without confusion, without change, indivisibly, and inseparably.” To restate that a little differently: The divine cannot be divided from or separated from the human in Christ. They are indivisible and inseparable. At the same time, both God and man retain what is proper to their nature: Christ is neither a mingling of the two nor a changing of one into the other. He is “fully God and fully man.”

This emphasis on the full union of God with humanity elaborates and underscores what was preached earlier at Ephesus: If you do not recognize the God who lay in the arms of a teenage mother in Bethlehem and called her “Amma,” then you do not recognize the one God preached by the Scriptures and the Apostolic teaching. If you are uncomfortable with this young girl giving to God milk from her full breast, then you are not really with us. If you doubt that God gave his mother the honor that he instructed you in the Decalogue to give your own mother, then you cast doubt on the very fact of your salvation. If it troubles you to join with your savior in praising his mother for her unique and irreplaceable role in your salvation, then you strike an axe at the root of his Incarnation.

“This is the faith of Peter; this is the faith of Paul. This is the faith of the Apostles; thus spoke the Fathers and thus we affirm….”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 8:02 am

«— The Advent of Winter
—» Beyond Compare More Glorious Than the Seraphim

On Charity: Service

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A brother questioned an old man, saying: “Here are two brothers. One of them leads a solitary life for six days a week, giving himself much pain, and the other serves the sick. Whose work does God accept with the greater favor?”

The old man said: “Even if the one who withdraws for six days were to hang himself up by the nostrils, he could not equal the one who serves the sick.”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 8:32 am

«— On Discernment: Truly Finding God
—» On Charity: Service

The Advent of Winter

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Winter is by far my favorite season, I think. I love frosty air, smoky breath, bundled bodies and curling up beside warm fires. When I lived in the South, that fair Eden of the Western hemisphere, I dreamed of that mythical snow-day or even the legendary White Christmas. Now, I delight in the quite regular possibility of the fairest of all precipitation, one of the positive effects of being firmly in Yankee New England. Notice my reserve in merely saying “Yankee.” (Barnabas likes to joke — though I think he’s probably serious — that he was twelve before he learned that “damn Yankee” is two words.)

I think part of my love affair with winter stems from my love affair with Christmas. I am deeply in love with Christmas. Raphael noted recently that we in the States actually love Victorian Christmas; I think he could have made more of the importance of the essentially Christian fiction of Dickens in the formation of that image, but his principal thesis is spot-on. Perhaps the kind Dr Bacchus could regale us with the importance of Dickens’ fiction in forming our fantasies of Christmas past?

But I also think that I recognize in winter the geography of my own heart. In Narnia, when first we see it in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the introduction to the series, the whole world is gripped in the spell of the White Witch. “It is always Winter,” the Pevensee children are told by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, “and never Christmas.” What a horrid thing! we all gasp, almost at the same time as Lucy and her siblings.

Critics note the parallels between Lion and the Christian story so often that it is something of a cliché. So, pish-posh on literary cliché! I want to point out that the parallel with every person’s own salvation journey is perhaps just as important. I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to read the story once again this year and put flesh on that little riblet.

I want to note that it feels like that in my heart. Always Winter, never Christmas. In college, I knew a wonderful young woman who seemed to love life. Everything fascinated her; everything seemed interpenetrated with a spiritual beauty. I wanted that temperament very badly. We both became interested in Orthodox Christianity at about the same time, and I think I saw in Orthodoxy something of this foi vivant she had. I think that desire to have a love for life is what captured me out of my Romanism. I wanted to be fully human, fully alive, fulfilling St. Irenaeus’ canon of God’s glory.

I find that I still see winter’s grip all around my heart. Sometimes, it feels like I’ve had some of the Witch’s turkish delight, because I find myself liking the unnatural Winter of my heart and wishing it would stay forever. Only, I’d like just a bit more of that turkish delight, please.

One tiny region in the vast wilderness of my heart has been catching glimpses of Christmas coming. Today, the inhabitants of that region received word that Christmas would again be delayed. “Again?” YES. AGAIN. On a day like today, I wish Christmas would hurry up and get here, or leave off with the promises before I waste my life waiting for it.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 5:18 pm

«— Why I Am Not a Very Good Christian, Really
—» The Advent of Winter

On Discernment: Truly Finding God

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An old man was asked, “How can I find God?”

He said, “In fasting, in watching, in labors, in devotion, and, above all, in discernment. I tell you, many have injured their bodies without discernment and have gone away from us having acheived nothing. Our mouths smell bad from fasting, we know the Scriptures by heart, we recite all the Psalms of David, but we have not that which God seeks: charity and humility.”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 9:33 pm