The truth will make you odd.
Flannery O’Connor

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Reflections on L’Engle’s Aesthetics

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In the wake of Madeleine L’Engle’s recent passing, I went to Barnes and Noble last night and picked up Walking on Water: Reflections on faith and art. I love it, of course: Who could not love a book by one of the best Christian writers of the last century on faith and art? However, there is one paragraph that truly irritates. In a chapter entitled, “Icons of the True,” she puts in the following paeon to a relativism vis á vis art:

What is a true icon of God to one person may be blasphemy to another. And it is not possible for us flawed human beings to make absolute, zealous judgments as to what is and what is not religious art. I know what is religious art for me. You know what is religious art for you. And they are not necessarily the same. Not everyone feels pulled up to heavenly heights in listening to the pellucid, mathematically precise structure of a Bach fugue. The smarmy picture of Jesus which I find nauseating may be for someone else, a true icon.

I do not relate. Perhaps my understanding of truth is antiquated and naïve in this post-Wittgenstein world, but I still believe it means “corresponds (in some sense of ‘corresponds’) to a reality that exists external to me.” A true icon is one that bears a resemblance to its subject. I do not mean by this a mean verisimilitude. Rather, something about the work must somehow reveal something true. And while the revelation comes from our participation in the work as viewers, readers, or listeners, it does not follow that Warner Sallman’s Head of Christ, or any of his devotional imagery, is perhaps true for some. To say so is a pusillanimous evasion of the possibility that beauty may have an antonym (to use an expensive word that L’Engle uses twice in the first two chapters).

Naturally, when she quotes Bishop Kallistos (Ware), I am considerably warmer. His grace writes in the journal Sobornost:

an abstract composition by Kandinsky or Van Gogh’s landscape of the cornfield with birds… is a real instance of divine transfiguration, in which we see matter rendered spiritual and entering into the “glorious liberty of the children of God.” This remains true, even when the artist does not personally believe in God. Provided he is an artist of integrity, he is a genuine servant of the glory which he does not recognize, and unknown to himself there is “something divine” about his work. We may rest confident that at the last judgment the angels will produce his works of art as testimony on his behalf.

(If that quote is reproduced in one of the many collections of his essays — The Inner Kingdom, perhaps — I would be grateful if someone would point out where I might read it in its total context.)

She closes the second chapter with this line, which I love: “There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest meanings of the Incarnation.”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 8:42 pm

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Confusion in the Tao of Gender

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Recently, I read a quote from the usually adorable Keira Knightly that really burned me up. I read it in a magazine in the hairdresser’s. I’ve since decided, in a completely unrelated fashion, to purchase a WAHL and just buzz my head down to nothing once a week. Quoth Keira:

How are American men and British men different? “U.K. guys – well, the ones that I know – don’t take as much stock in their appearance,” says Keira Knightley in a new interview. “Ask an American guy what his beauty regime is, and he’ll tell you. Ask a Brit, and he’ll say, ‘Er … Guinness?’ I like that.”

I have been meaning to rant about this a little since I read it nearly a month or so ago, but I was reminded just now when reading a review of In Her Shoes by Frederica Mathewes-Green, whom I unfortunately missed when I attended her Antiochian Archdiocese parish in Baltimore a few weeks ago. She notes the masculinity of the male lead:

One last plus to this movie: the guy who eventually wins Rose’s heart turns out to be a much more interesting character than we’d have a right to expect from this kind of breezy, busy movie. According to the recent Leo Burnett Man Study, half of America’s men feel that their role in society is unclear. Do women want them dolled by remedial “Queer Eye” personal groomers? Or do they want a plaid-shirted, stubbly “Earl”? There’s uncharted distance between fop and caveman, metrosexual and retrosexual, yet that’s where most men live. In “In Her Shoes,” Simon (Mark Feuerstein) hits a mark in the middle that is surprisingly appealing, and the character holds his own on-screen despite the big-name ladies’ firepower. Simon has the listening skills women crave and expert culinary taste, yet his guy creds are vindicated by enthusiastic basketball fandom (though perhaps it’s too much to have him actually giving advice to the Sixers’ teammates, while they nod as insight dawns). Most of all, he’s in charge. When he and Rose begin to go horizontal, she nervously clicks off the lamp; he turns it on again. After a pause, she once again tries to hide her flaws in darkness; he looks at her firmly as he once again lights the lamp. What women want in men, even more than plucked eyebrows, is manly confidence. In a realm where examples are so scarce that half of the male population is confused, Simon is illuminating.

(The full review talks about the rest of the movie, of course: Frederica Mathewes-Green on National Review Online: Red-Hat District)

Now, perhaps Mother Frederica has spoken about what follows in one of her many essays on gender and sexuality (separate and distinct concepts, to be sure) released under the title Gender: Men, women, sex, and feminism. I don’t know; surely someone has, but I can’t cite it.

I’ve been thinking: masculinity and feminity complement one another, like yin and yang in the Tao. They are, or should be, balanced. The last century has seen a movement wherein that balance has been completely upset in a movement to secure equal rights and privileges for one part of this equation. Should we be surprised that the other part is confused?

Women have been told to act more masculine in order to liberate themselves; confusion about gender is only the beginning. The balance is beginning to right itself: Men are acting feminine. Indeterminate gender is becoming more acceptable socially.

Sometimes, I hear the lament, “Where have all the good men gone?” Perhaps the question should be reversed to find the answer.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 9:09 pm

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Earthen Vessels

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In discussions on this blog, readers have averred that Orthodox Christians are arrogant because of the Church’s emphasis on the fullness of Christ’s revelation in holy Tradition and our ability to know it. Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky writes that the recent crisis facing the Church in America reminds us that the glory of God is contained in earthen vessels.

Many people in the Church have been severely wounded during the months of crisis — bishops, priests, officials and staff of the church administration, laity in the parishes. These wounds are wounds to the Church, because they affect our cohesion and our credibility. In the midst of the pain, it is difficult — sometimes impossible — to find the way forward in pursuing the mission of the Church.

We are confronted by a truth which is actually an eternal, permanent truth about the Church, and not a truth limited to times of crisis, public scandal, and internal conflict. The treasure of our faith is held “in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians: 4:7).

Nothing like some messiness to remind us that the truth, the goodnes, the beauty — the glory — of God’s revelation are his and not ours.

Read more: OCA News Releases: “Treasure in Earthen Vessels,” by Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, Editor of The Orthodox Church

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Filed under: — Basil @ 9:06 pm

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Irenaeus on Softness of Heart

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In researching freedom of will and determinism in the fathers, I came upon this quote from St. Irenaeus (2nd c.):

How, then, shall he be a God, who has not as yet been made a man? Or how can he be perfect who was but lately created? How, again, can he be immortal, who in his mortal nature did not obey his Maker? For it must be that thou, at the outset, shouldest hold the rank of a man, and then afterwards partake of the glory of God. For thou dost not make God, but God thee. If, then, thou art God’s workmanship, await the hand of thy Maker which creates everything in due time; in due time as far as thou art concerned, whose creation is being carried out. Offer to Him thy heart in a soft and tractable state, and preserve the form in which the Creator has fashioned thee, having moisture in thyself, lest, by becoming hardened, thou lose the impressions of His fingers. But by preserving the framework thou shalt ascend to that which is perfect, for the moist clay which is in thee is hidden [there] by the workmanship of God. His hand fashioned thy substance; He will cover thee over [too] within and without with pure gold and silver, and He will adorn thee to such a degree, that even “the King Himself shall have pleasure in thy beauty.” But if thou, being obstinately hardened, dost reject the operation of His skill, and show thyself ungrateful towards Him, because thou wert created a [mere] man, by becoming thus ungrateful to God, thou hast at once lost both His workmanship and life. For creation is an attribute of the goodness of God but to be created is that of human nature. If then, thou shalt deliver up to Him what is thine, that is, faith towards Him and subjection, thou shalt receive His handiwork, and shall be a perfect work of God.

Treatise against heresies IV:39.2

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Filed under: — Basil @ 7:19 am

«— The Path
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Book Meme

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Although I have five posts being worked on currently, Bryan Peter infected me with a meme. I want to answer before I forget the correct answers.

  1. Total number of books I’ve owned
    What bibliophile could possibly answer this question? I don’t even know how many books I currently own, much less how many I’ve owned over the course of my life!
  2. Last book I bought
    Two in tandem: The Priest’s Service Book, by Archbishop Dmitri, and Book of Akathists, published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville.
  3. Last book I read
    Harder to see, that answer is. Either Beauty and Unity in Creation: The evolution of life by Gayle Woloschuk, or Against Heresies Book I by St Irenaeus.

    I can’t really recommend either of these very much. The book on evolution attempts to argue for the compatibility of science and faith, a position I favor, but the arguments felt like a badly edited Star Wars movie: everything went by so fast, with little actual argumentation to bolster her positions, with which I actually agreed. Against Heresies is several books long, and the translation I received from Amazon (which is in the Ancient Christian Writers series published by Newman Press) is merely Book I. I would recommend Proof of the Apostolic Preaching instead.

    Of course, I skip around a lot, so there are a ton of other books that I’ve started in the meantime.

  4. Five books that mean a lot to me
    1. The Bible, by the hand of God through the prophets and righteous men and women of the old covenant, the evangelists, apostles and bishops of the new.
    2. Tie: The Orthodox Way and The Orthodox Church, by Bishop Kallistos
    3. The Quest for Community, by Robert Nisbet
    4. For the Life of the World, by Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann
    5. Christ the Eternal Tao, by Priest-monk Damscene (Christensen)
    6. Honorable mentions: Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis; Brothers Karamazov, by Theodore Dostoevsky; The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973–1983, translated by Matushka Julianna Schmemann; Orthodox Spirituality, by Lev Gilet (alias a monk of the eastern Church); The Catechism of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church (EOC), by Randall Evans (self-published for local use); Christianity and Culture, by T. S. Eliot; The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning; The Shattered Lantern, by Ronald Rolheiser, OMI; The Galileo Connection, by Charles Hummel; Abusing Science, by Philip Kitcher.
  5. People I will infect with this meme
    Timothy, Dmitri, Reader Gideon, Reader Theophan, Juliana, DrBacchus, Erich, Dawn, Victoria, Peter Sherry, Philippa, Reader Andrew, Priest Joseph Honeycutt
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Filed under: — Basil @ 11:22 pm

«— Accessibility and Usability Forgotten at OCA.org
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We All Dream, When We’re Younger

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“We all dream, when we’re younger, / That we will do great things.” Alison Krauss, “Never Got Off the Ground” (Get this song with iTunes)

I was listening to this song earlier. It always reminds me that I left for college with rockstar dreams of getting a music degree. I wanted to be famous, to change the world with my music. College deeply challenged and remolded everything I believed, and I eventually switched to a philosophy degree with a minor in art history. I was again going to change the world, reviving Thomism and establishing that a theology of beauty is as important as truth and goodness.

If when we’re younger we dream of doing great things, when we’re older we dream of what we might do differently if we had the chance. I dream of how I would help my younger self if I could book a flight on a time machine. Ironically, there is nothing I would teach myself, because I still haven’t learned it. I would try to guide myself, at a very critical point, to make better decisions.

Read the rest of “We All Dream, When We’re Younger”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 8:13 pm

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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.

Read the rest of “St. John Chrysostom on Fasting”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 9:36 pm

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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

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Mutterings for November 7

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Time, once again, for a stroll down free association lane.
Read the rest of “Mutterings for November 7”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 12:59 am

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—» Straw Poll

A Refreshing Sip of Realism

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In following some links related to my previous post, I found a wonderful interview with Aidan Nichols, OP. Although I’ve heard his name before, I have never before been exposed to his thinking. This interview is brilliant and beautiful, especially where it touches on the Transcendentals — beauty, truth, goodness and unity.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 2:32 am

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To Havdala

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I do not know whether you read my blog or not, but I do not have a Blogger account, and I do not really want one. I do, however, have my own blog.

I resonate with your doubting. When I attended an evangelical Protestant college, my friends were all the outcasts. They were all on their way out of Christianity, or at least to a not-so-conservative brand of it. In retrospect, this is ironic because my direction theologically and philosophically was somewhat opposite, with some resonating harmonies. You can see, if you read this blog, that my journey has taken me into the high-country of the most conservative of Christianities — though I have far more liberty now than ever before.

I found fellowship with the pagans because they were more interesting. They were real. If they had doubts, they didn’t hide them. (And they had better taste than the praise-chorus–lapping majority of the student body.)

That is why the struggle with doubt is something that I associate with real, honest people. I have a nagging distrust of people who have never struggled. It seems to me that some form of struggle in this arena is necessary for strength. And my own life has not been without its own struggle.

I always find it sad when I learn that someone stops struggling and decides to let the waves overwhelm them. The lack of struggle is death. I do not mean only that they become pagans; it is equally sad, perhaps more so, when the struggle chokes their spirit and they become mummified, trapped inside a religious sarcophagus — smiling, happy, and dead.

I am weeping for you, Havdala, not because you are struggling, but because the tone of your post is so desperate. I recognize that despair; I can touch my own scars and remember the pain of despair. I’ve heard that sound before, and it bodes ill. It sounds like you are about to give up. It sounds like death.

I am praying for you, that you will get enough fresh air to continue fighting. Speaking of fresh air, perhaps you should consider taking a break from all things religious, to catch your breath. Return to the struggle when you have the strength to fight.

It looks like this: any doubts, any contradictions, any wounds you have received over the course of your life — you shelve them and distract yourself instead of dealing with them. Personally, I would distract myself with beauty: walks in the woods, visits to art museums, tours of gardens and such. Beauty is very spiritual for me. The important thing is that the distraction be meaningful to you and truly distracting.

Superficially this sounds dishonest; it sounds like running from the fight. In fact, the fight continues unconsciously while you regain your strength. When you return to the struggle — because you cannot escape the struggle indefinitely — you will find issues are clearer, and you will have the strength to take on the Hydra once again.

This is ideally done in the midst of a community that is praying for you; you attend prayers as you are able, without any expectations being made of you. However, sometimes even this is too much. It also helps if you have someone with whom you can talk about these issues — a nun, a priest, or a matushka can sometimes be especially sensitive to the needs of those who struggle.

Whatever you do, I am praying for you.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 7:34 pm

«— For Whom a Lot of Respect is Due
—» An Email List Without Emails

Says Who? (Apologia Pt 1)

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Many people look at the world around us and believe that there must be a God. Usually this is an intuitive response to the beauty of the world: a magnificent sunset, a stream proceeding endlessly to a green horizon, a starry sky of diamonds against the black velvet of night — experiences that leave us speechless, sure that someone must be responsible for it all. Sometimes, these experiences are coupled with a philosophical investigation of the idea of God’s existence, and one of the many proofs for God’s existence adds further support to belief.

However, we cannot induce from these things what kind of creator God is. Is he good or bad? For us or against us? In the end, we cannot even know that God is a creator separate from what we see around us. As proof, one need only look at the vast multiplicity of religions in the world. So many people, searching for the reasons for their lives. If one were to judge truth in religious belief from this multiplicity of religions, one would be tempted to conclude that truth in religion was an illusion — all religious beliefs are equally fantastic and unbelievable.

The only way we could know for certain anything about God is if he told us himself. He would need to reveal himself to us. Christians believe that this is exactly what has happened. The name for Christian Scripture is the Bible; it records God’s revelation to us. Beginning with our first parents — given the names Adam and Eve in Scripture — God has patiently revealed himself little by little. Everything has been done “in the fulness of time”: when human society was ready and the moment was right for the fulfillment of his plan.

In a comment on my post A Charge to Keep I Have, Pete asks,

This discussion seems to be… yet another argument about whether the Orthodox church is the only true church…. Does every issue have to become this? I’m not asking from a position of cynicism (yet)—I sincerely want to know whether it?s possible to have real dialogue… about other issues without reference to the Orthodox/“Heterodox? issue.

Karl brings it down to the real issue in response:

[A]ll truth claims eventually come to their core: by what authority does one claim that [X] is true? In regards to Orthodox vs Heterodox discussions of ANYTHING, [the] issue must at some point touch on the Authority Issue. Otherwise we just shout Scripture verses, or philosophical syllogisms, or whatnot back and forth totally befuddled as to why the other person ?just doesn?t get it.?

From our POV, this is a waste of time. We might as well get to the real issue: How do you know that what you believe is true?

The New Testament Scriptures testify to the life of Jesus Christ, whom Orthodox Christians believe to be God. The Orthodox believe that the Incarnation of God is the ultimate authority for all questions. “Incarnation” is a word from Latin meaning “enfleshment.” For Orthodox Christians, Jesus Christ was not merely a man, but God enfleshed as a man.

None of the books of the Bible were written by Jesus. There is no evidence, in fact, that he was even interested in leaving any teachings or instructions in writing at all. His actions — as recorded by the writers of the gospels, the books of the Bible that describe his life — seem to indicate that he was more interested in forming a community of which he is the head. Christians call this community the Church.

Just before his ascent into heaven, Jesus left his authority with a group of twelve hand-picked men called Apostles. These men had lived with Jesus for three years and were intimately familiar with his teachings. In addition, on Pentecost they were filled with the Holy Spirit, who enabled them to recall and teach what they had learned with power and authority. The Holy Spirit also brought them together and constituted them into a new reality, the Church, which Orthodox Christians believe is one with Jesus Christ, its head and founder.

This is why St. Paul considers the Church to be “the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 6:16 pm

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Karl’s Interview, Part II: Authority, Uniformity, Unity, and Communion

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2) As a teen you were involved with, as you put it, “the popular format of Pentecostal, charismatic, and ‘non-denominational’ churches” but later realized that they were unable to create authentic unity amongst members. As a former Episcopalian, and Roman Catholic, how has your understanding of the importance of unity changed since becoming Orthodox?
Well, most importantly, church authority — especially accountability, having a “covering” — has always been important to me. Pure congregationalism scared the tar out of me even as a teen-ager. I was always very keen to find out who was in authority over my pastors. This was not to exercise some kind of control: I never even dreamed of pulling political strings in any way. I simply needed to know that if something goes wrong, there is someone who will make sure that we as sheep are not abused and led astray.

In my pilgrimage through Canterbury and Rome to Constantinople and Moscow, the necessity of being under authority has become even more precious. The covering that I sought is not only provided for me and my priest by a bishop, but for our bishop by his brothers in the synod of bishops, who in turn are covered by submitting themselves to the teaching that has been passed on to them from preceding generations. Thus, both the external form of the apostolic succession, and the internal charism of apostolicity, guarantee that the Church is submitted in all things to Jesus Christ, her Lord — the ultimate authority in all matters concerning his body, the Church.

But I also realized that something was missing precisely because of the need for ritual that has been discussed recently in two posts over at Juliana’s blog, Morning Coffee. Not that I realized it before being immersed in it, but anyone can tell you that beauty — in word, image, sacred music, and many other kinds of ritual action — is deeply important to me. A search of my blog for beauty will reveal how important it is.

Liturgical prayer as I first experienced it in the Roman Catholic Church was like a burst of fresh air. I think perhaps the most vivid memory I have is of a pizza party for the staff of a TEC retreat (see my bio for background information). Fr. Ignatius said, “Let’s bless the food.” Like a good Protestant, I bowed my head and expected Fr. Ignatius to go off extemporaneously at this point. Instead, everyone in the room started praying together, “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord, amen.” Everyone said the same prayer, together! This fell outside the pale shadow of common prayer that I had known in the Methodist Church. For all the shock and awe it engendered in me, the room might as well have shook with thunderous prayer. Yet, it was not loud; it was just a room full of people — maybe 20-30 — saying their grace before a meal. It was the spiritual power of that unity that had me thunderstruck.

Later, I learned of the Rosary and other formal prayers and how they are prayed in common. This gave me a vision of unity that was rooted in a typically Western identification of unity with uniformity. As I progressed through the Episcopal Church, USA, and the Roman Catholic Church, I never lost my yearning for that unity via uniformity. It was only as I became Orthodox, faced with the nearly untenable situation in America of as many translations of the Church’s common prayer as there are jurisdictions, that I realized that unity — that is, communion of persons and churches — is something very different from the superficial uniformity of the West.

In the Episcopal Church, I could kneel for holy communion next to someone, who has recited with me the words of the General Confession, “Most merciful God,we confess that we have sinned against you / in thought, word, and deed, / by what we have done, / and by what we have left undone,” yet lives in unrepentant sin, and I was supposed to accept this diversity as a wonderful, beautiful thing. In fact, the diversity within unity of the Episcopal Church is often extolled as their greatest virtue.

In reflecting on these two situations, I have realized that true unity — communion — is something far different that the superficial uniformity imposed from without by any kind of ultramontanist hierarchy. I still believe that having common prayers can be a very powerful thing, and I pray for it everyday, “for the union of the Churches,” etc. Yet, real communion is much sweeter than a superficial similarity that wanes immediately as we leave the doors of the Church.

And, in the end, it is a severe mercy to the unrepentant sinners.

Future questions to be answered:
3) How did you get involved with computers and web design?
4) Do you think that God is calling you to the priesthood? Tonsured monastic life?
5) You attend a small Orthodox parish. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of your parish?

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Filed under: — Basil @ 12:07 am

«— The Bell Tolls
—» Dormition of the Holy Website

Transfiguration

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We are in the afterfeast of the Transfiguration according to the Eastern calendar. Unable to attend vespers for the feast at St. Athanasius, I tried to make the Liturgy which I assumed would be served at the Greek parish in Lexington. Unfortunately, the doors were locked at nine Wednesday morning — when they normally serve the Liturgy. Why would you not celebrate one of the most important feasts in the Orthodox calendar? It’s unimaginable to me.

The Transfiguration is perhaps one of my favorite feasts of the year — and not only because I get blessed fruit at the end of the Liturgy. Many years ago, the first catechism for our fledgling parish was being held in a catechumen-parishioner’s home. In fact, we were not even a parish yet. I was not a catechumen: I was merely observing, or so I thought. In a discussion of the “kenosis” passage of Philippians 7, the priest-catechist asked, “When is the only time that Jesus was not emptying himself?” We all thought about it, and then I finally replied, “At the Transfiguration!” The light of amazement shone in the priest’s eyes — the Roman Catholic who argued about the filioque and the universal jurisdiction of the pope actually got something that left the actual catechumens scratching their heads. That realization was the beginning of the end for me.

The Orthodox emphasize the Transfiguration because the experience of Prophets Moses and Elijah on Mt. Tabor is the ultimate goal for every Christian — to be interpenetrated by the divine and uncreated energies of God. As St. Peter writes in his catholic epistle, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” The glory of the holy Trinity revealed on Mt. Tabor — the beauty of God shining through creation — this is what I was looking for. When I finally asked to be made a catechumen, it was because of this glory enfleshed in the people and traditions of the Orthodox parishes I knew. If the pope turns out to have been right, I hope God will go easy on me for “leaving the Church.”

As I mused on the irony of a liturgical addict being unable, through circumstances beyond his control, to attend services on his second favorite feast out of the year, I remembered that this spiritual work — asceticism — in synergy with God is what brings about our own transfiguration. How do you like them apples?

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Filed under: — Basil @ 8:39 pm

«— The Return of the King?
—» The Death of a Child

Taizé, Orthodoxy, and Ecumenism

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Edited: This post has been edited from its original form, to correct innaccuracies. See the comments by other readers for more details.

Earlier today, I was listening to a wonderful CD produced by the ecumenical monastery at Taizé, France, Alleluia. This thoroughly beautiful album of liturgical music in the Western tradition infuses Gregorianesque chant with very light intrumentation. Instruments like oboes, piccoloes, trumpets and horns, play spritely, modal melodies that blend with the simplified chant to recreate the sound of Renaissance sacred chamber music.

To hear some of my coreligionists yell about the unmitigated evils of ecumenism, you might think that we are all insular, provincial fundamentalists. But the heart of Orthodoxy is theosis — deification, a union of the person with the person of Christ, so that my human nature is interpenetrated with the divine energies just as Christ’s human nature was. I become filled with Christ, through the grace of the Holy Spirit. Although some are ready to restrict the Holy Spirit to only working through the sacraments of the Church, the mainline of Orthodox doctrine has recognized that the Holy Spirit — like the wind (gr. pneuma) — blows where he wills, as our Lord said in his discourse with St. Nicodemus. This is sometimes expressed, as Bp. Kallistos once said (writing as Timothy Ware in The Orthodox Church), “We know where the Church is; we can never be sure where it is not.”

Looking at the history and principles of Taizé, I noted the utter simplicity of its rule. I recalled the positive experience Bp. Seraphim (Sigrist) had with Br. Roger and the Taizé Community. Truth cannot be divided. It is one. And Truth is one, just as the Church is one, because Christ is one!

In perhaps the most memorable and important of the great “I AMs” of St. John’s gospel, our Lord announces to his friends, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: No man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

I am the truth! Wherever we come upon the Truth, we have hit upon the rock of Christ himself. All that is true is orthodox; all that is false is anathema.

Classically, Truth, Beauty and Goodness have been considered a triumvirate called the “Transcendentals.” They are all related to one another in some way. That relation is Christ — Christ is Truth, Christ is Goodness, Christ is Beauty. They are all simply various facets of his revelation to us. This is why ethics have no meaning for us outside of our sacramental union as Christians with Christ. That is why Orthodoxy places such emphasis on beauty — why the icons are in wood and paint what the Gospels are in word (cf. Seventh Ecumenical Council).

I have been reading, and I’m almost finished, The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983. Fr. Alexander repeats often how tired he became of Orthodox provincialism — the tendency to eschew everything that doesn’t have an Orthodox-capital-O label, or to accept without question everything that refers back to old Russia, or Byzantium. He praised simplicity and joy without qualification. He denounced complication and sophistication, and he always returned to the Church as the Sacrament of Christ’s Body in the world.

Orthodoxy always brings us back to this union with Christ. Even when the image of Christ becomes mottled with Byzantine acretions, it is only insofar as we become united to Christ that we have anything to offer the world. It is only insofar as we become filled with him — as the chalice is filled with his body and blood — that we are able to bear witness of him to the lonely, hurting, world that continually alienates herself from her Lord, God, creator, and lover — the “only lover of mankind” (gr. philanthropos).

Conversely, everywhere we meet Christ in all of his many disguises, we owe him our humble worship and acknowledgement as our Lord and God and savior. “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” It is only in blessing the Lord Jesus in those we meet that they can see in the Church the fullness of him whom they have already grasped ahold of as best as they can.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 8:06 pm