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Archive for February, 2004

Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy

I have waited for this Sunday for more than a year. Last year, as Great Lent began, I eagerly anticipated this feast, but Anna and I were in Pittsburgh visiting her brother, Delane, and tensions over the Orthodox Church where high between us, so I didn’t try to seek out the local Orthodox parish to observe the day.

Today, however, was different. We were home, so we could go to All Saints. We have been going to All Saints as a family now since September. And we just finished the first week of Great Lent. I was most definitely in need of the Divine Liturgy.

But first a little background on the feast:
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3. Orthodox Encounters June 2002 to September 2003 (Part C)

In July 2002, I began six months of reading and study, reflection and writing on the key questions to which I needed answers. Answers that would address not merely intellectual matters, but the issues of the life of faith. This project, though it did not begin quite so large as it ended, was much less about an academic study of, say, whether or not the Church had always believed that the elements of bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, but rather, if this is indeed the case, what am I then to do about it? So, what began as an anticipated handful of questions I might answer in a paper grew to eight related essays (three on the nature of the Church alone), totaling some ninety-two typescript pages and more than thirty thousand nine hundred words. I started the first essay on 31 July, and began the last essay on Christmas Eve (finishing it the day after New Year’s Day). [Note: Those essays have been posted online and can be found here.]
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Sunday of Forgiveness

Today is the Sunday of Forgiveness, the last day prior to Great Lent (which technically begins this evening during Vespers).

The Gospel (Matthew 6:14-21) for today reads:

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Kontakion of the Sunday of Forgiveness Tone 2
O Thou Guide unto wisdom, Bestower of prudence, Instructor of the foolish, and Defender of the poor;
establish and grant understanding unto my heart, O Master.
Grant me speech, O Word of the Father;
for behold, I shall not keep my lips from crying unto Thee:
O Merciful One, have mercy on me who have fallen.
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Gospel Tellings

This week has been an amazing preparation for Great Lent.

It began, rather innocuously enough, on last Sunday after Divine Liturgy. I had run back upstairs to catch Father so as to have him refill our bottle of holy water. Having accomplished my mission, Eva, who had taken up the baskets which had contained the antidoron, offered me one of the pieces remaining. I took it.

You should know that it has been my practice, up until Sofie’s birth, to take home a piece of antidoron, when I could, to consume a bit each day through the week. But since Sofie’s birth, my observance of Morning Prayer has been nonexistent–except for sporadic bursts here and there. During the previous months, I would take home antidoron, intending to follow the pious custom I’d been habituated to, but almost always failing to do so, with the result that I would almost unfailingly have dry, mouldy antidoron to deal with each week. So I stopped taking any antidoron home.

But I have, of late, been convicted of my lack of prayer, especially since Sofie is on a more regular schedule, and my lack is not a matter of attending to her needs so much as the inertia of lethargy. Eva’s offering to me, then, was something like an act of faith. “Okay, God, clearly you want me to get back into the habit of prayer, and are offering me this blessed bread as symbol and incentive.”
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[Note: This entire series of posts can be read in a single html document here.]

Conclusion

In the present Western sociopolitcal context, and certainly here in the United States where I live, the greatest danger for faithful Christian thinking is that of Gnosticism, the divorcing of mind and thinking from the body and the will. This has many permutations, the lines between each of which are not always distinct. There are those seek to parse the Tradition either to dismantle it or to set in place a burden of law not even the Pharisees had the temerity to establish. There are those who are diligent to know and understand their faith in accord with all the generations of Christians gone before them, but fail also diligently to observe the practices of the Faith observed by these pioneers, whether that be in sexual chastity (an absolute necessity in our sexually saturated culture) or in the self-control of appetite and the stewardship of money, which so easily lead to the godless commodification of the treasures of faith. But there are also those who, having dismantled the faith, rush into behaviors and ideologies promoted by the non-Christian world, but with a zeal that only new converts espouse and lacking the genuine world-weariness of the profligate.

Faithful Christian thinking rejects this mind-body split, and for very good reason: God himself became man. In so doing, the unity of what it means to be human was strengthened and transformed. Mind, soul and body form a unity of thought, action and will, neither one divorced from the other, for in the dissolution of these bonds, all of us become less than truly human. Any project which would elevate one aspect of human nature over another, or any apart from dependence on the Holy Trinity is a project of dehumanization. Any project which would seek immortality apart from life in God, or wisdom and knowledge apart from Christ Jesus, is a project not only doomed to failure but also fated to enslave all those who adhere to its principles.
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Building on Christian Foundations for Faithful Thinking: Tracing the Implications

2. Christian Thinking is Holy Thinking

If it is the case that truly Christian thinking is, at its core, a partaking of the divine nature, and if Christian thinking, to be faithful, must be whole, and can only be whole insofar as it is in real communion with the Holy Trinity, then it clearly must also be the case that Christian thinking, if it is to be faithful, must be holy. For our God is a consuming fire, whom, without holiness, no one will see.

This, of course, means that the Christian cannot, in his thought life, sexually objectify a person (or lust after them). A Christian cannot use his powers of reason to plot revenge. Nor can the Christian willfully and with reflection engage the will toward greed or heresy. These guidelines are, or at least traditionally have been, rather obvious.

But it also means that faithful thinking reflects the Trinitarian image in which we humans have been made, and must manifest the likeness of God which is, as Christians, being renewed in us. Though the first action God took after creating mankind was to bless them, the first words of God to the humans he had made was a command, “Be fruitful.” The first Gospel to come from our Lord’s mouth, in his earthly ministry, was a command, “Repent.” We always already are given a command when we approach God. “Be still.” “Take off thy sandals.” Our primary manifestation of holiness in thinking is obedience. “We take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
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The Journey to Antioch (Part VII)

3. Orthodox Encounters June 2002 to September 2003 (Part B)

Although she refrained from any critical remarks about my worshipping at the Orthodox Church for nearly a month, by the first of July 2002 Anna vigorously voiced her frustration and opposition. My continuing to worship at a Church she could not see fit to worship at was just like if I were taking a knife right through the midst of our family and dividing it in half. I had two weeks to decide what I was to do: continue to go to the Orthodox Church and wreak havoc on our home; or find a parish where we both could worship together as a family.
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Today being St. Leo’s feast day, contemplate this from the Tome of Leo:

Accordingly while the distinctness of both natures and substances was preserved, and both met in one Person, lowliness was assumed by majesty, weakness by power, mortality by eternity; and, in order to pay the debt of our condition, the inviolable nature was united to the passible, so that as the appropriate remedy for our ills, one and the same “Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus,” might from one element be capable of dying and also from the other be incapable. Therefore in the entire and perfect nature of very man was born very God, whole in what was his, whole in what was ours. By “ours” we mean what the Creator formed in us at the beginning and what he assumed in order to restore; for of that which the deceiver brought in, and man, thus deceived, admitted, there was not a trace in the Saviour; and the fact that he took on himself a share in our infirmities did not make him a par-taker in our transgressions. He assumed “the form of a servant” without the defilement of sin, enriching what was human, not impairing what was divine: because that “emptying of himself,” whereby the Invisible made himself visible, and the Creator and Lord of all things willed to be one among mortals, was a stooping down in compassion, not a failure of power. Accordingly, the same who, remaining in the form of God, made man, was made man inthe form of a servant. For each of the natures retains its proper character without defect; and as the form of God does not take away the form of a servant, so the form of a servant does not impair the form of God. . . .

Accordingly, the Son of God, descending from his seat in heaven, and not departing from the glory of the Father, enters this lower world, born after a new order, by a new mode of birth. After a new order; because he who in his own sphere is invisible, became visible in ours; He who could not be enclosed in space, willed to be enclosed; continuing to be before times, he began to exist in time; the Lord of the universe allowed his infinite majesty to be overshadowed, and took upon him the form of a servant; the impassible God did not disdain to be passible Man and the immortal One to be subjected to the laws of death. And born by a new mode of birth; because inviolate virginity, while ignorant of concupiscence, supplied the matter of his flesh. What was assumed from the Lord’s mother was nature, not fault; nor does the wondrousness of the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, as born of a Virgin’s womb, imply that his nature is unlike ours. For the selfsame who is very God, is also very man; and there is no illusion in this union, while the lowliness of man and the loftiness of Godhead meet together. . . .

Troparion of St Leo Tone 3
Thou wast the Church’s instrument/ in strengthening the Church’s teaching of true doctrine;/ thou didst shine forth from the West like a sun/ and didst dispel the heretics’ error./ O righteous Leo, entreat Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.

Kontakion of St Leo Tone 3
From the throne of thy priesthood, O glorious one,/ thou didst stop the mouths of the spiritual lions;/ thou didst illumine thy flock with the light of the knowledge of God/ and with the inspired doctrines of the Holy Trinity./ Thou art glorified as a divine initiate of the grace of God.

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Building on Christian Foundations for Faithful Thinking: Tracing the Implications

1. Christian Thinking is Whole Thinking

On the basis of the foundations for Christian thinking which I have laid out previously, it is clear that Christians cannot be faithful in their thinking and at the same time dichotomize it. That is to say, a Christian can neither dismiss the subjective aspects of knowing nor can they eschew objectivity. A Christian understands that no human being can have purely objective knowledge. We believe that as creations of God, ours is a contingent knowing, inescapably subjective per se.

But this subjectivity is balanced and transformed by the only being who can claim pure objectivity, the Holy Trinity. The Christian has access to the objectivity which God himself provides in and through the Holy Spirit and his testimony in the Church, the Scriptures and the life of the Church, also known as Tradition. There is no other focal point outside the Holy Spirit’s work in the Body of Christ through which any of us can have access to unchanging Truth.
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3. Orthodox Encounters June 2002 to September 2003 (Part A)

On 9 June 2002, I returned to All Saints Orthodox Church after a six-month absence.

The week before, through a serendipitous reference in my reading to the passage in Ephesians 5 on the relations of husbands and wives, I contemplated my responsibilities as a husband. According to the Scriptures, and my own conscience, I came up far short. Especially in the critical role of my obligations of leadership in my home in matters of faith.
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