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Archive for October, 2007

In light of my previous post, I thought I would also offer Psalm 3. Although I should point out that, so far as I know, I am only highlighting an individual application, still, I thought I would offer that over the years, as I have prayed this during morning prayers, it has seemed imminently applicable to the manifold passions against which we fight.

A Psalm of David. When He Fled from the Face of Abessalom His Son, in the Wilderness.

O Lord, why are they multiplied that afflict me? Many rise up against me.
Many say unto my soul: There is no salvation for him in his God.
But Thou, O Lord, art my helper, my glory, and the lifter up of my head.
I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and He heard me out of His holy mountain.
I laid me down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord will help me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people that set themselves against me round about.
Arise, O Lord, save me, O my God, for Thou hast smitten all who without cause are mine enemies; the teeth of sinners hast Thou broken.
Salvation is of the Lord, and Thy blessing is upon Thy people.

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[This citation is from my other blog, which I thought those who only visit this site would enjoy with me.]

And of these passions as the occasions are recognized by everybody as soon as they are laid open by the teaching of the elders, so before they are revealed, although we are all overcome by them, and they exist in every one, yet nobody knows of them. But we trust that we shall be able in some measure to explain them, if by your prayers that word of the Lord, which was announced by Isaiah, may apply to us also—”I will go before thee, and bring low the mighty ones of the land, I will break the gates of brass, and cut asunder the iron bars, and I will open to thee concealed treasures and hidden secrets”—so that the word of the Lord may go before us also, and first may bring low the mighty ones of our land, i.e. these same evil passions which we are desirous to overcome, and which claim for themselves dominion and a most horrible tyranny in our mortal body; and may make them yield to our investigation and explanation, and thus breaking the gates of our ignorance, and cutting asunder the bars of vices which shut us out from true knowledge, may lead to the hidden things of our secrets, and reveal to us who have been illuminated, according to the Apostle’s word, “the hidden things of darkness, and may make manifest the counsels of the hearts, that thus penetrating with pure eyes of the mind to the foul darkness of vices, we may be able to disclose them and drag them forth to light; and may succeed in explaining their occasions and natures to those who are either free from them, or are still tied and bound by them, and so passing as the prophet says, through the fire of vices which terribly inflame our minds, we may be able forthwith to pass also through the water of virtues which extinguish them unharmed, and being bedewed (as it were) with spiritual remedies may be found worthy to be brought in purity of heart to the consolations of perfection.

St. John Cassian: On Battling the Passions

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Reinventing the Wheel, of Sorts

From my friend Tripp, comes this link to an article by The Alban Institute: “Church for the 21st Century”. Tripp cites the paragraphs from the article indicating (though giving no statistics) a similar sort of growth among progressive churches as among the more conservative evangelical and fundamentalist churches and megachurches. I continue to be amused at the self-congratulatory nature of these sorts of things (“See! See! We’re just as good as the fundegelicals!”), as well as the implicit appeal to numerical increase and/or size to justify one’s doctrines and beliefs as approved by and channeling the spirit. (The lower case “s” is intentional. Note the link above.)

I also continue to fail to find myself or anyone else I know in these stereotypes with which the “progressive” churches paint their counterparts. We “conserva-tradition-evan-funda-gelicals” are apparently low-browed, knuckle-draggin’, and nostril-breathin’ folks, who are missing the movement of the spirit (sic) en masse. Which explains why my wife jabs me with her elbow in the middle of the night to get me to roll over, and why I don’t get the “reinvent the wheel every two decades” mentality that seems to drive “progressives.”

But I digress.

Here’s what I noticed from the article:

The Portland scholar and book author [Marcus Borg] went on to describe a “tale of two Christianities,” examining the conflict between contemporary change and resistance to change—both theological and political. Borg sketched the two sides, one embracing the “belief-centered paradigm” and the other the emerging “transformation-centered paradigm” embracing a human understanding of Jesus’s life and work as “grounding” for ongoing personal and social change.

“The transformation-centered paradigm is not an accommodation or reduction of the Christian tradition to modern thought,” said Borg. “Rather it is neo-traditional…a recovery, a retrieval of what was most central [to the faith] before the collision with modernity.”

The transformation-centered paradigm has profound implications for how progressive leaders are “doing church” today. These leaders are rearranging the sanctuary furniture and installing video screens as they find new ways to empower members of their congregations. They are introducing new welcoming rituals, more tables of discussion, and even alternative ways of structuring session meetings.

What’s so funny is that these “progressives” are still stuck in that three-centuries old modernist paradigm of binary opposites: “belief-centered” versus “transformation-centered.” Haven’t any of them heard of this new thing called “Post-mo-der-nism”? It’s pretty slick. It attempts to deconstruct such binarism. So, I mean, how progressive can one be if one is still stuck in a centuries-old paradigm?

Oh, but wait. The Borg clarifies: it’s neotraditional. It attempts to recover the pre-modern “transformation-centered” paradigm. And how does it do it? By moving the furniture and installing new media equipment: “rearranging the sanctuary furniture and installing video screens.”

Isn’t it convenient how these self-congratulatory types don’t make one mention of, oh, I don’t know, such things as: repentence, confession of sin, fasting, and such? How can anyone have “personal transformation” by sitting at a different spot in a room, or by watching videos, unless they are also confronted with their deep and broken sinfulness, their deep bondage to the passions, the sinful inclinations which we embrace and which turn our face from God and our fellow man?

If the Borg wants “transformational” then he needs to experience as much as God will permit in love for his salvation the deep wretched sinfulness with which we are all infected and which breaks us. If these progressives truly want social change, if they can get out of their bondage to the modernist epistemology and paradigm and stop viewing this as “us vs. them”, then they will own the deep and sickening sin which permeates our persons and realize there, in our wretchedness God infuses his mercy and unites us in solidarity to one another.

It won’t happen just because we sit in a circle and watch a Sara McLachlin video.

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[H/T: An unnamed radio host via email.]

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Fr John raises the question: When is it proselytizing and when not?. His interlocutors are none too shy: When Orthodox present their faith to other Christians in monological form, it’s sheep stealing. When Orthodox present their faith to non-Christians it’s evangelism.

This paradigm is, of course, built on a dialectic (and an ecclesiology) that I do not think is natural either to the New Testament, nor to Orthodoxy. The dialectic is, of course, that all human beings are neatly divided into two camps: the saved and unsaved. But unless I am mistaken, for Orthodox, the categories are much less neat. After all, there are Orthodox Christians (for our purposes here, “the saved”) who will be going to hell, there are non-Orthodox Christian (for our purposes here, “the unsaved”) who God’s mercy will include into heaven, there are non-Orthodox non-Christians who are on the way to being saved (via movements of the Holy Spirit indiscernible to us), there are Orthodox Christians who are on the way to being saved, and so on. The point being that even if we accept a binary categorization (the wheat and the tares, say), such a categorization is fuzzy and one in which we are likely to be mistaken.

The ecclesiology, too, is not one that Orthodoxy holds: which is to say, that having the Spirit is identical to being in the Church, and thus if one has the Spirit one is in the Church (whatever human name is on that Church). But in fact, the Orthodox believe that the Holy Spirit exceeds the visible boundaries of the Church (else none of us would ever get into it in the first place), which is why the Orthodox can claim to seemingly contradictory things: the Sacraments of other bodies are not formally valid, and the rites of baptism in certain bodies are efficacious in degree (i.e., my baptism really made me a Christian, even though the rites of my previous Restoration Movement churches are not Sacraments).

So, this notion that Orthodox, when they make monological apology for their faith to other Christians, they are proselytizing (sheep-stealing) is an unfair criticism, since it uses criteria for its judgment which Orthodox do not necessarily hold.

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[Previous reflections, including a brief historical context, are to be found here.]

These are the reflections of someone particularly ignorant about such deep matters, let alone of this specific Church Father. There are others who are much more knowledgeable than me. What I will attempt with these reflections is to bring together the deep theology they explicate and some thoughts of a more practical, hopefully somewhat ascetical, bent. That is to say, what I want to attempt is to reflect on these things as a way to better my living of the faith, and my prayers. I’m happy to be corrected by those who discern errors in my thoughts here.

In this reflection, I will first quote an extensive section from the dialogue—the thought of which, once I began to grasp the distinctions, forcefully revealed to me that Orthodoxy is the truth. My fumbling grasping of this one truth is what solidified my conversion to Orthodoxy.

XXV. . . . [Orthodox] So we venerate one divinity with three hypostases but not as if it would be devoid of grace and power and activity, so that which does not proceed from God is the same as and similar to that which proceeds from God and that manifests itself is the same as that which remains hidden. For such is the talk of idiots. And just as we say that power and wisdom are common to the Father, the Son and the Spirit, and contend also that the Son is the power and the wisdom of the Father [1 Corinthians 1:24], but existing independently [authupostaton], and nevertheless venerate wisdom and power as one in the highest and venerate trinity—for the enhypostatic [enupostatos] power and wisdom of God is one; and when you speak about the common power and wisdom of the three hypostases, that one is also one—in the same way we honor the divinity of the three (hypostases) as one. For which one you speak about, the three have only one. The essence is existing independently [authuparktos] and is, in all respects, unthinkable; but the power which is around it in a physical way [phusikos] and which is understood by us according to our faculties on the basis of the creatures and which is named and praised appropriately on the basis of those things which are created from non-beings and which are composed and improved in agreement with that (essence), as foreseeing, creative and theurgic, is contemplating and directing everything. “For,” the great Basil says, “the creatures demonstrate the power and wisdom and skill, but not the essence itself.” [Against Eunomius 2, 32]

XXVI. B[arlaamite]. But you say that also that common theurgic power and grace are enhypostatic [enupostaton].

O[rthodox]. But not in the sense of independent [authupostaton]. Come on! In that respect too we once again follow the fathers. For they say that the light of the deifying grace is enhypostatic [enupostaton], but not in the sense you wrongly understand it. But since “enhypostatic” [enhupostaton] has many meanings, just as “anhypostatic” [anupostaton], they believe that the grace of deification is enhypostatic [enupostaton], not in the sense that it is completely independent (authypostatic), but that it remains together with the persons in which it comes; it is not, like lightning and thunder, born at the moment of passing away, and abolished together with its manifestation in the objects. “For,” he (Basil) says, “the light works in those for whom it shines, continuously and uninterruptedly.” But let us add a few words more to the unicity of the divinity. What do you think? Is the Spirit, one part of the trinity, not to be venerated by us? But we also call the grace of the Spirit which is a common characteristic of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, “spirit.” And God Himself, too, who is worshipped in the trinity, is spirit. Will we, on that account, be hindered from worshipping one spirit? And will someone because of that accuse us of saying that there are many spirits to be venerated?

XXVII. B. Not at all.

O. So then we know that both God’s essence and His activity are called divinity and nevertheless we are worshippers of one divinity. For Isaiah also said there are seven spirits which another prophet (Zechariah) called the seven eyes of God. [Isaiah 11:2; Zechariah 3:9; 4:10] And the divine Maximus says that these exist in a physical way [phusikos] in God the Son and Word of God. [Against Thalassius 63] Just as the seven spirits do not take away the oneness of the spirit—for they are the emanations and manifestations and powers and activities of the one holy spirit—so the oneness of the divinity is not annihilated by its manifoldness. For the divinity of the three hypostases is one, namely a superessential nature and essence, simple, invisible, imparticipable, in all respects unthinkable. . . . All these things, then, are emanations and manifestations and powers and activities of that one divinity; they are with that divinity in a physical [phusikos] and inseparable fashion. The person who separates them from it and drags them down to make them creatures also drags the divinity down along with them . . . .

-–St. Gregory Palamas, Dialogue between an Orthodox and a Barlaamite which Invalidates in Detail the Barlaamite Error, XXV-XXVII (Global Publications/CEMERS, n.d.; tr. Rein Ferwerda).

It is not easy to overestimate what the concepts the Saint presents here did, and have done, for the theology I now espouse and the life in which I strive. I can, without hesitation, affirm that my beliefs about God have changed in light of the things the saint here presents. These changes are not mere fashions, or affectations, but are, indeed, such that I cannot return to previous mores without a change in identity. And the differences between the former and the present are not subtle.

I will be speaking of my experience, and will be critical of it. I am well aware that those who identify themselves by that which I criticize may think that my criticisms of my former beliefs, with which they may identify, are rightly called “straw man” and “unfair.” In another context, they may well be right so to do. But here I wish to trace the differences in my own thoughts, and, more importantly, the effects on my living.

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O Virgin Pure

O Virgin Pure
by St. Nectarios
Plagal First Tone (Tone 5)

Refrain: O Rejoice, Bride Unwedded.

O Virgin pure, immaculate/ O Lady Theotokos
O Virgin Mother, Queen of all/ and fleece which is all dewy
More radiant than the rays of sun/ and higher than the heavens
Delight of virgin choruses/ superior to Angels.
Much brighter than the firmament/ and pure than the sun’s light
More holy than the multitude/ of all the heav’nly armies.
O Rejoice, Bride Unwedded.

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Via Tripp, comes a post on Utopia, progressive politics and the Kingdom.

The angst exhibited in the post is fairly typical of what one finds among those evangelicals who are anxious to remain faithful to their core Gospel convictions, but, for varying motivations, want to embrace a more socially activist way of living. And that’s a problem.

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