A Cautionary Tale for All Us Solitary, Bookish Types

From The Prologue from Ohrid:

As a monk Nicetas was disobedient to his superior, left the monastery and closed himself in a cell. Because of his disobedience, God permitted great temptations to befall him. Once, when Nicetas was at prayer, the devil appeared to him under the guise of a radiant angel and said to him: “Do not pray anymore; rather read books and I will pray for you!” Nicetas obeyed and ceased to pray and began to read books. He only read the Old Testament. He was unable even to open the Book of the New Testament, for the power of the devil prevented him from doing so. With the help of the devil, Nicetas prophesied only crimes, thefts, arson and other evil deeds which are known to the devil and in which he [the devil] participates. Finally, the holy fathers of the Caves realized that Nicetas had succumbed to the temptation of the devil, and they began to pray to God for him. Nicetas returned to the monastery, realized the destruction which plagued him, and directed himself on the right path. After prolonged repentance and many tears, God forgave him and bestowed upon him the gift of miracle-working. He died in the year 1108 A.D.

Study and prayer must necessarily go together. And with that in mind, here are some important prayers for students:
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A Good Question

Erica asks a good question: “Why become a theological liberal?” Her question really raises the whole issue of what is real Christianity? What is true Christian faith and life, and why would someone want to deviate from it? If true Christianity is the Christianity that is lived in the Tradition, why isn’t everyone that sort of Christian?

Over at the atheist message boards I visit (far less frequently now than once was the case), which I’ve written about before, I find myself often in a two-pronged argument against the anti-Christian posters as well as the fundamentalist Christians who take great delight in sawing off the branch of the argument-tree on which they sit. The atheists and anti-Christians love it: “Here are two Christians disagreeing over the basic beliefs–so they claim–of their irrational doctrines. Let’s just let them go at it and maybe they’ll off one another and we won’t have to worry about them anymore.” It’s not that I enjoy arguing against fundamentalist Christians, but to make an advancing argument against atheist attacks, I often find myself fighting a rearguard action so as to establish my advancing argument. Frustrating as heck, I must say.

There are two simple answers to Erica’s question, or at least Erica’s question as broadened by me here: Those Christians who do not follow the way Christianity has always been lived fail to do so either from ignorance (this was the case with me and many of my fellow parishioners, for example), or because they are convinced that there is no such thing as “the way Christianity has always been lived.” These two answers, at least, fit the majority of people that I know personally. There is a third answer, which Erica gives in her post, and which I will comment on below. But I want to spend time with the first two possibilities I present here.
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Why Tradition? (Part II of II)

In my previous post I addressed one connotation contained in the title of these two posts, “Why Tradition?” I gave there an explanation by way of the Life we experience in Holy Tradition. Here I will address the second connotation contained in the question titling this post, “Why Tradition?” That is to say, why make so much out of it? Here I give my defense of what it is we hold on to.

My defense begins and ends with the exact same answer given to the question in the first post: We hold on to Tradition because in it we have the Life Christ gives to his people. “Will you also leave?” our Lord asks us. And with Peter, we reply, “Where else can we go? You have the words of Life.”

But this answer does not satisfy my brothers and sisters who want only to hold on to certain parts of the Tradition and not the whole of it, or, more to the point, those who would reject the Tradition altogether. I will try to explain to these, then, why it is we hold on to the Tradition. From the outset, however, I recognize, as I noted in my previous post, that we do not speak the same language here. It’s not just the difference between the dialects of justice and rights and of mercy and grace. It is, indeed, more deep even than that. We traditionalists do not have a perspective that Tradition ought even be measured and weighed by us. Rather it measures and weighs us.

Our brothers and sisters who do not understand us fail to do so on this very point. They see Tradition as always reformable, always infected by sinful human tendencies, and therefore always to be viewed with suspicion. It is not Life to them, it is convention. For us, the symbols and metaphors of the Faith do not carry meaning because we believers invest them with meaning. No, they are symbols and metaphors only precisely because they carry the meaning of the reality they represent. To speak in the beloved pragmatic terms of our present-day American culture: symbols and metaphors only “work” because there is a reality there to which they are metaphysically anchored. If it were mere convention only that invested them with meaning, then there would be no reality for them to point to, and we would indeed be justified in changing them to suit our generational moods. It is this deep difference in ecclesial understanding that divides us. And so much of what I say, despite my best efforts, may still fail to translate for my brothers and sisters who find me and my “kind” the most unusual and incomprehensible of Christians.
Continue reading “Why Tradition? (Part II of II)”

Why Tradition? (Part I of II)

Some of the emails I’ve gotten and some of the public replies to my post on division and the Church have prompted me to some further reflection on the thing we “traditionalists” call the Holy Tradition. My reflections will unfold in two parts, of which this is the first, each part having to do with a different connotation of the question which is the title of this post. That is to say, one connotation of “Why Tradition?” is the sense of explanation, or what we mean when we say things like “Holy Tradition.” The other connotation is “Why Tradition?” in the sense of justification and defense.

Many of the comments I’ve received have to do with an understanding that is radically at odds with the way we “traditionalists” understand ourselves when we say “Tradition.” I am coming from the Orthodox perspective (insofar as I can best represent it), so mine will be different in some emphases from what an Anglican or a Roman Catholic means by “Tradition.” But in that we are all referring to that living experience which has been transmitted from the Apostles down to our own day, we can said to be of one mind on the matter, and I hope to accurately reflect that mind.

First, what we do not mean by Holy Tradition. We do not mean those things that are not universal in shape and content to the entire apostolic Church. We also do not mean by Holy Tradition a set of legal codes or rules that must be unquestioningly obeyed at all times. We do not mean a love of the past merely for the past’s sake. We do not mean a fortress into which we can retreat from the social realities we find troubling and distasteful. And we certainly do not mean by Holy Tradition a state of power in which we get to control the behaviors of other people. All of this is most emphatically not what we are about.

Rather, we mean by Holy Tradition quite simply that in which we know we can find the Life of Christ. We fast on Wednesdays and Fridays because we know that doing so brings us into real and vibrant contact with the Life of Christ. We rise bleary-eyed in the mornings to recite prayers somebody else wrote and prayed centuries ago because we know that those prayers unite us to all the saints here and in the heavenlies and in that union accomplished by the Holy Spirit we touch Life. We kiss our icons–which for many of us are paper reproductions pasted on wood (since we cannot afford a handwritten icon), these icons which have been blessed with holy water and lain on the very altar where bread and wine become the very Body and Blood of our Lord–because we know those kisses pass beyond paper or paint and wood and come in contact with the Life of all. We adhere to the male-only Eucharistic ministry because we know that our priests image for us Christ, who is male, and who himself images perfectly the Father in heaven, who is masculine. This is the only God we have ever known and the only one who has given us the Life we now live. We keep the only form of marriage the Church has ever known, that of one man and one woman for life and for the begetting of children, because in creating life and sustaining it, in our mortal unions themselves in a mytery too great to fathom we somehow touch Life. We keep the Eucharistic fast because we know that what we will consume in several hours’ time is something so pure, so holy, and so life-giving, that to ingest anything else would be a mockery and an imitation of the only Food which can make us immortal.

Holy Tradition tells us that we are made in God’s image, each of us united to him in his Son by the Holy Spirit. Our flesh became his flesh, and through that bridge our natures by grace became divine. Holy Tradition is that Life in which our orphans have a heavenly Father who revealed to them his only beloved Son, their brother, our fathers have a Mother who gave our Lord his humanity, their salvation, and our mothers have a divine Son, who gave them first of all the news of Resurrection, their special apostleship.

Those who speak to us of oppression and phobias, rights and justice, speak to us in a foreign language, and of an experience we have not known. Who can insist on rights when we are all slaves of God, bought at great price? Who of us would insist on justice when it is only by God’s grace that we are shown mercy? What is oppression beside the despair one feels as the tyranny of our passions burden us with the sins we willingly commit at their urging? What sort of political freedom or empowerment could satisfy us when we are yet imprisoned by our own sins? What greater fear could one have than that of disowning our Lord? Not for nothing does the hymn ask of God that we never outlive our love for him! How is it possible that the same Tradition which gave us our reverence for the Mother of God could ever diminish the role and person of these daughters of the second Eve? We do not understand this language of oppression and rights, because it is not our language nor our experience.

By this we do not say to you that your hurts and fears are meaningless. How could we respond thus to your hurt and pain when we ourselves have been pierced through by our own misdeeds? We do not say of your exprience of oppression and injustice that it is all a will-o’-the-wisp, a black fantasy. We have only to say that what you describe is not our experience. Your darksome reality is not ours.

What we would be so bold as to say is to come to Holy Tradition and there meet the Life it gives in our Lord. There embrace his holy Mother, and all the saints. Come and experience the joy we know.

You might be a redneck Jedi if…

You might be a redneck Jedi if…

1. You ever heard the phrase, “May the force be with y’all.”
2. Your Jedi robe is a camouflage color.
3. You have ever used your light saber to open a bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill.
4. At least one wing of your X-Wings is primer colored.
5. You have bantha horns on the front of your land speeder.
6. You can easily describe the taste of an Ewok.
7. You have ever had an X-wing up on blocks in your yard.
8. You ever lost a hand during a light saber fight because you had to spit.
9. The worst part of spending time on Dagobah is the dadgum skeeters.
10. Wookies are offended by your B.O.
11. You have ever used the force to get yourself another beer so you didn’t have to wait for a commercial.
12. You have ever used the force in conjunction with fishing/bowling.
13. Your father has ever said to you, “Shoot, son come on over to the dark side…it’ll be a hoot.”
14. You have ever had your R-2 unit use its self-defense electro-shock thingy to get the barbecue grill to light.
15. You have a confederate flag painted on the hood of your landspeeder.
16. Although you had to kill him, you kinda thought that Jabba the Hutt had a pretty good handle on how to treat his women.
17. You have ever accidentally referred to Darth Vader’s evil empire as “them damn Yankees.”
18. You have a cousin who bears a strong resemblance to Chewbacca.
19. You suggested that they outfit the Millennium Falcon with red wood deck.
20. You were the only person drinking Jack Daniels on the rocks during the cantina scene.

Peter Kreeft: Woman and the Priesthood (MP3 audio)

I commend to you: Peter Kreeft: Women and the Priesthood.

Some great “soundbyte” quotes:

“The Church did not invent the priesthood. She received it.”

“If we don’t understand the reason for some ancient tradition or rule or institution, that should be a good reason for not abolishing it until we do understand it. . . . So the only people who might have a right to change the old rule are precisely the people who don’t want to change it. And the people who don’t have a right to change it because they don’t understand it are precisely the people who do want to change it.”

“Ideology does not judge the Church, the Church judges ideologies. To be a Catholic is to believe that the Church and her traditions are more than human, that she is the body of Jesus Christ, graced with his real presence and power and promise of guidance. I have not yet once heard one advocate of priestesses face and affirm this fact, or manifest the loyal submission that all the saints had to our holy Mother. When feminists become saints, we will become their pupils.”

“What more does anybody want? ‘Rome has spoken; the case is closed.’ That formula used to evoke love and loyalty. The issue today is not whether the Church will have priestesses. She won’t. The only open issue today is whether the would-be priestess will have the Church.”

“To say ‘Yes’ to Christ, but ‘No’ to his Church is to will a spiritual decapitation.”

“God, who deliberately designed sexuality, also deliberately designed to incarnate himself as a male. Jesus Christ is still a male today. He still has his human body in heaven and it is a male body.”

“Priests of Christ, who are Christ’s mouths, through whom he speaks the words, ‘This is my Body,’ must be male because Christ is male.”

“Christ, the perfect human image of the Father is male because God the Father is masculine; ‘he’ not ‘she.'”

“Male and female are biological genders. Masculine and feminine . . . are cosmic universal principles extending to all reality.”

“I think it is incredibly provincial and even arrogant for us to assume without a shred of proof that this nearly universal human instinct is mere projection, mere illusion, mere fantasy, rather than an insight into a cosmic principle that is really there. There is abundant, ubiquitous and obvious evidence for it from the bottom of the cosmic hierarchy to the top: from the electromagnetic attraction between electrons and protons, to the circumincession of divine Persons in the Trinity. Male and female are only the biological version of cosmic masculine and feminine. God is masculine to everything from angels to prime matter. That is the ultimate reason why priests who represent God to us must be male.”

“If you can subtract the divine masculinity from Scripture when it offends you, why can’t you subtract the divine compassion when that offends you? If you read your Marxism into Scripture today, why can’t you read your Nazism into Scripture tomorrow? If you can change God’s masculinity, why not change his morality, why not his very being? If you can twist the pronoun, why not twist the noun?”

“The Church tells us that the priesthood is not a right and not a privilege. No one can claim a right to be a priest.”

“The most egregious error of all is the demand to be priestesses for empowerment. I can think of no term that more perfectly proves the speaker’s utter incomprehension of what she says than that. . . . Priests are not power brokers or managers.”

On God’s Energies and the Passions

This post and the one preceding it, got started when I was thinking about New Year resolutions. With these previous posts as background, I want this time to discuss God’s energies and the passions.

First, let me start with a disclaimer. I am not well-versed in the Church’s teachings on God’s energies and the fallen human passions. I only know enough to know that Orthodox are unique among the various churches in their teaching on God’s uncreated energies, and emphasize, as other churches generally do not, the passions and the struggle against them as part of the daily struggle of Christians as they grow in holiness. But even this “knowledge” is sketchy and incomplete.

This post, then, is little more than a very simple Bible study, as I look at the references in the New Testament of the energeia and pathema word groups. It is certainly incomplete, and not exhaustive. More to the point, it is my own individual attempt to grasp what Scripture says. It does not necessarily reflect the mind of the Church. In fact, I ask any of those reading this who detect departures from Orthodox teaching or other mistakes to please correct what I’ve written—for my own edification and so as not to inadvertently lead my readers astray.
Continue reading “On God’s Energies and the Passions”

St. Theophan the Recluse, a Christian Anthropology

In St. Theophan the Recluse’s book, The Spiritual Life and How to Be Attuned to It (St Paisius Abbey: St. Herman Press, 1995), he early on (Letters 5-14) describes his account of the human person. St. Theophan, a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, lived 1815-1894 and is an important example of the faithful transmission of the mind of the Holy Church and the Church Fathers into the modern era. His writings exhibit a deep patristic consciousness, yet also reveal an accurate familiarity with the mind of his (and our) age. His account of the human person is what I will summarize here, as preparation for another couple of posts that are forthcoming (one on energeia and its related words, and one on the passions).

First let me offer this disclaimer: I am no expert on St. Theophan, let alone on patristic anthropology. At most this post is a very simple offering, a summary, of my understanding of St. Theophan. I welcome any criticisms that will keep both me and my readers from straying away from the mind of the Church.
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Abortion: Getting the Facts Straight

From the Allan Guttmacher Institute (props to Joshua for the link):

• 49% of pregnancies among American women are unintended; 1/2 of these are terminated by abortion.

• In 2000, 1.31 million abortions took place, down from an estimated 1.36 million in 1996. From 1973 through 2000, more than 39 million legal abortions occurred.

• Each year, 2 out of every 100 women aged 15-44 have an abortion; 48% of them have had at least one previous abortion and 61% have had a previous birth.

• 52% of U.S. women obtaining abortions are younger than 25: Women aged 20-24 obtain 33% of all abortions, and teenagers obtain 19%.

• Black women are more than 3 times as likely as white women to have an abortion, and Hispanic women are 2 1/2 times as likely.

• 43% of women obtaining abortions identify themselves as Protestant, and 27% identify themselves as Catholic.

• 2/3 of all abortions are among never-married women.

• On average, women give at least 3 reasons for choosing abortion: 3/4 say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or other responsibilities; about 2/3 say they cannot afford a child; and 1/2 say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.

• 54% of women having abortions used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant. 76% of pill users and 49% of condom users reported using the methods inconsistently, while 13% of pill users and 14% of condom users reported correct use.

• 9 in 10 women at risk of unintended pregnancy are using a contraceptive method.

From a PowerPoint presentation from the AGI website comes the breakdown of the most important reasons given for obtaining an abortion:

Inadequate finances 21%
Not ready for responsibility 21%
Woman’s life would be changed too much 16%
Problems with relationship; unmarried 12%
Too young; not mature enough 11%
Children are grown; woman has all she wants 8%
Fetus has possible health problem 3%
Woman has health problem 3%
Pregnancy caused by rape, incest 1%
Other 4%

[Note: AGI is avowedly pro-choice, so these statistics are not from the “small and wacko fringe”, that is to say, those of us who oppose the practice of abortion.]