The Journey to Antioch (Part XII)

[Note: In preparation for continuing the series, I am reposting the “final” (and very slightly revised) entry to the series of posts I’d completed in March 2004 about our journey to Antioch (as part of my Pilgrim Essays). The previous version of this series of posts–up to this entry–is available in a single html document here. I will be adding subsequent entries which will be incorporated in a future revision. The entire series of these blog posts can be found here.]

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

The summer of 2003 was marked by one thing and one thing alone: the anticipation of Sofie’s birth, followed by its fulfillment. Of course, I still attended All Saints, this time more faithfully and regularly than before. Anna’s protests were much more muted and infrequent. Our discussions about Orthodoxy, and All Saints, were much more open and honest. They were discussions, rather than the repetition of entrenched positions.

Though unsurprising, the actions of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention–the ratification of the election of a divorced man in an open homosexual relationship, and the official permission to conduct same sex unions–brought into sharp focus the distinctions which the Orthodox Church offered. This was especially vital in relation to not merely the Episcopal Church but nearly all of the churches about which we had inquired or had visited.

Finally, 14 August came and Sofie was born. It was among the two or three most transformative experiences I’d been through in my entire life. Anna graciously acquiesced to my request for Father Patrick to come and say a prayer of blessing over Sofie. So, the next day, before Sofie was a full twenty-four hours old, Father Patrick and Khouria Denise arrived, with a beautiful gift of a pink dress, to pray over Sofie and share our joy.
Continue reading “The Journey to Antioch (Part XII)”


The Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost

I had two extremely moving experiences in worship today, one in conjunction with Fr Pat’s sermon, and the other in conjunction with the fact that we stood at the front of the nave this morning.

First, Father Pat was emphasizing (per the Gospel this morning) the touch of God. Through the Incarnation and through the Sacraments, God touches us physically. And just as importantly, God invites us to touch him physically. Father called to mind the prohibition Christ gave to St. Mary Magdalene as she knelt and clasped his feet when he appeared to her after his resurrection. This was followed a week later by Christ’s invitation to St. Thomas, “Put your hand in my side.” Father pointed out that in the Sacraments we have a God who invites us, “Put your hand in my side.” Touch me, the Lord invites. I felt a longing for that closeness. I nearly cried.

And then, today my wife and I tried to stand close to the front, for the sake of the girls and our management of their behavior. We were standing on the left side of the nave, which is to say, directly in front of the icon of the Theotokos. Today like no other day, that icon was alive for me. I cannot say how, but today I felt Our Lady’s maternal presence in such a strong way. I would not have been surprised had she stepped down from the icon to join us bodily, so strongly did I feel her presence.

This may be, in part, due to the fact that I have been defending the Mother of Our Lord being aeiparthenos, ever-virgin, and have been given cause to meditate on the awesome mystery of her who was more physically close to the Lord than anyone who’s ever lived on this earth. It is a fearsome and terribly wonderful thing to contemplate. He shared her blood, and she his. His flesh was her flesh, and she was deified by his.

What a Faith we have, a Faith I was not given fully until I found Orthodoxy. How can one not shed tears of gratitude?

Lessons from Limbo

Earlier this year, Fr. John Breck took on the news of the Roman Catholic change on the doctrine of limbo, and drew up some Lessons from Limbo.

He first sets up the difference between the Roman Catholic teaching on limbo and the Orthodox understanding of the state of unbaptized infants.

If the logic is defective, it is because the underlying presupposition is false. The consensus of Eastern patristic tradition, and of Orthodox theologians today, is that the “original sin” of Adam is not transmitted (sexually or by any other means) from generation to generation like an inherited disease. Rather, what we inherit or receive from creation of the “first man Adam” (who represents all of humanity) is the consequence of sin, namely mortality, death. “As sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, so death spread to all men because all men sinned…” (Rom 5:12).

Fr. John then goes on to elucidate some important lessons from this entire episodes. Here is what he says is the most important:

Perhaps the most important lesson in all of this is that the Holy Spirit is calling and directing us constantly to return to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Particular theologoumena, theological opinions, always need reassessing – not just for their specific content, but for the impact they might have on the lives of our faithful. (A case in point is the “toll houses,” spheres of purification through which deceased persons pass on their journey toward heaven. There is room, to be sure, for some such teaching within the Church – purification as an ongoing process, for example – as long as it does not become, as it so often does, distorted into a Gnostic image of purification through what amounts to torture, inflicted by powers more demonic than angelic.)

The primary question, made clear by the history of “limbo,” is this: To what degree does any given teaching or exposition of the faith actually reflect the witness of Holy Scripture and the Church’s authentic Tradition? To the extent that it does, then it should be retained; where it does not, then the teaching needs to be reinterpreted so that it conforms faithfully to revealed Truth.

Because pious traditions – even erroneous ones – can have such a hold on the popular mind, it requires courage, patience and a great deal of prayerful discernment in order to make this continual reassessment of our various theological interpretations. Nevertheless, we should not fear the process. We should accept it as a function of the Church’s Living Tradition, given and sustained by the Spirit of Truth.

Back & Forth to the Future

Robbert Webber & Co. have issued a A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future. This hasn’t escaped the notice of some of the writers at Touchstone Magazine, who have issued a critical response: Back & Forth to the Future

My two favorite excerpts. First by Wilfred McClay:

Well, in the first place, there is a word that is never used in this document. It is conspicuous in its absence. I kept waiting for it to appear, and it never did. That word is authority. Yes, the Scriptures are here described as an “authoritative” record, but that is merely sending an adjective to do a noun’s work.

There is no locus of authority being proposed here. This omission is especially strange in light of the document’s expression of the “pressing” question: “Who gets to narrate the word?” This would seem to be precisely a question of authority. The document calls on Evangelicals to “restore the priority” of the biblical story in their lives, which the writers insist upon calling “God’s narrative.”

But who is to do the restoring? After all, the story does not tell itself (which is, of course, precisely one of the reasons literary scholars use the verb “narrate”). The history of the Church is a history of all the different, and sometimes violently conflicting, ways of telling the story. I have no doubt that both James Dobson and Stanley Hauerwas could each tell the story convincingly and faithfully. But I suspect their accounts would differ.

In short, there is no escaping from the need for structures of authority in the Church.

And Russell Moore:

A truly ancient Christianity doesn’t need to assert how ancient it is—or how countercultural. An ancient Christianity that takes seriously the faith of the Fathers will cause a stir in the culture and in the cubicles at InterVarsity Press—if for no other reason than because it says things such as the faith of the “Fathers.”

It will believe the storyline of Scripture and judge the present order—all of it—against a Spirit-breathed norm. It will create a counterculture of people who aren’t counterculturally hip, on stage with Bono for the latest global warming consciousness-raiser, but who are countercultural because they, well, counter the prevailing culture.

If the Ancient/Future Evangelicals wish to counter this culture, they will be forced to do so in more than the generalities they’ve outlined. To take on consumerism, do you dare take on the dual-income family structure of contemporary Americanism? To take on the “culture of death,” do you dare speak bluntly about welcoming the gift of children, about the personhood of the embryo, about the way in vitro fertilization turns a child into a means?

To speak against “civil religion,” do you dare call for public prayers in the name of Jesus? To speak against “political correctness,” do you dare say that only in Jesus Christ is salvation found, thus fueling the evangelism of the world religions, including the Jewish people?

The roots of Halloween, we’re told, date back to a time when villagers sought to ward off evil spirits, witches, and ghosts by mocking them with mimicry. A bloodthirsty demon would retreat, it was thought, when he saw someone dressed in ghoulish costume. When reading documents such as A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future, it is hard not to wonder whether this is not what’s going on among these Evangelicals: keeping the ancient Christian witness at bay by mocking it with mimicry.

The Silence of My “Orthodoxy”

I have, for some time, been a vocal proponent of Orthodoxy here on this blog. Some of it was precipitated by my own working out intellectually of some of the aspects of the ancient Faith that I just had no experience or exposure to: the Father as arche of the Trinity; theosis; new forms of prayer; the proper understanding of synergism; and so forth. I have had opportunity at one message board I still frequent to defend these things I have come to understand a bit better (though perhaps not adequately and never fully).

But I find myself at a curious place. I want to talk less and less about Orthodoxy. I am strangely more oriented around day to day living: how to fast (though I do precious little of it), the proper use and practice of the Jesus prayer, the integration of prayer in every aspect of my life from work to parenting to my marriage. I would rather listen to online exchanges than engage in one. And I want to do that less and less. I would rather do a lot more listening to Ancient Faith Radio and Our Life in Christ. And even more than that, I would rather simply sit in Church and look at the iconostasis and the candle on the altar.

Don’t misunderstand. This is not some ego-elevating confession of a new mystical bent. I remember with some chagrin the days when I would have labelled myself a mystic (a la Evelyn Underhill). After all, the externals of my prayer life are far wimpier than they were earlier this year. I’m not doing a lot of “spiritual reading.” You won’t see me wax eloquent on Interior Castle. No, it’s really much less glorious or romantic than that. I’d just rather shut up.

In part that’s why I’ve not done a lot of blogging of late. Oh, sure, I’m busier than crap right now, and that’s a lot of the reason why. But even in those odd moments when I sit down at the Chattablogs MT blogging page, there’s just nothing to come out. I have no energy or desire to say much. I’m happy to pass on things such as the frivolities that make me laugh, other articles or posts that catch my attention and such. But I don’t have anything else really to say.

I don’t know what, if anything, that means. Nor do I necessarily think it’s a significant development. It is what it is. And there it is.

New developments may unloose my tongue–er keyboard. So those of you who might welcome a bit more verbosity on my part, hang in there. To the rest of you, in the words of Depeche Mode, “enjoy the silence.”

Another Answer to Blessed Seraphim’s Intercessions on My Behalf

As I noted in the previous post, a year ago, I asked Blessed Seraphim to pray for me that I would gain a correct understanding of the questions I had about the Jesus Prayer, and a correct practice. The answers to his intercessions for me continue.
Continue reading “Another Answer to Blessed Seraphim’s Intercessions on My Behalf”

The Intercessions of Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim on My Behalf Regarding the Jesus Prayer

About a year ago, I was reading the Light and Life Publishing book, by Anthony Coniaris, Confronting and Controlling Your Thoughts According to the Fathers of the Philokalia. I posted a few times citing portions of the book and reflecting on my struggle to practice such oneness of mind and to practice the Jesus Prayer. I also read Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim’s translation of a couple of works of St. Paisius Velichkovsky, much of which dealt with the Jesus Prayer. (At the counsel of one of our parishioners, a man more mature than me, I deleted those posts.) I also spoke with our parish priest about the Jesus Prayer and practicing it.

It was difficult for me to make sense of some of what I was reading and the counsel I was receiving. I now see that such counsel was not essentially contradictory, but it felt to me as though I was being encouraged in two opposite directions, to both pursue and avoid the same things. I was quite confused.

But I knew better than to simply trust my own thoughts, or work toward my own conclusions on the matter. So I simply stood still, neither pursuing nor avoiding what I had been counseled on, and just maintaining my modest and irregular practice.

One thing I did do, however, was to ask the intercessions of one of my patrons, Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim, on my behalf, that I might be brought to both correct thought and correct practice on the matters that were confused in my own mind.

For the next several months, however, I shied away from reading certain books on the Jesus Prayer, did not post on it, and simply continued what I had been doing, doing it no more nor no less than had been the case. I had one book on my shelf, Igumen Chariton of Valamo’s The Art of Prayer (Faber and Faber), which I frequently was drawn to read, but hesitated to do so, because I did not think I was at a point in my life where I would be making useful gain of such reading. I was concerned that reading it apart from a state of readiness to both receive and to practice the teaching would end up being spiritually harmful to me.

Recently, I have sensed a change, not only in heart but in act, in which I have found myself more ready to receive and to practice whatever may be given me in reading Igumen Chariton’s book. And in so doing, I have at last, about a year later, received the answer to Blessed Seraphim’s prayers on my behalf.

I wanted to share that extended passage with my readers, but I do so without identifying in any way the specific questions I wanted resolved. Absolutely everything of this sort must be brought to one’s spiritual father. If the passage, of itself and out of any context of my own life, is helpful to others, it will be no surprise, for St. Theophan the Recluse is a well-recognized saint. But for my part this post is nothing more than a marker of an answer to prayer.
Continue reading “The Intercessions of Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim on My Behalf Regarding the Jesus Prayer”

And After I Post This, I’ll Pray the “Our Father” and Go Beat My Wife and Daughters

I’ve been home sick all weekend. And crap like the following just makes me crankier.

The Church of England continues to make itself a laughingtock:

MISGUIDED and distorted versions of Christian belief have contributed to domestic abuse in Britain, says the Church of England. And the Church itself has not done enough to protect victims.

The report, which has been backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, says that domestic abuse is as “prevalent among Christians” as among other groups and identifies problem areas in Christian tradition.

It warns clergy that the bride’s traditional marriage vow to “obey” her husband could be used to justify domestic violence as could referring to God as “He” and “Lord”.

Bad theology, such as using the Virgin Mary “to reinforce norms of female passivity and obedience”, has even been used to convince victims to forgive their abusers and not take action against them. . . .

One serious example, the report notes, is how the theology of self-denial and redemptive suffering in the Crucifixion of Jesus has “undermined people’s recognition of the evils being done to them and implanted masochistic attitudes of acceptance, or even celebration, of their afflictions”.

One would like to know of the statistical, objective measurements the committee used to establish such a direct correlation between use of the masculine pronoun to refer to God and wife-beating.

Oh, sorry. That would be expecting too much. We already know traditional theology is bad for you. What do we need with objective measurements?

[H/T: to some unforgotten blog or probably the Webelves.]

The Identity of the New Testament Text

From The Identity of the New Testament Text — Wilbur N. Pickering [h/t Fr John]

There are over 5,000 extant (known) Greek manuscripts (hereafter MSS, or MS when singular) of the New Testament. They range in size from a scrap with parts of two verses to complete New Testaments. They range in date from the second century to the sixteenth. They come from all over the Mediterranean world. They contain several hundred thousand variant readings (differences in the text). The vast majority of these are misspellings or other obvious errors due to carelessness or ignorance on the part of the copyists. However, many thousands of variants remain which need to be evaluated as we seek to identify the precise original wording of the text. How best to go about such a project? This book seeks to provide an answer.

Of course, I am not the first to attempt an answer. Numerous answers have been advanced over the years. They tend to form two clusters, or camps, and these camps differ substantially from each other. In very broad and over-simplified terms, one camp generally follows the large majority of the MSS (seldom less than 80 and usually over 95 percent) which are in essential agreement among themselves but which do not date from before the fifth century A.D., while the other generally follows a small handful (often less than ten) of earlier MSS (from the third, fourth and fifth centuries) which not only disagree with the majority, but also disagree among themselves. The second camp has been in general control of the scholarly world for the last 110 years.

The most visible consequence and proof of that control may be seen in the translations of the New Testament into English done during these 110 years. Virtually every one of them reflects a form of the text based upon the few earlier MSS. In contrast to them, the King James Version (AV) and the New King James Version (NKJV) reflect a form of the text based upon the many later MSS. Thus, the fundamental difference between the New Testament in the American Standard Version, Revised Standard Version, New English Bible, Today’s English Version, New American Standard Bible, New International Version, etc., on the one hand, and in the AV and NKJV on the other is that they are based on different forms of the Greek text. (There are over 5,500 differences between those two forms.)

The link above is to the entire book-length text. Very interesting reading.