Happy Anniversary to The Orthodox Word

Forty-five years ago today, Eugene (the future Father Seraphim) Rose and Gleb (the future Abbot Herman) Podmoshensky started the journal The Orthodox Word as a work of the Father Herman of Alaska Brotherhood they had formed (which would become the St Herman of Alaska Monastery). On 29 September, for $200, Eugene received the printing press he’d purchased. The Archbishop John who blessed their work, is the (now) St John Maximovitch.

On September 30 [1964], Eugene recorded: “Today, less than twenty-four hours after our printing press arrived, Archbishop John came to our shop ‘by chance.’ When he saw the press his first thought was to bless it with holy water and prayer, which he did immediately. Thus our press is spiritually born on this day.”

The title of the Brotherhood’s magazine was given by Archbishop John. Gleb had originally thought of calling it The Pilgrim, after the outstanding pre-Revolutionary Russian journal The Russian Pilgrim (Russkiy Palomnik), and also after his favorite book, The Way of a Pilgrim. Together with Eugene, he chose five possible names for the magazine and sent the list to Archbishop John, asking him to give his blessing to the one he thought best. On September 30, 1964, the same day he blessed the printing press, the Archbishop wrote back, suggesting a title that the brothers had not submitted:

Dear Gleb!

May the Lord bless you in the second year of the Brotherhood’s activity, and in its necessary undertakings. It would be good to call the publication you have planned “The Orthodox Word.”

I’m calling God’s blessing upon you and all the members of the Brotherhood.

+Archbishop John

Within a few weeks Eugene and Gleb printed the first page on their new press; one of the spiritual instructions of St. Seraphim of Sarov. Their dream of starting an Orthodox journal was becoming a reality, although from a financial point of view it seemed inconceivable. “We’re dreaming about a magazine and we can’t even afford the paper!” Eugene wrote to Gleb. “Nonetheless, if we work hard God will bless us.” (Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, pp 290-291)

That journal is still in circulation, and to it I subscribe as so many others.

Aristotle, Akrasia, the “Practical Syllogism” and Procrastination

The proverbial procrastinators’ dictum runs something like: Why do today what you can put off till tomorrow? Many of us struggle in various ways and at various times with procrastination. Our reasons for procrastinating vary widely. Some of us dread doing a particular task. Others of us just prefer to do the pleasant thing we are engaged in now, rather than that which we should be doing or completing. The emotions and desires motivating procrastination run the gamut. Nor does it seem that knowing these motivations, and knowing that procrastination often creates further and greater difficulties, and even knowing the good one ought to do, actually helps with these motivations. Knowledge alone doesn’t seem enough to motivate to action.

There are a variety of ways that the current self-help or time management literature use to address the issue of procrastination, many of them focusing on psychological analyses and self-awareness, with others focusing on incremental behavioral changes. But reading these works only seem to exacerbate the problem: they add to our knowledge without changing our acts.

Aristotle provides resources for us on this matter, in his account of the virtuous life in the Nicomachean Ethics, and particularly in the seventh book which deals with the character flaw of lack of self restraint. What we are fundamentally dealing with, when it comes to procrastination is the tension between rational deliberation and choice (boule and proairesis respectively) and desire (epithumia, although in a critical passage in De Anima III.10-11, Aristotle translates orexis as “desire,” which is one aspect of motion in the soul). That is to say, the procrastinator knows the good he ought to do, but doesn’t do it. If we have a coherent account of the soul, how motion in the soul relates to actual behavior, we have a much better account by which to understand how the procrastinator knows the good but fails to do it, and to formulate responses to soulish vices and lack of self-restraint.
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Our Father Among the Saints, Gregory, Illuminator of Armenia


Troparion of St Gregory Tone 3
Thou didst sow the knowledge of God in the hearts of the faithful,/ by cultivating the Faith;/ made radiant by the wounds of martyrdom/ thou didst shed thy light on all./ O Hierarch Gregory, pray to Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.

Kontakion of St Gregory Tone 2
Let us the faithful praise Hierarch Gregory/ who is a shepherd, teacher and enlightener;/ and he is an athlete for the Truth./ He intercedes with Christ our God that we may be saved.

–A Life of Saint Gregory, from Christian History and Biography

New School

Her name was Hope, and he loved her because she called him Tiger, and for the way the glasses settled just so as she read the book. She’d read The Mouse and the Motorcycle, complete with motorcycle sounds, and he could close his eyes and see that mouse, the ping-pong ball helmet and the motorcycle racing across the room. How could a boy not have a certain regard for his young teacher when she let him answer roll call like the Fonz; or, on his learning that his desk had been moved into a group of three girls, let him hide under his desk half the morning, finally coaxing him out with a “C’mere, Tiger”? And when she led the second grade class out to recess by marching, well a boy could take on the world after that.

They’d chart the weather, and there was something about lions and lambs. They watched a Monarch butterfly emerge from a chrysalis. The whole class went out to set it free on a windy spring day.

This was Kansas, so there were regular tornado drills, and all the children would be taken to the tunnel underneath the school hallway floor where they’d sit for a few minutes, the dim lights lighting up the nuclear danger signs. He never minded the drills, because it smelled like being in a cave, and he could imagine the terrors and adventures that lay out of sight along the unseen dark end of the tunnel.

There was also the terror of the German Shepherd he faced everyday as he headed home from school. He could have gone around the back way to his family’s mobile home, but it was longer and there was a certain shame in not fronting this test. So he would walk by as slow as he dared, counting out the steps. That dog barked something fierce, and though there was always the fear that he would slip his leash and charge him, it never happened. Well, except for the one time almost all his worst fears were realized. That dog did slip his leash and did charge at him. He froze, but didn’t yell or shout. And that was it. After a moment, the dog loped back to his porch, and the young boy breathed out and walked on. He did allow himself to walk on the opposite side of the road after that. But still every day he walked by as slow as he dared, and let that dog bark. It’s what a boy does if Hope calls him Tiger.

[Other Kansas reflections are here.]

Your Own Historical Jesus

[Note: On his FB page, AKMA posted about his historical Jesus class, and I was prompted to pull out of the archives this little humorous piece I wrote a few years ago from the inspiration from AKMA’s historical Jesus class that I took. You have to know a bit about the “quest for the historical Jesus” to have even a minimal appreciation.]

(With apologies to Depeche Mode)

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Kansas Farmers

By the time a Kansas farmer becomes sag-bellied and stooped, he has learned a thing or two worth telling. Most of the world, of course, passes this by, mostly from indifference, sometimes from derision. But the life of a Kansas farmer is a surprising thing. It is a life of unlooked-for and unrecognized mysticism; a creational monasticism, with its own hours and liturgies.

For the Kansas farmer starts his every day rising in the dark to meet the divine providence. There is a virile resignation here that is a wonder to the uninitiated, a dynamic fatalism that leaves a signature, a mark of a man’s sweat and blood. The farmer accepts the day and what it brings, but he does not leave it unformed. His is a backbone of stubborn grit. Grace may lack a little in the language he uses, calling down divine curses on a stuck irrigation valve. If he is unschooled, still his is a calculus of the motion of a tractor through the field, and the interval of the setting sun; his a trigonometry of the seasons and the arc of harvest.

Most Kansas farmers are church folk, though they wear their faith easy and with little affectation. A farmer might appear nervous and apologetic ‘round the young preacher boy from college, but only due to the perceptions of book learning and articulation. Otherwise, a farmer has in him the questioning ability of Job, and the capacity to keep that soft-handed Bible college boy tied up in theological knots. A farmer might wear his suit jacket to the Sunday meeting, but he’s like as not to put it on over a pair of overalls, bringing a bit of God’s earth in to the pew with him on his ragged boots. He will petition God for the things he cannot do: to bring the rain, to stop the flood, to grow the wheat, to make the calves healthy. He will thank God for his food, his shelter, his family. His prayers will echo the Jacobian turn of phrase, for this is his Bible, and one would never refer to God with the familiar “you.” He is a self-reliant man who intuits if he does not know he must anchor his self-reliance in something bigger than himself.

The world of the Kansas farmer is not gentle, nor is it kind. The ancestral curse is his daily reality. He will bury his children, his parents, his brother. The winter will be hard and lean. He lives every day at the point of epic failure. Every day, he will face the question of himself: is he man enough for the trial? A man might lose his arm in a cutter. And if he survives, he will face a different sort of test. This is a mortal world. Memento mori.

This is the way of it. This is what a Kansas farmer knows. His life and choices shape him. He doubtless gives little time to intellectualizing all this. His philosophy and theology have no technical vocabularies and books. Rather his doctrine is thread on a different loom.

In the diner over coffee, at the church potluck, at the mechanic’s shop, a Kansas farmer will learn to weave a narrative. The tales are simple, often exaggerated, and usually self-deprecating. They are told and retold often enough, the women folk shaking their heads. These are no literary works of art, to be sure, but the building up of an understanding from the stones and timbers of daily life. When one can learn to speak in metaphors and the third person he may find there a form of wisdom.

[Other Kansas reflections are here.]

Saint Thekla of Iconium, Protomartyr and Equal-to-the-Apostles

Troparion of St Thecla Tone 3
Inspired by the divine teacher’s words/ thou wast inflamed with love for thy Creator./ Thou didst disdain all earthly pleasures/ and endure wild beasts and fire./ O glorious Thecla, companion of Paul,/ entreat thy divine Bridegroom/ to grant us His great mercy.

Kontakion of St Thecla Tone 8
Radiant with virginity and adorned with the crown of martyrdom,/ thou wast a bearer of the Faith./ Thou didst turn flames to dew and tame a wild bull by thy prayer,/ O glorious Thecla, first woman martyr.

From the Prolog:

Thecla was born in Iconium of eminent but pagan parents. As a girl of eighteen, she was betrothed to a young man at the same time that the Apostle Paul arrived in Iconium with Barnabas to preach the Gospel. Hearing Paul’s testimony for three days and nights, Thecla converted to the Christian Faith, and vowed to live in virginity. Her mother, seeing that she was now ignoring her betrothed and no longer thought of marriage, tried to dissuade her, and then beat her and tortured her by starvation. Finally, this wicked mother turned Thecla over to the judge and demanded that Thecla be burned. The judge threw her into the fire, but God preserved her unharmed. Then, Thecla followed the Apostle Paul, and went to Antioch with him. Attracted by Thecla’s external beauty, a certain elder of the city wanted to take her for himself by force, but Thecla escaped his grasp. The pagan elder accused her to the eparch as a Christian who disdained marriage. The eparch condemned her to death, and had her thrown to wild beasts, but the wild beasts did not touch the body of this holy virgin. Amazed by this, the eparch asked her: “Who are you and what kind of power is in you, that nothing can harm you?” Thecla replied: “I am a servant of the Living God.” The eparch then released her, and she departed to preach the Gospel. She succeeded in converting many to the true Faith, among whom was Tryphena, a prominent and honorable widow. Then, having received the blessing of the Apostle Paul to do so, Thecla withdrew to a secluded place near Seleucia. There she lived a life of asceticism for a long time and, by healing the sick with wonderworking power, she converted many to Christianity. The doctors and soothsayers in Seleucia were envious of her, and sent some young men to defile her, hoping that the loss of her virginity would also mean the loss of her miraculous power. Thecla fled from these arrogant young men, but as they were about to catch her, she prayed to God for help. A large rock opened up and hid this holy virgin and bride of Christ. This rock was her refuge and her tomb. St. John Chrysostom says of this wonderful Christian heroine and saint: “It seems to me that as I see this blessed virgin, in one hand she offers Christ virginity, and in the other hand, martyrdom.”

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