Three Years: An Addendum to The Pilgrim Essays

It is a bit more than a month away from the calendar anniversary of my reception into the Orthodox Church by chrismation. The liturgical anniversary this year will fall very close to the calendar date. As I have done each year since, I want the influence of more time and experience to work its energies on the perspective with which I view the precise same events. Any such changes, however imperceptible, do not of course change the facts of the past, but sometimes, by grace, they do elicit new understandings. I have in the past spoken of a new awareness of providence, of the healing of the rift of head and heart and its accomplishment in the askesis of a particular way of living, and with that, of promise. It seems to me, though I am no prophet, that these themes will remain with me through the end of this life. I don’t know that I will understand them more adequately as time goes on, but I do hope to live them more deeply.

There may well be another theme to add to these, one which has been exhibited, perhaps providentially, though not intentionally, through the lack of activity on this blog. It is the activity of silence and the value of such an activity to one’s soul. The Rule of St Benedict devotes all of chapter 6 to silence; the ninth rung of the ladder of humility in chapter 7 is that of silence; and in chapter 42 the monks are directed not to speak after the observence of the last office of the day, Compline. That silence is an activity and not a passive state can be understood from just a brief moment’s reflection: imagine refraining from saying anything to anyone for an entire day, then imagine refraining from daydreaming for an entire hour, then imagine doing nothing but holding your attention, without any distracting thoughts, on the presence of God for a single full minute. It takes a very great energy to be silent.

I have read–I am sure I cannot speak with authority from my experience–that the achievement of true silence of lips, mind and heart is itself a purer form of activity than the restraint of speech and thoughts and distractions. But we know from those that have gone before us that aside from God’s gracious gift, we first must purge ourselves through restraint (via the askeses of Christ’s way of life) before we can experience the more pure activities of true silence. As I say, for me, this is all secondhand knowledge.

Yet, this first sort of silence, the askeses of restraint, is not without grace and mercy. One very mundane gift is that the restraint of thoughts, words and distractions one exerts is productive. It seems perhaps strange to say this, since words and speech are so influential and, well, useful. We use words and speech to express and to meet needs, to motivate choices and actions. But there is I think a unique and sometimes inversely proportional influence that silence (even the silence of restraint) brings to bear on one’s soul and the events and actions it engenders and endures. But just by stating this, I have hit the limit of a mystery I cannot understand. A fecund mystery, I think. But nonetheless to me presently opaque.

I have experimented (mostly unintentionally, though not without reflection) with forms of silence in the past year or two, and more so in recent days. I nuked one of my blogs (obviously not this one), and deactivated, for a week, another online social media account. To the degree that I have adequate discernment to judge, the results were swift and very positive. More such steps will need to be taken in the future. Steps which will involve this blog. I have a series of posts on Christian Philosophy I would still like to complete, but I don’t know if I will make the effort to do so. The topic still motivates, but I wonder whether that is enough justification. Mostly all I’ve been doing of late on this blog has been updating (usually only changing the posting date) of previous posts reflective of various saints’ days and feast days. Given the unintentional hiatus for original posts, given an increasing absence from online activities generally, and given my present experiences with silence, it seems a propitious time to draw this blog to a close.

Having said that, I’m not sure what I yet want to do with the content here. This has been a wonderful outlet to think through many of the theological and philosophical issues which have captured my attention since November of 2002. But there is less of that wrestling in the past three years, and more of a desire for quiet reflection. I know my ultimate decision will be to erase the blog and all its content. I just don’t know yet whether that will be tomorrow or some other later day.

Thank you to all who’ve commented here, who’ve emailed me relative to various posts you’ve read and enjoyed (or opposed). May the Lord send his mercy upon us all.


Reflections on the Second Anniversary of My Chrismation

As I noted last year, I continue to experience the timely providences of God. Like last year, the calendar anniversary of my reception into the Orthodox Church via chrismation (the sacramental anointing with holy oil) falls before the liturgical anniversary. (Pentecost 2007 was 27 May, the Sunday before Memorial Day. This year, Pentecost is 7 June. That whole moveable feast dynamic.) And like last year, I will take this occasion to offer some reflections.

Head and Heart

One of the most immediate effects/experiences of receiving the Mysteries of Repentance (Absolution), Christmation (reception), and the Holy Eucharist, was the healing of the division between head and heart. I had become, in part by personality in larger part by life experience and training, rationalistic and analytical. Not as much as I perhaps could have been, but still I had moved away from the heart toward the head. The experience of the Mysteries (or Sacraments) began immediately to have its effects, though it may well be that the healing take me into the next life.

As I’ve recounted elsewhere, before I knew there was an Orthodox Church, I had already intuited the deficiencies of having an intellectual (doctrinal, particular biblical interpretations) connections to the New Testament Church. I “knew” I needed an organic connection. The mind can only take one so far.

I was, ironically, helped in all this by the pagan philosopher Aristotle, who helped move me away from a monochromatic rationality to a fully orbed understanding of the mind. This, coupled with a renewed and corrected understanding of the biblical and patristic view of the heart, helped me to realize the internal schism as well as the means to its healing (including of course the Mysteries and the Jesus Prayer).

I have not, nor am I required, to divest myself of my intellect, but the intellect must be properly ordered within the human person (the mind in the heart), and so for now I am consciously engaging in a focus away from the mind toward the heart. Which requires a certain askesis.

Asketic Struggle and True Philosophia

2005 was, in some ways, the most important year in my life, both religiously/spiritually and intellectually/philosophically. It was that year in which I discovered the, if you will, explanatory mechanism of the free asketic struggle of the will toward particular choices and acts. It was also the year that I came to understand philosophy as practiced in antiquity as a way of life (philosophia). These twin philosophical concerns (via free willism and Robert Kane and Pierre Hadot respectively), also meshed with particular theological concerns (the understanding of monothelitism and of Christianity as a way of life not simply a set of confessions or doctrines), which combined for something like a conversion. I began to realize that the Faith once for all delivered to the saints was not a body of doctrines requiring some sort of intellectual allegiance, but was, rather, a particular way of living. That way of living was not moralistic (a la Kant), but was, rather, asketical (a la Aristotle), oriented toward virtue and the transformation of the soul (character). One must struggle to enact faithful choices, and that process of struggle molded and shaped heart and mind and soul. This way of life was oriented around particular texts (the Scriptures, writings of the Fathers), soulish exercises (worship in the liturgy, the forming of the mind via the memorization of texts and hymns), resulting in a particular orienting principle (the Trinity, the Body of Christ) and a manner of speech which harmonized mind and heart and actions.

So, one fasted. Not to earn merits, but to shape the soul via the body (between which there is no Platonic dualist division). One prayed, to conform the mind to the heart. One gave, because the communion of one’s life with the particular members of Christ’s Body, was a communion in the Life of Christ, Head of the Body.

The intellectual realization of these things, of course, still have not adequately been translated into a manner of living (conversatio) that would be readily recognizable as Christ’s own. But it was a massive turning point, a dividing wall marking before and after. Chrismation was the crowning of that point and the initiation into its realization.


There is another liturgical anniversary to consider: the seventh anniversary of my turn toward the Orthodox Church for good on the Sunday of the Blind Man, which happened to fall this past Sunday (though the calendar anniversary is 9 June). I have also spoken about this elsewhere. I will always remember the “St Anthony moment” (so named for the instance in which a particular Scripture made a marked impact on St Anthony’s life and action by being proclaimed in the worship service) that occurred that day, and the implicit promise coming from it. I remain utterly hopeful and confident in that promise, though it will most certainly turn out far differently than I once imagined. But on this occasion of the double anniversary, I am mindful of the promises of God which do not fail.

Glory to God for all things.

It’s Deja Vu All Over Again

I have four podcasts from Ancient Faith Radio that I listen to “religiously”: Fr Thomas Soroka’s The Path, Jerome Atherholt’s The Saint of the Day, Steve Robinson’s and Bill Gould’s Our Life in Christ (in fact my devotion to OLIC predates AFR’s existence to c. 2002), and Kevin Allen’s The Illumined Heart. (Of course, I also subscribe to others, including to Fr. Pat’s sermons and ponderings, but these two particular items I either hear in person or read in the parish Sunday bulletin.)

Recently, I downloaded last Saturday’s Illumined Heart interview of Bob Meyering, one-time moderator of the Calvin Forum out of Calvin College. Listening to Bob was a Yogi Bera experience. For a brief time, Bob had a blog and we reciprocated links with one another, and we corresponded a few times via email. But the deja vu aspect of the podcast was his account of the Frank Schaeffer interview he moderated.

As I’ve written about before, one of the first things that happened eight years ago to propel me along the path to the Orthodox Church, was the receipt of a postcard advertisement, and my subsequent purchase and receipt, of that video of Frank Schaeffer’s interview on the Calvin Forum. Since the video is copyrighted 2000, all these years I have assumed the interview was much more recent than it then was, but I learned from the podcast that the interview took place about March 1995.

It’s interesting to me how all these things providentially worked out, all the seeds that had been planted in preparation, which then came to fruition beginning with that summer of 2000, and in particular with the catalyst of that interview.

Needless to say, I pulled it out, dusted it off and began watching it last evening.

Becoming Orthodox, One Year Later

Today is the calendar anniversary of my chrismation, 27 May, which arrives before the liturgical anniversay, Pentecost (which is almost a month later this year, 15 June, or Father’s Day). Such is the way of moveable feasts.

I would never have expected to have the sort of first year as Orthodox as I have had. I fully expected to be tested and tried, but such expectations had more to do with the internal struggles that Christians face in their overcoming of sin: fighting against thoughts and desires which put one at odds with Christ, the struggle to maintain peace of heart, and so on. I did not expect to have the testing and trials to be thrust on me from without. I remember reading or hearing a godly man say that external trials come because we are not strong enough to engage actively with the internal ones. God must know that about me.

But it has not been just an endless series of unrelenting pains. There have been moments of joy and deep peace. I have written on this blog about these: My first few days after chrismation and the experience of the Holy Spirit I was given. The joy of St. Nicholas and the healing I received from his prayers and the myrrh from his relics. Most of all, the continuing experiences of God’s providence: knowing the things I need to know when I need to know them, coming into contact with the people I need to contact when I need to make that connection, the gifts of friends and family right when I need them, and so it goes.

I have settled into something of a sacramental rhythm of confession, absolution and Eucharist that is more strengthening than I ever could have imagined. It makes a very real, experiential difference when it comes to focused prayer. And that rhythm sustains me as the week unfolds and all the struggles and joys of faith and life unfold.

I will say that through the year, my daughters have become an even greater joy to me. They truly are God’s grace to me, and I am blessed every moment I am with them. I have become much more patient and understanding of them in these last several months. I seem more intuitively attuned to their needs and moods. I can better sense when misbehavior is tied to their being stressed, or a little hungry, or just tired than I ever could. I seem to intuit their thoughts and needs more correctly than I ever did. And I can truly say that my moments with them are increasingly joy filled and blessed. That’s not to say I don’t get impatient with their misbehavior, or that I’m some sort of parental saint. I’m just as normal a father as the next guy. But I can really feel in my heart a solid change. It’s very much like when they were first born, almost like another conversion. God is ministering his grace to me in them.

All of this is God’s providence. If there were a one-word theme to this past year, it would definitely be providence. I have begun to begin to learn to trust God about everything, even the pain and suffering. It all, somehow, is woven together in this offering of his grace, of himself, the threads inextricably entwined. I cannot see the pattern. My perspective is skewed and myopic. But like Bartimaeus, I know one thing. Jesus is passing this way. I cry him mercy.

On a Pentecost Chrismation

In the face of two distinct risks, I begin this post by saying: I’m quite happy with the fact that God ordained we would come into the Church on Pentecost.  First of all, it’s simply stating a rather obvious, if not always accomplished, imperative: Anything God ordains should make me happy.  But secondly, the statement, and the subsequent reflection below, assumes I have the wisdom of maturity and hindsight to actually make such a cogent claim.

But since my folly is already manifest, I might as well go ahead and confirm it.  Here’s why being chrismated on Pentecost has been so appealing to me.

Continue reading “On a Pentecost Chrismation”

Serendipitous Coincidence: St Augustine of Canterbury and Our Chrismations

It happens that St. Augustine of Canterbury’s feast day was spread over this entire Pentecost weekend.  On Saturday, Anglicans and Orthodox celebrated his feast.  On Sunday, Rome celebrated.  And yesterday (according to my St. James calendar hanging on my wall at work) his feast was celebrated on Traditional Western calendars (not sure who that includes).

Why is this worthy of remark?  Well, when I journal I like to note the saint(s) whose feast(s) is(are) celebrated that day.  On Saturday, the day before our chrismations, I spent some time journalling.  And as I was looking in the calendar, and saw it was St. Augustine of Canterbury, it struck me: he is sort of the founding saint of the English Church, sent by Rome to organize the mission to the people of today’s British Isles.

It was, to me, a sign that St. Augustine was “sending me on” as it were to the Orthodox Church of which he is part.  Almost as though, he were saying, “Yes, you stopped for a bit at Anglicanism’s doorstep, and there were benefits to that.  But you are headed right where you need to go: into the fulness.”

Healy Saints

Clifton: Benedict of Nursia (and here) [14 March] and Father Seraphim Rose [2 September]

Anna: Genevieve of Paris (stub @ OrthodoxWiki) and Genevieve of Paris and Icon of St Genevieve and St. Genevieve of Paris and Troparion and Kontakion to St. Genevieve in French and Moleben to St Genevieve in French [3 January]

Sofie: St. Nina the Enlightener of Georgia and Nino of Cappadocia (stub @ OrthodoxWiki) and An icon of St. Nina, and another icon of St. Nina [14 January]

Delaina: Brigid, Abbess of Whitby and Saint Brigid, Abbess of Kildare and Icon of St. Brigid of Ireland, Abbess, Wonderworker, Foundress of Kildare [1 February]

Our household saint: John, the Wonderworker, of Shanghai and San Francisco [2 July]