Holiness and salvation

“Every Christian should find for himself the imperative and incentive to become holy. If you live without struggle and without hope of becoming holy, then you are Christians only in name and not in essence. But without holiness, no one shall see the Lord, that is to say they will not attain eternal blessedness. It is a trustworthy saying that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (I Tim. 1:15). But we deceive ourselves if we think that we are saved while remaining sinners. Christ saves those sinners by giving them the means to become saints.”

– St. Philaret of Moscow

Making the Bed Basics; a Miscellany of Order

I’m not sure whether this blogpost belongs here, or on my other blog, A Writer’s Journey, but I recently made a commitment to myself to post one blogpost per week at each blog, and today, on the calendar, it is the day to write the blogpost for this blog.  So here I will put this post.

Today I made my bed.  This really is not much of a claim, but, for several months I have not made my bed each day.  This is something I did (or is it failed to do?), even though, a couple of years ago, I developed the habit of making my bed (after years of not making it).  

I developed the habit a couple of years ago quite deliberately.  And all those who advise making one’s bed each day, and all their reasons for so doing, are all correct.  It provides an easy “win” for the daily checklist of to-do’s.  It brings order to chaos in one little part of one’s world.  It adorns one’s room, bringing a beauty of cleanliness, neatness and tidiness to the room, even if there’s clutter elsewhere.  It is also a line in the sand: I will not be returning to this place today (or at least not until bedtime); I am up, the day has begun, there will be no return to sleeping.  And, it is also a sign of hope: a day of activity lies ahead, and afterwards, tired, I will be able once again to pull back the covers, and slide in, head on pillow, and rest once more.

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Sacramental Realism: The Healing for Mind-Body Dualism and Monistic Materialism

It was the late 80s and I was writing a paper for my Corinthians class, an exegesis from 1 Corinthians 10, and specifically the verses “the cup is a participation (koinonia) in his blood” and “the bread is a participation (koinoia) in his body.”  I had been raised to understand the elements of bread and wine (or in our group of churches, grape juice, “the fruit of the vine”) were mere symbols of Christ’s Body and Blood, that there was no change in the elements in the Lord’s Supper, and, further, that the Lord’s Supper was a memorial of a past event, which event (Christ’s death, burial and resurrection) was the sole means of our salvation.  These verses in 1 Corinthians 10, however, cut right through that.  Only the slightest of research led me to understand that this was the belief of the earliest Christians (for which see St Ignatios of Antioch, and St Irenaeus of Lyons, among others).  Some years later, I learned that the belief that the Eucharist was a memorial and the elements were symbols and not really Christ’s Body and Blood was a belief that was no earlier than, and sprang from the dream of, one man: Zwingli.  That simple class assignment was the fulcrum which leveraged me right in to Orthodoxy, though I meandered a bit first.

After more than a decade of living in the light of the Sacraments, I recognize that accepting the reality of the Sacraments, that is to say, that they really are a participation in God, not merely symbolically but really and in all ways, body and soul, brings healing to the whole person, and even without a class in dogma, the Sacraments heal certain distortions of mind and heart.  Here, particularly, I wish to write of how the Sacrament (or as the Orthodox prefer to say, the Mystery) of the Eucharist is healing for the bent thought systems of mind-body dualism and monistic materialism.  I’m not going to be very technical or philosophically precise (though I hope to be accurate and correct), because the healing spoken of here is not merely of a certain form of rational thinking, but extends to ways of living.  That is to say, mind-body dualism and monistic materialism are ways of living that are counter to the way of life provided by the Sacraments, and the Sacraments heal in such a way that this distorted way of living is made whole.

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The Poverty of Materialism

About three years ago, perhaps four, I was in the Divine Liturgy for the Angels’ feast, when, during the homily, our priest made reference to the “medieval” belief, which C S Lewis makes central to his Space Trilogy, that angels guided the planets in their orbit, and ensured the movement of the stars and galaxies, that they had charge over various locales, and of course specific angels were tasked with guarding each of us, once the waters of baptism and the oil of chrismation had dried.  He commented, that this was a common belief, not only for Christians, but even, though in distorted ways, of the pagan world.  That is to say, it was simply taken for granted that spiritual beings played a part in the moving of our physical world and watched over our social and political affairs, including taking care for us individually.  (This topic is being explored in significant depth of detail in the podcast “The Lord of Spirits” which can be accessed online here.)

This made a forceful impression.  First of all, I knew what he was saying was true.  I’d read enough Lewis, and works in medieval spirituality, to know that this was the dominant view at the time, and in the historical eras preceding it.  It was certainly, I knew, the view of the Church.  Yet, it was “new” to me.  That is to say, in that moment, I began to recognize just how secular my own worldview was.

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Fasting and Communion with God

Yesterday morning, during the last service for Lenten Matins offered at our parish for the week, we heard chanted

“With great gladness let us accept the proclamation of the Fast: for if Adam our forefather had fasted, we should not have suffered banishment from Eden.  The fruit that brought death upon me was pleasant to the eyes and good for food.  Then lest us not be taken prisoner by our eyes; let not our tongue delight in costly foods, for once they have been eaten they are worthless.  Let us shun all greed; then we shall not become slaves to the passions which follow an excess of food and drink. Let us sign ourselves with the blood of Him who for our sakes willingly was led to death and the destroying angle will not touch us; and may we eat the Holy Passover of Christ for the salvation of our souls.” — Aposticha of Matins for the Friday in the first week of Great Lent (The Lenten Triodion, p 272)

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Orthodoxy, Boredom and the Demon of the Noonday

The secret sauce to the Orthodox way of life is that it is frequently so boring and often very tedious.  The Sunday Liturgies are the same year after year.  The Sunday Gospels are the same, season after season.  We confess the same sins over and over again.  There are only so many ways you can dress up lentils and beans fast after fast.  Morning prayers.  Mealtime prayers.  Evening prayers.  How many “begats” can Scripture have?  It’s all so very, very tedious and uninteresting.  This is a good thing.  It is a very good thing.

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Proper Names

The ancient Greeks distinguished human beings from the rest of the cosmos as having the capacity for articulation, having the capacity of language. But not merely the capacity for communication, because, broadly speaking, even some non-human animal species have some limited means of communication.

But human beings are able to communicate their own inner states and experiences such that other humans beings can both understand and can similarly articulate the same experiences. But finally, human beings do something else: they give names to the cosmos and that which moves and breathes, and even to give names to things that do not, strictly speaking, exist.

This is why, in our present society, so much power is given to naming. And when the civic agreement on which a society is bound together becomes tattered and frayed, the power of naming becomes distorted. While it purports to represent reality, in actual fact, it doesn’t matter whether the name has any basis in reality or fact. Where there is rumor and innuendo in a society in which shame is the cultural coin, all that matters is whether a name may take hold merely by repetition and tribal cohesion around such naming. If my tribe says that a member of our enemy tribe is evil, that coin is both valuable and powerful. If I wish to make exchange within the parameters of my tribe, I am bound to agree with, indeed, to believe in the naming. Even if I merely question the name, I risk the loss of my cultural purchasing ability, and perhaps exile.

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A Summary of the Book of Job

Let us be clear of one thing: suffering is evil, particularly the suffering of the innocent. No appeal to the instrumentality of suffering–it leads to this or that good–justifies it. I speak here not in philosophical terms, but from the standpoint of those who suffer.
But if suffering cannot be justified, neither is God to blame. This, too, is a falsehood, a series of false dichotomies. A good and loving and all-powerful God is neither to blame for the suffering, nor blame-worthy for not delivering each and every victim from every stab and pain of suffering. I speak here not from a framework of theodicy, but from the standpoint of those who experience God in suffering.
For this is the great and awful mystery of suffering, the deliverance in suffering is not always deliverance from the pain of suffering, but rather the deliverance to faith in the midst of suffering, the transfer of the soul to God.
I do not say this lightly. There are those who experience unrelenting, lifelong physical pain. There are those who experience unrelenting, lifelong mental and emotional pain. And it is quite clear how such pain can warp and embitter the soul. And no philosophical justification, no doctrinal theodicy, can straighten or sweeten such souls.
But the deliverance that can come in such suffering is the divine presence. This presence does not eliminate pain of body, heart or mind. It does something different. It enables the soul, that inward heart, that center of one’s being, to enlarge, to take in a certain divine darkness, which is dark only because it is absolute light, which goes beyond all sight, all reason, and speaks wordlessly, communicates a kind of infallible ignorance, which is sweeter than any bitterness, which straightens all things bent, and fills beyond all capacity.
These things cannot be expressed adequately, and most terrible of all, for us sinful ones, it is only seen from afar, with a kind of hopeful trust that in an unknown time, in a manner unlooked for, this deliverance into the divine embrace will come. It is hope for this deliverance which keeps the suffering soul circling around the cruciform axis. Where else could such a soul go? For here alone is the Bread of Life, the Medicine of Immortality.

The Myth of Self-Discovery

Our culture focuses on self-discovery.  From our youngest years we are inculcated in the pursuit of “finding out who we are.”  In a psychological sense, we do, indeed, need a strong and healthy sense of Self, of a sense of being that is separate from and unique as compared to others.  Failure to develop a healthy sense of self can lead to all sorts of personality disorders, including narcissism and codependency.

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The Myth of Progressivism

Modern citizens of Western democracies, children of the Enlightenment, profess to be devotees of the scientific method of observation, hypothesis, empirical and repeated processes to test hypotheses, followed by more observation, and leading, so it is affirmed, to a logical conclusion.  And yet, conversely, these same devotees of the scientific method insist on one empirically falsifiable notion: that with enough knowledge, technological know-how, and the scientific method, human nature is perfectable.  Coupled with this belief in the perfectibility of human nature, is its obverse twin: all of human history and society are progressing to ever-more enlightenment and perfectibility.  Thankfully, the ancient Greeks, and with them, all of Christian tradition, did and do not hold to such empirically false dogmas.

The evidence that human nature is both imperfect and wholly imperfectible is all around us.  Murders.  Theft.  Adultery.  Greed.  Let’s simply run through the list of seven deadly vices, or log on to social media.  Better yet: read a Twitter feed.

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