Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Savior and the South

In ‘A Note on the Origin of Southern Ways’ Tom Landess stresses the importance of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ the Son of God, in Southern life and how Southern belief in Christ has shaped (and continues to shape) various aspects of our individual and corporate life for the better (see especially pgs. 161-9, Why the South Will Survive).

This is a rather remarkable thing to have happened in the age of enlightened skepticism, unbelief, and apostasy.  But there are still shortcomings.  The life in Christ among Southrons, as among others in the West, is often characterized by either the cold logic of systematic theologies and Bible studies or an overwrought emotionalism/imagination seen, for ensample, in free-wheeling evangelical Protestant worship services.

Such a life has developed because the West has forgotten the nous (νους), that faculty of the soul that allows us to have direct apprehension of spiritual realities.  Instead the West has come to rely on either the bodily senses or the rational thoughts and imagination of the mind to worship and understand God and draw nearer to Him.  This is fraught with peril, for these latter faculties are prone to great delusion in our fallen state.

For more on the nous, please give a listen to Dr Clark Carlton’s podcast on the subject:

In order, then, to go beyond the rationalism and/or emotionalism of the usual Southern relationship with God the Son towards a true and full union with Him, and to help in the task of cleansing the nous and the other parts of body and soul (together with prostrations, fasting, and so on), we offer to our countrymen the Jesus Prayer, one of the foundational prayers of the Orthodox Church.

Just how important it is in Christianity may be seen in the teachings of the Holy Elder Barsanuphius of Optina Monastery (+1913).  He says, ‘The Jesus Prayer has enormous significance in the life of a Christian.  It’s the shortest path to the attainment of the Kingdom of Heaven.  However, even that path is a long one, and once we have set foot on it, we should be ready for sorrows.  . . . the Jesus Prayer brings a man to a repentant frame of mind more quickly than the other prayers, and shows him his infirmity—consequently, it draws him close to God more quickly.  A man begins to feel that he’s the greatest sinner, and that’s just what God is looking for.’

The Holy Elder continues, ‘The enemy tries in every way to divert a Christian from this prayer.  He fears it and hates it most of all.  Truly, by the power of God a man who always does this prayer is preserved unharmed from the snares of the enemy.  . . .’

He warns, however, that the Jesus Prayer must be undertaken in humility by a man, or he will come to harm.  ‘You have to consider yourself to be standing below everyone, and strive to receive from the Lord those gifts that are undoubtedly brought by the Jesus Prayer: a repentant heart, patience, and humility.  Amen’  (‘St. Barsanuphius of Optina: Talks with Spiritual Children’, The Orthodox Word, pgs. 132, 133, 139).

Bishop Hilarion, Metropolitan of Volokolamsk in Russia, gives a good introduction to the Jesus Prayer in a series of talks shown on Russian television in 1999.  The first is presented in full below, followed by paths to the others in the series.

The Apostle Paul says: Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). People often ask: How can we pray without ceasing, if we are working, reading, speaking, eating, sleeping, etc.? That is, if we are doing things that would seem to be incompatible with prayer? The answer to this question in the Orthodox tradition is the Jesus Prayer. The faithful who practice the Jesus Prayer attain to constant prayer, that is, to a ceaseless standing before God. How is this done?

The Jesus Prayer is: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” There is also a shorter form: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” But one can also reduce the prayer to three words: “Lord, have mercy.” One who practices the Jesus Prayer repeats it not only during the divine services or when praying at home, but when travelling, eating, and going to sleep. Even if one is talking without someone or listening to someone then, without losing the intensity of his perception, he can nevertheless continue to repeat this prayer in the depths of his heart.

The meaning of the Jesus Prayer does not of course consist in its mechanical repetition, but in always feeling the living presence of Christ. This presence is felt by us first us all because, by pronouncing the Jesus Prayer, we pronounce the name of the Savior.

The name is a symbol of its bearer; in the name is present, as it were, the person to whom it belongs. When a young man falls in love with a young woman, he ceaselessly repeats her name, because she is, as it were, present in her name. And inasmuch as love fills his whole being, he feels the need to repeat this name over and over again. In just the same way, a Christian who loves the Lord repeats the name of Jesus Christ, because his whole heart and being are drawn to Christ.

It is very important when performing the Jesus Prayer not to try to imagine Christ, depicting Him like someone in some life situation or, for example, hanging on the Cross. The Jesus Prayer should not be paired with images that might arise in our imagination, because then there is a substitution of real imagination. The Jesus Prayer should be accompanied only by an inner sense of Christ’s presence and a feeling of standing before the Living God. No external images are appropriate here.

Source:  http://www.pravmir.com/prayer-xix-jesus-prayer/ , posted 23 June 2014, accessed 30 September 2014

Other talks in this series:

To go yet deeper into the Jesus Prayer, read The Philokalia,

and other Orthodox books:

The South has had a good beginning, but it is time to leave behind the ways of our spiritual youth and grow into the fulness of the sons of God.  May Our Savior bless the South and all peoples ever more abundantly with His life-giving presence.

Works Cited

Landess, Thomas H.  ‘A Note on the Origin of Southern Ways’.  Why the South Will Survive: Fifteen Southerners Look at Their Region a Half Century after I’ll Take My Stand.  Clyde Wilson, ed.  Athens, Ga.: U. of Georgia Press, 1981.  pgs. 159-70.

‘St. Barsanuphius of Optina: Talks with Spiritual Children’.  The Orthodox Word.  49.3 (2013): 105-42.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Welcoming Hærfæst (Harvest/Fall) - 2014

‘Taking an Autumn Road’

By Vladimir Solovyov

Day fades.  Above the exhausted, withered earth
The clouds, immobile, hang.  Under the golden foliage
Of autumn that now bids farewell
One can discern both birches and lime trees.
Dreams gently sorrowful embrace the soul;
The infinite horizons stand there frozen.
And, reconciled, the heart does not long for
The sumptuously brilliant, noisy spring.
And it is as if the earth, in settling to its rest,
Has been immersed within a wordless prayer
And a pale-winged swarm of wordless spirits,
Invisible, from heaven on high descends.
(Autumn 1886)

Works Cited

Solovyov, Vladimir.  ‘Taking an Autumn Road’.  The Religious Poetry of Vladimir Solovyov.  Jakim, ed.  Jakim and Magnus, trans.  San Rafael, Ca.: Semantron Press, 2008.  p. 32.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Christian Constitution

It is a saying often heard among conservative circles, that the constitutions of the States, and the [u.] S. Constitution in particular, along with the Declaration of Independence, are among the highest achievements of Christian thinking on government.

But is this true?

A monastery is the closest this fallen world will come to seeing the City of God realized among us, for the life of the monk (or nun) is totally given over to fulfuling the commands of Christ’s Gospel.  It is, so to speak, a very small Christian country.  What provisions, then, do their ‘constitutions’ contain?  How are they like the constitutions that we have adopted?  How different?  Using the monastic rule written by St Columbanus (sometimes Columban) of Ireland (reposed 615) and the Declaration and [u.] S. Constitution as our primary documents, let us take a look.


-Declaration (Approaching Deism):
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

-Constitution (Completely focused on the world):
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

-Monastic rule (Proper focus on God and man, echoing Our Lord’s words):
ABOVE all things we must love God with our whole heart and with our whole mind and our neighbor as ourselves; all our works must be informed with this love.

On Who Ought to Govern

-Declaration and Constitution (the majority, whether regenerate or not):
 . . . all men are created equal . . . Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . . (Declaration)

 . . . but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. (Constitution, Article VI, Section 3)

-Monastic rule (godly elders):
At the first word of a superior all rise to obey, because by obeying they obey God, according to the word of the Lord Jesus: "He that heareth you, heareth me." If, therefore any hearing a word of command don’t rise straightway he shall be judged disobedient. Whoever contradicts incurs the crime of contumacy; he is not only guilty of disobedience but by opening the gateway of refractoriness to others he becomes the seducer of many. If anyone obeys with grumbling, his obedience, not coming from the heart, is disobedience; therefore, until he shows his good will, his work is of no avail.

To what limits should obedience be carried? Obedience unto death is certainly enjoined on us, because Christ was obedient to His Father for us, unto death. "Let this mind be in you," says the Apostle, "which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and inhabit found as a man. He humbled Himself, becoming obedient (to His Father) unto death, even to the death of the cross." The true disciple of Christ must obey in all things; no matter how hard or distasteful the task laid upon him may be, he must set about its fulfillment with zeal and joy, because only such obedience is acceptable to the Lord, who says: "He that taketh not up his cross, and followeth Me, is not worthy of Me." Wherefore also He says of the disciple worthy of Him: "Where I am, there also shall My minister be with Me." (Chapter 1)

On Freedom of Speech

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.  (1st Amendment)

-Monastic rule:
The Rule of silence must be diligently observed, for it is written: "The service of justice shall be quietness and peace." All superfluity of words must be avoided; except in cases of necessity or utility, the monk must be silent, because, according to the Scripture, "in the multitude of words there shall not want sin." Hence our Savior says: "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." Justly indeed shall they be condemned who would not, though able, speak just words, but preferred in their garrulousness to speak wicked, unjust, ungodly, vain, injurious, double-meaning, false, quarrelsome, abusive, shameful, absurd, blasphemous, harsh, and crooked words. These and such like words must never pass the lips of the monk, whose tongue must ever be governed by prudence and right reason, lest by his talkativeness he be betrayed into detractions and contradictions born of pride. (Chapter 2)

On the Purpose of Life

-Declaration (Building a worldly kingdom):
We hold these truths to be self-evident, . . . that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  (See also the Constitution’s preamble.)

-Monastic rule (Rejecting worldliness; saving one’s soul; spiritual progress):
3. The food of the monks shall be coarse, consisting of cabbage, vegetables, flour mixed with water, and a biscuit, and taken toward evening. Surfeiting must be guarded against in eating, and drunkenness in drinking, so that what is partaken may sustain, not injure, the body, for by overloading the stomach the mind becomes stupid. Those who look out for the eternal reward should satisfy only their real needs in this life. True discretion requires that food and work shall be duly proportioned. It is reasonable to promote spiritual progress by bringing the flesh into subjection by abstinence, but if abstinence is practiced to excess, it ceases to be a virtue and becomes a vice. Hence the monk must fast daily, but also daily refresh his body with food; since he must indulge his body, he must do so sparingly and by means of the coarsest food; for only to this end does he eat daily that he may be able to make daily progress in virtue, pray daily, work daily, and read daily.

4. Monks to whom for Christ's sake the world is crucified and who are crucified to the world, must sedulously guard against covetousness, seeing that it is wrong for them not only to be possessed of superfluities, but even to desire them. It is not what they possess that matters, but rather how their wills are affected by their possessions. Those who have left all things to follow Christ the Lord with the cross of daily fear have treasure in heaven. Therefore, as they are to possess much in heaven, they ought to be content with little, nay, with the barest necessaries on earth, remembering that in monks covetousness is a leprosy, as it was in Giezi, of the sons of the prophets; and the cause of treason and perdition, as it was in the disciple of Christ, and of death, as it was in Ananias and Sapphira, the half-hearted followers of the Apostles. Utter nakedness, therefore, and contempt of earthly goods is the first perfection of the monk; the second is the cleansing of the heart from every vice; the third, perfect and unbroken love of God and of divine things, which is the fruit of renouncement of all things of earth. Few indeed are the things that are really necessary to us to sustain life, or rather, according to the words of the Lord, but one thing, food. We need, however, to have our senses purified by the grace of God to understand spiritually the words of our Lord to Martha.

In short, the Declaration and [u.] S. Constitution are not quite the exemplars of Christian thought that many have been told that they are.  They are, after all, products of the godless Enlightenment, which teach us that man ought to be free of as many social restrictions as possible to pursue whatever seems best to his conscience.  Each man is sovereign, pursuing his own interests, even at the expense of others.

Under a truly Christian form of government, things are very different.  All is humility, love, the rejecting of one’s own will for the sake of others, generosity, and so on.  The final chapters of St Columban’s rule are telling in this regard:

8. Mortification is the most important part of the monastic rule. "Do nothing without counsel," says the Holy Scripture. Wherefore, if nothing is to be done without counsel, everything must be done with counsel.

 . . .

If this be so, the monk must fly all pride of liberty, and learn to obey with true humility, without hesitation, without murmuring, for only then will the yoke of Christ be sweet and His burden light. Until he has learned the humility of Christ, he cannot taste the sweetness of the yoke of Christ nor the lightness of His burden. For the soul, harassed with sin and toil, finds repose only in humility. Humility is its sole refreshment amidst so many evils. The more it withdraws itself from the vanity and uncertainty without, the more rest and refreshment will it find within. What before seemed bitter, and hard, and painful, will now be light, and smooth, and pleasant. Mortification is indeed intolerable to the proud and hard of heart, but a consolation to him who loves only what is meek and lowly. No one, however, it must be remembered, can attain to the full possession of the felicity of this martyrdom unless all his desires, all his aspirations be directed toward it. to the exclusion of every other aim whatsoever.

The mortification of the monk is threefold: he must never think what he pleases, never speak what he pleases, never go where he pleases. No matter how distasteful the command imposed on him may be, he shall always say to his superior: "Not as I will, but as thou wilt," after the example of our Savior, who says elsewhere: "I came down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him that sent Me."

9. The monk shall live in a monastery under the rule of one father and in the company of many brethren, in order that he may learn humility from one, patience from another. One will teach him silence, another meekness. He shall not do what pleases him; he shall eat what is set before him, clothe himself with what is given him, do the work assigned to him, be subject to a superior whom he does not like. He shall go to bed so tired that he may fall asleep while going, and rise before he has had sufficient rest. If he suffers ill-usage, he shall be silent; he shall fear the head of the monastery as a master, and love him as a father, being ever convinced that what he commands is profitable to him; nor shall he criticize the words of the elders because it is his duty to obey and to do what he is bidden, as Moses says: "Attend, and hear, oh Israel."

More ought to be said, and perhaps will be in the future.  But for now let us simply acknowledge that our current social organization and the ideas behind it are not purely Christian and are in many ways opposed to the Church’s teachings. 

Beware those who make idols of the Founding Fathers and their writings.


St Columbanus’s monastic rule:

Declaration of Independence:

[u.] S. Constitution

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Warning to the West from Dachau - Part II

St Justin Popovich, in his essay ‘Humanistic Ecumenism’ (Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ), quotes several complete meditations which St Nikolai Velimirovich, the Apostle to the West of these latter days, wrote while he was imprisoned in the Nazis’ Dachau concentration camp.  For a bit longer introduction to these writings, please see Part I:

What follows is St Nikolai’s burning answer to the question ‘What is Europe?’, a question just as pertinent to Southerners, Australians, and all the other nations borne of Western Europe as it is to the European nations themselves. 

St Justin begins, followed by St Nikolai’s meditation:

The apostolic sorrow of the holy Bishop then asks:  What is Europe?

It is the desire and the longing for power and pleasure and knowledge.  All of which is human:  firstly human desire and longing, and secondly human knowledge.  And the two are personified by the Pope and Luther.  What then is Europe?  Europe is the Pope and Luther, human desire to the extreme and human knowledge to the extreme.  The European Pope is the human desire for authority.  The European Luther is the obstinate decision of man that everything must be explained by the mind, the Pope as the ruler of the world and the scientist as the sovereign of the world.  This is Europe in a nutshell, ontologically and historically.  The one means the surrender of mankind into the fire and the other means surrender of mankind into the water.  And both mean:  the separation of man from God because the one means the rejection of faith and the other the rejection of the Church of Christ.  For the spirit of evil has been working in this way on the body of Europe for a few centuries now.  And who can expel this evil spirit from Europe?  No one except the One Whose name has been marked in red in the history of the human race as the only One Who expels demons from people.  You already know Who I mean.  I mean the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, and Savior of the world, who was born of the Virgin, killed by the Jews, resurrected by God, witnessed by the centuries, justified by heaven, glorified by the Angels, confessed by the Saints, and accepted by our forefathers. 

As long as Europe followed Christ as “the sun of righteousness,” and His Apostles, Martyrs, Saints, and the countless righteous people and others who pleased Him, Europe was like a square that was illuminated by hundreds and thousands of candles, large and small, burning brightly.  When human desire, however, and human wisdom struck as two strong winds, the candles were blown out and a darkness descended like the darkness of the subterranean passages in which moles live. 

According to human desire, every nation and every person seeks power, pleasure, and glory, imitating the Pope of Rome.  According to human wisdom, every nation and every person finds that he or she is wiser than everyone else and that he or she deserves all earthly things.  How then can there not be wars between people and nations?  How then can there not be foolishness and wildness in people?  How then can there not be sicknesses and terrible diseases, drought and floods, insurrections and wars?  For just as pus has to seep out of a pus-filled wound, and a stench has to come out of a place filled with filth, this has to happen.

Papism uses politics because this is the only way it can get power.  Lutheranism uses philosophy and science because it believes that this is the only way to obtain wisdom.  And so desire declared war against knowledge and knowledge against desire.  This is the new Tower of Babel, this is Europe.  But in our time, however, there came a new generation of European, a generation that married desire to knowledge through atheism and rejected both the Pope and Luther.  Now neither desire is hidden nor wisdom praised.  Human desire and human wisdom are joined in our times and thus a marriage has taken place which is neither Roman Catholic nor Lutheran, but obviously and publicly satanic.  Today’s Europe is neither Papist nor Lutheran.  It is above and outside of them both.  It is totally earthly, without even the desire to ascend to heaven, either with the passport of the infallibility of the Pope or by the ladder of Protestant wisdom.  It totally denies the journey from this world.  It wants to stay here.  It wants the grave as its cradle.  It does not know about the other world.  It doesn’t smell the heavenly fragrance.  It does not see the Angels and the Saints in its dreams.  It does not want to hear about the Theotokos.  Debauchery makes it hate virginity.  The whole square which is Europe is sunk now in darkness.  All of the candles are out.  Oh!  the awful darkness!  Brother plunges the sword into his brother’s breast, thinking that he is the enemy.  Fathers reject their sons, sons their fathers.  And the wolf is a far more loyal friend to man than man is.

Oh my brothers!  Do you not see all this?   Have you not felt the darkness and the wrongdoing of un-Christian Europe on your bodies?  Do you prefer Europe to Christ, death to life?  Moses offered these two choices to his people.  And we also put these two choices before you.  You have to know that Europe is death, Christ is life.  Choose life and live forever (pgs. 182-4).

May our Most Merciful and Ever-Loving Lord grant us to find our way back to the Ancient Faith, to the Orthodox Church, before war engulfs the whole world once again. 

Works Cited

Popovich, St Justin.  ‘Humanistic Ecumenism’.  Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ.  3rd ed.  Gerostergios, Asterious, et al., trans.  Belmont, Ma.: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 2005.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Scriptures and the South - Part II

We noted the many benefits of reading the Holy Scriptures in Part I, and how these have helped the South to defend herself against errors over the years.  But there is also great peril in approaching the Scriptures with a Reformation mindset as the South has done:  Such an approach opens the door wide to the very relativism that she has done fairly well at guarding herself against. 

She ought to give much thanks to God for His abundant mercy that she has not walked through that door as much as other Western nations have. 

But the danger is still there, even if it has not manifested itself fully.  For even before the War, the South’s leading men and women were troubled at the direction the extreme individualism of the Protestant Reformation was taking Southern society and the rest of the Western world (Fox-Genovese and Genovese, The Mind of the Master Class, pgs. 649-60). 

They were right to have this concern.  In it is the fulfilment of the heresy of the Roman Catholics, that a single man, the Roman Pope, is the final authority in matters of Church and state.  The Protestant Reformation and its offspring, the Enlightenment, merely took this doctrine to its logical conclusion, extending that authority to every man and woman on the earth.

In the Orthodox Church, all are free to read the Scriptures (and highly encouraged to do so, as St Justin Popovich and so many other Holy Fathers have taught), but they are asked to humbly submit their private views to the loving judgment of their brothers and sisters in the Church, and especially to the Holy Spirit-bearing Fathers, and not to demand recognition that their view is ‘right’ in a spirit of unyielding pride (this is how sects and heresies are born).

Gabe Martini in his essay ‘Reading Scripture in Tradition: Why Sola Scriptura Doesn’t Work’, explains further.

Orthodox Christians do not hold to the Reformation principle of Sola scriptura. Instead, we view the scriptures as the pinnacle or “summit”1 of holy tradition, neither separating the two as wholly distinct, nor eliminating one or the other.

The reason for this is simple: the scriptures are a witness to divine revelation, given from God to mankind (and specially, to God’s holy people—Israel and now the catholic Church). Holy tradition refers to the totality of this divine revelation, and includes our liturgies and hymns, the lives of the Saints, the writings of our fathers, and the decrees and canons of Ecumenical Councils. Atop this foundation rests holy scripture. To divorce scripture from tradition—or vice versa—is to both needlessly and dangerously tear apart the whole of divine revelation:

Taken from its context within Holy Tradition, the solid rock of Scripture becomes a mere ball of clay, to be molded into whatever shape its handlers wish. It is no honor to the Scriptures to misuse and twist them, even if this is done in the name of exalting their authority.
—Fr. John Whiteford, Sola Scriptura, p. 46

Even when Sola scriptura is given nuance2 to make room for creeds, confessions, and councils, the final arbiter is still a person’s interpretation of the Bible. While one might hold to a document such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, if there are doctrinal disagreements, the consistent Biblicist will come down in favor of a particular interpretation of the Bible over-and-against the Confession. This has led to some difficulties over the years for certain Protestant churches, but I believe that this nuance is—ultimately—pointless.

For example, one might confess a creed that states Jesus is a bunny rabbit. While this belief could theoretically be held by many, anyone can deny it as being contrary to the Bible (which it obviously is), rendering the creed both incorrect and unnecessary. It doesn’t really matter what creeds or confessions say, so long as the Bible is held to be the final authority. This foundationalist or positivist approach might seem tidy, but a tree is known by its fruit: hundreds of denominations (and growing), along with dozens of splits within these major, confessional gatherings. Even with the best intentions, Sola scriptura is a doctrine of confusion, not union (1 Cor. 14:33).

It’s worth noting that Sola scriptura presumes both faith and piety can be deduced from—and reduced to—a set of propositions. The chief mechanism for this investigation is human reason, aided by rational tools like exegesis, hermeneutical methods, historical-critical scholarship, contextual studies, and more. (All of which are potential ‘traditions of men.’) But if the scriptures are a witness to the divine revelation given to God’s people (the Church), then their understanding can only take place within that community, and as a consequence of the interpreter’s union with God:

In the Orthodox approach to Scripture, it is the job of the individual not to strive for originality in interpretation, but rather to understand what is already present in the traditions of the Church. We are obliged not to go beyond the boundary set by the Fathers and Creeds of the Church, but to faithfully pass on the Tradition just as we have received it. To do this requires a great deal of study and thought—but even more, if we are to truly understand the Scriptures, we must enter deeply into the mystical life of the Church. —ibid., p. 44

At the Ecumenical Councils—such as Chalcedon in A.D. 451—the synodal decisions are outlined in what is called (in Greek) ‘horos.’ This is sometimes translated ‘definition,’ but is more accurately ‘a boundary.’ In other words, the Church sets the boundary for orthodox belief in Her creeds, liturgies, and canons, but there is a great deal of freedom within this boundary for scholarly investigation, dialogue, and even debate. For example, the Church does not have a single, infallible interpretation for every verse of the Bible. So while one should not strive for “originality in interpretation” or to go “beyond the boundary set by the Fathers,” this is not a call to intellectual suicide, nor should it be seen as an attempt by the Church to be always stuck in the past. There is still much to be said, so long as it does not contradict the apostolic faith.

But if there remains much to be said regarding the scriptures—within the boundaries of orthodoxy—who is capable of rightly dividing the word of truth? Can anyone do this? Is it something for the intellectual elite alone?

 . . .

If we truly believe that the scriptures are divinely-inspired by the Holy Spirit, then their right-understanding can only be the result of theosis. If our salvation is an acquisition of the Holy Spirit (e.g. St. Seraphim of Sarov), then with that acquisition comes the Mind of God—a Mind that is attuned to the breath of the Spirit as he breathes through the life of the Church.

The Church is not some other, competing academic institution alongside seminaries and universities. Those led astray by the Academy can be tempted to subvert tradition for the sake of academic merit badges. But rather than pitting the Church against the scholarly community, we must learn to appreciate both in their proper context—reminding ourselves that the qualities of a true interpreter of divine revelation are more related to holiness than they are academic credentials. If a scholar’s primary goal is to blaze new trails, be controversial, or directly subvert holy tradition, they are not seeking the Mind of Christ.

The Church is the very Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27), the fullness of God (Eph. 1:23), and the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim. 3:15). It is only in the life of that mystical, theanthropic (Divine-human) communion that a person can ever hope to acquire this Mind and to both read and understand the scriptures rightly—as the precious summit and anchor of God’s revelation to his people.

. . .

Holiness, then, is the key to understanding the Scriptures.  It is what allows us to obtain a sure knowledge of their meaning.  But this takes place in a realm above mundane rational thought.  Obtaining the Mind of God in all its fulness means union with the Divine, uncreated energies of God through mystical union with the Holy Spirit, which does not take place without long years of difficult ascetic labor (sleeping on a hard bed, fasting, prayer, and so forth). 

St Gregory Palamas (+1359) says in ‘Topics of Natural and Theological Science’,

As the divine Psalmist chants, ‘May the splendour of our God be upon us’ (Ps. 90 : 17. LXX).  For according to St Basil, ‘Spirit-bearing souls, when illumined by the Spirit, both become spiritual themselves and shed forth grace upon others.  From this comes foreknowledge of things future, understanding of mysteries, apprehension of things hidden, distribution of spiritual gifts, citizenship in heaven, the dance with the angels, unending joy, divine largesse, likeness to God, and the desire of all desires, to become god’ (chapter 76, p. 381)

An ensample of this revelation of the meaning of the Scriptures through union with the Holy Spirit is revealed clearly in the life of one of our very own Southern forefathers from Ireland, the holy St Columba of Iona (+597).  St Adomnán (+704) records this incident in his Life of Saint Columba:

AT another time, when the saint was living in the Hinba island (Eilean-na-Naoimh), the grace of the Holy Ghost was communicated to him abundantly and unspeakably, and dwelt with him in a wonderful manner, so that for three whole days, and as many nights, without either eating or drinking, he allowed no one to approach him, and remained confined in a house which was filled with heavenly brightness. Yet out of that house, through the chinks of the doors and keyholes, rays of surpassing brilliancy were seen to issue during the night. Certain spiritual songs also, which had never been heard before, he was heard to sing. He came to see, as he allowed in the presence of a very few afterwards, many secrets hidden from men since the beginning of the world fully revealed; certain very obscure and difficult parts of sacred Scripture also were made quite plain, and clearer than the light to the eye of his pure heart. He grieved that his beloved disciple, Baithen, was not with him, because if he had chanced to be beside him during those three days, he would have been able to explain from the lips of the blessed man mysteries regarding past or future ages, unknown to the rest of mankind, and to interpret also some passages of the Sacred Volumes. However, Baithen was then detained by contrary winds in the Egean island (Egg), and he was not, therefore, able to be present until those three days and as many nights of that glorious and unspeakable visitation came to a close (Chapter XIX, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/columba-e.asp, posted 1998 by Paul Halsall, accessed 9 Sept. 2014).

Through the prayers of St Columba, St Gregory Palamas, St Basil the Great, and all our Holy Fathers and Mothers, may we lowly Southrons attain the humility and holiness needed to rightly divide the Holy Scriptures.

Works Cited

Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth, and Eugene Genovese. The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders’ Worldview. New York: Cambridge UP, 2005.

Palamas, St Gregory.  ‘Topics of Natural and Theological Science and on the Moral and Ascetic Life: One Hundred and Fifty Texts’.  The Philokalia: The Complete Text, Vol. IV.  Palmer, Sherrard, and Ware, trans.  London:  Faber and Faber, 1995.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Warning for Sports Fanatics

Football season has begun, and all too many Southerners, Midwesterners, etc. will be following closely every play, coach, and player for months.

St Cyprian of Carthage (martyred in 258), another pillar of Orthodox theology from Africa,

has stern words for those who call themselves Christians yet eagerly run after all these kinds of events.  Few there are who take any time at all to consider the spiritual reality (Idols?  Demons?) that is at back of the material game they are watching.  But we ought to, for nothing is more precious than our souls. 

If, for the sake of saving of our souls, it is better for us to distance ourselves from the vulgarity and barbarity on the field, court, or whatsobeit, then let us do so.  Perhaps a little listening on the radio is best, or simply a summary in the newspaper after the game is over.  Pray that the merciful Lord will reveal what is best.

Here are some of St Cyprian’s writings on the matter, from his letter ‘On the Public Shows’.

 . . . However certain I may be, then, that you are no less respectable in the conduct of your life than faithful in respect of your sacramental vow;4819 still, since there are not wanting smooth-tongued advocates of vice, and indulgent patrons who afford authority to vices, and, what is worse, convert the rebuke of the heavenly Scriptures into an advocacy of crimes; as if the pleasure derived from the public exhibitions might be sought after as being innocent, by way of a mental relaxation;—for thereby the vigour of ecclesiastical discipline is so relaxed, and is so deteriorated by all the languor of vice that it is no longer apology, but authority, that is given for wickedness,—it seemed good in a few words not now to instruct you, but to admonish you who are instructed, lest, because the wounds are badly bound up, they should break through the cicatrix of their closed soundness. For no mischief is put an end to with so much difficulty but that its recurrence is easy, so long as it is both maintained by the consent, and caressed by the excuses4820 of the multitude.
     2. Believers, and men who claim for themselves the authority of the Christian name, are not ashamed—are not, I repeat, ashamed to find a defence in the heavenly Scriptures for the vain superstitions associated with the public exhibitions of the heathens, and thus to attribute divine authority to idolatry. For how is it, that what is done by the heathens in honour of any idol is resorted to in a public show by faithful Christians, and the heathen idolatry is maintained, and the true and divine religion is trampled upon in contempt of God?  Shame binds me to relate their pretexts and defences in this behalf. “Where,” say they, “are there such Scriptures? where are these things prohibited? On the contrary, both Elias is the charioteer of Israel, and David himself danced before the ark. We read of psalteries, horns,4821 trumpets, drums, pipes, harps, and choral dances. Moreover, the apostle, in his struggle, puts before us the contest of the Cæstus, and of our wrestle against the spiritual things of wickedness. Again, when he borrows his illustrations from the racecourse, he also proposes the prize of the crown. Why, then, may not a faithful Christian man gaze upon that which the divine pen might write about?” At this point I might not unreasonably say that it would have been far better for them not to know any writings at all, than thus to read the Scriptures.4822 For words and illustrations which are recorded by way of exhortation to evangelical virtue, are translated by them into pleas for vice; because those things are written of, not that they should be gazed upon, but that a greater eagerness might be aroused in our minds in respect of things that will benefit us, seeing that among the heathens there is manifest so much eagerness in respect of things which will be of no advantage.
3. These are therefore an argument to stimulate virtue, not a permission or a liberty to look upon heathen error, that by this consideration the mind may be more inflamed to Gospel virtue for the sake of the divine rewards, since through the suffering of all these labours and pains it is granted to attain to eternal benefits. For that Elias is the charioteer of Israel is no defence for gazing upon the public games; for he ran his race in no circus. And that David in the presence of God led the dances, is no sanction for faithful Christians to occupy seats in the public theatre; for David did not twist his limbs about in obscene movements, to represent in his dancing the story of Grecian lust.  Psalteries, horns, pipes, drums, harps, were used in the service of the Lord, and not of idols. Let it not on this account be objected that unlawful things may be gazed upon; for by the artifice of the devil these are changed from things holy to things unlawful. Then let shame demur to these things, even if the Holy Scriptures cannot. For there are certain things wherein the Scripture is more careful in giving instruction. Acquiescing in the claim of modesty, it has forbidden more where it has been silent. The truth, if it descended low enough to deal with such things, would think very badly of its faithful votaries. For very often, in matters of precept, some things are advantageously said nothing about; they often remind when they are expressly forbidden. So also there is an implied silence even in the writings of the Scripture; and severity speaks in the place of precepts; and reason teaches where Scripture has held its peace. Let every man only take counsel with himself, and let him speak consistently with the character of his profession,4823 and then he will never do any of these things.4824 For that conscience will have more weight which shall be indebted to none other than itself.
4. What has Scripture interdicted?  Certainly it has forbidden gazing upon what it forbids to be done. It condemned, I say, all those kinds of exhibitions when it abrogated idolatry—the mother of all public amusements,4825whence these prodigies of vanity and lightness came. For what public exhibition is without an idol? what amusement without a sacrifice? what contest is not consecrated to some dead person? And what does a faithful Christian do in the midst of such things as these? If he avoids idolatry, why does he4826 who is now sacred take pleasure in things which are worthy of reproach? Why does he approve of superstitions which are opposed to God, and which he loves while he gazes upon them? Besides, let him be aware that all these things are the inventions of demons, not of God. He is shameless who in the church exorcises demons while he praises their delights in public shows; and although, once for all renouncing him, he has put away everything in baptism, when he goes to the devil’s exhibition after (receiving) Christ, he renounces Christ as much as (he had done) the devil. Idolatry, as I have already said, is the mother of all the public amusements; and this, in order that faithful Christians may come under its influence, entices them by the delight of the eyes and the ears. Romulus was the first who consecrated the games of the circus to Consus as the god of counsel, in reference to the rape of the Sabine women. But the rest of the scenic amusements were provided to distract the attention of the people while famine invaded the city, and were subsequently dedicated to Ceres and Bacchus, and to the rest of the idols and dead men. Those Grecian contests, whether in poems, or in instrumental music, or in words, or in personal prowess, have as their guardians various demons; and whatever else there is which either attracts the eyes or allures the ears of the spectators, if it be investigated in reference to its origin and institution, presents as its reason either an idol, or a demon, or a dead man.  Thus the devil, who is their original contriver, because he knew that naked idolatry would by itself excite repugnance, associated it with public exhibitions, that for the sake of their attraction it might be loved. . . .

As St Cyprian says, beware idolatry, especially the idol of nationalism, dedicating all to the American Empire - its symbols, destructive militarism and other values, rulers. 

This is a rather glaring sin at many sporting events.  But it is not the only evil to be guarded against, visible or invisible.

What, then, ought we to do instead for relaxation and enjoyment?  St Cyprian’s advice is something any agrarian-minded Christian Southron could approve of:

 . . .

9. The Christian has nobler exhibitions, if he wishes for them. He has true and profitable pleasures, if he will recollect himself. And to say nothing of those which he cannot yet contemplate, he has that beauty of the world to look upon and admire.4831 He may gaze upon the sun’s rising, and again on its setting, as it brings round in their mutual changes days and nights; the moon’s orb, designating in its waxings and warnings the courses of the seasons; the troops of shining stars, and those which glitter from on high with extreme mobility,—their members divided through the changes of the entire year, and the days themselves with the nights distributed into hourly periods; the heavy mass of the earth balanced by the mountains, and the flowing rivers with their sources; the expanse of seas, with their waves and shores; and meanwhile, the air, subsisting equally everywhere in perfect harmony, expanded in the midst of all, and in concordant bonds animating all things with its delicate life, now scattering showers from the contracted clouds, now recalling the serenity of the sky with its refreshed purity; and in all these spheres their appropriate tenants—in the air the birds, in the waters the fishes, on the earth man. Let these, I say, and other divine works, be the exhibitions for faithful Christians. What theatre built by human hands could ever be compared to such works as these? Although it may be reared with immense piles of stones, the mountain crests are loftier; and although the fretted roofs glitter with gold, they will be surpassed by the brightness of the starry firmament.4832 Never will any one admire the works of man, if he has recognised himself as the son of God. He degrades himself from the height of his nobility, who can admire anything but the Lord.
10. Let the faithful Christian, I say, devote himself to the sacred Scriptures,4833 and there he shall find worthy exhibitions for his faith. He will see God establishing His world, and making not only the other animals, but that marvellous and better fabric of man. He will gaze upon the world in its delightfulness, righteous shipwrecks, the rewards of the good, and the punishments of the impious, seas drained dry by a people, and again from the rock seas spread out by a people. He will behold harvests descending from heaven, not pressed in by the plough; rivers with their hosts of waters bridled in, exhibiting dry crossings.  He will behold in some cases faith struggling with the flame, wild beasts overcome by devotion and soothed into gentleness. He will look also upon souls brought back even from death. Moreover, he will consider the marvellous souls brought back to the life of bodies which themselves were already consumed. And in all these things he will see a still greater exhibition—that devil who had triumphed over the whole world lying prostrate under the feet of Christ. How honourable is this exhibition, brethren! how delightful, how needful ever to gaze upon one’s hope, and to open our eyes to one’s salvation! This is a spectacle which is beheld even when sight is lost. This is an exhibition which is given by neither prætor nor consul, but by Him who is alone and above all things, and before all things, yea, and of whom are all things, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and honour for ever and ever. I bid you, brethren, ever heartily farewell. Amen.4834

Source:  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf05.iv.vii.ii.html, posted 1 June 2005, accessed 3 Sept. 2014

Holy St Cyprian, pray to God for us!

(Icon from the above OCA web site.)