Friday, April 29, 2016

Easter Is More than Remembering

Fr Stephen Freeman shares some good thoughts on the Great Feasts of the Church calendar in this short recording of his:  They are more than static historical events in the past, but ræther events in which we may participate even in our day through the Grace of God:

Đis being Holy Friday, Fr Stephen’s recent blog post on the atonement theory of salvation (‘Good News - Your Debt Is Being Cancelled’) is also worth a few minutes’ time.  It begins,

Recent conversations on the blog have bounced around the imagery of debt in the Scriptures. Contemporary Protestant thought often likes to express the notion of a “sin debt.” The idea runs that God’s righteousness and justice have proper demands. When we fail to keep the commandments, we create a debt for which God’s justice demands payment. Christ’s innocent self-offering on the Cross is seen as the payment for that debt. This imagery is absent from Orthodox thought. Indeed, I believe it is absent from the New Testament itself. It is, instead, an image that was created apart from the Scriptures themselves (originating as an atonement theory), and has been read back into the Scriptures, repeatedly misconstruing the actual meaning of the text. This reading has been a dominant part of modern Evangelical thought, and has been mined and minted so thoroughly, that many within the Evangelical mainstream treat it as a touchstone of Christian orthodoxy. It is not only not Orthodox, it is not orthodox. It is a false teaching.

 . . .

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Sacramental South

Father Alexander Schmemann once wrote of man,

 . . . The first, and basic definition of man is that he is the priest.  He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God—and by filling the world with this eucharist, he transforms his life, the one that he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with him.  The world was created as the “matter,” the material of one all-embracing eucharist, and man was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament.

Men understand all this instinctively if not rationally.  Centuries of secularism have failed to transform eating into something strictly utilitarian.  Food is still treated with reverence.  A meal is still a rite—the last “natural sacrament” of family and friendship, of life that is more than “eating” and “drinking.”  To eat is still something more than to maintain bodily functions.  People may not understand what that “something more” is, but they nonetheless desire to celebrate it.  They are still hungry and thirsty for sacramental life (For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, 2nd ed., Crestwood, Ny.: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1973, pgs. 15-6).

Andrew Lytle, one of the Nashville Agrarians, writing in I’ll Take My Stand, shows how this ‘instinct’ for sacramental and liturgical life, for ritual, is alive and well in Southern foodways (though deformities in recent years have set in as modernity has spread its loathsome influence here):

The midday meal, like all the meals in the country, has a great deal of form. It is, in the first place, unhurried. Diners accustomed to the mad, bolting pace of cafeterias will grow nervous at the slow performance of a country table. To be late is a very grave matter, since it is not served until everybody is present. But only some accident, or unusual occurrence, will detain any member of the family, for dinner is a social event of the first importance. The family are together with their experiences of the morning to relate; and merriment rises up from the hot, steaming vegetables, all set about the table, small hills around the mountains of meat at the ends, a heaping plate of fried chicken, a turkey, a plate of guineas, or a one-year ham spiced, and if company is there, baked in wine. A plate of bread is at each end of the table; a bowl of chitterlings has been set at the father’s elbow; and pigs’ feet for those that like them (‘The Hind Tit’,, pgs. 225-6).

Furthermore, noticing the importance of bread in this picture painted by Mr Lytle (‘A plate of bread is at each end of the table’) and in some other recollections of his; keeping in mind its centrality in Southern meals for generations in various unique forms (biscuits, dumplings, rolls, cornbread, and such like); remembering too some lines from Donald Davidson’s poem ‘Gradual of the Northern Summer’,

Let eyes now say what ears have seen:
The mistress of our high demesne
Who daily, though our sins be black,
Brings God’s grace in a grocery sack.
(Poems 1922-1961, Minneapolis, Minn.: U. of Minn. Press, 1966, p. 10)

and the South begins to draw nigh to the Orthodox understanding of bread as communion:

“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”
John 6:35

In our daily life, bread satisfies hunger, strengthens us for our daily tasks, and reminds us of its spiritual potential, for during the Divine Liturgy, bread becomes the Body of Christ, the Bread of Life, both in symbol and in actuality, supporting us in the activities of our spiritual life.

The Holy Scriptures abound in references to bread, ranging from its nourishing the physical bodies of the faithful five thousand who had come to hear Christ’s preaching (Mark 6:41-42), illuminating the essential role of Grace in miraculous healings (Mark 7:27), to its culminating and preeminent role in granting salvation to the world (John 6:33; I Corinthians 11:24). Bread was Christ’s means to rebuke Satan when He reminded the devil while being tempted in the wilderness that “one does not live by bread alone” (Matthew 4:4), but Christ also taught His disciples to ask of their Heavenly Father their daily bread (Matthew 6:11).   

Christ, being full present in the Bread of Holy Communion, through His Holy Body (Bread) unites all Orthodox Christians in one unity, when they approach the Holy Chalice “with fear of God, faith, and love.” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

 . . .

According to St. Nicetas, a contemporary of St. Symeon the New Theologian and one of the authors of the Philokalia, “partaking in the nature common to us [the physical], we are also able to partake of the Divine nature contained in the Eucharist.” To put it another way, “…as we lack a Divine nature in ourselves, we are unable to become partakers of it, unless we partake of it through Christ, who united it [the Divine] to that of which we are able to partake – namely human nature…” (Break the Holy Bread, Master, by Priest Sergei Sveshnikov).

To emphasize this understanding, St. Irenaeus of Lyon writes (ca. 180 AD) “For the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist – consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly. So also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.”

 . . .

Source:  Priest Alexander Resnikoff, ‘The Sacramental Meaning of Bread’,, accessed 13 Sept. 2015

May God grant that one day soon all Souðerners will satisfy their longing for bread by partaking of the One Loaf found in the Orthodox Church that there may be true freedom in unity amongst us all.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Orthodox Church and Culture

To continue with a theme from the last post, that of the Orthodox Faith bringing a culture to the highest plane of development, here are a few observations from Ivan Ilyin on the impact the Orthodox leaven has had on Russia’s culture down through the years:

 . . .

National spiritual culture is created from generation to generation not by conscious thought and not through arbitrary chance, but through a long, integral, and inspired tension of the entire human being; and most of all by an unconscious instinct, the nocturnal forces of the soul. These mysterious forces of the soul are capable of spiritual creativity only when they are illuminated, ennobled, formed, and cultivated by religious faith. History doesn’t know a culturally creative and spiritually great people that dwelled in godlessness. Even the lattermost savages have their faith. Falling into unbelief, nations decayed and died. That the elevation of national culture depends on the perfection of religion is understandable.

From time immemorial Russia was a nation of Orthodox Christianity. Her principal creative national-linguistic nucleus always confessed the Orthodox faith. (See, for example, D. Mendeleev’s statistical data. On Knowledge of Russia. Pp. 36-41, 48-49. By the beginning of the 20th century Russia counted around 66% Orthodox population, around 17% non-Orthodox Christians, and around 17% non-Christian religions – some 5 million Jews and Turco-Tatar peoples.) Here is why the spirit of Orthodoxy always defined and still defines so much and so deeply the fabric of Russia’s national creativity.

By the gifts of Orthodoxy all Russian people have lived, have been educated, and have found salvation over the course of centuries. They were all citizens of the Russian Empire – both those who forgot these gifts and those who didn’t notice them, renouncing and even blaspheming them; citizens belonging to other Christian confessions; and other European peoples beyond Russia’s borders.

We would need an entire historical study for an exhaustive description of these gifts. I can point to them only by a brief enumeration.

 . . .

  1. Orthodoxy brought to the Russian people all the gifts of the Christian sense of justice – a will to peace, brotherhood, justice, loyalty, and solidarity; a sense of dignity and rank; a capability for self-control and mutual respect; in a word, all that which can draw the state nearer to Christ’s commandments.
  2. Orthodoxy nourished in Russia the sense of a citizen’s responsibility, that of an official before the Tsar and God, and most of all it consolidated the idea of a monarch, called and anointed, who would serve God. Thanks to that tyrannical rulers in Russian history were a complete exception. All humane reforms in Russian history were inspired or suggested by Orthodoxy.
  3. Russian Orthodoxy faithfully and wisely resolved a most difficult task with which Western Europe almost never coped – to find a correct correlation between the Church and secular power, a mutual support under mutual loyalty and non-encroachment.
  4. Orthodox monastery culture gave Russia not only a host of righteous men. It gave her her chronicles, i.e. it set a foundation for Russian historiography and Russian national consciousness. Pushkin expressed it thus: “We are obliged to the monks for our history, and consequently our enlightenment” (Pushkin’s “Historical Notes,” 1822). We mustn’t forget that the Orthodox faith was long considered the true criterion of “Russianness” in Russia.
  5. The Orthodox doctrine on the immortality of a person’s soul (lost in contemporary Protestantism, interpreting “eternal life” not in the sense of immortality of the soul, which is seen as mortal); on obedience to higher authorities for the sake of one’s conscience; on Christian forbearance and laying down one’s life “for one’s friends” gave the Russian Army all the sources of its knightly, individually fearless, selflessly obedient and all-conquering spirit, which developed in its historical wars and especially in the teaching and practice of Aleksandr Suvorov – and was often recognized by great captains of the enemy (Frederick the Great, Napoleon, etc.).
  6. All Russian art has derived from the Orthodox faith, from the beginning nourishing within itself its spirit of heartfelt contemplation, prayerful soaring, free forthrightness, and spiritual responsibility (See Gogol’s “What, Ultimately, is the Essence of Russian Poetry?” and “On the Lyricism of Our Poets.” See my book Foundations of Artistry. On the Perfect in Art.) Russian painting came from the icon; Russian music was fanned by Church singing; Russian architecture came from the mason-work of cathedrals and monasteries; the Russian theatre was borne from the dramatic “acts” on religious themes; Russian literature came from the Church and monastics.

 . . .

Source:  ‘Ivan Ilyin on Orthodoxy’, trans. Mark Hackard,, accessed 17 Aug. 2015

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Liturgical South

We have noted before the close kinship betwixt the Southern and the Orthodox ways of life.  The Southerner’s view that his life and all the creation - time and space and all material things, living or not - participate in a mystery beyond themselves, in a great cosmic liturgy or dance, is another manifestation of this closeness.  The Southern belief is beworded nicely in the poem below by the Tennessee poet, historian, etc. Donald Davidson, while Archimandrite Vasileios in the word-sharings that follow shows what the South is reaching for in her agrarian mysticism.

Now let us leave the gate unshut
On hayfields grown too ripe to cut.
That Adirondack will not change its pose,
And this northern light looks back before it goes
Till Kirby Peak turns rose.

Whoever asks the day of the week
Can hold the wind on his western cheek,
Walk, and find an unblazed road where Monday
Measures as good a blueberry mile as Sunday.

Lest we should sin by being fanatic
We let the red squirrel all the attic.
Knowing God is, we say our vows
When vesper deer come forth to browse,
Telling the beads of many a yesterday.
Nine shadows lined against the wood;
The tenth you cannot see,
But count that other shadow where the gray
Boulder remembers the glacial flood,
And that will make our rosary.
Ave Maria while the evening star leans low
Brings dew upon the head.
Our Paternoster’s said.
The lamp is lit within, and we must go.

We ask God for no better proof
Than that moss likes our shingle roof.
Locusts give shade; the sun will set;
Asters proclaim it will rise again.
The red ants know we will have rain
Though the merry cricket says, “Not yet!”

 . . .

 . . . So the red fox invades the lawn.
Bony and lean, he has a brush
Would serve Odysseus for a bush.
The little, naked red fox peers
With prayerful face and upright ears,
Then genuflects, with sweep of paw,
To mark the rigor of God’s law
And catch, of grasshoppers in riot,
His portion of a hermit’s diet,
Which, if it is not sacrament,
Owes naught to secular government.

Once and again a tantara
Hails like a distant Gloria.
 . . .

 . . . How could she learn, without research,
The Gradual of our mountain church
If not from logs of pine and birch
That lift from every morning fire
The plainsong of our primitive choir?
 . . .

(Donald Davidson, ‘Gradual of the Northern Summer’, Poems 1922-1961, Minneapolis, Minn.: U. of Minn. Press, 1966, pgs. 8-10)

 . . . everyone who has entered into the Liturgy sees the “words”, the inner principles of existent things, concelebrating with the one incarnate Word, the “One who offers and is offered” in the Liturgy of the whole world.

The life of the world, its creation and its history, are a divine Liturgy which leads all things to a blessed end.  “Earthly things have become heaven” (Feast of the Annunciation).

One who is truly baptized into the spirit of the Divine Liturgy never departs from that spirit.  He is always within the divine Liturgy.  Everything is revealed to him concelebrating, voluntarily or involuntarily, with the one Word.  And this person in every time and place is nourished by the music of heaven.  He receives light from the Light which knows no evening.  And he goes forward, while remaining in the same place, because his inner doxology and joy never stop.  And he does not know whether it is rather that he offers joy and light to all, or that he receives gladness and rejoicing from everywhere.  He finds himself part of a Liturgy concelebrated by the entire universe.  He sees the whole of creation as a theophany, a burning bush which is not consumed: because through the Liturgy, “all things have been filled with light” (Archimandrite Vasileios, ‘“The Light of Christ Shines upon All” through All the Saints’, Dr Elizabeth Theokritoff, trans., Montreal, Quebec: Alexander Press, 2001, pgs. 23-4).

* * * * *

 . . . [God] loves the whole person, and his freedom.  And it is of great importance to approach God in freedom, when your time comes.  It is important to take a risk at some point in taking your personal step.  To dare to express your objections or doubts, as did the Apostle Thomas.  To confess the truth.  To hear the Good Shepherd calling you by name.  To cross the threshold of fear and hesitation.  To tear up the contract of slavery.  To go forward in freedom.  And to take the next step: voluntarily to enslave yourself to God.  To say: My God, I have no confidence in myself.  My true self is You, who created me, who love me and who call me to the dangerous adventure of freedom so that I can find my soul by deliberately losing it.  This is why I ask and want Your will to be done, and not my own.

Then you begin to tread different ground; to fly on the wings of the winds of the Spirit.  And divine grace cares for you as a hen her chicks (Archimandrite Vasileios, pgs. 13-4).

The Orthodox Church does not destroy cultures but brings about their fulfillment by pruning away that which is evil (idolatry, vices, etc.) and bringing into full flower that which is good.  The South, still being pre-modern (to borrow Dr Clark Carlton’s word) in many ways, and thus sharing much in common with Orthodoxy, her pruning as it were would perhaps not be that painful. 

Nevertheless, many Southerners no doubt hesitate about conversion to Orthodoxy.  ‘Is it faithful to the Southern tradition, to the ways of our forefathers?’  To which we answer with our most solemn Yes.  In the purity of the Orthodox Faith, a man becomes whole:  All the wounds of sin, all the distortions of his nature, are healed.  Any deviations from that Faith which Christ gave to His Apostles will not allow him to heal completely, to achieve full personhood, full union with God. 

The same holds true for countries as well.  For Dixie to be baptized into the Christ of the Orthodox Church would be for her to become most truly herself (‘My true self is You, who created me’); and that is the end any people strives for, including our own forebears from Robert Beverley to John C. Calhoun and William Gilmore Simms to Rev R. L. Dabney and Mel Bradford.  Just as Spain was not truly Spain until she entered the baptismal waters blessed by the Orthodox Church, nor was England truly England, nor Russia truly Russia, and so on. 

By all means, as Archimandrite Vasileios said, voice your doubts, ye sons and daughters of the South, but do not be afraid to cross the threshold into the Orthodox Church when the time comes, when the Good Shepherd calls.  For God is our life, and anything that hampers our union with Him brings death to us.  May our Heavenly Father bring the South life and joy and gladness and salvation through our union with the Body of Jesus Christ His only-begotten Son in the Holy Ghost, now and forever.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Ted Cruz, Dominionism, and the Dangers of ‘Sola Scriptura’

As the years pass on, one thing the [u]nited States may well be remembered for (unhappily) is being a breeding ground for a great multitude of new sects of Christianity.  At the heart of this continuous fracturing is the idea that the Bible alone (Sola Scriptura) is to be the foundation and rule of the Christian life.  As we have noted before, however, there can be as many interpretations of the Holy Scriptures as there are people who read them, and with no other guiding principle than one’s private opinions, schism is sure to multiply.  And it has.

One of the latest fruits that the crooked tree of Sola Scriptura has borne is Seven Mountains Dominionism.  We mention it here because so many well-meaning Christians in the South and elsewhere have fallen in love as it were with Sen Ted Cruz, who espouses this false teaching (as does Glenn Beck and some other notables).

 . . .

Anyone who has watched Cruz on the stump knows that he often references the important role that his father, traveling evangelist Rafael Cruz, has played in his life. During a 2012 sermon at New Beginnings Church in Bedford, Texas, Rafael Cruz described his son’s political campaign as a direct fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

The elder Cruz told the congregation that God would anoint Christian “kings” to preside over an “end-time transfer of wealth” from the wicked to the righteous. After this sermon, Larry Huch, the pastor of New Beginnings, claimed Cruz’s recent election to the U.S. Senate was a sign that he was one of these kings.

According to his father and Huch, Ted Cruz is anointed by God to help Christians in their effort to “go to the marketplace and occupy the land … and take dominion” over it.  This “end-time transfer of wealth” will relieve Christians of all financial woes, allowing true believers to ascend to a position of political and cultural power in which they can build a Christian civilization. When this Christian nation is in place (or back in place), Jesus will return.

Rafael Cruz and Larry Huch preach a brand of evangelical theology called Seven Mountains Dominionism. They believe Christians must take dominion over seven aspects of culture:  family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business and government. The name of the movement comes from Isaiah 2:2: “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains.”

Barton’s Christian nationalism is a product of this theological approach to culture.  Back in 2011, Barton said that if Christians were going to successfully “take the culture” they would need to control these seven areas. “If you can have those seven areas,” Barton told his listeners to his radio show, “you can shape and control whatever takes place in nations, continents and even the world.”

Seven Mountains Dominionism is the spiritual fuel that motors Cruz’s campaign for president.

 . . .

Source:  John Fea, ‘Ted Cruz’s Campaign Is Fueled by a Dominionist Vision for America’,, posted 4 Feb 2016, accessed 23 March 2016 (thanks to for posting their story about this)

Some things to note:

First, Christ’s kingdom is not of this world (St John’s Gospel 18:36).  Treating it as though it were, that Christians must conquer worldly institutions and wield worldly power in order to bring about Christ’s Second Coming, is playing straight into the hands of the devil, whose Antichrist would fit quite nicely into this scheme of the Dominionists.

Second, the Kingdom of God is already near at hand, and even within us, and may be experienced here and now in this age, if only we would look for it in the right way: 

Third, we must safeguard ourselves against false teachers by taking a different approach to the Holy Scriptures than that of the Protestant churches.  The teachings of the Orthodox Church, she which has kept unimpaired the Faith given by Christ to His Holy Apostles, are our only sure hope.

From the Council of Jerusalem of 1672:

Decree 2

We believe the Divine and Sacred Scriptures to be God-taught; and, therefore, we ought to believe the same without doubting; yet not otherwise than as the Catholic Church [not ‘Catholic’ as in ‘Roman Catholic’ but ‘catholic’ as in ‘complete’ or ‘full’ or ‘lacking nothing’--W.G.] has interpreted and delivered the same. For every foul heresy accepts the Divine Scriptures, but perversely interprets the same, using metaphors, and homonymies, and sophistries of man’s wisdom, confounding what ought to be distinguished, and trifling with what ought not to be trifled with. For if [we were to accept Scriptures] otherwise, each man holding every day a different sense concerning them, the Catholic Church would not  by the grace of Christ continue to be the Church until this day, holding the same doctrine of faith, and always identically and steadfastly believing. But rather she would be torn into innumerable parties, and subject to heresies. Neither would the Church be holy, the pillar and ground of the truth, {1 Timothy 3:15} without spot or wrinkle; {Ephesians 5:27} but would be the Church of the malignant {Psalm 25:5} as it is obvious the church of the heretics undoubtedly is, and especially that of Calvin, who are not ashamed to learn from the Church, and then to wickedly repudiate her.

Wherefore, the witness also of the Catholic Church is, we believe, not of inferior authority to that of the Divine Scriptures. For one and the same Holy Spirit being the author of both, it is quite the same to be taught by the Scriptures and by the Catholic Church. Moreover, when any man speaks from himself he is liable to err, and to deceive, and be deceived; but the Catholic Church, as never having spoken, or speaking from herself, but from the Spirit of God — who being her teacher, she is ever unfailingly rich — it is impossible for her to in any wise err, or to at all deceive, or be deceived; but like the Divine Scriptures, is infallible, and has perpetual authority.

Source:, accessed 12 April 2016 (thanks to Michael for sharing this web site with us)

And in the Institutes of St John Cassian (+435) we find this:  If we wish to understand the Scriptures aright, then we must first acquire purity of heart, which requires much labor (love of enemies, fasting, prayer, etc.).

Chapter XXXIII.

Of the solution of a question which Abbot Theodore obtained by prayer.

Chapter XXXIV.

Of the saying of the same old man, through which he taught by what efforts a monk can acquire a knowledge of the Scriptures.

For more on the Orthodox view of Sola Scriptura:

Friday, April 8, 2016

‘The Shrine of St Cuthbert’

To the tomb of Halig Cuthbert
The Reformers came, full of wrath and spite.
To the shrine of Halig Cuthbert
The marauders came, to steal and to spoil.
Bone rot they thought to find,
Being darkened in their minds.
But a body instead they saw,
Sweet-smelling and whole.
For God had not abandoned him,
The Lord, Who has hallowed him.

The Christ-hating band fell back,
But forward went again.
The Christ-hating mob,
No one could stay nor stop.
His wealth they robbed,
His leg they broke,
Leaving him forgot and fornaught--
Or so to them it seemed.

But the fathers are not the bairns;
Arise O Southron!
But the fathers are not the bairns;
Go forth O South son!
With your feet or in your heart,
Run to Durham, to the grace-filled relics
Of our God-bearing Father,
Cuthbert of Lindisfarne,
The holiest saint of Angle-kin,
And ask him with meekness and love
And tear after tear
To pray for the stricken Southland,
Until, uplifted by his labors,
She becomes the Eden
She has always striven to be:
The Garden of the Trinity.

Note:  ‘Halig’ is Old English for ‘holy’.