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com/ -------------------------------------------------------------------------------The Kingdom of God is Within You January 25, 2009 by fatherstephen Again, some thoughts from Kalomiros’ Nostalgia for Paradise. This particular selection is on the reality of the Kingdom of God within us - and the particular importance of Hesychasm, the practice of inner stillness and the knowledge of God dwelling within us. I have written myself about the utter centrality of communion with God. His work underlines and expands this in a marvelous way. God is the place, the means, and the power of any communion. He is the communion itself, the love itself, because God is a Trinity, a loving communion of Persons. Only the communion with God is capable of providing the communion of creaturely persons. Any attempt at direct communion among humans is doomed to failure because it is powerless. There is no true power of communion but the divine energy. Only a communion with the divine energy enables true communion among ourselves. Any communion that overlooks or ignores God comes to self-delusion. Indeed, if a communion of persons exists in the Church, it exists to the extent that those persons have communion with God. When there is no personal communion with Him, a simple gathering of persons in the house of God, even around the Table of Sacrifice and in the communion of His Body and Blood, can be blasphemy against God and unworthiness before the Church’s most sacred mystery. For communion with God is in persons, by the Holy Spirit. Whether a Christian is in a church, in the street, at home, in a crowd of people, or alone, the matter of communion with God is a matter of turning inward. It is in our hearts that we will encounter God. And when we do, He will take us by the hand and put us in communion with others. And in our communion with others, the bond that joins us will always be God Himself. So there is no other path to the Kingdom of God but the one which leads to our heart, the one which leads “within you.” It is the path of hesychasm or stillness. Hesychasm is the deepest characteristic of Orthodox life, the sign of Orthodox genuineness, the premise of right thinking and right belief and glory, the paradigm of faith and Orthodoxy. In all of the Church’s internal and external battes ever, we had the hesychasts on one side and the anti-hesychasts on the other. The very fabric of heresy is anti-hesychastic. Posted in Orthodox Christianity, Union with Christ, knowledge of God, religion | 10 Comments » Icons and Scripture January 24, 2009 by fatherstephen The great summary statement of theology at the Seventh Ecumenical Council is succinct: Icons do with color what Scripture does with words. The first time I read this, I was a graduate student at Duke University, studying Systematic Theology. I wound up writing my thesis on the “Icon as Theology.”
What was new for me - and the thought that became central in my mind - was the inherent possibilities in the simple statement of the Seventh Council. To make the link between icon and Scripture is not quite the same thing as saying, “Icons tell a story.” Many icons do indeed tell a story - but they do so in a particular manner. Thus it is first off quite interesting to say that you can tell a story with color. Icons indeed tell stories - but they do so in a very unique manner. Icons are not cartoons. Cartoons tell stories, but usually through a certain caricature of reality. They are like little movies with most of the action removed. I was a great lover of comic books as a young boy - indeed I had a friend who was a great lover of “Classic Comics” all the way through high school, since those comic books often provided a shortened version of some of the books we were required to read as literature. But icons are not cartoons. They fairly early on developed an artistic “grammar,” a way of saying things with color that words could not always easily repeat. In that sense, icons do something with color that Scripture does with words - but Scripture does things with words that sometimes require icons to help us read. The artistic grammar of icons is commonly known as “reverse perspective.” Instead of letting the traditional rules of perspective make distance a matter of lines converging within the painting (so that the farther away they are the closer the lines become), icons use just the opposite. The space of an icon “opens up” and becomes larger as we look at it. This grammar is the reason icons frequently show buildings in which “both sides” are portrayed. It also largely governs the “look” that we see in human faces - we are seeing the face of another in which the “reality” of the person expands and grows greater rather than shrinking away from us. As such, the grammar of icons is not the traditional grammar of “historical” painting, of the painting to which the West became accustomed with the Renaissance. Icons are not photographic. They do not obey the historical and artistic grammar of photography. Scripture, particularly as read by the Orthodox Church, has a grammar as well. That grammar is the reality of Pascha. We can say that the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament, have a “Paschal Shape.” The more firmly you understand and know the reality of Pascha, the more clearly you will see its image portrayed over and over in the stories of Scripture. And the more firmly we know the reality of Pascha, the more the Scriptures will open that reality to us. One of the great “grammatical” moments in the life of the Church is found on Holy Saturday. There we hear 15 lessons of Scripture, mostly drawn from the Old Testament. Genesis 1:1-3 which draws its meaning from the fact that it stops on the 3rd day, the day on which life is created. It is a commentary on the Third Day of Genesis which was a Paschal Shape. On the third day, Pascha brought forth new life as well. Isaiah 60:1-6 Which begins, “Arise shine, for your light has come.” What follows is fulfilled in the Pascha of Christ, who is our arisen light. Exodus 12:1-11 The intstitution of the first Pascha (Passover)
Jonah: 1:1-17, 2:1-10. 3:1-10. 4:1-11 Jonah, contrary to fundamentalist literalism is about Christ three days in the belly of the earth. Thus we read: Thus Johan prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the whale saying, “I called to the Lord, out of my distress, and He answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and Thou didst hear my voice. For Thou didst cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood was round about me; all Thy wave and Thy billows passed over me…” If you read the whole passage it is the voice of Christ from Sheol, not Jonah from the belly of a whale. And on the readings go in the same manner. These are not just OT passages that coincidentally remind us of Christ’s Pascha. They are Scriptures about Christ’s Pascha. I am not saying that they are literature about Christ’s Pascha. They are Scriptures (Christian) about Christ’s Pascha. Christians need to get over their fear that someone is going to prove their history wrong. Christ is raised from the dead. If you don’t believe it, all the history in the world will not make you feel any better. You must know the Risen Lord. Then all will seem clear. But these marvelous passages of Scripture, like the beautiful grammar of icons, need to be learned in proper manner. The historians cannot give us the grammar of Scripture. The Church alone knows this grammar. We need to learn to speak the language of color.
The Smashing of Images January 22, 2009 by fatherstephen I have a quote on the sidebar from an earlier posting. It is about the need we have for proper images and the danger inherent in “image smashing” or “iconoclasm.” We have to renounce iconoclasm. In so doing, we inherently set ourselves against certain forces within modernity. The truth is eschatological, that is, it lies in the future, but we also believe that this eschatological reality was incarnate in Christ, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. We do not oppose the future in embracing the Tradition we have received. We embrace the future that is coming in Truth, rather than the false utopias of modern man’s imagination. There is a strange spirit of iconoclasm (the Greek for “icon smashing”) and it breaks out now and again across human history. It is not just a short period in Byzantine history successfully resisted by the Orthodox but a strange manifestation of human sin that has as its driving force and hence allurement, the claim that it is defending the honor of God. The icon smashers are as varied as certain forms of Islam or certain forms of Puritanism (and some of its Protestant successors). Some icon smashers direct their attention to
pictures or statues, per se, while others turn their attention to even ideological icons such as honoring certain days and holidays. Those Christians who rail against the date of Christmas belong to this latter group of iconoclasts. What is striking to me is that iconoclasm has almost always accompanied revolutions. I suppose those who are destroying the old and replacing with the new have a certain drive to “cleanse” things. Thus during China’s Cultural Revolution, books, pictures, older faculty members, indeed a deeply terrifying array of unpredictable things and people became the objects of the movement’s iconoclasm. As in all of these revolutions - iconoclasm kills. In Christian history the first recorded outbreak of iconoclasm was the period that gave the phenomenon the name - during the mid-Byzantine Empire. Like later incarnations of this spirit of destruction, the icons themselves were only one thing to be destroyed those who sought to explain and defend them became objects of destruction as well. Thus we have the martyrs of the Iconoclast Heresy. During the Protestant Reformation iconoclasm was a frequent traveler with the general theological reform itself. Thus statues, relics, furniture - all became objects of destruction (as well as people). Some of this was state sponsored (as was the original iconoclastic period). The logic of iconoclasm, however, cannot always be confined. Thus in the Reformation the logic of reform moved from destruction of images to destruction of the state (which was itself an icon of sorts). In Germany the result was the Peasants’ Revolt, which became so dangerous to the powers that be that even Martin Luther had to denounce it and bless the state’s bloody intervention. In England the Reform that was first put in place by the state remained unsteady for over a hundred years. Eventually, the Puritan Reform (that only took the logic of Reform to its next step) began to smash images, behead kings, outlaw bishops, outlaw holidays, outlaw dancing (they were a fun lot). For ten years England was ruled by a bloody dictatorship that was as ruthless in its iconoclasm as any regime in history. One of the difficulties of iconoclasm is its appeal to the idea of God. Images are smashed because they are considered an affront to God. And not just images, but certain ideas are smashed (burn the books and those who wrote them). There is a “righteousness” to the cause which refuses to accept anything other than complete obedience. I do not write about iconoclasm entirely from the outside. I’ve been there - done that. The verse of Scripture that seemed most “iconoclastic” to me was in 2 Cor. (10:3-6): For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled. Of course, the verse is referring to sinful thoughts and uses (as is not unusual in St. Paul) martial imagery. That same imagery applied to the governing of a state (or a
Church) can be quite dangerous. It is useful in the spiritual life, provided it is welldirected by a mature and generous guide. The plain truth of the matter is that God is an icon-maker. He first made man “in His own image.” And in becoming man, the man he became is described as the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). The same God who gave the commandment to make no graven images, also commanded the making of the Cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant, as well as the images of angels woven in the curtain of the Tabernacle. He commanded the making of the image of the serpent, lifted on a staff, that brought healing to all who looked on it (an Old Testament prefigurement of the crucified Christ). In the better than 14 years I have known Archbishop DMITRI of Dallas (my bishop), I have heard him warn incessantly that the greatest danger in the modern world is the attack on man as the image of God. That God became man in order to unite man to God is the only sure Divine underwriting of human worth. We have value because of the image we bear. There is a restraint that is inherently involved in offering honor. Orthodox Christian living requires that we know how to worship God with what is due to Him alone, but at the same time to know how to honor those things that are honorable without giving them what belong to God alone. It is easy to say “give honor to God alone,” but this is contrary to the Scriptures in which we are told to “give honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7 and also see Romans 12:10). We cannot honor God by destroying the very images He has created (and here I include the saints who could not be what they are but by God’s grace). There is within iconoclasm, a spirit of hate and anger. Without them destruction would not be so easy. But it is also the case that such spirits are not of God - though they are easily attributed to zeal or excused as exuberance. Iconoclasm is not the narrow way, but the wide path of destruction. It is easy to declare that all days are the same and that no days should be considered holier than others. It is easy to check out the historical pedigree of every feast of the Church and declare that some had pagan predecessors. Of course some had pagan predecessors - as did every last human being. If the Church has blessed a day and made it to be a day on which an action of Christ or an event in His life, or a saint of the Church is to be honored and remembered, then it is acting well within the Divine authority given it in Scripture (Matt. 18:18). More importantly, we will grow more surely into the image of Christ by imitating his actions and learning to build up rather than to smash. Giving place to anger and the spirit of iconoclasm, in all its various guises, has never produced saints - but only destruction that has to eventually give way to something more sane. The legacy of our culture’s image smashing (a powerful part of the Puritan world) is secularization though now replete with its own images. If we fail to give a proper account of the role that images play in Christianity - the result will not be no images - but simply the dominance of culture images and a subtle conformity to the world. The only image that needs to be discarded is the one we have of ourselves as God. We are not Him. Worship God. Give honor to whom honor is due.
Posted in Beauty, Orthodox Christianity, The Journey of Faith, icons, religion | 18 Comments » Kalomiros on the Orthodox Life January 21, 2009 by fatherstephen Dr. Alexander Kalomiros, author of the River of Fire and other well known Orthodox writings, offers these simple thoughts on the Orthodox Life. They are taken from the small book, Nostalgia for Paradise. When the ascetical life of a Christian and the privations that he imposes upon himself are beyond the measure of grace that he has been given, a void is created in his soul. Either it will lead him to sin, or it will make him perverse, proud, hard, and unmerciful to his brothers. The wise man puts greater effort into positive virtues and less into negative virtues. Examples of positive virtues are prayer, worship, meditation, study, participation in the Body and Blood of Christ, love for God. In general, their action brings us into contact with God. On the other hand, negative virtues are activities such as fasting, self-denial and self-deprivation, abstinence, asceticism in general, and the “thou-shalt-not” kinds of commandments and rules that are essentially directed to ourselves. It is not derogatory to call these negative for, together with the positive virtues, they form the balance that makes up the spiritual life. If the soul is filled with the presence of God, no place remains for sin. The light casts out darkness by its own power without our effort as long as we keep the shutters of our heart open to it. Do not seek to understand God for it is impossible. Simply open the door of your soul so His presence may fill you and illumine your mind and heart, warm your body, and enter your reins. Theology is not a cerebral knowledge but a living knowlege that is directly relevant to man and sustains and possesses the whole man. A cold, cerebral man cannot know and discourse on divine things, even if his head contains an entire patristic library. He who is not moved by a sunset, a tree, or a bird cannot be stirred even by the Creator of these things. In order to grasp God and be able to talk about Him to others you must be a poetic soul. It means that you must have a heart that is noble, sensitive, and pure. You must be as an ear that is turned to the whisperings of the Infinite, and as an eye that sees through the bottomless depths while all other eyes see only pitch blackness. It is impossible for timorous souls and stingy hearts to discourse on divine things. The heart that grasps the mysteries is one that is naive enough to think all souls worthy of Paradise, even souls who may have drenched their heart’s life with bitterness. It is a heart that feels and sings like a bird, without caring if there is no one there to hear it. It rejoices over everything that is beautiful, everything that is true, because truth and beauty are two aspects of the same thing and can never be separated. It has compassion for every living thing that is animate or has roots, and even for every seemingly lifeless stone. It is a modest soul that is out of its waters in the limelight of men but blooms in solitude and quiet. It is a heart free to its very roots, impervious to every kind of pressure, far from every kind of stench, untouched by any kind of chains. It distinguishes truth from false hood with a certain mystic sense. Its every breath offers gratitude for all of God’s
works that surround it and for every joy and every affliction, for every possession, and for every privation as well. Crouching humbly on the Cornerstone which is Christ, it drinks unceasingly of the eternal water of Paradise and utters the Name of Him who was and is ever merciful. Such a soul is like a shady tree by the running waters of the Church, with deep roots and a high crown where kindred souls find comfort and refuge in its dense branches. Such is the true theologian. If anyone wishes to be so named, let him be measured by this measure. Even he who simply wishes to be a disciple of such theologians must walk in their exact footsteps if he desires their words to be echoed in himself, and his eyes to see light. Of Whom I Am First January 14, 2009 by fatherstephen In the Divine Liturgy, it is customary for this prayer to be offered by all who are coming to receive communion. I quote a portion: I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. Of course the prayer is a reference to St. Paul’s self-definition as the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). It is a confession made by all the faithful, gathered before the Holy Cup, everyone confessing to be the first among sinners. It would be easy to take such a statement as an example of pious excess - overstating the case of our sinfulness. Were that so it would be a travesty within the Liturgy - which exists to lead us into all Truth and to give us the gift of True Life. Such life is not grasped by uttering pious nonsense. Thus, we must accept the confession as actually what it says. How is it that I am the first of sinners? We could assume that the language is a claim to be worse than all other sinners. But how is a comparison to be made between sin and sin? Some will say that murder is by far worse than stealing or lying - and perhaps take comfort by saying, “At least I’m not a murderer.” But this is only an echo of the prayer of the Pharisee who thanked God that he was “not like other men” particularly the Publican standing nearby (Luke 18:11). The confession is not an exercise in comparative morality - but an exercise in humility and true contrition before God. Dostoevsky’s famous character, the Elder Zossima, speaks of “each man being guilty of everything and for all.” The mystery of inquity, spoken of in Scripture, is just that - a mystery. Our involvement in sin is itself mysterious. Our culture has made of sin either a moral failing, and thus a legal category, or a psychological problem to be treated as guilt. Both are sad caricatures of the reality and neither image allows us to say, “Of sinners I am first.” Morality would reassure us that we have not done as much as others and would leave us as unjustified Pharisees. Psychology would assuage our guilt by warning us that such feelings are bad for us. But the Church insists that we stand together with St. Paul and join in his unique confession. I prefer to understand the prayer in the terms used by the Elder Zossima, whose thoughts are largely derived from St. Tikhon of Zadonsk. My solidarity with every
sinner is such that I cannot separate myself as better or in no way responsible for the sins of another. Again words of Elder Zossima: Remember especially that you cannot be the judge of anyone. For there can be no judge of a criminal on earth until the judge knows that he, too, is a criminal, exactly the same as the one who stands before him, and that he is perhaps most guilty of all for the crime of the one standing before him. When he understands this, then he will be able to be a judge. However mad that may seem, it is true. For if I myself were righteous, perhaps there would be no criminal standing before me now. Of course, we live in societies where we frequently make distinctions between the good and the bad, the moral and the immoral. And there are truly people who behave in an evil manner that stuns our ability to understand. And yet we share a common life as human beings and every effort to deny its reality pushes us ever further down the road of pride, envy, blame, and every form of hatred. Thus there is no way forward other than that of forgiveness - and a forgiveness which is in the image of Christ. Christ took upon Himself the sins of the world - indeed, in the raw language of St. Paul: [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). If we refuse our commonality with the Christ who Himself was “made sin,” then how can we claim our commonality with Him in the righteousness of God? And if we accept that commonality - then with St. Paul we can also confess ourselves “of sinners to be the first.” The forgiveness of God that is given to us is not a forgiveness which made itself aloof or estranged from us, even though He was without sin. How can we who are sinners then set ourselves above other sinners? The way of forgiveness is inherently a way of solidarity. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” is certainly the word of a gracious God. It is also the cry of a Man who yielded Himself to utter solidarity with us all. Dostoevsky on the Individual January 14, 2009 by fatherstephen The following passage from The Brothers Karamazov is taken from one of the “Talks and Homilies” of the Elder Zossima - one of the key characters in the novel. His thoughts echo earlier articles here that contrast man as “individual” (isolation) to man as Person (brotherhood and communion). Look at the worldly and at the whole world that exalts itself above the people of God: are the image of God and his truth not distorted in it? They have science, and in science only that which is subject to the senses. But the spiritual world, the higher half of man’s being, is altogether rejected, banished with a sort of triumph, even with hatred. The world has proclaimed freedom, especially of late, but what do we see in this freedom of theirs: only slavery and suicide! For the world says: “You have needs, therefore satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the noblest and richest men. do not be afraid to satisfy them, but even increase them” - this is the current teaching of the world. And in
this they see freedom. But what comes of this right to increase one’s needs? For the rich, isolation and spiritual suicide; for the poor, envy and murder, for they have been given rights, but have not yet been shown any way of satisfying their needs. We are assured that the world is becoming more and more united, is being formed into brotherly communion, by the shortening of distances, by the transmitting of thoughts through the air. Alas, do not believe in such a union of people. Taking freedom to mean the increase and prompt satisfaction of needs, they distort their own nature, for they generate many meaningless and foolish desires, habits, and the most absurd fancies in themselves. They live only for mutual envy, for pleasure-seeking and self-display. To have dinners, horse, carriages, rank, and slaves to serve them is now considered such a necessity that for the sake of it, to satisfy it, they will sacrifice life, honor, the love of mankind, and will even kill themselves if they are unable to satisfy it. We see the same thing in those who are not rich, thile the poor, so far, simply drown their unsatisfied needs and envy in drink. But soon they will get drunk on blood instead of wine, they are being led to that. I ask you: is such a man free? I knew one “fighter for an idea” who told me himself that when he was deprived of tobacco in prison, he was so tormented by this deprivation that he almost went and betrayed his “idea,” just so that they would give him some tobacco. And such a man says: “I am going to fight for mankind.” Well, how far will such a man get, and what is he good for? Perhaps some quick action, but he will not endure for long. And no wonder that instead of freedom they have fallen into slavery, and instead of serving brotherly love and human unity, they have fallen, on the contrary, into disunity and isolation, as my mysterious visitor and teacher used to tell me in my youth. And therefore the idea of serving mankind, of the brotherhood and oneness of people, is fading more and more in the world, and indeed the idea now even meets with mockery, for how can one drop one’s habits, where will this slave go now that he is so accustomed to satisfying the innumberable needs he himself has invented? He is isolated, and what does he care about the whole? They have succeeded in amassing more and more things, but have less and less joy. Good and Evil I think evil is always small, and that good is infinite. Evil closes itself to God and thus becomes even smaller; Good opens itself to God and thus becomes infinite. Evil cannot become so large as to fill even the universe. God became so small that He could fill Hell and then burst it asunder because it could not contain Him. Every good deed will have eternal remembrance, but even the largest deeds of the evil will be forgotten. Knowing God The Orthodox “experience” if I can use such a phrase, is the confirmation in the heart of the truth we have received as we grow in grace and in purity of heart. But the truth of the faith must be confirmed in such a living manner or it simply becomes an historical item and the Church would be a collection of antiquarians and not the living temple of God. For my knowledge of God is also my life in God. Life, light, truth, knowledge - all of these have something of a synomymous character. St. Macarius on the Heart The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there. (H.43.7) Become All Flame - The Desert Fathers
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, 'Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?' then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, 'If you will, you can become all flame.' Renouncing Iconoclasm We have to renounce iconoclasm. In so doing, we inherently set ourselves against certain forces within modernity. The truth is eschatological, that is, it lies in the future, but we also believe that this eschatological reality was incarnate in Christ, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. We do not oppose the future in embracing the Tradition we have received. We embrace the future that is coming in Truth, rather than the false utopias of modern man’s imagination. OptionsDisable Get Free Shots Glory to God for All Things Orthodox Christianity, Culture and Religion, Making the Journey of Faith -------------------------------------------------------------------------------« The Nature of Things and Our SalvationPrayers By the Lake - St. Nikolai of Zicha »What Is Man - That Thou Art Mindful of Him? By fatherstephen In 1839 the eighteen-year-old youth Dostoesvsky wrote to his brother: “Man is a mystery: if you spend your entire life trying to puzzle it out, then do not say that you have wasted your time. I occupy myself with this mystery, because I want to be a man.” From Konstantin Mochulsky’s Dostoevsky: His Life and Work A short time ago I wrote about the “soul as mystery” - the fear and wonder with which human beings are made is a given starting point for me - an assumption that must be afforded to every human being. I have already confessed my debt to Dostoevsky but I wonder, “To what extent is he a man for our time?” He wrote in the early to mid 18th century. In many ways he was ahead of his time prescient - able to describe the tragic forces which, if not reigned in, would destroy Europe and the modern world. Those forces were not reigned in - and the twentieth century saw the destruction of Europe in two successive world wars that spent the largest part European cultural inheritance and then engaged in an orgy of madness with the competing worlds of Nazism and Communism. For a time, the mystery of man was placed on a shelf, or trampled underfoot. But what of our time. We are now better than a generation removed from the last of those wars. My aging father (86) has stories to tell me and I can see about me - in books and in other things - the vestiges of a passed world. There can be no nostalgia for that world. For even Dostoevsky saw its impoverishment 100 years before my father witnessed the madness that would, in time, come to pass. I am no Dostoevsky. I am only a priest. I listen to the hearts of other moderns like myself who are struggling to be faithful to the teachings of Christ in this early part of the 21st century. We are not filled with the idealism that bordered on insanity that
marked Dostoevsky’s 19th century man. Nor are we the madmen who would come later and destroy all that had been left us. There is likely no single nor easy way to characterize the man of the postmodern West. Some believe, and some do not. Most of the great cultural forces are either economic or hedonist. If there are ideals they are the dreams of youth who find purpose in “saving a planet” they imagine to be dying. I believe, however, that man is not infinitely malleable - we cannot, in fact, be anything we want to be. We are creatures and have a telos,an end and a purpose, that is Divinely given. Whether it haunts us just now or lies as a forgotten dream in the pages of a 19th century novelist, our purpose has not changed. The Gospel that was good news both to Galilean peasants and to a Russian intellectual, remains the same. The end and the purpose are eternal, for they are the fearful and wonderful reason of our making. C.S. Lewis, in his The Abolition of Man, wrote of “men without chests,” describing a certain breed of modern man which had jettison his heart, having substituted false science and a devalued subjectivity for the eternal verities that had once linked human beings together in a common culture. He wrote his work in the immediate years following World War II. Nothing in our educational system has reversed the trends of which he complained. We have not regained our chests - not as a culture. However, we have no where been commanded to change the world or to save civilization. These are things that are measured on a much larger stage of history and longer period than a single life. It is not the diagnosis of our disease that is so important as it is the medicine of our healing. The heart which must again fill our chests is not some missing part of Western Civilization but the heart of flesh that is our inheritance in Christ. It is an imperishable healing that alone can give us what we lack. Dostoevsky - in his youth - rightly saw his life’s work and the work of every lifetime well-spent. We do well to ponder the mystery of man - for we are a mystery that is a reflection of God Himself. To know man as he truly is - one must know the God who created him. +++ What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:4-9) Lossky on Freedom and the Person December 15, 2008 by fatherstephen Vladimir Lossky, who can be notoriously difficult to read, offers this observation on freedom and the person. It is taken from his essay, “The Creation,” in the small collection, Orthodox Theology: an Introduction.
A personal being is capable of loving someone more than his own nature, more than his own life. The person, that is to say, the image of God in man, is then man’s freedom with regard to his nature, “the fact of being freed from necessity and not being subject to the domination of nature, but able to determine oneself freely” (St. Gregory of Nyssa). Man acts most often under natural impulses. He is conditioned by his temperament, his character, his heredity, cosmic or psycho-social ambiance, indeed, his very historicity. But the truth of man is beyond all conditioning; and his dignity consists in being able to liberate himself from his nature, not by consuming it or abandoning it to itself, like the ancient or orental sage, but by transfiguring it in God. The goal of freedom, as St. Gregory of Nazianzus explains, is that the good belongs in truth to him who chooses it. God does not wish to remain in possession of the good He has created. He awaits from man more than a blind, entirely natural participation. He wants man consciously to assume his nature, to possess it freely as good, to recognize with gratitude in life and in the universe the gifts of divine love. “A personal being is capable of loving someone more than his own nature, more than his own life.” Such words point to the character of our struggle - to live in freedom and not by necessity. Life by necessity is, to some degree, life that is trapped in death. Living in freedom is the triumph of Christ over death. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). Thus obedience to the commandments of Christ is not obedience to bondage (to law) but obedience to freedom’s call. The commandment to love - even an enemy - is a call to be transfigured - to live in a freedom that is above nature. The same can be said of all of Christ’s commandments. Indeed, to know Him is to know the Truth, and that Truth will make us free. OptionsDisable Get Free Shots Glory to God for All Things Orthodox Christianity, Culture and Religion, Making the Journey of Faith -------------------------------------------------------------------------------« A Personal SalvationIn the Presence of God - Elder Sophrony »The Pity of God in Dostoevsky By fatherstephen The following passage is scandalous in the extent of its mercy. It is not in the canons but in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Perhaps I love it because many of the men I knew in my early life were more likeMarmaladov (the old drunk) than like others. But this passage has always been a favorite. Forgive me if I scandalize any by quoting Dostoevsky. God will scandalize us all when we finally behold His mercy - for, I assure you, His mercy will be beyond human imagining. Of this I have no doubt. In the following scene, Dostoevsky is in a bar with Marmaladov, a drunkard and n’er do well, who would even see his own daughter (Sonya) take up prostitution to feed the family, and even then use her money to spend on his drink. The drunkard begins to speak in the bar on the Last Judgment:
Why am I to be pitied, you say! Yes! There’s nothing to pity me for! I ought to be crucified, crucified, not pitied! Crucify me, O judge, crucify me, but pity me! And then I will go of myself to be crucified, for it’s not merry making I seek, but tears and tribulation!…Do you suppose, you that sell, that this pint of yours has been sweet to me? It was tribulation I sought at the bottom of it, tears and tribulation, and have found it, and I have tasted it; but He will pity us Who has had pity on all men, Who has understood all men and all things, He is the One, He too is the judge. He will come in that day and He will ask: ‘Where is the daughter who gave herself for her angry, consumptive stepmother and for the little children of another? Where is the daughter who had pity upon the filthy drunkard, her earthly father, undismayed by his beastliness?’ And He will say, ‘Come to me! I have already forgiven thee once…Thy sins which are many are forgiven thee, for thou hast loved much…’ And He will forgive my Sonya, He will forgive, I know it… I felt it in my heart when I was with her just now! And He will judge and will forgive all, the good and the evil, the wise and the meek… And when He has done with all of them, then He will summon us. ‘You too come forth,’ He will say, ‘Come forth, ye drunkards, come forth, ye weak ones, come forth, ye children of shame!’ And we shall come forth without shame and shall stand before Him. and He will say unto us, ‘Ye are swine made in the image of the Beast and with his mark; but come ye also!’ And the wise ones and those of understanding will say, ‘O Lord, why dost thou receive these men?’ And He will say, ‘This is why I receive them, O ye wise, this is why I receive them, O ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.’ And He will hold out His hands to us and we shall fall down before Him… and we shall weep… and we shall understand all things! Then we shall understand all!… and all will understand, Katerina Ivanovna even… she will understand… Lord, Thy kingdom come!” And he sank down on the bench exhausted and helpless, looking at no one, apparently oblivious of his surroundings and plunged in deep thought. His words had created a certain impression; there was a moment of silence; but soon laughter and oaths were heard again. This entry was posted on February 5, http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2008/02/05/the-pity-of-god-in-dostoevsky/ 2008
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