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A sermon by St. John Maximovitch

The day of the Last Judgement! That day no one knows –only God the Father knows — but its signs are given in the Gospel and in the Apocalypse of the holy Apostle John the Theologian. Revelation speaks of the events at the end of the world and of the Last Judgement primarily in images and in a veiled manner, but the Holy Fathers have explained these images, and there is an authentic Church tradition that speaks clearly concerning the signs of the approach of the end, and concerning the Last Judgement.
Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 9.25.41 AMBefore the end of life on earth there will be agitation, wars, civil war, hunger, earthquakes… Men will suffer from fear, will die from ex­pectation of calamity. There will be no life, no joy of life, but a tor­mented state of falling away from life. But there will be a falling away not only from life, but from faith also, and when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?  (St. Luke 18: 8.) Men will become proud, ungrateful, rejecting Divine law. Together with the falling away from life will be also a weakening of moral life. There will be an exhaustion of good and an increase of evil.

Of these times the holy Apostle John the Theologian speaks in his God-inspired work, the Apocalypse. He himself says that he “was in the Spirit” when he wrote it: this means that the Holy Spirit Himself was in him when under the form of various images the fate of the Church and the world was opened to him; and so this is a Divine Revelation.

The Apocalypse represents the fate of the Church in the image of a woman who hides herself in those times in the wilderness: she does not show herself in public life; as today in Russia. In public life the leading role will be played by forces which prepare the possibility for the appearance of Antichrist.

Antichrist will be a man, and not the devil incarnate. “Anti” means “old,” and it also signifies “in place of” or “against.” Antichrist is a man who desires to be in place of Christ, to occupy His place and possess what Christ should possess: he desires to possess the attraction of Christ and authority over the whole world. And Antichrist will receive that authority before his destruction and the destruction of the world.

What is known of this man — Antichrist? His precise ancestry is unknown: his father is completely unknown, and his mother a foul pre­tended virgin. He will be a Jew of the tribe of Dan. He will be very intelligent and endowed with skill in handling people. He will be fas­cinating and kind. The philosopher Vladimir Soloviev worked long at presenting the advent and person of Antichrist. He made careful use of all material on this question, not only Patristic but also Moslem, and he worked out a brilliant picture.

Before the advent of Antichrist there is already being prepared in the world the possibility of his appearance: The mystery of iniquity doth already work (II Thes. 2:7). The forces preparing for his appearance fight above all against the lawful Imperial authority. The holy Apostle Paul says that Antichrist cannot be manifested until what withholdeth be taken away (II Thes. 2: 6-7). St. John Chrysostom explains that the “with­holding one” is the lawful pious authority: such an authority fights with evil. For this reason the “mystery,” already at work in the world, fights with this authority; it desires a lawless authority. When the “mystery” decisively achieves that authority, nothing will any longer hinder the appearance- of Antichrist.

Fascinating, intelligent, kind, he will be merciful — he will act with mercy and goodness; but not for the sake of mercy and goodness, but for the strengthening of his authority. And when he will have strengthened it to the point where the whole world acknowledges him, then he will reveal his face.

For his capital he will choose Jerusalem, because it was here that the Saviour revealed His Divine teaching and His person, and it was here that the entire world was called to the blessedness of goodness and sal­vation. But the world did not acknowledge Christ and crucified Him in Jerusalem; under Antichrist, however, the whole world will acknowledge his authority, and Jerusalem will become the capital of the world.

Having attained the pinnacle of authority, Antichrist will demand of men the acknowledgement that he has attained what no earthly power had ever attained and none can attain, and he will demand worship of himself as a higher being, as a god.

Soloviev well describes the character of his activity as “Supreme Ruler.” He will do what is pleasing to all — on the condition of being recognized as Supreme Authority. He will allow the Church to exist, will permit her Divine services, will promise toAntichrist-1 build magnificent churches — on the condition that all recognize him as “Supreme Being” and worship him. Antichrist will have a personal hatred for Christ; he will sec in Him a rival and look upon Him as a personal enemy. He will live by this hatred and rejoice in men’s apostasy from Christ.

Under Antichrist there will be an immense falling away from the faith. Many bishops will change in faith and in justification will point to the brilliant situation of the Church. The search for compromise will be the characteristic disposition of men. Straightforwardness of confes­sion will disappear. Men will cleverly justify their fall, and gracious evil will support such a general disposition. There will be in men the habit of apostasy from truth, and the sweetness of compromise and sin.

Antichrist will allow men everything, as long as they “fall down and worship him”; and the whole world will submit to him. And then there will appear the two righteous men, who will fearlessly preach the faith and accuse Antichrist. According to Church tradition they are the two Prophets of the Old Testament, Elijah and Enoch, who did not taste of death, but will taste it now for three days; and in three days they must rise. Their death will call forth the great rejoicing of Antichrist and his servants. Their resurrection will plunge them into great confu­sion and terror. And then will come the end of the world.

The Apostle Peter says that the first world was made out of wa­ter — an image of the primordial chaos, and perished by water — in the Flood. And now the world is reserved unto fire. The earth and the works that are therein shall he burned up (II Peter 3:5-7, 10). All the elements will ignite. This present world will perish in a single instant. In an instant all will be changed.

And the Sign of the Son of God will appear: the Sign of the Cross.

The whole world, having willingly submitted to Antichrist, will weep. Everything is finished forever: Antichrist killed; the end of his kingdom of warfare with Christ; the end, and one is held accountable; one must answer to the true God.

“The end of the world” signifies not the annihilation of the world, but its transformation. Everything will be transformed suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye. The dead will rise in new bodies: their own, but renewed, just as the Saviour rose in His own body and on it were traces of wounds from the nails and spear, yet it possessed new faculties, and in this sense it was a new body. It is not clear whether this new body will be such as that with which Adam was made, or whether it will be an entirely new body.

And the Lord will appear in glory on the clouds. Trumpets will sound, and loud, with power! They will sound in the soul and conscience! All will become clear to the human conscience. The Prophet Daniel, speaking of the Last Judgement, relates how the Ancient of days, the Judge, sits on His throne, and before Him is a fiery stream (Daniel 7: 9-10). Fire is a purifying element; it burns sin. Woe to a man if sin has become a part of his nature: then the fire will burn the man himself.

This fire will be kindled within a man: seeing the Cross, some will rejoice, but others will fall into confusion, terror, and despair. Thus will men be divided instantly. The very state of a man’s soul casts him to one side or the other, to right or to left.

The more consciously and persistently a man strives toward God in his life, the greater will be his joy when he hears: “Come unto Me, ye blessed.” And conversely: the same words will call the fire of horror and torture on those who did not desire Him, who fled and fought or blasphemed Him during their lifetime!

The Last Judgement knows of no witnesses or written protocols! Everything is inscribed in the souls of men and these records, these “books,” are opened at the Judgement. Everything becomes clear to all and to oneself.

And some will go to joy, while others — to horror.

When “the books are opened,” it will become clear that the roots of all vices lie in the human soul. Here is a drunkard or a lecher: when the body has died, some may think that sin is dead too. No! There was an inclination to sin in the soul, and that sin was sweet to the soul, and if the soul has not repented of the sin and has not freed itself from it, it will come to the Last Judgement also with the same desire for sin. It will never satisfy that desire and in that soul there will be the suffering of hatred. It will accuse everyone and everything in its tortured condition, it will hate everyone and everything. “There will be gnashing of teeth” of powerless malice and the unquenchable fire of hatred.

A “fiery gehenna” — such is the inner fire. “Here there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Such is the state of hell.

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flanneryI had no idea that one of my favorite writers was born on the feast of the Annunciation.  It makes perfect sense though.

From Orthodixie:

It’s the birthday of Flannery O’Connor [Savannah, Georgia (1925)] who wrote two novels and 32 short stories and who said: “I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both.” When she was six, she and a chicken that she taught to walk backward appeared on the news. She later said: “I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax.”

She said, “When we look at a good deal of serious modern fiction, and particularly Southern fiction, we find this quality about it that is generally described, in a pejorative sense, as grotesque. Of course, I have found that anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic. … Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.”

— Stolen from The Writer’s Almanac

Someone once told the Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor that it is more open-minded to think that the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar is a great, wonderful, powerful symbol. Her response was, “If it’s a symbol, to hell with it.”
[Source]

Flannery O’Connor: “When I know what the laws of the flesh and the physical really are, then I will know what God is. We know them as we see them, not as God sees them. For me, it is the virgin birth, the Incarnation, the resurrection which are the true laws of the flesh and the physical. Death, decay, destruction are the suspension of these laws. I am always astonished at the emphasis the Church puts on the body. It is not the soul she says that will rise but the body, glorified… The resurrection of Christ seems the high point in the law of nature.”

Additional poignancy is added in that this year the Feast of the Annunciation abuts the Sunday of Orthodoxy.  I never got the appeal of Miss O’Connor’s writing for serious Protestants.  She is not at all sympathetic to them.  I hung out with a lot of neo-Calvinist, culture-engaging types who lionized her.  When I started reading her, I found her to be very dismissive of Protestantism, whether of the modernist, of the fundamentalist, or of this new-fangled presuppositionalist variety.  I think it has something to do with the radical nature of grace in Miss O’Connor’s fiction, which is indeed arresting, but which never comes about through The [classical Protestant] Word Of God Preached, but through [good ol’ dirty Catholic] matter.  I am not ashamed to admit that it was Miss O’Connor’s short story Parker’s Back that turned me into an iconodule, rather than St. John of Damascus’ cooly argued Apologia Against Those Who Decry Holy Images.  Once I saw the image of my proud, bitter,  man-hating soul in Sarah Ruth’s fastidious iconoclasm, there was no recourse but for me to prostrate myself before the holy icon of the blessed flesh of my Lord, and ask His forgiveness for my sin and spiritual elitism.  He who did not deign to hold Himself aloof from the messiness of our incarnate lives forgave me.


A Study In Comparative Fantasy

I’m halfway  to the Dark Tower, at the hub of all possible worlds.   If you look at the architecture of Stephen King’s epic series, I am almost exactly halfway, having just now started the fifth volume in the series, The Wolves Of The Calla.  Two volumes I have read deal in backstory; Wizard And Glass was almost entirely the story of Roland Deschain’s first years as a Gunslinger in the outer barony of Meijis and of his first love affair with the tragic Susan Delgado.  The other volume was The Wind Through The Keyhole, a volume written by Mr. King and published last year, which was meant to “fill a gap” between the ending of Wizard And Glass and the beginning of The Wolves Of The Calla.  The Wind Through The Keyhole is actually two stories nested inside each other like a wooden Russian babushka doll, which Roland tells as a single tale on the grandfather of all dark and stormy nights.   Since Keyhole doesn’t advance the narrative of Roland’s ka-tet at all, I feel justified in saying I am still halfway to the Tower, despite having read more than 2/3 of the material in the series.

Comparing Stephen King’s Dark Tower series to another modern fantasy which I re-read before taking up the thread of Roland’s story again, I find that the Dark Tower series compares very favorably to The Lord Of The Rings.  There are some superficial similarities.  Both series deal with an epic Quest; that of Frodo to dispose of the Ring Of Power and that of Roland to reach the Dark Tower.  Both series introduce a sworn brotherhood;  The Fellowship of the Ring and Roland’s Ka-Tet.  Finally, although I seldom see this commented on, invented language plays an important role in both series.  Tolkien’s Elvish languages, of course, form the backbone of his mythopoetic work.  Indeed, Tolkien himself claimed that he invented the elves and Middle Earth so that he would have speakers for his invented languages and a place for them to be spoken.  Stephen King, being a professional writer instead of a professor of Anglo-Saxon, uses a subtler device.   The High Speech hasn’t greatly factored into the first four books, but it appears to have an ancient Egyptian/Phoenician flavor to it.  The Low Speech, the Westron  of Mid-World, is English, but with very subtle differences.   Listening to The Waste Land and Wizard And Glass after having read them in book form, you get something of the flavor of the Low Speech.  There are words that you have to learn by context, such as “cullie“, “jilly” and “roont“.  There are repeated tag-sentences, “so I do”, “ken thee?”.  There is the non-grammatical use of the pre-Caroline English pronoun  thee, differing from the customary King James usage.  All of these, and the use of stock phrases such as “set your watch and warrant by it”, or,  “forget the face of your father”, set a linguistic tone for the series and with great economy underscore the alienness of Mid World.

For Mid-World is not a nice place.  Indeed, throughout the whole of the Tower books so far, I can almost hear Gollum hissing in the background – “We’re not in decent places”.  Mid-world has “moved on”.  Things have changed.  The relationship between men and Creation has altered deeply, and the change has not been for the better.  Time has, in the opinion of Eddie Dean, one of Roland’s companions, “gone on vacation”.  A day may be fifty hours long, or it may stop altogether, or it may fly at a furious pace.   Indeed, all of Roland’s companions have been gathered from New York, our New York, the New York of Robert Wagner, of Abraham Beame, and of Edward Koch respectively, but they are contemporaries in Mid-World.  Causality is iffy.  Things that produced a particular effect at one time may not at another time, for no apparent reason.  Directions have become unhinged, and a moon that rises in the east one night may wobble over to the southeast the next.  We are told that the Gunslinger’s world has “moved on”, but the direction it has taken is not an improvement.

Middle Earth, by comparison, is a stable place.  Even though its wars and rebellions have altered the coastlines and the continents, the fabric of space and time remains the same.  Actually, that isn’t entirely true.   The Valar and their charges removed themselves entirely from Arda (the created universe in which Middle-Earth exists), and hence are no longer directly accessible to the inhabitants, be they Men or Dwarves or stubborn Elves who continue to refuse the summons back to Aman.  Since there is a renegade Maia loose in Middle-Earth, this absence of the Valar forces the inhabitants thereof back onto their own resources.  Sauron, the antagonist of  The Lord Of The Rings, never appears directly in the narrative, and indeed is seldom referred to by name.   He has slaves to do his bidding, and his bidding appears to be entirely ruin and blasting.

The central metaphor for evil in The Lord Of The Rings is that of barrenness.  Mordor is a dead land.  Nothing grows there, or at least in the ash-choked Plain of Gorgoroth surrounding both the Dark Tower and Mount Doom, although we are assured that to the south, around the sad shores of Lake Nurnen, there are immense farms tended to by slaves, a prophecy of the industrial agriculture that “feeds” (or fattens) our nation.  Samwise, under the influence of the Ring, faces this temptation and masters it:

“The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.”

There is a sense in which there are two antagonists in The Lord Of The Rings, Sauron and the Ring.  Sauron represents the Manichean, external aspect of Evil, the kind of evil you can, and must, resist with swords, bows, and valor.  The evil of Sauron is something that would destroy everything “that you hold dear on this green earth”, but unaided, it cannot destroy the soul.  It is the resistance, finally, of Aragorn and what remains of the West that allows Frodo and Sam to triumph, albeit imperfectly, over the Augustininan, internal aspect of Evil, represented by the Ring.  The Ring speaks to that inner voice inside all of us that if only we could have things Our Own Way, whether by persuasion or coercion, that we could put Things to Right.   Alas, it would begin that way, as Galadriel said, but in the end, the corruption of the Ring, which is the corruption of our own hearts, must be overcome by a different, but no less necessary, kind of valor; that of renunciation, self-denial, and voluntary suffering on behalf of others.

I believe that it is because we lost the struggle outlined in the Lord Of The Rings that we find ourselves, a generation and change later,  in the situation of the Dark Tower books.  Evil in King’s created universe is much more consistent than that in Tolkien’s world.  The Crimson King, the antagonist of the Dark Tower books and the Sauron of Mid-World (he even has the sigil of a single red eye) goes beyond the Maia’s hatred of the organic,  yearning for the predictability and order of  the mineral.  The Crimson King hates the very idea of order and predictability, or reason and morality.   Significantly, he is represented as the offspring of Arthur Eld and a demoness of the primordial Chaos, out of which Gan (God) erected the Dark Tower and the beams of the multiverse, and which Arthur Eld and his descendants the Gunslingers swore to uphold.  The Crimson King, like the Joker in the film The Dark Knight, just wants to see Creation burn.  Inevitably, he hates himself as well, since he reflects the order of Creation within himself.  His desire for destruction includes a desire for self-destruction.  The Crimson King is, of course, barking mad.

One of the criticisms I have of modern horror fiction is that is hard for moderns to grasp the essence of evil.   When you have no absolute values, nothing is ultimately at risk.   Most threats in film or literature deal with the loss of Stuff or of social standing, which is scarifying enough for fragile egos in an increasingly turbulent world.  Failing this, one of the most time honored ploys in horror literature is to put either children or the virginal Good Girl at risk.  But the threat is always either death or dismemberment, bad enough in itself but not ontologically threatening.  However, there is a disturbing undercurrent that one of the worst things that can happen to you is to be Found Out.  Fear not him who can kill the body and all that.   The scariest movie of all the time, The Exorcist, came close by showing its viewers a universe where good was evil, order was chaos, white was black, and worse, by telling its viewers that this is what they secretly wished for as well.

To me, true Evil is a mystery.  It is a no-thing, even less than the vacuums between stars that nevertheless pulses with energies.  I guess the closest metaphor I could invoke would be that of the Singularity, the Black Hole, a metaphor that could not have been available to Dante or Bram Stoker.  Something that wants to draw all creation to itself and to unite all distinctions, isolate all similarities, reducing all things to the primeaval chaos; confusing, changing, dividing, and separating all things in an infinite falling from which no escape is possible.

Stand true.  All things serve the Beam.


Oh, Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth
You who are everywhere and fill all things
Treasury of blessing and Giver of Life
Come and abide in us and cleanse us from every stain,
Oh, Good One!

From the Trisagion Prayers of the Orthodox Church

The concept of coinherence is foundational to Charles Williams’ writing; his prose fantasies, his poetry, and his non-fictional theological works, but it is very hard to understand exactly what he means by it.  People claim it is too abstract, but it is based on the Patristic concept of perichoreisis, which is the mode of being of the most Holy Trinity.

As I delayed in getting this post out of WordPress’ penalty box, another blogger has essentially beaten me to the punch.  The writer of The Orthosphere has written a three post series on The Economy of Forgiveness which is based on a meditation on Charles Williams’ novel All Hallows’ Eve , and which is expanded in two subsequent posts:

The first post introduces Williams’ key concepts of Co-inherence and The Way Of Exchange. The writer of the Orthosphere does a masterful job here unpacking what Williams meant by both of these terms.

There is no escape from the Web Of Exchange – all of reality, material and immaterial, is constructed to reflect the nature of the most Holy Trinity, that is to say, it is a Unity composed of interconnected parts which, as you rise higher and higher in the chain of being from inert matter through the biosphere into human society and culminating in the society of the Blessed Trinity, the component parts become more and more distinct and their interpenetration and mutual dependence more and more absolute.

In the second post the writer of the Orthosphere introduces another Williamsian concept, the idea of vicarious suffering as the medium of exchange in the moral universe, which allows for something akin to an orthopedia of the soul to occur. In the final post he introduces the Communion of the Saints through mutual intercession.

When I was in the process of converting from the Reformed version of Christianity to Holy Orthodoxy, I was continually reminded by friends who were nervous about my insistence on the intercessions of the Saints that ‘there was only one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus’. My response was that that word was mediated to us through Paul and the dubious ministrations of, among others, the Zondervan Corporation, now part of Rupert Murdoch’s empire of mediation.

Indeed, mediation is the point of the Universe.


Lent is beginning to creep up upon us again.  In the Orthodox Church we are in the middle of what is called the Triodion, a period of preparation for Lent which is, in itself, a preparation for Pascha.  There are, aptly, three Sundays in the Triodion, all of which bring repentance front and center; last week was Zacchaeus Sunday,  tomorrow is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee followed by a week free of fasting.  Next Sunday is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, and the Triodion will be complete.  After that is Meatfare Sunday and Cheesefare week, where dairy is allowed but meat prescribed. This  completes the gradual descent into the full rigors of an Orthodox Lent.

Last year, I asked for suggestions about movies that might be appropriate viewing for the Lenten season.  I got a lot of recommendations.  Some were  classics;  Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, The Gospel According to St. Matthew.    Some were wonderful surprises; The Island, Godspell, In Bruges, Italian For Beginners, Tokyo Godfathers

There were some which were recommended for which I couldn’t discern any connection to the season; Au Hasard Baltasar, Ordet, Seventh Seal.    There were some that even interfered with my celebration of the season, although they are excellent films otherwise;  Gran Torino, Facing The Giants, The Blind Side.    I found Fireproof unwatchable.

Of all the films I watched during Lent last year, there are three in particular I want to take with me into Lent this year as being particularly reflective of three major virtues I am going to try to cultivate; Repentance, Simplicity, Gratitude.

Repentance:   Flywheel (2003).

Before culture-war Christianity there was just plain Christianity.  This comes out clearly in this first film by Sherwood Productions, a production company which has since gone on to release lucrative releases for the Evangelical market such as Fireproof and Courageous.  Flywheel was their first attempt, and it shgows, especially in the acting and in the production values.  The spiritual value of the film, however, is head and shoulders above its successors.

The protagonist is the church-going owner of a used car lot.  He takes pride in being able to milk more profit out of each transactions than any of his other salespeople.  His marriage is falling apart, but that doesn’t particularly concern him.  I don’t remember offhand what the crisis was that led to his repentance, but at one point he came face to face with the teachings of Christ.   He had to make a decision to cease his dishonest dealings and make costly restitution.  The struggles he faces while attempting to reorder his business in a way that would not be unfaithful to his faith are believable   This modern-day Zacchaeus re-emerges as a business leader in a way that is neither hokey or predictable.

Simplicity  Amal (2007) 

Truth be told, we Orthodox are proudly semi-Pelagian.   Inasmuch the whole nature vs grace distinction that so preoccupied the Blessed Augustine  makes any sense in our context at all, we are not so uncomfortable with nature as are many other Christian traditions  (Forgive me if appear as though I am speaking for the whole Orthodox Church here.    I am a layman, and not a very good one at that).  Natural human goodness was God’s original plan.  There is more of it than we have a right to expect, and wherever it is encountered, it should be encouraged.

This film is the story of Dostoyevsky’s Prince Mishkin on the crowded streets of New Delhi.  Amal is a rickshaw driver, who never complains when others abuse him, never charges more than his due, and who is honest to a fault.    Indeed, like Mishkin, he is thought to be a little  bit simple.  However, one day he gives a rich man a ride who is in the throes of an existential crisis.  Amal so impresses the rich man that the rich man determines to leave his entire fortune to the rickshaw driver to the despite of his dissolute and violent children.  Amal’s character illuminates the flaws of the other, more self-centered characters in the film, and many of them come to, if not repentance, at least a greater self-knowledge a lessening of their egoism.

Gratitude  Babette’s Feast (1987)

Two sisters, spinster daughters of the founder of an austere Protestant sect, take in as a cook/servant a worldly Parisian woman who is in some political trouble.   Despite the hard-scrabble lifestyle of the sisters and the  barrenness of their physical surroundings, the Frenchwoman does not complain and earns the respect and even the love of the two sisters over the years.

The Frenchwoman wins a sum of money in a lottery, and everyone expects her to return to Paris and resume her life.  Instead, she spends the bulk of her winnings on a single night’s dinner for the sisters and  surviving members of their sect.  Indeed, the major part of the film is food porn at its most lascivious – the Frenchwoman is a master chef and she lavishes all her considerable skill on this single meal.

When the food and drink finally arrives at the table, it works an almost Eucharistic spell; old wrongs are forgiven, lapsed friendships are renewed, paths not taken are reopened and cherished for what might have ensued.   Briefly, earthly food and drink becomes the transmitter of grace, and the barrier between the sensuous and the spiritual dissolves.


I responded to the late Michael Spencer, of Internet Monk fame, when he posted a couple of years ago about the lack of sacramentality in Evangelical worship:

But evangelicals are in sacramental chaos, and the results are quite obvious. Evangelicals are “re-sacramentalizing” in an uncritical and unbiblical way. The Planetshakers article was good evidence, but you can see and hear it everywhere. What are our evangelical sacraments? Where will evangelicals defend the idea that “God is dependably at work?”
We have sacramentalized technology.
We have sacramentalized the pastor and other leaders.
We have sacramentalized music. (i.e. the songs themselves and the experience of singing.)
We have sacramentalized leaders of musical worship.
We have sacramentalized events. (God is here!)
We have sacramentalized the various forms of the altar call.
We have sacramentalized the creation of an emotional reaction.
We’ve done all of this, amazingly, while de-emphasizing and theologically gutting baptism. We’ve done this while reducing the Lord’s Supper to a relatively meaningless, optional recollection. We’ve done this while removing any aspects of sacramentalism from our worship and even our architecture. (Public reading of scripture, hymns, tables/altars, baptisteries, pulpits.) And we’ve given over to whomever wants to speak up the power to say what God is saying, what God is doing, what God is using, what God thinks of whatever we’re doing, what the Spirit is up to and so on.
 

My response:

I hadn’t been Orthodox a year when all of a sudden it hit me why Evangelicals, my former self included, believed that Catholics and Orthodox **worshipped saints**, statues, icons and Mary. We treat them the way Evangelicals treat God. That is to say, we do religious acts in their presence, directed to them. No wonder. Since there is no [official] sacrifice in Evangelical worship, there is just “dylia” offered to God, religious acts done in His presence, directed to Him.

Any Cathodox would be aghast, and rightly so, at offering the Eucharist to anyone except the most Holy Trinity. Without the Eucharist properly understood… You have kind of a Jesusism, an ideology extracted from a text, subject to all of the vicissitudes and mutations of any ideology.


Apparently, that is the Paschal Greeting in Tolkien’s constructed Elvish language Quenya. It was fun tracking down the exact translation of this phrase. Apparently, it comes from Tolkien himself, who also translated several Christian prayers into Quenya, such as The Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary.

Naturally, this leads to some speculation as to what significance the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Eru Ilúvatar has for the Elves. There is precious little to go by either in The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillon. Human piety or apostasy is measured in these works by the human group’s faithfulness to the alliance with the Eldar, and by extension, to the Valar.  Yet there is a line drawn between the Elves, who are bound to this world and cannot transpass it, and Men, whose fate lies “beyond the circle of the world, and what it is, even Mandos cannot tell.”

Nevertheless, Tolkien constructed his mythology to be, at the least, compatible with the worship of the Blessed Trinity.  I view the Valar as Elementals, roughly corresponding to the των στοιχειων του κοσμου [“the elements of this world”], mentioned so coyly in St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians (2:20).  Alas, the Elves never finish their apprenticeship.  The virtual immortality in this world which is so coveted by the fallen Numenoreans, turns out to be a perpetual submission to the Valar.    Men would eventually come, because of their participation in the Divine nature, to overshadow their titular overlords.  So, the First would be Last, and the Last, First.

The number and depth of human-Elvish relationships show that the Elves have at least a capacity to enter into the communio sanctorum, except that they would be participating from the streets of Tirion and Alqualondë, rejoicing in the good fortune of their younger brethren and awaiting their own eventual redemption.  I am certain that the learned among them, on this bright Feast of Feasts, would greet each other with the Paschal greeting:

Ortanne Laivino! Anwa ortanne Laivino! 

laivë noun “ointment” , hence Laivino, “the Anointed, the Christ”

orta vb. “rise”, also transitive “raise, lift up”, pa.t. ortanë (Nam, RGEO:67, ORO; misreading “ortani” in Letters:426). According to PE17:63-64, this pa.t. form ortanë is only transitive (*”raised”), whereas the intransitive pa.t. (*”rose”) is orontë

anwa adj. “real, actual, true” 

From an online Quenya dictionary


E’ verdade! Ele fiz ao sol soubir!         It’s true, he made the sun come up!
Agora, voçê e’ o Orfeu!  Toque uma canção p’ra mim!
Now, You’re Orpheus!  Play me a song!

From Steve Hayes’ Yahoo Group “eldil”

So here’s what I posted (or would have had Eldil Yahoo Group been accessed):

You may have seen reported on the news that an atheist organization has put up a large billboard at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel in NYC that reads:  You know it’s a myth.  This season celebrate REASON.

A Catholic organization has recently retaliated with a billboard opposite which reads: You know it’s read.  This season celebrate Jesus.

When I first saw the original sign I said to myself, Of COURSE it’s a myth.

The word myth has morphed of course from the Greek ‘mythos’. In Webster’s that is  “a pattern of beliefs expressing often symbolically the characteristic or prevalent attitudes in a group or culture.”

I’m sure Steve could provide a better definition or meaning of the Greek word.  The word myth today most often in the secular world is used to mean an unfounded or false notion, a thing having only an imaginary existence.

A second comment by the same commenter [AnnA]

The atheist sign is of course wrong about myth. Myth is real. Myth and reason
are not opposites, or enemies, iyw. Every human holds to both, sometimes at the
same time. Even the atheist holds the myth of physics- indeed much of he/she
calls science, the myths of history, etc. If one hasn’t seen it, or is unable
to fully intellectualize it (such as pain, evil in the world, the meaning of
life- whatever) then one has a myth. Privately or publically everyone holds
their myths.

Steve replies:

I am reminded of what Nicolas Berdyaev said about myth:

“Myth is a reality immeasurably greater than concept. It is
high time that we stopped identifying myth with invention,
with the illusions of primitive mentality, and with anything,
in fact, which is essentially opposed to reality… The
creation of myths among peoples denotes a real spiritual life,
more real indeed than that of abstract concepts and rational
thought. Myth is always concrete and expresses life better
than abstract thought can do; its nature is bound up with that
of symbol. Myth is the concrete recital of events and original
phenomena of the spiritual life symbolized in the natural
world, which has engraved itself on the language memory and
creative energy of the people… it brings two worlds together
symbolically.”

and then I reply:

If there is one thing I have taken away from the epistemological wars I have been involved in on the internet, it is that TRVTH is something of a fluid concept.

The atheists who put up their billboard in the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel are really saying something like this: “You don’t believe the Christmas story based on any of the mechanisms you use to justify belief in your daily life, so
why believe it at all? Using the mechanisms you would use to troubleshoot a engine problem or invest $15,000, you cannot determine whether or not there ever even was a Jesus of Nazareth, much less whether he did all those things you heard he did. So, why celebrate?”

Leaving aside the fact that most people aren’t as epistemologically fastidious as a trained scientist, I realize that the atheist is making a claim that “Reason” is the primary means by which truth is distinguished from falsehood.   The problem is that reason is not a particularly good means of establishing veracity in historical matters, where usually you have to weigh the reliabilty of documentary evidence or material testimony such as pottery and other remains.

When the atheist refers to the Nativity of our Lord as “myth”, he is making two powerful claims; first, that if there was a videocamera in the stable in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, it would have discovered nothing more than an ordinary family in difficult straits, if that. Also, if this camera followed the baby throughout his life, it would reveal nothing more than an ordinary man leading an ordinary life. Maybe at the end he went a little crazy, abandoning his profession and taking up the life of an itinerant preacher before running afoul of the ecclesiastical and governmental authorities. He was tried, executed and buried. End of story. The rest is “myth”.

But the second claim is the more powerful. It is the claim that what the videocamera reveals is TRVE, i.e., that nothing can be trusted apart from the testimony of our senses, however enhanced by technology.

Now, on to myth.

My mind appears to work in two complementary ways. I learn by distinguishing differences between phenomena and by discerning likenesses between phenomena.   The discriminatory faculty I would call the digital impulse and would assert that it is what the atheist calls “reason” and it is a very powerful faculty.

The generalizing faculty I would call the analogous impulse, and it operates somewhat like two people lying on their backs and staring at clouds. One says, that cloud looks like John F Kennedy, and the other says, no it looks like an
airplane about to fly into a mountain. This is also a very powerful faculty.   The best writers I have ever read who have commented on this same polarization of the human intellect are Douglas Hofstadter and Robert Pirsig, although I
think I have seen it commented on by a host of modern thinkers from Michael Polanyi to Michel Foucalt. Just don’t ask me for my notes. 🙂

Language, that most human of faculties, appears to me use these opposing yet complementary devices simultaneously.

Now, the discriminatory faculty is amenable to discussion. We can see that light comes in different frequencies, and that the large majority of people whose retinal cones are irritated by electromagnetic impulses with a wavelength of 520nm report seeing a green object. If someone doesn’t see a green object, we don’t assume that she is merely expressing a private opinion. We assume that her visual appratus is defective in some way.

The generalizing, or analogous faculty is far less amenable to such agreement.  There is no way to establish who is “right” between the two men looking at clouds, although most onlookers with any sympathy for the two men would be able to see what they see. Culture and experience play a large role as well. It is unlikely that a Tibetan would see John F. Kennedy in the clouds, for example.  However, this doesn’t mean that the ability to see connections between seemingly  unrelated events, pattern recognition, is useless. Indeed, it is a highly sought after ability in intelligence workers, security agents, and investment bankers.

It is obvious from the Gospels themselves that not everybody experienced the same phenomenon when they encountered Jesus of Nazareth.  One of my favorite passages in the one in the Gospel of St. John where Jesus asked His Father to glorify Him with the glory that they shared before the world began. His Father responded, according the apostle, audibly, that He had glorified it and would glorify it in the future. However the apostle also recorded that the listeners were divided between those who heard an angel talking and those who heard a thunderclap.

One can only wonder what a good tape recorder, a created device, would have picked up had it tried to record the uncreated Voice. Perhaps people would have had differing responses to the recording; an apostle or someone equally pure of heart would hear the Voice of Sinai, good men would hear an angel, bad men a thunderclap.

There is an echo of this in the Tao Teh Ching:

“When the good man hears of the Tao, he practices it assiduously

When a mediocre man hears of the Tao, he neither believes nor disbelieves

When a contemptible man hears of the Tao, he laughs it to scorn

But the Tao that could not be thus ridiculed is not the Eternal Tao.”

It appears that the interpretation of this event falls within the purview of the second mental impulse, and that this impulse is what gives rise to what men call “myth”. The exercise of the discriminating impulse attempts to remove this
“mythical” element from explanations of phenomena, resulting in that which is universal for all subjects (I dislike the word ‘objective’).

The exercise of “reason” does not result in “truth” as much as it results in that which can be agreed upon by all subjects. That is why it works best on inert matter, or even more accurately, best in the abstract realm of mathematics and logic.  Reason loses traction as you ascend the ladder of the sciences, moving from Physics to Chemistry to Biology to Anthropology to Psychology to Poetics to Theology.

As you ascend this ladder, accretions of “myth” accrue. Chemical reactions are more than mere physical phenomena. Biological processes are more than can be described by mere chemical reactions. Purity of heart becomes more important as you move from quantum mechanics into medicine.

Once again, I find myself at soemthing of an impasse. As Coleridge put it, in order to be able to say anything correctly, it is necessary to say everything, and I am incapable of saying everything. I am sure that if this gets out to the right places, I will be well-corrected, maybe not gently, but it appears to me that the force of Reason is the systolic force that pushes from that realm behind or above the minds of men out into the “shining buzzing confusion” that is perceived by very young children, mystics, and the abusers of certain alkaloids.

The force of myth, far from establishing what is “right” or “true” or “so” in the realm of the phenomena, is a diastolic force that pushes back from the inert physical world, the “intersubjective” world, the world that all subjects share, back into the mind and soul of man and hopefully, links him to that which is behind and above him.  The proper use of myth is not for us to discern truth in that which is not-us, but for that which is not-us to establish truth in us.


It has been interesting to see the turmoil occasioned in what remains of the once-vibrant Christian blogosphere by self-proclaimed “post-evangelical” Internet Monk Mike Spencer a couple of weeks ago (ancient history in the BS) when he proclaimed the inevitability of the Coming Evangelical Collapse in a three-shot salvo over the bow of the Good Ship Evangel. The first post alone garnered 192 responses.

Now, I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t resent the fact that an identical prophecy on my own blog went completely unremarked upon. But, Michael has been blogging far longer than I have, and he irritates more people in a week that I will probably ever be able to do in a lifetime. He is too Librul/Catlick for half of his readership and too Fundy/iggerant for the other half, which if you know anything about Chesterton, means that he’s right where he needs to be.

He offers a lot of reasons for the impending implosion in Evangelical belief, most of which are The Usual Suspects;  the Babylonian Captivity of the Evangelical Church in RonnieReaganLand,  Disney-fication, theological superficiality, but I loved his final conclusion.

Evangelicalism is going to run out of money.  In these straightened times, nobody is going to throw good money into a dying enterprise.

Now, that’s good as far as it goes, but a week after finishing his tirade and disturbing the peace of just about every practicing Christian on the Internet, he featured an interview with a former Evangelical journalist who, in my opinion, nailed it down.

It’s sex, pure and simple.

The disconnect between Evangelical (and Catholic, and Orthodox) teachings on sex and the sexual behavior of young people in Evangelical (and Catholic, and Orthodox) churches has become so wide and so unbridgeable that it has come to the place where young people are going to have to choose between the Church and the possibility of ever having sex.  Not surprisingly, the majority of them are going to be opting for sex.

Now, follow me here, as I outline the change in the sexual constitution of American society as it has changed over the last fifty years.  There are three versions of the sexual constitution I would like to investigate – The Old Double Standard, the Interim Compromise, and the New Double Standard.

The Traditional Double Standard was very much in place during my adolescence, despite the swingin’ sixties rhetoric that innundated the movies and television at that time.  It was still very much the job of a man to compromise a woman’s virtue as it was the job of women to preserve it.   Most of the weddings announced in my little Midwestern town, a bastion of Christendom in probably the most Protestant area of the country, were the result of an impending unexpected arrival, and nobody was surprised.  At the time the unspoken rule for women was, if you let him sleep with you, he better at least be on the road to matrimony.  For men the unspoken rule was, if you get her pregnant,  you do the right thing and marry her.

What was revolutionary about the Sexual Revolution was not that it gave men permission to be promiscuous.  Men always had permission from the larger society to be promiscuous.  Giving permission to be promiscuous to women, which is what was truly revolutionary about the Sexual Revolution, had some unintended consequences.

If you give a man permission to sleep around, he wants to sleep with every woman he meets.  If you give a woman permission to sleep around, she wants to sleep with the same man all the other women want.  Some men unashamedly begin to gather  harems.  For the less shameless, serial monogamy becomes the order of the day, and no one considered it unusual for one man to commandeer the reproductive capacity of more than one woman.

So, the Sexual Revolution actually resulted in less sex, and less quality sex, for the poor chump at the bottom of the Darwinian pecking order than the old Double Standard.  At least under the old constitution, everyone roughly paired off at their own level.  Now, the idea was that the poor, boring stable guy had to wait until his future wife was through making the rounds before settling into domesticity.

The Interim Compromise, which was in place from about the mid seventies until just recently, meant that young people were to “get promiscuity out of their system” in their twenties and thirties, then marry.  You see it all the time in dating columns; young men complaining that women their age are only attracted to  “edgy, exciting men”, overlooking the traditional sober and sensible (read: boring) potential mate.  Young women, on the other hand,  complain constantly that it is nearly impossible to keep their man from cheating, that other women are “hitting on him constantly”.   The conventional wisdom given to the young men that the steady, boring guy should wait until the girl  “comes to her senses” and learns to appreciate his sterling qualities over the more exciting, superficial guys she is attracted to now while she is “young”.

The trouble is, it usually the case that the superficial, exciting guys get tired of the now-not-so- young woman before she has any epiphanies about the desirability of boring, everyday, faithful men.  So she grabs herself a pack-animal while she still can.   I wonder how much of evangelical church membership is comprised of these “born-again” ex-virgins and their to-some-degree reluctant mates.

But the Interim Compromise is breaking down.  As internet porn and the glorification of slut-culture lock young women into an “arms race” for the gutter in an attempt to snare the flagging attention of the most desirable young men, other young men are walking away from the prospect of marriage and family altogether.

I read an eloquent explanation of this on the Internet on a website that appears to have disappeared.   You can read it here.  Just page through the remarks until you find the excerpt from “Hook-Up Culture: Why There Is No Longer Someone For Everyone“.

The new Double Standard exalts female promiscuity, even outright whorishness, as  “being in charge of her sexuality” , while excoriating men who do the same as being “Peter Pans” who are “afraid of commitment”.  Add to this a hostile political atmosphere where women have every advantage in an increasingly aggressive “divorce industry”, and it becomes apparent why men are becoming more and more reluctant to step up to the plate.

I’m not going to buy into the old Evangelical mantra;  “That’s the way the worldlings act.   They don’t know any better.”  I would be more likely to believe if there was a nickel’s worth of difference between the behavior of unchurched kids and the kids in Evangelical (or Catholic, or Orthodox) churches.

At this point in the game, voluntary chastity , especially for young women,  seems more and more likely to become permanent celibacy, and that’s why the churches are going to empty like a high school keg party when the state police show up.

I’m sorry, this post kind of got away from me.  My prescription for fixing this is surprisingly not the resurrection of female chastity but of male virtue, (from the Latin vir, viris – maeaning a male; same root as virile) but that for another time.


Before I converted to Orthodoxy, I did due diligence on both the Orthodox and the Catholic churches. I attended services in both churches, read the obligatory apologetic works from both sides, and even read harrowing critiques of each church from the point of view of the other.

I do not want to go into the reasons I decided for Orthodoxy. What I want to do is present a mental exercise. Long before I even felt the pull towards Ancient Christianity, I heard a musical production by a Romanian group called Enigma, which enjoyed some success in the Eurobeat-techno 90s scene.

The name of the song was “Mea Culpa”, and the artist produced what he called an “Orthodox Mix” and a “Catholic Mix”. All of the subsequent reading I did while investigating the theology and practice of both churches only clarified what I learned, on an emotional level, as being the difference between the two ancient Churches. Click on the two churches below to hear the different versions of the same song:

07saintmaryschurch07 iconostasis

Clicking the link should invoke a media player that will allow you to listen to the song. I invoke the Fair Usage clause 🙂

CURRENTLY READING

The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams